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April fish!

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: April 1, 2014
  • Filed Under: Holidays, World

A late-19th-century "April fish" postcard depicting a man by the sea with a bouquet of fish.

A late-19th-century “April fish” postcard.


There are many theories about the origins of April Fool’s Day celebrations. One such theory is that it originated in France in the 16th century when King Charles IX adopted the Gregorian calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Legend has it that the people who continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1 were mocked and had pranks played on them.

Despite its popularity, this is a questionable theory, as Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes, points out. The calendar reform was not a sudden change but rather a gradual process throughout the 16th century. In addition, the French New Year prior to the reform was officially celebrated on Easter, which is a holiday based on the lunar calendar and thus has no official relationship to April 1.

Another French origin story for April Fool’s Day points out the large numbers of newly-hatched fish that populated the rivers in April. These young fish were easy to catch and thus became known as “poisson d’Avril” or “April fish.” Celebrating the arrival of these easy-to-catch fish led to people playing pranks on each other and the still-practiced French custom of trying to tape a paper fish to someone’s back and dubbing them a “poisson d’Avril.” The postcard above is an example of poisson d’Avril greetings that were especially popular in the late-19th- and early-20th-centuries.

Regardless of the actual origins of April Fool’s celebrations, be on your guard today and beware the poisson d’Avril!

Further reading:
April Fools’ Day
April Fools’ Day Mystery: How Did It Originate? (National Geographic)
The Origin of April Fool’s Day (The Museum of Hoaxes)
What Is April Fools’ Day? How Did It Begin? (Huffington Post Canada)

And don’t miss the Museum of Hoaxes’ April Fool Archive!

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Halloween Special: Manuale Exorcismorum

  • Posted by: David Uspal
  • Posted Date: October 31, 2013
  • Filed Under: Catholica, Holidays

ManualeExorcismorumSpine

With it being the Halloween season, now is a good time to highlight one on the unique items in our digital collections.

Pictured to the right is the spine for the Manuale Exorcismorum with a hand-drawn demon embellishing the binding. This book is a how-to guide to exorcisms, written in Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands (modern-day Belgium) by R. D. Maximilien de Eynatten and published in London in 1619. Its entire title is as follows:

Manuale exorcismorum: continens instructiones, & exorcismos ad eiiciendos e corporibus obsessis spiritus malignos, & ad quaeuis maleficia depellenda, & ad quascumque infestationes daemonum reprimendas

This translates to:

Exorcism manual: containing instructions & exorcisms to cast out evil spirits from the bodies of the possessed, & to seek to repel witchcraft, & to repress demonic infestations by whatsoever means

ManualeExorismorumTiltePageThe work itself is broken up into three sections. The first part contains general instructions and preparations for exorcisms: things like how to determine if a person is suffering from demonic possession and not from natural diseases, learning about various symbols and their effects, proper time and place for an exorcism, and various precautions to take against demons. The second part details the methods and practices used in an exorcism, including many different prayers, invocations, and solemn oaths, with selected prayers and exorcism methods included from respected authors. Finally, the third part contains methods and practices to expel various kinds of witchcraft or enchantments from both bodies and other objects, including chapters on exorcising dairy products, cereals and other foods (with specific chapters on milk and butter); exorcising a spirit from a home; exorcising witchcraft from your own body and exorcising witchcraft from the bodies of others; remedies against pests, fevers and other natural diseases; and remedies against love potions, amongst others.

Though old and written in Latin, the text reads very much like a modern-day field guide, written in a no-nonsense referential manner so that it could be easily used during field work.

The Digital Library team (more specifically, this author) is currently in the middle of creating an amateur translation of this work, which on completion will be offered as a companion document in the Digital Library (author’s note: who knew those two semesters of Latin in college would pay real world dividends? Then again, two semesters of Latin from over ten years ago makes translation work on this manual slow going, so publication of the translation may be awhile…)

The manual in its entirety can be seen here:

http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:230357

 

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An Easter Treasure: Letters from Saint Elizabeth Seton.

It is with great pleasure and humble thanks on this Easter that we make available the small but important Elizabeth Ann Seton collection.  This collection includes letters from  Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton to Matthias and Joseph O’Conway.  Matthias, a prominent Philadelphian, especially within the Catholic community, was the father of Cecilia O’Conway, Philadelphia’s first nun and the first woman to join Seton’s order, the Sisters of Charity.  The correspondence is personal in nature and relates to several members of the O’Conway family.  Members of the Digital Library team are working on formatting transcriptions of the letters for increased readability.

This also marks a first for the Digital Library:  the scanning of materials physically owned and of course created by a Saint.   Indeed actually touching and photographing these sheets of paper involved treating the objects with the highest degree of reverence.  Speaking for only myself, handling the letters as a scanner was a sacred experience.


 

 

 

 

 

Photograph taken on Easter 2011

 


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“Hallowe’en was in the air”

  • Posted by: Laura Bang
  • Posted Date: October 29, 2010
  • Filed Under: Holidays, McGarrity

Here is a timely snippet from the Joseph McGarrity personal papers collection. One of McGarrity’s daughters, Catherine Meave, sent her father Hallowe’en greetings on October 22, 1925 from Atlantic City. The letter and poem are transcribed below.

Halloween poem

Dear Papa,
    I made this poem up, and drew and painted this card for you for Hallowe’en.

    ”Halloween.”
It was Halloween night
And there was a pretty sight,
For the moon shown bright,
And witches were aflight.
Hallowe’en was in the air,
There were ghost here and there
Always giving you a stare.
And pretty costumes everywhere.
Music was playing happily,
People were rushing hurridly.
And thus came and went,
    ”Hallowe’en.”

      Your loving daughter,
        Catherine Meave

Catherine also included a card with drawings of jack-o’-lanterns and fruit.

Halloween greetings

Unfortunately, we have no dates associated with Catherine, so we do not know how old she was when she sent these. We do, however, have McGarrity’s reply to Catherine, in which he praises her “gift of Poetry” and expresses his delight at receiving her card and poem. It is always a pleasure to find such connections among papers.

Halloween reply

Happy Hallowe’en from the Digital Library!

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Santa comes to town

Posted for Susan Ottignon:

The customary ‘Dear Santa’ letters, written by children every December 24th on Christmas Eve, is a time honored tradition. I encountered 3 such letters, from Mont and Ellie Thackara’s children, when I started transcription work for the Digital Library.

sant1a

In child-like cursive writing the letters to Santa, by each Thackara child, were penned with unique salutations to the ‘Jolly Old Man,’ and included spelling errors that endear us more to these letters We read from Eleanor’s letter “My dear Santa-Clause,” her brother, Sherman wrote, “Dear St Nick,” with the youngest sibling, Lex ,penned “Santy.” The boys knew Santa’s ‘address’ which they either included in the body of the letter or addressed it directly to him. Santa address, according to Lex, was “Master Santy Clause Up the chimney.” Sherman boldly demanded of St Nick, “Unhitch your horses from the North Pole.”

The ‘wish lists’ penned to Santa by Eleanor, Sherman and Alexander (“Lex) Thackara reflect each child’s deepest longings and are shared by today’s children whether one has been ‘naughty or nice.’ Such things as “a pair of skates and a little iron and iron holder” requested by Eleanor. Sherman wanted Santa to “bring me a sled.” Lex was ‘all boy” when he wrote, “Please bring me a rifle a pen-knife and a kodact.” My guess for Lex’s wish was for a Kodak camera available since 1888.

Dear Santy

Alongside the Santa’s letter, tradition beckons children to hang stockings for him to fill with gifts and sweets. The stocking is mentioned in 2 of the letters. Eleanor plainly states:

“. . . fill my stocking full to the brim I am going to hang up an
extra stocking and please fill it to”

Sherman notes his behavior as a good reason for his filled stocking.

“Please fill my stockings very full and do not think me a greedy boy.”

While working on these letters, I marveled over the simplicity of the times and experienced a child’s excitement in the penned letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed transcribing these pieces and many other of the Thackara correspondence. With over a thousand pieces in need of transcription the Sherman-Thackara Collection in the Digital Library has reassured me there many more items to still transcribe.

Dear Santa

Here is a link to the Finding Aid for this part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection.

Alex., Sherman & Eleanor S. Thackara to A. M. & E. S. Thackara (parents)
Corresp., 1892-1897, (including 3 letters to Santa Claus):
William T. Sherman Thackara, (1887 – 1983)
Eleanor Sherman Thackara Cauldwell, (1880s? – ?)
Alexander Montgomery Thackara, Jr., (d. December 27, 1921):

7/5/9
Letter, To: “Dear Papa and Mama” (Ellie and A. M. Thackara) From: “Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), Christmas 1893.
Xmas blessing to parents by Alex

7/5/10
Letter, To: “My dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), Christmas 1893.
Xmas bear story Eleanor

7/5/11
Letter, To: “Santa Claus” From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), [December, 1895?].

7/5/22
Letter, To: “Dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 1896. Xmas Blessing Sherman

7/5/23
Letter, To: “Santy” From: “Your loving friend Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), December, [1886?].

7/5/24
Letter, To: “St. Nick” From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 20, 1896.

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Last Modified: December 3, 2009