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100 Years Ago: August 1919

This is the fifty-fifth installment in a series of brief reviews of century-old National Geographic Magazines.

The first article is entitled “The Geography of Games” and was written by J. R. Hildebrand. It has the subtitle “How the Sports of Nations Form a Gazetteer of the Habits and Histories of Their Peoples”. It contains sixty-one black-and-white photographs, of which twenty-nine are full-page in size.

During the war the English, French, and American soldiers would relieve the stress and madness of the conflict with simple, wholesome play. Playing games from football to ping-pong behind the lines, this stress relief allowed them to recharge for their next round of fighting. The Germans, on the other hand, did not play, but trained instead. This neglect of play and its resulting lowering of morale was one reason for their failure in the war.

Sports provide clues to how people live, work, and think. In countless ways science has learned about climates, products, customs, and peoples of the past from their toys, games, and sports. An entire new field of investigation was opened by the discovery that backgammon, as played in Burma, also was known to the pre-Columbian Mexicans. A new light was shed on an ancient civilization when it was learned that there was a law in Persia that all children be taught three things: horsemanship, shooting with a bow, and telling the truth. The Carthaginians and the Phoenicians owe some of their maritime glory to a love of swimming. Through that sport they first mastered their fear of the sea. In England the rapid strides toward political emancipation of woman may be traceable to the ardor of British women for outdoor exercise and sports.

Equally significant in the history of nations is the decline of their sports. Persia was victorious because of the rigid regimen prescribed by Cyrus, the same with Sparta and the discipline of Lycurgus. Alexander the Great led the Macedonians in denial and exercise, and they were invincible. The Romans extended their empire as long as their gymnasia prepared their youths to endure long marches and bear heavy loads.

Climate determines the kinds of games we play. It is obvious that sledding is a sport of the zone where snow falls, and that swimming is most prolific in the equatorial islands. It is less well known that card and board games were developed in southern Asia, where the zest for play is just as keen, but temperature dampens the ardor for exercise. The reaction of geography and sport are mutual. Both the stilt and the skate originated in the Netherlands where flooded and frozen areas are common. They are now playthings for the rest of the world.

Sometimes sports spread beyond national boundaries and expressed the common ideals of an age. Jousting and other tournaments were symptoms of the adventurous spirit reflected in the crusades of the middle ages. Just as an individual adopts games which meet his bodily needs, national pastimes are modified to fortify the people who play them. During the age of personal combat there were men of reputed great strength. At that time boxing and wrestling, the most ancient of sports, were in their heyday. Missile throwing, originally used in warfare, has been reduced to snowball fights by children. Archery was so important to England that Edward III forbade all other sports on holidays and Sundays, thus making the pastime a form of universal military training.

Literature has been used to understand a culture, but it has its flaws. It may become self-conscious or bend to the winds of fashion. Play is more spontaneous. One could all but write the history of classic Greece from the knowledge of its games. Plato encouraged exercise and advocated the State provide training to girls in dance and self-defense.

Air travel across the Atlantic started as a sporting proposition. Whirring motors churn about a banked speedway, and it was the spirit of play that drove men to perfect the automobile for racing. Benjamin Franklin employed a plaything to “snatch from the clouds a secret”, electricity. The invention of the rubber bladder made football popular. The gutta-percha ball added immensely to golf, and the encased sphere made tennis a keener sport.

Theodore Roosevelt had great influence in social, political, economic, and literary fields, but his most profound lesson was to instill Americans with a deeper regard for vigorous outdoor exercise. A weakling as a boy, Roosevelt went to the open spaces of the West and played at bronco busting and cattle herding. After seven years as president he relaxed in the African jungle, hunting big game. We owe him thanks for his efforts to give us our national parks, those matchless play places.

Walking is one of the most healthful and invigorating of all pastimes, and free to everyone. Yet it is much neglected by Americans. Perhaps the automobile is partly to blame, but the fact that it lacks competition, so dear to American hearts, could also be a factor. There is walking for every mood and temper. Gladstone loved to walk in the rain, while Browning delighted to stroll by night. Charles Lamb turned to the busy streets, but Wordsworth stole away to the silent places. Roosevelt counted walking among his favorite recreations, and loved traveling through woods, across streams, and down steep hills. Former President Taft liked walking, but preferred the sights of the city streets.

Sports behind the lines helped to win the World War. The Allies made every effort in war to maintain the amusement of their troops. “Millions for morale” was a familiar American slogan which was another way of saying “millions for play”. One welfare organization alone sent 25,000 baseballs and 15,000 baseball bats to France before half of our men had arrived there. The sports-loving Britons admired and wondered at the dough-boys, whacking out three-baggers amid the boom of Big Berthas. They would even have a rain delay when a downpour of bursting shells became too distracting. Even in the trenches the Yankees exhibited the same spirit, playing poker, rummy, or “five hundred”. Qualities of initiative, courage, and endurance were instilled in our soldiers on the gridiron and the diamond.

Before the war, America had contributed two new things to the world’s play, baseball and the city playground. As mentioned before, sports are a barometer of a nation’s progress in civilization. Baseball is one of the most complicated and highly organized pastimes known to any people. From racing to clubbing, throwing to catching, baseball satisfies instincts as old as mankind. Foot racing was the most popular of the twenty-four Olympic events. Some historians assert that the Greek games formed the foundation for the philosophy and art that made her great. Yet the Olympian and Pythian games afforded no such spontaneous, intricate interplay of muscle and mind as baseball.

If the Greeks advanced art by teaching adults to play and Great Britain followed with a more spontaneous fervor, America now appears the most forward-looking nation in her attention to children’s play. The playground for children may be considered the most distinctive contribution by this country to the world’s play. In 1918 more than 400 cities maintained nearly 4,000 playgrounds. Moreover, this was but a fraction of the playgrounds available to our children for it does not take into account for those provided by the thousands of boys’ clubs, churches, private schools, and organizations like the Y.M.C.A., Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, etc.

Rattles made of bone and clay have been found in Central American graves alongside baby skeletons. Dolls of ivory and terra cotta have been found in Attica tombs that date before classic times. Roman children’s toys were offered to the gods as sacrifice after the children had grown up. Today, there is a similar link between toys and religious ceremony, only with the acquisition of the toys and not their disposal, i.e. Christmas and Easter.

Tools and weapons of one age frequently become playthings of the next, and when adults desert a sport, children often adopt it. Many sports today are the survivors of obsolete industries. Game hunting of today is a throwback to the time we were hunter-gatherers. The bow and arrow, a tool for hunting and a weapon of war, has given us archery. Horse racing is another sport that dates back to antiquity. Used for transportation and war, horses, while still being used for these purposes, are now bred for the race, just as dogs are bred for the hunt.

Boxing and wrestling are forms of individual contests of strength. The Olympics included both and the Greeks had one game, the pancrace, which combined both. Wrestling is even older than Greece as evident by pictures of bouts on tombs along the Nile. Boxing fell out of favor in Sparta since a bout would close when one boxer would admit defeat. Spartans never surrender, even in games. Both sports are popular in Japan. Wrestling has evolved into jiu-jitsu and sumo.

Around the world and throughout time people have played games involving the kicking of a ball. From Polynesians to the Eskimos, from the Greeks and Romans to modern times, some form of football was played. The medieval Italians play a game very similar to the college sport, and in Ireland football was played before the time of Christ. In old England football was a rougher sport than most games of the time. A writer of the sixteenth century called it a “devilish pastime” for inciting brawls and even murder. Despite its bad reputation, by the time of Charles II football had become firmly established at Cambridge. The “big game” would be played on Shrove Tuesday, much like our Thanksgiving games of today.

Tennis can be traced from the Greeks and Romans, and came to England by way of France. In the twelfth century it was played on horseback. Later the horse was abandoned in a game called “La boude”. This was a royal game. Louis X died after excessive playing had induced chills. Chaucer even wrote about the game and in Shakespeare’s Henry V are these lines: “When we have match’d our rackets to these balls We will, in France, by God’s grace play a set Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.” Manufacture of the accessories of the game was such a big industry in England in the sixteenth century that appeal was made for tariffs on imported balls. Up until them, the hand was used for batting, but soon the racket came into general use.

While tennis has a royal lineage, golf, which was later regarded as a rich man’s game, had humble beginnings. Contrary to popular belief, it did not originate in Scotland, but in northern Europe and played on ice as a winter game. It eventual moved to turf. By the fifteenth century it was so popular in Scotland that it threatened archery, and it was classed with football and other unprofitable sports by James IV. Like tennis, golf is played by both sexes. A game similar to golf was played by the Romans. Played with a feather-stuffed ball, it was called “paganica” because the common people played it.

America’s love of play is a distinctive part of her heritage. It is Americans’ love of play that forms the tie that binds their comradeship. Colonial Americans brought the sports of England with them. George Washington loved hunting and fishing. Grover Cleveland loved fishing as well. Benjamin Franklin was an expert swimming and fresh air advocate. Theodore Roosevelt was a versatile sportsman, and Lincoln practiced wrestling daily.

The second item listed on the cover is entitled “Weavers of the World”. It is not an article and it has no byline. It is a set of eight photogravures with pages numbered I to VIII. They represent the pages 145 through 152. As stated, several times in my reviews, photogravures are an artform which produce images in a very analog way by using an etched plate with the depth of the etch corresponding to the darkness of that part of the image. This is opposed to the digital use of dots in the other photographs in the magazine. Photogravures use special paper which, in this issue, appears brown.

As the title implies, these images show weaving being performed at various location across the globe. The first one is of a girl in Norway working a spinning wheel and another is of a woman in Portugal with a spindle and distaff. The next one shows a Navajo man weaving a blanket on his loom, while the following picture shows a woman at her loom in Mexico. Yet another woman with loom weaving homespun linen hails from Serbia. The next image is a South Sea Islander weaving a mat followed by one that shows several Egyptian men weaving a rug. The last image is of two Korean women, one using a spinning wheel while the other works a loom.

The third item listed, and the second article, is entitled “Exploring the Glories of the Firmament”, and was written by William Joseph Showalter, author of numerous articles including “Steel: Industries Greatest Asset” and “How the World Is Fed”. Of its twenty-one illustrations, sixteen are black-and-white photographs, four of which are full-page in size. The remaining five illustrations are charts with three of them being full-page.

Mr. Showalter described the distance, speeds, and energies involved in the night sky with analogs which, by his own admission, fall woefully short. The scales are literally astronomical. When talking about trillions, even sextillions, of mile he compared mountains to ant hills; in discussing velocities of miles per second he used express trains and snails; and for the immense energies of the stars he wrote of volcanos and bursting mustard seeds.

Fortunately, the layman can rely on the celestial geographer, the astronomer, to learn about such things. To prove that the astronomer knew what he’s talking about, the author held a “trial”. The witnesses were Halley’s comet, the star Sirius, the planet Neptune, a ray of light, and the electromagnetic wave. The comet told of how Halley, using Newton’s law of gravitation, predicted its return. His prediction was correct. Sirius testified that Halley noticed it wobbled and later, astronomers Bessel and Peters predicted a companion orbiting it once every 48.8 years. The companion was later observed by Alvan G. Clark. Neptune told of how by observing the Behavior of Uranus two astronomers, Adams in England and Leverrier in France, not only predicted Neptune’s existence, but also its location and size. Sure enough, Herschel discovered it right where it was predicted to be. The ray of light explained how an astronomer named Roemer noticed that eclipses of Jupiter’s moons occurred 16 minutes later when Jupiter was farthest from earth than when it is at its closest. When Newcomb and Michelson built an experiment that showed light travelled at 186,330 miles each second, Roemer’s observation was confirmed. The last witness, the electromagnetic wave explained how Clerk-Maxwell came to the conclusion that light is composed of waves, of varying wavelengths. Hertz found a way to measure these wavelengths and Bradley developed a detector for catching them. This detector evolved into the wireless telegraph.

The author then takes the reader on a tour of several observatories and the instruments astronomers used to unlock the secrets of the universe. There are two types of telescopes; the reflector, which uses mirrors like the 100-inch at Mount Wilson, and the refractor, which uses lenses like the 40-inch at the Yerkes Observatory. These instruments allow more light to be gathered, like a funnel, bringing objects closer so we can see them in detail. The eyepieces on these telescopes have been replaced, for the most part, by cameras and spectroscopes. The former takes photographic plates of star fields and planets, while the latter, by breaking the light received into its constituent wavelengths, or spectra, shows the objects composition.

Telescopes are mounted on two axes. The principle or polar axis is parallel to the earth’s axis. The other, or declination axis, is at a right angle to the polar axis. Once an object is in the field of view, the declination axis needs no further adjustment. The polar axis is rotated slowly to counter the rotation of the earth by use of a highly precise clockwork. This allows for very long exposures of photos and/or spectra.

Using a spectroscope on the sun, helium was first discovered (See “Helium – the New Balloon Gas” in the May 1919 National Geographic Magazine). Thirty years ago, solar prominences were first discovered. These explosions hurl material three hundred thousand miles into space with a velocity of two hundred miles a second. They could only be seen briefly during total solar eclipses. Then an astronomer name Huggins found by screening the suns disk these prominences can be seen at any time. With the spectroheliograph it is possible to take pictures of the sun and these prominences in the light of a single element. Spectroscopes not only tell astronomers what material of which the sun and stars are composed, but also whether a star is heading toward us or away from us. Much like a train whose pitch is higher when approaching and lower when receding, a star’s light shifts toward the violet when coming toward the earth and toward the red if moving away from us.

To visualize the scale of the solar system, imagine a circular field two and a half miles in diameter. Place a globe two feet across in the center to represent the sun. At eighty-two feet away put a mustard seed for Mercury; at 142 feet from the center place a pea for Venus and at 215 feet another pea for the earth. A large pinhead at 327 feet represents Mars, and a fair-sized tangerine at a quarter of a mile stands in for Jupiter. Saturn is represented by a lemon at two-fifths of a mile, while a cherry at three-fourths of a mile will answer for Uranus. A plum at the edge of the field proclaims Neptune.

Chart courtesy of Philip Riviere

Photography has allowed astronomers to map the heavens. Each photograph has several bright stars whose positions have been fixed by direct observation. Using them as a reference, all the positions of all the other stars on the plate can be determined. By piecing together these photographs, the entire sky can be mapped. When you consider that the sun is a star and is accompanied by its solar system of eight planets, twenty-seven moons, and eight hundred asteroids; it is amazing to think that there may be millions of other solar systems around the other stars in the sky. These worlds are so remote, they cannot be seen even with the best telescopes.

Spectroscopic studies and sky observations show that the sun and its family are heading in a great migration toward a point between the constellations of Hercules and Lyra. The speed which with they are moving is twelve miles a second. If the sun orbits around some greater body, the curve of that orbit has yet to be detected.

Using the star chart on page 170, a person can take a tour of the summer sky. The Great Dipper is the principle landmark of the heavens. Its pointers guide the eyes to Polaris, the North Star, while the curve of its handle, if extended, stretches to Arcturus in Bootes then on to Spica in Virgo. Looking straight up the bright blue-white star is Vega in the constellation Lyra. A little to the West of Lyra is the constellation Hercules. No bright stars are there but to the south of it, near the horizon is the zodiac constellation of Scorpio and its bright red star Antares. About as far east of Lyra as Hercules is west lies Cygnus, the swan, and its bright star Deneb. To the south of Cygnus is Aquila and its bright star Altair. Eastward from Polaris is the constellation of Cassiopeia, whose stars form a “W”. Still further east, near the horizon, is found Andromeda. Near it can be seen a small fuzzy patch, a nebula which could be another universe at an immeasurable distance. To the south of Andromeda is the constellation Pegasus whose bright stars make the Great Square. To the north of Andromeda, near the horizon, is Perseus, and its demon star, Algol. This star changes in brightness, losing two-thirds of its light between it brightest and darkest moments which are around sixty hours apart. Way down on the southern horizon lies Sagittarius, the Archer. It lies in a region full of star clusters and nebulae of great beauty. Not on this map, but prominent in the winter sky are the bright stars Betelgeuse, Sirius, Procyon, Castor, Pollux, Regulus, and Fomalhaut.

The Milky Way, called the Silver River of Heaven by the Japanese, is a great stream of stars so faint that it takes optical aid to separate them. This stream sweeps across the sky and takes as much as two hundred million years to complete one circuit. It seems to have swept up a vast majority of the stars in the universe.

Nebulae are wonderful aggregations of gas and dust. In the winter sky, the constellation Orion, the Hunter, is prominent. Between its Bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel lies his belt. Below his belt hangs his sword. The central star of the sword is a fuzzy little thing but using a big telescope it is the most magnificent nebula in the heavens. Its diameter is twenty million times that of the sun.

The last article this month is entitled “Between Massacres in Van” and was written by Maynard Owen Williams. It contains three black-and-white photographs, none of which are full-page.

Van is the historic capital of Armenia. A testament to its antiquity lies in the inscriptions of conquering kings of many tribes carved in Castle Rock. Tragedy is depicted in each ruined home, but the background is strikingly beautiful. There is a majestic line of snowcapped mountains to the southwest which separate Armenia from the Tigris Valley. Van is on the shores of a lovely lake, also known as Van, and Nimrud’s cratered peak lies forty miles away. To Nimrud’s north is the cone of Sipan, and further north lies the mighty Ararat. To the east is a ribbon of brown across the snow’s expanse. It is the road of the retreats, the way that leads to the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”.

The author was a relief worker in Van, there to help build barracks out of the mud shells which were once beautiful homes where choice carpets and silk hangings gave a touch of Oriental luxury to the city. In one huge house carpenters were fashioning windows and doors and tons of matted wool was being cleaned, carded, and spun for clothing.

Mr. Williams was a close friend of the Governor who, as a young man, ran an elevator in Boston where he learned English. His task now is the husbanding of this pitiful group of Armenians until victory comes to the Allies and liberty to the land he loves.

One day when returning from their tasks to the modest mud house which was the humble home of the government, they were confronted by a motley group of lads aged eight to twelve. They were dressed in rags and carried “guns” made of wood. They wished to exchange them for real guns. The governor told them that he only issued guns to those who could drill. The reply was immediate: “We can drill, sir!” They promptly demonstrated their moves.

Most of these lads had a murdered father or a mother hounded to suicide by Kurdish fiends. When asked where they were from, they replied that they hailed from Artemid, a village six miles away toward the Turkish lines. They had marched to Van through the snow. Since it would be difficult to return to Artemid that night, the boys were given army rations of black bread, tea, and sugar, and a room was provided for them in the headquarters of the city troops.

The lads said they would not return home unless they were given guns. The head carpenter fashioned a sword of wood. The boys were given each a pair of heavy woolen socks, and the 12-year-old captain was presented with the sword. “This time we can only give your leader a sword,” said the Governor. He then told them to keep up their training.

Then the ragtag gang marched, in orderly fashion, back from whence they came. A month later, the Turkish hoards passed through Artemid on their way to massacre in Van.

Tom Wilson

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As always Tom, well done!



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