Edelweiss (Sound of Music)

Georg Johannes von Trapp, Circa 1910 Public Domain
Georg Johannes von Trapp, Circa 1910
Public Domain

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music is full of great music from beginning to end.  Edelweiss is one of those memorable tunes. It is sung two times in the movie. The first is at home when Captain Trapp sings it to his family and his oldest daughter joins in. The second time is at the auditorium before his fellow Austrians. Then of course the flight from the Germans begins. The musical and the film took great liberties with the Trapp family story (changing genders of the oldest children,compacting the story and changing other general details).

In reality the family was already a well known singing group prior to the German annexation of Austria (this was due in part to the financial loss Von Trapp suffered when a local bank collapsed). Trapp, who had earned the noble title of baron for his daring exploits as a submarine commander in World War I,was indeed going to be called to active service in the German Navy. His two oldest boys were likely to be compelled to join the German military as well. They could see the effects of the German takeover and what it was doing to Austria. Friends disappearing, the German Nazi ideology being implemented everywhere. So they choose to leave but, unlike the movie, did not walk over a mountain. Thanks to his being born in an area that was ceded to Italy after World War I, he had Italian citizenship. So did his family. They put on day packs and took the train to Italy leaving everything behind.

They would eventually make their way to America. And they would start a new life as traveling singers criss-crossing the country by bus and singing folk songs from around the world living as frugally as possible. Their Christmas music was also highly regarded. They would settle in Vermont as their home base. Eventually it would become a lodge which still exists today (and owned by third and fourth generation descendants). The two oldest boys did join an army, the U.S Army, and at the end of the war returned to see their old home in Salzburg. It was still there but Heinrich Himmler had lived in it! The house would be given to the Catholic Church and still stands to this day. The lack of basic supplies for Austrians after the war was appalling. So Captain Trapp (he dropped the von from his name by this time)and Maria founded a relief effort to send needed supplies to fellow Austrians. The Trapp family name has a certain honor in Austria though not because of the musical, but because of his relief efforts and his refusal to serve the Nazi war machine.

Update(31 May 2016)
*It is sometimes thought the song Edelweiss is akin to an Austrian national anthem. However it was written specifically for the play. And for a particular actor Theodore Bikel.
*The Austrian national anthem is called Land der Berge, Land am Strome (Land of mountains, land by the river). Prior to the forced annexation of Austria by Germany, the anthem was Sei gesegnet ohne Ende (Be Blessed Without End)when it was Austria-Hungary. During the Nazi period, the German anthem Deutschlandlied (often mislabeled as Deutschland über alles)was the official anthem. After the war and to avoid any further connections with Nazi Germany or the old Austria-Hungarian Empire, the current anthem was selected.
*Edelweiss(Leontopodium alpinum)is a mountain flower generally found between 5,900–9,800 ft in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It generally blooms in the early to mid summer but is short lived plant. Many people grown it at home because of its beauty either in containers or in gardens. The plant itself is non-toxic and has been used for herbal remedies. Better still is that deer will not eat it and is drought resistant. However it does require a mild to cool climate in order to thrive.

Titanic Menu Sells For $118,750

A rare Titanic menu was auctioned off this last weekend (the same
auction where the Titanic telegram failed to sell)for an astounding
$118,750. From finebooksmagazine.com:

The remarkable Titanic final dinner menu is signed by first class
passengers Edward P. Calderhead of New York City; Spencer V. Silverthorne of St. Louis; George E. Graham, a sales manager from
Winnipeg, Canada; James R. McGough, a buyer from Philadelphia; and JohnIrwin Flynn of Brooklyn, and is one of three pieces of memorabilia relating to the sinking offered in the auction. An oil painting of the iceberg by rescue ship passenger Laura Wilson Luce of Titusville, Pennsylvania sold for $12,500 and a menu from the R.M.S. Carpathia, the ship which first reached the Titanic following the sinking, sold for $3,125.

Source:Titanic’s Last Menu Tops $1.1+ Million Americana Auction atHeritage Auctions(finebooksmagazine.com,11 Nov 2015)

Remembering The Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald(1971) Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)
Edmund Fitzgerald(1971)
Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.

On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”

The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:

(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.

(3)No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.

(4)Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments
Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.

(5)Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.

The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.

Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.

The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.

The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of 1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.

Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.

Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.

1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald(Wikipedia)
2. Mariners Church, Detroit, Michigan
3. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
4. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
5. The sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald – November 10, 1975 (University of Wisconsin)
6. National Transportation Safety Board:Marine Accident Report
SS Edmund Fitzgerald-Sinking In Lake Superior (4 May 1978)
7. Marine Historical Society of Detroit

Titanic Telegram Update

According to an article at Smithsonianmag.com, its history can only be dated back to 1988 when it was discovered it was found in an envelope marked “This is 86 years old.” Apparently the paper stock and ink match the time period at issue. But due to lost records (from Titanic)it cannot be verified it was sent from the ship. Nor is their any proof that it was actually delivered to White Star Line in New York independent of the telegram. Nor can it be ascertained who saw it if it was in fact delivered. One interesting note from the Smithsonian write-up: it failed to sell at auction on Saturday.

Western Union telegram informing Millsaps College beats Mississippi A&M (now MSU)in football, 19-13. Photo:Natalie Maynor via Wikipedia
Western Union telegram informing Millsaps College beats Mississippi A&M (now MSU)in football, 19-13 in 1930.
Photo:Natalie Maynor via Wikipedia

Source:The Mystery of a Titanic Telegram–Did the Titanic’s owners know about its collision with an iceberg?(Smithsonianmag.com,9 Nov 2015)

Over The Hills and Far Away

The Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell told the story of the unlikely rise of Richard Sharpe from sergeant to officer during the Napleonic wars. As person of very low birth and little formal education, the British Army offered a way out. His heroic saving of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington) in India got him an officer’s commission (this was changed for the tv show where he saves him in Spain)but it would not be easy moving up. In the British Army of the time, officers came from the middle to upper class with little formal training (they had good schooling but little formal military training). In fact, you could purchase an officers commission up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. You had to spend three years before buying up to the next rank (there were exceptions of course).

Richard Sharpe, being of modest means, could not possibly afford to purchase a commission. He got a commission through bravery but would have to wait in line for the next available slot and hope no one would buy it out. His best chance was a battlefield commission, meaning the death or severe wounding of a superior officer that required immediate placement. It meant he would have to fight hard and use all his skills to get promoted. Add to it that he was raised from the ranks made it difficult to find many friends in his fellow officers.

For the television adaptation of the books, John Tams was chosen for the musical arrangement. One of the songs heard during the series was Over The Hills And Far Away, an old Army folk song that had been around for a while. It also had different lyrics though followed mostly the same basic rendition.  In this YouTube presentation, it uses Tam’s theme and adds some stunning visual images (mostly paintings and other illustrations). Many today have a hard time getting the idea how big a deal the Napoleonic Wars were. Napoleon set out to expand the French Empire as far and wide as he could. Most of Europe found itself under threat or dominated by Napoleon in one way or another. The British had few allies to count on and could never match the amount of soldiers Napoleon had. The Sharpe novels show how this was played out in Spain as it took a lot of effort to drive Napoleon out of Portugal, then Spain, and then finally launch attacks into France to topple his regime. Though the character of Sharpe is fictional, the battles and most of their descriptions are accurate.

Claim: Titanic Telegram Shows White Star Official Lied To Congress

A telegram up for auction appears to show the White Star Line office in New York was informed of the sinking by Titanic. The Western Union telegram is dated 15 April 1912 and is addressed to P.A. Franklin at the White Star Offices in New York. The telegram reads:

CQD CQD SOS SOS = From MGY (RMS Titanic)=

The telegram was part of a collection of telegraphy items and not Titanic. It is making news since it is being put up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas this weekend. The telegram would appear to contradict sworn testimony by Philip Franklin who stated that no communication had reached their office while the ship was sinking. Of course we all know about the mangled telegrams that appeared to give false hope Titanic was afloat and passengers safe. And Franklin’s statements early on reflected those sentiments (till the truth was learned).

Outside the White Star Line Office after Titanic Disaster, New York, April 1912. Bain News Service, U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#ggbain 10352
Outside the White Star Line Office after Titanic Disaster, New York, April 1912.
Bain News Service, U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#ggbain 10352

Assuming the telegram to be genuine, why would Franklin lie? With the exact position he could immediately inform the authorities. Perhaps by the time it arrived it was too late to do anything about it (like what happened at Pearl Harbor when the attack warning was sent via Western Union). Or he spoke the truth and never saw this telegram. Many questions arise as to whether this truly originated from Titanic. They did send out a distress call to all ships in the area but would they send a notice to one of their offices? What good would that do if the ship was in immediate danger? The question of who sent the telegram also has to be raised. Nothing in the testimony indicates the wireless operators on Titanic sent a message to White Star Offices.

Rather than leaping to conclusions that Franklin lied to the U.S. inquiry, it might be wise to check all the facts regarding this telegram. Note that in the official description of the telegram, the auction house never says Franklin lies. Nor do they even claim it was delivered and might be a copy. They do believe it is genuine but I think more investigation and study of the telegram itself is in order.

1. Titanic Cover-Up Exposed: Newly Discovered Evidence Proves Doomed Ship’s Owners Lied To Congress (The Inquistir,6 Nov 2015)

2. Heritage Auctions
From the official description of the telegram at Heritage:
“Since the Marconi office in Cape Race had no facilities to deliver the telegram, it was transmitted to the Western Union office in New York and delivered by messenger to Mr. Franklin at 9 Broadway. This may be the telegram that was delivered, or it may be a retained copy, as we have evidence that these telegrams were sent “2-up”. While it seems certain that the telegram was delivered (or the attempt made), we cannot say for sure whether Franklin saw it in a timely manner, or testified falsely before Congress. There is no contemporary provenance that accompanies the telegram. It was given to the consignor by a cousin around 1998. The cousin’s father had collected old radio and telegraphic equipment. Upon the father’s death, a fellow collector was called in to appraise the collection. The collection was gifted to him. Shortly thereafter, the recipient sent the Titanic telegram to the cousin, as a token of his appreciation. The cousin placed it in an envelope, marking it as an “86-year old telegram” and gave it to the consignor whom he knew to have an interest in Titanic memorabilia. We have examined the telegram extensively and conclude that all characteristics are “right”, including type of paper, method of printing, aging of the paper and look of the typed message (variation in the lightness & darkness of the inked impression, visible signs of the weave of the ribbon). In summary, we are totally satisfied that the telegram is authentic and a new discovery.”

Dubai Theme Park Will Highlight Titanic and Other Movies

If you go to Dubai in 2018, it will have a theme park based on movies and television shows like James Cameron’s Titanic. The 20th Century Fox World theme park will have a branded resort on site for people to stay while visiting the theme park. This will be the second theme park of this kind for Fox. One in Malaysia is currently under construction and slated to open in 2017. With rising disposable incomes in Middle East and Asia, it is believed these theme parks will draw a lot of tourists as western movies and television shows are very popular.

I bet the new guy running Premier Exhibitions has already taken note of this. After all, would not a Titanic artifact exhibition be a great draw as well?

Source: Dubai Theme Park to Highlight ‘Titanic’ and Other Fox Films(Wall Street Journal,3 Nov 2015)