Regarding Monumental Changes

Recently my wife and I visited Petersburg, Virginia to attend the wedding of a family friend. While there we were saw some of the many historical sites in that area of the country. One of the most interesting was Blandford Church and Cemetery. The cemetery has graves dating back to 1702. After the siege of Petersburg, as much as a year afterwards, there were still bodies in unmarked shallow graves or even lying in the open on the field of battle. Most were confederates as the union troops had been given proper burials. The women of Petersburg knew these men were someone’s husband, son or father and felt it unseemly for their bodies to remain this way. So, they formed the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg and began raising funds to give these men proper burials on what became known as Memorial Hill near the church. In the end, they buried or repatriated the bodies of some 30,000 confederate soldiers, many in mass graves because they could not be individually identified in the days before dog tags.

Georgia window at Blandford Church

But the most interesting aspect of the church is the windows. From 1904 to 1912, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed windows for the church, one for each southern state, to commemorate the men who gave their lives at Petersburg. It is one of the few buildings in the world where every window is a Tiffany window. The windows are works of art, each featuring a different character from the Bible and the seal of the state to which it’s dedicated. Each state also wrote an inscription to their war dead that Tiffany incorporated in the window. The window for my own state of Georgia features St. Thomas.

While touring the church, I thought of ongoing attempts across the south, most recently in New Orleans, to purge confederate history from the public square.  When seeking to remake a society in their own image, totalitarians always seek to destroy its history. This is often done by reducing history to a binary, everything associated with a particular event or time is evil and so must be destroyed whereas everything the new guard are seeking is good and must displace the old.

This happened after the French Revolution and during every communist revolution including Mao’s Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, thousands of Chinese historical sites were destroyed by the communists. I wonder how long it will be before this beautiful church is in the cross hairs of our own version of the cultural revolution?

An historic event is never about only one thing and so can rarely be classified wholesale as good or evil. And the participants in the event are never in lock-step as to their motivation for what they do. Anyone who tells you they are is either ignorant of history or seeking to manipulate you.

James Robert Farlow

My great, great grandfather, James Robert Farlow was in the 9th Georgia Light Artillery. They fought in the Chickamagua campaign in October, 1863 and saw action at the siege of Petersburg in 1865. They surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. He owned no slaves. He was a simple man who returned from the war and went to work farming to feed his family. He once stood for alderman in College Park, GA but as far as I can tell that’s as high profile as he ever got. He passed away in 1915 at the age of 76 having raised seven children. Most of the soldiers of the confederacy were like this, probably most of the soldiers of the union as well. They were men caught up in something bigger than themselves who answered the call to fight for their state and defend their homes and families. They fought with courage and honor. Some of them returned home, many did not.

When I was in Moldova on a mission trip many years ago, I noticed every village had a monument to the soldiers of the village who gave their lives during the Second World War. The Soviet Union was gone by the time I was there and with it Communism, but the monuments remained. Because, like my great, great grandfather, these men were not fighting so much for a larger, political cause, in this case to uphold communism, but to defend their homes and families. To lump them all together as godless communists seeking to prop up Stalin and so deserving of no remembrance would be an insult to them and to those who loved them.

To remember men like this is not only right but it is honorable and those who say otherwise know not honor.

Islam & The West – A Much Needed History Lesson

History is more or less bunk. – Henry Ford

I’m not sure the context in which Mr. Ford uttered those words but if he were alive today it could easily be in response to the history taught regarding Islam and its interaction with the west. While the most recent historical bunk on this topic came from President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, it did not start with him. The president was only parroting what’s taught from coast to coast in secondary schools and universities – and has been for years.

Things like:

  • There is a moral equivalence between the Crusades and Islamic jihad throughout the years
  • There was a “golden age” of Islam, especially in Spain, where Muslims, Christians and Jews all lived in harmony
  • Islam preserved the knowledge of the classical world for future generations.

In the video below, Dr. Bill Warner debunks each of these, and more. It’s well worth the 45 minute investment to watch it. However, while I applaud his thoroughness in gathering and presenting the data to tell the story of Islam, I disagree with his premise as to why the true history of Islam is not taught in the west.

Warner says its out of fear that we water down the history of Islamic atrocities. That, like an abused spouse, the west has been so battered by Islam over the years that we view it through rose colored glasses as a self-defense mechanism. Frankly, I don’t buy that. The history of Islam is rewritten because doing so helps marginalize Christianity and minimize its importance in the founding and flourishing of western culture – something those in the ivory towers of academia are always keen to do.

Nevertheless, watch this video. You’ll learn some things about the history of Islam that may surprise you.

Atlanta History – The Winecoff Hotel Fire

On the fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7 1946, Atlantans awoke to Atlanta Paper Winecoffnews of another tragedy. The Winecoff Hotel at Peachtree & Ellis in the heart of downtown had caught fire during the early morning hours. When the smoke cleared, 119 people were dead, including W.F. Winecoff original owner of the hotel. To this day the Winecoff fire remains the worst hotel fire in the United States from the perspective of loss of life.

The Atlanta Fire Department received a phone call alerting them to the fire at 3:42 A.M. The initial responders quickly realized the seriousness of the situation and a second alarm was issued minutes later. By 4:00 A.M. a general alarm was raised calling for all Atlanta fire fighters, on duty and off, to respond to the Winecoff. Pleas were also sent to surrounding communities for help and fire departments from Fort McPherson, East Point, College Park, Decatur, Avondale, Druid Hills, Hapeville, Marietta and the Naval Air Base rushed to scene.

The fire had begun on the third floor. It progressed so rapidly that by the time the fire department reached the hotel, guests on the upper floors were cut off with no chance of escape from the inside. Rescue operations were conducted from outside using life nets and a ladder bridge spanning the alley between the Winecoff and the Mortgage Guaranty building. Guests began to tie bed sheets together and string them from windows in an attempt to climb down to the fire ladders which, at 85 feet, were not tall enough to reach the upper floors. Eventually, as panic set in, people began to jump.

pulitzer1946winecoffhotdu4
Arnold Hardy’s photograph taken during the Winecoff Hotel fire.

Georgia Tech student Arnold Hardy was returning from a dance when he heard the sirens. Taking a cab to the scene, he used his last flash bulb to capture the horrific fall of Daisy McCumber. His picture was picked up by the AP and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1947. Incredibly, Ms. McCumber survived the fall.

One of the most tragic stories of the fire was of the 40 high school students from across Georgia who were staying at the Winecoff. They were some of Georgia’s most talented students and were in Atlanta for a YMCA sponsored event. Of these 40 young men and women, 30 died that night.

As a result of the tragedy, a national convention on fire protection was held in 1947. Out of that meeting came much more stringent fire and building codes, eliminating such things as unprotected stair openings which had contributed to the quick spread of the fire at the Winecoff.

The building that was once the Winecoff Hotel still stands at the corner of Peachtree and Ellis and looks much the same as it did in the 1940s. Today it is the Ellis Hotel described as “Atlanta’s Premier Boutique Hotel.”

For additional information on this historic event, including interviews with Arnold Hardy and some survivors of the fire, watch this short segment produced by TBS:

An invaluable resource for this post was the book “Prompt to Action: Atlanta Fire Department 1860-1960” which was passed down to me from my grandparents.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Opening page the Gospel of Matthew from the Li...

A week or so back, my son lost his Bible. We searched everywhere for it and in the end, had to send him to church with another one. Finding that particular Bible proved difficult, finding another one to send in its place – 2 minutes. Sitting in my office I have within reach at least three different Bibles in English, one in Spanish and one in Romanian.

But there was a time when not every individual had a Bible, yet alone more than one. In fact, there was a time when whole communities of believers were without any part of the scriptures in writing.  This was the world of early eighth century England when the Lindisfarne Gospels were produced.

Written circa 700 A.D. this is more than just a text of the four gospels. It’s a work of art. It is also evidence of the dedication to and reverence for the Word of God at the time it was produced. Most copies of scripture during the middle ages were done by teams of scribes in a scriptorium at a monastery.  But the Lindisfarne Gospels were written and illustrated by one man – Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721). Eadfrith produced the book in honor of St. Cuthbert who had died several years earlier.  It’s estimated this work took ten years to complete. But beyond the cost in time was the cost in resources, especially the calf skin required for the vellum pages. Michelle Brown of the British Library tells us:

The creation needed a remarkable input of human resource, as well as the physical resource of 300 of the best, finest cattle skins imaginable. It must have meant many, many communities’ annual incomes, with lots of gift exchange as well. Pigments too were needed, not only local ores, leads and materials of that sort, but possibly lapis lazuli from the foothills of the Himalayas. That tells us so much about the environment in which it was made and it’s socio-economic and historical context. But the most remarkable thing for me is the fact that it is one person’s time.

End of 7th century
St. Matthew from the Lindisfarne Gospels

Each of the four gospels begins with a page of beautiful artwork depicting the evangelist. There are also fifteen other pages with ornate illustrations throughout the book. These show the influence of native Celtic and Anglo-Saxon art as well as Roman, Coptic and Eastern traditions – revealing the cultural diversity of Northumbria at the time. During the Viking raids of the ninth century, the original jeweled cover was lost. Thankfully, the text was evacuated from Lindisfarne and preserved. A new jeweled cover replicating the original was added in 1852.

The gospels were written in Latin but around 970 A.D. an Anglo-Saxon translation was added in red ink beneath the Latin. This makes the Lindisfarne Gospels the oldest surviving version of the gospels in any form of the English language.

They were donated to the British Museum in 1753 by a private collector. In the summer of 2013, they will be on display at a special exhibition at Durham University’s Palace Green Library. This exhibition will also feature St. Cuthbert’s Gospel (of John) the oldest surviving intact European book.

You can read more about the July 1 – September 30, 2013 exhibition here.

You can also virtually thumb through the Lindisfarne Gospels here courtesy of the British Library.