I hope you will find things among my random thoughts that resonate with you and yours. I'd love to read your reactions in the Comments, and I'll be sure to visit you in return. Best regards, Mary

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Zeppelin: Graf, Aircraft Carrier, Dirigible and Led

What a strange foursome!  How did they get together?

First came Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, 1838 - 1917. 

Often known simply as Graf Zeppelin, the count (Graf) was a German general who later founded the Zeppelin Airship Company. He served in the Prussian engineering corps, then as a general staff officer in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. He did reconnaissance in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871 and had various other assignments until retiring from the military in 1890.

He was also involved in our Civil War as an "observer" for the northern troops in 1863, and he participated with Russians and Indians in an expedition to the source of the Mississippi. But perhaps his most important activities in this country were his visits to our balloon camps. He made his first ascent at St Paul, Minnesota, and a life-long interest in aeronautics was born.

The Rise and Fall of Rigid Airships

The count first mentioned an idea for large dirigibles in his diary on March 25, 1874, and in 1891 when he retired he began testing materials and engineering concepts. Despite engineering and test issues, logistics, and political hurdles, work continued. Finally, on July 2, 1900, the first successful flight of LZ1 took place in southern Germany. Several more models were built and progress was relatively steady, but Zeppelin's relationship with the military was poor, so he turned to commercial airships in order to capitalize on the growing public enthusiasm. By 1914,  37,250 people had flown safely with his German Aviation Association. 

Due to the commercial success of airships, "zeppelin" entered vernacular speech as the name for rigid airships. Both the LZ 127 (the Graf Zeppelin) which eventually circled the world,  and the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II were named for him.

The LZ 130 was the twin to the LZ 129 Hindenburg which in 1937 met a fate so terrible that it put an end to the "zeppelin era".

World War II: the German Aircraft Carrier Graf Zeppelin 

The only carrier launched by Germany in World War II was named for the count. It was launched December 8, 1938, but it was never completed or operational.

Led Zeppelin, The Band

There are several stories about how the band got its name, but one thing is certain: the count's granddaughter, Countess Eva von Zeppelin, once threatened to sue the band for using it. One story seems plausible: the band originally was known as The New Yardbirds. But when a newspaper article proclaimed that it would "go down like a lead zeppelin" the name stuck except for the spelling. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yerkes Observatory

Operated by the University of Chicago at Williams Bay, Wisconsin

One of many astronomical observatories throughout the world, it claims to be "the birthplace of modern astrophysics". Completed in 1895 with a lens diameter of 40 inches, the Yerkes remains to this day the largest achromatic refracting telescope used for scientific purposes.

The 40-inch Diameter Refracting Telescope

                                         1897 Photo                                              2006 Photo


In addition to its distinction as the largest it may also be the one with the most colorful history. It was financed by a known criminal, Charles Tyson Yerkes. Astronomer George Ellery Hale convinced the convicted but wealthy embezzler to finance the telescope, regardless of cost, providing that it be the world's largest. Which, indeed, it was. And so it bears his name. 

Monday, April 28, 2014


Just for fun, here is some of what I found when I googled Xanadu:

It's a Place,  a Fine Art Gallery, a Movie, a Song . . . all inspired by an ancient ruin, details on the ...

UNESCO World Heritage list at Xanadu Site Ruins

Located in what is now Inner Mongolia, Xanadu was the cool summer home of the khan of that era. It included both a beautiful marble palace and one made of strong cane, along with a vast and beautiful park where the khan enjoyed riding. In 1872 a Britain with the Legation in Beijing visited the site and found blocks of marble, tiles and other artifacts. But by 1990 everything was gone, probably used by locals in building their town. Only some art now remains in the walls of that town, Dolon Nor.

The name became famous in our times with the revival of the poem Kubla Khan by the English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Written it in 1797 while he was apparently under the influence of opium, it praises the city built during the period 1252-1256. It was visited in 1275 by Marco Polo who later (1298-99) dictated a description of it in glowing detail. In 1369 it was occupied and burned by an enemy, and then abandoned for several hundred years.

Picture Gallery:  UNESCO's details and pictures of remains at the site.

"Resource for collectors, designers, builders, and corporations for procuring the highest quality art ..."

Xanadu:  1980 Romantic Musical Fantasy Film. 
A musical based on the film also opened on Broadway in 2007. 
I don't recall either of these. If any readers do their comments will be welcomed. 


Oilvia Newton John sings "Xanadu".  I wonder how the khan would have liked this!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wild West

Beloved mythology of the US, the Wild West period is more fiction than truth. It's a story of conquest and survival, promise and disappointment, creation and destruction, and always clashes between differing cultures and species. As David Murdoch said, "No other nation has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America’s creation of the West."1

All of that is controversial and complex, continually researched, updated and disputed. But there is one perspective that all agree on: the west in its pristine and wild state was bountiful and beautiful. And happily there are parts of it that remain unchanged to this day.

As AtoZ Challenge draws to a close I'd like to share with you some pictures of that still "wild west". I have visited these sites but without a camera, so I rely on Getty Images and the professionals to capture them for you. They bring wonderful memories to life for me and probably for some of you. If you have not stood in these places perhaps you will be inspired to take "the trip of a lifetime".

Bryce Canyon

Monument Valley

Colorado in Spring Bloom

Great Sand Dunes of Colorado

Rocky Mountains and River in Montana

1 From Wikipedia:  Murdoch, David (2001). The American West: The Invention of a MythUniversity of Nevada Press. p. vii.ISBN 978-0874173697

Friday, April 25, 2014

Victoria, Queen of England

When I moved into my 1893 Victorian house I began to feel a kinship with Queen Victoria.
(For more about that house and living in it visit Mary in Michigan.)

Engraving From 1873

The Queen in her Robes of State

Queen Victoria Lived From 1819 Until 1901, ruling  as Queen Of England From 1837 Until 1901. That means she ruled the country for 63 years, beginning when she was 18 years old and continuing until she died in 1901 at the age of 82. Amazing!

What sort of person was she? How did she manage to remain in that position for so long, surviving wars, assasination attempts, and domestic intrigue at a time when women generally had no standing as citizens or even as people in their own right? And from 1876 she also served as Empress of India. 

The answers could lead to many hours of research, so here are a few facts just for fun: 
  • She was an only child, reared by a single mother. And she herself became a single mother. 
  • She stood barely 5 feet tall, but developed a girth of perhaps 50 inches over the years.  
  • Her tutor and mentor was Lord Melbourne, who also was her first prime minister. 
  • In 1840 she married Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to whom she proposed.
  • She and Albert had 9 children, 4 boys and 5 girls. 
  • She was a hemophilia carrier and passed the condition to her son Leopold who died at 31. 
  • Two of her daughters were hemophilia carriers. They passed it to Spanish, German and Russian royal families. 
  • When Albert died in 1861 she went into seclusion for many years, neglecting royal duties. 
  • By the mid 1870's she began to participate more actively again.
  • By her Golden Jubilee in 1887 she had fully returned to her earlier popularity. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


An imaginary place where life is perfect. Each person's would be unique. What would yours look like?

Here's what the site of mine might look like:

More important, how would it feel? What would I do each day? Who would share my utopia with me? Each person would answer those questions differently.

Look the word up and you'll find descriptions of peaceful societies or communities governed by rules that treat all members fairly, often with communal living arrangements. This wistful notion has roots in the lost Garden of Eden and the Golden Age of Greek mythology, and is reinvented in every period when men dream of a different and better life. Sometimes in various countries they even try to create it.

Keep reading and learn of American "utopian communities" that failed. I have visited the remnants of several: a Shaker village in Massachusetts, the Amana colonies in Iowa, and New Harmony, Indiana. Most are now gone or museum sites, some on the National Historic Register.

But a new effort is under way. In August, 2013, the Huffington Post published an artricle describing nine "alternative modes of living" which are open to new members:  9 Utopias That Really Exist

They are located in several countries with six in continental US, one in Hawaii, a group of 25 "elevated structures" in Costa Rica, and the incredible modernistic city New Songdon in South Korea on Incheon Bay. It is built from scratch, like Dubai, and scheduled for completion in 2015! It's a "far cry" from any in the past, but Who Knows? Maybe this one will succeed:

Flickr: Nicolette_Mastangelo                  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


When I was a girl in the late '40s and early '50s that was something one did by car, train, bus and rarely airplane. It was usually "how you got somewhere" to visit friends or family, or perhaps on business. Then something happened, and today it is an "activity". Like shopping. When I was a girl you "went shopping" when you needed something. Now it's the favorite activity of many women I know, and virtually all the younger women in my family.

For me shopping is still a chore to be avoided unless I desperately need something, and then to get it over with as soon as possible. I do not like it. Travel, on the other hand, has become a passion. When I was a girl I loved "travelogues"of places I could never hope to visit. Now I can visit any place I like, and I do. It's a luxury and pure pleasure.

I still go by car anywhere in the US because I like the freedom of having little or no schedule. When I retired I spent two and a half years touring the US and parts of Mexico in a motor home, towing a small car and carrying a bicycle. (All my belongings were in storage, and an accountant paid my bills.) At every stop I stayed until the options for exploring were exhausted or until I lost interest. When I got to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I liked it so much I stayed for five years!

Later I went on several trips with a small tour company to places in the US, Canada, and Switzerland, utilizing planes, ships, trains, and buses. I traveled the ocean by freighter, stopping in several South American countries and transitting the Panama Canal twice, once at night, once during the day. I toured New Zealand by going around the South Island by ship, visiting a few islands as we went, and stopping in various ports to explore by bus and afoot.

I spent time in England with friends who live north of London, traveled in Russia by waterway between Moscow and St Petersburg stopping at many places between. I spent a few days in Sydney, Australia, after the New Zealand trip. I took a Mediterraean cruise based on travel from port to port at night and tours on land during the day. We spent time Spain, France, Italy, and several major Islands.

                                                      Nova Scotia - one of my favorite places                                   
                                         Halifax Dock                             Halifax Train Station                                    

I haven't decided where to go next. It may be Alaska, the only state I have not visited.