Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You can't take it with you. Or can you?

Sorry this isn't more of a Christmas theme...but I just couldn't pass it up.

Apparently there is a recent new trend among funeral homes and cemeteries. A lot of people are requesting that lost loved ones be buried with cell phones, blackberries, ipods, etc.. Some families seek comfort in being able to call a loved one for a time after they've been buried - obviously knowing no one will answer - but in hearing their voice mail message.

This reminds me of so called "safety coffins" that were a brief trend in the 1800s. Some people were so worried about being buried alive that they requested coffins with a mechanism that would permit them to signal their vitality from the grave, should it exist.

It seems a lot of 19th century designers missed the part that a buried coffin might quickly run out of air - rendering any signaling bell or flag pretty moot in short order. Nonetheless a lot of these coffins were put into use - though there is no recorded instance where one worked to save the living from the grave.

The recent trends with cell phones does not seem to have much to do with protecting folks from being buried alive. But if one happened to find themselves in such a situation - wouldn't that be a great time to have signal?!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Octagon

A place that many people haven't heard about in Washington, DC is the Octagon.

Nobody is sure how this building got its name, since it doesn't actually have eight sides. But the structure was built between 1799 and 1801 about a block away from the White House. It was the first residential building in the neighborhood and was designed to instill confidence in the future development of what was then called "Federal City" as the new nation's capitol.

When the British burned the White House in 1814 (during the War of 1812) - James and Dolley Madison used the Octagon as a temporary residence. In February of the following year, the Treaty of Ghent was signed in the second floor of the Octagon, ending the War of 1812 with Great Britain.

Since then the building has various uses and tenants, it is now maintained as a museum by the American Architectural Foundation. It's a little known place that has taken part in a whole bunch of history.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hand Over Fist

Not very many people are making money "hand over fist" these days. But do you know where that expression comes from?

It turns out that once upon a time, all money was made that way. Coins where stamped out of metal with dies. Mint workers would grip the stamp with one hand and press down with the other: hand over fist.