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The Deadly Zone Rouge of France – Monday Map

Some 100 square kilometers of France is completely closed to people. It is known as Zone Rouge – the Red Zone.

The land there is utterly poisoned by the human folly that was World War I. To this day it remains unfit and unsafe to tread upon, 100 years later.

Zone Rouge - France's Deadly Red Zone

Surrounded by many more kilometers that have been slowly and imperfectly reclaimed, most people are unaware this caged landscape exists among the otherwise beautiful French countryside, near the border with Belgium.

There the Red Baron fought and fell, along with countless others of less-lofty reputations. And there, two place names became synonymous with human suffering on an obscene scale, because of the atrocious loss of life that took place there – Verdun and the River Somme.

As revealed in eye-opening detail at a blog dedicated to all sort of curiosities, the Zone Rouge is freakishly other-wordily, as the residents living near by continue to harvest a ghastly collection of munitions and human remains.

“… the forsaken territory, originally covering more than 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq miles) in the years following the Great War. Today, around 100km2 (roughly the size of Paris), is still strictly prohibited by law from public entry and agricultural use because of an impossible amount of human remains and unexploded chemical munitions yet to be recovered from the battlefields of both world wars…”

The essay is supplemented with many photos from one Olivier Saint Hilaire, which are indeed evocative. With more found via the link to his personal website.

This representational map of the Somme campaign makes up the Red Zone area between the towns of Cambrai, Arras, and Amiens.

The Somme 1916

The Lost Generation

One hundred years ago, one of the most cataclysmic battles in human history was raging in northern France.

The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916. Fifty-three years earlier, on July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg commenced in Pennsylvania.

Over three days of fighting at Gettysburg, a total of 51,112 Americans on both sides were lost as casualties during the entire battle, with some 7,000 killed outright. It remains the bloodiest, most lethal three days in American history.

During the first day’s fighting at the River Somme, the British Army alone lost over 57,000 men, with 20,000 dying on the field.

FIFTY-SEVEN THOUSAND.

The battle lasted four months. The combined losses of the Franco-British and Imperial German armies were over 1.5 million men.

ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN.

On Thursday last, I watched the semifinal football match of the European championships, between France and Germany. These young men, almost all of them in their 20s and among the finest physical specimens their nations could produce, were giving everything they could to prove victorious for the expectant countries and their own personal glory. And throughout the relatively civil competition, I was haunted by the fact that these same champion athletes would almost certainly have been wearing the uniform of opposing armies locked in deadly strife, had they been born 100 years earlier.

They would have undergone a very different kind of training and physical conditioning to hone their elite skills for the purpose of killing their fellow Europeans, in a war between states whose rulers were, in some cases, cousins.

cousins

For me, the obscene absurdity of the so-called Great War isn’t found in the fact closely-related cousins could inflict such horrors upon their own closely-related European peoples. But rather, that the people of Europe could have done it all over again less than 30 years later – with far worse destruction of treasure and human lives.

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, it is important to remember that the peace that has existed there is not to be taken for granted. Rather, it has required an enormous change of attitudes in nationalism, jingoism, and xenophobia, and continual efforts since the end the Second World War to prevent backsliding.

May the centennial of the Somme and other atrocious acts of war in the coming months and years help to educate and supplicate the current tensions rippling across Europe and its neighbors.

The Most Significant 4th of July – Monday Map

The 4th of July is set aside to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which actually took place on July 2, 1776.

But the most important July 4th of all was that of 1863, when it was celebrated as a national day thanksgiving and of mourning, at least throughout the northern states.

On that date, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to the combined forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, at the end of a long, grueling siege during the War of the Rebellion, now typically referred to as the America Civil War.

Vicksburg 4th of July map

Vicksburg map 4th of July

And on that same 4th of the July the rebel forces of General Robert E. Lee withdrew in defeat from the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from where they retreated south across the Mason Dixon Line, and never again posed any serious threat to the nation’s capital, nor to any northern state.

gettysburg-map 4th of July 1863

While the timing in Pennsylvania was accidental, at Vicksburg it was anything but.

The commander of the Confederate forces within the beleaguered city was born and raised a Northerner. He chose to surrender on the 4th of July, saying he knew his northern people and that they would give better terms on that day than on any other day of the year.

The very first 4th of July may have rang the knell for the birth of our nation. But it was this later, more important 4th of July which helped forge in the crucible of the Civil War a single nation from a more imperfect collection of discordant states.

And even if some continue to kick and scream from what Mr. Lincoln called a new birth of freedom.

 

Visions of Johanna still haunting after 50 years

May 17, 1966 – Bob Dylan performs Visions of Johanna, solo acoustic

Imagine, if you can, someone hearing this song for the first time, rendered by Dylan in top form

Love songs have been a part of music since, well, forever. Many are light or even trite, while some others can be truly moving.

But when it came to popular music in modern times, there were songs about falling in love, falling out of love, being a teenager in love, or a teenager being dumped, occasionally letting someone down easy, or telling them to “hit the road, Jack.”

And then there came Visions of Johanna.

Read the full essay and hear the song HERE

Dylan 1966 Visions of Johanna concert

photo: Mark Makin who took the only photos from the concert, getting “about nine usable shots” from a roll of film, according to the BBC.

Duluth, Minnesota 1891 – Monday Map

50 years before Bob Dylan was born there

On May 24, 1941 – 75 years ago

Monday Map Duluth 1891

Although he denied his actual origins and place of birth at first, in an effort to create some mystery and an image associated with intrepid figures like Woody Guthrie and Billy the Kid, Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, the Great Lakes port, before his family moved to the North Country mining town of Hibbing, MN when he was 6 years old.

Hibbing, Minnesota in the 1940s

Hibbing Minnesota north of Duluth 1940s

Hibbing Minnesota train to Duluth 1940s Bob Dylan

His mother grew up there, and his father worked for the family electrical supply shop. The young Bob Zimmerman had a normal merchant-class upbringing, and like many teenagers he wanted to play the electric guitar in a rock and roll band.

And that is something he did to revolutionary effect, when he first toured with an electric guitar, in 1966, 50 years ago.

In fact, his double album Blonde on Blonde was released on May 15, 1966, and he performed the infamous “Judas” concert in Manchester, England on May 17.

 

Manhattan 1776 – Monday Map

Website Shows New York City Boundaries Over 250 Years

Manhattan Island Slowly Swallowed by the Big Apple

Manhattan 1776 map

click to enlarge

The map above shows General Washington’s fortifications at New York (left) and what were later named Washington Heights (right) in 1776 stretch the length of Manhattan Island.

A series of similar maps is found on a very interesting webpage, which shows the expansion of New York City from 1660 to 2004.

See more HERE

This brought to mind David McCullough’s wonderful book, 1776, which takes an in depth look at that extremely important year in American history, and how it began with the revolutionary forces withdrawing from Boston, only to be soundly defeated at New York in the Battle of Long Island, but ultimately ending in the Washington’s daring attack at Trenton, New Jersey at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

 

 

My Uncle John Died, one the last WWII bomber pilots

One regal old eagle, my Uncle John died last night, out in California, where he and my Aunt Ruth lived for many, many years, not far from Yosemite National Park.

 

They were New Yorkers when they met, before the Second World War took him overseas as a pilot for the 15th Bombardment Squadron, part of the Twelfth Air Force. The 15th had the honor to inflict the first American bombing attack on Hitler’s Fortress Europe, during a daylight raid over Holland on the 4th of July, 1942.

They were then sent to Algeria to support the invasion of North Africa, where he flew level missions against enemy naval forces, piloting a three-man Douglas A-20 Havoc. As a stateside trainer of new crews, he flew many other famous aircraft of the WWII and post-war era.

 
His window also flew during the war, installing autopilot systems on Avenger torpedo bombers for Grumman, which had to be done in flight.
 
She joined him in Germany after the war, where he was one of the pilots on the Berlin Airlift, when Stalin blocked all land routes to West Berlin in an effort to get the other Allies to abandon the city to his forces.
 
By the time he retired from the Air Force he held the rank of Lt. Colonel, having spent many years commanding SAC’s first squadron of KC-135 in-air refueling supertankers. He then applied his management skills to various civilian occupations, including an avid golf game.
 
Four or five years ago, he hit a hole-in-one at a local course when he was 90 years old, and took home the cash jackpot that had been accumulating at the clubhouse. And until quite recently he was still piloting his own automobile.
 
A very full and useful long life among the Greatest Generation.

New York City Landmarks – Monday Map

Wonderful Resource Filled with New York City Landmarks

Interactive map provides a close look at historical sites local to each neighborhood

NYC landmarks map

Tremendous Treasure Map, Easy to Use

Whether you are tourist or a native, so many sites of historical interest often go unnoticed in the whirling stimulus of New York City. This map will let you see what is just around the corner, or provide reasons to visit areas you might not think of at first, when out for sightseeing.

When you zoom in, whole historic districts are illuminated.

Clicking on a an individual site brings up a breakout box, with information and a photo of the site in question, and a link to the official landmark designation.

The Lefferts Homestead in Prospect Park

Lefferts Homestead New York City Landmarks Map

Official Site

 

Armistice Day

While we dedicate this day to honor all veterans, the reason we do it on this specific day should never be taken for granted. The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month was when the First World War came to its official close, back in 1918. Ninety-seven years ago today.

The end of a war should be commemorated, with giving thanks and celebration, both. Just as its beginning should never be forgotten, while we mourn all that was lost during the war.

 Anyone who went to war will have their own personal sacrifice to live with, if they were fortunate enough to live through it in the first place. One does not have to serve in a front line unit to end up in harm’s way, but only the veterans who served in actual combat know the full measure of such service. And yet, we can all know that such events give good reason to mark the end of wars, lest we forget what happens in them.

That fact has never been more important than right now, as the United States has been at war longer than ever before in its history – even if most Americans hardly notice.

“On Armistice Day the philharmonic will play and the songs that they sing will be sad…”

The Great War of 1914-1918 remains unique in our collective history. Tactics developed during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War met and were bested by modern weaponry capable of horrors never before visited upon mankind. The results exceed what civilized humans can imagine.

In one battle alone, on the River Somme, there were over one million casualties, with 310,486 killed outright and many more dying in the coming months as a result of their wounds. On a single day in 1916 the British army lost over 57,000 men in one engagement. Such numbers make the American losses on D-Day seem like footnotes. The losses of the French and Germans during the many battles around Verdun are beyond comprehension. And they kept at it; bravely charging into the of face death again and again.

On the whole, the world had never seen anything like it. Unfortunately we cannot say such things were never seen again.

Today the 11th November is referred to as Veterans Day and has been expanded to remember and honor all veterans who served their country ever since, in peacetime and in war. That is a good thing.

For some years, I would choose this day to open a cardboard box with some remnants of my grandfather’s time in the U.S. Navy.

There is a photo of a group of jovial sailors. The penciled script on the back says it is from 1912 and shows “a group of electricians on the Louisiana in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” My grandfather sits smiling among them, and that implies he was involved in at least one of the two actions against rebels in Cuba that year. He later took part in the invasion of Mexico when they occupied Vera Cruz and tried to capture Poncho Villa. His unit went ashore to lay telephone wire in support of the Marines, and did some demolition work.

1912 U.S. Sailors Armistice Day

click to enlarge

Then came the Great War. By the time he went overseas he had joined to the 1st Aeronautics Corps, where he operated an in-flight observation camera and machine gun. He qualified as an observer in St. Rafael, France, but spent most of his fighting time based in Italy, first at Lake Bolsena, north of Rome, and then at a base on the western coast at Corsini. From there they attacked the Austrian Empire across the Adriatic sea.

Their aircraft were the large Macchi M8 bomber, a flying boat that took off from the water with a two-man gondola, landing with the help of pontoons sticking down from the lower wing.

Macchi M5 Flying Boat from WWIAn Italian Macchi M5 fighter with US Navy colors circa 1918

Hard landing in Italy Armistice Day

Hard landing in Italy

My Grandfather

My Grandfather in a Macchi M8

My childhood interest in my grandfather’s photos had to do with the planes and the war itself. I found it a thing of awe that they often were engaged in combat against the German Albatross D.III, the same lethal fighter plane piloted by the Red Baron when scoring 24 of his 80 aerial victories. Only in later years did I start to notice the people in the photographs and wonder who they were and what became of them.

There was this particular man who really stood out to me. Man? Many of them seem boys to me, as I look at the photos from the perspective of advancing age. They were much older when seen in my childhood.

He always appeared well-groomed and serious, more mature than the rest. He just looked like a confident leader and someone other people admired.

I kept one photo of this man, because it was the only shot that displayed the officer’s uniform from head to toe. One can see the high boots with those odd bands of tight cloth that go around the leg just below the knee, which was the style of the time. He looks out from the photo with a subtle smile like he is happy someone is snapping his photo.

Jimmie Goggins American pilot WWI Armistice Day

click to enlarge

I had the photos for some years when I began to read the backs, which usually just mentioned where they were taken and sometimes who was in them. But on the back of the photo of the cool looking officer is written in my grandfather’s flowing script, in pencil with that fancy capital F that people no longer use these days,

WWI Pilot killed 1918 Armistice Day

“Jimmie Goggins, Master Pilot. Bolsena, Italy. Burned to death in his battle plane at the Front, over the Adriatic Sea, September 1918.”

And just like the first time I read that, anyone who has looked through that box has had the same reaction, as our fascination with adventures and daring do in canvas covered biplanes changes to a contemplation of the lives lost in wars and the sorrows visited upon countless families as a result.

In the same box is a larger piece of thick construction paper. On it is a hand-colored drawing, showing patriotic symbols like an eagle, the American flag and a G.I. fighting man of the WWII era. These would have been handed out or sold to servicemen to send home. On the back there is a short note, also written in pencil.

It says, “Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, From a foxhole in France I wish you a very merry Xmas. Love, Walter.”

My mother had no idea who this would have been. She was 15 in 1944. Our only fighting serviceman during that war from my mother’s side was her brother-in-law. By that Christmas he had been on many harrowing missions in action over North Africa and the Mediterranean. He was part of the first American unit to bomb Europe and took part in the Berlin Airlift after the war. Later, he commanded a squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers under the Strategic Air Command. His son fought with the Special Forces in the jungles of Viet Nam.

My father was 16 in 1944. His youngest uncle was in the Submarine Service in the Pacific and told REALLY frightful stories at his brother’s funeral. My dad’s own service included air patrols as a navigator and radio man over the Arctic Circle during the 1950s. His colorblindness kept him from being a pilot. That’s him in the backseat of this F-89D Scorpion.

F-89D Scorpion

He designed the blue fox insignia used by his squadron. After six years he was discharged and went to law school thanks to the GI Bill. Some years later his favorite pilot went missing in action over North Viet Nam.

Every time I go through this box I think about that. And I wonder what happened to Walter, and to all the Jimmies and Walters.

And it reminds me that November 11th is about much more than discussing who got the day off and which of us had to go to work. It is about other folks, past and present who had to go do a job very different from any I have done. In the UK they call it Remembrance Day.

I like that, as there is much to remember.

WWI Flying Helmet

My grandfather’s leather flying helmet, goggles, scarf, and identity bracelet.

Scotland 1865 – Monday Map

June 8 1865, 150 years ago today, John Grant purchased Glenfarclas in Ballindalloch, Scotland

Monday Map celebrates 150 years of excellence and dedication to craft with this rendering of Scotland created that same fateful year.

Scotland 1865 map

Hearty people of a hearty land

Scotland had entered into the United Kingdom 1707 but retained its identity when a young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with it on their first visit in 1842.

By 1865 all things Scottish were extremely popular in London and by 1875 Scotch whisky had replaced cognac as the Englishman’s aperitif of choice.

Glenfarclas remains an independent, family owned business, where the 5th and 6th generation continue an unmatched legacy of quality and tradition.

 

Alan Lomax Music Archive Going On Line

For half a century, musicologist Alan Lomax recorded and preserved priceless cultural treasure.

Thousands of recordings have been digitized for posterity, discovered in the coal country of Kentucky to the cane fields of Haiti, including many legendary voices who would have toiled in obscurity and been forgotten.

With 2015 marking the Alan Lomax centennial, the Association for Cultural Equity is making these recordings available for free.

Read more about that and HERE

Working alongside his folklorist father, John Lomax, the young Alan traveled through the South and West, shining a light on local musicians, allowing the wider world to discover the blues of a prison inmate known as Leadbelly and the ballads of an itinerant laborer named Woody Guthrie.

Those are just two of the voices first recorded by Alan Lomax, out of thousands, and tens of thousands of songs and tunes now preserved for and us and future generations.

The 2002 New York Times Obituary of Alan Lomax is found HERE

Association of Cultural Equity’s website is HERE

The Lomax Family Collection at the American Folklife Center is HERE