Old House Idiosyncrasies #7–Ceiling Medallions

Ceiling medallions, those ornate plaster castings from which chandeliers seem to hang, are unique to vintage buildings.  A recent Facebook post from a friend who is restoring his Victorian house about his gorgeously painted ceiling medallion ended with the question, “Do you know what the purpose of ceiling medallions were?”  The general consensus, and the answer most commonly found on the Internet, is that they served to prevent the soot from candles and gas lamps from spreading out over the entire ceiling.

I had heard that story before and as I thought about it, realized that it seemed a bit off. After a bit of research, I think I can confidently say that there’s no evidence to support it.  As described succinctly on the History Myths Debunked blog (which is a veritable cornucopia of such things), although widely distributed and often retold by historic house docents, this answer can be disproved by a little bit of research and moreover, if you think about it, makes no sense.

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How I plan to lose NaNoWriMo this year

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a program run out of Berkeley, California that supports writers, especially first time writers, in completing a novel in one month, November.

The numerical goal is to write 50,000 words. Don’t research, don’t edit, just get your story down on paper, and worry about fixing things later.  50,000 words is a shortish novel, but you’re only working on the first draft anyways, so there’s plenty of time for editing later. Continue reading

Isaac Newton–Alchemist

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Isaac Newton, at age 46, portrait by Godfre Kneller, 1689.

Isaac Newton is one of the towering intellects in the history of Science.  He formulated the laws of motion, investigated the nature of light, and invented calculus, among many other accomplishments.  Less well known, however, are his experiments in chymistry. Continue reading

Happy Birthday Michael Faraday!

September 22, 1791 is the birthday of my favorite scientist, Michael Faraday.

Here is a portrait painted of him at age 51, looking much younger than he does in most of his later photographic portraits.

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Portrait of Michael Faraday in 1841, painted by Thomas Phillips.

If you’re interested in reading more about this fascinating man, see this blog post.  A slightly more fictional Michael Faraday also features prominently in my latest steampunk adventure novel, “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday.”

Mr. Bazalgette and the Fatberg

Of late the dispatches from London have concerned a gigantic “fatberg” that has completely blocked one of the main sewer channels under Whitechapel.  That the capital’s Victorian sewer system is just now reaching capacity is due to the foresight and engineering genius of Mr. Joseph Bazalgette who was given the mandate to update London’s sewer system following a series of cholera epidemics in the 1830s and 1840s.

When calculating out the dimensions of the pipes, he considered the highest population density producing the most amount of sewage.  Then he reportedly said, “Well, we’re only going to do this once and there’s always the unforeseen,” and doubled the diameter.  It is estimated that Bazalgette’s prudence bought an extra 50 years of life to his brick-lined sewage channels, so that only now is London needing to upgrade its system.

A very informative article in Prospect Magazine investigates the genesis of the Fatberg in more detail.

Our Enduring Preoccupation with Premature Burial  — The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

Reposted from The Chururgion’s Apprentice blog…

Taphephobia (fear of being buried alive) has to be the ultimate claustrophobia.

Hours before he died, George Washington told his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” This kind of request was not uncommon. In an era when putrefaction was the only sure sign of death, many people […]

via Our Enduring Preoccupation with Premature Burial  — The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice