My Summer of Disease

This summer I was mostly focused on disease. Not that I had one, nor did anyone else I know. At least, nothing outside of the norm. Allergies came and went, then came back again. A pestilence struck down two members of the family, one of whom was visiting while on vacation (sorry). The last rounds of that stomach virus left the house before anyone else was infected. My hands nearly bled from all the washing; I didn’t eat very well for days. I am emetephobic, yet I spend my free time learning about plagues.

Before we drove to Buffalo and Niagara Falls in July, we visited the James Garfield Monument at Lake View cemetery in Cleveland. He is entombed inside, with his wife, and the cremated remains of his daughter and her husband are next to them. A private organization raised the money needed to build the monument, which speaks volumes to the legacy he left behind after his presidency was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.



That’s not really true, though. Garfield could have, and most likely would have, survived the shooting, had American doctors not probed his bullet wound with their filthy hands. Sterilization and cleanliness of tools and hands – anti-sepsis – were mere suggestions in those days. What actually killed Garfield was the infection that raged through his body for months. Sepsis. His was a miserable, painful, torturous death caused by an imbecile of a doctor (who’s actual first name was Doctor, but was not highly respected by other doctors) who refused to believe in the recent European work on germ theory.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Garfield the moment I heard this story. Not only because of his suffering, but also because he was a president who aimed to ease the suffering of others. He even out-Lincolned Lincoln. If you know anything about him, I think you would agree that his voice in this era of failing leadership is exactly what we could use. He was the anti-sepsis. In a way, he still is.


Throughout the summer, I focused on my upcoming thesis, my final requirement before I graduate with my Masters in American History early next year. I made myself familiar again with the miseries of smallpox, cholera, and the influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed millions around the world. Eventually, I decided to commit my research to yellow fever. Always a believer in the threads that connect one event to another (history has just as many examples of cause and effect as science), I began to look around me for closer sources.


Had yellow fever ever struck Cleveland? The answer is no. But Cleveland had suffered an outbreak of smallpox back in 1902. I learned this one morning when I dropped my daughter off at her new high school’s orientation and, with three hours to kill, walked over to the Dittrick Medical History Center inside Case Western Reserve University’s Allen Memorial Medical Library. The museum is small, but ever since I’d heard about it from a friend in Oklahoma City, I knew I had to go. Where else could one spot this gem of a antique plate? “But my friend, this enema is fine for a horse but not for a gentleman.” 


Fancy some disease reading? Here’s my recommendations:

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (the story of Garfield’s life and death)

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (the Bubonic plague, fictionalized)

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (essays on disease and vaccinations)

Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs (an investigation into how Reconstruction failed and created America’s greatest biological crisis)

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson (cholera, freakin’ terrifying)

Yellow Fever narratives:

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

An American Plague by Jim Murphy

Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793 by J.M. Powell

Fever Season: The Epidemic of 1878 That Almost Destroyed Memphis, and the People Who Saved It by Jeanette Keith

Smallpox narratives:

The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics by Stephen Coss

Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth Fenn

Museum Library Finds


I’ll be completely honest with you: I have no idea what this means.

Each week I spend at least a couple of hours organizing the books in my museum’s library. When I come across something that interests me, I photograph it. The same day I discovered this dedication I also found the word MURDERER written neatly over a snapshot of Reinhard Heydrich’s face. Beneath that were the words NOW IN HELL FOR ETERNITY. I photographed that, too, along with the title of the book. It’s not often I find such emotional, and quite obviously personal, notes inside the books.

But with Oppenheimer I forgot to photograph the title of the book in which this dedication was found. I’m more than a little pissed at myself for that.

There are very few things I know about this, Oppenheimer OR the bomb, seeing as I’ve never watched The Manhattan Project nor do I study things that include terms like “quantum molecular theory” or “deuterium-tritium fusion bomb”. I don’t think I even associate with people who do.

So how was Oppenheimer made a victim prior to the bombing of Hiroshima? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. After some quick research I learned he was accused of being a communist, but that was nearly a decade after the bomb dropped in Japan (the Red Scare isn’t something most high schools teach kids about). Did the author of this book (boy, wouldn’t it be nice to know which book!?!?) have a personal relationship with Oppenheimer, or some other means of being privy to his private feelings? Or is this in reference to Oppenheimer being forever tied to mass death as soon as he discovered the ability to create such a weapon?

If someone knows, or even has an inkling, please share it with me.

Oh, and for any of you Nazi history enthusiasts out there:


Taken from Wilhelm Hoettl’s The Secret Front, published in 1953. Hoettl was a prominent prosecution witness during the Nuremberg Trials, a valuable asset indeed after all his years serving as Adolf Eichmann’s right-hand man. And Heydrich, who I’d never even heard of before I came across this picture, seems to come up in all my research as the man who thought up the “Final Solution”. Heinrich Himmler merely wanted the Jews deported. Heydrich took it a step further.

So here you have three men who were all responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for the brutal deaths of millions.

Oppenheimer: Victim
Hoettl: Author

My museum library has around 8,000 books. I’ve only cleared maybe 250. What else can I possibly find in there?

A Tour of the Midwest: Part Five

looking over Chicago

For this vacation we had an actual agenda, and we followed it quite well. Most of our days in Wisconsin were left open so that we could reunite with family members or head off on spontaneous day trips. Chicago, on the other hand, was a well-planned and, I might add, a well-executed adventure in timing. My husband should be a travel agent.

The plan was to visit five major Chicago attractions in just three days. We managed to get through only four. Part of the trick of timing is to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for meals from museum cafes. A Cuban sandwich is never worth $12, but sometimes convenience is.


Museum of Science & Industry

We left Little Cedar Lake at 8am and headed straight to the Museum of Science & Industry. This really was our first stop, before we’d even checked in at the hotel. It’s a great museum to take kids since it encourages hands-on interaction. This, by the way, is also one of its drawbacks. Chaos aside, all of us managed to find something we enjoyed. Elle almost signed herself up for a dissection class (she’s into forensics and anatomy) but backed out when she learned they would be dissecting a cow’s eyeball (the one body part that makes her squeamish). Matt was excited to tour the U-505, a German u-boat captured by the US Navy in 1944. It has quite the storied history. However, while our CityPASS museum tickets allowed us a free guided tour aboard the U-505, the tours were all completely full by mid-morning. There was never any indication given to us that this could happen, or that we even had to sign up for the tour. Shame on you, museum staff. You disappointed us here, and I’m sure many other folks were disappointed, too. For this reason, we gave the Museum of Science & Industry two fat thumbs down.

U-505 @ Chicago Museum of Science & Technology


After checking into our hotel we had dinner at an Italian restaurant where a strange man, apparently a regular, proceeded to engage us in conversation with a set of plastic eyeballs he used to puppetize his right hand. He was originally from Tulsa, and a retired librarian. And odd. He was very, very odd, but he gave us some great recommendations.



Field Museum

Oh, Field Museum, how fantastic are you!?!?! I could have spent all day, nay ALL WEEK!, in this place. There are dinosaurs (hello, Sue!), minerals and gems, birds from around the world, Egyptian tombs and child mummies, and a Maori hut! Can you believe I actually agreed to pass on the Plants of the World exhibit because we were running out of time? Now I have to go back.

Field Museum

Field Museum

Field Museum - Sue the T-Rex

Maori hut @ Field Museum

Maori hut @ Field Museum

That Maori hut blew my mind. I’d spent so many months last year writing my thesis on the American narrative and our culture of national and personal memory. Part of my thesis compared other cultures’ earliest personal memories based on what parts of the world the children were raised. Yes, I know this rant is a bit off-topic, but it explains why I was so enamored of this structure. Americans and other westerners are from very individual-based cultures and recall first memories from around the age of four. Asian-based cultures, many of which reflect nationalism, avoid individualism which reflects in a person’s first personal memory much later in childhood, usually around the age of six. The Maori tribe of New Zealand maintains a culture that prizes personal family history above all else, and they often recall memories from the age of two. TWO! And here I was standing in a still-used meeting house? Whoa.

Finally, my thesis research can be used to inform someone other than my thesis advisory board! And now back to our regularly scheduled touristing…

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is another favorite of ours! There was a dolphin and beluga show (which a staff member graciously let us see for free), penguins, playful sea lions and river otters, etc. Really, it’s the same thing you see at any aquarium around the country, but this one was near perfection. Again we had lunch in the cafe, with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. A beluga whale talked to us, and a sea lion was also quite the conversationalist. One of the coolest things was the shark fetus!

Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium

at Shedd Aquarium


Dinner? A Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Gino’s East, delivered to our hotel room because I’m lazy.



Willis Tower

Most people know this as the Sears Tower (and some refuse to call it by its new name). Willis Tower’s Skydeck was going to be my biggest challenge, or so I thought. I’d already had to back out of climbing to the top of Oklahoma City’s Skytrail and that’s only 8 stories. The Skydeck is 103 stories. The only way to get there is to be crammed into an elevator with about 30 other people for a 60-second ride to the top. It’s not a quick trip down either, so I knew if I was going to panic that I’d have to do it in a very controlled way. BUT I HAD TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP. PERSONAL CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s back up an hour or so to my first ride on Chicago’s L train. I’m a fairly seasoned DC Metro veteran, yet it dawned on me that the Metro is a much smoother ride than the L train. The fastest way from our hotel to Willis Tower was via the subway. That little nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying Willis Tower Willis Tower Willis Tower clearly had no idea what riding the L train was like. I rode the train out of necessity, but I don’t ever want to do it again.

Willis Tower? No problem. Except I have to touch a wall, or a human being, on the elevator, and it doesn’t matter to me if I know who you are. It might matter to you, but I was lucky enough to ride up and down with a bunch of strangers who didn’t care. Another hint – bring gum, to pop your ears. I felt like I was yelling the whole time because I couldn’t hear anything.

The view is absolutely incredible, though.

Willis Tower

Willis Tower

Willis Tower Skydeck


Willis Tower skydeck

By the time we made it down to solid ground again, we were all exhausted. Matt’s plan was for us to hit up the Goose Island Brewery, accessible via another line on the L train. All above-ground, this ride was easier for me to deal with. But after walking block after block from the train station, deeper into an obviously industrial side of town, it was learned that the brewery is simply that – a brewery. No restaurant, no tasting room, nothing.

Remember the crap my family gave me about Ella’s Deli in Madison, Wisconsin? This is where Matt and I called it Even Stevens, pretty much while we were standing in front of a property filled with shipping and storage containers. Notice THERE IS NO RESTAURANT. But there was plenty of whine…we were hangry, and tired, and hot, and hangry (again).

That's not a restaurant...wrong side of town.

In lieu of the Adler Planetarium, attraction #5, we decided that shopping at Ulta for makeup would put us girls in a better mental state. And it worked. A few hours earlier I had snapped while eating a French dip in the Eleven City Diner, which we’d found after a train ride back into downtown from Goose Island Brewery. There were tears. There were apologies. There were new plans, most of which involved retail therapy and heading back to the hotel to binge on cable television.

I don’t want to rehash the hellish experience that was my $28 pasta takeout from the hotel restaurant that evening, so instead I’ll leave you with more photographs from Chicago. It’s a city I’m happy to have visited, but I’m happier to be home in Oklahoma City.

downtown Chicago

Chicago porches

hotel view

Field Museum

L train

Soldier Field, bah.

hotel bar at Public

Chicago lakefront buildings

Chicago Theater

downtown Chicago

A Tour of the Midwest: Part One

We’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation around parts of the Midwest. It went by too quickly, yet at the same time I was thrilled to pull into our driveway last night, unpack, and crawl into my own bed. Normal life resumes. The 13-hour drive from Chicago treated us much better than the 20-hour drive from North Florida last summer (a torturous haul I wouldn’t recommend to anyone).

During our short stay in Northern Wisconsin, I considered having the family drive a few extra hours north to Upper Michigan where my would-have-been high school reunion was taking place. Late last year I was invited to attend, even though I had moved away from this tiny Michigan town when I was twelve years old. Keeping in mind all the other hours we would be car-bound led me to stay put. A good decision, I think.

How do I recap this vacation? We visited eight cities – some of them were big, most of them were small, and two of them were Springfields. Missouri has the most beautiful roadside wildflowers; Illinois has the most boring landscape. Lake Michigan has cliffs and seaspray and it is breathtaking. And, for just a little while, I felt like I was on top of the world.

So, how do I recap this vacation? Place by place! Or segment by segment, really. The distance between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Green Bay, Wisconsin is approximately 976 miles. We made a few stops in between.



We actually spent the first night in Springfield, Missouri, with my in-laws and had breakfast there. We made a spontaneous stop in Springfield, Illinois because of my Abraham Lincoln-mania and had a convenient lunch there. My husband is the one who pointed out our “eating in Springfields” trend that day. Dinner was not in a Springfield, sadly. But hey, IT’S ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S HOUSE, Y’ALL!



I am starting my master’s degree in American history next month, so what kind of student would I be if I let this opportunity pass me by? We took the tour of Lincoln’s house and learned a lot. Too much for me to retain. What I do remember is this: the top photo is of the renovated house. Lincoln bought the home as a one-story building that had only a few rooms. As his fortune grew, so did his house. The kitchen, pictured above, ended up being a favorite of Mary Todd’s. When Abe was elected and readying the family for a move into the White House, she begged him to allow her to bring this stove. It was top of the line back then. Her husband assured her the White House was adequately equipped with a functioning stove and she finally agreed to drop the subject.



The bedroom featured above belonged to one of the boys, though I never did catch which one. Truthfully, this was my favorite room (besides the nanny’s). It was the only one I can remember that didn’t feature gaudy wallpaper and a blindingly hideous curtain fabric (again, besides the nanny’s). I’m not knowledgeable enough in historic preservation to decide if that’s the fault of the Lincolns or historical interpreters. The photograph of the house is purely for tourist purposes: it is the most popular angle from which to capture a shot.

This photo featured below was a happy accident that led me to find my own personal connection to Lincoln. The reason for this trip to Wisconsin was to visit with my mother’s side of the family, half of whom are Hamlins. And yes, it turns out they are related to Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s VP. HISTORY NERD SCORE! Another Hamlin-esque note of interest: Hannibal Hamlin’s son, Charles, was at the Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was assassinated. When you think about how many presidential assassinations Lincoln’s son, Robert, witnessed, it makes you wonder how much smaller the political world was back then. Or is that just me?



I take full responsibility for this slip-up. Here’s the thing: my daughter’s nickname is Ella and I have known for years about Ella’s Deli in Madison. I’ve been instructed, for my daughter’s sake, to visit Ella’s Deli one day. So the family agreed to drive nearly 90 minutes off our travel route to have dinner at Ella’s Deli. How could we not? WE WERE SO CLOSE! And be sure to try the noodle kugel!!! (whatever the hell that is)

Ella's Diner - Madison

Ella's Deli - Madison (noodle kugel!)

I’m still trying to process this experience. It was an alarming super-sensory adventure. The menu itself is 20 pages long, often featuring the same dish multiple times but it SO MANY DIFFERENT FONTS AND COLORS!!!!!!!!! There were trains making the rounds near the ceiling and mechanical toys flying above our heads. Near our table was an Elvis the Pelvis who sprung out of the wall like a cuckoo bird. Above my husband was a pantiless Betty Boop doll (who’d seen better days) swinging lazily on a swing. It was some creepy, overwhelming shit.

We watched more than one kid lick the windows all while a little girl sitting behind me coughed and sniffled daintily just inches from my hair. It was disturbing to realize the dried…er, stuff (?) on the menu might not be food at all and was probably months-old kid boogers. Ella, my Ella, hilariously declared that she would wait out the next 72 hours to see if she’d caught a virus. The whole family was concerned. (Note: WE ARE FINE! Our next virus watch wouldn’t hit us again until I accidentally stuck my finger in my mouth after touching a Chicago subway rail. Ewww.) Check out the website and decide for yourself, unless your eyes explode from this visual circus, if you’d like to visit one day. Don’t forget the Excedrin.

As for the noodle kugel – I still don’t know what the hell it is, but up there is a picture of it. It wasn’t necessarily awful, instead I found it to be surprisingly edible. Imagine your mom’s creamy homemade macaroni and cheese, baked to a tender crisp on top, and sprinkled with…cinnamon? And dipped in sour cream? I ate it because I was hungry but I don’t ever want to eat it again, that’s for sure.

(I took the hit for making my family suffer through Ella’s Deli but things evened out later during our trip when my husband suggested we take the L train in Chicago to some brewery restaurant that didn’t exist and had us walking around for blocks in the industrial part of the city.)

Next stop: Little Cedar Lake

What’s happening?

Leaves on my pecan tree are what’s happening:

pecan tree buds

Tomatoes in my garden are what’s happening:

finally tomatoes!

Organization in the military museum’s private library is what’s happening:


(Actually, that’s a lie. There is intent. Always. My goal is to have this library organized and up-to-date by the end of the summer. It is difficult, though, when my closest working partner is a state historian. Everything, and I mean everything, reminds him of some off-the-wall or little known historical fact that turns into an hour-long  discussion between the two of us.)

Sweet, sweet sparrow babies are what’s happening:

sparrow babies

And now that the sun shines more prominently on the couch, this is what’s happening:

Sun dog. #teddy #teddarcheese #teddyonmycouch #boingle #boinglesofinstagram

I am currently reading Last Train to Paradise, a fascinating narrative of how Florida’s east coast came to be, all thanks to Henry Flagler. Being a Jacksonvillian (a Jaxon? What are we called?) I am already familiar with Flagler and some of his contributions. I was surprised to learn, though, that Key West was once the most populated city in Florida and that the class separation between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach is nothing new. (Except now you average people have bridges to drive across and no longer have to row your rickety boats back to the mainland encampment where you belong.)

  • The kid made Honor Band. Her fist gig is this Saturday morning.
  • Sunday’s forecast: 97 degrees. SPRING’S OVER, FOLKS. YOU CAN GO HOME NOW.
  • My neighbor texted me at work yesterday to tell me my dog, Chimay, was dead in the front yard.
  • She texted back a few minutes later to tell me she was wrong. And very sorry.
  • The dog is fine.


About the Appearance of Books in Wartime (and of me, in 1988)


The private library of the 45th Infantry Museum is where I’ll be spending my volunteer time from now on. There are around 8,000 titles that include everything from Bill Mauldin’s cartoon collection to the documented fishing conditions of Scandinavian waters during wartime.  The museum’s card catalog is not up-to-date (not to be confused with “outdated” in this case), so I will be checking all the books to be sure they each have their respective filing cards. I only spend about 4 to 6 hours a week there, and I’ve estimated I’ll be finished by the end of the summer.

While thumbing through the first shelf of books, I came across this notice about the War Production Board’s ruling on publishing materials. I had never before heard of this conservative measure. Most of my knowledge of wartime policies comes from reading specific kinds of war narratives or from watching Bomb Girls on Netflix.

It turns out that the War Production Board’s policy on conserving certain materials helped to create the mass-market paperback book. Because the books were lighter, held together with glue (not staples), and used less ink, they were understandably cheaper. And more profitable. Book clubs, which were a regular part of a housewife’s social activities, grew to be even more popular. During the war years, authors worked their magic to have a nationally known book club select their book and distribute it to paying members as the Book-of-the-Month.

Paperback books have been around since the late 19th century, marketed around the United Kingdom to train riders. Their popularity soared, however, when American readers became the recipients of paperback books’ advertising campaigns.

What I find really interesting is how 1940s conservation and consumption applies to today’s world. E-books are not so alien to us anymore, and they allow us to carry thousands of less expensive and more portable versions of a book – any book. I know I’m not the last holdout, but I am a genuine fan of actual pages. I like the feeling I get when I physically turn a page. That’s not to say I’m against e-readers. I do own one. It’s just that I live in 1985 and I can’t seem to love that which I don’t understand: modern technology.

My favorite purses are large enough to carry what I consider necessities: my wallet, cell phone, lotion, makeup, hand gel, lip balm, notepads, pens, hairbrush, camera, and a book (preferably a paperback, for obvious reasons). I might show up somewhere looking like I’m ready to move house, but I’m never bored. When I stand in line at the bank, I read my book. When I wait in the doctor’s office, I read my book. When I’m stuck in traffic, I read my book. And because I’m the slowest eater in the world, my family often abandons me at the dinner table where I finish my meal and read my book. I think it’s obvious that I am a voracious reader, so I can appreciate having access to less expensive and more portable versions of any book.

I am indubitably devoted to the library; I can understand libraries, which is why I’ve taken on the overwhelming task of updating the museum’s card catalog. The fourth-grade version of me is finally living out her dream.


This is actually the seventh-grade version of me: fluffy permed hair, a stonewashed-denim and lace skirt with suspenders, a very short date wearing an ill-fitting jacket. Even back then I looked like I belonged in a library, though I should have done a lot more research in fashion.