Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cape Cod Mystery (1931) part 3

The bathroom was appallingly palatial. There was an electric light system and an electric pump.
Most rural homes in the USA in the early 1930s lit their homes with kerosene lanterns. And they used a hand-pump to pump water from a well, as opposed to an electric pump, which was a luxury.

"...these [telegrams] are both from Boston, if the Western Union isn't being funny."
In 1851, the New York & Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company was organized in Rochester by Hiram Sibley and others, with the goal of creating one great system with unified and efficient operations. Meanwhile, Ezra Cornell had bought back one of his bankrupt companies and renamed it the New York & Western Union Telegraph Company. Originally fierce competitors, by 1855 both groups were finally convinced that consolidation was their only alternative for progress. The merged company was named The Western Union Telegraph Company at Cornell's insistence and Western Union was born.

Western Union bought out smaller companies rapidly, and by 1860 its lines reached from the East Coast to the Mississippi River, and from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River. In 1861 it opened the first transcontinental telegraph. The company enjoyed phenomenal growth during the next few years. Its capitalization rose from $385,700 in 1858 to $41 million in 1876. However it was top heavy with stock issues, and faced growing competition from several firms, especially the Atlantic and Pacific (itself taken over by Jay Gould in 1874). In 1881 Gould took control of Western Union.

Western Union briefly operated local telephone systems, but lost a court battle with Bell Telephone in 1879 and left the field.

By 1900 Western Union operate a million miles of telegraph lines and two international cables.

The telegraph was dominated by Western Union, an industrialized monopoly. They were the first communications empire and the beginning of what was to come for the future of American-style communications as it is known today.

1914 Western Union offered the first charge card for consumers; in 1923 it introduced teletypewriters to join its branches. Singing telegrams followed in 1933, intercity fax in 1935, and commercial intercity microwave communications in 1943. In 1958 it began offering Telex to customers. Western Union introduced the 'Candygram' in the 1960s, a box of chocolates accompanying a telegram featured in a commercial with the rotund Don Wilson. In 1964, Western Union initiated a transcontinental microwave system to replace land lines.

Western Union became the first American telecommunications corporation to maintain its own fleet of geosynchronous communication satellites, starting in 1974. The fleet of satellites, called Westar, carried communications within the Western Union company for telegram and mailgram message data to Western Union bureaus nationwide. It also handled traffic for its Telex and TWX (Telex II) services. The Westar satellites' transponders were also leased by other companies for relaying video, voice, data, and facsimile (fax) transmissions.

"If the mercury is soaring theway the papers say, that settlement of hers on the East Side of Old Manhattan must be pretty uncomfortable."
The settlement movement was a reformist social movement, beginning in the 1880s and peaking around the 1920s in England and the US, with a goal of getting the rich and poor in society to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Its main object was the establishment of "settlement houses" in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class "settlement workers" would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of their low-income neighbors. In the US, by 1913 there were 413 settlements in 32 states.

"But does she cry for heat relief like so many politicians calling for drought relief?"
The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, carried by prevailing winds, which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions. These immense dust storms—given names such as "Black Blizzards" and "Black Rollers"—often reduced visibility to a few feet. The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres, centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as "Okies", since so many came from Oklahoma) migrated to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better during the Great Depression than those they had left. Owning no land, many became migrant workers who traveled from farm to farm to pick fruit and other crops at starvation wages. Author John Steinbeck later wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Of Mice and Men, about such people.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Cape Cod Mystery (1931) cont.

Narrator Prudence Whitsby is a respectable - and wealthy - spinster (a spinster being an unmarried woman) staying in a Cape Cod cottage. It's years after the crash of the stock market, and the Great Depression is in full force.

"For many summers we had cast covetous eyes on the cottage we now occupied. We would still be envying the Bentleys, who had rented it from time immemorial, if they had not taken it into their heads to see Europe under the guidance of Mr. Cook."

1. When did "time immemorial" become a phrase, and what does it mean precisely?

Time immemorial is a phrase meaning "time extending beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition, indefinitely ancient," "ancient beyond memory or record". The phrase is one of the few cases in the English language where the adjective is a postmodifier—some other legal terms such as attorney general and court martial follow the pattern, largely due to the influence of Norman French.

The term has been formally defined for some purposes.

In English law and its derivatives, time immemorial means the same as time out of mind, "a time before legal history and beyond legal memory." In 1275, by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the King's accession. Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. In 1832, time immemorial was re-defined as "Time whereof the Memory of Man runneth not to the contrary." The plan of dating legal memory from a fixed time was abandoned; instead, it was held that rights which had been enjoyed for twenty years (or as against the Crown thirty years) should not be impeached merely by proving that they had not been enjoyed before (holding by adverse possession).

The Court of Chivalry is said to have defined the period before 1066 as time immemorial for the purposes of heraldry.

2. Who's Mr. Cook?
Thomas Cook (22 November 1808 – 18 July 1892) of Melbourne, Derbyshire, founded the travel agency that is now Thomas Cook Group.

Cook's idea to offer excursions came to him while waiting for the stagecoach on the London Road at Kibworth. With the opening of the extended Midland Counties Railway, he arranged to take a group of 570 temperance campaigners (he, and they, were against drinking, and public houses where the common folk went to drink) from Leicester Campbell Street station to a rally in Loughborough, eleven miles away.

On 5 July 1841, Thomas Cook arranged for the rail company to charge one shilling per person that included rail tickets and food for this train journey. Cook was paid a share of the fares actually charged to the passengers, as the railway tickets, being legal contracts between company and passenger, could not have been issued at his own price. This was the first privately chartered excursion train to be advertised to the general public; Cook himself acknowledging that there had been previous, unadvertised, private excursion trains.

During the following three summers he planned and conducted outings for temperance societies and Sunday-school children. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company agreed to make a permanent arrangement with him provided he found the passengers. This success led him to start his own business running rail excursions for pleasure, taking a percentage of the railway tickets.

On 4 August 1845 he arranged accommodation for a party to travel from Leicester to Liverpool. In 1846, he took 350 people from Leicester on a tour of Scotland, however his lack of commercial ability led him to bankruptcy. He persisted in hia business, however, and had success when he claimed that he arranged for over 165,000 people to attend the Great Exhibition in London. Four years later, he planned his first excursion abroad, when he took a group from Leicester to Calais to coincide with the Paris Exhibition.

The following year he started his 'grand circular tours' of Europe. During the 1860s he took parties to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and United States. Cook established 'inclusive independent travel', whereby the traveller went independently but his agency charged for travel, food and accommodation for a fixed period over any chosen route. Such was his success that the Scottish railway companies withdrew their support between 1862 and 1863 to try the excursion business for themselves.

With John A Mason Cook, he formed a partnership and renamed the travel agency as Thomas Cook and Son. They acquired business premises on Fleet Street, London. By this time, Cook had stopped personal tours and became an agent for foreign or domestic travel. The office also contained a shop which sold essential travel accessories including guide books, luggage, telescopes and footwear. Thomas saw his venture as both religious and social service; his son provided the commercial expertise that allowed the company to expand. In accordance with his beliefs, he and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. Their business model was refined by the introduction of the 'hotel coupon' in 1866. Detachable coupons in a counterfoil book were issued to the traveller. These were valid for either a restaurant meal or an overnight hotel stay provided they were on Cook's list.

In 1865, the agency organised tours of the United States, picking up passengers from several departure points. John Mason Cook lead the excursion which included tours of several Civil War battlefields. A brief but bitter partnership was formed with an American businessman in 1871 called Cook, Son and Jenkins; however after an acrimonious split the agency reverted back to its original name. A round the world tour started in 1872, which for 200 guineas, included a steamship across the Atlantic, a stage coach across America, a paddle steamer to Japan, and an overland journey across China and India, lasting 222 days.

In 1874, Thomas Cook introduced 'circular notes', a product that later became better known by American Express's brand, 'traveller's cheques'.

Conflicts of interest between father and son were resolved when the son persuaded his father, Thomas Cook, to retire in 1879. He moved back to Leicestershire and lived quietly until his death.

The firm's growth was consolidated by John Mason Cook and his two sons, especially by its involvement with military transport and postal services for Britain and Egypt during the 1880s when Cook began organising tours to the Middle East. By 1888, the company had established offices around the world, including three in Australia and one in Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1890, the company sold over 3.25 million tickets John Mason Cook promoted, and even led, excursions to, for example, the Middle East where he was described as "the second-greatest man in Egypt". However, while arranging for the German Emperor Wilhelm II to visit Palestine in 1898, he contracted dysentery and died the following year.

His sons, Frank Henry, Thomas Albert and Ernest Edward, were not nearly as successful running the business. Despite opening a new headquarters in Berkeley Square, London in 1926, ownership of Thomas Cook and Son only remained with the family until 1928, when it was sold to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits.

During the 1930s, the travel agency consolidated especially from tours to Egypt and Palestine. Indeed the company was a principal employer in Egypt, involved in shipping, transport and touring operations. After the outbreak of World War II, the Paris headquarters of the Wagons-Lits company was seized by the occupying forces, and in turn the British assets were requisitioned by the Government. In 1941, the 100th anniversary of the company, Thomas Cook & Son Ltd. was sold to the four major railway companies with the aim of expanding it further.

The company was nationalised in 1948 as part of the British Transport Commission. In the early 1950s, the company began promoting 'foreign holidays' (particularly Italy, Spain and Switzerland) by showing information films at town halls throughout Britain. However they made a costly decision by not going into the new form of cheap holidays which combined the transport and accommodation arrangements into a single 'package'. The company went further into decline and were only rescued by a consortium of Trust House Forte, Midland Bank and the Automobile Association who bought the company from the British Government on 26 May 1972.

(The company has changed hands several times since then and is now owned by Lufthansa and Karstadt, out of Germany).

Friday, February 25, 2011

References - Old Magazines

My grandfather on my father's side had subscriptions to a couple of magazines - Modern Mechanix and Inventions (later Mechanix Illustrated), and Science and Mechanics. Published by Fawcett, they are 9 X 6 in size, with a color cover (at least, they had color covers. Only a couple of the ones I've inherited still have their covers) and averaged between 130 and 160 pages [I'm sure page count dropped once we entered the war in 1942], and cost 15 cents (20 cents in Canada).

I have a Modern Mechanix and Inventions from April 1934. It's Volume XI, Number 6, with an NRA (National Rifle Association) symbol in the upper right hand corner of the Contents page.

Special Features

1) Narrow Escapes with the Blind Fliers (US Postal planes, using radio to guide their way)
2) P. K. Wrigley - Millionaire Mechanic
3) Yachtsmen Risk Fortunes for Lipton Race Honors
4) Undersea Sledge Hunts Sunken Gold
5) What Makes Mickey Move? (Mickey Mouse cartoons)
6) "I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot," by Jack Dempsey
7) Making the "Invisible Man" Invisible
8) Oddities of Science
9) Foreign Villages to Dominate 1934 World's Fair
10) Plan World's Largest Canal for Florida
11) 2,000 Inch Telescope May Reveal the End of the Universe
12) Robot Clock Latest Home Aid
13) Bailing Out with the Navy's Parachute Ace
14) Protect Yourself From Your Automobile

Shorter Features
1) Problem Letters from Readers
2) Society Explorers Brave Jungle For Diamonds
3) Scalp Massager Features Novel Inventions
4) Revive Interest in Art of Tattooing
5) $25 in Prizes for Solving 3 Problems
6) Winners of Great Problem Contest
7) Bizarre Eat Shops Built to Lure Trade
8) Radio Brings Famous Teachers to Classes
9) Swaying Aerial Railroad Climbs Mountain
10) Fortunes Await Inventors
11) Amuse Friends with Chemical Stunts
12) Easy Amateur Magic Tricks
13) With the Collectors

How - To - Build Features
1) Build this model of the Champion "Outdoor Girl" (a Curtis Robin plane)
2) A Film Pack Adapter for your Camera
3) Tying "Sure Catch" Flies for Bass and Trout
4) A Floor Waxer for $5
5) Build Selenium "Electric Eye" to Open Garage Doors
6) Old Motors Make Garden Tractors
7) New Ideas for Keeping the Dog
8) Plans for a Handy Tea Table
9) A "Dynamic Diadem" for Store Windows

You think that's all? You'rewrong. Page 2 of the table of Contents has New Mechanical Inventions (38 of them I'm not going to list right now), 26 Interesting Scientific Items, including Scotland Stirred by Loch Ness Monster, 11 articles For Radio Fans, 12 Handikinks For Everybody, 3 under Auto Ideas to Prevent Trouble, 3 under Timesavers for the Housewife, 3 under Ideas for the Home Electrician, and 3 Handy Suggestions for Farm Homes. Then, there's 6 articles Foe the Workshop Fan, and Chips from the Editor's Workbench - a letter column.

The Cape Cod Mystery, by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

This is the first book to fature Asey Mayo, the "Hayseed Sleuth." It was published in 1931.

"'Heat wave hits East,'" Betsy read. "Prostration record of all time. Mercury soaring.' Well, that's gone and torn are peaceful vacation, that has. By to-night we'll have a stack of telegrams a yard high from city-sizzling friends who want to get cooled off."

Below is an example of a telegram. For many years, not all phone service was reliable, and not everybody had phones. So companies like Western Unionset up a service whereby people from one part of the country, or world, would call their offices in another part of the country, and dictate a few words, which an operator would type out on a teletype machine. These strips of paper would be glued to a telegram form, and then a bicyclist or motorcyclist would deliver it to the recipient's home or place of business.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Whose Body: The Annotated Edition

I just published Whose Body, The Annotated Edition to the Kindle today. It will take a couple of days before it's available on the Kindle, then another couple of days before the description is there - why there is a delay with this rah-ther important information beats me - but then I'll be able to advertise it.

Whose Body is of course the first adventure of Lord Peter Wimsey, written by Dorothy Sayers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I annotate books for a living. In these entries, I'll share what I learn as I conduct research for all of the books I'm working on.