Saturday I attended the Helen Keller Festival in Tuscumbia, Ala. Please enjoy the slideshow below that includes pictures of the Helen Keller Birthplace and performers at the festival including Leah Turner and Jo Dee Messina.
By the 27th of June 1374 some of the townspeople of Aachen, Germany knew that an epidemic was spreading. For three days the people watched as hundreds of men, women and children were affected. Their bodies gyrated and convulsed. Those affected screamed out for help calling on the names of saints. Some calling out the names of demons. But this was no plague like the Black Death, it was much worse. It was a dancing epidemic- a dancing mania soon to be called St. John’s Dance because it broke out on St. John’s Day- June 24, 1374.
Dancing epidemics were not unknown to Europeans at that time. Three hundred fifty three years earlier in 1021 a group of 18 people began dancing, singing and chanting around a church in Bernburg on Christmas Eve disrupting the service.
In 1237 hundreds of children sang, danced and hopped from Erfurt to Arnstadt, a distance of twenty miles.
But the June 1374 outbreak was one of Europe’s largest. In that outbreak the dancing mania soon spread to Cologne, Flanders, Franconia, Hainaut, Metz, Strasbourg, Tongeren and Utrecht affecting thousands of unsuspecting people. It soon crossed over to Italy and Luxemburg. Scientists and historians believe the dance mania may have been caused by the ergot fungus, a fungus that grows on wheat and causes hallucinations and convulsions when ingested. Social scientists believe the mass dancing was a reaction to the economic depression and poverty of the time.
Another outbreak of dance mania occurred in 1518 when one woman, Frau Troffea, began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg. Soon she was joined by 33 others and within a month 400 people were dancing in the streets day and night. In his 1999 article in Lancet, John Waller describes that outbreak- “...in Strasbourg in 1518 the authorities mandated that the dancers go on dancing day and night, to which end they constructed a special stage in the heart of the city where they could move freely. They even hired professional dancers and musicians to keep them in constant motion. The policy was a disaster. From the dramatic escalation in the epidemic it seems that the strategy helped spread a psychic contagion. In fact, nothing could have been better calculated to turn the dance into a full-scale epidemic than making its victims perform their dances in the most public of spaces.The authorities turned a crisis into a nightmare scenario worthy of a canvas by Hieronymus Bosch.”
Perhaps this scene in 1518 was not unlike how people acted at a Grateful Dead show as that band traveled the world providing music for people to dance to. Click the youtube link below to be taken back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1518.
On this date in 1633 the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church convicted Italian astronomer Galileo of “suspicion of heresy” and placed him under house arrest for life. In his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems Galileo championed the view that the earth revolved around the sun, a theory proposed by the Polish Astronomer Nicholas Copernicus 90 years earlier. Galileo’s observations through his telescope lead him to believe that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around as decreed by the Catholic Church. In the book Galileo lampooned the church’s view that the earth was the center of the universe. He was called before the Inquisition in Rome and forced the recant or be punished as a heretic, which often times included being tortured to death or burned alive at the stake by the Holy Roman Church.
In the Papal Condemnation dated June 22, 1633 the church stated, “The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.” Galileo lived the rest of his life under house arrest and died at age 77 in 1642.
But in a freak of nature the sun stopped rotating around the earth 350 years after Galileo’s death.
On October 31, 1992 the earth began rotating around the sun when Pope John Paul II acknowledged that Galileo was right and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
“The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of the Sacred Scripture,” the pope stated.
This day marks the 5oth anniversary of the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three young civil rights workers who had come to investigate the burning of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church outside Philadelphia, Miss. On the night of June 21, 1964 the three were kidnapped by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia Police Department. The three were shot and buried in an earthen dam. Their bodies were discovered 44 days later and brought national attention and outrage that lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Below is a slideshow of photographs that I shot for the L.A. Times in 2008 and a link to the Simon and Garfunkel song "He Was My Brother," a song dedicated to Andrew Goodman, who was their friend and a classmate of Simon's at Queen's Collge.
On this day in 1929 William Cuthbert Faulkner and Estelle Franklin Oldham were married at the College Hill Presbyterian Church just north of Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner wanted to marry Estelle years earlier but she married another man. Estelle divorced in the spring of 1929 and Faulkner didn't lose his chance this time around. The next year Faulkner bought an old run down plantation house in Oxford and renamed it Rowan Oak. It was there where Faulkner created the fictional Yoknapatawpha County and some of his greatest works including The Unvanquished, Absolom, Absolom!, The Sound and the Fury and As I lay Dying.
Today Hamilton, Ala., hosted a gala event to celebrate the re-grand opening of the downtown area after a $2.6 million revitalization project. The project included correction of infrastructure problems, placement of utilities underground and beautification of the downtown area with new streets, sidewalks and other decorative touches.
Tonight marks what some are calling the “Honey Moon.” At moonrise the moon will appear to take on an amber color due to the lunar orb’s reflected light passing through dust in the earth’s atmosphere. But tonight as the moon rises it will also appear to be larger than normal due to an optical illusion that is completely in the mind. Scientists think the mind tricks us into believing the moon appears larger due to objects in the foreground like trees and buildings. But it also doesn’t hurt that tonight’s full moon marks it perigee- the closest point the moon will sweep to us in its orbit around the earth, a mere 224,976 miles.
And as far as the hype about the Friday 13th full moon- don’t believe it. The moon entered fullness over Alabama last night at 11:12 p.m. Central Daylight Time. If you are keeping score at home that means the full moon occurred from the Central Time Zone westward on Thursday the 12th not Friday the 13th. So in Alabama we’re out of the woods so to speak about any superstitions involving black cats or white dudes in masks coming after us with chainsaws and axes.
Tonight the moon will rise at 8:35 p.m. CDT. So if you are out watching the rise be safe and of course be sure to get a great selfie if you see a masked dude approaching with a chainsaw.
On this day in 1665 New Amsterdam was renamed New York and the first mayor was appointed after the English took control of the city from the Dutch. In 1625 the Dutch built Fort Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manahatta, a name that means “hilly island” in the Algonquin language of the Lenape Indians. The fort was built as a place of refuge for Dutch colonists. Eventually the Dutch built a wall across lower Manahatta as protection against Indians and the British army. Today the wall is gone but Wall Street runs east-west across lower Manhattan Island where the wall once stood. The city was renamed New York to honor the Duke of York who would become King James II.
On this day in 1963 the infamous Stand in the School House door took place at Foster Auditorium on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa. In defiance of federal law Alabama Governor George Wallace, trying to make good on his “segregation forever” promise, attempted to block Vivian Malone and James Hood from entering the auditorium to register for classes. Wallace refused to step aside for United States Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the two students. Katzenbach called President John F. Kennedy and Kennedy mobilized the Alabama National Guard. Wallace stepped aside and the two students registered for classes.
A three-day program known as "Opening Doors," took place on the UA campus from June 9-11, 2003 to commemorate the events of June 11, 1963. Below is a slide show of photographs from that event.
The Mule Day Festival packed the streets of Gordo with fun, dancing, art and music Saturday June 7, 2014. Please enjoy this slideshow.
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org