Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Perfection of Deception: Magicians Who Have Changed World History

Harry Maurer’s amazing presentation Perfection of Deception: How Magicians Have Changed History was a terrific hit for our library and college. He is  such a polished performer with a mesmerizing voice and great comic timing. His passion for magic is palpable and your knowledge encyclopedic. Magic truly is a powerful force that can be used to change the course of history. I was especially enthralled with the story of the battle of Alamein. My eyes were opened and so were others in the audience. Some young children were hanging on Harry’s every word, students will write papers about this, and our LIFE regulars were soaking up all the knowledge. - Claire Gunnels, Assistant Library Director

Sponsored by Lone Star College-CyFair Windows on the World (WOW) and Lone Star College-CyFair Branch Friends of the Library.

Royal Wedding Madness

Welcome, citizens of CyFair and patrons of LIFE, to the blog regarding that most fascinating and copied of traditions, the events which millions clamour to watch and pundits run out of platitudes to describe: the royal wedding. Yes, yours truly finally got to host a LIFE class on one of my favorite topics, royalty, and I had a devil of a time cramming my 28 pages of notes into an hour long class. But the class seemed to understand me as I sped my way through the ages. I won't post my notes here (if anyone would like to see them, just let me know), but I will highlight some of the more interesting tidbits. See the slide show at the bottom for images of the weddings we covered. And keep watching TV! Harry has to get married sooner or later....

When we think of white weddings, we typically think it dates back to Queen Victoria, which isn't completely accurate. Victoria popularized the white wedding dress, but she was far from the first to wear it. The first recorded use of a white wedding dress was the marriage of Phillipa, daughter of Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) to Eric, King of Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 1406. She wore a dress of white silk with grey squirrel and ermine borders. Why did that ever go out of fashion? But Victoria's wedding was a huge international event widely reported on by the media, hence why we believe the tradition started with her. Think that white = purity or virginity? Wrong! In the old days, it actually stood for wealth, as white was a difficult color to make and maintain (no bleach, I can't believe they bothered) so only the very wealthy could afford white. It wasn't until the rise of the middle class in the late 1800s and the invention of bleach in the early 1900s that middle class women could afford to emulate the wealthy, and thus the white wedding was born. It wasn't until the mid 20th century that people looked back at Victoria's era of familial love and modesty and falsely claimed that white symbolized virginity.

HRH Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - 1840

- she planted a sprig of myrtle from her bouquet at the Isle of Wight, which still lives today and from which every other royal bride has taken a cutting for her bouquet.
- She and Albert (who was her cousin) had a great, ahem, love life, but she wrote in her diary that she wasn't so fond of the after affects (9 kids).
- They had 9 kids and 42 grand kids, 26 of which married into royalty or nobility around the world, giving rise to her nickname, "Victoria, grandmother of Europe".
- She married as a Queen, which is part of the reason her dress and the ceremony had to be spectacular: she was representing her empire and her people.
- Back then your engagement ring (if you could afford one) was typically the bride's birthstone: emerald in Victoria's case. Diamonds didn't become popular until De Beers started marketing them as THE engagement stone roughly 60 years ago. Sapphires are the most popular engagement ring among royals. Rubies and opals are rare as they are supposedly bad luck.
- She reigned for 63 years and 7 months, living to be 81. At the time of her death she was the longest reigning British monarch, the longest living British monarch and longest reigning female monarch in the world.

HRH Prince Albert “Bertie”, Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon - 1923
- He proposed to her 3 times before she accepted because she was “afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”.
- Although her dress was popular at the time, it looks awful today. The flapper look, long and straight, didn't age well and didn't suit her figure. She was the last of the royal line not to wear a tiara at her wedding, which is a more recent trend.
- She started 3 royal wedding trends: 1) hers was the first filmed (we have only the procession to the Abbey), 2) her wedding band came from a lump of gold given to the royal family by the Welsh people from the now-closed Clogau mine and, 3) she laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey on her way in (although all other royal brides lay their bouquet on the way out).
- She endeared herself to the British people by refusing to leave Buckingham Palace during WW2. When the Palace was bombed, she famously said "I'm glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face".
- She died at age 101, having outlived her daughter Princess Margaret and Princess Diana.
- Their marriage has been made famous lately by the Oscar winning film "The King's Speech".

HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson - 1937
- No members of the royal family attended their wedding in France.
- Edward abdicated the throne to marry her (a twice-divorced American) since no member of the royal family is allowed to marry a divorcee. History believes she would rather have been the mistress of a King than the wife of an exiled Duke.
- Her wedding dress went on to become one of the most copied dresses of all time, and still looks stylish by today's standards. The color (actually called Wallace blue by the designer) has faded today to a bland cream color.
- While she and Edward were "dating", she became the first woman to make the cover of Time Magazine as "Woman of the Year" in 1936.

HRH Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (Lieutenant BRN) - 1947

- She famously saved ration cards to buy the material for her dress, of which there was an almost scandal. There were rumors the silk for her dress came from...wait for it...enemy silk worms from Italy or Japan. But it was soon confirmed they were politically correct silk worms from Nationalist China (my how things change) so trouble averted. However, the Chinese silk may have been the worse choice in the long run as the silk is weighted with tin which has accelerated the aging process. The dress in now a dingy gold color, having been a brilliant white on her wedding day.
- First of the modern day royal brides to wear a tiara (the fringe tiara).
- This wedding was recorded by BBC radio and broadcast to a worldwide audience of 200 million.
- The Queen wanted her house to be the House of Mountbatten (the anglicized version of her husband's name) but due to anti-German sentiment, Prime Minister Churchill and Dowager Queen Mary felt keeping Windsor would be best.
- Prince Phillip reportedly said he was the only man in the world not allowed to pass his name on to his family. To appease him, the Queen gave the surname Mountbatten-Windsor to all male descendants without royal titles. This won't kick in until Harry has kids.
- Less than 5 years after her marriage, her father died early, while she was in Kenya.
- She was crowned Queen at age 26, and her coronation was watched on TV by over 270 million.
- In 1952 Time Magazine named her the second (and last) "Woman of the Year". Since then, other women have been included in groups of "People of the Year".
- The Queen’s estimated wealth ranges from $100M - $450M. She owns Sandringham Castle and Balmoral Castle but not Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, the crown jewels or most of the artwork (royal collection).
- She could easily become the longest reigning monarch in Great Britain and longest reigning Queen in the world if she surpasses Victoria, the current record holder. She will need to reign until 9/10/2015(89 years old). Her mother lived to be 101, so this is doable.
- The Queen is Patron of 620 organizations. The Duke patronized over 800 in his heyday. When he turned 90, he cut down to about 200.
- The Queen works so hard, in some ways, to repair the image of the royal family from the follies of her children and their spouses.

HSH (His Sovereign Highness) Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly - 1956
- Her dress is widely regarded as the most timelessly beautiful of all royal wedding dresses. It was designed by MGM costume designer Helen Rose. MGM gave her the dress as a gift and let her out of her movie contract provided the couple allowed MGM to film their and distribute the footage, which they did.
- An estimated 30 million watched the wedding on TV.
- After the wedding Rainier banned all of Grace’s films, to not blur fact and fiction. They are still banned today.
- Why not a King/Queen? Monaco is a principality; hence its head of state is a Prince or Princess. The UK is a Kingdom; hence its head of state is a King or Queen. In the UAE, they are Emirates; hence their head of state is an Emir.

HRH Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones - 1960
- Margaret first wanted to marry Peter Townsend, divorced father of two, in 1953. Queen Mary had just died and the (current)Queen had yet to be crowned and was to take a 6 month tour of the empire. She asked Margaret to wait. But the British cabinet and Churchill were unanimously against the marriage, as marrying a divorcee was against the laws of the Anglican Church.
- She supposedly accepted Armstrong-Jones’ proposal a day after learning Townsend had proposed to another.
- This was the first British royal wedding televised, watched by over 300 million.
- They divorced July 11, 1978, after several public affairs. This was the 1st divorce of a senior Royal since Princess Victoria of Edinburgh 1901, and approval for royal divorce may be Princess Margaret's unintentional legacy.

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer - 1981

- Wedding held at St. Paul's Cathedral instead of the traditional Westminster Abbey, because St. Paul's held more people (3,500 to 2,000).
- Her dress was a puff ball meringue wedding dress, with huge puffed sleeves, a frilly neckline, lots of lace, lots of pearls, lots of ... volume. Although popular at the time for looking romantic, in retrospect, the dress looks too big for her and more like a costume than a dress.
- Her £42,000 oval sapphire ring was called a "commoner's sapphire" since she chose it off a tray in a store, rather than the groom designing the ring for her, which most other royal grooms have done. Since her death, it is now one of the most coveted pieces of jewelry and is considered almost priceless.
- They met roughly 13 times before they married (according to her).
- She arrived at the cathedral in the glass coach with her father. Dress designers hadn’t anticipated the cramped space, so her dress and train were wrinkled when she stepped out.
- The couple chose not to include “obey” in their wedding vows, causing controversy.
- She switched Charles’ first and middle names, prompting Prince Andrew to say “she’s just married my father”.
- They were the first couple to kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, a trend followed by other royal couples.
- The couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996. She lost HRH and became Diana, Princess of Wales.
- She died in a car wreck in August 31, 1997. Mother Theresa died the day before, but Diana eclipsed her in the news.

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles - 2005
- Prince Charles finally married the love of his life rather late in his life.
- Charles is the first member of the royal family to get married in a civil ceremony in England.
- The wedding had to be a civil ceremony because the Church of England forbids the remarriage of divorcees if their ex-spouse is still living (that was the problem with Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson which led to the abdication crisis). If Camilla’s ex-husband was dead, then it would be a marriage of a widower and a widow, which is allowed.
- The civil ceremony choice was very contentious. The Marriage Act of 1836 excludes the royal family from civil marriages in England and Wales, but not Scotland. Legal experts disagreed and stated that law was overturned by the Marriage Act of 1949, in which the royals were not excluded. The British government upheld the notion and they were allowed to marry, but there are dissenters out there who believe the two are not technically married.
- The wedding was originally supposed to be in Windsor Castle, but it was moved to Windsor Guildhall after it was discovered that to license opening the castle for the wedding meant opening it to other weddings for at least the next 3 years.
- The date was originally scheduled for April 8, but was postponed for 24 hours so the Prince could attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton - 2011
- The couple started dating in 2001, and broke up at least once during that time.
- They dated so long, the press called her “Waity Katie”.
- Roughly 2 billion people watched the wedding on TV, and about 1 million lined the streets.
- The bride wore 2 dresses by Sarah Burton: the wedding dress and a second dress for their second reception later that evening in Buckingham Palace.
- the wedding dress is on display at Buckingham palace now through October 3rd.
- It is traditional in England for bridal parties to wear white, something most Americans don’t like. They also typically use children in the wedding party, not adults.
- The couple surprised onlookers as they left Buckingham Palace after the wedding breakfast and drove from the Palace to Clarance House in a decorated Aston Martin.
- They spent their wedding night at Buckingham Palace and flew via helicopter back to their home in Wales so he could go to work the following week. They honeymooned later in the Seychelles.
- The only unfortunate part of their wedding was the massive coverage of the stupid hats worn by the guests, most famously Princess Beatrice's "pretzel" hat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lincoln and the Road to the Emancipation Proclamation
A record crowd greeted Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel, Assistant History Professor at Rice University, for his presentation on Abraham Lincoln this past Wednesday. Contrary to what schoolchildren across the country have been taught in history class, Dr. McDaniel revealed to the audience that President Lincoln had in fact been very reluctant to address the issue of emancipation of slaves during the Civil War. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, Lincoln asserted that preserving the Union at all costs was his only concern: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Lincoln believed that abolishing slavery would only aggravate the southern border states, tipping the balance in favor of the Confederate rebellion. He also believed that the U.S. constitution did not afford him the right, as President, to declare freedom for all slaves. Further, Lincoln questioned the practicality of assimilating freed slaves into American society and compensating southern slave owners for their loss.

Ultimately, it took progressive acts of Congress and leadership from Lincoln’s own military officers to realize change. In July of 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which declared that any slaves encountered by Union forces would be considered free. The Emancipation Proclamation, borrowing much of the same language from Congress, was signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation served to seal the fate of the Confederacy and ensure that slavery would not survive the war. In an ironic twist, Dr. McDaniel concluded his riveting presentation with a rare archival photograph depicting African American soldiers standing guard during Lincoln’s second presidential inauguration ceremony.

Wednesday’s program was part of the American Library Association’s traveling exhibit entitled “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” on display at LSC-CyFair until February 17. For more information on upcoming events from this series, please visit the library’s website:

View the Civil War in Four Minutes at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan

Greetings LIFEers and Happy New Year! Lets get 2012 off to a great start by working on our annual new year's resolution to be healthier by detoxing. Dr. Chase Hayden joined us again to talk about ways to detox your system.

Many people and cultures detox in various ways. Sometimes just fasting on water for a day will help clean out your system. Or you could change your diet for a few weeks and consume nothing but vegetables, lean meat and water (which is what Dr. Chase recommends).

Voltaire had a great saying. "We put drugs of which we know little, into bodies of which we know less, to cure diseases of which we nothing at all." Before you start approaching your health by taking more pills, ask you doctor about detoxing and changing your diet. Then stick with it for 21 days. Check your results. We can achieve great changes in our bodies and our health by making minor changes in our diets. Check out Dr. Hayden's slide show below, and start working off those holiday calories.