The Unsinkable Millvina Dean

On April 10, 2012  hundreds of people gathered in the English port town of Southampton.  They were there to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

Titanic docked at Southampton

Everyone knows the tragic story of the unsinkable ship…that sank.  Less than a week after it set sail from Southampton, shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, the ship hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the sea about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, taking 1,517 souls with it.

Survivors of the wreck were thoroughly —and understandably— traumatized by what had happened to them.  My grandfather, who was a little boy when the ship sank, said that people were afraid of the survivors, that they had a haunted look in their eyes and were believed to bring bad luck.

That seems like a horrible thing to think about people who had escaped such a disaster, doesn’t it?  It shows you how times have changed and how much more compassionate the human race has become.

One of the survivors aboard the ship was commonly known as Millvina Dean.  Little was known about her until a new interest in the Titanic arose in 1985, when the wreckage was found.  I became aware of Millvina shortly before her death in 2009 at the ripe old age of 97.  A large picture of her hung on the wall behind the  cash register in the gift shop at the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri.  I was curious about who she was, so I asked the cashier and then came home to do some research.

This is Millvina’s story….

She Was Born Elizabeth Gladys Dean

Photograph taken circa 1912/1913 of Millvina D...

Photograph taken circa 1912/1913 of Millvina Dean and her brother, Bertram. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bertram Frank Dean and his wife Georgetta Eva Light welcomed their second child, and only daughter into the world on February 2, 1912.  She was christened Elizabeth Gladys Dean, but was known all her life by her nickname Millvina.  (It is unclear where that nickname came from.)

Little Millvina’s father Bertram was a pub owner who wanted to start a new life for his family in America.  His cousin was a tobacconist in Wichita, Kansas, and had invited Bertram and his family to come there and help him run the business.  So off they went on a new adventure.

The Deans had not originally intended to board the Titanic, but a coal strike and fate (if you believe in such a thing), put them aboard that ship in Southampton on April 10, 1912.

The Night the Titanic Went Down

Like so many other migrants at the time, the Deans did not have a lot of money, so they couldn’t afford to travel in style — their berth was in the overcrowded steerage of the massive ship.

Unlike so many stories about the unfortunate souls in steerage, Bertram Dean was able to get his family out.  Millvina’s mother recalled that Bertram went to investigate after hearing (and feeling) a loud crash late in the evening on April 14, 1912.

When he came back, he announced that the ship had crashed and that everyone needed to get dressed and get on deck.  Millvina, her mother, and her older brother Bertram (Bert) Vere Dean were placed on one of the first lifeboats that left the ship.  Bertram, Sr. promised that he would meet up with them later, but he never did.  He perished with 1,516 other people  on that frigid night in April.

Millvina’s mother Georgetta at first wanted to continue to Kansas, but after a week in United States, she took her children and moved back to England, to the family farm near Southampton.  The children were educated and generally taken care of through pensions given to the survivors.

Millvina Found Fame But Not Fortune

Millvana Dean had lived a quiet life.  She never married nor had any children.  She worked hard as an assistant/secretary at several businesses around Southampton and briefly worked for the government during World War II.

She never told her coworkers that she was on the Titanic.  She didn’t see the need to because she was only two months old when the ship went down; she didn’t remember any of it.  And she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

When the ship’s wreckage was  discovered in 1985, she was tracked down and interviewed by several people.  So at 73 years old,  Elizabeth Gladys “Millvana” Dean suddenly became famous.  She neither sought fame nor particularly wanted it, but she accepted it and attended a number of events in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Here is a video of her speaking and signing autographs in 1998 in Canada:

Her Final Days

Millvana’s health became quite fragile in her last days on earth, and it became necessary for her to live in a nursing home.  Unfortunately, she did not make much from all her appearances for events tied to the Titanic, and could not afford the $5,000 a month in resident fees.

She sold off many of her family’s possessions, including a mail bag her mother had carried around (and was at one time thought to have been the bag they used to lower her off the ship in), compensation letters from the Titanic Relief Fund,  and a suitcase full of clothes given to the family.

Thankfully the person who bought the items at auction gave them right back to her.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet heard of her plight, and they along with director James Cameron and Celine Dion donated more than $20,000 to The Millvana Fund to pay for her expenses.

Her health began failing even more after that.  She suffered from pneumonia, and eventually succumbed to the illness in her sleep on May 31, 2009.  She was 97 years old.

Please let me know what you think about the Unsinkable Millvina Dean and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic by leaving a comment below.  And please feel free to share this post with anyone you think would be interested!

Go On Vacation Beverly Hillbillies Style: Come Visit Branson, Missouri

Spring and summer are the perfect time for vacation.  The weather is nice and you can swing some super cheap deals for you and your family.  The toughest decision you have to make is deciding where to go.  Well, I might be of some help in that department.  Each Wednesday throughout this spring and summer, I am going to highlight cities and towns all over the USA that are family friendly and wallet friendly, too.

First up is Branson, Missouri, a little town in the Ozarks that is about 250 miles southwest of St. Louis.  Branson was founded by and named after general store owner Reuben Branson in 1882.  Since that time it has grown from a one horse hillbilly town to a thriving community that attracts thousands of tourists every year during all four seasons.

Accommodations

While in Branson you obviously need somewhere to stay, and there are many options to choose from.  There’s practically a hotel or motel around every corner.  My choice out of all of them is the Ozark Mountain Inn, located on “the strip” along the historic 76 Country Boulevard, just minutes from all the action.

The Ozark Mountain Inn is comfortable with a friendly staff.  The standard rooms come with central air/heating, a mini fridge for storage, and other standard amenities.  The suites have all the standard amenities plus an in-room whirlpool and sofa.  All rooms offer a free continental breakfast down in the dining room each morning.  I suggest that you get down there early (around 8 a.m.) if you plan on eating there.  If you show up any later than 8 a.m., you’ll be lucky if you can get a crust of bread.

Another option for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is Peppercorn’s Restaurant and Bakery, also on 76 Country Boulevard, just a few blocks from the inn.  They offer a buffet full of home-cooked goodness with every meal and a nice, down home atmosphere.  You won’t leave hungry…or broke!

Once you are well rested and well fed, you want to get out there and see all the tourist attractions.  And Branson is chock full of them.  It’s hard to narrow down the list of all the things to see and do there, but I managed to whittle down the list to my three favorite things.

Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar CityOperating between mid-March and Christmastime every year, Silver Dollar City is the first thing most people think about when it comes to Branson, Missouri.  It’s a sprawling 55 acre theme park that opened on May 1, 1960 and offers a peek into late 19th century frontier/hillbilly lifestyle—the Beverly Hillbilly lifestyle.  Silver Dollar City is where the Clampetts come from, you know.  And the people down in that part of Missouri do talk like them, but the real locals might be a wee bit more civilized.

There are more than 20 rides at Silver Dollar City, including about a half-dozen roller coasters.  One of the most popular rides is the Fire in the Hole, an indoor roller coaster that tells the story of the night  bald knobbers set fire to and destroyed the old mining town of Marmaros.  This story is half fact, half legend.  The town was, in fact, destroyed by a massive fire, but the events that led up to the destruction are unclear.

If  roller coasters and other rides aren’t your thing, there is plenty more to do there.  You can stop by the saloon and see an old-time stage show with music and can-can dancers.  Or you can stroll to one of the many crafts attractions.  Watch candy makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, glassblowers and more make beautiful and tasty things, and then drop by the connected shops to do some souvenir shopping.

The Titanic Museum

Titanic Museum - Branson, MO

Titanic Museum - Branson, MO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is tomorrow.  If you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) get passage on the sold out anniversary voyage, there is another way for you to have the Titanic experience — you can go to the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri (there is also one in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee).

The museum is a replica inside and out of the ill-fated ship.  When you enter, they give you a little card with a real-life passenger’s name, and you’re known by that name for the tour.  You are guided through many rooms that show you exactly what the ship looked like, and the tour includes many artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, including one of the rare menus.

There is another section close to the end of the tour that has many costumes and props from James Cameron’s motion picture epic Titanic.

At the end of the tour you find out if the passenger you played lived or died on that frigid night in April, and then you go off to the gift shop to do some shopping.

Shepherd of the Hills

The Shepherd of the Hills (film)

Author and minister Howard Bell Wright wrote the Shepherd of the Hills in 1907, and was put to film four times, beginning with a silent in 1919.  The best known version was released in 1941 starring John Wayne.

The book masterfully depicts the typical lives, loves, and struggles of Ozark Mountain people in the latter part of the 19th century, but the film, especially the John Wayne version, doesn’t do many of the characters justice.

Branson has an outdoor venue called Old Mill Theater that puts on a live presentation of the drama most nights in March-October each year (they have shows every night in May and June).  But the play isn’t the only thing The Shepherd of the Hills has to offer….

Homestead Tour

Before you go to see the play at night, you should take a tour of the old homestead during the day, which includes the Morgan Community Church, which is similar to the church Howard Bell Wright preached at, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old Mill Theater, and learn how to make good old mountain moonshine at the Jennings Still.

Horseback Riding

If you’re in Branson between Memorial and Labor Day, you can take a nice, relaxing horseback ride along the trails in the Ozark Mountains.  (Well, it’s relaxing if you’re not the guy who I went on a ride with a couple of years ago; the horse bucked and he fell off and rolled down a mountain…I just had to throw that in there….lol)  Anyway, before you saddle up and ride, you give the staff your height, weight, and experience with riding and they set you up with an right horse.

The 30 minute ride is educational and fun for children over the age of 7 and adults.  You must also be less than 250 pounds for this guided ride.

Now I think I had better wrap up this long-winded post and turn it over to the readers.  What city or state would you pick for your perfect springtime getaway?  Please let me know in the comments below!  And feel free to share this post with friends and family.  The more the merrier!

Sunday Inspiration: So Long Dirty World, Hello Springtime

Lullington Church with spring flowers

Lullington Church with spring flowers taken from the wall next to the village green. (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world. ~Virgil A. Kraft

Happy  Easter to everyone in the blogosphere!  May you be blessed with beautiful weather, the love of friends and family, and good food—especially good food.

The above quote from Virgil A. Kraft describes spring—and Easter—perfectly, doesn’t it?  We all endure a long, cold, and gray winter every year; it seems never-ending, until suddenly the whole damn world explodes with the brightest greens, pinks, whites, purples, and blues you ever saw.

Regardless of what you believe or not believe when it comes to religion, there is no denying that Easter is one of the happiest and sunniest times of year (even when it is cold and pissing down rain like it was last year!)  It puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.  How about you?

My mom Jackie

My mom Jackie and great uncle Wayne last June.

Today also happens to be my mother’s 65th birthday.  Happy birthday, mama!  I am going to be busy this morning preparing her birthday meal.  We’re having Quiche Lorraine, Swiss cheese and spinach Quiche, cheddar soup, and a ton of other dishes oozing with cheese.  That’s what mama wants, so that’s what she’ll get.  I just hope I don’t OD on all that dairy.  Geeugh.

That’s it from me today, folks.  Please let me know how your Easter is going/went by leaving a comment below.  I welcome all feedback and look forward to hearing from you!

Springtime Romance—10 Songs About Being In Love (Or Lust….)

Everything blooms quickly in the springtime—including romance if you’re lucky.  Romantic love is a wonderful thing; singers and songwriters know this, and that is why they have capitalized on it for decades.

Certain musical numbers speak to you, take you back in time to precious memories, and stir up every emotion.  And today I would like to share with you my top 10 favorite songs about amour, all of which were written and originally recorded in the 1920s.

10.  I Wanna Be Loved By You

Some of you might be thinking, “Wait, that’s not Helen Kane, who is this?”  And some of you might be thinking, “This doesn’t sound like Annette Hanshaw.  That couldn’t possibly be her!”  And some of you might be thinking “Who the hell were Helen Kane and Annette Hanshaw?  Never heard of ‘em….”

Helen Kane was the inspiration for Betty Boop, and is best known for the song “I Wanna Be Loved By You”.  Her friend Annette Hanshaw was a popular jazz singer throughout the 1920s and could do a pretty good imitation of Helen—so good that Helen’s record company couldn’t tell the difference when they heard this 1929 recording by Annette.

9.  Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love

If you don’t know this song, you at least know the crooner crooning it, right?  Everyone knows the name Bing Crosby.  This was one of his early recordings of a Cole Porter composition in 1929.  This song has also been sung with great success by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

There was some controversy over the lyrics that went “Chinks do it, Japs do it…” for obvious reasons, and later recordings of this song have omitted the offensive line.

8.  Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby

Composer Gus Kahn wrote this song in 1925, but old “banjo eyes”, singer/comedian Eddie Cantor made it famous 5 years later in 1930.

7.  Makin’ Whoopee!

Here’s another song that Eddie made famous in the 1930 motion picture Whoopee.  This naughty song reportedly made Eddie Cantor a millionaire.

6.  You Were Meant for Me

“You Were Meant for Me” has made it around the block a few times.  It made it into three feature-length musical revues the year of its release in 1929, and was Cary Grant and Irene Dunne’s song in the excruciatingly depressing picture Penny Serenade from 1941.  (If you like pictures that make you cry from beginning to end, I highly suggest this one.)   The most recognizable version of this song is from Singin’ in the Rain, when Gene Kelly sings it to Debbie Reynolds.

6.  My Time Is Your Time

This is another song from 1929, which I feel was an excellent year for music.  “My Time Is Your Time” was crooner and heart-throb Rudy Valee’s theme song on his radio program.  And even though I was somewhat familiar with Rudy’s music, I admit that I was not at all familiar with this song until the wonderful character actress Jesslyn Fax mentioned it on the Jack Benny Program.

5.)  It Had to Be You

Even if you are unfamiliar with every other song on this list, you have to be familiar with this one.  It is a jazz standard that is still extremely popular today.  It was written by bandleader and composer Isham Jones and lyricist Gus Kahn, and was featured in Casablanca and the Woody Allen vehicle Annie Hall, among other films.  It’s been recorded many times over by some of the greatest jazz singers of all time, including a version by Frank  Sinatra in the late  1970s.

4.)  Ain’t She Sweet?

Milton Ager wrote this song in 1927 for his then 2-year-old daughter  Shana, who was probably more famous for her career as an author and commentator on 60 Minutes.  This Tin Pan Alley standard has been recorded by a number of famous artists, including Eddie Cantor, Guy Lombardo, and Tommy Dorsey.

3.)  Singin’ In the Rain

The image of Gene Kelly swinging around a lamppost with umbrella in hand is the first thing comes to mind when many people think of this song.  It was featured prominently in the 1952 musical of the same name.

2.)  My Little Bimbo Down On the Bamboo Isle

This dirty ditty about a sailor’s illicit affair with an island native was written and released in 1920, if you can believe that.

People tend to believe that so-called morals were higher and people were more puritanical before the end of the 20th century, but the 1920s were full of sex, drugs, drinking, and dancing til dawn.  Remember, this was the decade that women cut their hair and hemlines.   Things were changing in the United States and the world over.  And “Bimbo” was a tame song in comparison to many released in this decade.  You should also check out some films in pre-Code Hollywood.  They could get quite vulgar.

1.)  How Long Has This Been Going On?

Written by George and Ira Gershwin in 1928 for the musical Funny Face (it was quickly taken out and then put in the musical Rosalie that same year), this is a tune about a couple’s first kiss.

People are most familiar with versions sung by women, including Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.  Jon Bon Jovi did a Rock n’ Roll meets Jazz version of the song for a Gershwin compilation in 1994, which breathed new life into the tune.

My favorite version, however, happens to be the one by Tony Perkins (better known as Anthony Perkins, but best known as Norman Bates from Psycho.)  I think I like his singing voice better than his acting, even though he plays a convincing nut job.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my top 10 list for favorite songs about being in love (or lust).  If you like this post, please share it with the music lovers in your life, and please feel free to subscribe to my blog via e-mail or RSS.

In Your Easter Bonnet with All the Frills Upon It

Spring is a time of birth and renewal.  It’s a happy time of year, full of warm weather and celebrations.  It’s one of my favorite seasons, so I am dedicating the month of April to it.

On Wednesday I talked about the history of Easter and the Easter Bunny.  Today the attention is on the good old Easter bonnet…and the Easter Parade in New York City.

The Easter Bonnet

easter bonnet

Easter bonnet (Photo credit: starsantiques)

The history of the Easter bonnet stretches further back than Easter itself.  Prior to Easter celebrations, women and girls wore wreaths made of leaves and fresh flowers to symbolize the coming of springtime.

As years progressed, women began wearing bonnets made of straw or cloth decorated with large bows, lace, twigs,  flowers, or even bird nests.  The bigger and more elaborate, the better.  And they never wore the same hat twice.  Easter is a time for new life, which also means new clothes.  So if even if the bonnet and dress were old, they added new accessories or materials to breathe new life into it.

Many cities across the United States hold Easter parades after Sunday morning church service.  These parades aren’t what you normally expect from a parade—there aren’t any floats or big balloons being held up by 6 or more people.  The Easter parade is simply a chance for participants to show off their new clothes, especially their elaborate bonnets.  The most famous parade is held in New York City every year.

On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue….

In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, Irving Berlin wrote the song “Easter Parade” about the grand fashion show that took place along 5th Avenue in New York City:

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.

I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.

On the avenue, fifth avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.

Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.

Fifth Ave., Easter, 1914 (LOC)

Fifth Ave., Easter, 1914 (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

This Easter morning tradition began in the 1870s.  Churchgoers originally brought fresh flowers from St. Thomas Church to St. Lucas’ church.  Soon after it evolved into a chance for privileged class to march down 5th Avenue and show off their new designer outfits.

The height of the parade’s popularity came around 1948, after the release of the Fred Astaire/Judy Garland vehicle Easter Parade, based on Irving Berlin’s song.  It included many more Berlin numbers, including the popular “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” and “A Couple of Swells”.

During those post-World War II years, the parade drew more than one million people from all over the world.  Attendance for the parade in recent years has gone down immensely.  These days the event is lucky to draw a little over 20 thousand people, let alone one million.

The Easter bonnet itself is nearly extinct in modern fashion.  It’s a rare occasion to see a full-grown woman wearing one to church or other Easter Sunday events.  These days you’re more likely to see a girl under the age of 10 wearing them, but even that is becoming rare.  People, male or female, just don’t wear hats like they used to.

I, for one, would love to see the Easter bonnet and lavish spring fashions make a comeback.  The “come as you are” casual attitude these days is a bit disheartening to me, but what can you do?

Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to share this post with anyone you think might enjoy it!

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Easter—Another Christian Holiday Full of Pagan Symbolism

2012 is going by rather fast, isn’t it?  Can you believe that it is already Easter Week?

For Christians, this is one of the most holy times of year.  Good Friday represents Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and Easter represents his resurrection and ascension into Heaven.  Believers are filled with the faith that Jesus will return one day, and have for centuries believed that we are in the end of times and that the second coming of the Christ is drawing near.

Did you know that early Christians did not celebrate Easter?  They instead celebrated the Passover, just as Jesus had.

When I found this out, I became interested in knowing when and why they made Easter a major holiday all over the world.  I am now going to share the information I got from extensive research with you.

Some of you may already know this information, but some of you may be running into this for the first time, so I hope that I can educate you and get you interested in doing some research of your own.

The Beginning of Easter in the Christian Church

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Year 325 A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine invited all the bishops of the early Christian Church to attend the First Council of Nicaea in what is now the country of Turkey.   The council was brought together predominately to set up a creed of faith for Christianity, now known as the original Nicene Creed.  This creed clearly defined what the religion is and how to be included among the faithful.

This council also agreed on an appropriate day to celebrate the Easter holiday.  This agreement is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1170 At the council of Nicaea in 325, all the churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon.

The early Christian church established this holiday instead of continuing to celebrate the Passover simply to differentiate itself from Judaism.  Constantine and other leaders in the Roman Empire detested the Jews and wanted to have nothing in common with that religion.

But despite establishing Easter as a “Christian Passover”, many early Christians still celebrated the old Passover, and some were even put to death for not making the switch.

Constantine and his crowd only established the day to celebrate Jesus Christ rising from the dead.  Rabbits who laid and hid eggs were not part of the celebration in those days.  In fact, the Easter Bunny, eggs, baby chicks, and boatloads of chocolate have nothing at all to do with Christ’s resurrection.  (Some Christians believe that the bunny and eggs represent the crucifixion and sacrifice, but this isn’t true for all.)

So how did the Easter Bunny get mixed up with Christians and Jesus?  It happened pretty much the same way trees and mistletoe got mixed up with Christmas and the birth of Jesus….

The Origin of the Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny postcard circa early 20th century

Easter postcard circa early 20th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Easter Bunny is like a springtime Santa Claus.  It lays eggs and then hides them in yards, gardens, and homes.  Good children find them while the bad children walk away empty-handed.

So how did this tradition get started?  Like the Christmas tree, mistletoe, Yule logs, and even Christmas carols, we can go back to Pagan Germany around the 13th century for the origin of the beloved Easter Bunny and its colorful eggs.

Pre-Christian Germans were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped many gods and goddesses.  One of those deities was called Eostre, the goddess of fertility.  Eostre was honored with a feast every year during the Spring Equinox and her symbol, the rabbit, was considered sacred.  Many pagans believed the animal was Eostre in her earthly form.

So now we know that the Easter Bunny isn’t the creation of a department store hoping to commercialize a Christian holiday; it was actually a part of a Pagan holiday and later incorporated into Christianity to mean something completely different from its original meaning.  And some Christians (dare I say most of them) just ignore the bunny and baskets and candy all together.

Please feel free to share this post with your friends, family, and anyone else you think might enjoy this post!  Thanks for your support.

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