QUICK TAKE: Lawrence of Rome

From the History Blog’s “Well, the Legend is Real” Department:

Laurentius – known to history as Lawrence of Rome – was born in 225 AD, and served as a deacon of the Catholic Church under Pope Sixtus II. Sixtus and Lawrence lived in Rome during the reign of Valerian the Elder, who ruled from 253 to 260. And if there was one thing Valerian couldn’t stand, it was Christians. In 258, Valerian went on a rampage, ordering the executions of as many deacons, priests and bishops as he could get his hands on. Sixtus was beheaded on August 6, and Lawrence was scheduled to die on August 10.

But, according to legend, Lawrence wasn’t beheaded or crucified. So the story goes, he was taken to the area of what is now the church at San Lorenzo in Panisperna and burned on a gridiron. And supposedly, as he sat roasting over the fire, his last words were “turn me over … I’m done on this side”… which is why St. Lawrence is the patron saint of both comedians and chefs. He’s also the patron saint of related culinary professions, such as brewers, butchers, confectioners, cutlers, restaurateurs and vintners. Because of his work with preserving early church documents he’s also the patron saint of archivists and librarians. He did a lot for the poor, especially children, so he’s also the patron saint of paupers and school children. For reasons I’m not really clear on, he’s also the patron saint of armorers, glaziers, laundry workers, tanners and the diocese of Amarillo, Texas.

Although it’s kind of an amusing story – who even knew that comedians had a patron saint? – evidence for or against it is kind of murky. The first written account of the story comes from the book Liber Peristephanon, written by the Roman Christian poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens. But Prudentius was born in Tarraconensis (northern Spain) in 348, ninety years after Lawrence had been martyred.

One theory – from the fabulously named Father Pio Franchi de ‘Cavalieri – says that the whole thing boils down to a transcription error. At the time, Christian authors and record keepers would note the death of a martyr with the phrase passus est, meaning “he suffered”. Maybe someone somewhere accidentally wrote it down as assus est (“he was roasted”), and someone else made up a story to fit the text. I mean, can’t you just imagine a modern day DMV worker typing  “Lawrence of Rome” into his computer? “Look lady, it says here he was ROASTED, okay? Unless you got paperwork from the Department of Health that says otherwise, he’s ROASTED to the State of New York, OK?”

It’s thought that Constantine built a small chapel on the site in Lawrence’s honor, and there is an actual gridiron – said to be from the martyrdom, naturally – under the altar at the Church of St Lawrence at Lucina. However, the gridiron was given to the church by Pope Paschal II, who reigned as pope from August 13, 1099 until his death on January 21, 1118. I’m not going to research where the gridiron allegedly was for 800 years before ending up at the church, but you can draw your own conclusions. Incidentally, Paschal II was the first pope to appoint a bishop to North America, and he did it 400 years before Columbus sailed to the New World: Erik Gnupsson (in his native tongue, Eiríkr Gnúpsson, but also known under the Latinized name Henricus) was appointed Bishop of Greenland and Vinland, the latter of which many historians think was Newfoundland.

Whether or not Lawrence died joking about being “ready to turn”, the real joke ended up being on Valerian. Two years after he’d ordered the death of Lawrence, Sixtus and the others, Valerian found himself at the Battle of Edessa against an army of Persians led by Shapur I.

According to most accounts, the battle was something of a stalemate, so Valerian decided to meet with Shapur to work out some kind of truce. But Shapur decided to seize Valerian instead, which caused the entire Roman army to surrender. What happened next depends on who you read. Persian and secular authors say that Valerian was taken to a city called Bishapur and lived out the rest of his life in relative comfort. Edward Gibbon, the English author and historian whose six volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published between 1776 and 1788, tells it a bit differently:

We are told that Valerian, in chains, but invested with the Imperial purple, was exposed to the multitude, a constant spectacle of fallen greatness; and that whenever the Persian monarch mounted on horseback, he placed his foot on the neck of a Roman emperor. Notwithstanding all the remonstrances of his allies, who repeatedly advised him to remember the vicissitudes of fortune, to dread the returning power of Rome, and to make his illustrious captive the pledge of peace, not the object of insult, Sapor still remained inflexible. When Valerian sunk under the weight of shame and grief, his skin, stuffed with straw, and formed into the likeness of a human figure, was preserved for ages in the most celebrated temple of Persia; a more real monument of triumph, than the fancied trophies of brass and marble so often erected by Roman vanity.

Other accounts say that Valerian was killed after being made to swallow molten gold, or by being flayed alive. The source for most of these tales, it should be noted, was a Roman Christian author named Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (“Lactantius” for short), who just might have had an ax to grind against Valerian for martyring Sixtus, Lawrence and the others. But Lactantius would go on to become an advisor to Constantine I, and Valerian would remain the only Roman Emperor in history to be captured and held as a prisoner of war.

The Random (Mostly Entertainment) Post

– One of my favorite shows of the new year is ITV’s historical drama Mr Selfridge. In it, Jeremy Piven plays Harry Selfridge, the American entrepreneur who revolutionized retail in the US and UK. Born in the woods of Wisconsin, Selfridge worked at a store owned by a cousin of Marshall Field as a teen, and when other prospects didn’t work out (including trying to gain admission to the US Naval Academy), Selfridge went back to Field’s cousin to get a letter of introduction to Marshall. He began working at Marshall Field’s as a lowly sales clerk in the sock department, but soon rose to the top thanks to a neverending stream of ideas. It was Selfridge who came up with the idea of putting merchandise out so customers could see and feel it, instead of the old way of keeping it behind a counter. Selfridge moved perfumes and cosmetics to the front of the store, so that customers would smell enticing perfumes as they walked in. Selfridge pioneered the concept of prêt-à-porter in women’s clothing. He even invented the saying “x shopping days until Christmas” and is most likely the person who coined the phrase “the customer is always right”.

In 1906, Selfridge and his wife went to London on a vacation. He found London’s department stores lacking in almost every way: their selection of merchandise was limited, their sales methods were downright hostile to customers, and the whole system seemed at least 20 years out of date. He spent £400,000 (almost $58 million in 2011 dollars) building a new store in what was then a rundown section of Oxford Street. And it became a huge success. But things all went downhill for Selfridge from there. He loved his wife, but loved beautiful women, too. He’d often shower pretty show girls with furs and jewelry from his store.

But – and here’s the whole point of this post – as this article from the Daily Fail points out, the real story is even more amazing than the one on TV. The real Selfridge fell in love with a dancer named Jenny Dolly, and literally showered her with millions of dollars. Jenny loved ice cream, so Selfridge had it shipped by airplane to Paris every day, where Jenny was performing (no telling how much that cost in 1910!). He helped her buy a chateau near Fontainebleau and paid the equivalent of millions of modern dollars to decorate it. Jenny and her twin sister Rosie loved to gamble, and Selfridge would sit behind them at gaming tables, handing them stacks of thousand franc notes.

I won’t spoil it for you… but let’s just say it doesn’t end well for either Selfridge or the Dolly sisters. And if you haven’t seen the show yet, you should download it as soon as possible… it’s great!

– If, like me, you’re a fan of the BBC’s historical drama The Hour, you might want to read this article about whether the show deserves a third season (series). I love the show, and of course I want to see season 3 (and 4 and 5 and 6 and…). But the show’s ratings aren’t that good in the UK, and critical opinion has been sharply divided.

– My current favorite band, the Greek synthpop duo Marsheaux, are finally going to release their new album, Inhale, this April. Check out this sampler at SoundCloud. I CAN’T WAIT!

– Ever wonder what Andrew Ridgley, the other half of Wham!, is up to? Here’s your answer.

Dashrath Manjhi was a poor laborer born a small village in Bihar, India. Manjhi’s wife died because she could not get medical attention. Although the nearest village isn’t that far away as the crow flies, the winding, circuitous mountain roads meant that the trip was 44 miles (70 km) one way. Heartbroken after her death, Manjhi swore that no other wives needed to die because of the roads. So from 1960 to 1982 he spent almost all his time, night and day, carving a road through a mountain. The result was a 360 foot long (110 m) road, 25 feet deep (7.6 m) in places and 30 feet wide (9.1 m)… chiseled by hand through solid rock. The road cut the route to the nearest village from 44 miles (70 km) to less than a mile (1 km).

– The Centro Financiero Confinanzas building in Caracas, Venezuela was supposed to be a glistening skyscraper dedicated to modern industry and finance. Started in 1990, building ceased in 1994 after the main investor died and the Venezuelan banking system fell into a crisis. Squatters moved in and quickly turned it into a city of its own. Read the fascinating story behind it here.

– Prince Charles recently visited The Florence Institute, a community center near Liverpool which had recently undergone a £6.4 million restoration. As he was leaving the Institute, patrons at a rundown pub nearby began gently hecking him… you know, stuff like “hey, Charles, why don’t ya come in for a pint?”:

Charles pub


To their complete surprise… he did! I guess ol’ Charlie isn’t the big stick in the mud most of us thought he was!

Quote of the Day

“I took this vo-tech class in high school, woodworking. I took a lot of vo-tech classes, because it was just big jerk-off, but this one time I had this teacher by the name of… Mr… Mr. Pike. I guess he was like a Marine or something before he got old. He was hard hearing. My project for his class was to make this wooden box. You know, like a small, just like a… like a box, you know, to put stuff in. So I wanted to get the thing done as fast as possible. I figured I could cut classes for the rest of the semester and he couldn’t flunk me as long as I, you know, made the thing. So I finished it in a couple days. And it looked pretty lame, but it worked. You know, for putting in or whatnot. So when I showed it to Mr. Pike for my grade, he looked at it and said: “Is that the best you can do?” At first I thought to myself “Hell yeah, bitch. Now give me a D and shut up so I can go blaze one with my boys.” I don’t know. Maybe it was the way he said it, but… it was like he wasn’t exactly saying it sucked. He was just asking me honestly, “Is that all you got?” And for some reason, I thought to myself: “Yeah, man, I can do better.” So I started from scratch. I made another, then another. And by the end of the semester, by like box number five, I had built this thing. You should have seen it. It was insane. I mean, I built it out of Peruvian walnut with inlaid zebrawood. It was fitted with pegs, no screws. I sanded it for days, until it was smooth as glass. Then I rubbed all the wood with tung oil so it was rich and dark. It even smelled good. You know, you put nose in it and breathed in, it was… it was perfect.”

– Aaron Paul as Jessie Pinkman,
“Kafkaesque”, Breaking Bad

DioSC: Ooops!

Good news from Stand Firm, where there is more:

Late this afternoon (5:11 p.m. EST), the Circuit Court of South Carolina in Dorchester County (the Hon. Diane S. Goodstein presiding) issued a Temporary Restraining Order which declares:

No individual, organization, association or entity, whether incorporated or not, may use, assume, or adopt in any way, directly or indirectly, the registered names and the seal or mark of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina as are set out below or any names or seal that may be perceived to be those names and seal or mark. The registered names and mark that are subject to this order are: the seal of the Diocese of South Carolina as described in its registration with the South Carolina Secretary of State; the name “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina”, as registered with the South Carolina Secretary of State; the name “The Diocese of South Carolina”, as registered with the South Carolina Secretary of State; and the name “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”, as registered with the South Carolina Secretary of State. Again, this seal and these names are those registered by this Plaintiff corporation [Bishop Lawrence’s Diocese of South Carolina] with the South Carolina Secretary of State.

The order was issued following an ex parte hearing before Judge Goodstein yesterday, and after Bishop Lawrence’s Diocese posted a bond set by the court at $50,000. A hearing may be held “ex parte” in cases of urgency, in order to prevent immediate harm from occurring. The opposing side does not need to be present; indeed, the Episcopal Church (USA) has not yet entered an appearance in the case, and does not seem to have been represented at the hearing.

Cool Picture!

Here’s a cool picture for football fans:

Falcons Steelers
Click to enlarge

This picture is from a game which took place between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons on December 18, 1966. It might not look like much at first glance, but there’s a lot going on in this picture.

First of all, Steelers QB Bill Nelsen is wearing the dreaded “Batman” uniform the team only wore for the 1966 and 1967 seasons. At the time, the Vince Lombardi-led Packers were dominating the NFL, and teams all over the league were copying not just their playbook, but their style as well.

Although owner Art Rooney was still firmly in charge of the team, he decided to slowly give more control to his son, current chairman Dan. And Dan didn’t want to copy the look of the Packers… he wanted something unique. At the time, the city of Pittsburgh had just completed a redevelopment project for the downtown area called the Golden Triangle. So Dan decided to incorporate this into the new uniforms. He really liked them, as did Steve Sabol of NFL Films, who said the unique uniforms really “popped” on the screen.

The players, however, hated them. Several said that the uniforms made them look like clowns or Batman, which is where the “Batman” nickname came from (the campy 1960s Adam West Batman series being popular at the time). The equipment manager hated them as well. Nowadays, Nike sends players new jerseys for every game. But back then, jerseys were washed and reused after every game, and it proved to be difficult to get grass and blood stains out of the jerseys without fading the yellow triangle.

I’m not sure who the Falcons players are since their numbers are obscured. The player about to tackle Nelsen has to be either Angelo Coia (48) or Bobby Richards (68), as they were the only two defensive players to have an 8 as the second digit of their number. Just from the stance of the man in the foreground, I’m going to guess that it’s Tommy Nobis (60), although if it’s not him then it has to be Richards, as they were the only two defensive players with numbers in the 60s.

Anyway, if you look closely at the Falcons helmets, you can just make out a thin band of gold on either side of the stripes. And that comes from a brouhaha over the Falcons colors.

There are two main college football teams in the state of Georgia: the “University” of Georgia (based in Athens, and whose colors are red and black) and Georgia Tech (based in Atlanta, whose colors are old gold and white). Although UGA has a much larger fanbase these days, back in the 60s Tech’s was much larger than it is now, especially in Atlanta. So it seemed like a total slap in the face to Tech fans that the new NFL team, based in Atlanta, would not only use UGA’s colors.. their road uniforms would be almost identical to UGA’s! A minor scandal ensued, and Rankin Smith – then owner of the team – hurriedly (and grudgingly) announced that gold would be added as an “accent color”. However, the stripes were removed for the 1970 season, and in 1971 the Falcons introduced uniforms that resembled UGA’s even more closely:

Claude Humphrey
Claude Humphrey

The gold stripes have returned, however, in the Falcons’ throwback helmet.

And, for the record… the first picture is from the last game of the Falcons’ inaugural season, and this was the first time the two teams played each other. The Steelers won 57-33 in Atlanta. The Steelers are 12-2-1 all-time against the Falcons. Atlanta has never beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh, but managed a 34-34 tie in 2002.

BONUS: If you’re any kind of sports fan, you’ve probably noticed that the “G” the Bulldogs have on the side of their helmets looks an awful lot like the Green Bay Packers’ “G”. What’s the deal? Why so similar? Well, the Sports Design Blog has the whole story (complete with lots of cool pictures) but it really comes down to this: in 1961, Vince Lombardi asked his equipment manager, George Braisher, to come up with a new logo. Braisher came up with a logo very similar to what the Packers use today, only taller and less oval than it is now. And in the early 1960s, UGA football was in a pretty sorry state. So when Vince Dooley arrived as head coach in 1964, he decided to overhaul everything, including the uniforms and logo. Georgia had used plain silver helmets for most of their existence, but Dooley played with the colors, even toying with white helmets:


As you can see from the picture, the helmets (both white, the one on the left with a red G and the one on the right with a black G) sport the Green Bay G. Before the season started, Dooley decided on red helmets, which required a stroke around the logo, something the Green Bay G lacked. The “Georgia G” was also not as tall as the Green Bay G, and was more oval…. which, Green Bay incorporated into their logo in 1980. To make matters even more confusing, Grambling asked for, and received permission from, Green Bay to use their logo in 1965. For what it’s worth, Grambling’s G looks more like the original Green Bay G than the Georgia G or the updated Green Bay logo.

Good News!

Great news, Mad Men fans! The series returns April 7, 2013 with a two-hour premiere written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher!

Mad Men S6

The premiere airs at 21:00 on April 7, with following episodes returning to the show’s 22:00 time slot!

Sadly, I won’t be able to recap this season. Just as with last season, I have friends coming in from the Netherlands (actually the same friends from last year) and we’re going on a trip to Florida later that month. Although I’d only miss two episodes at most, I found that once I’ve fallen behind I just can’t seem to catch up. So I’m not even going to try this go-round. Sorry.

Website Update

Hi Ho, Everyone! Time for another website update:

– I found a real, gen-u-wine bug in WordPress! Well, not WordPress itself, but rather JetPack, a collection of add-ons put out by the WordPress team. As you might recall, I added the “infinite scroll” feature from JetPack to my site not too long ago. This automatically loads more stories as you scroll down the page. However, I noticed that if you clicked on a category (say, “History Blog”), WP would load the first seven posts from that category and then start loading stories from the front page instead of continuing with posts from the selected category. I posted about the issue at the WP support forums, and Jeremy Herve, author of the Infinite Scroll plug-in, quickly replied and said that he’d fixed the bug! So if you use JetPack and have having the same problem, expect it to be fixed in the next update.

– Jeremy also suggested that I could fix the problem immediately by switching from the default permalinks structure to Pretty Permalinks. By default, WordPress links look like this:


There’s an option to change this so that the links look like this instead:


I’d wanted to change the permalink structure for a couple of years now, but was afraid that it would hurt my Google PageRank and kill any internal links on my site. Jeremy told me that it wouldn’t, that WordPress would handle everything automatically. So I switched over… and he was right! So you’ll now notice that my links look like this:


– I also want to thank Jeremy for replying so quickly to my issue and reassuring me about switching the permalink structure. That was some FAST and FRIENDLY service, my man! Thanks again!

– I also ditched ShareThis for WordPress’s own JetPack sharing solution. There’s no real reason for this, aside from the ShareThis bar not appearing on occasion in some posts. I just figured that the WordPress solution would be more stable and robust. Try it out and let me know how it works.

– I’ve also done some work under the hood, mostly retiring plug-ins that do things that WordPress now does natively. I don’t expect any issues to come of this, but if you see anything unusual, let me know!

– Lastly, I’m going to overhaul the Contact Me page this afternoon, since I no longer use a few of the instant messaging services listed on that page. I’m also getting tired of the current round of header images, and will probably swap those out early next week.


SimonHey, y’all! Simon here! Wow… it’s hard to believe that they’re only three games left in this NFL season. Only three more games of sweaty, handsome mens with their skull-crackin’ thighs… Oh my! I went 3-1 last week, and am 176-87 for the season! Top THAT, y’all! Enjoy the picks for CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND! 


Baltimore at New England: Well, Simon was a little off in his prediction last week. Who knew that John Fix would take a knee with 30+ second and three time outs left, when the Falcons would win their game with even less time and two timeouts? Oh Foxy… you’re so not sometimes. Still I think this week will see the end of ol’ Ray-ray’s career. I still think the Ratbirds are overrated, and the biggest reason they won last week was Fox’s stupidity and Manning’s interception. Meanwhile, the Evil Empire has been firing on all cylinders. Rob Gronkowski out? No worries… Tom Terrific will get the job done, and look fabulous while doing it! And Unibrow McGee Joe Flacco? We’ll find out if he’s truly “elite” this week. I have a feeling that Wilfork and Company are gonna rock his world… and not in a good way. I don’t expect this to be the blowout the Pats\Texans game was, but I don’t think there will be much doubt as to who the better team is. Take the Patriots to win, honey: 42-24.

San Francisco at Atlanta: Well, this isn’t good. As you know, my daddy is from the ATL, and he nominally pulls for the Durty Birds, especially in situations like this. But I just don’t think Matty Ice and Company have it in them to pull it off. Sure, Colin Kaepernick has the stupidest facial hair of anyone in the league… but he’s also got them sexy legs which he uses to chew up the yardage for big gains. My little kitty heart really wants the Falcons to win (and especially that handsome hunk of Latino beefcake, Tony Gonzalez). But my intuition tells me that the 49ers will take this game. I think it’ll be close, though. I see the the West Coasters jumping out to an early lead, and Atlanta will close, but the final score will be 31-28, San Francisco. I hope Atlanta rises up, though.


Enjoy the picks, y’all! See you in a couple of weeks for my SUPER BOWL picks!


– The Simon

QUICK TAKE: New Zealanders and The Kiwi

“Kiwi” became THE nickname for New Zealanders and the national symbol of the country thanks to… Kiwi shoe polish.

Kiwi Polish

At the start of the 20th century, there were several nicknames and symbols for New Zealanders, none of them dominant. Among others, symbols included the moa (another bird), the silver fern (the symbol of many New Zealand sports teams, including the famous All Blacks rugby team), the kiwi bird and the Southern Cross constellation, which is still on the New Zealand flag:

New Zealand flag

In 1906 an Australian named William Ramsay developed the shoe polish, which he named after his New Zealander wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek. There were other shoe polishes on the market, but Ramsay’s was one of the first to emphasize making shoes and boots shine, in addition to restoring their color and water-resistance.

Ramsay loaded several cases of the polish onto a cart and traveled to farms handing out free tins to farmers for their work boots. Kiwi rapidly became the best-selling shoe polish brand in Australia. But Kiwi’s big break came in World War I, when the British and American armies started distributing the polish to soldiers. Millions of men became familiar with not just the product, but the “Kiwi” name, too. Soon, everyone was calling New Zealanders “Kiwis”.

Today Kiwi shoe polish is sold in 180 countries and holds 53% of the worldwide market for shoe polish. But even more than that, it’s the only product to give a nation’s citizens their nickname!


SimonHey everybody! Simon here! Gosh, I know these picks are SO LATE, but you’ll have to forgive Simon… he was entertaining some guests from out of town – Tot ziens, y’all! I went 2-2 last week, but I have a really good feeling about this week. Enjoy the picks, y’all!


Baltimore at Denver:
Well, Ray-ray’s career will come to an end, this afternoon. I’ve been saying that the Ratbirds are overrated, and perhaps I looked a bit foolish last week with their takedown of the Colts. But rest assured, readers: ain’t no way the ‘Birds beat the Broncos today. Not in Denver. Not with Joe Flacco as QB. And even if it’s Ray-Ray’s last time to shine. Simon’s put all his Tender Vittles on the horses in this game, 35-17.

Green Bay at San Francisco: Now this should be a good game, sugah! If this game had happened a few weeks ago, everyone and their cute lil’ cousin would have picked the 49ers to win it easily. And rightfully so. But those handsome mens from Green Bay – especially Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson – are coming on strong here in the stretch, girlfriend! This game is just a complete tosser toss-up that Simon can’t decide! If Simon was going to bet his own money on it, he’d probably bet on the Packers. But since he isn’t – and because it’s hard to beat the 49ers at home – he’s going to go with the 49ers to win in a squeaker, 28-24.

Seattle at Atlanta: This is do or die time for the Falcons… and not just because it’s the playoffs. The past couple of seasons the team has whined about not getting “respect” from the media and fans. They’ve run up a record of 56-24 since 2008, but haven’t won a playoff game during that time. Well, here’s your chance, handsome mens! Knock Seattle out, and those demons go away, at least for a little while. And I think that’s what will happen: sexy Matt Ice will stay cool enough to get the job done. It’ll be much closer than most Falcons fans would like, though: 24-21

Houston at New England: Well, this is easy: take Tom Terrific and company all the way. The Simon’s thinking a Patriots blowout along the lines of 38-17.

Enjoy the picks! See y’all next week!


The Simon!