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Monday, January 30, 2012

Being Batty

Bats emerging from Carlsbad Caverns, NM
 One of our Twitter followers asked this rhetorical question earlier today:

Why do they say bat out of hell? I'd think a bat would be trying to get to hell. I bet hell is bat heaven.
Now, he may have been listening to too much Meatloaf, but I'm not one to pass up a good question. I do so enjoy phrase etymology! Luckily, we have oodles of books on the subject. According to Dictionary of Animal Words and Phrases, this is the meaning for like a bat out of hell:

The bat, being a nocturnal animal, is associated with darkness. Therefore, in the folklore of many parts of the world, it is said that the devil, the Prince of Darkness, often takes the form of a bat. In fact, the devil is often depicted with bat's wings. Bats are also generally associated with caves, which look like routes to hell, the devil's habitat. Bats are also noted for their quick, darting flight. All of these associations have come together in a twentieth-century expression: to go very quickly is to go like a bat out of hell.
(Lyman 23)

Logical. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins had a little more to add:

Since bats are nocturnal creatures that loathe the light, the hellfires of the infernal regions would inspire them to flap like hell to get out of there. That may be the idea behind the expression to move like a bat out of hell, extremely fast, which Partridge traces to 1908 and which probably goes back to the late 19th century. It was also slang used by R.A.F. pilots since World War I for "to fly extremely fast."
(Hendrickson 55)

I did find that bats that live in temperate climates hibernate during the winter (Hutchinson). I suppose they might like the warmth of hell, if not the light.

bat. (2010). In The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide. Retrieved from
Hendrick, Robert. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1997. Print.
Lyman, Darryl. Dictionary of Animal Words and Phrases. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1994. Print.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Here a Book, There a Book, Everywhere a Book Book

Mr. Richard Heber was a skosh addicted to acquiring books. He loved them aplenty and purchased them whenever and wherever he could find them. When asked about his habit of collecting multiple copies of the same works, he replied, according to his biographer:

Why you see, sir, no man can do comfortably without three copies of a work. One he must have for a show-copy, and he will probably keep it at his country-house. Another he will require for his own use and reference; and unless he is inclined to part with this, which is very inconvenient, or risk the injury of his best copy, he must needs have a third at the service of his friends.
(Kacirk 84)

All of those volumes sure add up. By the time of his death in 1833, he owned 150,000 volumes. To put that in perspective, the Mississippi Library Commission holds 124,534 volumes. I bet ours are much better organized than his were!
Kacirk, Jeffrey. Forgotten English. William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, NY, 1997. Print.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Leon, Rest in Peace.

While looking through the Marion County Progress this morning from 1910, I found several gems -- including a series on how to control your wife! -- but this small article was the most interesting.

I'm not sure I would've given poor Leon's story this title, however. And why is there no information on why Leon was so determined? Had something happened? Was he suffering from depression? (My suspicious nature also wants to know how, in 1910, the hospitals were so adept at curing self-inflicted gunshot wounds.) Or were all his clumsy attempts merely cries for help? Oh, Leon, I'm sorry this was your sad fate.

From a research perspective, I tried finding out more about Leon, but as he was a sailor and this story was set in France, I'm afraid my resources are limited. If anyone knows more about Leon Weiss, please let us know!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Better late than never... Happy Birthday, Theora!

January 15 would have been Theora Hamblett’s 116th birthday. Hamblett, a Mississippi artist, is known for her primitive style paintings that reflected her childhood memories, the Southern countryside, and religious visions.
Hamblett grew up on a farm in Paris, MS located in Lafayette County. She began teaching school in 1915 and travelled about the county teaching until 1936. In 1939 Hamblett moved to Oxford for a change of scenery. She made her living by working as a seamstress and renting out rooms in her home to college students. She didn’t actually begin painting until 1950 when she took an art class at night at the University of Mississippi. In searching AskArt database, I found this look into Hamblett’s feelings towards her art class from The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. The entry says Theora’s time in class “was short because the course focused on abstract art, which did not interest her. Instead, she followed her own inclinations.”

Hamblett’s paintings are notable for the pointillist technique she used. She used dots of many colors to create her compositions. For example, most of the leaves on the trees in Hamblett’s paintings are made up of no less than 3 different dots of color. Hamblett’s painting Golden Gate, later renamed The Vision went on to hang in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Upon her death in 1977, Hamblett bequeathed approximately 200 paintings to University of Mississippi Museums. Hamblett’s works are on display year round at The University Museum in Oxford, MS.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Abduction in Pascagoula

We often stumble upon strange things while researching for our patrons here at the Library Commission. This week I stumbled upon something that is strange, but it is also something that we Mississippians can take pride in (if you’re the type of Mississippian who can appreciate a good alien story). According to the The UFO Encyclopedia, the second most famous alien abduction case in history took place in Pascagoula, MS!

Charles Hickson, 42, and Calvin Parker, 19, were out for a bit of night fishing off of the dock of an abandoned shipyard on October 11, 1973. The two were quietly waiting on the fish to bite when they heard a loud zipping sound at approximately 9 p.m. The sound was coming from what the two described as a domed, football-shaped object. Three figures floated out of the object and headed for the fishermen. Hickson and Parker described the creatures as being a little over five feet tall and had ears that resembled carrots, slits for a mouths, no visible eyes, hands that resembled a mitten attached to unusually long arms, and feet like an elephant’s. The creatures were also very wrinkly and grey (Clark). Here is a sketch of the creatures based on Hickson and Parker's descriptions:

Hickson says that two of the aliens approached him. He found himself paralyzed as soon as one took his arm. The two creatures floated Hickson up into their aircraft. Meanwhile, Parker had fainted from fear. One creature picked him up and floated up to the craft with him. Hickson says that once inside the craft, his body was levitated at different angles while a football shaped eye inspected him. Once the floating eye had thoroughly inspected Hickson the two beings took him back down to the dock where they had taken him from. Parker isn’t entirely sure what all took place while he was in the craft. He remembers hearing a whistling noise and a click and seeing the bright interior of the craft. He was then floated outside and left standing (but unable to move) on the dock. The entire episode lasted only about 20 minutes (Clark).

The two eventually calmed themselves (Hickson had a spot of whiskey to help calm himself) and contacted the Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi. The Air Force base urged them to contact their local sherrif’s department and from there the rest is history. Once the story got out, the town was swarmed with media for weeks afterwards.

Hickson eventually collaborated with a man named William Mendez on a book that tells the entire story. The book is called UFO Contact at Pascagoula and we have it in our collection here at the Mississippi Library Commission (it’s already been moved to the top of my “to read” list).

Clark, Jerome. 1998. The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon From the Beginning, Vol. 2. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc. p.714-716

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pardon Me!

A Meebo patron asked us a two-part question this morning:
  1. How long have MS governors been allowed to pardon people right before they leave office?
  2. What are the pardoning records of past MS governors?
We turned to the Mississippi Constitution, which is contained in our trusty set of the Mississippi Code, and found this:

In all criminal and penal cases, excepting those of treason and impeachment, the Governor shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons, to remit fines, and in cases of forfeiture, to stay the collection until the end of the next session of the Legislature, and by and with the consent of the senate to remit forfeitures. In cases of treason he shall have power to grant reprieves, and by and with consent of the senate, but may respite the sentence until the end of the next session of the Legislature; but no pardon shall be granted before conviction; and in cases of felony, after conviction no pardon shall be granted until the applicant therefor shall have published for thirty days, in some newspaper in the county where the crime was committed, and in case there be no newspaper published in said county, then in an adjoining county, his petition for pardon, setting forth therein the reasons why such pardon should be granted.
Mississippi Constitution, 1972 Article V § 124

In one form or another, the power to pardon prisoners has been granted the governor of Mississippi since the Constitution of 1832. (If you would like to view the text of previous Mississippi constitutions, Mississippi History Now is your source!) That's 180 years if you happen to be counting.

The New York Times published a most fortuitous article this very day. In it, they provided the following numbers:
  • Gov. Haley Barbour (2004-2012) 203 full pardons (17 to convicted murderers)
  • Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (2000-2004) 1 full pardon
  • Gov. Kirk Fordice (1992-2000) 13 full pardons (2 to convicted murderers)
  • Gov. Ray Mabus (1988-1992) 4 full pardons
We hope this answers your question, Meebo patron! For further updates, stay tuned to local news, such as the Jackson Free Press. (They have been covering this story extensively.)

Mississippi Code, 1972 Annotated

Mississippi Ghostbusters

McRaven House

When our new IT assistant started last month and heard we answer questions, he asked us to tell him which house in Mississippi is the most haunted. Now, I'm not a fan of things that go bump in the night, but growing up in Mississippi introduced me to my fair share of ghost stories. For instance, Lakemont in Vicksburg was practically next door to the church we attended while I was a child. Poor Mrs. Lake was up on the widow's walk in 1861 and from there witnessed her husband's death in a duel on a sandbar. She met her death by way of a cannonball during the war, and now spends her time walking about her garden and waiting for her husband to come back from his fight. This, however, cannot be the most haunted house in Mississippi. (Much too tame, don't you agree?)

After scouring several fine print sources, I decided that McRaven House in Vicksburg is an ideal candidate for "Most Haunted House of Mississippi." Indeed, The Haunting of Mississippi declares that McRaven "may well be the most haunted (house) in Mississippi." Here's a breakdown of their specters:

  • Andrew Glass and his wife were the first owners of McRaven. They also happened to be highwaymen who robbed travelers on the Natchez Trace. Mr. Glass was wounded on one such escapade and wifey dearest slit his throat for him so they wouldn't be discovered. Ah, sweet love.
  • McRaven was used as a pit stop of sorts on the Trail of Tears. During a cholera epidemic in 1832, many Choctaw were swept up in the wave of death that pummeled the city. The bodies, Native American and white alike, were burned.
  • Mary Elizabeth Howard, age 15, died there due to complications from childbirth in 1836.
  • During the Civil War, McRaven served as a makeshift hospital. At least 28 soldiers met their death on the grounds.
  • In 1864, the home was owned by John Bobb. History says he protested Union soldiers who were vandalizing his garden. Mr. Bobb even lobbed a brick at them. The Yankees, being unamused, shot him multiple times.
  • Several members of the Murray family, who lived in the house from 1882-1960, also died there. While they enjoyed peaceful deaths, it appears that they, too, enjoy returning to the old home place.
(Sillery 13-28)

According to The Haunting of Mississippi, many of these still roam the rooms, halls and grounds of this old home. There were many other places I wanted to include, but they just didn't seem to fit the bill: Chapel of the Cross in Madison, King's Tavern in Natchez, Glenburnie... The list goes on and on. Do you concur? Is McRaven the most haunted house in Mississippi?

Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America. Macmillan: Toronto, 2007. Print.
Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Mississippi. Pelican Publishing Co.: Gretna, LA, 2011. Print.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Meebo Musters Up The Military

Confederate artillery defending Charleston, 1863
Last week, I received a reference request from one of our Meebo patrons. (You remember Meebo, right? We're mlcreference if you need to ask a question!) This particular patron wanted to know about:
  1. The difference between a regiment and a battalion
  2. Harper's Regiment, CSA in Mississippi
I found my first answer in Dictionary of Military Terms:
A battalion is a tactical unit of one branch of a ground army's combat arms, varying in size and composition but generally in the range of 500 to 1,000 troops and usually commanded by a lieutenant colonel. It normally consists of three to five of the basic combat units of its branch (company for infantry, battery for artillery, company or troop for armor). Three or four battalions are usually combined to form a regiment or a brigade (Dupuy et al. 30-31).
A regiment is a military unit, particularly of infantry, cavalry, or artillery, that can be either administrative or operational... Since the late 18th century a regiment, commanded by a colonel, has usually been an operational unit of two or more battalions, and has functioned most often as a component of a division. In the modern US Army, until the mid-1960s, infantry regiments consisted of three battalions, in strengths varying from about 1,500 to 3,000 troops." (Dupuy et al. 208).
Finding Harper's Regiment in Mississippi proved a much larger task. Here are a few potential candidates:
  • Harper's Battalion
    13th Mississippi Battalion Infantry
    Major N. B. Harper
    (Rowland 219)
  • Harper's Reserves
    36th Mississippi Infantry, Company C
    Lt. Col. S.G. Harper
    Formed from men of Newton, Lauderdale, and Smith Counties
    Mustered 20 February 1861
    (Rowland 319)
  • Harper's Battery
    Part of "Jefferson Flying Artillery"
    Captain William L. Harper
    Formed in Jefferson County May 6, 1861
    Mustered into state service at Fayette, MS April 1861
    (Rowland 479)
I relaize that not all of these are regiments, but I think it is important to keep yourself open to the idea that your source could be partially incorrect. Also, tt's possible that there are additional military units with a "Harper" moniker. A better idea of where your ancestor was located prior to and directly after the Civil War would help. Bible records, the Census (both Federal and State), and pension applications will provide you with more details. Please feel free to contact the Mississippi Library Commission Reference Department again if you have further questions!

Dupuy, Trevor N., et al. Dictionary of Military Terms. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 2003. Print.
Rowland, Dunbar. Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898. Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, Publishers, 1978. Print.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Return Those Books...Or Else!

Have you heard about Charlton (MA) Public Library's new terrifying technique of getting library materials back? They send the police to your house as a "friendly" reminder.

Police Enforcement of Library Lending Leaves Five Year Old in Tears

(CNN) -- A Massachusetts mom said police went too far when they paid her and her 5-year-old daughter a visit for failing to return their library books on time.
"She's 5; she didn't understand," said Shannon Benoit of her daughter, Hailey.
Police said Tuesday that an officer showed up last week at the Benoit's home in the town of Charlton to inform the family that the books were long overdue.
Hailey -- who was standing beside her mom when the officer arrived -- then burst into tears.
'Is that policeman going to arrest me?'" Benoit quoted her daughter to CNN affiliate WBZ-TV.
"I was scared," added Hailey.
The books, titled "How To Tie My Shoes" and "Eloise's Birthday," had been sitting on Hailey's bookshelf since April.

Read the rest of the story from CNN here.
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