Friday, December 12, 2014

Remembering Glenn Miller 70 Years After His Disappearance

Glenn Miller
On Monday, December 15th, it will be 70 years since Big Band musician and bandleader Glenn Miller disappeared. Miller led one of the most popular Big Bands of the 1930s and 40s.

Alton Glenn Miller was born on March 01, 1904 to Lewis Elmer Miller and Mattie Lou (Cavender) in Clarinda, Iowa. When his family moved to Missouri in 1915, he purchased his first trombone and played in the town’s orchestra. In 1918, his family moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado and Miller became enamored with a new music style known as dance band music. When he graduated in 1921, he had decided that he wanted to be a professional musician.
The Dorsey Brothers

Miller’s first gig was with Boyd Senter’s Orchestra. He then moved on to the Ben Pollack Band before heading to New York where he became the musical director for the Dorsey Brother’s Band.

By 1935 Miller was recording under his own name. He formed several dance bands during the late 1930s, but he finally found the right mix in 1939. Besides being a musician and bandleader, Glenn Miller was also a composer. His song “Moonlight Serenade” climbed to the top of the charts in 1939 followed by “Tuxedo Junction,Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “In the Mood” in 1940. The Glenn Miller Band had become one of the hottest Big Bands in the nation.

In 1941, Miller and his band began appearing in Hollywood films; their first movie was Sun Valley Serenade. The next year they appeared in the film, Orchestra Wives.

But America entered WWII in 1941 and Miller put his band career on hold in order to serve his country. 

Capt. Miller
Glenn Miller and Members of the USAAFB
Although at 38, he was too old to be drafted, Miller volunteered and requested that he “be put in charge of a modernized Army band.” Miller’s offer was accepted and he began selecting the 45-members that would make up the U.S. Army Air Force Band. Their mission would be to entertain the troops and keep morale up. The band was a hit both in the U.S. and overseas. The Army Air Force Band played at service clubs around the U.S. and the band also had a weekly radio broadcast. In 1944, Miller received permission to take his 50-piece Army Air Force Band to England where they played over 800 performances that year.

Twinwood Farm Air Base
UC-64 Norseman
Then on December 15, 1944 the band changed forever. Glenn Miller needed to get to Paris so that he could ready things for a series of performances scheduled in the newly liberated country. Miller boarded an RAF single-engine UC-64 Norseman transport plane with two other military passengers, and the pilot took off from RAF Twinwood Farm Air Base near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England. The plane headed out over the English Cannel, but neither the plane, pilot, other two passengers or Miller were ever seen again.

Fog Bank
Mystery still surrounds what happened that fateful afternoon. There are conspiracy theories that suggest Miller was working as an American spy for General Eisenhower; that he did arrive in Paris and was murdered by Hitler’s henchmen before his body was dumped in front of a French brothel. Other stories suggest that Miller’s plane was downed by friendly fire and then the incident covered up.

The official government story was that either foggy weather or mechanical error led to the crash over the Channel. (The plane was known to have a faulty carburetor and the pilot was not certified to fly by instruments alone, something he would have had to do that foggy afternoon.)

RAF Lancaster
Years later, an RAF Lancaster navigator reported that on that afternoon, his plane had to abort a bombing run over Germany. There was a certain area off the coast that had been declared off-limits to air and water traffic so that aborted missions could release their bombs there. The Lancaster logbook reports crew members saw a small Norseman plane flying below them just as the bomb-bay doors were opened. The crew watched the plane go into a tailspin and disappear. The incident was never reported.

Richard Anderton
In 2012, a spotter’s logbook revealed a different story. Family members of the late Richard Anderton didn’t realize what they had when they took his plane-spotting logbook to the BBC version of Antiques Road Show. Anderton, who was 17-years-old at the time, wrote that he had seen Miller’s plane that December day. If he did, then it proves that the Norseman was miles away from the jettisoned bombs, and instead supports the government’s finding of pilot error or mechanical problems.

Glenn Miller Orchestra
The Glenn Miller Orchestra was revived after the war by many of the original members as a way to honor Glenn. In fact, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is still swinging the Big Band sounds and Miller’s compositions around the world.

Although Glenn Miller’s body was never recovered, a memorial tribute to him can be found at Arlington National Cemetery. Another memorial to his memory is located at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.

~ Joy

Friday, December 5, 2014

Green Grave Blankets

Wander a cemetery during the winter and you may come across an arrangement of greenery decorated with pine cones and ribbons lying upon a grave. This is called a grave blanket or a cemetery blanket.

The tradition of placing grave blankets upon graves began in the upper Midwest, brought here by the Scandinavians. During November or December, Midwestern settlers would go out into the woods and gather pine branches to place over a loved one’s grave.

Today grave blankets are sold mainly around the holidays at florists and various retail stores. The “blankets” come in a variety of sizes and shapes; some are adorned with silk flowers or baby’s breathe scattered among the boughs, others trail ribbons and bows.

A grave blanket is usually placed upon a grave around Thanksgiving or Christmas when all foliage is gone; the blanket provides color and decoration during the cold, barren winter months. The placing of a grave blanket is considered personal; therefore family members are usually the ones to lay a cemetery blanket upon a loved one’s grave.

A smaller version of the cemetery blanket is also made and is known as a grave pillow, which is placed up near the headstone.

Most grave blankets can be found in the colder sections of the country, including Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. Cemeteries will remove most grave blankets during the month of March, allowing for the arrival of spring and a new growing season.

~ Joy

Friday, November 28, 2014

Feng Shui Burials

In the 21st century, burial is not as easy as it once was. We now have end of life tours, end of life planning professionals, tailor-made funerals; In fact, there is an end of life revolution occurring throughout the U.S. as Baby Boomers bury parents, and grow older themselves. One topic that caught my attention recently concerned larger cemeteries offering feng shui burials to their Chinese immigrant families.

Feng shui is “a Chinese system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy (qi), and whose favorable or unfavorable effects are taken into account when siting and designing buildings.” – Oxford Dictionary

Feng Shui for the Bedroom
Feng shui (pronounced fung shway) became popular in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia during the 1990s as people sought ways to live lives more in balance with nature. By using certain techniques and methods to affect the flow of positive chi (energy) in their living spaces, work places and burial sites, feng shui is said to promote balance, prosperity and harmony for those who reside there.

Ancient Egyptian Burials
Death and burial traditions are common in all societies. Feng shui has been used for thousands of years in burial traditions. Ancient Egyptians understood the importance of man being in harmony with nature, both during life, and after. And archaeologists have discovered elaborate temples and tombs that adhered to these basic harmonious principles.

The Chinese believe that there is a connection between ancestors and their descendants, even after death; that they continue to share a comparable wavelength. In other words, if the burial of a relative is not considered auspicious and certain requirements are not adhered to, negative frequencies could be passed down to family members and future generations.

Burial Feng Shui
A feng shui burial is made up of many components. Since the body must remain intact, burial is the option most often taken.
The first thing to consider is the location and direction of the grave. When practicing feng shui, certain directions are considered more auspicious than others. Also the direction the body is pointing and the location of the tombstone are believed to be important. And the day on which to hold the funeral must be calculated by a feng shui master.

Here are just a few feng shui practices that apply to a grave’s physical arrangement.

1) Green grass is encouraged to grow on family members graves so relatives water, fertilize and weed around the plots and tombstones.

2) Feng Shui discourages burying a loved one near a tree because the roots can interfere with the coffin. Trees are not allowed to be planted on graves either.

3) Cemetery gates must not pass over any graves because this is considered bad luck and could lead to legal entanglements for the family.

4) It is also bad luck to step on a grave so walkways are constructed in Chinese burial grounds.

5) The dirt on top of a grave should never be allowed to become concave because water will pool there and could cause complications to the grave, and the health of the family.

Graves in Arcs
6) Grave sites should be arranged in arcs instead of in straight rows.

7) A Feng Shui master should calculate the correct angle at which to bury the body, and also the day on which the funeral should be held.

Rose Hills Cemetery
There are numerous cemeteries in the U.S. that are putting the rules of Feng Shui into practice by developing feng shui “neighborhoods.” Most of these are located in California and include Rose Hills Cemetery in Whitter, Fairhaven Cemetery in Santa Ana, Santa Rosa Memorial Park in Santa Rosa, and Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. Others are located in Chicago, Pennsylvania and New York.

Cemetery Feng Shui
As interest in feng shui grows, we can expect to see more cemeteries embracing some of these principles. And to be honest, anything that promotes peace, harmony and balance, even after death, sounds appealing enough to consider – just to be on the “safe” side.

~ Joy

Friday, November 21, 2014

140 Years of The Women's Christian Temperance Union

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is celebrating 140 years as a national organization this month. Founded in 1874, it is the oldest volunteer, non-sectarian women’s organization in continuous operation in the world.

The main thrust of the original WCTU was to seek social reform in a non-violent, Christian manner. The women were determined to create a sober and chaste world by promoting abstinence, purity and Christian values. Within three months members had driven hard liquor out of 250 communities; the Temperance Movement was on its way.

Francis Willard
In 1879 Francis Willard, the group’s second president, took office and began to galvanize the WCTU to take a stand against social issues of the day. The group’s slogan, “For God and Home and Native Land” stated their priorities. Willard began to seek moral and humanitarian reforms along with temperance.

Temperance Group
The WCTU spoke out for abolishing alcohol, enforcing an eight-hour work day, paying a living wage, supporting abstinence and purity legislation, campaigning for national prohibition, providing better schools and education, and encouraging women to become involved in the fight for women’s rights, and the suffrage movement.

Francis Willard
Willard led the group for 19 years, focusing on these morale reforms across the country. During that time, it became the largest and most influential women’s group of the 19th century. Willard understood the empowerment women would gain if they won the right to vote and lobbied around the country for fair and equal treatment. In 1891 she became president to the World WCTU. She died in 1898 at the age of 58.

After Willard’s death, the group distanced itself from women’s issue and began again to target abstinence from alcohol. On January 16, 1919 prohibition was enacted with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. But on December 5, 1933 the so-called “Noble Experiment” ended when the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition.

WCTU Members in 1900
In its heyday, the WCTU had over 370,000 members between 1920 and 1930. With the repeal of Prohibition, enrollment went down and dropped about 100,000 members during the 1940s and 50s. By 1980 membership had dipped down to around 50,000 worldwide. In 2012, the latest year for membership figures, the group claims about 5,000 members still active.

During the past 140 years, the WCTU has played a part in establishing
a woman’s right to vote; stiffer penalties for crimes against women; shelters for abused women and children; promoting child welfare; encouraging physical education for women; creating uniform marriage and divorce laws; homes for wayward girls; founding of kindergartens, federal aid for education; creation of the National Board of Education; assistance in founding the PTA; equal pay for equal work; legal aid; labor’s right to organize; prison reform; promotion of nutrition, and the pure food and drug act.

The WCTU continues to operate today, standing up for social reform, and encouraging its members to sign a pledge of abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Throughout the years, the organization has also taken a stance against abortion, white slavery, and gay marriage. For more information visit the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s webpage.

~ Joy

Friday, November 7, 2014

The History of the Blue Star Memorial Highway

Veterans Day is next Tuesday so this seems like the perfect time to take a ramble down the Blue Star Memorial Highway.

The idea for a designated roadway began when the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs started a Blue Star Memorial Program in 1944. The group planted 8,000 dogwood trees along a 5½-mile stretch of U.S. 22 as a living tribute to the New Jersey veterans of WWII. The roadway was then designated as “Blue Star Drive."

The National Council of State Garden Clubs (now the National Garden Clubs, Inc.) liked the idea and in 1945 began the Blue Star Highway Program. The blue star was used because it was displayed on service flags to denote someone who was fighting in a war. These service banners were originally designed in 1917 to honor those serving in WWI, and were used again in WWII. The flags are still in active use today and can only be made by specific government license according to Department of Defense code.

The Blue Star Memorial Highway signs still look the same with a copper-colored background and the National Council of State Garden Clubs logo mounted on top. The blue star is prevalent on the sign, with the wording in gold leaf letters stating that this sign is “A tribute to the Armed Forces that have defended the United States of America.” The plaque also designates what garden club sponsored it in cooperation with the state highway department of transportation.

The Blue Star Memorial Highway covers over 70,000 miles in the U.S. and can be found in 39 states including Alaska and Hawaii. Many signs still stand where they were dedicated almost 70 years ago.

The program expanded beyond highways to include Blue Star By-Way markers in 1981. These markers are used at civic and historical grounds, parks and gardens.

Then in 1996, a third marker was added – the Blue Star Memorial Marker. This plaque is identical to the original Blue Star Memorial Highway marker but does not have the word “highway” on it. This allows for the sign to be posted at national and veteran’s cemeteries, VA medical centers and hospitals, and other civic sites.

All three signs may be ordered from the National Garden Club’s website. For current rules, visit Guidelines for Blue Star Memorial Markers.

So the next time you pass a Blue Star sign, remember our men and women of the Armed Forces of America. 

Happy Veteran's Day!

~ Joy