Sunday, December 09, 2007

1888: A Year In Review

Of all the years I have reviewed so far for the feature A Year in Review, 1888 is probably the one which holds the most fascination for me. The height of the late Victorian period is an age which is rich in the kinds of characters and events especially favoured for coverage by the Pop Culture Institute; many of their lives and works (for good or ill) resonate with us still.

From the diminutive Queen who towered over the era to which she gave her name to the five humble streetwalkers - Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly - who found themselves butchered by Jack the Ripper; and from Annie Besant who organized a strike by match girls in London to Susan B. Anthony and her agitating for women's rights in Washington, DC, it was a time when women (in the West, at least, and whether they agreed with the tenets of feminism or not) were about to embark upon their arduous journey to equality. Brazil, on the other hand, was just getting around to abolishing slavery.

The year in which the National Geographic Society was formed was first and foremost an age of science and exploration; while Thomas Edison was scratching his head over how to invent sound film, Louis Le Prince was filming his motion picture Roundhay Garden Scene - all 2 seconds of it; for his soundtrack he could have used Handel's Israel in Egypt, which was the first classical music recorded - in the style of the day - on a wax cylinder.

George Eastman meanwhile had patented his new Kodak camera, complete with a new innovation - roll film - which would revolutionize photography, overnight making everyone the potential subject of a portrait; for the budding landscape artist, perhaps a photo of the newly opened Washington Monument would suffice. Or, should you find yourself on the other side of the world, you might catch an early glimpse of a remarkable dolphin named Pelorus Jack in New Zealand's Cook Strait.

Today, whenever inordinate amounts of snow fall on Manhattan, it's bound to be compared to the Great Blizzard of '88, which killed 400 along the Eastern Seaboard in March; references to Vincent van Gogh's missing ear (which he gave to a prostitute named Rachel for safe-keeping) also date from December of this year.

Known as the Year of Three Emperors, Germany's Wilhelm I, Friedrich III, and Wilhelm II all shared the throne in 1888; in presidential politics Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison during a hotly disputed election. That other American pastime - baseball - added to its own body of lore with the publication of Casey at the Bat.

Knute Rockne, Anita Loos, Max Steiner, Irving Berlin, Jim Thorpe Raymond Chandler, T. E. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Eugene O'Neill, Robert Moses and Fernando Pessoa were among those born; poets Edward Lear and Matthew Arnold were among those who died.

The last surviving documented person born in 1888 was Adelina Domingues who died at the age of 114 in August 2002; no word on whether or not she used Mum deodorant, the first commercially available product to combat body odour, which was invented in Philadelphia the year she was born.
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1888: Abso-tively, Posi-lutely The Penultimate Mini-Milestone

Well, another mini-milestone has arrived, and thank goodness it's almost the last one; what started out as a clever idea quickly grew tiresome, like a Steven Seagal movie, or having children. The very last mini-milestone will occur at post number 1969 probably just before Christmas.

There isn't much to say in this one except the usual: how grateful I am to my readers and for what little input I manage to drag out of them. Efforts to build a community around this site are ongoing, and as such will be forthcoming in fits and starts whenever I can manage to wrestle a little energy from my ageing carcass and something resembling cogent thought from my overworked brain.

In the meantime, please enjoy, comment, make suggestions, and tell your friends.

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