June 27, 2014

Tragic sudden deaths

The certainty of our death yet the uncertainty of the hour of our death is declared every time a Catholic prays the Hail Mary:  Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

In the Litany of the Saints is the prayer "From a sudden and unprovided death, Lord save us".  With a sudden death here is no time for repentance, last words of love or a turning to God.  Not one of the people below had any idea when they woke up, that this was the last day of their lives.

And their poor families.  One never fully recovers from the stunning and sudden blow when a loved one is snatched away.

Two girls killed by when tree fell on car driven by their mother as she screamed out 'My babies, my babies'

Authorities in Pennsylvania had identified the two young sisters who died in a freak accident after a falling tree landed on their moving car on Monday.  Eight-year-old Ryleigh Freiwald and six-year-old Macayla Freiwald perished when the car driven by Jason Hinebaugh, 36, was crushed by the tree and careered out of control hitting a utility pole around 2.30pm.

Investigators said that two young girls died of blunt force trauma to the head and witnesses to the harrowing crash recounted how their eight-month pregnant mother, Ashley Lichty, 26, burst out of the passenger side of the car after the accident screaming, 'My babies, my babies.'

Landscape gardener dies after falling into wood chipper in horrific accident

A Florida man died Monday after falling into a giant wood chipper.  Police are unclear on many details surrounding the shocking late afternoon incident, but footage from the scene showed the mulch covered in blood after the man’s body passed through the massive wood chipper.  He was working to clear brush when he died, officials said.

The unidentified landscaper was working with two other men near a Davie home when he somehow ended up inside the machine. Police arriving at the scene were horrified and needed grief counselors to cope, according to reports.  Davie Police Captain Dale Engle told the Sun-Sentinel, "I've been in police work 20 years. I've never seen anything like this,’ ‘It was a gruesome scene."

Bride-to-be, 26, killed in head-on car crash as she and best friend drove to her bachelorette party moments after pair snapped this selfie

A bride-to-be has been killed in a car crash as she drove to her bachelorette party.  Collette Moreno, a 26-year-old mother-of-one, was being driven to Lake Ozark, Missouri by her best friend on Friday afternoon when they tried to overtake a truck but were hit by an oncoming vehicle.  She later died from her injuries.

Moreno's fiance, Jesse Arcobasso, sobbed as he spoke about his loss just four weeks ahead of their wedding date, and revealed her five-year-old son can't yet comprehend where his mommy is….

The bride had shared her excitement on Facebook in the hours before - uploading a photo showing her drinking wine to mark the start of the weekend and sharing a selfie of her and Theobald on the road just minutes ahead of the crash.
Theobald said that Moreno had started suffering from an asthma attack as they trailed a truck with heavy exhaust fumes, so she had attempted to get past it on the two-lane road. 'We both thought it was clear and there was a hill that neither one of us saw,' she said through tears.  'I tried to go around and there was a truck coming and I swerved and he swerved with me.'

 Last-Selfie Collette Moreno is on the left,  Best friend and driver Ashley Theobald is on the right.

Girl, 19, killed after her brother's friend threw a lit sparkler into her room as a prank

Kristen Milano was sleeping in her family's apartment in Southington, Connecticut on Sunday when Eric Morelli, 18, allegedly tossed the lit firework through an open window.  The sparkler, which Morelli had hoped would wake up his friend, set off a fire that engulfed the apartment. Milano died of smoke inhalation.

Southington police arrested Morelli on Tuesday and charged him with manslaughter….'He thought it was a good idea to throw a firework up there, trying to be funny, trying to wake him up,' Kyle Cima-Yannell, Milano's friend, told WFSB.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 AM | Permalink

June 23, 2014

They were just out for an evening walk

At the end of a beautiful June day,  a couple out for an evening stroll along the Charles River in Boston posted this photo to Instagram

 Last-Photo-Final-Moments calling it "Little sunset action on the Esplanade". 

Then one car ran a red light , crashed into another at the intersection of Beacon and Fairfield Streets in the Back Bay, flipped and struck both Jessica Campbell, 25, and Jack Lanzillotti, 28, killing them dead.

 Jack-Lanzilliotti+Jessica Campbell  Jack Lanzillotti and Jessica Campbell

Jack Lanzillotti graduated from Boston University in 2008 and worked his way up to manager of Red Sox Productions/Game Operations. In 2011, he won a regional Emmy Award in 2011 for the video 'A stolen base lesson with Jacoby Ellsbury'.

Jessica Campbell, a 2010 graduate of Northeastern, and a cheerleading captain at her high school,  was a senior analyst for Kantar Retail

Families and friends are distraught.  As anyone would be when told of the tragic sudden death of their loved ones.

Condolences on their loss.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:41 PM | Permalink

June 20, 2014

Death 101

Why College Students Are Dying to Get Into 'Death Classes' by Erika Hayasaki in the Wall Street Journal

Thousands of college courses on dying and mortality are being held nationwide—and teaching lessons about life.

At Kean University, students are dying (as it were) to get into Norma Bowe's class "Death in Perspective," which has sometimes carried a three-year waiting list. On one field trip to a local coroner's office, Dr. Bowe's students were shown three naked cadavers on metal tables. One person had died from a gunshot, the other from suicide and the third by drowning.

The last corpse appeared overweight but wasn't; he had expanded like a water balloon. A suspect in a hit-and-run case, he had fled the scene, been chased by police, abandoned his car and jumped into the Passaic River. On the autopsy table, he looked surprised, his mouth splayed open, as if he realized he had made a mistake. As the class clustered around, a technician began to carve his torso open. Some students gagged or scurried out, unable to stand the sight or the smell.

This grim visit was just one of the excursions for Dr. Bowe's class. Every semester, students also leave the campus in Union, New Jersey, to visit a cemetery, a maximum-security prison (to meet murderers), a hospice, a crematory and a funeral home, where they pick out caskets for themselves. The homework is also unusual: Students are required to write goodbye letters to dead loved ones and to compose their own eulogies and wills.

Sure, it's morbid. But graduates of Dr. Bowe's death class and others like it across the U.S. often come away with an important skill: the ability to talk frankly about death.
Not all students who take death classes have high-minded motivations. One student was spurred to take Dr. Bowe's death class by watching A&E's ghoulish reality show "The First 48," about the early days of murder investigations.  But most of the young people were, in different ways, haunted by death—coping with suicidal family members, the violent deaths of loved ones or terrifying personal encounters with cancer. The class offered them a rigorous, carefully guided opportunity for the kind of reflection that many people do only in old age or after receiving a terminal diagnosis.

"The democracy of death encompasses us all," Dr. Feifel once wrote. "To deny or ignore it distorts life's pattern… In gaining an awareness of death, we sharpen and intensify our awareness of life."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:16 PM | Permalink

"The dead are no longer welcome at their own funerals"

Thomas Lynch on the good funeral : Mortal remains  The dead are no longer welcome at their own funerals. So how can the living send them on their way?

For many bereaved Americans, the funeral has become instead a ‘celebration of life’. It has a guest list open to everyone except the actual corpse, which is often dismissed, disappeared without rubric or witness, buried or burned, out of sight, out of mind, by paid functionaries such as me ...

Most of nature does not stop for death. But we do. Wherever our spirits go, or don’t, ours is a species that down the millennia has learned to process grief by processing the objects of our grief, the bodies of the dead, from one place to the next. Whatever afterlife there is or isn’t, human beings have marked their ceasing to be by going with their dead — to the tomb or the fire or the grave, the holy tree or deep sea, whatever sacred space of oblivion we consign them to.

The formula for human funerals was fairly simple for most of our history: by getting the dead where they needed to go, the living got where they needed to be. By acting out the necessary tasks to rid ourselves of dead human bodies, we came to understand the meaning of death.
Contemplation of the existential mysteries, those around being and ceasing to be, is what separates humans from the rest of creation; our humanity is directly tied to how we respond to mortality. In short, how we deal with our dead in their physical reality and how we deal with death as an existential reality define and describe us in primary ways.
And this formula — dealing with death by dealing with the dead — defined and described and, by the way, helped humans for 40,000 or 50,000 years all over the planet, across every culture until we come to the most recent generations of North Americans who for the past 40 or 50 years have begun to avoid and outsource and ignore their obligations to deal with the dead. They are willing enough to keep ‘their presence in the memory of descendants’ (the idea of the thing), so long as they don’t have to deal with ‘the treatment of deceased bodies’ (the thing itself). A picture on the piano is fine but public wakes, bearing the dead to open graves, are strictly out of fashion.
Only in North America has cremation lost its ancient connection to fire, because it is so rarely actually witnessed. In the past 50 years, cremation in North America has become synonymous with disappearance, not so much an alternative to burial or entombment, rather an alternative to having to bother with the dead body……

The bodiless obsequy, which has become a staple of available options for bereaved families in the past half century, has created an estrangement between the living and the dead that is unique in human history….this estrangement, this disconnect, this refusal to deal with our dead (their corpses), could be reasonably expected to handicap our ability to deal with death (the concept, the idea of it). And a failure to deal authentically with death might have something to do with an inability to deal authentically with life….

what the British gadfly and writer Jessica Mitford envisioned when she wrote The American Way of Death (1963) — a funeral without the ‘downers’ — notably a corpse and a creedal obligation.

Thus, on my short list of the essential elements of the good funeral, the presence of the dead is the first and definitive element. Memorial services, celebrations of life, or variations on these commemorative events – whether held sooner or later or at intervals or anniversaries, in a variety of locales – while useful socially for commemorating the dead and paying tribute to their memories, lack an essential manifest and function: the disposition of the dead. The option to dispose of the dead privately, through the agency of hirelings, however professional they might be, and however moving the memorial that follows, is an abdication of an essential undertaking and fundamental humanity.

A second essential, definitive element of a funeral is that there must be those to whom the death matters. ...

A third essential, definitive element of a funeral is that there must be some narrative, some effort towards an answer, however provisional, of those signature human questions about what death means for both the one who has died and those to whom it matters. Thus, an effort to broker some peace between the corpse and the mourners by describing the changed reality that death occasions is part of the essential response to mortality. Very often this is a religious narrative. Often it is written in a book, the text of which is widely read. Or it might be philosophical, artistic, intellectual — a poem in place of a psalm, a song in place of prayer — either way, there must be some case to be made for what has happened to the dead and what the living might expect because of it….

A fourth and final essential, definitive element of a funeral is that it must accomplish the disposition of the dead. They are not welcome, we know intuitively, to remain among us in the way they were while living. Furthermore, it is by getting the dead where they need to go that the living get where they need to be.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:40 AM | Permalink

June 19, 2014

"Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it"

Bookworm in her post America’s cultural journey from actual hero Audie Murphy to DemProg “hero” Bowie Bergdahl quotes extensively from  George MacDonald Fraser’s delightful Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II which describes an infantry man’s experiences in Burma during WWII. 

What most interested me was his description of the impact culture had on the way people grieve. 

Fraser’s description of his first battle and its aftermath is especially interesting. He describes how, within a minute or two, half his unit was wounded, and two men were dead. Despite these events, Fraser writes that he was able to function because he’d shifted into a battle mode that allowed him to observe what was happening, to make decisions, and to act, all without emotion overwhelming him.

After the battle ended, Fraser writes that the men in the unit, both wounded and whole, were neither exultant nor despairing. They were just tired. They didn’t obsess about the dead but, instead, engaged in a respectful ritual that saw each of them exchange a piece of his military, non-personal kit for that of the dead man’s military, non-personal kit. There was no greed involved, nor was the experience maudlin. Instead, the ritual was an almost businesslike way to remember the dead by keeping something of his nearby.
An outsider might have thought, mistakenly, that the section was unmoved by the deaths of Gale and Little. There was no outward show of sorrow, no reminiscences or eulogies, no Hollywood heart-searchings or phony philosophy…..t was not callousness or indifference or lack of feeling for two comrades who had been alive that morning and were now names for the war memorial; it was just that there was nothing to be said.

It was part of war; men died, more would die, that was past, and what mattered now was the business in hand; those who lived would get on with it. Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it, much less in making, for form’s sake, a parade of it. Better and healthier to forget it, and look to tomorrow.

The celebrated British stiff upper lip, the resolve to conceal emotion which is not only embarrassing and useless, but harmful, is just plain common sense.

But that was half a century ago. Things are different now, when the media seem to feel they have a duty to dwell on emotion, the more harrowing the better, and to encourage its indulgence. The cameras close on stricken families at funerals, interviewers probe relentlessly to uncover grief, pain, fear, and shock, know no reticence or even decency in their eagerness to make the viewers’ flesh creep, and wallow in the sentimental cliché (victims are always “innocent”, relatives must be “loved ones”). And the obscene intrusion is justified as “caring” and “compassionate” when it is the exact opposite.
The damage that fashionable attitudes, reflected (and created) by television, have done to the public spirit, is incalculable. It has been weakened to the point where it is taken for granted that anyone who has suffered loss and hardship must be in need of “counselling”; that soldiers will suffer from “post-battle traumatic stress” and need psychiatric help. One wonders how Londoners survived the Blitz without the interference of unqualified, jargonmumbling “counsellors”, or how an overwhelming number of 1940s servicemen returned successfully to civilian life without benefit of brain-washing. Certainly, a small minority needed help; war can leave terrible mental scars — but the numbers will increase, and the scars enlarge, in proportion to society’s insistence on raising spectres which would be better left alone. Tell people they should feel something, and they’ll not only feel it, they’ll regard themselves as entitled and obliged to feel it.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:11 PM | Permalink

June 18, 2014

The Mercy of Sickness before Death

The Mercy of Sickness before Death by D.G. Myers

Just so you understand: I am dying. I am in the end stage of metastatic prostate cancer, and after six-and-a-half years of close association with the disease, I have another six months to two years to live. That probably sounds exhibitionistic, but I don’t mean it to. Nor am I fish­ing for pity. Truth is, I’d sooner have your laughter.

Man says, “I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but I am going to fight it with everything I’ve got.” “My money’s on the cancer,” his friend says. Find me that friend.
What cancer patients need more than anything is to take responsibility for their disease. From their doctors, from their family and friends, and especially from themselves, they need simple honesty about their condition, their treatment options, their chances.
A cure may not be possible, but even in the face of death, moral and intellectual growth is. ….There is nothing good about dying of cancer, especially when, as I do, you have four children under the age of eleven and a wife whom you lust after and adore.
Cancer may be a death sentence, but there are many ways to read the sen­tence. Resignation is only one of them, and a particularly arrogant one at that, because it pre­sumes to know, as it cannot, the outcome in every detail.
You no longer waste or mark time. You fill it, because now you can see the brim from where you are lying.

“In a sense,” Flannery O’Connor wrote to a friend about the lupus that would kill her at thirty-nine, "Sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.
How could it possibly be merciful of God to reduce you to the hyperawareness, every second of your waking life, that death is relentlessly approaching? Even if it is a knowl­edge that most other men and women do not have, regardless of what they may like to say, is it knowledge worth having?

You find yourself on a distant planet, alone, with only your own inner resources to fall back upon. No amount of magical thinking or denial will alter your circumstances. You either accept what you have become, and rise above yourself to attend to the others who still need your attention, or you spend your last months in the confine­ment of self-pity.

In Thanksgiving For Sickness Before Death  Rod Dreher comments

It won’t surprise you that this reminds me of the wisdom Dante acquires midway through his journey through Paradiso: That he can do nothing to reverse his condition of exile, but he does have the freedom to choose how to respond to it. His fate is to suffer in that particular way, but the courageous thing to do, the noble knight Cacciaguida tells him, is to choose to turn suffering into a virtue. Learn its lessons, and realizing that you have nothing left to lose, tell the truth, so that others may profit from what your experience teaches. You sojourn through a strange land, and your adventure teaches you things about life that could help others to improve their own lives, if only by giving them the tools with which to bear their own suffering more courageously.

 Flamedance Candle

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:10 PM | Permalink

June 16, 2014

Surrounded and Threatened with Death in Mosul

From a Dominican religious in Mosul to his provincial superior:

“I am writing in a critical and apocalyptic situation. The majority of the inhabitants of the city have already fled their homes and have ran away to the villages; they sleep out in the open without anything to eat and drink. Thousands of gunmen of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have attacked Mosul in the past two days. They murdered adults and children. Hundreds of bodies have been left in the streets and in the homes, without any mercy. Even the Army and the regular forces have abandoned the city, along with the governor. From the mosques you hear the cry: “Allah Akhbar, long live the Islamic state”.

“Qaraqosh is flooded with all kinds of refugees, without food or accommodation. The checkpoints and Kurdish militias are preventing many refugees from entering Kurdistan. What we are seeing and we are living in the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The monastery of Mar Behnam and other churches have fallen into rebel hands … and now they have arrived here and five minutes ago they entered Qaraqosh. We are surrounded and threatened with death … Pray for us. I’m sorry but I cannot go on writing … They’re not very far from our monastery …”

Iraq: Christians flee Mosul by the thousands as ISIS rampages, destroys church and seizes monastery

Pray for all the Christians in the Mideast who are suffering such persecution.  May they face death with courage, forgiveness and love.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:22 AM | Permalink

June 14, 2014

His last time in his beloved woods

One Last Look

Snohomish County Firefighters recently responded on a mission of mercy to an elderly hospice patient, and former forest ranger who wished once more to see his beloved great outdoors.

Working with hospice, firefighters granted that wish, wheeling the man up and down forest paths, much to his delight as he took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Pacific Northwest.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:56 AM | Permalink

June 11, 2014

A Traitor's Memorials

 Engraving B. Arnold  Benedict Arnold, a general during the Revolutionary War, later defected and became a brigadier general in the British army and fought against George Washington and the Continental Army.  He was called the American Judas and his name became synonymous with treason and betrayal.

Wikipedia's account of his career

Born in Connecticut, Arnold was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. After joining the growing army outside Boston, he distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics despite losing the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776, the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that ended his combat career for several years.

Despite Arnold's successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments.  Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and found he was indebted to Congress after spending much of his own money on the war effort. Frustrated and bitter at this, as well the alliance with France and failure of Congress to accept Britain's 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies, Arnold decided to change sides and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was offered, continued to pursue and was awarded command of West Point. Arnold's scheme to surrender the fort to the British was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers that revealed the plot. Upon learning of André's capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Damnatio Memoriae  from Futility Closet

 Benedict Arnold  Arnold’s perfidy so blackened his name that he’s strangely absent even from his own memorials. A monument (above) at the site of the Battle of Saratoga depicts only a boot, to reflect the leg wound that ended Arnold’s fighting career. His name appears nowhere in the inscription:

In memory of
the “most brilliant soldier” of the
Continental Army
who was desperately wounded
on this spot the sally port of
7th October, 1777
winning for his countrymen
the decisive battle of the
American Revolution
and for himself the rank of
Major General.

A second monument at Saratoga includes four niches: Three contain statues of Horatio Gates, Philip Schuyler, and Daniel Morgan, but the fourth niche is empty.  And West Point displays a commemorative plaque for every general who served in the revolution. One plaque bears a rank and a date (“Major General / Born 1740″), but no name.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:56 PM | Permalink

Scale of prices: for a simple death two shillings and sixpence. For the death of a person deeply regretted, five shillings

From the Futility Closet , Supply and Demand

"The Waterford Chronicle requests that persons supplying the Journal with obituaries will attend to the following scale of prices;
for a simple death two shillings and sixpence. For the death of a person deeply regretted, five shillings. For the death of a person who lived a perfect pattern of all the Christian virtues, and died regretted by the whole country, ten shillings. For the death of a person who possessed extensive literature and profound erudition, superadded to which, his whole life was remarkable for piety, humility, charity, and self-denial, one pound. For the death of a lady, whose husband is inconsolable for her loss, and who was the delight of the circle in which she moved, one pound ten shillings. For the death of a gentleman, who had only been six months married, who was an example of every conjugal and domestic virtue, and whose widow is in a state of anguish bordering on distraction, two pounds. For the death of an aristocrat, who was a pattern of meekness, a model of humility, a patron of distressed genius, a genuine philanthropist, an exemplary Christian, an extensive alms-giver, profoundly learned, unremitting to the duties of his station, kind, hospitable, and affectionate to his tenantry, and whose name will be remembered and his loss deplored to the latest posterity, five pounds. For every additional good quality, whether domestic, moral, or religious, there will be an additional charge."

– Birmingham Journal, Aug. 21, 1830
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 AM | Permalink

June 10, 2014

Fascinating Forensic Facial Reconstructions

Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation.    More at 10 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

 Dante Reconstruction Dante, a "face with character"

 Bach Facial Reconstruction  Bach, "the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music.

 Shakespeare  Facial Reconstruction Shakespeare , "a sad, soulful face"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:23 PM | Permalink

How We Die - Then and Now

 How We Die 1900 2010

Chart by Michigan State University research assistant Randy Olson shows deaths from infectious diseases have gone way down compared to 1900, while the proportion of people dying from cancer has tripled:

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

Deaths by crinoline and gowns dyed with arsenic


Deadly Victorian fashions by Anne Kingston in McLean's

The “arsenic” ball gown sits on a headless dressmaker’s form in the basement archives of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum as senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, wearing cotton conservators’ gloves, expounds upon its vintage (late 1860s), its provenance (Australia), its exquisite construction—and, most relevantly, its ability to kill. The green of the shimmering silk, now slightly faded, was one of the Victorian era’s most fashionable hues; people, mostly women, wore it even after it was widely known that the arsenic-based dye responsible for the colour could lead to horrible physical suffering and early death. When asked if the dress poses any danger still, Semmelhack pauses. “We’ve been counselled not to lick it,” she says, laughing.
“Crinoline fires” killed 3,000 women between the late 1850s and late 1860s in England. Women would lose sense of their circumference, step too close to a fire grate, then flames would be fanned by oxygen circulating under their skirts. Until electricity, ballerinas also routinely perished when the muslin of their tutus met gas lamps; the deaths were referred to at the time as the “holocaust of ballet girls.” (The remedy, flame-retardant fabrics, was seen by many as too ugly to wear.)

You can see for yourself at the exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. The show opens June 18 and runs through 2016 at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:38 AM | Permalink

Murder miniatures, nutshell dioramas of death

Murder in Miniature by Rachel Nuwer in Slate
One woman’s ghastly dollhouse dioramas turned crime scene investigation into a science.

 Diorama Bedroom Crime Scene

Dorothy’s deathscape—dubbed the Parsonage Parlor—is one of 20 dollhouse crime scenes built by a woman named Frances Glessner Lee, nicknamed “the mother of forensic investigation.” Lee’s murder miniatures and pioneering work in criminal sciences forever changed the course of death investigations.

Lee, who went by the name Fanny, was born in 1878 to millionaire parents who made their money selling agricultural equipment. She grew up in Chicago and later said she suffered from a sheltered, lonely childhood. When Lee was 4 years old, her mother—also named Frances—recorded in her diary that her daughter had stated, “I have no company but my doll baby and God.” Along with her older brother, she was home-schooled in a fortresslike house that one architect described as “pathologically private.” Lee learned feminine skills such as sewing, embroidery, painting, and the art of miniatures from her mother and aunts, but at the same time had a fondness for Sherlock Holmes stories and medical texts….

After her brother left for Harvard University, Lee’s requests to also attend school were rebuffed. As her father liked to say, “A lady doesn’t go to school.”

She wasn't allowed to attend school …shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Blewett Lee, a lawyer and professor at Northwestern University. The couple had three children, but things soon fell apart and they divorced in 1914..
Despite being free of an unhappy marriage, years passed before Lee could truly come into her own. She was dependent on her family for financial support, but in 1929, that began to change. Her brother passed away, and a few years later her mother followed him to the grave. In 1936, her father died, passing on the family fortune to his daughter.

Lee, meanwhile, had begun nursing a passion for forensics, inspired by one of her brother’s friends, George Burgess Magrath, who served as Boston’s medical examiner and was famously skilled at solving perplexing murder cases of the day….

Lee decided to take it upon herself to reform the country’s legal medicine system. As a start, she donated money to Harvard to create a professorship for a legal medicine expert—which Magrath filled—and also created the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine, which was soon followed by the country’s first forensic pathology program….

Despite these successes, however, Lee felt that more was needed to teach students the emerging art of evidence gathering. It was impossible to bring them to crime scenes, so Lee decided to create her own miniature crime scenes to use for training. She called her creations the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. “She came up with this idea, and then co-opted the feminine tradition of miniature-making to advance in this male-dominated field,” ….

The 20 models Lee created were based on actual crime scenes, and she chose only the most puzzling cases in order to test aspiring detectives’ powers of observation and logic.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:27 AM | Permalink

June 7, 2014

“To Fats Waller with Love, Honeysuckle Rosenkrantz”

`A Barrelhouse of Talent and Love'

A few artists make us happy. That is the nature of their gift. Think of Louis Armstrong, Laurel and Hardy, P.G. Wodehouse and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Timme Rosenkranz (1911-1969) was a Danish aristocrat, writer, concert and record producer, and jazz enthusiast who lived for fifteen years in New York City…. When he opened the Mel-O-Dee Music Shop in Harlem in 1940, his first customer was Armstrong, who bought fifty dollars’ worth of records. Rosenkranz’s Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969, was published by the Scarecrow Press in 2012. He concludes the chapter titled “To Fats Waller with Love, Honeysuckle Rosenkrantz” like this:

"Yes, Fats Waller was great. I think of him often, especially when I’m sitting with my record player at home in Hellerup, north of Copenhagen. I put on his happy sounds, and I don’t have to close my eyes to see that great big happy kid in front of me, waggling his eyebrows and wiggling his torso. I hear him laugh and laugh, and remember the wonderful days and nights I spent with him. Sometimes, awash in his music, I feel him right there in the room, and I am twice blessed to have known such a barrelhouse of talent and love.”

I put on his happy sounds. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 AM | Permalink

Dying girl wrote secret message to her family on back of mirror

 Athena Orchard 13

Heartbroken family find inspirational 3,000-word secret message written on back of mirror after daughter, 13, dies of cancer

After their daughter lost her fight with cancer, Dean and  Caroline Orchard knew they had to face the devastating task of sorting through her belongings.

What they didn’t know was that  they would discover something that would make them feel closer to 13-year-old Athena than ever.
On the back of her bedroom mirror, the little girl had secretly written a 3,000 word message for her parents and siblings.

In it, she gives advice for them to live by and reveals her unshakeably positive attitude, writing: ‘Every day is special, so make the most of it. You could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad.’

Mr Orchard, 33, said: ‘I started reading it but before long I had to stop because it was too much. It was heartbreaking.’

Athena was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, at the age of 12, after collapsing just before Christmas in the kitchen of the family’s home in New Parks, Leicester. She had an emergency seven-and-a-half hour operation to remove a tumour on her spine, followed by months of chemotherapy targeting the cancer in her spine, shoulder and head.

She lost her hair and much of her strength – but not her positive outlook. In marker pen on the back of the mirror, she wrote: ‘Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story. The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.’
Despite treatment, Athena’s condition deteriorated quickly, and she died at home last week, surrounded by her family.

Days later, her parents discovered her message while moving the mirror that stood against her bedroom wall.
Mr Orchard, who gave up work as a landscape gardener when his daughter became ill, said: ‘I couldn’t believe it, I saw all this writing, it must have been about 3,000 words. It’s so touching. When I first saw it, it just blew me away.
Athena, who leaves behind six sisters and three brothers – Naysa, one, Letissia-Dior, two, Indika-Mayah, four, Tiana, five, Harley, eight, Porscha and Ethan, 11, Clayton, 14, and Ria, 17 – also wrote movingly about love, saying: ‘I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to. ‘Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change.’
‘We’re keeping the mirror forever. Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us. She had such an incredible spirit.’

 Family Athena's Mirror
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:17 AM | Permalink

Heartbreaking letters of the men who didn't make it through D-Day

'If I don't come home, there's so much I mean to tell you…': Heartbreaking last letters of the men who didn't make it through D-Day revealed

The heroics of the men who fought valiantly to take Sword, Gold and Juno beaches on D-Day will never be forgotten but the stories of those who died are less well-remembered.

Now letters written by men preparing for D-Day and who didn't make it home are to be brought to life in a poignant documentary made to mark the 70th anniversary of the landings

Ahead of the assault on Normandy beaches, which would help mark the beginning of the end of World War Two, Captain Skinner wrote to his wife of eight years with whom he had two young daughters, Ann and Jane.

'As you know anything may happen at any moment and I cannot tell when you will receive this,' he noted. 'All the things I intended to say must be written.'

You and I have had some lovely happy years that now seemed to have past at lightning speed but I, and I'm sure you as well, can look back on them with some kind of contentment, knowing that in our love and need of each other, we have injured no-one,' he said.

'Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not had any wish to back down from the job we have to do.

…'There is so much I mean to tell you, much of what you have heard before, but I mean it even more today.

'I shall always be grateful to the powers above for having been able to be with you, to have been loved by you. I'm sure I will be with you again soon and for good. Give my fondest love to my Ann and my Janey.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:42 AM | Permalink

June 6, 2014

Remembering D-Day 70 years ago today

John Fund sets the scene

Northern France was under the boot of Nazi occupation, and was defended by an intimidating array of fortifications and gun emplacements all along its coast. But on June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beaches whose names have gone down in history — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword — in what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and at the cost of 9,000 killed or wounded soldiers, the Allies gained a toehold in Europe that became the staging area for the ultimate defeat of Nazi


Gerard Vanderleun puts us in the middle of the action

Today your job is straightforward. First you must load 40 to 50 pounds on your back. Then you need to climb down a net of rope that is banging on the steel side of a ship and jump into a steel rectangle bobbing on the surface of the ocean below you. Others are already inside the steel boat shouting and urging you to hurry up.

Once in the boat you stand with dozens of others as the boat is driven towards distant beaches and cliffs through a hot hailstorm of bullets and explosions. Boats moving nearby are, from time to time, hit with a high explosive shell and disintegrate in a red rain of bullets and body parts. Then there's the smell of men near you fouling themselves as the fear bites into their necks and they hunch lower into the boat. That smell mingles with the smell of cordite and seaweed.

In front of you, over the steel helmets of other men, you can see the flat surface of the bow’s landing ramp still held in place against the sea. Soon you are in range of the machine guns that line the cliffs above the beach ahead. The metallic dead sound of their bullets clangs and whines off the front of the ramp.

Then the coxswain shouts and the klaxon sounds and then you feel the keel of the LST grind against the rocks and sand of Normandy as the large shells from the boats in the armada behind you whuffle and moan overhead and then the explosions all around increase in intensity and then the bullets from the machine guns in the cliffs ahead and above rattle and hum along the steel plates of the boat and the men crouch lower and then somehow together lean forward as, at last, the ramp drops down and you see the beach and then the men surge forward and you step with them and then you are out in the chill waters of the channel wading in towards sand already doused with death, past bodies bobbing in the surf staining the waters crimson, and then you are on the beach.  It’s worse on the beach.

-Into The Jaws Of Death

Mark Steyn reminds us who they were

They were young, but they were not children. I was listening to President Obama explain yesterday from Brussels that the deserter he brought home from the Taliban this week was just a "kid". In fact, he's 28 years old. I remember walking through the Canadian graves at Bény-sur-Mer a few years ago. Over two thousand headstones, but only a handful of ages inscribed upon them: 22 years old, 21, 20… But they weren't "kids", they were men.

Tom Rogan explains why America remembers.  A US Army historian captures the scene:

Crossing bands of automatic fire caught most of the craft as the ramps were lowered, and from there on, losses were heavy. Most of them were incurred in the water, and among men who stopped to drag the wounded ashore. So exhausted and shaken were the assault troops that when they reached the sand, 300 yards from the shingle bank, most of them stopped there and crawled in just ahead of the tide. The greater number of the company's 105 casualties for D Day were suffered on the beach, in the first stage of assault.
For America, D-Day isn't about arrogant triumphalism, it's about celebrating young men who had never previously left their country, but in four years, defeated two tyrannical empires.

There were many others who played their part,  Like the spy who saved D-Day named Juan Garcia from Barcelona  in  one of the most extraordinary and significant subterfuges in espionage history: Operation Fortitude South 

that worked so well that Hitler kept two armored divisions and 19 infantry divisions back in the Pas-de-Calais throughout June, July, and August, and it is certain that had these units not been held back, the Allies would have faced a far bloodier landing. Even as late as 29 July, Hitler remained so convinced that García was on his side that he personally awarded him the Iron Cross for "extraordinary service". By the time anyone realized there was no invasion force bound for Calais under General Patton, it was too late.
….. García stepped down after D-Day for his own safety. In December, the Director General of MI5 awarded him the MBE, thus making him perhaps the only person to have been decorated by both sides in World War Two.

A great leader, General Dwight D Eisenhower inspired them with  the Order of the Day

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely…..

The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

That great leader was willing to take full responsibility for failure   It came to be known as the "In Case of Failure Letter." The supreme Allied commander intended it for his troops if the invasion failed. In four sentences, he accepted the blame:

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

President Ronald Reagan marked the 40th anniversary at Pointe du Hoc

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your ``lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''

Paul Wolfowitz remembers the debt owed to the heroes of D-Day.

"Veterans who were here then . . . will surely all agree that it was the longest day of our lives," said Walter Ehlers, the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor among the D-Day veterans, who was speaking at the 50th anniversary in Normandy….D-day, he once said, was "60 times worse than 'Saving Private Ryan.
"Sadly," continued Ehlers, who was an Army staff sergeant that fateful day, soon promoted to second lieutenant, "it was the end of the war for a great many brave men who died here that day. But it was also the beginning of the end for Hitler. The world changed June 6, 1944, the day the good guys took charge again."
"While we braved these then-fortified beaches to beat back Hitler and to liberate Europe . . . we fought for much more than that. We fought to preserve what our forefathers had died for . . . to protect our faith, to preserve our liberty. . . . I pray that the price we paid on this beach will never be mortgaged, that my grandsons and granddaughters will never face the terror and horror that we faced here. But they must know that without freedom, there is no life and, that the things most worth living for, may sometimes demand dying for."

 Soldiers In Normandy Cemetery

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 AM | Permalink

June 5, 2014

`The Broken Conversation We Call Prayer'

Patrick Kurp writes 'The Broken Conversation We Call Prayer' and in it introduces a new poet to me, Margaret Preston.

Preston continued writing into the late 1880s, when she became blind. Her husband died in 1890 and she followed in 1897. In her life is distilled the life of the divided nation, with her roots in the North and South, and so much death by war and otherwise….

One of those poems, also titled “Crossing the Pedregal,” is also spoken by a woman left behind – Mary Custis Lee to her husband, Gen. Lee, in the final days of the war. In the poem, Preston is writing on July 21, 1891. Her final lines transcend American history and speak for all who are humanly frail:

“When I was small I thought perhaps there was
A place of rest for us sometime, somewhere,
Where no one called and no one cried aloud.
I sometimes thought of death as offering that.
Your God is still my God and yet his Son,
Merciful and forgiving, now eludes me.
My sins are manifold. I feel myself
Exemplary of the seven and faith a state
I must remake each day, never a fixed
And steadfast thing like Thomas’s or yours.
As each sense fails, my consciousness narrows.
A deep fear comes and not a childhood dream.
I am not ready for my death. I fear
My fear’s betrayal of my long-held faith.
Nor is there anyone to comfort me,
Unless, in some form God shapes for our souls
I trust that you are here, that I am heard,
In the broken conversation we call prayer.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:19 PM | Permalink

The 'weird liveliness" of the death mask

In the Atlantic, Impressions from the Face of a Corpse by Luke Fidler The death mask’s uncanny capacity for portraiture, an Object Lesson

When the curators of Stanford University’s art museum asked Darren Waterston to make art from their collection, he fixed on the bone-white death mask of Leland Stanford Jr. Along with their millions, the Stanfords had left their faces to the university. Taken with the death mask, Waterston made it the subject of his 2009 exhibition Splendid Grief. His paintings, sculptures, and wallpaper designs responded as much to the mask’s aesthetic properties as its crystallization of grief.

The death mask is something between a creepy portrait and a contact relic. I shiver each time I brush one, for no matter my scholarly remove I can’t help but feel the presence of the dead under my fingertips. For inert matter, especially matter that speaks so stridently of death, the death mask trades on a weird liveliness. It’s an uncanny object, one that spurs us to reconsider the matter of portraiture and commemoration…..

The death mask became popular thanks to the assumption that it was a portrait par excellence. … Others, often relatives of the deceased, railed against death masks as grotesque perversions of portraiture. ….

Beethoven’s death mask, taken two days after he died, shows the saw marks where the composer’s ear bones were removed. His left ear later wound up in a curiosity cabinet.

 Deathmask-BeethovenBeethoven's death mask
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:26 AM | Permalink