Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MARCH 31 = The Eiffel Tower Opens

The Eiffel Tower,  perhaps one of the most recognizable structures in the world opened on today's date, March 31 in 1889.  The iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, was built as an entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair which was held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. Named for its designer, Gustave Eiffel, the tower assumed the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world, at 1,063 feet until the Chrysler Building in New York City took that title in 1930.  In a ceremony presided over by Eiffel, and attended by French Prime Mister Pierre Tirard, other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers, an ascent was made to the top of the Tower. But since the elevators were not yet in service, this had to be done via the staircase.  Even with Monsieur Eiffel stopping at various points to explain various features of the structure, most of the company petered out at the lower levels.  But but a few, including several dignitaries, as well as reporters from the Paris newpapers Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré managed to finish the epic trek. At 2:35 Eiffel hoisted a large French flag, accompanied a 25-gun salute fired from the lower level.

"Useless and Monstrous!!"

When the structure was proposed, there were of course, those who objected to the idea of this huge, iron gargoyle sitting atop their beloved Paris.  In fact, a group calling itself "The Committee of Three Hundred" - one for each meter of the Tower's proposed height and which included some of France's most important artistic names, such as  Guy de Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet published a particularly angry screed in the Paris newspaper Le Temps on February 14, 1887:

"We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.… we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal."

But Monsieur Eiffel shot back with some verbiage of his own, upping the rhetoric by comparing his tower to the Pyramids of ancient Egypt: "My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?" This brought about some of the caricature of Eiffel such as can be seen in the cartoon in the paper Le Central (above right).

The Eiffel Tower is Finished On Time and On Budget

In spite of all of the criticism, Gustave Eiffel (below) kept his eyes on the prize and managed to bring his "Monstrous" project in ahead of
time at two years and under budget, at 8 million francs or $1.5m (around $36m in today's money).  And thanks to the extensive safety precautions, such as the use of screens, guard rails, and movable stagings, the construction was finished with only one fatality. And in the end, no less an authority than Thomas Edison would write in the visitors book:  "engineer, the brave builder of so gigantic and original specimen of modern engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all engineers." This tower was almost torn down after the World Exposition's lease on the land atop which it stood expired after 20 years in 1909. But happily the value of the structure as a radio antenna saved it from demolition.  The Eiffel tower has since become an iconic landmark, in many ways the very symbol  of the city of Paris, indeed of France herself, and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.

Sources =

Photo at the top:

"Tour Eiffel Wikimedia Commons" by Benh LIEU SONG - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -





Monday, March 23, 2015

MARCH 23 = Patrick Henry, "OK", and Elvis

On this date, March 23....

In 1775:

Patrick Henry (right) delivered a powerful rebuke to British policy in America.  In order to pay for the defense of the colonies Britain had levied taxes on tea and various other goods, and this left the colonials feeling as if they had no rights in determining their future.  "No taxation without representation!" became a cry frequently heard throughout the colonies. 
 The Coercive Acts (March 1774) closed Boston to merchant shipping, and among other things, required colonists to quarter British troops. The first Continental Congress was called to consider a united American resistance to the British.  Patrick Henry, an attorney in Virginia addressed the Second Virginia Assembly on today's date in a defiant speech which ended with a phrase which would become one of the most powerful calls which would ever be heard in the course of the American Revolution:

"The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

In 1836:

The term "OK" meaning everything is alright first was printed in the Boston Morning Herald as a kind of linguistic joke, meant as a short cut for “oll korrect,” a misspelling of “all correct” which was in popular vernacular use among circles of young, educated people at the time.
Just as young people in the present day have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as “kewl” for “cool” or frequently used internet expressions such as "LOL" for "Loads of Laughs" or "OMG" for "Oh my god!!" The young, hip crowd of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included “KY” for “No use” (“know yuse”), “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”), and “OW” for all right (“oll wright”).  Well the editor of the Boston Morning Herald published on today's date a humorous article in which he made fun of the whole thing.  Referring to a fictional organization called  the "Anti-Bell Ringing Society ",  he said:

"The 'Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells,' is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have his 'contribution box,' et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward."

Well the idea seems to have gradually grown in popularity appearing in print throughout the country from then on until it stuck!!

In 1961:

Elvis Presley recorded the song "I Can't Help Falling in Love" at Radio Recorders studios in Hollywood California.  This song went on to become one of the biggest hits in the career of this man who had so many hits.  But clearly, this one held a special place in "The King's" heart because he would end his concert show with it to the end of his career. The melody is based on  a classical French love song, "Plaisir D'Amour" written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini (1741–1816).  The lyrics are based on a poem by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794), which appears in his novel "Célestine."  Elvis sung a version of the song which had been written for him by the songwriting team of Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti, with the help of George David Weiss.

And it was sung in the film "Blue Hawaii" not for his love interest in the movie, "Maile Duval" played by Joan Blackmun but for a much older woman - that of the character of her grandmother, "Waihila" played by Hilo Hattie. The woman some 60 years old welcomes Elvis, "Chad Gates" back to Hawaii after his time in the army.  Remember, this was at the time when Elvis himself had finished his service in the
U.S. Army (March '58 - March '60).  He tells her that he picked her up a gift while he was in Austria, a small music box which he says plays a little tune which he then sings to her. It is a very sweet moment in a movie which was OK at best.  But it was sung by a young man who in real life had lost his own much beloved mother just three years before that film in 1958.  And as I and others have said the song likely held a special meaning for Elvis for that reason.  But the song, and the album of the movie went on to reach very high on the pop song charts that year after its release on October 1 of that year along with the album of "Blue Hawaii".


Patrick Henry =




"OK" =



Elvis =





Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MARCH 18 = The Gardner Museum Heist + 26

"Lost art doesn't fully explain the power of the Gardner case, why so many visit the museum to see the empty frames, why dozens of authors, artists, and academics have thrown themselves at the caper's mystery.  When I spoke to Gardner obsessives, they couldn't quite explain it either; they always talked about the theft as something intensely personal, often searching for metaphors in the way that people do when they want to comprehend something that is incomprehensible.  Some say the theft is like having something ripped from their soul.  Others compare the burglary to the death of a family member.  'Imagine you can never hear a Verdi Requiem or a Beethoven Symphony again. Just erased.  Imagine Shakespeare's Hamlet. Erased."  - Ulrich Boser

These are some of the reactions to the theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the early morning hours of today's date in 1990 - 26 years ago today.  The thieves calmly walked off with artistic masterpieces valued at more than 500 MILLION dollars.  And the crime remains unsolved; the art un-recovered down to the present day.  And despite countless tips, leads and hopes raised quite recently, according to the Boston Globe, the world is no closer to recovering these elusive works of art than it was on the day they were stolen.

Mrs. Gardner and Her Museum

One could scarcely conjure up a more eccentric character than Isabella Stewart Gardner.  Raised among the very upper crust of Boston Society in the late 19'th Century, Mrs. Gardner cut a very odd figure in that world wherein women were expected to be demure, pleasant and pretty, and nothing else.  But Mrs. Gardner was in this world for adventure, and made no bones about it. Her face was rather plain, but she had a remarkable figure (as captured by John Singer Sargent at right), and her sense of fun was unbounded. She used to gamble at racing cars, the horse track and even staged a boxing match in her living room. "Win as though you're used to it," she used to say, "and lose as though you like it."  Small wonder then that she freely indulged her life-long passion for art. She began planning her legacy museum in 1898, and spent the rest of her life lovingly stocking it with one of the finest art collections ever to be assembled into private hands, and left it to the people of Boston on her death in 1924 at the age of 83.

Two "Policemen" Demand Entrance 26 Years Ago

It was late on the night of a typically raucous St. Patrick's Day for the city of Boston. At about 1:15 am two men posing as police officers buzzed the side entrance doorway to the museum and said to the guard on the night shift "Police. Let us in.  We heard about a disturbance in the courtyard."  The security guard was suspicious, but let the two men in.  They asked if there were any other guards present.  There were. "Get him down here." the policeman ordered.  The other guard appeared and the two guards were promptly hand cuffed, had their eyes and their mouth covered with duct tape and were then chained to basement fixtures,  This was all that these men had to do to cut off the Gardner Museum from the rest of the world.  And for the next nearly 90 minutes they had the entire museum at their disposal. The thieves only encountered one other obstacle: at 1:48 am one of them set off a motion detector in one of the rooms, but this was quickly silenced.

The Gardner Thieves Steal Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet...

The first item the thieves went for was "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" (below) by the immortal Dutch artist Rembrandt
Harmenszoon van Rijn known to the world simply as Rembrandt (1606 - 1669). This is the only seascape by the master painter into which he mischievously painted himself along with Christ and his disciples fighting for survival. The thieves pulled the painting down from the wall smashed it from its frame, and then pulled out a blade and savagely cut it from its stretcher. They give the same treatment to "A Lady and Gentleman in Black", also attributed to Rembrandt.  They next went and purloined "The Concert" (below) by the Dutch
painter Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675).  A delicate and very detailed work by this man about whom very little is known, and whose output is therefore quite limited. Many art historians refer to Vermeer's works as still lifes with people. This was taken by the intruders that night. Also taken were "Chez Tortoni" (below) by Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883), as well as other works... odd selections such as an ancient Chinese goblet and the Eagle finial from an Imperial Napoleonic flag.  And this is one of the most puzzling
aspects of the case: in order to get to the Eagle, the thieves passed by much more important and valuable items nearby by Raphael and Boticelli. It was as if they knew nothing about the value of art, but they clearly knew how to pull off the theft well enough. They were neither edgy nor nervous, and didn't use excessive violence on the security guards. They just calmly went about their business, And they had clearly familiarized themselves with the museum's security systems. They made two trips to a waiting vehicle to load up their loot, and then left. They had been in the Gardner for a total of 81 minutes. Thirteen items were stolen in all.

The Investigation Over the Years...

And this is where this story quickly becomes a dizzying run through countless dead-ends and tips that seemed tantalizing enough but which have lead nowhere.  I've read many articles in the web site for the Boston Globe.  I've read many other articles on the nature of the shadowy world of art theft.  I've read for example the book quoted at the top of this posting by Ulrich Boser, in which the investigation first was taken up by the great stolen art sleuth Harold Smith.  Ultimately
Smith was unable in his waning health to locate the stolen items. There was talk of a connection to the notorious gangster Whitey Bulger, and suggestions of a turf war over possession of the Gardner works with the Irish Republican Army.  But Bulger was captured in 2011, and the IRA has since gone over largely to peaceful governance.  Still the Gardner works are missing.  There was a promising tipster in 1994, but his tips and his contact dried up.  The FBI confidently announced in 2013 that it knew who was behind it. An aging conman named Robert Gentile was thought to have some knowledge of the Gardner thefts; maybe they were hidden beneath a garden shed in his backyard (above).  But as of March 11, 2015 this too, has lead nowhere.

The Frustration of Having No End....

This has been a tremendously frustrating story for the Director of the Gardner Museum Anne Hawley to deal with, for legions of art lovers to endure, for investigators to follow, and a very frustrating subject for me to write a posting about.  This was one of the very first items on which I planned to write.  In fact it was the very first Blog subject for which I purchased and read an entire book.  Mr. Boser's superb book was an introduction to this murky topic. But it has remained murky ever since
March 18, 1990,  since the publication of Mr. Boser's book in 2009, and it is still, at 25 years and counting still unsolved, the works still missing.  Mrs. Gardner's wonderful museum still has the empty frames in place to remind us of her missing children.  Legions of art lovers... of devotee's of Vermeer and Rembrandt still are left to stare into empty spaces where some of their most beloved works once hung.  Anne Hawley took over the reigns as the Gardner Director six weeks before the thefts, and despite her efforts to recover the stolen items (pictured above, a news conference on the thefts) as well as her other fine work as Director, her tenure seems destined to be marked by this tragedy.  Meanwhile, the Gardner Museum has valued the stolen works at 500 million dollars, and has offered 5 million dollars reward for information leading to the return of the artwork. And to this day, the empty frame of "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" remains (the picture of which is at the top of this posting), waiting for its subject to return.

Anyone with information about the stolen artworks and/or the investigation should contact Anthony Amore, Director of Security at the Gardner Museum, at 617 278 5114 or theft@gardnermuseum.org.  


"The Gardner Heist" by Ulrich Boser, Harper Collins Publisher, 2009



The Boston Globe has many articles dealing with this subject in addition to the two to which I refer above.  A fairly comprehensive listing of them can be found at:


Further on-line resources consulted: