Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today in History Trivia




On this day in 1934, a female aviator set one of her many records, this one as the first American woman to fly solo over the Andes. Who was she?

Before I reveal the answer, note other records this aviatrix set:

  • First flight around South America
  • Longest solo flight made by a woman (17,000 miles)
  • First solo flight from North America to South America by a woman
  •  741 consecutive barrel rolls and 930 consecutive loops
  • First female to fly nonstop New York to Los Angeles, and fastest flight LA to NY.

Do you know who she was? 
Hint: It wasn’t Amelia Earhart.

It was Laura Ingalls.
Not that Laura Ingalls. Not Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House books, and about whom I usually write. This Laura Ingalls is completely unrelated.


This Laura Ingalls was born around the turn of the century (she always gave her date of birth as 1901, but records indicate it was likely some years before that). She learned to fly in 1928, and was setting records within two years. When questioned about her life choices, she remarked that she had the good fortune to be raised by a mother who instilled in her “the ability to hurdle difficulties and achieve the reputedly impossible.”
She was friends with Amelia Earhart, breaking some of the latter’s records, and Howard Hughes. So why has almost no one heard of her?

Probably because in 1942 she was charged with being an “unregistered German Agent,” that is, a spy for Germany. This charge stemmed from her involvement with America First, a pacifist organization that existed before the Second World War. The group disbanded within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it is questionable how many members actually recognized the organization as pro-Nazi, but anyone who had been a member was suspect. Ingalls was especially on the government’s radar since she had flown over the Capital in 1939 and dropped a load of anti-war pamphlets. 


Although she denied the charge or any affiliation with Nazism, Ingalls was found guilty, and that was the end of her aviation-record-setting career. She spent twenty months in a prison in West Virginia, and not much was heard of her after that, until her death in California in 1966.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Who Killed Bob Ewell?



Yep, I finally read To Kill a Mockingbird. I know, most folks read it at some point in school, but somehow I missed it. Better late than never, right?



There is much to appreciate in this book. Foremost, of course, is what’s generally believed to be the primary moral, which is the harm caused by the pre-judging of others. It is a blistering critique of not only the prejudicial systems of the South, but also the unrecognized hypocrisy which allows its justification.


I find it interesting that the title of the book reflects not that, but another of the many lessons contained within the writing: before deciding how or even whether to act, consider whether any particular course of action is likely to have any beneficial outcome. If not, why choose the action? Many recent news stories bring this thought to mind, proving the timelessness of Mockingbird.


Despite the many morals, the book is not at all preachy, and I quite admire Lee’s ability to pull this off. I don’t believe she would have been able to do so had she not told the story from Scout’s perspective; the child’s voice as she observes the often confusing actions of the adults around her keeps the reader in a questioning mood, rather than a defensive one.


I was pretty surprised at Atticus’ reaction to the climactic event. I felt that he was a bit too perfect through the rest of the book, which made his immediate accusation against Jem out of character. Although I understand that we readers are supposed to think this is another example of Atticus’ fairness (“no special treatment for Jem”), to me it was a jarring injustice. Well, we all bring our own experiences to our readings, and I’ve been unjustly accused of too many things, I guess. Plus, I never had a doubt as to who killed Bob Ewell (hint: not Jem), and I was surprised to find, when reading others’ thoughts on the book, that this is a point of debate. What do you think? Was Bob killed by Jem, Boo, or an accident?


Edited to add:
Speaking of Harper Lee, I just looked up her forthcoming book, and am a bit confused by the description. Here’s part of it:
Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.
Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic.”
Is it just me, or does this sound like a sequel? Phrases such as “twenty years later,” “returning home,” and “the characters...are adjusting” strongly imply a story that follows the original. Why is this confusing? Because the description also states that this is “the earliest known work from Harper Lee” which was “submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I had heard something about a controversy surrounding this new book, but thought it was more about whether Lee was really the author and/or whether she really wanted it published. Obviously there’s more to the story. I’ll have to dig out the details at some point, but I just don’t have the time right now. Anybody know about this?



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Time, It Goes So Swiftly Now



For the past several weeks I’ve been seeing references to The Long Winter. Seems like I see those references every year now. It hasn’t been so bad here, though; no wonder Rose Wilder Lane bought a winter home in South Texas (but equally no wonder she went back up North for the rest of the year)!

I’m glad the weather has been relatively decent, because we’ve been on the road quite a bit. The whirl of gaiety continues: I’ve had several book signings and presentations on Little Lodges on the Prairie. It has been so fulfilling to see the excitement when people learn about this aspect of Laura Ingalls Wilder they hadn’t known before, along with new appreciation of what Freemasonry and the Eastern Star are about. The reception of Little Lodges has far exceeded my expectations.

All this traveling about and preparing presentations (the core material is the same, but I try to “personalize” each one to the particular group that’s having me) has taken up a lot of time. There are so many things I want to do each day, but don't have enough hours for half of them. And when something’s gotta give, blogging is usually the first to go, no matter how determined I am to keep it up. To quote Laura, “[I] had fully intended to do better, but we are told that good intentions make excellent paving-stones.” At least I’m in good company.

At a recent event in Ft. Worth