Jan 08 2018149 Sarah Fraser on The Last Highlander

Sarah Fraser is the author of The Last Highlander, which details the life of Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat. Fraser’s life was one of political intrigue, feuds, international deal making, and rebellion. He was eventually beheaded in 1747, the last British peer to face such a fate.

Oct 06 2017139 Rosenstrasse

In February of 1943 the Nazi regime arrested between 1500-2000 Jewish men in Berlin, and imprisoned them in a former Jewish community center with the address of Rosenstrasse 2-4. These men had, up until this point, avoided deportation to death camps because they were married to non-Jewish women, and instead had been forced to work in German factories up until that point. Their wives, though, showed up in force outside the building where they were imprisoned, and soon a group of hundreds of women were able to mount an effective street protest against the Reich. It was the only effective popular protest in Germany mounted against Hitler’s regime.

Jun 05 2017130 Human Mail

Sending human beings through the mail is not generally allowed, but plenty of people have tried it. The most notable person in US history to mail themselves is Henry “Box” Brown who escaped slavery in Virginia via a shipping company, and emerged in Philadelphia. Other notable human parcels include W. Reginald Bray, who made a habit of putting strange things through the mail, May Pierstorff, who was mailed by her parents as a parcel, and Reg Spiers, an athlete who mailed himself to from the UK to London and later became a drug smuggler.

Jun 02 201683 Bill Lascher on Eve of a Hundred Midnights

This week’s episode is an interview with author Bill Lascher about his upcoming book Eve of a Hundred Midnights, about two American war correspondents covering the East Asian theater of WWII.  In it, Lascher details how they got into journalism, what it was like to cover wartime China, and their various encounters with and escapes from the dangers of war.

Eve of a Hundred Midnights comes out on June 21st, 2016.

evofahundredmidnights

Jan 14 201663 The Forty-Seven Ronin, Part Two

Last week Asano, Lord of Ako was ordered to commit seppuku, and his newly unemployed samurai were plotting revenge on Kira, the noble whom they blamed for their lord’s death. This week, the 47 ronin extract their revenge on Kira, and the incident becomes one of the most retold narratives in Japanese history.

The image below illustrates a scene from Kanadehon Chushingura, the most famous fictionalized version of the 47 ronin story. The characters in Kanadehon Chushingura have different names than the actual historical figures whom they purport to represent, audiences in 1748 and onward would have recognized the fiction as being roughly analogous to actual events. Anymore, Chushingura refers to the entire body of media either directly about or touching on the 47 ronin incident.

Wataya_Kibei_-_Kanadehon_chushingura

Sep 03 201546 Paper Theater, Golden Bat

Before Batman, before Superman, before even the Phantom, there was the Golden Bat. “Ogon Batto” (as he’s known in Japanese) is, arguably, the world’s first costumed superhero. The skull-headed, ruff-wearing, sword-wielding hero’s backstory was one that would fit in any of the wackier comics that Marvel and DC would later publish: He was a dweller of Atlantis from 10,000 years in the future, and sent back in time to fight injustice. In particular, he battled against Nazo, the evil Emperor of the Universe.

Golden Bat wasn’t a comics character. Not exactly. He was from a form of storytelling called “kamishibai,” a words-and-pictures form of public performance popular in Japan during the first half of the 20th century. Kamishibai storytellers would set up in public spaces and tell tales of samurai, ninja, pulp heroes, cowboys, and superheroes to crowds of eager children, thrilling them with outrageous tales from the worlds of history and science fiction. The medium produced, among other characters, the Golden Bat, a superhero who proceeds Clark Kent by almost a decade.

Golden_Bat_Giant_Robot

 

Related Links:

A contemporary example of kamishibai. It is, obviously, in Japanese.

The Golden Bat’s theme song from his later anime appearances.

Manga Kamishibai by Eric P. Nash, which collects multiple kamishibai tales from the Golden Bat and others.

 

Jul 16 201539 How to Steal the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa wasn’t always an icon. Before 1911 Leonardo’s painting was certainly known and respected, but it wasn’t yet the most famous, most adored, most duplicated, and most parodied piece of art in the world. It was not yet the symbol and pop culture juggernaut that it is today. What made the Mona Lisa famous its theft at the hands of Vincenzo Peruggia who, along with two accomplices, lifted the painting off of the wall of the Louvre and simply walked out with it. He kept the portrait in a box in his apartment for over two years before attempting to ransom it, and, upon its return, the Mona Lisa went from merely a respected piece of Renaissance art to the single most famous painting in the world.

The image below shows the blank spot left by Peruggia, and the four wall hooks that had previously held the Mona Lisa before its 1911 abduction.

Mona Lisa Wall Hooks

Jun 25 201536 Thirteen Ships

In the 1590s Japan invaded Korea. The Imjin War lasted from 1592-1598, and it included all manner of land battles, guerilla skirmishes, sieges, spying, and everything else that you would expect to find in a full-on conflict. The entire war would take several episodes to cover properly, and this episode just focuses on the naval aspect, and one naval battle in particular.

Under Admiral Yi Sun-sin, the Korean navy was able to successfully rack up victories against the Japanese. Yi was an admiral with no formal military training and, for complicated political reasons, was stripped of his rank, and a rival briefly took over the Korean naval forces. That rival led the Korean navy into a disastrous battle that destroyed almost all of the Joseon Dynasty’s ships, and Admiral Yi was let out of prison to command the remnants of the Korean fleet.

At the Battle of Myeongnyang, Admiral Yi had all of thirteen ships. The Japanese had well over a hundred. With his small force, Yi managed to defeat a force larger than him by an order of magnitude, and the Battle of Myeongnyang remains, today, one of the greatest come-from-behind military victories of all time.

myeongnyang

Related Links:

Read Admiral Yi’s diary.

Admiral Yi has also been featured on the site Badass of the Week.

The Admiral was a 2014 film about the life of Admiral Yi. Reviews seem to be mixed.

Apr 30 201528 Attack the Rock

The foreboding form of Alcatraz Island looms just beyond San Francisco, an obvious symbol of isolation and punishment. Alcatraz was never the biggest, or worst, or longest-lived prison in American history, but it’s definitely the most iconic. The island fortress seems to invite resistance and escape attempts, a setting like Alcatraz demands a narrative just as striking. In 1946 a handful of convicts attempted to violently escape from the island, giving that dramatic setting a dramatic narrative to match it. The resulting conflict, known today as the Battle of Alcatraz, claimed the lives of five people and wounded just over a dozen others. Ordinary San Franciscans were able to watch from their city as guns, explosives, and conflict raged just beyond the bounds of civilization.

The image below shows the exterior of Alcatraz as U.S. Marines pelt the prison with mortars in an attempt to kill and suppress the rebels inside.

Battle_of_Alactraz

Related Links:

Watch 1946 newsreels of the events here and here, in all of their retro media glory.

Read more about the battle and other Alcatraz history here.

This map via Wired of how other Alcatraz escapees could have, possibly, maybe survived.

Jan 22 201514 Nellie Bly Versus Phileas Fogg

Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days is not strictly science fiction, but it is a book that speculates about technology (specifically steamships and railroads) and what it’s capable of. Verne’s 1973 novel made the eighty day time look like something of an impossible feat, but in 1890 Nellie Bly, a reporter for the New York World beat fictional record set by Phileas Fogg. Bly set out to best Verne’s protagonist, and circumnavigate the globe in 75 days. She did even better than that, though, and went all the way around the planet in 72 days, doing Fogg better by more than a week.

The World front page

Related Links:

Read Around the World in 72 Days online.

Phineas Fogg Outdone in the Daily Alta California

View a map of Bly’s journey from American Experience.