The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

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Damage to the Boston Elevated Railway from the molasses flood.

Growing up in Boston, I heard stories from my parents and grandparents of the molasses flood when a huge tank of molasses burst sending waves of the sticky stuff down streets, engulfing everything .

It turns out that tomorrow 15 January 2019 is the centennial of that most bizarre tragedy.  Mental Floss has a good article about it.

Thanksgiving in the US

On Thursday, 22 November, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.  While, I’m guessing, no other country celebrates giving thanks for what one has on the Fourth Thursday of November (Even Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October, which I’ve always attributed–perhaps wrongly–to the shorter growing season in the Great White North.), most cultures have some sort of thanks giving holiday.

Google has published an interesting article using the plethora of data they acquire through people asking questions like, “How do I cook a turkey?” or maybe, “Where can I buy a pre-cooked turkey?”, if they were caught short with the unusually early Fourth Thursday in November this year.  However, a couple of interesting trends emerge from Google’s analysis.  First, pretty much only the northeastern US actually roasts turkey.  I grew up in Massachusetts where those religious refugees, the Pilgrims, apocryphally celebrated the first Thanksgiving, and I can’t think of preparing turkey any other way than roasting.  What Google categorizes as “Fried”, I have to think must be deep-fried, and I would like to watch that happen, if only for the potential pyrotechnics.

Apple pie, another New England tradition, falls to third place behind pumpkin and pecan.  Pecan I’ll leave to the southerners.  I don’t even like nuts in my fruit cake.  The number one Thanksgiving pie is pumpkin, which I know some people (like my wife) love.  I find the very idea of making a pie from the same slimy thing I carve up for Halloween disgusting.

All of this is a long-winded introduction to a blog post I wrote almost four (four!) years ago:  As American As Apple Pie?

Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, Michael Faraday

Today, Sept. 22, is the great British scientist Michael Faraday’s 226th birthday.

Faraday’s contribution to science are many, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that before Faraday, electricity was batteries, and afterward, it was Edison and Tesla and all the motors, transformers, and generators they unleashed upon the world.

Faraday’s relationship to science can be summed up in two images:  First, Faraday at work at the lab bench in the basement of the Royal Institution, and second, Faraday presiding over a Christmas Lecture–specifically designed for the layman, and for children in particular.

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Professionally, I work in a field that is the direct descendant of Faraday–electrochemistry–so Faraday has always been a bit of a hero for me.  For more information of Faraday’s life and contributions, see here.  I’ve even written Professor Faraday into one of my novels as a major character, “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday“.

On-line Resources for Writers

On-line resources

This page is based on a talk I gave at the 2018 Clockwork Alchemy con entitled “On-Line Research for Steampunk Novels”. During the course of writing my novels, I’ve discovered a number of great on-line resources that I found extremely useful in researching the Victorian Era, its technology, society and history, and of course, its cockeyed offspring Steampunk.

This list should be helpful for writers of both historical fiction and fictional history as we all want to get the details right–except when we don’t. Because my steampunk novels revolve around Victorian Britain, this list is starting off biased in that direction–but there are plenty of other ways to write steampunk.

I’ll keep the link to this list at the top of the front page of the blog and I invite you to leave your favorite on-line resource in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list (with appropriate credit, of course!).

Old House Idiosyncrasies #8–Sarah Winchester’s House

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Winchester House, San Jose, California

Living in San Jose, California and being interested in all things Victorian, it would be impossible for me to ignore the largest Victorian house in the United States, the house built by Sarah Winchester. A recent article on the always interesting Atlas Obscura website which details some of the history of the Winchester House got me thinking about this architectural marvel.

The house, which is gaining some newfound notoriety because of the recently released movie, Winchester, starring Helen Mirren, was Sarah Winchester’s home from 1884 until her death in 1922.  She moved west from New Haven, Connecticut a few years after the death of her husband John, one of the owners of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  As her husband’s heir, she received a generous inheritance, as well as a major share of the company.  She moved into a small farmhouse surrounded by orchards, and started adding on, building a home more suitable to her fortune and social standing. 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

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.