Author Archives: Richard Joltes

The “Land Battleship”

Modern life, especially in the era since roughly the introduction of the CD player in the early 1980s, has conditioned us to deal with an increasingly rapid pace of technological change. One day $1000 “bag” style cell phones weighing 5 pounds are being used by highly paid professionals who think of them as status symbols. […]

Into the Modern Age: The Adoption of Standard Time

Our modern perception of time, with its almost slavish devotion to millisecond accuracy, was a totally alien concept to even our recent ancestors. Although mechanical timepieces were known even in the ancient world, time and timekeeping were inexact. Accuracy was generally low, with devices often “drifting” significantly. Where public clocks were in use, men employed […]

Halloween: Thank the Celts

The holiday we all know as Halloween (or Hallowe’en to some) is often thought of as one dedicated to children. Some folks I’ve encountered over the years even thought it was started in the early 20th century by candy companies as an excuse to sell more product! That said, nothing is further from the truth. […]

Premature Burial and the Modern Age

“To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.” — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial.” The fear of being shoveled six feet under while still breathing ranks fairly highly in the top ten list of Things People Least Want […]

The Tea Party Myth

One of the fundamental underpinnings of the American system is the concept that we broke away from Britain over issues like “taxation without representation”, or the idea that the American colonies were somehow excessively taxed. One of the grounding rods of this myth is the infamous Boston Tea Party, which is said to have been […]

Myth of the Empty Continent

For many Americans, the traditional imagery of pre-Columbian North America is one of small or medium sized native tribes living in vast, primeval forests or on rolling plains largely unaltered by human hands. The first part of this evocative description is relatively accurate, since settlers moving West often traveled through large swaths of unoccupied land, […]

No, It Wasn’t Columbus

“In the Year of Fourteen Ninety-Two…” begins the bit of doggerel that nearly every American schoolchild learns. That’s when “Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue” and, some people still believe, discovered America. To this day I know people who entertain a vision of old Chris sloshing ashore (probably in Virginia) with a priest and Portuguese flag, […]