Cherry Blossoms, The National Mall, and Books

Hello, my friends! What a wonderful Spring we’re having. A thin, yellow sheet of pollen dusts my car at the budding births of plants, but I, and my looming headaches, refuse to cave to the abyss of sinus misery that comes with the brilliant waves of green grass and colorful spread of flowers covering flowerbeds near and far. No, I will exude enthusiasm for the abounding beauty, and thank my lucky stars, too.

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Why is that, you ask? Well, to be perfectly blunt, I try a bit of optimism sprinkled with the daily drudgery of paying bills, chronic illness, and the pitter patter of children’s feet that turn into a thundering herd the second an ill-conceived slight has been batted from one to the other. Mount Vesuvius erupts, and I try to stay calm in spite of the earsplitting castigations spewed forth from once angelic offspring.

Yes, a vacation was needed, and a vacation, of sorts, I got. My first trip with the family in over five years began with a car ride to the Carolinas. Never having visited where some of my ancestors perched a blue moon ago, I walked in their footsteps, and placed flowers on a relative’s grave that I wished I could have known. Poignant, uplifting, and soul cleansing, the walk through history did these middle-aged bones good. All in all, the Carolinas were a breath of fresh air in the otherwise shrinking world that I currently reside. It was a chance to step outside and take off the many hats that we all juggle and remember, think, and observe with a quiet gratitude for those who treaded through harrowing paths before mine.

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As if that wasn’t enough, off we headed with our brood to a surprise destination. Planned on the sly, my children were sleuths in the dead of night, planning and betting where we’d end up. Sadly, the surprise turned out to be all in my head as they adeptly figured out that Washington D.C. was our destination.

Oh Washington, how sweet the cherry blossoms sway. Throngs of people and motorists swarm your streets to immerse in your secrets, history, and high-priced lodgings. Pink tipped extremities burned and tingled in your gale force winds that not even a thick, fur lined coat (not real fur, folks!) could shut out. We grace your city streets full of honking motorists, braved our way through endless bag checks, metal detectors, and x-ray machines to enter the belly of the beast known as The National Mall.

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Now, for anyone NOT familiar with The National Mall, it is not a mall at all. Instead of filled with storefronts and eateries, it is jam-packed with ancient relics, noble attire, and precious stones that would make an historian apoplectic. Museums, my friends, that go on for miles, and you can’t visit them all. No-ho-ho! We would have needed to stay a couple of weeks or more to purview the multitude of historical papers, inventions, and history that abounds behind those hallowed walls. Free to the public, one could bask in the glory of dinosaurs, mineral ores and precious gemstones, ancient Egyptian mummies, and stuffed animals galore.

Of course, my family had a predestined path of visiting the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of American History, and the American Air and Space Museum. Pounding foot to pavement, we must have walked several miles each day to take in the sights, including the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. I have to say, though, that The National Archives took my breath away.

Of all the places we visited, The National Archives was the quietest. The U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the granddaddy of them all, The U.S. Constitution were kept in a dim room, stationed under thick, bulletproof glass, and surrounded by guards. The faded ink could not hide the significance of those beautiful documents. Nothing could break the reverie that I felt in those few moments as we all patiently waited in line to see what those Founding Fathers signed all those years ago.

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One by one, man, woman, and child filed in orderly fashion. Some pointed, some asked questions to the armed guards, but all were respectful. Of course, I’m brimming with pride as the wide-eyed wonder of my children peered at those documents that have been burned into their memory banks from multiple school lessons. I stood a little bit taller explaining the significance of each document to my children. When at last we viewed The U.S. Constitution, I admit that I held back a tear. Not wanting to draw attention, I pointed out the signatures to my children and hesitated for a second before walking off in awe.

So, as my family is making our way down the marbled staircase to exit the building, I glance down at my youngest son, who is in the second grade, and I enthusiastically stated how happy I was to have seen those documents with my own eyes to which he replied, “They only displayed a part of The U.S. Constitution.” In my astonishment, I stared down at him, stopped on the stairwell. “What?” I asked. He said, “They only showed through Article Four. That’s not right.”

In my chagrin and in an attempt to not snicker, I proceeded down the stairwell and out the door. Now, I’m exceptionally proud of my son for knowing that there are more than four articles to The U.S. Constitution. I’d be willing to bet that lots of adults probably don’t remember that. However, as little as he is, I can assure you that the whole document was there. Drat those little legs!

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Anyway, we walked, watched, and walked some more, trying to see as much as our sore feet would allow. At the end of two days, we were exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. So, ready to throw in the towel, we awoke the next morning wondering what was next. And that’s when my other dream came true.

Packed back into the cramped car, we all passed the time listening to the radio while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I, like my children, took in the countryside of Maryland as we headed North to … Gettysburg. As a huge history nerd, I’ve always wanted to visit, but time, money, and circumstances never allowed me the honor. So, when my spouse sprung it on us the night before, I was thrilled to say the least. The 70 mile journey took an hour and a half, but it was well worth it. Snuggled into the countryside and just across the Pennsylvania border, we arrived.

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Since I’d learned a lot over the years from my father and brother about Gettysburg, I anticipated a few things. However, I was taken aback at the scope of the battlefield. I have walked a few Civil War sites in my time, but there was no walking Gettysburg. The Visitor’s Center was a treasure trove of relics, an outstanding movie narrated by Morgan Freeman, and a cafeteria that met my youngest’s approval.

After spending a couple of hours at the Visitor’s Center, the kids and I got our picture taken by the metal statue of Abraham Lincoln and off we went to buckle up for a three hour audio ride around the park. Although I do have to mention that I picked up a few books in the store about Lincoln, the Civil War, and Civil War Pharmacy. All of which will be used for the third installment of The Protectorate series!

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In a nutshell, we had a great time. Even my kids didn’t complain. All in all, I’d say it was a win. Of course, I wouldn’t take toddlers or babies as you wouldn’t get your money’s worth, but it’s a must for any history lover out there.

After returning home, I took the time to reminisce about our quick break to the Carolinas, D.C., and Gettysburg, and my spouse and I decided we’d take on The Freedom Trail next, but for now I’ll cherish the memories and am grateful for a much needed respite.

As for book news, I’ll give you this little tidbit to nibble upon. The Guardians is being edited as I write, and I’m happy to say that publication is right around the corner. Book cover is done, and rewrites have been worked. So, stay tuned!

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© photo by IM²

What about you?! What trips have you taken recently? Do you have a favorite vacation spot? Are you a history lover? Comment below!

Until then, happy reading!

K.D.

Dinner With The President

My passion for all things historical led me down the path of U.S. Presidential china upon my latest research endeavors in fiction writing. In order to stay true in my writing to events, places and people, I end up doing hours and hours of research pertaining to clothing styles, weather patterns, and, yes, dinnerware too.

A part in The Protectorate initially described Anna’s reaction to the glamorous dinner table setting at her Director’s house, but in the end I decided to take it out for various reasons. However, I spent a large amount of time researching how Rachel Jackson, President Andrew Jackson’s wife, set her table and the pieces she was known to have used. I find it fascinating to this day how something as common as dinnerware can lead to quite the insight into a person’s personality. So, it was with this flicker of interest that led me to peruse the patterns for all the U.S. President’s, starting with George Washington.

 

“Reservation for 320, now seating!”

 

Nowadays, Presidential dinners amass quite the number of guests, which means hundreds of place settings designed by none other than our First Ladies. However, that was not always the case. Presidential China wasn’t officially ordered until 1817 by then President James Madison for diplomatic usage. At the handsome price of $1,167.23, manufactured in by Dagoty and Honor and shipped directly from Paris, the 30 place settings and matching dessert plates were sure to dazzle any diplomatic representative.

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James Monroe China Pattern via whitehousemuseum.org

 

So, what did George Washington eat on for his daily meals? Well, I’m happy you asked! Most fashionable people, and George dressed to impress, ordered the “Canton” blue and white china for everyday usage. It was called “Canton” due to the place of origin being Canton in southern China where traders brought it back to European markets for purchase. As these weren’t readily made in the Continental States at that time, Washington ordered his from across the pond in London to satisfy his noble needs and wants.

However, after 1772 Washington never again ordered china from England, and an expedition to find a new route to access the famed Chinese porcelain had begun post-revolution, and direct trade between China and the U.S. became a reality. Thanks to Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, in 1790 Washington received his long awaited set of china with the emblem of the Society of Cincinnati on it. Click here for more on the background of the Society of Cincinnati and Washington’s role in it.

Bachelor vs. Married Men china

 

Of course, it’s a hoot when you look at Washington’s bachelor day china. Marriage is a compromise, right? I think Martha had a say in future patterns;-)

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(Bachelor China) Photo via mountvernon.org

And look at this beauty, crafted for Martha with her initials by a representative of the Dutch East India Company. A 1930’s replica is all yours for a mere $550!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the dining room which inspired all the research.

If you’re ever in the Nashville area, The Hermitage is a wonderful place to stop to delve back into the tumultuous and controversial life of President Andrew Jackson. One can always learn the do’s and don’ts from history!;-)

Thanks to whitehousehistory.org, firstladies.org and mountvernon.org for the wonderful history behind it all!

Happy reading and eating,

KD

Lincoln’s Little Blue Pill

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Photo via whitehouse.gov

“Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through
Though I in hell should rue it!” – “The Suicide’s Soliloquy” published in Sangamo Journal August 25, 1838

Abraham Lincoln is thought to be the author of this poem, and his lifelong struggle with depression is a well documented issue. He reportedly said, “that intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death” illustrates the straights of despair he held off and fought in bouts until his death.

Lincoln fought valiantly against the depression by keeping in the company of others, telling jokes (sometimes at inappropriate times), reciting mournful poems, and wept openly in public. His law partner and biographer was quoted as saying, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

Of course, we know little could be done for depression back in the 1800s. However, one physician prescribed a commonly known substance called “blue mass” or “blue pill” to ward against the effects of depression, otherwise known as “hypochondriasis.” Prescribed for an assortment of ailments ranging from toothache and apoplexy to constipation, child-bearing and tuberculosis, the dose prescribed for Lincoln required one pill two to three times daily, and he took them for quite some time, although no one knows for certain the duration of which he took them.

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So, what’s in the tiny “blue pill,” you say? Glad you asked! As a pharmacist, I have to say I was more than curious to find out. Crushed inside a mortar and pestle, pharmacists/physicians combined licorice root, rosewater, honey, sugar, dead rose petals, and… mercury. I’ll give you a minute to take that last one in…

Mercury is a well researched neurotoxin even in small quantities. Of course, back then the physicians were unaware of mercury’s toxic profile, and it was determined that there were approximately 750 micrograms of mercury absorbed into the bloodstream with each pill taken. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems 21 micrograms to be the most an adult should consume in one day. So, you do the math😉

The side effects of mercury include mood swings, nervousness, cognition problems, irritability along with potential for kidney issues and even death. Lincoln’s outbursts and rage were recently studied through written accounts by his friends and lawyers who traveled with him on his circuits. One cited, Lincoln became “so angry that he looked like Lucifer in an uncontrollable rage.” Another associate stated Lincoln’s face displayed anger as “lurid with majestic and terrifying wrath.” He was also noted as jumping up and leaving the room or house abruptly for no apparent reason and laughing and inappropriate times.

All signs of neurological mercury poisoning, the researchers can not definitively test for it without a hair sample. However, the symptoms fit according to some physicians, and in my medical background, his symptoms smack of mercury toxicity. The most remarkable point to make is Lincoln’s complete turnaround when it came to his demeanor during the U.S. Civil War after he was elected into office.

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you…. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.” -Lincoln’s Inaugural Address via whitehouse.gov

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Photo via slate.com

Known as a man carrying the weight of the U.S. on his weary shoulders, Lincoln exuded strength, calmness, and perseverance in the most tumultuous of times. Born February 12, 1809 to a Kentucky frontiersman and raised doing backbreaking work, Lincoln self-educated by voraciously reading any books he could get his hands on. Unable to afford books, he would borrow them. George Washington became a hero of his, and Lincoln even walked twenty miles to borrow a book on the United States.

Intelligent? Yes. Empathetic? Yes. Insightful? Absolutely. Lincoln realized that the little “blue pills” made him “cross” and decided to quit taking them a few months after his inauguration. I, for one, am grateful he did.

Abraham Lincoln was a pained man held up by the empathy for others and love of his country. The weight of the world may have been on his shoulders, but he calmly strode ahead. While no one is perfect, it’s been great to read about this historic figure, and I look forward to my future research on him. How I love the writer’s life!

Sources: theatlantic.com, news.nationalgeographic.com, faculty.washington.edu, whitehouse.gov, lib.niu.edu, and emedicinehealth.com

Happy reading,

KD