Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Naked Lady Doth Protest


On May 31, 1678 the first Godiva Processional was held in the streets of Coventry commemorating the legendary ride of an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman through the streets of the town some time shortly before 1057.  The parade, featuring a scantily clad, but never actually nude local woman, was a continuing tradition into the 1960’s.  Local authorities hoped to down play Godiva as a symbol of Coventry.  But the lady proved to be far too popular, and the tradition has been re-established as part of an even larger Godiva Festival.
The reality behind the legend is murky.  But there was a real noble woman born before 1040 according to the Doomsday Book completed in 1086 shortly after the woman’s death and the charters to various churches and monasteries to which the Lady and her husband were benefactors.  Godiva is a Latinized version of the Old English name Godgifu or Godgyfu, a then popular moniker meaning Gift of God.
Leofric, Earl of Mercia, reputedly one of the wealthiest land owners in England, took Godiva, a very young widow, as his wife.  Together they became patrons of several monasteries and made generous gifts of gold jewelry and silver plate to several churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—the third building of that name which burned in 1088.  It was said that this generosity was at the behest of the very pious Lady.
Of course, such largess was expensive.  In order to sustain it, and the lavish lifestyle expected of a leading noble, Leofric raised taxes and the rents on his vast holdings, which included the still new city of Coventry.  Evidently taxes became so extreme that they reduced the residents of the city to want and hunger.
According to the earliest version of the story given in Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover about 1230, almost two centuries after the fact, after receiving appeals from the people, Godiva repeatedly begged her husband for relief.  He steadfastly refused.  Finally in exasperation he supposedly told Godiva that he would grant her wish if she would ride the city naked.  Given his wife’s famous piety, he must have considered this a good bet.

Lady Godiva of the 1902 Coventry Prosessional
But plucky Godiva held him at his word.  In the original tale she rode through the streets still thronging with citizens accompanied by two knights.  The author quoted earlier writings, which, however, have never been found.
Like all good tales, this one gained something in the re-telling.  By the 17th Century the tale has Godiva ordering that all of the citizens of the town remain indoors as she made her ride alone, her long hair partially covering her nakedness.  Still later the story of Tom was added to the tale.  Tom, reportedly a tailor by trade bored a hole in his shutters to espy the Lady as she passed.  But for his shamelessness, he was supposedly struck blind and Godiva’s modesty preserved.  In lore he became the original peeping Tom.

Coventry, a civilian, non-military target was devestated by a German terror bombing during the Blitz in November 1940 destroying the center of the Mideviel city including reducing its famous Cathedral to a shell.  During the painful and often slow post-war recovery period Lady Godiva was revived as a symbol of the defiant spirit of the city.  In 1948 the wife of the American ambassador to Britain was invited to perform the ceremonial unveiling of a new Godiva monument in the Broadgate market, center of the destruction
In all versions of the story the repentant Leofric rescinds the hated taxes and Godiva is celebrated as the heroine of the town.
Whether or not any of this actually happened is anybody’s guess.  Kill joy scholars will provide lots of arguments why the tale is spurious but have no more proof that it is a lie than there is proof that Godiva actually rode.
Maureen O'Hara in Lady Godiva of Coventry, a 1954 Universal Sudios Technicolor extravagana.
We do know that Leofric died in 1057 and Godiva inherited his estates.  She survived the Norman Conquest of 1066 and more remarkably was one of the few Anglo-Saxon nobles—and even fewer women—who retained her lands.  But she died sometime before the records in the Doomsday Book, at which time her lands were in other hands.  The rapacious Normans evidently found a way found a way to seize the estate.
The story of Lady Godiva has inspired numerous paintings, poems, songs, plays, a line of expensive chocolates, and a Technicolor film starring Maureen O’Hara who, alas, was never shown in all of her glory.

Exotic dancer Sally Rand used a Lady Godiva stunt at the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago to jump start he legendary career.
There have also been parodies, including cartoons and a silly 1966 British Invasion hit by Peter and Gordon.  More than one stripper incorporated the story in her act, most famously Sally Rand who rode through the Streets of Paris attraction at the Century of Progress Chicago World Fair in 1933—a stunt so sensational it won her the famous star booking for her fan dance.  Godiva inspired French postcards, Playboy spreads and, of course, out-and-out XXX rated porno.
But you aren’t surprised.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Decoration Day Dedication for Lincoln Memorial

Douglas Chester French's  massive seated Lincoln before the engraved words of the Gettysburg Address inside the Lincoln Memorial.

It was Decoration Day, as it was still styled back then, the national holiday to commemorate the dead of the Civil War, traditionally observed by decorating graves, parades of Civil War veterans, and stem winding patriotic oration by politicians grand and petty.  It was also a fitting day to dedicate a memorial to the martyred Commander in Chief of that bloody conflict.  On May 30, 1922 the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was officially dedicated.
Clamor for some kind of monument to Abraham Lincoln began weeks after his death.  A group of officers gathered in Philadelphia to re-affirm loyalty to the Union and pledge support should the assassination portend a guerilla war, or what we would call today, terrorist extension of the war.  They also offered their services coordinating public aspects of Lincoln’s funeral.  On May 30, 1865 they held their first public meeting at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall under their newly decided upon name, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS).  The group was modeled after the organization Revolutionary War officers, the Order of Cincinnatus. 
Eventually more than 12,000 former Union officers enrolled, including virtually all surviving field grade officers and senior commanders.
From the beginning they made it their purpose to honor the memory of Lincoln.  In cooperation with the Grand Army of the Republic, (GAR), the veteran’s organization open to all ranks and to which most MOLLUS members also belonged, and leading Republican Party organizations, they lobbied Congress for a monument.  In 1867 Congress passed the first of a series of bills that led to the formation of a commission to oversee the design, construction, and fundraising for a monument. 

I am a Mills on my mother's side of the family.  I hope I am in no way related to Clark Mills who won a design contest for a Lincoln Monument in the 18'70's.  We were all spared this eyesore when fundraising faltered.
America was spared an embarrassing eyesore embodying all the florid excess of the late 19th Century when public subscriptions lagged for the selected design by Clark Mills which would have featured a 70-foot tall structure adorned with six huge equestrian and 31 pedestrian statues crowned by a 12-foot tall statue of Lincoln. 
The idea languished but was not forgotten until the approach of the 50th anniversary of the war.  MOLLUS and the GAR stepped up their lobbying efforts.  Illinois Senator Shelby Moor Cullom, who had personally known Lincoln since their pre-war days as Springfield lawyers and Republican Party politicians, spearheaded support in Congress.  He submitted his bill for a new commission six times from 1900 to 1910 before it finally passed. 
Opposition to a monument to Lincoln was nearly unanimous among Southern and border state legislators who stilled viewed him as the villainous aggressor in what they insisted on calling the War Between the States.  A renewed wave of Lost Cause nostalgia was sweeping the South along with the final eradication of the last vestiges of Reconstruction reforms and the stripping of Blacks from voting roles.  Some Northern Democrats also feared that a Lincoln monument would simply become a rallying point for the Republicans, who had dominated the country since the war.  There were also objections by those who felt that only George Washington should be commemorated in the capital.  The bill was finally passed when the word “monument” was replaced my “memorial.” 
The Lincoln Memorial Commission was formed in 1911 with President William Howard Taft as its president.  Within a year architect Henry Bacon was selected to design the building and a location in Potomac Park, recently created by land fill from marshy ground by the River in a direct line with the Capitol and the Washington Monument.  The location was in keeping with the 1901 McMillan Plan, which laid out a monumental core for the city around the National Mall.  The Potomac Park location was designated for a major future monument to anchor that end of the Mall. 
Bacon’s plan for a mammoth Greek Doric Temple featuring a statue of a seated Lincoln came in for some criticism as being too ostentatious for the humble Lincoln.  A counter proposal was made for a model log cabin to emphasize his man-of-the-people roots.  Other people objected to the location.  None-the-less, in 1913 Congress signed off on the project and authorized $300,000 to get it underway, the balance to be raised by subscription.  

The Lincoln Memorial under construction of boggy, reclaimed ground at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Capitol.
Construction on the marble temple soon got underway and continued at a steady pace, even through the First World War and the administration of a somewhat unsympathetic southern born Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson.  The temple was built on a concrete foundation, 44 to 66 feet in depth to support its massive weight on the spongy former marsh.  The temple itself is 189.7 by 118.5 feet and is 99 feet tall with 36 columns representing the 36 statesincluding the secessionist ones—at the time of Lincoln’s death. 
In 1920 as construction neared completion it was realized that the original statue of the seated Lincoln by Daniel Chester French would be dwarfed by the cavernous interior and it had to be nearly doubled in size to 19 feet tall.  Finishing touches included inscribing Lincoln’s most famous words on the walls and Jules Guerin was commissioned for two interior allegorical murals.  

Chief Justice and President of MOLLUS William Howard Taft, President Warren G. Harding, and Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the martyred president and a former Secretary of State all played prominant roles in the dedication of the Memorial.
Everything came together for the 1922 dedication.  MOLLUS was designated by the Commission to plan and execute the program.  Taft, by then Chief Justice of the United States was the principle speaker and formally presented the Memorial to President Warren G. Harding on behalf of the Commission.  Also on hand and speaking to the assembled crowd of several thousand was Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, a former Secretary of State. 
The Memorial is now a revered shrine and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.  It had been the site of historic events including Marion Anderson’s famous 1939 outdoor concert and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech to the 1963 March on Washington.  At the height of the turmoil following the Kent State Shootings Richard Nixon paid an unannounced late night visit to the Memorial and engaged in a dialogue about the Vietnam War with surprised visiting students.  

In one of many historic moments at the Lincoln Memorial,  operatic soprano Marion Anderson sang before thousands on an Easter Sunday morning when Eleanor Roosevelt arranged the appearance after the singer was denied us of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) hall because of her race.
The Memorial has been used in many films, most memorably as an inspiration for James Stewart’s young senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
It is administered by the National Park Service, but every year on Lincoln’s Birthday the members of MOLLUS, now made up of the descendants of Civil War officers, dutifully conduct a memorial service there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Folk Musician and Activist Jim Scott Returns to Tree of Life UU Congregation


Jim Scottfolk singer, composer. and musical activist, returns to the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry, on Saturday June 2 at 7 pm with a new program, Gather the Spirit—A Raising of Voices.
Scott, who last performed at Tree of Life in 2016 with a tribute to his inspiration and mentor Pete Seeger, has made it his business for three decades to create and perform music that celebrates the earth. His songs and poetry have inspired and educated audiences around the world. He has developed presentations for every age group and crafted songs that sensitize his listeners to the beauty of the earth, teaching principles of ecology in memorable verses.  

Scott performing at Tree of Life in 2016.
“Jim brings a warmth and authenticity that turns any size audience into an intimate gathering,” according to Tree of Life Social Justice Chair Janet Burns.  “His lyrical melodies, well-crafted words, guitar mastery, and humorous surprises invite all to get involved with the songs and ideals he raises.  It’s a raising of voices and of spirits as Jim leads songs of earth, peace, community, love and just fun as everyone joins in. A lifelong UU he has visited over 700 UU churches in 3 decades of travels.”
As a member of the Paul Winter Consort and as a solo performer, Scott has recorded 18 albums including the highly acclaimed Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, A Concert for the Earth (Live at the U N), Big and Little Stuff: Songs for Kids, and Body and Soul, a soundtrack for the documentary series on PBS Television.  He is also an active Unitarian Universalist who as co-chair of the Seventh Principle Project helped to create the Green Sanctuary program and accompanying handbook for building an ecological/spiritual awareness in church congregations.

Scott performing with Pete Seeger.  Seeger called him "Some kind of magician" for his ability to get audiences to sing along.
Scott has performed or toured with John Denver, Tracy Chapman, Joan Baez, 10,000 Maniacs, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Holy Near, Dan Fogelberg, Odetta, and Tom Chapin.
His eco-anthems and modern hymns like Gather in Spirit have been included in the UUA. hymnal Singing the Living Tradition and are a regular part of many Sunday services
Tickets are $20 but all are welcome for a donation they can afford and are available at the door.
Scott’s CDs will be available for sale at the concert.
For more information call the Tree of Life at 815 322-2464, e-mail [email protected] or visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1764980900227343/?active_tab=about .