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Tammy Denease: Woman of Many Faces

Apr 5, 2011

For the past seven years, my friend Tammy Denease, the woman of many faces, developed several characters of women from the past. She grew up in a family with a rich background in performing, especially storytelling.  Her mom and dad were singers, but her grandparents were storytellers. In fact, it was quite a common occurrence for the family to get together and entertain each other with their very own stories, stories they made up, or re-created from day to day happenings.

The Civil War Commences

Apr 1, 2011

The American Civil War sesquicentennial begins on April 12, 2011. 150 years ago, on that date, Confederate batteries in Charleston Harbor opened fire on Fort Sumter; the first shots fired in a war that would claim over 600,000 American lives. The State of Connecticut did not falter in its support of the federal government. Over 55,000 young men from Connecticut served in uniform during the war. Connecticut industry supplied the armed forces with firearms from the Colt Firearm Company and many independent contractors produced a plethora of weapons.

Labor, After the Fire

Mar 28, 2011
Library of Congress

On Friday’s show Governor Dannel Malloy took a hard line with state labor unions – if they don’t reach an agreement on concessions, massive layoffs are on the table.

Governor Malloy said about the possibility of layoffs: “If it’s the only option, it’s the only option to pursue.” Today we’ll get reaction from an official from the state’s employee unions.

Crazy for Flower Quilts

Mar 26, 2011

As March gives way to April, it finally becomes clear that spring will come again. But how do we reconcile the impending spring with the chill that still arrives at night?  One time-honored way is to wrap up in a cozy quilt decorated with spring flowers.

You might be able to construct an entire dining room table from the many books about actress Elizabeth Taylor.

This new one is intriguing because it explores how she knowingly or unknowingly created the culture of celebrity that we have today.

Elizabeth Taylor declared unheard of independence from the studio system that every noteworthy actor was tied to, for good and bad results.

The Smith Sisters of Glastonbury

Mar 19, 2011

Women’s History Month is a fitting time to remember and honor Glastonbury’s Smith sisters.  All five daughters of Hannah and Zephaniah Smith were remarkable, but it was Julia and Abby, who became champions of women’s rights and both local and state celebrities.

The Wearing of the Green

Mar 14, 2011

A huge influx of Irish immigrants arrived in Connecticut during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, driven by political unrest and economic hardship.  Most of them were Roman Catholics and many of them found work as laborers.  While anti-Irish sentiment was widespread, Hartford’s Kellogg brothers, publishers of thousands of brightly colored popular prints, viewed these new Americans as potential customers.  

A never-before-told World War II story of Jewish soldiers on a dangerous mission within the Third Reich—a tale of adventure, espionage, love, and revenge.

National Geographic

Could it be true?!  The lost city of Atlantis has been found!  Well, not yet, but a University of Hartford archeologist is on the case.

“The Great White Hurricane” of 1888

Mar 5, 2011

As Connecticut emerges from beneath the record amounts of snow left by a series of storms that started in December and continued into February, residents should temper their relief with caution. For it was in the middle of March that the most massive and destructive snowstorm in New England history struck: the Blizzard of 1888.

Wikimedia Commons

As much as we romanticize the Leatherman, Connecticut's most famous vagabond, we should remember too that the post Civil War era -- his era -- was a time of tramp laws, meant to discourage exactly the sort of person he was.

Petticoats Revealed and Concealed: 1740 to 1840

Feb 26, 2011

In 1758, Sarah Halsey spent countless hours quilting a beautiful petticoat.  But why spend so much time on a garment that no one will see?  The term petticoat has evolved over time and began by referring to a skirt when separate from the bodice.  As a result, there are two types of petticoats: under petticoats (unseen) and petticoats (seen).  Sarah Halsey’s petticoat fits into the second category, those meant to be seen.  Everyone she passed could marvel at her skills with needle and thread.

J.D. Salinger

Feb 19, 2011
creative commons, Adie_92

Will Hochman, who teaches at Southern Connecticut State University, is one of these walking encyclopedias of all things J.D. Salinger.

Mr. Salinger, of course, wrote the iconic Catcher in the Rye, and other books, then stopped communicating with the outside world in 1965.  As with any famous recluse, absence creates a sensation of interest and for him the long cat and mouse game began.

Remembering Fredi Washington

Feb 18, 2011
The Connecticut Historical Society. 2001.22.16.

Fredericka Carolyn "Fredi" Washington was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1903 and died in Stamford, Connecticut in 1994.  Fredi began her career as a dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem during the 1920s.  She appeared in Black and Tan, a short film featuring Duke Ellington and his orchestra, in 1929 and went on to career in motion pictures.  She is most famous for her portrayal of Peola in Imitation of Life (1934).  Peola, a light-skinned young African-American woman, chooses to pass as white in order to escape racial discrimination. 

Wikimedia Commons

I started writing humor -- or trying, anyway, -- when my column launched in the Hartford Courant in 1982. 

Willie Loves Jennie

Feb 14, 2011
Connecticut Historical Society

Corporal William L. “Willie” Norton, Company B, 10th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, missed his sweetheart. Jennie E. Annis was home in Buckland (Manchester), Connecticut.  Willie was fighting in the South with the Union Army. The Connecticut Historical Society recently acquired two letters written by Willie to Jennie. The first was written in March 1863 from Island St. Helena, South Carolina, and the second was written from Seabrook Island, South Carolina in July 1863.

The Great Hartford Fire Department

Feb 5, 2011

In 1783, many Connecticut residents gathered around the State House on Main Street in Hartford, CT to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War with a huge bonfire. To everyone’s surprise, some of the burning embers set fire to the roof of the State House.  Although the building survived it was so badly damaged that a new one had to be built leading to the erection of the structure we know as the Old State House today.  

Flickr Creative Commons, Lancashire County Council

Movies are usually beautiful lies. If you want to learn about history, read a history book. The most a movie can do is kind of light you up, in a vague way, about its historical subject. You watch "Gandhi," maybe you get why Gandhi was such a big deal.

Despite Snow, Spring Will Be Early, Says Groundhog

Feb 3, 2011
Nancy Eve Cohen

After days of shoveling and scraping Connecticut residents may be happy to hear there’s been a prediction for an early spring. It came from Connecticut’s official state groundhog.

The Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester takes in wild animals that have been injured. Including a female groundhog who bears the weighty title, "Connecticut Chuckles the Seventh". Early this morning she went outside, sniffed the air and looked around, but did not see her shadow, according to Bob Eckerd, the executive director of the museum.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Benjamin Roth was a young lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio. After he began to grasp the magnitude of what had happened to American economic life, he decided to set down his impressions in his diary.

A Sampling of Samplers

Jan 29, 2011

Everyone remembers final papers and final exams from their school days, but a final needlework sampler?  The female academies attended by students in the 19th century used samplers as a way to track the progress of student needlework.  Throughout Connecticut, girls (and a few young boys) completed samplers as a way to both practice their stitching and track their progress. 

A Pioneering Connecticut Firearm

Jan 22, 2011

Connecticut is well-known for its role in the mass-production of firearms through the genius of 19th Century pioneers like Eli Whitney, Simeon North and Samuel Colt. But what came before the Industrial Revolution made its mark? Through the 18th century Connecticut gunsmiths like Benoni Hills of Goshen produced superb fowling long-barreled hunting guns (known as fowling pieces) that served their owners well in peace and in war. These early gunsmiths produced their weapons one at a time, mirroring the craft tradition found in furniture-, clock- and silver-making.

With Needle and Pen

Oct 29, 2010
Connecticut Historical Society

How do we know what we know about the daily lives of people in the 18th and 19th centuries? Primarily through their diaries and letters, which make up a large proportion of the research materials at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Women and girls, particularly in the 18th and early 19th centuries, spent a great deal of time either making textiles or sewing textiles to make clothing or utilitarian objects. For example, in May 1784, eighteen year-old Hannah Hadassah Smith wrote in her diary (Ms 1009):

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