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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Most Unromantic Valentine's Day Post You'll Ever Read

Valentine's Day is upon us! Unfortunately (or happily, for some), we don't all have a sweetheart with whom we can share the day. Here are some great nuggets that happened on February 14 that have absolutely nothing to do with love.

    Frederick Douglass
    • Frederick Douglass was born a slave in February of 1818. Once when he was a child, his mother called him her Valentine. He chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14 in honor of her memory. He became a staunch abolitionist and went on to edit a newspaper and to author many autobiographical works, such as A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. That's about one of the sweetest things I've ever read, and I definitely felt myself becoming emotional as I read it. Romantic value? Oh, about a 0.
    • Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London on February 14, 1895. Although there is an air of romance about the play, the sheer genius of Wilde's droll wit has always been what has impressed me. Some Oscar Wilde, with or without a date, is always rewarding.
    • Some of the results of
      the Dresden firebombing
      The eve of 1945's Valentine's Day and well into the morning of Love Day itself heralded the beginning of the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. Kurt Vonnegut's controversial novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death goes into some detail about the bombing. Nothing like a little firebombing to put you in an unromantic mood.

    • On Valentine's Day 1974, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was charged with treason for his book The Gulag Archipelago. The book is a detailed examination of the gulag prison system in the now former Soviet Union. Treason, exile, and Siberian prison camps: three things that don't make me feel loving or lovable.
    • P. G. Wodehouse, the author of the Jeeves and Wooster books (one word: hilarious) and various other books, short stories, and plays, had a heart attack and died February 14, 1975. Not the best Valentine's Day for his loving wife Ethel.
    • Salman Rushdie and
      The Satanic Verses
      On February 14, 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious and political ruler of Iran, issued a fatwa asking for author Salman Rushdie's death. Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, caused much conflict in the world of Islam, and many Muslims agreed with Khomeni that the book attacked the Prophet Mohammed and the sacred book the Koran. Not in a loving mood at all, was he?
    • There are at least two men to whom Valentine's Day is attributed; neither of them met a pretty end. Saint Valentine of Terni was tortured and beheaded, while Saint Valentine of Rome was merely beaten and beheaded. Either way, once you've lost your head, you're probably not thinking much about romance.
    If you didn't see it last year be sure to check out our Valentine's Day tribute to loving names. The Reference Department at the Mississippi Library Commission hopes you have a happy and well-read February 14th.

    "Frederick Douglass." Notable Black American Men, Book II. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.
    "P(elham) G(renville) Wodehouse." Contemporary Popular Writers. Ed. Dave Mote. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Milk Sickness

    We recently received a question from a patron wanting to find out what type of weed killed Abraham Lincoln's mother. Seeing as today is Lincoln's birthday, we decided to share our findings with you! Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of "milk sickness," according to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. The root cause of milk sickness was from a plant called white snakeroot--a person is made ill by drinking the milk of a cow that has consumed this plant. The website mentions the disease "was most common in dry years when cattle wandered from poor pastureland to wooded areas in search of food." Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on October 5, 1818 when Lincoln was nine years old.

    White Snakeroot

    Anna Pierce, an Illinois doctor, is credited in the book Poisons and Antidotes by Carol Turkington with solving the mystery of milk sickness. The disease killed Anna's mother and sister-in-law, and sickened her father. After a series of observations she "campaigned to prevent drinking milk during the summer" (Turkington 310). A Shawnee woman explained to Anna that white snakeroot was used as a treatment by the Shawnee for snakebites, but it was also the cause of milk sickness (in humans) and trembles (in cows). Unfortunately, Anna tested out this theory on a calf which ended in the calf developing "trembles." Nothing more was mentioned about this calf's fate, but scientists were able to find out what made the plant so toxic to humans and livestock.Turkington writes, "In 1987, scientists discovered that the constituents of snakeroot are not in themselves toxic but are converted to toxic substances by the body's own metabolic processes" (310).
    According to the book Wildflowers of the Natchez Trace by Stephen L. Timme and Caleb C. K. Timme, this plant can be found in the wooded areas of Tupelo, MS up to Nashville, TN. Their flowering dates are listed from April through May. While milk sickness is no longer an issue as it was in the 19th century, due to improvements in processing milk, it can still be deadly if consumed directly (which we don't recommend).

    Turkington, Carol. Poisons and Antidotes. NewYork: Facts on File, Inc., 1994. Print
    Timme, Stephen L. and Caleb C. K. Timme. Wildflowers of the Natchez Trace. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Print
    Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, National Historical Park Kentucky:
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