Dark Tourism On her great blog, historian Donna Seger discusses the phenomenon of Dark Tourism - a cultural trend responsible for the proliferation of ghost tours, vampire tours, and graveyard tours as well as interest in more historically serious places such as Holocaust sites, Civil War Battlefields, and even contemporary war zones. Also known in academia as thanatourism, its subcategories include fright tourism[PDF], disaster tourism, morbid tourism, and grief tourism. [more inside]
This past May on Metafilter, we looked at “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls”, a wildly popular variety show that was broadcast every Wednesday night in the 1930's and 1940's from the state prison in Huntsville, TX. It featured performances by male and female prisoners. No recordings of the show have ever been found. In the early forties, eight inmates of the Goree State Farm prison unit formed one of the first all-female country and western acts in the country and their performances were broadcast on Thirty Minutes. The Goree All Girl String Band captured the hearts of millions of radio listeners but never cut a record or went on tour and have thus been ignored by music historians. When they were paroled, they nearly all vanished forever. [more inside]
Chris Columbus "discovered" the hammock just as he "discovered" the Americas, being the first European to kick off the flood of "new world" explorers, a number of whom commented on the hanging woven net beds they saw. They brought the design back to Europe, as they took cotton, canvas and other cloths to the Americas, where they were quickly adopted by sailors and navies, with some innovative designs. Today there are a myriad of variations (slideshow) on the simple little sling that has survived for more than 1,000 years, used as a bed, birthing table, cradle, sofa -- even as a final resting place. [more inside]
The Tangled History of Barbed Wire by Robert Zaretsky [Boston Globe]
“Like inventors from Joseph Guillotin to Alfred Nobel, whose creations escaped their original purpose and were yoked to evil ends, Joseph Glidden would have been shocked at what became of his. In 1874, the Illinois farmer and New Hampshire native, fastening sharpened metal knots along thick threads of steel, created barbed wire. Thanks to its high resilience and low cost, the rapid installation of the coils and lasting dissuasion of the barbs, the wire transformed the American West. Ranchers could protect their cattle against predators, both wild and human, as they pushed the frontier ever further west. The wire itself came to be called 'devil’s rope.'”Previously. Previously. Previously.
First world war – a century on, time to hail the peacemakers "On the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, we should remember those who tried to stop a catastrophe" [more inside]
There was a time when we were one of the worst, if not THE worst prison systems in the country. How we got there was simple. It was money. “When I first drove up to the gate in the summer of 1971, my dog was with me in the car. I drove up to a little shack with a guard. The guard was wearing a pistol and I realized he was a prisoner. The only people I saw carrying guns were convicts.” - Photographer Bruce Jackson
Pinhole Photography by Incarcerated Girls at Remann Hall, Washington State. Prison Baseball. Guantanamo: Directory of Photographic and Visual Resources. Painted photographs of forgotten incarcerated Russian youth. 19th century prison ships. Pete Brook's Prison Photography blog links to lots of great stuff.
"Those who desire to peruse works that tell about Heaven only, are urged to drop this book and run."
GUILTY! This word, so replete with sadness and sorrow, fell on my ear on that blackest of all black Fridays, October 14, 1887. And so begins John N. Reynolds' The Twin Hells: A Thrilling Narrative of Life in the Kansas and Missouri Penitentiaries, a very detailed and eventful memoir originally published in 1890, archived online in its entirety (including illustrations). [more inside]
You’d need years to really study these murals of Califonia’s history - the artist certainly had a lot a free time to create them. You'd probably also need a special invitation to engage in a multi-year study in the gallery - and you probably don't want one.
...a book fraught with the romance and colour of human lives which, if not always of the most exalted, are certainly among the most vivid.
The Newgate Calendar. "THE deeds of ancient robber outlaws and of highway-men -- what a treasure-house pierced with windows for the imagination!" Read about the lives of notorious criminals of days past, such as Sawyney Beane, murderer and cannibal; Daniel Dawson, race-horse poisoner; John Tayler and Thomas Martin, body snatchers; or the infamous Mary Frith, also known as Moll Cutpurse, a cross-dressing, pistol-wearing, tobacco-smoking rogue and the real life inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders.
That's the Sound of the Man Working on the Chain Gang Among all genres of American folk music, prison songs may be the most viscerally compelling. They evolved from plantation songs and field hollers of slaves in the American South before the civil war (whose origins can in turn be traced to patterns found in the music of West Africa) but their tone and content is quite different. Limitless in length, bitter and pained, offering little hope of freedom or redemption, these songs were first heard during Reconstruction. Harsh and unevenly enforced laws incarcerated legions of black American men, consigning them to long sentences of labor for minor offenses like insult, fistfighting, and shoplifting. To shore up a tanking Southern economy, prisons leased convict labor to plantation owners as a low-cost replacement for slave labor. When reform efforts brought that to an end, state governments became the contractors. Sweetheart deals awarded lucrative contracts to prisons to provide labor for rebuilding the railroads and highways of the war-destroyed South. Slavery in all but name, these work conditions gave rise to a body of music that is one of the most significant antecedents of the blues. In hundreds of variants, cadenced to axe-fall, hoe stroke, or the drop of a maul, the songs set a working pace a man could sustain from dawn to dusk, while remaining fast enough to satisfy an armed 'Captain' on horseback.