Well-Preserved History

historyfact

One of the reasons I got into genealogy research as a hobby is Aunt Anna Regina’s fault.

Anna Regina Artman, nee Wand, was born in 1823. A great-great-great-great aunt, she likely would have been forgotten in a long list of similar names except for the very odd, very unusual matter of her burial that set her apart.

In 1851, Anna Regina, emigrating from Germany with several other members of the Wand family, died while aboard the ship traveling from Europe to America. Instead of burying her at sea, her body was preserved in a barrel of salt, and she was buried when they reached land.

Was this a regular thing? Were bodies, per the deceased (or family’s) wish, often preserved for burial until land was reached? I don’t know. I haven’t found much information, although Admiral Horatio Nelson’s body was preserved in brandy when he died at sea in 1805. Was this event inspiration for similar occurrences later in time? I can see this as a possibility for wealthy or influential people, but for a young German immigrant mother, it seems unlikely.

Now, like many family legends, I can find no actual documentation of this strange fact, and so I cannot completely ascertain its verity. But if Anna Regina’s burial is only a legend, then it must be asked: how did such a rumor start? Maybe we’ll never know. But all things considered, it was that weird fact that intrigued me and made me wonder if there were more unusual happenstances within my family tree to discover.

Are there any strange death stories in your family tree? And have you ever heard of any other death-at-sea stories like this?

 

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When The History Fact Is a (Sort Of) Science Fact, Too

historyfact

I don’t know what your family does around the dinner table, but mine has a habit of sharing weird things that have happened at school. Sometimes, especially between my sister and me, these turn into a subtle wars of who-learned-the-most-interesting-or-gross- fact-today contests. Given our areas of learning, mine are usually history-related, and hers science-related, but that isn’t always the case, as this history fact is one that I happened to learn from her.

A couple of semesters ago, my sister had the opportunity to read a book on the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 for extra credit in one of her biology classes. Since we share a room, she’d periodically update me with interesting tidbits as she read through it.

The epidemic was significant not only for the sheer number of people it killed worldwide (about 100 million) but also because, in the words of the The Great Influenza, it “marked the first collision between modern science and epidemic disease.” While it’s a fascinating study from both a scientific perspective and a historical one, for the people living through it, it was terrifying. (The epidemic is notably absent from L.M. Montgomery’s novel of the Canadian homefront experience during The Great War, Rilla of Ingleside. Despite having been such a prominent issue and fear in real life, it’s not once mentioned in the book, perhaps because, not only did Montgomery contract the flu herself, but her best friend died of it. We can only assume its intensely personal effect on her life prompted it too painful to write about.)

Nursing During the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

The desperation of the people affected by the pandemic cannot be overstated. The illness was so widespread that patient care became an incredible problem. According to John M. Barry:

It was impossible to get a doctor, and perhaps more impossible to get a nurse. Reports came in that nurses were being held by force in the homes of patients too frightened and desperate to allow them to leave. Nurses were literally being kidnapped. (The Great Influenza, pp. 276-277)

It sounds like something from a dystopian novel. The lack of nurses during the time came from a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most obvious was the fact that so many nurses were on the front caring for soldiers. It’s amazing what a crisis or disaster can do to society. Nurses literally being kidnapped to care for desperate, frightened families sounds like something more liable to happen in a movie or book than real life- but then again, real life sometimes is even crazier than what we put into fiction.

(also, another little fact: This strain of flu is often called the “Spanish Flu,” even though research suggests the flu actually originated in an army camp in Kansas. This is because when the outbreak occurred during the War, both sides only wanted to report positive news. Spain, being neutral, was therefore the first country to publicly report on the pandemic.)

And now, since I’ve uplifted your heart with that little ray of optimistic sunshine, have a lovely day and remember to wash your hands often, cough into your elbow, and for heaven’s sake, stay home if you don’t feel well.

Let Not the Crown Fall

Sunshine and pearls

As a girl, I was obsessed with princesses. Or rather, I suppose, I was obsessed with adventure, and being a princess seemed a perfect way to find a good one. Disney was my main supplier for princess-consumption, although I also rented The Swan Princess every time we went to Blockbuster. Some of my earliest memories are watching Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty under a fort in the living room, while inspired by a Pocahontas nightgown I owned, I would spread pillows on the floor and jump from one to the other, re-enacting the moment John Smith first lays eyes on the chief’s daughter. I loved the gorgeous dresses and beautiful music, but even more than that I loved the stories that surrounded these princesses. Princess stories had all that I wanted: Adventure! Romance! Death! Excitement! Villains! Happy Endings! Dramatic Musical Numbers! BIG GLORIOUS BALLGOWNS!

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To me, princesses symbolize femininity, elegance, wisdom, strength, and responsibility.

But as I grew older, I noticed that not everyone had this same love that I did. Today books with titles like “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” or commercials for popular cartoons disdaining the “princess mentality” show a growing number of people who find the idea of women being princesses weak or demeaning, and claim that all this mindset does is sexualize young girls. (Personally, I wonder how being royal sexualizes someone, but maybe that’s just me) Is there sexualization and “diva-fication” of girls going on? Of course. But that’s not necessarily connected to princesses. To be a princess in the truest sense of the word is to be another thing entirely. In fact, I think to be a princess is to be gracious, strong, wise, and kind but firm.To people who say that the “princess-obsession” most little girls go through is harmful, sexist, and problematic, I have one thing to say:

Image result for you're so wrong gif

Actually, I would probably word my opinion on the subject a little more strongly, but, you know, have courage and be kind.

Perhaps this comes from being a history major. Surrounded by stories of princesses (many who became queens) there is a slew of role models to found among the ranks of real-life princesses. These were women who oftentimes were sorts of ambassadors after marriage, representing a link to their home country while living in the land of their husband. These were women who served as intercessors for the people, who could sway the opinions of their king, and beg for mercy on behalf of their subjects. These were women who became queens and co-ruled with their husbands, or in some cases ruled without one. A queen could make or break her country. So, perhaps that’s why it offends me so much when I hear people lumping all princesses together in disdain, as if they all represent some materialistic, “let-them-eat-cake” attitude. Not all princesses are like that, I assure you. And having just written a final research paper on medieval Scandinavian queens, I think I’ll tell you about a couple of them….

…like Margaret I of Denmark. Daughter of one king and wife of another, after her husband’s death she united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden (and by extension Iceland, Greenland, and Finland) into the Kalmar Union. And ruled, uncontestedly, until her death.

Then there was Philippa of England, daughter of Henry IV and sister of Henry V (yes, those Shakespearean Henrys) who married a Kalmar King. In her husband’s absence she defended Copenhagen from the Hanseatic League. Hans Christian Andersen even wrote about her in his Godfather’s Picture Book:

“The Hanseatic merchants came,” continued Godfather, “from warehouse and counter, the rich traders of Rostock, Lübeck, and Bremen. They wanted to seize more than the golden goose from Valdemar’s Tower; they had more power in the town of the Danish King than the Danish King himself. They came in armed ships, and no one was prepared. And King Eric had no desire to fight with his German kinsfolk; they were too many and too strong. So King Eric and all his courtiers escaped through the west port to the town of Sorö, to the quiet lake and green forests, to the song of love and the clang of goblets.

“But there was one left behind in Copenhagen, a kingly heart and a kingly mind. Do you see this picture here, this young woman, so fine and tender, with sea-blue eyes and yellow hair? It is the Queen of Denmark, Philippa, the English princess. She stayed in the distracted city, where the townspeople swarmed in panic in the narrow lanes and streets with steep stairs, sheds, and shops of lath and plaster. With the courage of a man, she summoned townspeople and peasants, to inspire and encourage them. They fitted out the ships and garrisoned the blockhouses; they fired with their carbines; there were fire and smoke and lightness of spirit – our Lord will never forsake Denmark! The sun shone into all hearts, and in all eyes was the bright gladness of victory. Blessed be Philippa! Blessed she was in hut and in house; and blessed she was in the King’s castle, where she nursed the wounded and the sick. I have clipped a wreath and laid it around this picture,” said Godfather. “Blessed be Queen Philippa!”

I don’t know, if my future daughter wanted Queen Philippa as a role model, I wouldn’t complain. And that’s not to mention other princesses, too: Elizabeth I, Nefertiti, Kaiulani, Victoria. One of the most fascinating facts I learned in my Modern Britain class this semester was that during World War Two, Queen Elizabeth II (then princess, of course) served as a driver and mechanic! It’s not that these princesses are perfect role models. They could be difficult and make bad choices. But there is such variety in their lives and responsibilities. These were women with the world on their shoulders, not women who sat around doing nothing but looking pretty.

An Armenian crown used during wedding ceremonies when the bride and groom are traditionally crowned as a "king and queen.":

But what about Disney? Aren’t those what girls think of when they want princesses things? Probably. But I never found most Disney princesses problematic. Cinderella gets a terribly bad and unfair reputation, but I don’t think you’ll find kinder, more Christian-like character in animation. Despite a few hiccups in the Disney canon (*ahem* Ariel’s rebelliousness) most Disney princesses do show kindness, work ethic, self-sacrifice, and intelligence. And there is nothing wrong with dressing up in ballgowns and tiaras, so long as we also, like Snow White, know how to whistle while we work with our aprons and dishrags.There is nothing wrong, I’ll also say, in being saved by a prince–for isn’t that an allegory for the Greatest story of all, the Story of our own Prince saving us from certain death?

I can’t help but think that like the princesses of old, we are also ambassadors, sent by our Father, the King, to this earth to share the message of our True Home. So when we think of princesses, let us be reminded of that. We, too, have a duty. Let us fulfill it!

(also, apparently I was suddenly impassioned to write this post during #princessweek. I didn’t even know that was a thing until today.)