June 21, 2014

How our ancestors slept

...or, rather, how they didn't sleep.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, and find that it takes a couple of hours to drift off again?

If so, it doesn't mean you have insomnia. In fact, your 3rd great-grandparents probably did this every night-- and it appears to be a perfectly natural pattern to humans.

Before the advent of electric lighting in the late 19th and early 20th century, nighttime was a far darker and more dangerous world. Really, there wasn't much you could do when night came, because you couldn't see well.

People generally went to sleep when the light faded, which is much earlier than most go to bed today, and got up when it rose. So your ancestors probably went to bed around 8 o'clock, and then woke around 12 or 1 am. For a couple of hours, they would chat, read, pray, make love, and perhaps even visit neighbors (an aside here: I can hardly imagine getting a 1 a.m. knock at the door and hearing, "Yoo-hoo, Karen, you up for a spirited game of Scrabble?")

Then they would go back to sleep for a few more hours until morning.

Light, as it happens, plays a huge role in how and how much we sleep: darkness tells our brains that it's time to sleep, and light tell them that it's time to wake up. So when electric lighting allowed us, for the first time, to have bright illumination at night (when our brains would otherwise be telling us to go to bed), it allowed us to stay up later and do more. In short, it messed with the segmented sleep pattern that most people in the western world were used to. It gradually stopped, and was completely gone by the 1920s.

So if you find yourself waking during the night, instead of tossing around trying to get back to sleep, just do what your ancestors did and find something quiet and relaxing to do for an hour or so. I usually just read or listen to music on my iPod until I find myself getting sleepy again.

Read more on this here.

June 17, 2014

Daniel MACE captured at Petersburg

Today, June 17, marks the 140th anniversary of the day that my 3rd great-uncle Daniel Webster MACE (1845-1924) was wounded and captured during the Siege of Petersburg. He would spend the next five months as a prisoner of war at Camp Sumter-- a.k.a.Andersonville-- until 25 Nov 1864, when he was exchanged.

According to the Veteran's census schedule in 1890, Daniel had been wounded in the left leg.

Interestingly, on Sunday, a descendant of "Uncle Dan" shared something with me via email: a photo that is very likely to be of him. The photo had been (mis)labeled as Daniel's son William (born 1867), but the photo seems to be too old to be his son; my cousin observed that the photo had glue residue on the edges, meaning that it had been encased as a tintype. Tintypes were made in the 1860s, and had stopped being made by the mid-1870s. The jacket worn by the subject is also is period to the late 1860s; this cannot be William, who would have been a young man in the late 1880s and early 1890s. 

Photo likely to be of Daniel Webster MACE, 1845-1924, c. late 1860's

This man is probably Daniel W. Mace, though we cannot be certain; his face is youthful and handsome, but tough; the expression suggests that he has seen difficult times. Surely the experience of war and the horror of Andersonville would have affected him greatly; his wife Mirinda WILKINSON, whom he married on 16 March 1865, would divorce him in 1880 due to-- according to the divorce record-- "habitual drunkenness." When you consider what he had been through, and that there was no VA and no counseling for war veterans, I can hardly blame the guy for drinking. Also worthy of notice is the straw hat the man is wearing; Daniel's wife Marinda had made straw hats for a living.

How interesting that this photo should surface just a couple of days before the anniversary of Daniel's capture at Petersburg. Thanks to my cousin for sharing this.

June 15, 2014

Casey Kasem, 1932-2014

The mellow, resonant voice of Casey Kasem was part of my childhood.

I remember watching re-runs of Scooby-Doo, in which he voiced the character of the cowardly, food-obsessed Shaggy.

I also, as a kid, tuned in to American Top 40 every Sunday morning from 8-12, without fail; this was in the 1980s, when popular music was still good. I loved listening to my favorite songs and finding out which ones would top the charts that week. Casey would end each weekly broadcast with the admonition to "keep you feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

Casey Kasem had co-created the radio countdown, hosting it from 1970 through 1988, and then again from 1998 through 2004. AT40 has been hosted by American Idol host and DJ Ryan Seacrest since 2004.

Rest in peace, Casey. You kept your feet on the ground, and have reached the stars.