Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Special Delivery: Why Storks Bring Babies

It is one of our most common trope…a long-legged, white stork carrying a newborn baby in a white cloth bundle, delivering the child to its new parents. This is the story that we often tell young children when they ask that awkward question about where babies come from. We see illustrations of storks carrying babies on book covers, infant bedding, baby shower cards, television commercials, and more. But just how did the stork, of all birds, become associated with childbirth? The association between storks and babies goes back much further than you probably thought—all the way to ancient Greece. 
The Greek Goddess Hera turned a rival into a stork. Source: (

A Baby Stealing Stork

There is a story in Greek mythology that tells of Hera, the Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus, and a stork. According to the legend, Hera grew jealous of the mortal queen, Gerena, who was described as “flawless in beauty.” There were also rumors that Gerena was having an affair with Hera’s husband, Zeus, a known philanderer. The angry Hera turned Gerena into a long-necked stork and instructed her to fly away. Gerena did not want to leave her newborn baby, who may have been fathered by Zeus. So she picked up the infant, safely wrapped in a blanket, and carried him off in her beak. Some researchers claim that the idea of storks delivering babies came from this myth, but there are other possible sources. 
Storks represented rebirth in ancient Egypt. Source: (

Storks and Babies…A Global Phenomenon

Many cultures around the world have ancient stories linking storks with babies. The ancient Egyptians associated storks with reincarnation. In the Middle East, storks were a symbol of purity. In Native American cultures, storks were often linked to good fortune and fertility. In stories from ancient Europe, storks were seen as representing monogamy and family. Storks appear in Chinese, Indian, Israeli, and Aboriginal stories, too. 
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Storks are Good Role Models

It could be that the stories connecting storks with fertility, parenting, and monogamy arose after ancient people observed the habits of the birds. First, storks were plentiful in many areas of Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Americas. Second, the birds don’t shy away from humans and often built their nests near human settlements. They were able to watch the birds and learn about them. They no doubt noticed that storks are monogamous—remaining faithful to their mate for much of their lives—and that they are good, attentive parents. 
Storks migrated back to Germany nine months after most weddings took place so it was believed that the storks brought babies with them. Source: (

The Storks’ Nine-Month Migration

By the medieval era, the idea of storks delivering babies was widespread across northern Europe and many historians claim that the migration habits of the storks contributed to the stories. In Pagan Europe, most couples got married on the day of the Summer Solstice, during the festivals honoring the sun, fertility, and prosperity. Coincidentally, storks would start their annual migration at about this time. The large birds migrated from Norway, Germany, and other parts of Northern Europe all the way to Africa. They would return to Northern Europe nine months later, just as all the newlyweds were giving birth to their honeymoon babies. 
Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, The Storks, helped perpetuate the idea of storks delivering babies. Source: (

Hans Christian Andersen Helped Cement the Stork-Baby Connections

The prolific Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen took up the topic of storks delivering babies and wrote a popular, yet dark, short story about it. Simply called The Storks, the story tells how storks select sleeping babies from the depths of a pond and deliver them to families in the nearby villages. In one village, there lived a mean-spirited little boy who teased the storks and threw stones at them. To get even with this bratty child, the storks delivered a dead baby to his family. The story was meant to serve as a cautionary tale to show bratty children that there were consequences to their actions and to show young parents that they should discipline their children. 
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The Stork Stone Cave

In a variation of Andersen’s fairytale, the unborn babies are not housed in a pond but are kept in a cave called Adeborteines, German for Stork Stone. According to this story, babies are hatched from stones in this cave, laid out to dry, then delivered to awaiting families via stork. 
Could a pelican be mistaken for a stork? Source: (

A Possible Natural Explanation

At least one researcher has presented a plausible theory to explain why people may have come to believe that storks could carry newborn babies in their beaks. Paul Quinn, who is a professor of English literature at the University of Chichester and the editor of an academic research journal on folklore and fairytales, stated that ancient people could have observed first a stork in flight, with its long beak, then a pelican in flight, with its pouched beak. The latter could appear as though the same bird was now carrying a bundle in its beak. 
Fetching the children - Storks picking up babies to be delivered. Undated illustration. BPA2# 541 Source: (

Stork Stories Provided an Easy Cover Story

Victorian England was a particularly prudish time, particularly with subjects like sex, baby makings, pregnancy, and delivery. Young children, naturally, had questions about these topics. To sidestep these potentially embarrassing questions, the parents used the stork as a convenient cover story. Telling children that the stork delivered babies was a much tidier answer than telling them the whole, messy truth. When Andersen’s short story, The Storks, was published, it helped to give credence to the tales told by modest parents. 

Monday, 22 April 2019

Ma Ferguson, A Puppet Governor

Miriam Amanda Ferguson, one of the country's first female governors. Source: (
The history books list Miriam Amanda Ferguson, or Ma as she was known, as the first female governor of Texas and one of the first women to hold the position of governor in the United States. She took office in 1925, just five years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that granted women the right to vote. While on paper, Ma Ferguson looks like a trailblazer in the women’s equality movement, in reality, she was a puppet governor for her corrupt husband. Let’s look at the political career of Ma Ferguson. 
James 'Pa' Ferguson was the Governor of Texas from 1915 to 1917, when he was impeached and convicted on several charges. Source: (

A Political Marriage

Miriam Ferguson was born on June 13, 1875, and educated at Baylor Female College. In 1899, she married Jim Ferguson, a Texas lawyer. She took on the role of First Lady of Texas in 1915 when her husband became the governor of the state. But his stint as governor was filled with controversy. 
Jim "Pa" Ferguson. Source: (

An Impeached Governor

The administration of Jim Ferguson was one of corruption and financial mismanagement. He was accused of misappropriating state funds, an impeachable offense. He was convicted and impeached in 1917 and spent the next seven years fighting the Supreme Court to lift his lifetime ban so he could again hold an elected office in Texas. When it finally became clear that his ban would not be reversed, Jim Ferguson began to look of a Plan B to regain control of Texas. 
Ma Ferguson. Source: (

Plan B…Miriam

In 1924, Miriam Ferguson announced, with her husband, Jim, standing at her side, that she would be running for the office of governor of Texas. In her announcement speech and every campaign speech she gave after that, Miriam made it clear that she would be the figurehead governor and Jim would be the working governor. She even used the campaign slogan, “Two Governors for the Price of One.” Despite his conviction and impeachment, Jim Ferguson still had a number of staunch supporters in Texas who relished the idea of returning him to the Governor’s Mansion. 
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Miriam Becomes Ma

To differentiate between the two Fergusons, newspapers in Texas began using Miriam’s initials, M.A. Ferguson, in headlines and news stories. Pretty soon, folks in Texas began calling her Ma Ferguson. The homey, matronly, trustworthy-sounding name was appealing to voters, though Miriam disliked it. Naturally, as Miriam became known as Ma Ferguson, her husband Jim became known as Pa Ferguson. 
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An Easy Win

When election day rolled around in November of 1924, Ma Ferguson was the clear winner. She had promised her supporters better management of the state’s finances and the voters seemed to rally around this promise. She was sworn into office on January 20, 1925. 
Political cartoon showing how Pa Ferguson was behind all of Ma Ferguson's decisions. Source: (

Letting Pa Ferguson Run the Show

As governor, Ma Ferguson’s policies mirrored her husband’s stance more than her own. For example, Ma Ferguson personally believed that there should be strong restrictions on the sale of alcohol, but Pa Ferguson was an anti-prohibitionist, therefore she publicly took an anti-prohibition position. She did, however, push her anti-Ku Klux Klan agenda. 
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Re-Elected … Later

Ma Ferguson ran for reelection in 1926 but lost the governorship. She tried again in 1930 and was, again, defeated. She finally succeeded in being reelected in 1932. During this time in office, Texas and the rest of the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and Ma Ferguson strongly supported the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to get Americans back to work. After her term was over, Ma didn’t seek reelection, but she did run for governor one last time, in 1940, but was defeated. 
Pa and Ma Ferguson. Source: (

A Puppet

Although it would be wonderful to think that Miriam Ferguson won her elections because of her own merits and ideas, the truth was that she was merely a puppet governor with her corrupt and power-hungry husband, Jim Ferguson, really running the show. From campaign promises to state policies, the governorship of Ma Ferguson was not a step forward for women’s equality, but a step back to a belief that women must follow the orders of her husband. 

Thursday, 11 April 2019

14 Creepy Photos From The Past That Will Give You The Chills

There's always a surprising eeriness to old photographs, no matter how happy the tone of the image is. Perhaps it's grainy black and white or the sepia feel to them. Or is it the reality that the people in those historical photos are long dead?
These 14 images from history however, take creepy to a different level. Not only because they look extra spooky, the stories behind them are absolutely hair-raising as well.
1. Finnish soldiers propped up this body of a frozen Soviet soldier to scare off Soviet troops.
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2. A photo of a Hiroshima bombing survivor's body.
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3. A photo of the Mad Bomber smiling. He placed a total of 33 bombs in public places, 22 of which were detonated. Fortunately, only 15 people were injured.
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4. Taken in 1937, this photograph of a man holding what seems to be a giant grasshopper is in fact, a hoax. But this fooled a lot of people back then.
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5. An photo of the mummified heart of Auguste Delagrange. He was said to be a vampire and was accused of killing several people in Louisiana. He died in 1912 by the hands of a priest and voodoo practitioner who drove a stake through his heart.
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6. This is what a union soldier looked like after surviving the Andersonville Prison Camp.
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7. Found in the ancient city of Herxheim, Germany, and dates back to 7,000 years ago, these remains and artifacts found, show clear signs of flesh-stripping, a preparation for cannibalism.
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8. 92-year-old John Bentley allegedly died of human combustion. His leg shown below was found among the ashes in his bathroom.
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9. Loana aka the “Bloodthirster." She was believed to have died in 1909. Cause of death? Drinking her own blood.
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10. The last photo of 14-year-old Regina Kay Walters before she was killed by serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades. Rhoades had cut off her hair and had her wear a black dress and heels before he killed her in his torture chamber in an 18-wheeler.
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11. This creepy photo of a ventriloquist dummy is beyond spooky. No one's really sure whether this is real or just something from a horror movie set.
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12. Soldier, artist and collector Horatio Gordon Robley posing with his collection of preserved Maori tattooed heads.
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13. The mummified head of the first nun ever recorded to be possessed, allegedly.
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14. Not a scary picture, yes. But this photo shows a hotel owner pouring acid into the pool as black people swim in it in 1964. Horrible.
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Knocker-ups: The Human Alarm Clocks

Alarm clock. Source: (
While these days people rely on their cell phones or standalone alarm clocks (or both) in order to wake up in the morning, these are relatively modern conveniences. Personal alarm clocks were patented in Europe in 1847, but that was not affordable and, therefore, not commonly used by the general public. However, people still needed a way to wake themselves up in the morning or they could find themselves without a job. This is where the knocker-ups came in.
In the United States, the expression “knocked up” is slang for pregnant; however, it had a very different meaning in 19th century Britain and Ireland. Being “knocked up” referred to being tired or to being awakened by someone knocking at your door or window. And that is exactly what the knocker-ups, also called knocker-uppers, did. As late as the 1970s, there were people whose job was to get up early in the morning and go around to the houses of paying clients and wake them up by knocking on their door or window.
A knocker-up using a long pole to tap on a high window. Source: (
At first, knocker-ups would knock on their client’s door, but they soon learned that doing so often resulted in waking up the client’s neighbors as well. Not only did this generate complaints from the neighbors who didn’t want to be woken up, but it also allowed some people to take advantage of the opportunity to be awakened for free. The knocker-ups solved this problem by tapping directly on the paying client’s window, often using a long pole to reach the upper story windows. Some knocker-ups would use hammers, rattles, or pea shooters to wake their clients.
Mrs. Bowers and her dog. Source: (
One of the more well-known knocker-ups was a woman by the name of Mrs. Waters, who began the job out of necessity after her husband was injured and could no longer provide for the family. Her first client was a foundryman who offered her half a crown per week for waking him up at three a.m. each morning. She accepted his offer and went on to build a clientele of thirty customers in the first year and eighty by the end of the fifth year. She eventually grew her clientele to ninety-five customers.
Other well-known knocker-ups were Caroline Jane Cousins, also known as Granny Cousins, Mrs. Bowers, and a mother and daughter both of whom were named Mary Smith. Granny Cousins was born in 1841 in Dorset and worked as a knocker-up for brewery workers until her retirement in 1918. Mrs. Bowers was a knocker-up from Sacriston, County Durham, England, who began her career during World War One and was known for bringing her dog along as she woke her clients. Mary Smith (the elder) was known for using a pea shooter to wake her clients and her daughter, the younger Mary Smith, was one of London’s last knocker-ups.
Mary Smith using a pea shooter. Source: (
Another challenge faced by knocker-ups was keeping track of the clients’ addresses and the times they needed to be knocked up. Some knocker-ups would use chalk to mark the time outside each client’s house. Others placed signboards outside each client’s house which not only indicated what time that client needed to be awakened but also advertised the knocker-ups business. Other challenges included getting their customers in a small geographical circle to eliminate excess, and therefore time-wasting, walking. To solve this dilemma, knocker-ups would often trade clients with others in the business. Other challenges they faced included upset neighbors who expressed resent at being awakened, often throwing things at the knocker-ups and clients who were not morning people and therefore grumpy at being awakened even though they were the ones paying for the service. They also occasionally dealt with customers who failed to pay on time; however, that behavior was usually discouraged by threatening to not wake them up on time if they didn’t meet their obligation.
Granny Cousins. Source: (
While many believed knocker-ups to be more effective than alarm clocks, which someone could easily just turn off and go back to sleep, the profession began to die out during the 1940s and 1950s as electricity became more widespread and alarms clocks more affordable. A few hung on until the 1970s, but now the knocker-up is just a distant memory kept alive in folk songs and briefly mentioned in Charles Dickens’s famous novel, Great Expectations.

Xocolatl: The Mayan Food Of The Gods

Chocolate was developed by the ancient Mayans. Source: (
We have the Mayans to thank for giving us one of our favorite guilty pleasures, chocolate. Archaeologists believe that chocolate, or Xocolatl, as the Mayans called it, was cultivated as early as 900 AD in Mesoamerica. The Mayans, and later the Aztecs, made a beverage from the beans of the cocoa pods that was used for a popular, everyday drink but also used in rituals and healing practices. The beverage was a far cry from the sweetened hot chocolate that we enjoy today. Let’s look at the traditional xocolatl drink, the Mayan food of the Gods. 
Hot chocolate was made with cocoa beans and chili peppers. Source: (

The Mayan’s ‘Bitter Water’

We take the present-day word ‘chocolate’ from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’, which translates to mean ‘bitter water.’ And that is an accurate description of the traditional Mayan chocolate beverage. The Mayans did not cultivate sugar cane so they had no means of sweetening the bitter cocoa beans. They made the drink by crushing the cocoa beans, then adding chili peppers and water. Before serving it, they would rapidly pour it from one cup into another until a frothy foam formed on the top, like some of today’s Starbucks drinks. 
Source: (

Chocolate was a Gift From the Gods

The Mayans believed that chocolate was a gift to humans from the gods and, therefore, should be shared with all of the people. Anyone in the Mayan civilization could partake of the beverage, regardless of their social standing. The Mayans consumed xocolatl on a daily basis, much like how we drink our morning coffee. That changed drastically when the Mayan civilization gave way to the Aztecs. The Aztec people did not grow their own cocoa beans and had to trade for the beans. Therefore, they placed a higher value on the xocolatl drink. Only the very wealthy, the royalty, and the high priests could afford to drink it. In fact, the beverage was so valued that it was served in goblets made of gold that were discarded after just one use. 
Cocoa beans were a form of currency. Source: (

Chocolate Money

Neighboring civilizations established trade with the Mayans for the precious cocoa beans. From this, the beans eventually became a form of currency for the Mayans. The beans were used to pay for goods and services. For example, a pumpkin sold for four cocoa beans and a prostitute cost ten beans. When the Aztecs conquered the Mayans, they forced the Mayans to pay high taxes to them in the form of cocoa beans. The valuable beans were kept under lock and key and, yes, there was a thriving counterfeit cocoa bean underground network. 
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Chocolate Rites

Both the Mayan and the Aztec used xocolatl in rituals. The drink was thought to have the power to alter the brain and open the mind to the spirit world. The festival honoring Ek Chauh, the Mayan cocoa god, was an annual event that included offerings of cocoa beans, blood sacrifices, ritual dancing, and more. Similarly, the Aztecs had a yearly cocoa festival, held at their capital, Tenochtitlan, that included the sacrifice of a warrior from an enemy tribe as a way to honor the god who gifted mortals with the cocoa bean. 
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Chocolate for Weddings and Births

Cocoa beans played a role during Mayan wedding ceremonies. A mixture of crushed cocoa beans, combined with crushed corn gruel, was served in a ceremonial clay jug to be used during the wedding. Before the Spanish conquistadors converted the Mayan people to Catholicism, the Mayans would anoint the heads of newborn babies with a mixture of ground cocoa seeds, flowers, and clear water. 
Cacao tree from the Codex Tudela, 1553. Found in the collection of Museo de América, Madrid. Artist : Pre-Columbian art. Source: (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Chocolate for the Health of It

The ancient cultures of Mesoamerica believed in the healing power of chocolate. It was used to cure or treat a wide range of ailments, from asthma, angina, cancer, and anemia, to fatigue, headaches, fever, and laryngitis. Chocolate was believed to soothe upset stomachs and help wounds heal faster. Aztec warriors drank xocolatl before going into battle because they thought it would give them increased strength and courage. The Aztec king, Montezuma, was said to guzzle 50 goblets of xocolatl before visiting his harem to give him the stamina to romance several ladies in one night. 

The Spanish and Chocolate

The Spanish conquistadors who invaded Mesoamerica and defeated the Aztec empire were introduced to the xocolatl beverage but were unimpressed. They found the drink to be bitter and nearly unpalatable. They hesitated to even bring the cocoa beans back to Europe with them. When they did, however the Spanish monks found that they could make the drink more pleasant by adding sugar to it, giving us the sweetened chocolate that we all love and crave today. 

Monday, 8 April 2019

Welcome to the Saddest Mall in America

It's supposed to be one of the busiest shopping weekend of the year, but the Century III Mall in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania -  the 4th largest in the Pittsburgh area - isn't exactly bustling with throng of holiday shoppers.
Built in 1979, it was THE place to be for those living in the South Hills of Pittsburgh in the 80s. It was always crowded and bustling, and it was frequently difficult to quickly work your way across from one shopping stall to another. (All photos below taken round 1:00 in the afternoon)
The food court used to be always insanely busy. You were lucky if you could find a table that you and your friends could all cram around. That is no longer a problem — also, there are now only four food vendors still open.
Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States and Europe too, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts.
If you used to shop at Century III in the 80’s, you know how difficult it was to get a decent parking space — especially in the weeks before Christmas.