Category Archives: Grandma Letters

Grandma Pat Letter: Cat Warfare: Cats Predict Catastrophic Children’s Blizzard of January 12, 1888

Dear Kids:

I could not help but notice that at a school bus stop this morning there was a young person wearing shorts, with no jacket, hat or mittens.  It is a Minnesota January and it is cold!  Going outside in the winter not dressed for the weather demonstrates even less common sense than fashion sense.  Let me tell you, there can be very bad consequences for not dressing warm in the winter.

Did you hear on the news this morning about a meteorological phenomena called a “Bomb Cyclone.”   This type of weather event is not new, but it is still dangerous and deserving of respect.  Well over one hundred years ago there was another “Bomb Cyclone” a winter  blizzard or “White Hurricane” that hit Minnesota and its neighboring states on January 12, 1888.   It was named the “Children’s Blizzard.”

Scores Frozen 4

The day of the Children’s Blizzard began with an unusually beautiful coppery colored sky.  Folks who had been trapped for months by severe cold and snow inside of dark windowless sod houses or drafty wooden homes emerged into the bright daylight to be caressed by a soft warm “velvety” breeze from the south.  The morning only seemed to improve with each passing hour.  Soon, the temperature had risen above freezing and in some areas into the 40’s and 50’s.

“Carl Saltee, a 16-year-old Norwegian immigrant in Fortier, Minn., remembered that “on the 12th of January 1888 around noontime it was so warm it melted snow and ice from the window until after 1 p.m.”

This beautiful January morning energized everyone.  After being housebound for so long almost everyone found a reason to head outdoors.  Adults found work to do, and for the first time in weeks children went to school.

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Schools in those days were mostly one-room country schools.  I actually went to one of those when I was in first grade. It was a long walk across a field and neighbor’s cow pasture, filled with cows, to get there.  I remember being cold a lot.  My grandmother braided a rug for me to have under my desk to help keep my feet warm. Also, there were no indoor toilets we had to use outdoor outhouses which were back behind the school building.  Trudging through snow drifts with a full bladder and parking your little bare butt on a frosty cold splint-laden wooden toilet seat in sub-zero temperatures is an experience not soon  forgotten.

blizzard outhouse

The children in 1888 also had to walk to school.  Yes, they, too, used out houses to go poop at school and at home. No, there was not any toilet paper. Most of these people were so poor that they couldn’t afford paper for school lessons. They certainly would not throw the precious commodity down an outhouse hole.  Leaves, grass, hay or corn cobs roughly served the purpose.  Poison Ivy leaves were identified at a young age and were to be avoided at all costs.

Not knowing that a horrible storm was coming and with the weather so warm, many of the youngsters shed their heavy winter coats and boots to enjoy the freedom of traipsing across the prairies with no hats or mittens and sporting lighter attire and footwear.  Undeterred by the presence of a teacher and the prospect of actually learning something, the students arrived at school excited to see and play with their friends.  Soon they were all inside, at their desks and reciting lessons.

Today computers, radars and even satellites in outer space are used to help the National Weather Service predict weather. Weather forecasts, watches and warnings are communicated immediately to the public on cell phones, computers, television and radio. Even with all of the current state-of-the-art technology, weather reports are not always accurate, nor do people heed weather alerts.  But, imagine living in a time where the only mass communication was Morse Code, telegraphs and newspapers.

In 1870 the government assumed responsibility for weather data collection and forecasting.  That would be only five years after the Civil War ended and still six years before George Armstrong Custer was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  Soldiers from the signal corps were in charge of weather predictions.

Weather data was collected by observers who measured air pressure, wind speed and temperatures several times a day, then telegraphed their data to district offices.  The district office would then decide whether or not to issue any weather warnings.  For some reason no Cold Front Warning was issued by a human for the Children’s blizzard.

Cats on the other hand did try to warn their humans about the impeding catastrophic change in the weather.  Cat owners reported that the morning of the storm their felines acted very strangely and began chasing their own tails or spinning.  Obviously mimicking the spin in the atmosphere.

What made this storm so dangerous?  The time of day it struck, its viciousness and the utter lack of a warning.  The blizzard raced across more than 780 miles in 17 hours as it slammed into Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Temperatures fell almost 100 degrees in 24 hours. The temperature dropped 18 degrees in just the first three minutes of the storm.  Snow drifts were quickly 20-25 feet deep.

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One minute the sun was shining and then,

“About 3:30, we heard a hideous roar. … At first we thought that it was the Omaha train which had been blocked and was trying to open the track. My wife and I were near the barn when the storm came as if it had slid out of sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terribly cold. Within a few minutes, it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one’s hand in front of one’s face.”

Wind speeds were measured at above sixty miles an hour in Minneapolis and gusted to over eighty miles an hour.  Roofs were blown off. Homes collapsed.  While there was still plenty of light fluffy snow left from an earlier storm to blow around,

“This was not a storm of drifting lace snowflakes, but of flash-frozen droplets firing sideways from the sky, an onslaught of speeding ice needles moving at more than 60 miles per hour. Even without the whiteout conditions — climate experts call this zero/zero visibility — many people couldn’t see because the microscopic bits of ice literally froze their eyes shut.”

To see, frozen eyelids had to be torn open or torn off.

There was no escaping the power of the storm,

As Newspaperman Charles Morse, founder of the Lake Benton News in Lake Benton, Minnesota reported,

“It was astonishing the manner in which this fine stuff would be driven through the smallest aperture. My sleeping quarters were on the second floor leading off a hallway at the head of the stairs. … On arriving home I found the wind had forced open the door and the stairway was packed with snow, and when I reached my room I found my bed covered with several inches of snow which had filtered over the threshold and through the keyhole.”

The great tragedy of the blizzard was that most of those who died were children who were caught in the storm walking home from school and farmers.   It is estimated that over 235 people died, 213 were children.  Seventy people lost their lives in Minnesota.

Many people, even those walking very short distances, became lost in the blinding snow and froze to death.  People were actually found frozen to death standing up.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported that recovered bodies were frozen so solid that they “give forth a metallic sound” when struck. Both humans and animals died from suffocation. There were so many fine ice crystals in the air that it was impossible to breathe.

blizzard_-_NOAA

Many of the dead were found right away. Some bodies were not discovered until spring when the snow melted.  Others were never found, because wolves ate them.

Teachers, parents and other brave souls did their best to save lives.

“By forming in parties of ten each, taking a long rope and marching across the prairie in line, the villagers today found all the lost school children except one”

“Schoolteacher Seymour Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, kept his 17 students at school when the storm began at 2 p.m. They stayed overnight, burning stockpiled wood to keep warm. The next day, parents made their way over five-foot snow drifts to rescue their children.”

“In Great Plains, South Dakota, two men rescued the children in a schoolhouse by tying a rope from the school to the nearest shelter to lead them to safety.”

Minnie Freeman, heroine of the Blizzard of 1888, 12_BLIZZARD1888
Minnie Freeman

Minnie Freeman, a teacher in Nebraska, successfully led her students to shelter after the storm tore the roof off of her one-room sod schoolhouse.  Another teacher wanted the parents of her students to know that they were safe inside the school so she had the children continuously ring the school bell all through the night.

Others were not so lucky.

“Lois Royce found herself trapped with three of her students in her schoolhouse. By 3 p.m., they had run out of heating fuel. Her boarding house was only 82 yards away, so she attempted to lead the children there. However, visibility was so poor that they became lost and the children, two nine-year-old boys and a six-year-old girl, froze to death. The teacher survived, but her feet were frostbitten and had to be amputated.”

“Ten-year-old Johnny Walsh of Avoca, Minn., froze to death trying to find his house.”

“Six children of James Baker froze to death while trying to make it home from school near Chester township, Minnesota. They were found with their arms entwining each other in the snow.”

Many times the rescuers themselves perished in the blinding storm.

“Norwegian immigrant Seselia Knutson became frantic when her husband, Knut, was trapped out in the blizzard. She went out to look for him and became so confused she froze to death under a sled just 40 steps from her front door.”

There were animals that rescued people from the storm.

Bear Claws the Heroic Dog

“Omaha Indians Charley Stabler and Rough Clouds were hunting and trapping muskrat and beaver along Beaver Creek near Genoa, Neb., with Stabler’s dog, Bear Claws. The young men took shelter under a tree, and snow drifted over them.

Stabler awoke the next morning. Rough Clouds was dead. Bear Claws was missing. Stabler could not break out of the tomb of ice and snow.

About noon Jan. 15, Stabler heard his dog whining and digging over his head. They both dug frantically and broke through the crust of snow. Stabler, with the dog at his side, crawled toward a dim light in the distance and fell against a farmhouse door. The farm family took him in and cared for his frozen hands and feet.

Bear Claws went on to the Omaha camp where he whined and whimpered until some of the men followed him to the farmhouse. The dog later led the men to the place where Rough Cloud’s body lay. Tracks in the snow showed that the dog had made many trips back and forth, trying to bring help to his master and friend.”

Leader of the Herd.

“A girl named Mary was out with the family cows in an Antelope County, Neb., field of corn stubble.

One of the old cows led the herd, and when it was time to take the cattle in, Mary would hold the old cow’s tail to walk home and the others would follow. The old cow started for home when the blinding storm hit. Mary grabbed the tail and was safely guided home.”

Old Blind Horse

“Theodore Peterson of Oakland, Neb., had been to the mill at Lyons to grind wheat for flour when he was caught in the storm. He was driving a wagon hitched to an old blind mare and another horse. The blind horse had been over the road many times without seeing it, so Peterson loosened the reins and let her find the way home.”

The Children’s Blizzard left its mark on the hearts, minds and bodies of many of its victims.  Families forever mourned the loss of their loved ones.  Towns would toll their school and church bells each year on the anniversary of the storm. Many people bore physical scars from their tangle with the bomb cyclone of January 1888.  Wooden legs, finger-less hands and missing ears announced that they had won the war and survived the blizzard, but had lost the fight with frostbite.

It’s effects also were forever remembered by your great-great-grandparents who actually survived that storm.  As a child I remember being told about a blizzard so bad that people lost their way trying to get from their barn back to their house and died wandering around in their field.  That is why from then on whenever winter set in, a rope was strung between our farmhouse and barn.

So when your mom and dad ask you to wear a coat, and put a hat and mittens in your backpack do it.  It is always better to be prepared and safe than lost in a prairie and sorry.

Then, too, if I ever see you kids waiting for a school bus wearing shorts without even a coat on a Minnesota January morning, I will conclude you are issuing a dare to look ridiculous.  I will accept the challenge and carry it out during your very next school event.  It will involve Grandpa’s Elmer Fudd hat and his rubber boots…the ones with the buckles.

blizzardboots

Stay warm and toasty,

Love

Grandma Pat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grandma Pat Letter: Cat Warfare…Christmas Revolution Cat

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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Dear Kids,

Wow, just a week to go until Christmas.  I suppose you gave Santa Claus a very long and detailed list.  Did you write it out in cursive or just print it out from the computer? Santa, I am sure, treasures all the letters he receives from children, but is something that is extra precious about a handwritten note from a kid. Why to old folks that is be a present all in itself.

When I was young we did not have computers, printers, Gameboys or even television.  That’s right…I grew up in a time when the best entertainment available was your own imagination, the great outdoors and books. I loved reading then, and as you are well aware from the size of my library in the den, I still love reading.

Do you know what the first book I ever read from was?  It was the Bible. I…

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Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare….The Battle of the Bulge

A short history of the World War II December Battle of the Bulge.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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Dear Kids,

Well, it is cold outside.  Our yard is like a muddy pig sty and my dogs have become the pigs.  Oliver is just loving digging in the mud.  Truman digs right alongside of Oliver and yet stays perfectly white, when Oliver the pup comes in looking like a filthy black bear.   He’s still always so cute…just like you.

Your grandma has started baking Christmas cookies for the holiday festivities.  Well, that and I give lots of cookies away to folks who otherwise wouldn’t get their favorites.  Many of my friends who are World War II veterans have already put in their requests.  Their favorites are my old-fashioned gingersnaps and Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies.  I will start the baking this week and fill my freezer with treats to be delivered before Christmas.  Don’t worry I will save plenty for you and your folks.

Of course, with a house filled…

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Letters to My Grandchildren: Cat Warfare….Pearl Harbor Sneak Attack Cats!

Grandma Pat loves sharing history with youngsters. This letter to her grandchildren is about, “A day the will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941, the day Japan surprise attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the United States entered World War II.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

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Dear Grandson,

Well there is finally a thin layer of ice on the pond behind our house.  It is much too soon to go on any ice…so STAY OFF THE ICE…until your dad says it’s safe.

Well I have decided to eat healthy this holiday season.  So every morning I have been eating cottage cheese with pineapple.  I love pineapple.  It is sweet and sour all at the same time.  Its yellow color reminds me of sunshine and the tropical island of Hawaii where it is grown.  I have never been there, but I am told it is just beautiful.

I do have a cousin who grew up in Hawaii. He lives out in California now.  He never could get used to the cold, snow and ice of Minnesota.  He is about the same age as your Great-Grandpa Larson.  This guy was amazing at Judo and was once a coach…

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Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare…. Armistice Day Blizzard, Big Cats, Fat Cats and a Cool Cat!

 

armistice day doorkick

Dear Kids,

Did you get a day off of school this week for Veteran’s Day  Well, I think you should.  November 11 was chosen as the day each year that we all take time to honor veterans.  In Europe it is called Armistice Day…we named it Veterans’ Day.

The ending of a World War is certainly an important date to remember, but Armistice Day here in Minnesota is also the anniversary of a very famous killer snow storm known forever as the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.

Let me tell you about this storm.

Weather reporting  was very different in 1940 than it is today.  There were no satellite images, radars, televisions or severe weather apps for smart phones.  There weren’t even cell phones at all. Weather reporting depended on the human observation, teletype, radio, newspapers, public postings and word of mouth.  Word of mouth, is God approved gossip.

While there were lots of weather records from the 1800’s, the information they contained was pretty much worthless for forecasting until computers. Prior to 1934 weather reports were generated twice a day (8 a.m and 8 p.m) by human observation and were telegraphed to regional offices.  The regional office responsible for Minnesota and its neighboring states was in Chicago.

Many people in towns and cities received weather reports on their radios, in daily newspapers, and public postings, but farm folks often did not have access to updated storm reports.  Telephone operators and mailmen did their best to help keep their rural neighbors informed, but it was a pretty imperfect system.

The national weather service improved its weather reporting with a major update in 1934.   A “breakfast” forecast was introduced in 1938, and weather reports were shared four times a day.  (4 a.m; 10 a.m; 4 p.m.; and 10 p.m.)  In 1940, five-day forecasting was introduced.  These twice a week reports were based on air pressure readings and climate history.

What is an air pressure reading? Air pressure is exactly what it sounds like. It is the weight of the air pressing down from above.  High pressure readings usually indicate good weather, while low readings warn that storms are on the way.

To find out what the air pressure is, you must use a barometer.  A barometer can look a  lot like an outdoor thermometer, the kind you hang on a wall, not like the one your mother sticks up your baby’s sisters butt.  However, what barometers and thermometers have in common is the use of mercury.  While a thermometer, measures temperature, the central column in the middle of a barometer’s pool of mercury rises or lowers depending air pressure.

barometer

Barometric pressure readings are best at short-term weather predictions of usually a day or two.  Typically, this is how a barometer works.  When the mercury in a barometer falls, it is time to look out for stormy weather.  The lower the air pressure, the worse the storm.  When the mercury rises, good weather is on the way.

This past summer you probably heard about several Hurricanes and how they use planes to punch through the storms devastating winds to get air pressure readings from the calm middle of the storm or the eye.  When a hurricane grows stronger, the air pressure drops.  A normal barometer reading at sea level on a nice calm sunny day would read about 29.53 inches.  One of the lowest recorded barometric pressures for a hurricane was for Gilbert in 1988 at just over 26 inches.

The Armistice Day Blizzard’s barometric pressure on November 10, as the storm approached Minnesota, was about 27.40 inches.  This storm was almost as strong as some of the worst hurricanes to hit our nation.  It is worth noting, and sad to report, that as this killer storm raced towards our state, on November 11, no one in the Chicago weather office was watching the storm’s rapid development. After the storm was over, a retired government weatherman reported that there was no overnight staffing, and, therefore very few, if any, warnings were issued.

The story of Minnesota’s killer blizzard actually begins on the western coast of the United States.  The pacific northwest to be exact.  When this storm came ashore some of its wind gusts were near hurricane-force.  In fact, the storm was so strong that it destroyed the world’s third longest expansion bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge located in the state of Washington.  At that time, the bridge, nicknamed “Galloping Gertie”, was regarded as an engineering marvel.

The bridge gained its nickname because a four-mile an hour breeze would make it jump about like a cat on catnip.  Oddly, enough, though the bridge was always very stable in higher winds. Until the gale of November 7, 1940.  The 35 to 45 mile per hour winds caused the middle section of the bridge to buck up and down about 3 to 5 feet.  The bridge collapsed before the entire storm even reached the shore.

The storm moved on land on November 8. Where it lashed Washington state with gale force winds as the barometer readings continued to fall.

Most storms weaken when they cross a mountain range, but not this one. As the storm moved over the Rocky mountains on November 10, it rapidly intensified over Colorado.  Then, it swiftly moved east and swung north.  Within six hours the center of the storm  reached Iowa, almost 825 miles!   West of the storm’s center were ice storms and blizzards, in front of it to the east were severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The day the killer blizzard struck Minnesota began unseasonably warm and sunny.  By mid-afternoon the temperatures had climbed to a warm 60 degrees. People had left home that morning dressed lightly to enjoy the beautiful fall weather….especially duck hunters.

It was the perfect day to go duck hunting.  Not only was the weather beautiful, but there were so very many more ducks that usual. Hunters could not believe their eyes and luck as never-ending huge flocks of ducks were flying in low.  The ducks knew what the hunters did not, there was an awful storm coming and they were escaping to safety, unlike many of the poor hunters.

As the winds of the impending storm grew stronger, temperatures rapidly dropped.  Soon, it began to rain, rain turned to sleet and sleet to snow. Within a few short hours the beautiful day had turned into a nightmare of a monstrous killer blizzard.

Even after the storm began in earnest, cold wet hunters refused to leave their duck blinds and boats, because it was the most ducks and best hunting they had every seen, and there had been no warning of a major storm, so they thought it wouldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t long before people caught outside in the storm found themselves cold, wet and in trouble.  Especially the duck hunters.

The blizzard lasted well into the next day, November 12.  Temperatures dropped from about 60 degrees in the morning, to 55 degrees below zero during the night. The fury of the storm caused zero visibility and wind gusts between 50 to 80 miles per hour.  To get an idea of how powerful of a storm this was, it is important to note that a Category I hurricane has sustained winds of 74 miles per hour.

The blizzard blanketed the ground with well over two-feet of snow in some places. The wild winds whipped the snow into drifts up to 20 feet high.  Roads and highways closed.  People quickly became stranded and trapped. Especially the duck hunters.

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Your great-great Uncle Vensel was out duck hunting that day when he got caught in the storm. Soaking wet and almost frozen he barely made it home. Even so, he became so sick that his family claimed his health never recovered. Still, Vensel was one of the lucky ones….he made it home.

Many duck hunters both young and old alike were caught unprepared. Some of the hunters, tried to take shelter on small Mississippi River islands. Under-dressed for winter weather, many froze to death in their duck blinds and boats. Others decided to try to reach shore. To do so they had to battle waves up to 15 feet high in the shallow river channels and marshy sloughs. Duck boats were swamped by the high waves and hunters drowned.

Of the 49 people from Minnesota who died in the storm, almost half were duck hunters. The City of Winona, turned its city garage into a morgue, where the frozen bodies of the doomed hunters were collected, thawed-out and identified.

ArmisticeStormDeadHunters
Yes, this is a picture of real dead duck hunters bodies, but with all the violent crap you kids watch on television and in video games, I am not having any of it that this is….too scary. 

Rescuers had to use long poles to find missing cars in the over twenty-foot snow drifts. It took days and in some instances almost a month to reopen roads.  It wasn’t just the roads that were impassable. Passenger trains also were stuck in the snow.

For many people who lived in rural areas, communication with the outside world was completely cut off.  Newspapers and mail deliveries were impossible on snow blocked roads and telephone and power lines were down.  Many homes, barns, and outbuildings had been damaged by the ice, snow and high winds.

In total, the storm killed 149 people.  In addition to the hunters, people that were stranded in their cars also perished.  In the City of Watkins, Minnesota, two trains crashed together during the blinding blizzard killing two people.  Over 60 sailors lost their lives in Lake Michigan when the freighters SS Anna C. Minch, SS Novadoc and the SS William B. Davock, along with two smaller boats sank.  Wisconsin had 13 people die, Illinois another 13 and Michigan had four souls perish.  In addition to the loss of human life, thousands of cows died and over 1.5 million turkeys.

It seems that no matter how bad the crisis there always seem to be people who put the welfare of others before their own. Max Conrad and John R. “Bob” Bean, both pilots, from Winona are good examples.  As soon as the storm was over, these two guys flew up and down the Mississippi river valley locating hunters who had managed to survive the storm and dropping life-saving supplies to them. Both of these men were honored for the heroism.

For a few days after the storm ended, search parties recovered the dead hunters and other victims of the storm. Some of those stranded on islands did manage to survive the storm. One hunter spent the entire night walking in circles to prevent freezing to death.  Others, who were lucky enough to survive, lost their hands or feet from severe frost bite.

People in Minnesota are used to bad winter storms and this storm was not going to beat them. Big cats were used to help clear many of the roads…big Caterpillar bulldozers.

Not only do our people know how to survive bad weather, so do our cats!  Well, at least those who live by caves.  After the storm was over cats seemed to getting very fat.  Soon it was discovered that the felines were feasting on the thousands of frozen dead bats who had become lost in the storm and died before they could find the opening to their caves.

As the “winds of hell” raged the night of the storm, a young pianist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was performing in concert at the College of St. Teresa, in Winona. The winds howled so loudly outside the concert hall that the young man’s beautiful music became difficult to hear.  Eventually, the young musician realized that the storm was something extraordinary and began to leave the stage.  The audience pleaded with him to stay.  Which he did.  He dedicated his next song, titled “The Night Winds” to the storm.  The young musician survived the killer blizzard and became so famous that he would be known by just his last name…..Liberace.   A very cool cat!

liberace2

I think, I might get you youngsters weather stations for Christmas.  I believe that every child should have a barometer, weather radio, very warm coat, dry boots, thick hat and mittens.  And, that every mother should have a butt thermometer!!

Lots of love, hugs and kisses!

Grandma Pat

Letters From Grandma Pat: Cat Warfare and The Battle of the Black Death

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Dear Kids,

I am glad that you had a safe and Happy Halloween.   Please know that your parents’  idea of a “Daddy” or “Mommy” tax on candy collected on Halloween or Easter did not  originate with myself or your grandpa.  We would never have expected or accepted anything from our children more than what they were graciously willing to share.  At any rate, don’t eat all of the candy in one day….you, your stomach and teeth will regret it.

So, when you got home did you dump out all of your candy out for an inspection?  I bet your cats thoroughly checked out each and every piece.  They always remind me of the poor souls who had to taste all of a king’s food, to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.  I bet those folks wished they had nine lives like a cat and I bet you don’t know about the time cats saved all of humankind by winning the “Battle of the Black Death.”

Seriously,  we all know that cats do not have more than one life on this earth, so how did this myth about the nine lives get started? An Old English proverb says that, “A cat has nine lives.  For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”  However, the nine lives myth is much older than this proverb and even merry old England itself.

The myth that cats have nine lives has been around for centuries. Even the famous English playwright William Shakespeare referred to it in his play, “Romeo And Juliet.” He wrote, “Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me? Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”

Actually, no one knows for sure when this myth got started, but historians believe it may have begun in ancient Egypt where cats were sacred. In fact, their goddess Bastet was pictured as being half cat and half woman.  Ha! The first cat woman!

Cats in Egypt were revered in life and greatly mourned after they died. They were mummified, just like people, and had their own tombs.  Interestingly, a cat tomb with over 80,000 mummified cats was discovered at Beni Hassan in Egypt in 1888.  That’s a lot of cat mummies.

The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Greeks thought that number nine was special…even magical. Ancient Egyptians believed that their god Atum or Atum-Ra took on the form of a cat whenever he visited the underworld or as we call it today….hell.  During one of his visits to the land of the dead, Atum gave birth to eight other gods.  Therefore one life, became nine.

The Egyptians were not alone in thinking there was something special about the number nine. Tradition and religion made the Greeks think that the number nine had power for it was the trinity of all trinities. Not every culture credits a cat with nine lives. Spain has a tradition that cats only have seven lives, and in Arabia and Turkey the feline only gets six

It was the Romans who brought cats to Europe.  During their occupation of Egypt, the Romans learned to appreciate the pet felines for their mouse catching skills.  It didn’t take long before cats became popular European pets…that is….until the middle ages.  Poor cats!  Within a few centuries they went from being worshiped in ancient Egypt to medieval Europeans thinking they were a death delivering soldier of the devil.

Being born a cat, especially a black cat, in medieval Europe was just plain bad luck.  It is the only unlucky thing about a black cat.  Cats at that time were so terribly misunderstood.  Their nose-in-the-air attitudes and ability to survive falls that would have killed any other animal got them labeled as being other worldly and evil.

One guy, named Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, was so fascinated by a cats amazing ability to land on its feet that he decided to test the extent of this cat talent.  So, in the year 962 A. D.  he threw several cats off of a very high tower.  Well, the cats survived and ran away.  The experiment, with the poor unfortunate cats, was so entertaining, that the Belgian town made it an annual event and festival. Each year after a procession celebrating cat history, felines were thrown from an almost 230 foot tower.  Live cats were used until 1817, when the folks in Belgian decided that maybe, just maybe, this tradition was unkind and began using toy cats instead.

At that time, being thrown off a tower was the least of a cat’s problem.  During the middles ages, from about 1300 until the 1700, every few generations, a terrible disease called the Bubonic Plague would savage the cities and countrysides of Europe.  This disease killed up to 50 percent of the total population in some parts of England.  France lost up to 90 percent of its people in some areas.

The  Bubonic Plague otherwise known as the “Black Death” came to Europe in October of 1347 when twelve Asian trading ships docked in Messina, Sicily.  Crowds had gathered on the piers to welcome the ships when to their horror most of the sailors on the ships were  found dead and the remainder were terribly ill.

Before the ships of death had even reached Sicily’s shores, many Europeans were already frightened by the rumors that a “Great Pestilence” had ravaged the Near and Far East.  As early as the 1340’s China, India, Syria, Egypt and Persia had experienced the plague’s effects.  To protect the public from being infected by this horrible contagion, the death ships were immediately ordered to return to sea.

However, it was already too late. This disease, spread by flea-infested rats, had already jumped ship.  The plague had begun. Before it was over more than 25 million people in Europe, almost a third of its population would be dead.  Not only did this disease kill people, it also killed animals, including farm animals such as cows, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens.  So many animals perished that food and wool shortages occurred.

The plague is an ugly disease.  It causes its victims to run a high fever, vomit uncontrollably and experience an incredible amount of pain. Worst yet were the horrible black bleeding and oozing sores that covered the victim’s entire body.  These black sores are what gave the disease the name, “The Black Death.”   Its victims looked like rotting puss covered zombies.

Death from this disease came so quickly that a person could be healthy when they went to bed at night and dead before morning.  The nursery rhyme “Ring around the Rosy”  is believed to have been written about the symptoms of the Black Death.

Unlike today, in those days there were no doctors or medicines that could help the victims.  Panic ensued. People turned on each other, families abandoned their own sick family members, doctors refused help the sick, and priests refused administering last rites to the dying.

As in most cases of historical public panic, a scapegoat was needed. In this case it was….Jewish people and cats.

At the time the plague struck very little was known about how disease spread. So, people who under normal circumstances seemed to have perfectly well-functioning brains,  threw open all the doors and windows of their mental facilities to let reason and common sense escape and welcome in ridiculously stupid ideas to explain the illness.  Such as, that the plague of the Black Death was a punishment from a loving God.

While I would never speak for God or suggest he never has used a catastrophe or two to get our attention.  I don’t believe that disease is ever a punishment from God for sin, because Jesus paid the full price for all of our sins on the cross. Nor, do I believe that God tests the sick.  I think it is highly more likely that if a loving God is testing anyone, it is the people close to the stricken to see if they practice what they preach and meet the needs of the suffering with compassion, kindness and love.

No, I do not believe that the plague was a divine punishment. However, people during the middle ages were told differently.

In those days the most powerful authority in the land was the Catholic church.  Church leaders believed that the Black Death was God’s punishment. To end the plague, the church taught that communities needed to be cleansed of non-believers and perpetual troublemakers.  During the years of 1348 and 1349, violent panic-stricken mobs massacred thousands of Jewish people.  Many Jews were forced to flee to Eastern Europe to be safe.

In addition to the genocide of the Jews, cats were also targeted by the church.  A century before the plague, the church had taught that cats were evil. It was believed that devil worshipers and witches used cats to cast their spells…especially black cats.   This is where and when the superstition about black cats began.

Well, it didn’t take long before cats were feared and killed off by the thousands.  In some areas cat ownership was actually outlawed.  At one point during the middle ages cats had been almost entirely eradicated in England.

Humans often make poor choices and the attempt to rid Europe of cats was just that…a bad idea.  Cats kill rats. Rats had the fleas that caused the Black Death.  Therefore, when there weren’t a lot of cats, there were a lot of rats and a disease outbreak occurred.

Some humans ignored the law and kept their pet cats.  Other folks soon noticed that cat owners seemed to not get the plague as often.  It does amaze me that these cat owners weren’t immediately labeled as witches and burned at the stake.  Boy, did folks back then like burning witches at the stake, but that is another story.

For once, however, calmer heads prevailed.  It was decided that cats somehow protected their owners from the plague.  Primitive scientific research and thinking took place and it was determined that rats not cats spread the plague.

Of course with this discovery everyone wanted cats. Unfortunately,  there were not very many left.  It took awhile to re-populate the cat population. However, Tom Cats were up to the challenge and made every effort to impregnate every female cat they could find. (If you don’t know what impregnate means, ask your dad.) 

Due to the commitment to duty and impregnating excellence of the Tom Cats, it wasn’t long before cats were back at the job killing rats and controlling the spread of this horrible disease. Some say that without the rat killing skills of those medieval cats, humankind could have been wiped-out by the plague.  After all of the abuse from humans, isn’t it odd that cats helped save them.  Funny how life works out sometimes.

While cats helped humans land back on their feet after the plague, people still did not know why cats almost always landed on their feet.  It took until 1894 before science could explain a cat’s amazing talent for surviving a fall by landing on its feet.

French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey conducted experiments with cats.  Unlike the Belgians, he dropped them from short-safe distances.  With the help of a camera that took multiple images very quickly, Mr. Marey demonstrated the secret to a cat’s amazing gymnastic agility.

As a cat falls, it instinctively begins a twisting action beginning with its head and ending with the tail called an aerial righting reflex. It takes only one second for a cat to complete this reflex action. Kittens as young as three weeks show signs of this ability, which the kitten masters when they are about seven weeks old.  However, a cat cannot land on its feet if the distance is too low for the cat to make its twist or if the fall is so high that it becomes a cat pancake.

Here is how a cat can almost always land on its feet:

1. First the cat’s head begins to rotate.

2  Next, the cat will arch and twist its spine so that its front and back legs are rotating in opposite directions.

3.  As the cat begins the roll, it pulls in its front legs and extends its back ones, making the front half of its body to spin more quickly than the back half.  Then, the process is reversed.  As the cat’s back legs swing around, they are tucked up into the body and the front legs extended to prevent over-spinning.

4.  The result of all this motion allows the cat to land on all four paws cushioning the impact of the landing.

I better never hear of anybody throwing a cat around and claim its a science experiment.  Cats can and do get hurt easily.  And, like all of God’s creatures, cats were put on this earth to be treated kindly and cared for with gentleness and love.

I guess cats have earned the right to ignore the concept of humility and strut their stuff like a Lion King.  After all, if it wasn’t for their ancestors killing a lot of rats none of us humans might be here.

Have a great week and I love you all very, very much.

Love

Grandma Pat

Letter’s From Grandma Pat: Three-fingered Kenny and 4th of July Trivia

july 4th

Howdy!  Hope that your week is going great and that you are having a lot of fun during your summer vacation from school.   However, fun, no matter how inviting or exciting, is never an excuse for not being careful and safe.  Brains were not made by God to set on a shelf, they are meant to be used. You have a good one, use it.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s letter…not blowing off your fingers or toes, or blinding yourself with fireworks. Fireworks are great fun to see, hear and have during our nation’s birthday celebration on the 4th of July.  However, they are dangerous and demand respect. I know its fun to shoot off a firecracker or two, but safe first!

I once knew a kid in high school that did not have respect for the power of gun powder. He became known as “Three-finger, Kenny.”  And, those three fingers were just gnarled and twisted red stubs.  The only good thing was that he could never again be a right-handed nose-picker.

Fireworks have been enjoyed by humans for a very long time. The first recorded fireworks rockets were made in China around 600 A.D and were used to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck and happiness.  I guess if all evil was chased away,  there would be only good luck and happiness.

Before fireworks were invented, there were explosives and projectiles used as weapons for war. The Chinese were the first to develop “black powder.”  Black powder is the earliest known chemical explosive, and is made with sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter.

I know you know what sulfur and charcoal are, but what is saltpeter? Saltpeter is potassium nitrate. In addition, to helping make explosives, saltpeter has been used as a food preservative since the middle ages…for over 1500 years.  It is interesting that saltpeter was used to preserve food, since, at that time, it was made from bat poop, or people or animal urine.  In fact, during the Civil War, women collected urine to help make black powder, but that’s a different story.

The first fireworks that the Chinese made were not colored.  They boomed loudly, but only produced faint golden light and orange flashes.  It wasn’t until the 1830’s that Italians added trace amounts of metals and other chemicals to produce the bright colors we see in today’s fireworks. The Chinese are still the biggest producers of fireworks in the world.

Once seen, it wasn’t long before fireworks became very popular in Europe especially among kings, queens and nobility.  The earliest recorded fireworks display in England was in 1486 for King Henry VII’s wedding day.  French kings shot off fireworks, among other things, at their palaces. The Russian Czar, Peter the Great, celebrated the birth of his son with five hours of fireworks.

The first display of fireworks in the New World was in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608.  The American colonists took to the idea of explosives for entertainment with their usual gusto and by 1731 the colony of Rhode Island banned fireworks due to, “mischievous use.”

It was John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the second president of our country, who felt that our nation should use fireworks to celebrate independence from Great Britain.  On July 3, 1776, he wrote a letter to his wife Abigail that said, ” The day will be most memorable in the history of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfire and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward and forever more.”

Fireworks have been a part of 4th of July celebrations since the birth of our nation. Actually, even before the Declaration was signed, colonists used to celebrate the king’s birthday with the ringing of bells, bonfires, parades, fireworks and long public speeches. This tradition changed when the colonists declared their freedom from the English crown.  In 1776 many colonists held mock funerals for the English King to symbolize and celebrate the end of the monarch’s rule in America.

The city of Philadelphia, known as the city of brotherly love, got the colonists back on the high road when they held the first official independence day celebration in 1777. There were concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of cannon, muskets and fireworks. Also, in Philadelphia on July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence.

The July 4th holiday continued to be celebrated throughout Revolutionary War years. Soldiers fighting in the war, received a double ration of rum to recognize the day. The first state to make the day an official state holiday was Massachusetts in 1781.  The oldest, continuous, observance takes place Bristol, Rhode Island.  This city has had a 4th of July parade every year since 1785.  Thomas Jefferson hosted the first 4th of July celebration at the White House in 1801.

Folks did and do still take this patriotic holiday very seriously.  In Swan, Colorado, in 1884, angry miners blew up the post office, because it hadn’t supplied fireworks for their 4th of July festivities. I guess exploding dynamite isn’t as exciting as firecrackers and rockets.

Currently,  285.3 pounds of fireworks will be needed to supply the over 14,000 public fireworks displays and numerous private celebrations. American’s will spend $6.77 billion on food and will consume 155 million hot dogs.  To go with those hot dogs, $92 million will be spent on chips, $167.5 million on watermelon, and $341.4 million on beer.

But, is July 4th the real birthday of our country?

Not according to our second president John Adams.  The members of the Second Continental Congress from the 13 original colonies actually voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence.  John Adams felt that July 2, should be the day for Independence Day celebrations.  The final draft of the declaration was approved by congressional committee on July 4.   It wasn’t until August 2 that all of the delegates finally signed the document.  However, when the document was sent to the printer, the date of July 4 was printed in big letters at the top of the sheets of paper.  So, July 4th it was!

The Declaration of Independence was actually designed by committee.  A committee of five to be exact.  The members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the actual document.  He was only 33 years old at the time.

The signers of the Declaration all knew that the penalty for revolting against the King was death.  Even knowing that they could be hung or shot for putting their names on the document, they signed it.  John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed it first, big and bold.  Fifty-six men, from the 13 original colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, signed.

It is not true that the declaration was the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  The first battles of Lexington and  Concord, Massachusetts, took place in April 1775.   Crispus Attucks, a fugitive African-American slave, was the first American to die when British soldiers fired upon the colonists in 1770, at the “Boston Massacre.”

The Americans were certainly out manned, gunned and financed during the Revolutionary War. At the time that the Declaration of Independence was issued the total population in the 13 original colonies was about 2.5 million people. (Our population today is over 300 million.)  In 1776 the city of London, alone, had a population of almost a million.

The cost of over eight years of war was immense.  Our nation spent over 151 million dollars to win independence from the king.  The war was also hard on the small population of the colonies. During the height of the war there were 80,000 men serving as militia or continental Army soldiers.  Over 8,000 soldiers were killed in battle, 17,000 died of disease, and 25,000 were wounded.  One in 20 able-bodied white males died. England had 24,000 soldiers killed in battle.

White men were not alone in serving in the Continental Army, so did African-American Slaves. Every state north of the Potomac river offered slaves their freedom in exchange for their service in the military.   While the northern colonies actively recruited black soldiers, the southern colonies were very opposed to the idea.  Between 5,000 to 8,000 African-Americans became veterans of this war. Black soldiers served as wagoners, cooks, waiters, craftsmen and carried weapons and fought.  Several all-black military units, commanded by white officers, saw action, fought bravely and gained a reputation as being, “the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.”

It would be almost a century later and take an even more bloody Civil War to legally end the slavery of African-Americans.  Only then was the promise of freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence no longer reserved for a select few, but became, as God always intended…a sacred human right for all people.

Here are some other interesting 4th of July facts:

The only president to have been born on the 4th of July was Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president born in 1872.

Three of the first five presidents died on the 4th.  They were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.  Oddly enough, Adams, the second president and Jefferson, the third, died on the same day in 1826, on our country’s 50th birthday.  Adams final thoughts were that all would be well because Jefferson still lived, he did not know that Jefferson had died several hours before him.

Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the only signer to recant his signature, swear allegiance, again, to King George III.  Traitor!

Every Independence Day the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped 13 times in honor of the original 13 colonies.  It cannot be rung, because of the crack in it.

Contrary to popular legend, Betsy Ross did not design the U.S. flag.   No one knows who sewed the first flag, but chances are it wasn’t Ms. Ross.  Her ancestors created the story a century after the revolution. This cute legend was kept going by being included in grade school books.

The modern 50-star flag was designed in 1958 by Robert G. Heft, a high school student. This teenager, from the state of Ohio, was given a history assignment to create a new national flag that included the recent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. His flag design only earned him a B-minus from his teacher. However, after his design was chosen by President Eisenhower to be our nation’s new flag, the lad’s teacher changed his grade to an A.

Each color in our National flag has a different meaning. Red symbolized hardiness and valor. White is for purity and innocence. Blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice. The 50 stars represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes are for the 13 original colonies.

The patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle” was originally sung by British military officers before the Revolutionary War to mock the disorganized American colonists.

Our national anthem the, “Star Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 and is set to the tune of an old British bar, or pub, song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It did not become the official national anthem until 1931.

Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are responsible for the bald eagle becoming our national bird.  Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, supported the wild turkey.

July 4th:

1944—United States troops fired a 1,100 gun salute at German lines in Normandy

1942—The United States air offensive against nazi-German began.

1939—The New York Yankees retire the first player’s uniform…Lou Gehrig #4

1914—The first motorcycle race in the United State took place.  It was 300 miles long.

1911—Ty Cobb goes 0 for 4 and ends a 40 game hit streak.

1911—Ed Walsh, White Sox, ends Ty Cobb’s 40-game hitting streak.

1895—The song “America the Beautiful” is published.

1894—Elwood Haynes successfully tests one of the first American made cars.  Top speed               was six mph.

1888—Prescott, Arizona holds the first organized rodeo competition.

1884—The Statute of Liberty is presented to the United States in Paris.

1828—Construction begins on the first United States passenger Railroad the  B and O                     (Baltimore-Ohio).

1817—Work began to build the Erie Canal.

I hope you have a wonderful time, safely, celebrating the 4th of July.  There really is a lot about our nation to celebrate.  And, despite all of the differences that our country seems to have at this time, I still believe the words of President John F. Kennedy hold true, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Grandma Pat