Tag Archives: history

Oudtshoorn: Connecting with C.J. Langenhoven at Arbeidsgenot

An index to this series appears in the header of the first post.

September 19, 2019

I have mentioned several key pieces of Afrikaner culture, for example the Taal Monument in Paarl, the life of D.F. Malan, or the origins of Stellenbosch University. My visit to the home of C.J. Langenhoven, however, felt much more personal than those others. Langenhoven is sometimes billed as the “father of Afrikaans.” Arbeidsgenot, his steady home from 1903 to his death in 1932, is just a couple blocks from the center of Oudtshoorn. He wrote the words to “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” in this house. The poem, set to music, became the South African national anthem; part is incorporated in the current anthem, as well. He also helped usher the National Party to prominence from Oudtshoorn. That’s rather a lot of history for one house.

This image of Arbeidsgenot is from Carin Smuts Architects.

On the other hand, Arbeidsgenot is nothing like the feather palaces that I have described in previous posts. Instead, it is a rather unassuming cottage, with three bedrooms, a small living room, a rather more sizable dining room, a bathroom, and a decent kitchen and pantry. J.C. Kannemeyer explains in “Langenhoven. ‘n Lewe” (“Langenhoven: a Life”) that in 1902 the Langenhoven family’s budget was stretched very tightly, so the Langenhovens sought a property they could buy inexpensively [pp. 201-202]. They opted for a cottage named “Woodbine” on Western Road. (The road was only renamed for Jan van Riebeeck in 1952, twenty years after Langenhoven’s death.) C.J. Langenhoven decided to rename the cottage “Arbeidsgenot” (“The joy of labor”) at a later date, as part of his advocacy for the Afrikaans language. The Langenhovens were setting up their permanent home on a tight budget just as Oudtshoorn was exploding with new wealth and opulent new manor homes. The first Feather Palace, Olivier’s The Towers, was constructed nearby at about the same time the Langenhovens moved to this area. The closest Feather Palace, Pinehurst, was constructed essentially across the street one decade after they moved to the neighborhood.

Hats for her and for him. I have to think a preservationist would have some ideas…

What was it about this tidy bungalow that made it “just right” for Langenhoven? Keanan, my guide for this visit, gave the first hint: “In die sitkamer ontvang ek my vyande, in die eetkamer my vriende!” (“I meet my friends in the dining room and my enemies in the living room.”) [Kannemeyer p 205] Langenhoven’s own words acknowledge the rather cramped living room offered by his home. Several of the totems remaining in the house also have significant links to his work. One of his most famous characters, named Herrie, was a bull who towed a family around in Herrie op die ou Tremspoor, his 1925 contribution to children’s literature. Several other bulls were gifted to him after its success. Similarly, a stuffed iguana at the house points to  Brolloks en Bittergal. I liked the air of whimsy that these inclusions produced.

For a moment, this clothes washer was not the only American thing on the property!

I realized I have omitted a visit to the Stellenbosch Museum. The armoire in Engela Langenhoven’s room (his daughter) is a reproduction; the original can now be found at Stellenbosch, much closer to home than Oudtshoorn. The bedroom for CJ Langenhoven himself is separate from the bedroom for his wife. He found a bedframe crafted for an Indian princess that had mistakenly been removed from a ship at Mossel Bay and bought it at auction for his wife [Kannemeyer p. 206]. CJ Langenhoven himself slept in a bed with a blanket of skins that had been stitched together. A selection of his walking canes appears beside the bed. Keanan showed me his veranda chair where he was known to enjoy a drink and a smoke. Apparently these habits were not similarly enjoyed by his wife.

One must wonder how recently the electrical system was replaced!

A few years back, the graves of CJ Langenhoven (1873-1932) and of his wife Magdalena Hugo (1863-1950) were relocated to the property that he loved so much. There’s another curious inclusion there, too. The ashes of Sarah Goldblatt (1889-1975) have been interred quite near a bust of CJ Langenhoven that overlooks the other two graves. Keanan noted that she and CJ Langenhoven worked together, and he also offered that she was CJ Langenhoven’s lover (Kannemeyer offers much less certainty on this point at pages 371-372). Why, then, was she buried here at his home? In fact, a much larger question asks why CJ Langenhoven named Sarah Goldblatt in his will as the administrator of his literary works! A Master’s thesis by Leonie van Zyl helps to shed light on this subject, outlining Goldblatt’s many contributions to promoting Afrikaans in the 43 years she lived after CJ Langenhoven’s death (including her work promoting Arbeidsgenot as a key piece of the national heritage). It seems unjust to suggest that her only significance to Langenhoven was to be “the other woman.”

Sarah Goldblatt was a less-heralded stalwart for the development of the Afrikaans language.

In democratic South Africa, one rarely hears any mention of the National Party that is not immediately followed by “Apartheid,” the policy of racial segregation that caused so much anguish and death for so many people. It is worth noting that Langenhoven’s involvement with the party necessarily ended at his death in 1932, and Apartheid policy is often dated to have begun with the National Party’s attainment of a majority in 1948. At the same time, it would be quite undeniable that Langenhoven’s promotion of Afrikaans was a linchpin in the rise of Afrikaner nationalism. I need to read more to discern Langenhoven’s racial attitudes. Visitors to Arbeidsgenot today are most frequently white Afrikaners, not members of the South African Coloured community that frequently learns Afrikaans as a first language.

Who doesn’t love a pretty garden?

As an American, my grasp of Afrikaans is essentially nonexistent. I can report that the house has relatively little information presented in English. Most of it appears in little papers affixed to the door frames. If visiting vintage houses is your thing, you will enjoy your visit regardless. If you enjoy strolling in sunlit gardens, Arbeidsgenot is also a winner (I enjoyed listening to bumblebees sampling the tree flowers at the exit). If you want to learn more about the Afrikaans language or read some selections from CJ Langenhoven, you will find little help here. I would really love to see a reading room added to the property, particularly if they can offer some of Langehoven’s most popular writings in translation.

Oudtshoorn on foot

Index for the Oudtshoorn series:

September 18, 2019

Jeremy van Wyk is always ready to tell the story of Oudtshoorn; he has been recording oral histories for the area for several years. I first learned about him from the tourist information center in the city, and I decided to start my first full day in Oudtshoorn with his “Velskoen Shuffle” Central Business District Heritage Walk. We agreed to meet at 8:30 AM.

We wandered down to the Pick N Pay first to grab some water bottles, and then Jeremy was off to the races! He started his monologue very early in the region’s history, noting that the third war of dispossession and resistance / Frontier War (British vs. Trekboers vs. Khoikhoi vs. Xhosa, 1799-1803) had come quite close to where we were standing, with a front on the Kammanassie River just east of Oudtshoorn. At that time white settlers and accompanying people of mixed race began occupying the Klein Karoo in greater numbers as the Xhosa began expanding west.

The “Velskoen” in the title of Mr. van Wyk’s tours relates to a particular type of hardy walking shoe manufactured in this area, separated from the southern coast of South Africa by the Outeniqua Mountains. The area frequently went by the name “Veldschoendorp” until the growing town at its heart was named “Oudtshoorn” in 1847. A magistrate of George had married the granddaughter of Pieter Baron van Reede van Oudtshoorn and wanted to honor the noble who had moved to the Cape in 1741; the baron had been named governor of the Cape in 1792, though he died while returning to South Africa to take this post. The Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town stands on lands granted to Baron van Outdshoorn in 1743. The main street leading north from Oudtshoorn’s city centre was named “Baron van Reede” in his memory, as well.

The C.P. Nel Museum, originally a high school, dominates the chief intersection of the city.

During the first decades of the 20th century, Oudtshoorn had a major building boom. The town neighbored two quarries that produced sandstone, so this yellow-brown rock was dominant in the permanent buildings erected during that time. Builders would occasionally knock out a foundation for a building with some delay for completing the project because their services were needed for several projects at once. Sadly, their use of inferior sandstone for some key buildings’ foundations has led to stability problems. This material is sometimes called “brown sugar” because it dissolves to grainy sand as the decades pile up. In any case, many of the historic buildings from the golden age of Oudtshoorn have been replaced by more contemporary construction techniques from the 1970s and later, so one needs a leap of imagination to envision how the town would appear back when.

The 1930s expansion of the Queen’s Hotel completely masked its original sandstone appearance.

The golden age of Oudtshoorn coincided with a sharp rise in the trade of ostrich feathers for ladies’ hats at the start of the 20th century. The golden age fell away at the end of this fashion around 1914; the rise of the motor car and the commencement of World War I altered consumption patterns worldwide. I will have much more to say about the distinctive “Feather Palaces” that resulted in a later post. In the aftermath of the Ostrich Feather Boom, Oudtshoorn was cast back on its local resources. Some resourceful farmers returned to growing tobacco.

The Oudtshoorn district was probably the first part of South Africa to grow tobacco, which was planted there as early as 1845, before the town existed. When an Agricultural Society was formed in 1859 the amount of tobacco sold that year was more than 100,000 kg. There was no marketing organisation, and very indifferent transportation, so the farmers used to turn the tobacco leaves into rolls which they took on “togt” [“tour” or “expedition”] as far as the Free State and Transvaal, and sold as chewing and pipe tobacco.

The Little Karoo, by Jose Burman, p. 108

The crop grew to some prominence until other nations in the area, notably Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) began growing tobacco in greater volume. A sign embedded in the sidewalk in the commercial district shows that spitting chewing tobacco on the ground had become a hygenic problem on the city streets, especially with the long, blooming dresses that were popular at the time.

Since coming to South Africa in 2015, I have developed an abiding love for ostrich meat. We have to be somewhat sparing in purchasing this food, however, because it is one of the premium meats at our Woolworth’s grocery store. Jeremy related, however, that when he was growing up, eating ostrich was considered a sign of poverty! Oh, how times change.

Jeremy related an entertaining story about the friendly competition between the NG Church (Dutch Reformed Community) and the Anglican Church. In the 19th century, these two groups were locked in competition to see who could erect a permanent building first for the emerging city. The NG Church ordered roof buttresses from England that were shipped by ox wagon over the mountains from George, but they were discovered to be the wrong size upon their arrival. Thus the first pictures of the church lack its roof. The Anglicans opted for a different strategy and thus were able to complete their cathedral earlier, in 1863. Jeremy and I wandered around the NG Church grounds for a few moments. He pointed to a monument erected to commemorate the centenary of the Great Trek, with unusual shapes atop it. The church had removed stalactites from the roof of the nearby Cango Caves to stand atop the monument. These surely took more than a millennium to develop, since their growth rate is around 13 mm for a hundred years.

The NG Moederkerk in morning sunlight, with monument at right

The NG Church has an interesting complex of buildings nearby. The Drill Hall stands just to the northeast, still bearing its foundation stone, laid by Cecil Rhodes in 1892. His name has come into disrepute in recent protests at the University of Cape Town. As we approached the church wall, Jeremy noted that the church had sought to clean up the exterior for a celebration. The contractor, however, had painted the outside of its sandstone buttresses with latex paint to cover some of the age damage on this porous stone. The result has been that water damage to the underlying stone has greatly increased, and the structural integrity may drop considerably over the next couple of decades without expensive remediation.

The neighborhood also features a few small residences sometimes called “Communion houses.” Because the Oudtshoorn district featured a large number of farms, some families would travel long distances by wagon into town for special church services (Communion or nagmaal). Acquiring small town houses near the church made these visits more convenient. The residence of the NG Church minister is also quite close to the church. Its use of woodwork for its veranda rails on two floors makes it look quite distinct from other residences in the city

The minister no longer lives here.

Just around the corner from the church, one can see a sandstone doctor’s office and surgery. I leaned against a well-place oak tree on the opposite site of the road to listen to Jeremy’s discussion, but then he pointed to the tree itself. At the time, people of mixed ancestry or who were black were not allowed to wait on the veranda of the doctor’s office. Instead, they would wait in the shade of the “Doctor Tree” until their names were called by a nurse. The tree under which I was resting had been used for that purpose for a century!

The Methodist and Catholic churches are across the street from each other, but they could hardly look more different!

Jeremy and I saw a few more houses of worship that play a prominent role here. The Methodist church is covered in vines; apparently the church looks entirely different when they are covered with leaves. The current Catholic Cathedral, dating from 1967, is very distinctive, with the look of a flying saucer! Not far away is the city’s Synagogue. I was grateful that a groundskeeper opened its doors for us, though I was wearing my hiking hat rather than a kippah. The rich interior illustrates how important this community has been over time to Oudtshoorn (more on this when we talk Feather Palaces).

The “Englishe Shul” synagogue dates from 1888.

St. Jude’s Anglican Church is a complex of sandstone buildings surrounding a pretty garden . The church itself is the oldest stone building in the city, completed in 1863. Jeremy explained that the building originally featured stained glass windows for the trio of St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. Simons. In 1961, many of the church members were compelled to move to the Bridgeton area under the Apartheid Group Areas Act of the city designated for the “South African Coloured” population (these categories were forced on the population by the Apartheid Population Registration Act). Those members went on to build their own Anglican church. Similarly, many black congregants were compelled to move even further to the Bongolethu township. Jeremy reported that the congregants of St. Jude’s Anglican Church removed the window representing St. Simons to reflect that their congregation had been torn apart.

The Anglican Church won the race for first stone church in town!

To close off our tour, Jeremy brought me to the Grobblears River, which separated the town from the nearest farms (as well as the communities of farm workers) back at the close of the 18th century. The city commissioned a suspension bridge in 1914 to simplify foot traffic. Although the bridge has sometimes featured as a historic landmark to represent the city, it was allowed to dip into a poor state of repair. Though many of the boards on its walkway have been replaced, some of those boards have already begun to degrade. I developed some problems with vertigo in connection with my vestibular migraine diagnosis, so I found walking on the bridge quite problematic. We continued our chat on the ground!

The Grobblears River was previously at a higher water level, but irrigation consumes much of its flow now.

Jeremy offered me a sprig of Helichrysum crispum, or “Khoi bedding.” He explained that this plant was used to clean the air of a dwelling and also for ceremony. To say our farewell, I could cast the plant into the river. I offered my best wishes for Oudsthoorn to continue in health and then let the plant fall into the waters. Our tour was at an end!

The University of Manchester and Manchester Museum

An index to this series appears on the first post.

Today, it seems that any major city should offer its own university, but that was not always true. Today, it seems obvious that a city should offer a variety of museums to host school groups and tourists, but that, too, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Just how did the University of Manchester and its associated Manchester Museum come about?

A University through Union

This former Medical School building is not the first home of medical training in Manchester, since it only opened in 1874!

The 1820s were a time of rapid growth for Manchester. The first national census in 1801 determined that the city had 78,727 inhabitants, but that number had almost doubled to 142,000 by the time of the 1831 census. “It should be remembered that for about 700 years there had been only two universities in England, devoted largely to the production of clerics and, later, administrators” [Walsh 1996]. In the space of a single year, though, two different seeds of change sprouted in Manchester. During 1824, both the Manchester School of Medicine and Manchester Mechanics’ Institution began operations, trying to bring advanced training within the reach of middle-class families. Durham University and the University of London were established in 1832 and 1836, respectively. In 1846, a bequest for educational purposes by textile merchant John Owens brought £96,654 to the cause of establishing a college at Manchester, and the Owens College was launched formally in 1851. “Owens did not have powers to grant degrees, but a Royal Warrant permitted the College to award certificates to qualify students to take the degrees of the University of London” [from Owens College Archive]. The (now Royal) Manchester School of Medicine joined Owens College in 1872.

The John Owens building on the Oxford Road campus once housed almost all the classes of Owens College.

Gaining university standing was quite a challenge for the colleges of northern England; the universities near London naturally enjoyed having exclusive right to this title. Yorkshire College in Leeds and Owens College at Manchester stepped on each other’s feet to become the first university in the north. In the end, a federated Victoria University was created in 1880 at Manchester, with partner colleges at University College Liverpool (1884) and Yorkshire College at Leeds (1887) joining soon thereafter. This structure of a single university with three campuses was an uneasy arrangement, and when Liverpool began adding specialized programs such as the School of Tropical Medicine, the other colleges within Victoria University were slow to approve. In 1902, this conflict boiled over, and Liverpool applied for the right to be a university in its own right. Manchester declared that if Liverpool were granted the right to be a university, it should, as well. (This is quite similar to the way that the college at Stellenbosch acquired university status at the same time as the college at Cape Town.) In 1903, both of these colleges were granted independent university status, and the Yorkshire College at Leeds was invited to request the same standing.

Even the Student Service Centre of the U-Manchester campus is beautiful!
The Sackville Street Building, opened in 1902, was the mainstay of UMIST for a century.

The 1824 Manchester Mechanics’ Institute, now operating as the Manchester Municipal School of Technology, entered an agreement in 1905 to serve as the Faculty of Technology of the Victoria University of Manchester. The faculty’s name continued to drift substantially until receiving a royal charter in 1966 as the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology or UMIST. In 1994, changes in the law made UMIST a separate university, but it opted for complete merger with the Victoria University of Manchester in 2004 to form today’s University of Manchester.

The Renold Building, constructed in 1962, was part of a UMIST campus expansion in that era.

From collector to society to university

In the late Enlightenment, well-to-do English people often sought to demonstrate their refinement through the collection of rare items, whether fine art or insects. At the time, the boundaries between geology and entomology were somewhat less rigid, and so a fair number of these collections sprawled to a wide variety of exhibits. John Leigh Philips (1761-1814) was a partner in the family business, spinning cotton and silk. At his death, the Philips collection included three mahogany cabinets just to hold his insect collection, along with a substantial number of artworks. Religious dissenters had formed a nucleus of learning in Manchester, and a merchant from their ranks purchased the collection at auction. Intellectual societies had developed in many major cities, and Manchester was home to one of the largest, the “Lit and Phil” (The Manchester Literary and Philosophy Society, founded in 1781). The Lit and Phil declined to purchase the Philips collection when it was offered to them in 1821; instead, a few of its interested members banded together to form the “Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History” in order to buy the collection and display it for a broader audience.

“Possessing a bunch of stuff” is not the same thing as “running a modern museum.” The Philips collection and additions surfed from location to location at first, but then the Society was able in 1835 to construct a purpose-built museum facility on Peter Street in the center of Manchester after raising significant funds for that purpose. This museum, however, was not open to the public but rather limited to part-owners of the collection, substantial contributors of funds, and members of partner societies. Enjoyment of the museum became broader as students and staff of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution were allowed entry. Eventually museums needed to subsist on entry fees as the societies lost senior members. By 1860s, the building and upkeep costs from the museum had left the Society in bad condition, and civic corporations were unwilling to take on the museum and its mission. In 1868, the Society dissolved itself, having transferred the museum and its contents to Owens College, soon to become part of Victoria University. Many of the “curiosities” in the collection were sold at auction at this time. The Manchester Museum facility on Oxford Road finally opened its doors to the public in 1888, twenty years after the Society had closed down its predecessor.

A college home on Oxford Road

The Manchester Museum begins at that grand entrance and extends through that first vaulted ceiling, extending away from the camera. The baroque bit closer to the camera now offers a ground-floor cafe.

Alfred Waterhouse had already developed a brilliant reputation as an Manchester architect in 1873; his Neo-Gothic town hall for the city had begun construction five years earlier. Owens College turned to him to craft its campus on Oxford Road, running south from downtown. His answer produced an original campus quadrangle that is truly striking to the eye. The Manchester Museum building was added to the quadrangle starting in 1882, forming its northeast corner (at a total cost of £95,000). The last 130 years since the Museum opened its Oxford Road building have hardly been static for the facility. A 2009 book by Samuel J. M. M. Alberti (author of several of the citations I’ve read above) discusses how the various disciplines under the museum (geography, ethnography, or ornithology, to name a few) and the objects associated with them have evolved over the years.

The quad behind the facade is a lovely place to relax. Here’s Simon, the M.Sc. student I get to work with through DARA.

During my visit to the Manchester Museum, substantial renovations were underway. I was really grateful for the chance to visit its original gallery, though. I particularly liked the skeleton of a sperm whale, suspended from the ceiling. The animal washed ashore in Massachusetts in 1896 and was purchased for the museum at a cost of $300.

I was not the only American in the museum!

In 1922, a nearly-complete fossil of a Tyrannosaurs Rex was uncovered in South Dakota. A cast of the fossils has been arranged to show the creature running, and it’s a very dynamic component to the floor of the gallery. I was grateful for the opportunity to show him to Simon, the graduate student I visited in Manchester!

“Stan” guards the floor of the main gallery.

Manchester: Jodrell Bank and the Lovell Telescope

An index to this series appears on the first post.

June 28, 2019

In retrospect, it is remarkable how close the U.K. came to canceling the construction of the massive Lovell Radio Telescope. Bernard Lovell had been awarded the Order of the British Empire for his pioneering work in radar during World War II. After the war, the University of Manchester had named him a professor of radio astronomy in the Physics Department. His odd experiments with re-purposed equipment from the war had led him to the quiet farms at Jodrell Bank of the Botany Department to avoid the noisy radio environment of Manchester. In 1952, however, he moved away from the makeshift antenna poles and mesh reflectors of his pilot experiments on the ground to design an incredibly bold telescope that could be aimed at any part of the sky. The mammoth antenna would rotate on an axle 165 feet above the ground, with a dish that measured 250 feet in diameter. The axle itself would rotate in racks taken from 15 inch gun turrets from former battleships. The entire structure would turn because it was built atop bogeys riding on two concentric circles of rail tracks.

At left: this WW2 searchlight was repurposed as a radio telescope by the Jodrell Bank team (1951). At right: the remains of the searchlight cart today, as yet unrestored.

Lovell originally projected that all could be accomplished for £170,000. His initial budget, however, was more than optimistic, and the United Kingdom had run up incredible debts to continue fighting in World War II. Lovell’s government grant funders began grumbling about “Lovell’s Folly,” and Members of Parliament began alleging that he was misusing government funding. The auditors moved in. Five years into construction, the telescope project appeared on the verge of collapse.

This 218 ft. reflector of metal mesh, constructed in 1947, was subsequently replaced by the “Mark II” telescope at Jodrell Bank. In its time, though, this was the largest radio telescope in the world, prefiguring other immobile dishes such as the one at Arecibo.

In a surprising historical accident, the Cold War saved Lovell’s dream. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite. What had seemed an incredibly expensive crackpot caprice was suddenly reappraised as a priceless national security asset. With money no object, “wiring and electrical work scheduled to take two months were complete in two days.” Five days after Sputnik I was launched, the Lovell Telescope dish was moved automatically via remote commands generated by an analog computer in the control room for the first time. Within two additional days, the telescope had made it possible to detect the carrier rocket, with confirmation on October 16th. Why was the U.K. so intent on finding that rocket? The rockets required to launch a satellite are very, very similar to those that serve as inter-continental ballistic missiles. From this point forward, this and other radio telescopes would play a role in monitoring the skies for ICBM launches and to track the course of extraplanetary missions, such as the first manned moon landing in 1969.

The emphasis was on telescope construction, not great architecture. Most of the original observatory buildings are now under restoration. The small, modern dish here is a student telescope.

I was very grateful to be hosted as a visiting “astronomer” by Nick Wrigley. As I’ve written before, my specialty covers the algorithms we use to interpret biological mass spectrometry data, but I have teamed with Prof. Anna Scaife at U-Manchester to co-supervise Simon Ndiritu, an M.Sc. student working on problems of missing data in astronomy through the Development of Africa with Radio Astronomy program. Nick gave me a brilliant tour of Jodrell Bank, despite limited time at the facility. We started at the fields where Lovell first tested his ability to measure radio signals in the gardens of the botanical station, using a World War II searchlight with antennas attached to it. The equipment is barely recognizable today; historical preservation for it became a priority rather late. This should improve now that Jodrell Bank has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (announced just last week)! We visited the area where his mesh-and-pole pilot project was attempted. It is hard to believe that these “duct tape and baling wire” experiments could have allowed anyone to conceive of the Lovell Telescope. It is so enormous that it dwarfs everything around it.

This is the first unobstructed view a visitor sees of the Lovell Telescope.
The preserved control panel is refreshingly analog.

I was really delighted to take a moment in the control room of the instrument. The console definitely looks like something from the 1950s, with analog rheostats mounted to the metal frame. The modern controls, of course, are mediated through contemporary computers, and displays for a project called “e-MERLIN” can even show external cameras monitoring the current positions of other companion telescopes. When Nick showed me the systems for examining the Lovell Telescope from the control room, my eyes popped. Lovell had taken advantage of war surplus to acquire very finely-crafted “big eyes” binoculars, and the symbol of the Nazis is still visible, right there below the eyepieces.

Does he look like an astronomer to you?

It was not until its thirtieth anniversary that the 1957 telescope was named after its inventor; before that it was frequently called the “Mark I.” The smaller “Mark II” radio telescope, with a far smaller surface area than its older brother, was completed in 1964, also at Jodrell Bank. Over the years, new engineering capabilities have transformed the Lovell Telescope into a much more capable instrument. Its original reflecting dish is an integral part of its structure, but a new reflector that was closer to the ideal paraboloid shape was mounted atop the original surface between 1968 and 1971. That surface was recently replaced in 2001-2003. The receiver at the focus of that bowl is now cooled to only thirteen degrees above absolute zero, removing much of the radio noise that it would otherwise contribute. Dr. Scaife noted that some pairs of peregrine falcons have built nests in the substructure of the reflector. Their selfless activities have greatly reduced the interference caused by the droppings and body heat of pigeons in the ongoing operations of the Lovell Telescope.

The Lovell Telescope might be the oldest of the big dish radio telescopes, but its surface and receiver updates have made a big difference in the frequency range it can monitor as well as the sensitivity of its measurements. Since Lovell’s 1957 completion, only two re-positionable single-dish antennas have surpassed its size. The 100 meter dish in Effelsberg, Germany was completed in 1972, and the 100 meter dish in Green Bank, West Virginia was completed in 2001. These are not, however, the largest radio telescopes in the world. That honor remained with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (305 meters, completed in 1963) until China created its immobile but tunable dish at Guizhou with a diameter of 500 (!) meters in 2016. These telescopes offer incredible sensitivity, but because these telescopes cannot be moved, they can “see” only astronomical objects within a few degrees of where the Earth’s rotation and revolution has oriented them.

The 1964 “Mark 2” telescope is elliptical, with a major axis just half of the Mark 1 telescope. Its finely-crafted surface allowed study of smaller wavelengths than did the Mark 1.

A big dish lends itself to sensitivity, but it is not ideal for seeing details within regions of radio signal. Recent years have seen a shift toward radio astronomy that is distributed across an array of dishes rather than a single big dish. Signals are combined across dishes using significant number crunching computation with methods from “interferometry.” The Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico spans twenty-seven 25m dishes. It was completed in 1980. South Africa and Australia are now building an even larger array of antennas, with a total surface area of a square kilometer (thus the name, the “Square Kilometer Array“). The first subset of 64 dishes came online in 2018 in South Africa under the name “MeerKAT.” Because this array is located in the Southern Hemisphere, humanity will have the ability to detect astronomical phenomena in an altogether different part of the sky! Happily, the Lovell Telescope has been able to join with other radio telescopes across Great Britain to create a interferometry array in the e-MERLIN project, with Lovell providing high sensitivity and gaining substantial detail through the distant antennas.

The weight of the axle is managed by turrets scavenged from WW1 battleships.

Nick allowed me to see the server room (which looks very much like a bank vault) for the computing resources to combine the signals of e-MERLIN. For the “Correlator,” designed fifteen years ago, the site opted to handle these parallel computations through field-programmable gate array (FPGA) hardware rather than standard CPUs or graphical processing units (GPUs). In an even more ambitious undertaking, more than 40 sites in 19 nations have joined into a massive Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) network to allow extremely highly detailed images to be created of very distant objects. The computation to combine these data is handled in the Netherlands. At present, coordinating data among so many sites limits the amount of VLBI observation time to three week intervals only three times a year. As network bandwidth and parallel computation gains speed, however, this window of time may be increased in the future.

This 42 ft dish was previously used in Australia for missile tracking. Now it is deployed for pulsar observation.

Dr. Sally Cooper handled many of the details for my trip to Manchester. She showed me a very different face for Jodrell Bank. In less than a week, the site will host the Bluedot festival, featuring live music and talks about science, much like Pint of Science but with a larger audience! Dr. Cooper had a great idea for how to make pulsars understandable to the broader public. I wish I could be there!

Manchester on foot

An index to this series appears on the first post.

I was very fortunate to get a perspective on Manchester from a friend who had lived there for many years. My friend Paul, from the University of Manchester, displayed a great combination of knowledge and opinion about his city, supplying enough anecdotes of its underside to accompany the broader scope of wonder he feels about its history. I saved sixteen locations I visited in Manchester to a Google Maps list; you can view that here.

August 26, 2019

The Principal Manchester marks your entry to downtown as you head North on Oxford Road from the university district.

We started our tour by retracing my steps up Oxford Road from the day before. This time I paused to photograph the Principal Manchester, an Alfred Waterhouse design completed in 1895. I was strongly reminded of many buildings I had observed in Pietermaritzburg, also of the Victorian era. I was able to enter its magnificent lobby later in my trip and was surprised by a larger-than-life horse sculpture in metal under a massive glass dome ceiling. In contrast, the neighboring St. James Building, completed in 1912, adopted an Edwardian Baroque style with exaggerated column capitals. Architectural styles can change quite quickly!

I did not expect such a massive lobby space on the ground floor of the Principal Manchester!

Paul showed me an alley nearby that had frequently been used as a stand-in for 19th century New York. The nearby rail bridge presented a large arch, and an enterprising Mancunian [sic] had transformed this space into a pub dubbed “The Thirsty Scholar.” Apparently this use of bridge arches has become increasingly popular in Britain.

Emmeline Pankhurst was a passionate civil rights crusader.

Our pass through St. Peter’s Square returned to the central library, but this time Paul guided me to a recently-installed statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragette born in 1858. She led the “Women’s Social and Political Union,” a political organization branded as extremist radicals for their unwillingness to tolerate delays and excuses for denying the vote to women. I appreciated that the artist had modeled her to stand atop a chair to make her ardent appeal. Paul also pointed out a patched dedication stone at the central library, reflecting that someone had attempted to scratch “Ireland” from the title of George V. Paul noted that the honeybee is a mascot of sorts for Mancunians, a feature it shares with Utah; a colorful model nearly my own height stood in the central library atrium and at several other locations throughout the day.

The town hall (right) and its extension (left) dominate the center of the city. The Central Library is at the extreme left.

No walking tour of Manchester would be complete without a few different looks at the city hall. The town hall, completed in 1877, is a prototype of Neo-Gothic architecture in Britain. Its main structure features an impressive tower and a many-arched exterior; this part follows the pattern of many Victorian buildings.

The curvature of this town hall extension hallway matches that of the outer wall of the adjacent Central Library.

The extensions to this building, however, take their cues from other classes of buildings altogether. A curving hallway of public-facing offices and an extended lounge runs in orbit around the central library. This curved face is paired with starkly flat faces to the building where it abuts nearby plazas and the town hall itself. Viewed from St. Peter’s Square, the structure looks more like a modernist cathedral than an office building. The ground floor is open to the public as a library with standard-height ceilings; apparently the upper floors are administrative offices for the city. Two steep-roofed metal skybridges link this annex to the main structure of the town hall.

Distributing trainloads requires warehouses, and the Great Northern Railway constructed its massive facility near the center of Manchester.

As we turned south onto the A56 toward Deansgate from Peter Street (the A34), we passed the massive London and North Eastern Railway Goods Depot, a structure that striped an entire city block in red and white ranks of brick. The area was used to house goods brought from the rail cargo lines before they were transported to stores. Soon we reached Deansgate Station, an area dense with bridges and canals. It seemed that none of these routes met at right angles, so the metal arch buttresses were offset from each other to produce an eye-catching effect.

I love the pattern of arches for these angled bridges!

The Castlefield and St. John’s areas were home to two notable sites for tourists. I mentioned the Museum of Science and Industry in my prior post. The other was the remnant of a Roman fortification from the “Mamucium” colony. A variety of structures on this site guarded the area for a span of 330 years (~70 AD through ~410 AD).

The area near Deansgate has been occupied for more than 2000 years.

I tried to buy a hot chocolate at a coffee shop with some pounds contributed by my mother-in-law, but I was bewildered to hear that the pounds were an old type and were only exchangeable for new pounds at a bank. Paul and I found one right around the corner, and I soon had shiny new coins in my hand. Apparently the prior pound coin had proven itself relatively easy to counterfeit, and a substantial number of forged coins had entered circulation. I liked the new bimetalic pound coins.

A 1996 bomb at this site next to the Arndale shopping centre led to substantial investment in the restoration of the city center.

Our course continued east on the tony “King Street,” and the buildings were in much better nick than some of the soot-smeared structures we had seen in less-monied neighborhoods along the way. As we passed west of the Arndale shopping area, Paul pointed to a location where Irish nationalist bombers had detonated a device some years ago. A stylish footbridge, encased in a glass tube, had been constructed to guide foot traffic across the busy road beneath. With just a few more steps, we had crossed into Exchange Square, which is dominated by the impressive 1897 Corn Exchange building from the Victorian Era. The square is currently bisected by a blue wall to mask repair work for a water feature.

This originally served as a commodity exchange rather than a stock exchange.

The Manchester Cathedral, largely completed in its present form in 1506 (but containing stones dating as far back at 700 AD), was just north of the Corn Exchange. I spent a few minutes trying to get the ideal photo of the structure, but when we came to its open doorway, we learned that a church service was in progress, and tourists should steer clear. After seeing the cathedral in Seville, I would think any cathedral is smallish. The Manchester Cathedral, though, has invested in some lovely work along its exterior walls. I would really have liked to visit its interior as well.

Paul and I passed along Withy Grove, the road north of the Arndale Mall, and we stopped in at a small, odd independent bookstore with silly advertising. The first shopping aisle in the store was pretty conventional stuff, but as we turned the corner we encountered an equally large aisle crammed to the rafters with pornographic magazines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I laughed and beat a hasty retreat to the other section. I found an inexpensive book titled Central Manchester Through Time for five pounds. I laughed again when I noticed the shopkeeper wrapped it in brown paper for its trip home with me.

Keeping just the facade from historic structures is one way to honor the past while preparing for the future.

We passed down High Street to Market Street, and Paul pointed to the interesting and intricate graffiti murals that occupied most walls in the square. We passed the former site of the “Wholesale Fish Markets” at Thomas and High Streets, facing a massive tiger mural. The developers in this area decided to retain the historic facade of the former structure but to build an entirely detached set of condominiums behind it. It was an interesting way to preserve the historic look of Victorian Manchester, I think.

Queen Victoria projects the weight of empire in this Piccadilly Gardens statue!

Interjection from July 29 (a return to this area)
On my way to a lunch with Profs. Anna and Rene, I paused at Piccadilly Gardens. It was loaded with relaxing people on this rare sunny day, and the fountains were full of children cooling off. The environment was not perfectly idyllic, though. Evangelists from a variety of religious sects (Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Hare Krishnas among them) were standing at every exit of the park. One church was setting up a sound system as I passed, with a camera readying to shoot video from a nearby tripod. A local warned me that the park is frequently home to drug dealers and drug buyers, so I did not linger. I did, however, try to take a photo of the imperious Queen Victoria statue there.

Turing and me? We’re alright.

Back to my July 26 walk with Paul
We soon passed the street leading to Piccadilly Station (a primary train destination), and we came to the Sackville Gardens. I had a particular interest in reaching this site because it is home to a statue of Alan Turing, one of a select set of researchers who can be considered a parent of computer science. Turing is also an important reminder that visionaries may be profoundly mistreated by their societies (see also Socrates and Galileo). In Turing’s case, the state ordered him to be chemically castrated after convicting him of indecent behavior (sex was illegal for homosexuals in the 1950s). Turing committed suicide soon after, and his conviction was only pardoned in 2013 (with a corresponding change of the law in 2017). I paused for a photo with his statue.

With that, Paul and I turned back to my hotel. We paused on the way at a massive statue devoted to VIMTO, a cordial drink that is very popular in Manchester (and was invented on Granby Row). We passed into the northeastern campus of the University of the Manchester, largely featuring buildings from the 1960s ad 1970s. Apparently the University is now discontinuing operations at this campus because it is somewhat removed from its other facilities. We also paused at a pub popular with graduate students of the University of Manchester. We each raised a pint (Paul a beer and I a cider) to a well-spent day on foot!

June 29, 2019

The somber altarpiece at St. Mary’s sets a mood.

On my map of the “Civic Quarter” of Manchester, I saw the “Hidden Gem,” the 1794 Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Church. I found my way into it from the South side, past a substantial construction site (the church is not visible from Dalton Street). The church offers a very distinctive set of modern paintings representing the Stations of the Cross. The altarpiece is somber and relatively modest, with statues in beige against a white background and relatively little gold trim. I couldn’t tell if the columns were real marble or simply painted to look that way. The light from the high cupola was quite pretty.

The city’s art gallery sits near the town hall.

With less than an hour left before closing time, I walked into the Manchester Art Gallery. Its special exhibition of pottery work by Halima Cassell was very lovely, with mesmerizing geometric patterns on spheres and bowls. The regular exhibits are a bit limited, I think, but I did see some paintings I really liked. My attention was drawn really strongly by “The Desert,” a massive painting of a male lion reclining, fully stretched out. I felt sad to learn that the artist had used a recently deceased lion from the zoo as his model for this and other works. In the next room, I felt moved by an 1856 painting from Adolphe Yvon. His work showed the leadership of Marshal Ney trying to keep his army alive as the French army retreated from Russia during in 1812. The painting that drew my attention in the next chamber was a bit naughty! “The Hireling Shepherd” used really vivid colors to capture a stolen moment between two young people who really should pay attention to their sheep-herding activities. The sheep are shown going into the corn and getting into other messes as the boy and the girl flirt with each other. As I exited the exhibit, I looked up to see the tall entry hall’s decorated walls. I took a moment to appreciate again that a civic museum could operate with no entrance fee and still offer free Wifi. I wish all cities were as civilized!

Manchester is not London, and that’s a good thing. The city’s industrial past meshes well with its hard-working present. If you are willing to put a couple of miles on your shoes, you will be well rewarded by a wander through its many parts!

Manchester: “Cottonopolis” and Peterloo

Index to the Manchester series:

Because I co-supervise an M.Sc. student in radio astronomy through DARA, I got the chance to visit Manchester in the United Kingdom for the first time. The Greater Manchester Built-Up Area, home to more than 2.5 million inhabitants, was the second most populous in the 2011 census, after the Greater London BUA. Despite its size and historical importance, though, I knew next to nothing about this city. I would like to introduce it using my walking tour of its streets and museums.

A tiny history

Manchester developed into a city largely because of the Industrial Revolution. The city became known for weaving cotton cloth after the arrival of the Flemish in the 14th century, but this process moved from homes to factories through a long series of inventions that paired well with the city’s humid environment (think Seattle) and hinterlands featuring rapid rivers and good coal availability. The inventions included:

The culmination of these inventions arrived in 1783, when Richard Arkwright began production at the world’s first steam-driven cotton mill. Manchester is 40 miles inland, and yet it had become England’s third-largest port through the construction of the Bridgewater Canal in 1761 and the Ship Canal in 1894. The first project brought coal to Manchester, and the second allowed easy shipment of its products to markets worldwide.

June 25, 2019

St. Peter’s Square is dominated by the Central Library (above) and the Extended Town Hall.

My first brush with the city’s uneasy reputation for protest came when I wandered to the Central Library at the heart of the city. My flight from Atlanta had arrived just before 7 AM, and I needed to keep my body busy to stay awake! The Central Library simply looks like a piece of history, even if its present structure only dates from 1934. When I entered the second floor Great Hall, I immediately slowed my pace to a tip-toe. The enormous ceiling of the chamber is a shallow dome, making the room an inverted paraboloid. Even incidental noises are rapidly transmitted across the space.

The quote lining the dome comes from Proverbs 4:7.

I had only been in the room for a couple of minutes when it became apparent that someone was having fun with the special acoustics in the space. A teenager or young man was capering across the floor, taking exaggerated steps and tapping different objects so he could hear the echo. He seemed entirely oblivious to the angry laser-glares focused in his direction from all the readers. I felt vaguely embarrassed, thinking the young person suffered from a mental disability. I said my farewells to the space and headed for the exit.

I walked back toward the entrance but lingered while looking at the lovely stained glass and ceiling insets of the entrance hall. That examination was soon interrupted as the young person angrily descended the stairs, followed closely by a beefy security guard. “I’ll call the police!” the youngster shouted many times. “You can’t do this!” he hollered as he was escorted through the exit. “You’re a [naughty word]!” he shouted after getting a few feet away from the guard outside. The guard watched him passively for a few minutes to ensure the kid understood he would not be readmitted to the library.

June 26, 2019

“The Rocket” has only recently returned to Manchester.

I became friends with Paul Brack in 2018 through our conversations at the HUPO-PSI Quality Control Working Group. He invested several hours in showing me his adopted home city! Paul introduced me to the Science and Industry Museum. Until a few years ago, it was still possible to ride a steam locomotive from the world’s first passenger railway station (part of the Museum site). Paul was absolutely delighted to see “The Rocket,” the first steam train to support an intercity railway, built by Robert Stevenson. Other exhibits explained how steam engines revolutionized the manufacture of cotton cloth, showing a weaving machine designed to take is motive power from a rotating axle in the ceiling of the room. We also took the opportunity to visit the Air and Space Hall just across the road from the Museum of Science and Industry. Paul showed me a complete model of a rocket-powered “Chrysanthemum” kamikaze plane dating from World War II. I had read about these fighters for a grade-school project, and it was really something to see one in person all these years later. With that, we retired to lunch at the Oast House, close to the Crown Court building. I couldn’t help but try the fish and chips. The pea mash was particularly notable!

Steam engines provided the power needed to drive the cotton weaving machines.

Our walk took a vaguely north-easterly direction. First we perused the John Rylands Library, completed in 1899 on a Basil Champneys design. It was clearly intended as a cathedral of books, with an impressive collection ranging from an early fragment (2nd/3rd century) of the book of John to a meter-tall volume of North American birds by Audobon.

A library, or a church? John Rylands’ book collection resided in style.

Paul noted that the creating such an elegant building was a bit rich, considering that the neighboring street was home to the Manchester and Salford Street Children’s Mission as well as the Working Men’s Church (1905). The Rylands Library ran into financial problems with its upkeep after only a couple of decades, and the establishment of a state archive, along with an associated annex of inventive architecture, was necessary to bail it out. The city was conducting an exhibit about “Peterloo,” a massacre of 18 civilians by police and military units (including “Hussar” cavalry and artillery pieces). This exhibit spanned both the Rylands Library and the Central Library. I was really wowed by the “nave” of the library, and the statues of luminaries lining the chamber included both Shakespeare and local boy John Dalton.

They’re luminaries, not saints.

June 29, 2019

I felt unsure how to spend my last day in Manchester, but I followed a suggestion from someone on the train to visit the People’s History Museum on the left bank of the River Irwell separating Manchester from Salford. A cylindrical column of rising doves was perched on the corner of Bridge Street; I learned later that this statue marked the occasion on which Manchester became a “Nuclear Free City,” due to the efforts of its peace movement during the Cold War. I appreciated that the museum tried to explain how the neighborhood in which it was situated had evolved over time. Below some of the windows, historic photos were displayed that showed how a bridge had been replaced or a jail had been demolished. As one might guess from the name, the People’s Museum was devoted to topics such as popular suffrage, government services, economic inequality, and socialism. I really appreciated the three-story mural in the main space that showed the major civil rights events on the timeline from the English Civil War (1600s) to the Representation of the People Act in 1948.

Give peace a chance.

Like the Central Library and the John Rylands Library, the People’s History Museum had produced an extended exhibit in connection with the Peterloo massacre. Their explanation was really well executed, starting with a map showing the distances people had traveled to come to St. Peter’s Field in Manchester for the big event (up to 30 miles). The ten-minute video they’d assembled helped to explain why speakers Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford, and Mary Fildes were such a draw. It seems hard to believe that Manchester had no member of Parliament in 1819, while districts with only seven voters were represented there. I was particularly staggered to learn that only 2% of the inhabitants of England qualified for the right to vote. No wonder a popular protest erupted!

As we’ve seen in other cases where armed forces were used against civilians, there’s a lot of ambiguity about who gave what orders. Obviously it was inadvisable to release the poorly trained and ill-disciplined yeomanry militia on the crowd. Obviously the reservations of the hussar commander on the spot should have been heeded rather than sending heavy cavalry into the mix. Did the authorities not realize how problematic it would be that many of the wounded and dead were women? With 600-700 wounded and 18 dead, the injustice of power would be very memorable, and the recent carnage at Waterloo was readily adaptable to name the massacre. A journalist who was radicalized in that crowd started the Manchester Guardian newspaper just two years later (it later became the national news outlet of the same name).

With that special exhibit, the People’s Museum really set the stage well for the two floors of regular exhibits. The museum has quite a lot to say about broadening the right to vote to a larger base. I was unaware that the population of Manchester identified strongly with the slaves in the cotton plantations of America (whose cotton powered the main industry of Manchester). While the British cotton weavers were nominally “free,” they were very much captive to the clocks at the factories, and they had little power to make their lives better with a long line of potential laborers pouring into the cities for work.

We spend too much time thinking of our parents’ children and our children’s parents.

The museum features a rich collection of historic banners, for example during the rise of the socialist party or from trade guilds or later labor unions. I was surprised to see the tiny table upon which Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, which was just as influential in England as in the United States. I had never heard of The Beveridge Report, in which William Beveridge outlined his plan to rid the world of “Idleness, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor, and Want.” As a person who grew up while nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union was a talked-about possibility, I was very moved by a banner extolling peace (“I want to grow up, not blow up”) from the 1980s. A banner from 1996 titled “Our Children’s World” illustrated the stark choices facing the world in environmental protection.

Of course, the museum spent some time discussing the apparent setbacks dating from the Conservative party leadership begun by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Their display of puppets representing Barbara Castle, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock, John Major, and Tony Blair was pretty funny. Just the same, I think the museum took a responsible route in talking about the Conservative Party rather than reflexively excoriating them.

Putting it together

In many respects, Manchester is the prototype city of the Industrial Age. In it, we can see all the attractions that drew people from the countryside, hopeful to find work. We can also see the harsh conditions in which the laboring class toiled. It is no surprise that Friedrich Engels would contribute to the creation of socialism in such an environment! We can only hope that the labor and voting rights protections fought for by its population will be retained as history moves forward.

Atlanta: The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

Friday, May 31, 2019

Just a mile from the Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta, the National Park Service administers a site that will be of interest to anyone who values civil rights. I had arrived on Delta flight 201 at roughly 6:30 in the morning, and the only way I would stay awake is if I could see something truly interesting. After shoveling a huge breakfast into my mouth, I walked a mile “across the tracks” to see the expansive collection of sites that neatly encapsulate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

If I were trying to explain my own life, I would probably showcase my neighborhood in Liberty, MO, the high school campus in Blue Springs, MO, but then I would need to include sites ranging all over the United States and eventually South Africa! For Martin Luther King, Jr., however, rather a lot of his life revolved around Sweet Auburn, a distinctive neighborhood of African-Americans just east of downtown Atlanta. (His education and activism, of course, would range very broadly indeed.) The National Historical Park incorporates the house where MLK2 was born, the elementary school he attended, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father preached and where he developed his own oratory, the Masonic hall that first housed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he led, and his grave site. It is hard to believe that all of these sites can be visited in a stroll through just a few city blocks.

King Birth Home

We can photograph the outside only.

If you want to tour MLK2’s childhood home, sign up for a ticket at the National Park Service Visitor Center as early as possible on your visit day. I was able to get a ticket for the Friday 2PM tour when I arrived just before 11:30 AM on a summer Friday. Ranger Anderson met our group at the well-stocked bookstore and museum shop next door to 501 Auburn Ave. Anderson established a fun patter with our group, and I enjoyed his insights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t born a distinctive leader; instead he was clearly groomed to excellence. His childhood home was first occupied by Rev. Adam Daniel. Williams, the second to serve as chief minister to the Ebenezer Baptist Church. The third chief minister was Williams’ son-in-law, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. MLK2 became co-pastor with his father in 1960, after his civil rights work had begun in earnest. Pastoral leadership at Ebenezer Baptist was very much a family affair!

The King children were regularly tested in feats of Bible memorization around the dining table. I took delight in the family’s emphasis on board games, even to the extent of converting a ground-floor bedroom into a game room. Their Chinese Checkers, Monopoly, and Go Fish games were all on display in the house. The boys’ room at the back of the upper story showed both “pick up sticks” and Lincoln Logs. I feel sure I would have enjoyed a games night with this family.

When we passed into the family kitchen, I was surprised to see so many relationships with kitchen furniture we inherited from my great aunt Verna. The ice box the King family used was more limited in space than the one we have from the early 1900s. The flour sifter and meat grinder attached to the cabinets was also familiar from my aunt’s furniture. The Kings made several modifications to the house, such as an added bathroom, so that they could accommodate boarders. Ranger Anderson made reference to the “Green Book,” a guide to services and accommodation for African-Americans touring the country before segregation was ended in 1964.

Ebenezer Baptist Church

This sign shows a little of the light of the world!

I felt a jolt when I looked to the South side of Auburn Ave. to see a familiar blue-and-white neon sign marking Ebenezer Baptist Church. The sign, purchased by the congregation in 1956 under the leadership of MLK2’s father, has appeared in any number of documentaries. If I could swallow my pride about selfies, I would surely have a picture of myself with that sign! Something I hadn’t realized about the church, however, is that Ebenezer is still a living church congregation. The National Park Service runs the historic building, but across Auburn a modern church facility houses the current congregation. Ebenezer first opened its doors in 1886 at a different location in Sweet Auburn, but the congregation had completed their move to Auburn Avenue by 1922.

Any family photo for the King family will illustrate the ties to Ebenezer Baptist. Alberta King, MLK2’s mother, served as church organist and directed choirs for Ebenezer. Horrifically, she was murdered at the church in 1974, just six years after MLK2 was assassinated in Memphis. Coretta Scott King gave a moving eulogy at Ebenezer Baptist for her husband after his assassination. MLK2’s younger brother also served this congregation as a co-pastor. I was pleased to learn that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held some of its first organizational meetings in the church, as well.

Could I hear an “amen?”

I was delighted to stand in the main chamber of Ebenezer Baptist. It’s a church design that I have seen echoed as far away as South Africa, with a balcony above the back few rows and a pulpit front and center and seats for the choir behind it. I was particularly interested in the stained glass windows because they featured images of past chief pastors in the top center sections. My eyes naturally fell on the pulpit, to think of the uplifting words that had been offered there.

As a Midwesterner, I always seek out jello with fruit suspended in it when I attend potlucks.

Having been raised in Baptist churches, I felt immediately at home in the fellowship hall downstairs. How many potluck lunches have been served there? The alternating blue and white tiles seemed just what we should expect. The displays documenting the church history are downstairs in this space, but I might have liked even more “museum material.”

The Tombs

Well-earned rest

The murder of MLK2 was an international tragedy. I have been to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (the site of his assassination), and I remember it to be a very moving experience; visitors emerge at the climax of their museum tour in the room where King slept on the last night of his life. To see the tombs of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, then, was a relatively quiet and abstract experience. They are raised on a platform in a long fountain that bears the words “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Dr. King used these words in his “I have a dream” speech, paraphrasing from the book of Amos in the Old Testament. Under some trees nearby, an eternal flame burns on blue rocks. I really liked some walls inscribed with six principles of nonviolence from his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform people and societies.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
Nobel, Medal of Freedom, Grammy

These three sites were supported by several exhibit halls / museums. For me, a real highlight was the King Center, just east of the tomb fountain. Their exhibit features the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, a 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom (post-humously), and a 1970 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. Who knew that MLK2 won a Grammy?

The King Center held exhibits on the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks, as well. I had seen plenty of mentions of MLK2 while visiting Gandhi’s Phoenix Farm, near Durban in South Africa, so it was lovely to see this echoed in Atlanta. This theme was continued at the National Park Service Visitors’ Center, with a friendly bronze of Gandhi standing watch outside.

Gandhi once wrote, “”There is no wall of separation between the means and the end.”

I liked that they chose a thematic telling of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s significance. I believe that too few people are aware that MLK2 had begun a shift in emphasis toward the needs of people living in poverty as his years drew to a close. As the levels of economic inequality grow in the United States and other countries, is it not time that a new visionary steps forward to remind our society that we are only as strong as the weakest among us?