Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vin Fiz: Adventures With Grape Soda

There’s a little restaurant not too far from my home that we frequent for the great steaks and great service.   I usually order an adult beverage before dinner….a little something served up in a martini glass called a Cosmic Grape.   The drink reminds me of a frozen Fanta Grape soda…..not as sweet as a Fanta, but similar.   The last time we were there I ordered my Cosmic Grape and then wondered aloud what might be in the drink so we could recreate it at home.   I assumed it contained one of the new flavored vodkas….seems like every flavor under the sun is offered up these days.

I picked up my hand-dandy smart phone and went online to look up the recipe.   I entered the words “cosmic grape” in the search box.

Guess what I found?

Yes, I found recipes that seemed like they could be my beloved Cosmic Grape, but I found something much more interesting.

My recipe quest was soon forgotten because I found a bit of history involving grade soda and the first transcontinental flight across our country. 

The year was 1911 and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst offered $50,000 to the first person who flew a plane from coast to coast within a 30 days or less.  This was most certainly a challenge in those days because on average planes flew at 50 miles per hour and only rose to about 1,000 feet in the air.

Calbraith Perry Rodgers was a risk taker.  Perhaps his bravery came from overcoming the fact he was deaf in one year and nearly deaf in the other….due to scarlet fever.   Perhaps his bravery stemmed from the fact he was related to Oliver Hazard Perry – hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 and Matthew Calbraith Perry – U.S. Navy Commodore during the Mexican-American War, served during the War of 1812, and was instrumental in opening up China to the West in the 1850s.   The family could also trace their family line to the Scottish hero William Wallace.

Calbraith Perry Rodgers
Knowing his family connections it’s not surprising to find out Calbraith Perry Rodgers became interested in aviation.   He took 90 minutes of flying lessons with Orville Wright and became only one of 49 men who were licensed to fly in 1911.

He took Hearst up on his challenge and set about finding a sponsor to help with the expense of flying a plane across the United States.

Enter another famous name during the early 20th century – J. Ogden Amour – owner and president of Amour & Company.  During his tenure as president the company expanded nationwide and overseas, growing from a small regional meatpacker to the largest food product company in the United States.

Mr. Armour agreed to sponsor Rodgers.   Part of the deal required Rodgers to name his plane after a new soft drink Armour was promoting – a grape soda called Vin Fiz.   The drink was one of several that hit the market at the turn of the century as an answer to temperance movement.  The soda’s name would be painted on the plane’s rudders and underneath the wings.   Vin Fiz was known as “the ideal grape soda”.   Somehow I don’t think it could hold a candle to my beloved Fanta Grape.   I guess I’ll never know….   

Armour also paid for a chase train to follow Rodgers.  The 3-car support train would be known as the Vin Fiz Special.

Grape sodas wasn’t the only thing promoted on the flight.  Airmail service was also promoted with special 25-cent postage stamps.   They weren’t issued by the Post Office, but they were allowed at the time.   Mail carried on the Vin Fiz also had to have regular stamps, too.   The Vin Fiz stamps were large and inscribed “Rodgers Aerial Post” and “Vin Fiz Flyer”.   There was a picture of the plane on them as well.  Today the stamps are very rare…..there are 12 known to exist today…….seven on postcards, one on a cover, and four individuals.  One sold in 1999 for $88,000.
The flight began on September 17, 1911 taking off from Sheepshed Bay, New York.   Along the way there were 75 stops and 16 crashes….and yes……several injuries.

Sadly Rodgers missed the 30 day deadline imposed by William Randolph Hearst.  His next to the last stop was Pasadena, California where he landed the Vin Fiz in front of a crowd of 20,000 people.  The landing hadn’t been his best leaving Rodgers with a concussion and a spinal twist.   He wasn’t finished though.  He took off again and finally reached the Pacific Ocean landing on the beach and then promptly taxied into the surf on December 10th.   It had taken nearly three months, but the actually flying time amounted to 84 hours or three and half days.

Today the Vin Fiz plane is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

You can find out more details regarding the Vin Fizz here.

Clive Cussler…one of my favorite authors….penned what has been described as a charmingly nostalgic tale about a pair of ten-year-old twins who get their wish to explore the wide world beyond their parent’s  California farm titled The Adventures of Vin Fiz.   Check it out!

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day, 2012

Happy President's Day!!!

When I was younger we didn’t have a day to celebrate all U.S. Presidents.  Instead we split the day in two and recognized Abraham Lincoln and George Washington since their birthdays were both in February…, I’m linking to two past articles.  The first involves Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.  This article originally appeared at History Is Elementary as well as American Presidents Blog in 2008.  You can view it here.

This post appeared at History Is Elementary in 2007 and detailed a famous image we have of George Washington at Valley Forge.   I discuss how I used the image in the classroom and how controversy should not be avoided…but embraced to help students discover for themselves those areas that are white or black…but most of the time controversial areas are really just…. gray.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Slavery: Not Quite Gone with the Wind

I met up with a teacher the other day that has the privilege of introducing the Civil War to her fourth graders each year. 

The word “introducing” is a little misleading, however.  I live in Georgia where natives, no matter the ethnicity, are born with “The War” ingrained in our souls.   We can’t escape it, we can’t deny it – it’s always there.   Some of our earliest collective memories are filled with the statues around the town square, old family photographs; we hear the stories and see the preserved battlefields that dot our landscape.

I haven’t met a fourth grade student yet who doesn’t know something about the Civil War, but the fourth school year is designated by the Georgia Social Studies curriculum to formally learn about the war in an academic setting.   My own personal experience indicates students are eager to begin the process.   A formal study helps them connect to family stories still lingering around the Sunday dinner table and helps them sift through the facts and myths they already know.

I asked my teaching friend how she taught her Civil War unit.   Even with today’s mandated standards every teacher has his or her own personal methods that make each lesson unique.  I was interested to know the ingredients to her Civil War unit.

My colleague responded, “Well, we read the text, I add in some graphic organizers, we build a word wall, and I have some really great Civil War worksheets.”  

I really hoped that wasn’t everything so I asked, “What is the focal point of your unit….or better yet, what is the culmination of your unit?”

“Well…..I wrap it up by showing Gone with the Wind over a few days.  I give the unit test, and we move on.”



Now, I like Gone with the Wind as much as the next southern belle, and I really don’t mind students watching the movie, but I have a real problem when teachers allow the movie to stand in the place of real content.   They are merely passing along myths of the “Old South” instead of correcting them.   A formal academic view of the Civil War should help students connect to the prevalent myths, but it most certainly should correct them as well.   The movie can be shown, but the proper context should be present.

Gone with the Wind, the movie, is Hollywood entertainment at its very best with a few facts thrown in.   Gone with the Wind, the book, by Margaret Mitchell, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and yes….there is a reason why I present the word “fiction” in bold face.

There ARE historical inaccuracies with Gone with the Wind. 
From the website Internet Movie Database we find there are inaccuracies with dates.   When Mr. O’Hara announces the war is over because Lee surrendered the movie makes no note that Lee’s surrender had no real effect on Georgia.  In fact, Georgia state troops didn’t surrender until the following month, and General Kirby Smith’s surrender in Texas on May 26 is considered the end of the Civil War.  

When Melanie is nursing a soldier he tells her he hasn’t heard from his brother since the Battle of Bull Run.   A Confederate soldier would never have referred to the battle by that name.   It was known in the North as the Battle of Bull Run, but Southerners knew the battle as The Battle of Manassas.
When Frank Kennedy is killed we assume he and other men in Atlanta were attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting, but the group is never identified. They are mysteriously absent yet were part of the true story.

Margaret Mitchell was dismayed at the scale of the Tara and Twelve Oaks sets.   She advised, “I grieve to hear that Tara has columns.  Of course, it didn’t, and looked nice and ugly like Alex Stephens’ Liberty Hall in Crawfordville, Georgia.”(See image here)  Mitchell advised nothing like the movie versions of Tara and Twelve Oaks were ever seen in Clayton County and advised further, “When I think of the healthy, hardy, country and somewhat crude civilization I depicted and then of the elegance that is to be presented, I cannot help yelping with laughter…”  

IMBd also advises the problems regarding the scene commonly referred to as “the Burning of Atlanta.”  It was not the actual burning of the city by General Sherman in November, 1864.  Instead, the scene represents the night, two months earlier, when the retreating Confederate army torched its ammunition dumps to keep the Union army from capturing them.

Then there are the convicts Scarlett O’Hara leases from the state to work at the sawmill.  Discussing this with students would provide an opportunity to connect the end of slavery to the next unit of study regarding Reconstruction.  If you go back and watch the scene the convicts are depicted as white prisoners.  In truth this is very incorrect.   It is highly likely that the workforce Scarlett would obtain from the convict lease program would have been black and the charges that had resulted in their incarceration would be highly suspect today.

Convict leasing became a common practice following the Civil War.   In his book titled Going up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation, Joseph T. Hallinan advises, “After the war, many Southern states strapped for cash, leased their convicts to private businesses.   Their best customers were those that offered some of the worst work:  railway contractors, coal mines, and lumber and turpentine companies.”   

 I agree with Hallinan…..unfortunately, the lease system largely resembled slavery.   Hallinan advises, “Most Southern convicts after the Civil War were black and under most lease systems employers virtually owned the convicts they leased.  They were free to move them around the state unsupervised.  The system led to horrible abuses, many inmates were flogged, shackled or placed in the stocks.   Inmates were often ill clothed and ill fed, and many of them died.   In Louisiana, as many as 3000 inmates died under the convict lease system.”

I’m almost certain there is a reader out there wondering the two words that signify indifference, so I’ll insert them here:

So what?

I can see your point.   They were prisoners.   Murderers, rapists, thieves, and were just getting what they deserved, right?

Have you ever heard of the Black Codes?  Those were laws passed in the South immediately following the war that controlled the labor and migration of newly freed slaves.    This newspaper article advises most of the convicts were charged with minor offenses such as jumping a freight train, adultery, or gambling.   Many were merely deemed to be vagrants – a person without a settled home or work, and when they couldn’t prove they were employed the state sentenced them to many months of hard labor.  At that point their contracts were sold to private companies under the convict lease system.

In his book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Douglas A. Blackmon advises The Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company was one of the largest users of convict leasing for coal mining labor in Alabama.  Eventually TCI was bought by U.S. Steel   During their first year oownership…..1908…..almost 60 convict workers died from workplace-related accidents. 

One of the U.S. Steel mines….the Pratt Mine in Birmingham…..had over 1,000 men working the mine requiring them to dig and load coal.   Their daily quota was 8 tons or they could expect to be whipped.   They were chained at night.  The men suffered from disease and when they died they were dumped in shallow graves.  Most worked off their sentences at the rate of $12.00 per month.

Blackmon’s website seen here discusses the term “neoslavery” – a term that encompasses all of the various ways black men across the South were sold into bondage or involuntary servitude.

During an interview with NPR, Blackmon advised:

On July 31, 1903, a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House from Carrie Kinsey, a barely literate African American woman in Bainbridge, Georgia. Her fourteen-year-old brother, James Robinson, had been abducted a year earlier and sold to a plantation. Local police would take no interest. "Mr. Prassident," wrote Mrs. Kinsey, struggling to overcome the illiteracy of her world. "They wont let me have him. . . . He hase not don nothing for them to have him in chanes so I rite to you for your help." Like the vast majority of such pleas, her letter was slipped into a small rectangular folder at the Department of Justice and tagged with a reference number, in this case 12007. No further action was ever recorded. Her letter lies today in the National Archives.

In a Newsweek interview Blackmon was asked why the U.S. government allowed “neoslavery” to continue even though it was investigated as early as 1903.  Blackmon responded:

All the investigations that began in 1903 failed for various reasons, but the main one was that it wasn't a crime in America to hold a slave. The 13th amendment passed in 1865 made slavery unconstitutional. There was no federal statute that made it a crime to hold a black person as a slave. When the U.S. attorney general in the South began investigating slavery in 1903 and attempted to bring charges, they realized they did not have a clear federal statue. So the prosecution was brought under other crimes that were similar but in the end all the prosecution failed because the laws were not applicable and no [Southern] jury would convict a white man for any crime against blacks.

Blackmon was also asked the connection between the end of neslavery and the beginning of World War II.   He responded:

The end of neoslavery came as a direct result to the attack on Pearl Harbor. When President Franklin Roosevelt convened his cabinet to discuss retaliation, the main issue was propaganda and the Japanese ability to effectively embarrass America for the treatment of blacks in the South. Immediately President Roosevelt passed a congressional law criminalizing lynching. Four days after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. attorney general ordered a memorandum that instructed all federal prosecutors to aggressively prosecute all cases of involuntary servitude.

Reading the textbook, throwing a few worksheets around, and showing Gone with the Wind does not teach students about the war. It merely marks time until the next unit leaving students to own the myths they had when they walked into the classroom.   Find out what they already know or THINK they know and move from there. Provide opportunities for students to discover the truth.
PBS will be airing a documentary based on Blackmon’s book on February 13th.  The documentary is a mix of interviews with historians, dramatic reenactments filmed in the Deep South, and emotional testimony from descendants of both enslaved blacks and their captors….”

I strongly urge educators to watch.

The Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia is currently showing an exhibit inspired by Douglas A. Blackmon’s research created by Robert Claiborne Morris using mixed media such as portraits of the enslaved, maps of the slave mines, newspaper articles and letters to the Department of Justice.   This link takes you to more information regarding the exhibit.

The black and white photos with this post came from Douglas A. Blackmon's website.