Saturday, November 20, 2010

Far, Far Beneath

I've always been fascinated by sea monsters. The giant squid in particular is a creature that represents the intersection of myth and reality, where the tall tales of sailors proved based in truth. The image of a tentacled behemoth--a kraken--has fascinated artists and writers for millennia, but not until recent times have scientists finally been able to begin to illuminate this entity previously consigned the deepest depths of fantasy, science fiction and cryptozoological speculation. Even as we begin to understand the great beast as a living, breathing creature, it still maintains its allure as a manifestation of the darkest reaches of the human psyche.

Illustration source: Somefield.

"The Kraken" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soldier as Child

A parent's memorial to a teenage son killed in the last days of the U.S. Civil War. The childhood tintype of a soldier named Carl is accompanied by a lock of his hair and a note which quotes from Shakespeare's Hamlet:

"My beloved son Carl taken from me on April 1, 1865, at age 18, killed at Dinwiddie. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Source: Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

With an Identity Disc

(Note: "Identity disc" refers to the British equivalent of the U.S. "dog tag" worn to identify a soldier in the case of his death)


If ever I had dreamed of my dead name
High in the heart of London, unsurpassed
By Time for ever, and the Fugitive, Fame,
There taking a long sanctuary at last,

I better that; and recollect with shame
How once I longed to hide it from life's heats
Under those holy cypresses, the same
That keep in shade the quiet place of Keats.

Now, rather, thank I God there is no risk
Of gravers scoring it with florid screed,
But let my death be memoried on this disc.
Wear it, sweet friend. Inscribe no date nor deed.
But let thy heart-beat kiss it night and day,
Until the name grow vague and wear away.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

United We Stand

"United We Stand. Divided We Fall."

Portrait of Civil War veterans Frank M. Howe and Velorus W. Bruce, 1865-1866. Howe was a member of the 20th Michigan Infantry whose leg was amputated due a wound he received in the Petersburg Campaign. Bruce was in the 17th Michigan and wounded at Campbell's Station, Tennessee. Source: Archives of Michigan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pretty Saro

"Pretty Saro" is an old ballad first documented in 1911 in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina by folk music collector John Lomax. It is likely much older, though its exact provenance is up for speculation. Here are two versions. The first is a modern rendition by Sam Amidon (video by Jeremy Blatter). The second is a great example of the traditional unaccompanied ballad style. Cass Wallin performs it on a porch in the Burton Cove, Sodom Laurel, North Carolina in 1982.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Let Me Fall

"If I get drunk, if I get drunk,
just let me fall, little darling, on the ground..."

"Let Me Fall," performed by Tommy Jarrell and company at the Peach Pie Festival, Mount Airy, North Carolina. Recorded by Alan Lomax and crew, July 1983. More videos from the American Patchwork fieldwork and info about Alan Lomax and his collections at

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Newark Athlete - 1891

A Thomas Edison Kinetoscope film recorded in 1891.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Smoke and a Wiggle with Mark Twain


A colorized "wiggle animation" from Clicksy Pics. Clicksy creates these images by layering the two sides of a stereo card into an animated gif. They've recently begun adding color to the images, and in this portrait of Mark Twain, they've even added blinking eyes and rising smoke. The resulting looped animation is surreal. Is Twain shaking his head in disapproval, is he dancing, or do I just keep switching eyes?