Typewriter of the moment: Faulkner, again

August 15, 2007

The previous photo showed Faulkner himself using the machine.

It was a desktop machine. This color shot shows Faulkner’s portable typewriter, a different machine from the one in the publicity still from 1954.

William Faulkner's typewriter, displayed at his home in Oxford, Mississippi; photo by Gary Bridgman

Photographer Gary Bridgman provided a thorough history and explanation, at the Wikipedia Media site, which I quote completely and directly — bless him for the story:

The “Faulkner portable”: American novelist William Faulkner’s (1897-1962) Underwood Universal Portable typewriter, resting on a tiny desk his stepson helped him build. This space at Rowan Oak, the author’s home, was part of the back porch until Faulkner spent part of a Random House advance to enclose it in 1952, long after he had written his seminal Compson and Sartoris family novels. He insisted that this room not be called his “study.” According to biographer Joseph Blotner, “he did not study in it, so there was no sense in calling it that. It was the ‘office,’ the traditional name for the room in the plantation houses where the business was transacted.” As to the typewriter itself, Underwood introduced its Universal Portable in the mid-1930s among a full line of portables such as Champion, Noiseless Portable and Junior. Faulkner had a habit of buying used portables locally, wearing them out, then trading them in on more used portables. This Underwood was one of at least three typewriters in Faulkner’s possession at the time of his death (the University of Virginia has one, too). So, this is no more “the” typewriter any more than those square carpenter’s pencils next to it are “the” pencils. Had Faulkner lived a few more years, this machine would have met the same fate as the rest. Still, the room has a resonance. BOOK magazine was publishing an article of mine on “Yoknapatourism,” and thinking (mistakenly) that the editors hadn’t already selected a photographer, I returned to Oxford on a rainy October afternoon to make my own pictures for submission. The travel piece was eventually illustrated with sunny-day brochure shots, but I was happy to keep this one for myself. There was no direct lighting within the office, so I let the film take its time, soaking up faint incandescent glow from the library and main hallway, which neatly balanced the cloudy daylight. I used the camera’s timer so my hand wouldn’t jostle the tripod, and I even backed out of the room–in part to let the scarce light do its work and, I think, because I wanted Faulkner’s office truly vacant.

Trivia: the book next to the typewriter is the 1939 edition of Writer’s Market. Thanks to Bill Griffith, curator of Rowan Oak, for letting me past the Lucite wall and to Milly Moorhead West for lending me the tripod. – Gary Bridgman

Photo by Gary Bridgman, southsideartgallery.com.

Cincinnati Enquirer coverage of Creation Museum

August 15, 2007

For a while, at least, the Cincinnati Enquirer’s coverage of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky is all neatly assembled online: http://news.nky.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=creationmuseum

Jefferson, economics and history

August 15, 2007

Jefferson dollars will be unveiled today in a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. They officially go into circulation tomorrow, August 16, 2007.

Jefferson dollar; U.S. Mint image via Associated Press

Jefferson dollars are the third in a series commemorating U.S. presidents. The series started with Washington and will proceed, three new coins a year, through all the presidents. (Quick: What’s the cheapest amount you can invest to get dollars representing all 43 administrations? Don’t forget Grover Cleveland’s anomaly . . .)

The Associated Press story notes three things of interest:

History: Fewer than a third of Americans know Jefferson was the third president. They did better with Washington as the first president. I had a few scary moments last year covering a Texas history course when kids kept answering either “George Washington” or “Abraham Lincoln” to the questions, “Who was the the Father of Texas?” (Stephen F. Austin) and “Who was the first president of the Republic of Texas?” (Sam Houston).

Economics: The vending machine industry loses about $1 billion each year when dollar bills jam in the machine’s vending mechanism. The U.S. Mint and vending machine operators hope the dollar coins catch on and help reduce those losses.

Dollar coins are unpopular: This is another in a series of efforts to “wean” people from paper dollars to coins — remember the Sacagawea dollar? The Eisenhower dollar? The Susan B. Anthony dollar? Just last week I got an Eisenhower dollar in change from our local Starbucks — they had mistakenly put it in the coin drawer for quarters. You can get dollar coins in change at the U.S. Post Office, but not at many other places. Our local post office occasionally sneaks a Euro into the dollar change mechanism. Bonus!

The Washington Post story carried more details of the poll, conducted by the Gallup organization for the U.S. Mint: Read the rest of this entry »

Key images for VJ Day, August 15

August 15, 2007

August 15, 1945, was VJ Day — the day that World War II ended in the Pacific Theatre. VJ is an acronym for Victory Japan. Victory in Europe, VE Day, was declared the previous April.

VJ Day is affiliated with a series of images that students of U.S. history should recognize; these images tell much of the story of the day and the events of the weeks leading up to it.

The most famous image is Alfred Eisenstadt’s photograph of an exuberant sailor kissing a swept-off-her-feet- for-the-moment nurse in Times Square, New York City. This is one of the most famous photographs from the most famous photographer from Life Magazine:

The Smack Seen 'Round the World, photo by Alfred Eisenstadt, Life Magazine, 8-15-1945 Eisenstadt coolly titled his photo “VJ Day, Times Square.” It came to be known as The Smack Seen ‘Round the World. It was fitting that the photo would be taken by Eisenstadt, since his work came to be a symbol of Henry Luce’s Life Magazine in a pre-television era when photography magazines like Life and Look were key news organs for the nation.

In a fun and continuing mystery, several people have claimed to be the sailor, or the nurse, through the years.

Before the victory celebration, there had to be a victory. Japan asked for conditional surrender discussions, but the Allied forces insisted on unconditional surrender. Japanese military officials were rather certain that, if the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War, Allied victory would be assured. Japan hoped to either get a conditional surrender agreement, according to some sources, or inflict heavy losses on Allied forces to get better surrender conditions, but before Russia entered the war. Russia and Japan had long-standing grudges against one another dating from before their earlier war in the first decade of the 20th century.

Read the rest of this entry »

Good Vibrations

August 15, 2007

August 15 is Leon Theremin’s birthday (b. 1896).

Leon Theramin and his instrument, the Theramin Without Leon Theremin, musical scores to horror movies would be nearly impossible, at least for everyone except Henry Mancini and John Williams.

His life would make a great movie. He invented the Theremin in the midst of World War I in Russia; after the war he toured Europe, and then the U.S. He played Carnegie Hall, he collaborated with Albert Einstein, and he married a young African-American ballerina, Lavinia Williams. In 1938 he was kidnapped by the Soviet KGB and forced to return to Russia, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Sent to a work camp, he worked alongside Andrei Tupelov and a host of other famous Soviet scientists. Theremin was “rehabilitated” in 1956. He returned to invention, and invented bugging devices, including the famous microphone that was placed in the Great Seal of the United States in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The bug had no moving or active parts, and no power supply, but could transmit when hit with a microwave transmission. The bug spied on U.S. diplomats from 1945 until its accidental discovery in 1952.

Later Theremin turned to inventions of devices to open doors, and to burglar alarms. He trained his niece, Lydia Kavina, on the Theremin — she is considered a virtuoso at the instrument today. In 1991 he returned to the U.S., reunited with some of the artists he’d worked with 50 years earlier for several concerts. He died in Russia in 1993, at the age of 97.

And if you’ve ever heard the Beach Boys’ recording of “Good Vibrations,” you know what a Theremin sounds like.

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