On Hermits and Hermitages

Moritz von Schwind [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Moritz von Schwind [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In his recently published book, “The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome,” Gordon Campbell traces the strange and unbelievable history of the oft-fantasized hermit. The Boston Globe recently wrote a bit about Campbell’s new book and the history and origins of our modern take on the hermit lifestyle. Below are some amazing snippets of the Globe article, which are rich with lore and fact.

…For several decades beginning at the middle of the century, live hermits were the height of fashion for the British gentry. New trends in garden design—away from formal, geometric grounds and towards artificial Edens—created a new kind of cultural habitat, which some people filled with an actual occupant. Provided with a hut or grotto to call his own and a few simple meals a day, a garden hermit might live for years on a picturesque corner of the property. Wandering guests would marvel at this living, breathing symbol of rural withdrawal.

The hermit, Campbell argues in his book, was a public symbol of an emotion that we have since learned to bury: melancholy. Sadness was something one cultivated, a state that suggested emotional sensitivity and a kind of native intelligence. To employ a garden hermit—cloaked in rags, performing solitude—was to assert a fine sensibility, one keen to the spiritual benefits of privacy, peace, and mild woe.

And from Campbell’s interview:

The term is often seven years, the hermits are not allowed to wash their hair or cut their nails, which sounds horrendous. They had to live austerely, and when their term was up, they’d receive 4 or 5 or 600 pounds, enough to never work again. Landowners had enormous power. They could also say to one of their tenants, “I want you to be my ornamental hermit. Here is your druid costume.”


The History of the Olympic Pictograms

An amazingly articulate, informative, and insightful history of graphic design and our cultural history as it pertains to our beloved international meeting of the bodies, The Olympics.

Of all the instances in which graphic communication is necessary to transcend language barriers, the Olympic Games are, if not the most important, probably the most visible. We take the little icons of swimmers and sprinters as a given aspect of Olympic design, but the pictograms were a mid-20th Century invention—first employed, in fact, the last time London hosted the games, in 1948 (some pictographic gestures were made at the 1936 Berlin games, though their mark on international memory has been permitted to fade because of their association with Third Reich ideology).

The 1948 London pictograms were not a system of communication so much as a series of illustrations depicting each of the competitive sports, as well as the arts competition, which existed from 1912 to 1952 and included architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. In 1964, the Tokyo games took pictogram design to the next level by creating a complete system of typography, colors and symbols that would be applied across Olympic communications platforms.

Pictograms for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic, designed by Katsumi Masaru (image: Virtual Olympic Games Museum) [Smithsonian blog]

Read more here, at the Smithsonian blog. Hat tip to BoingBoing for the original posting

Congress of/for Curious Peoples 2012

Coney Island, if you were a blanket I would wrap myself in you.  You are a perfect living, breathing embodiment of the obtuse, the intelligent, the whimsical, and the frivolous nature of New York City’s fair citizens. Your epic history, your tumultuous present, and your unknown future should be celebrated equally, so that all fully understand what lurks behind each shadow and shines against each ocean wave.

Aaron Beebe of the Coney Island Museum and Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy Library bring you their annual celebration of all things strange, amazing, and remarkable, The Congress of Curious Peoples!

…The Congress of Curious Peoples is a 10-day series of lectures and performances devoted to curiosity and curiosities broadly considered. If features sideshow acts, lectures, performances, and a 2-day scholarly-yet-popular symposium called The Congress for Curious Peoples, which is produced by The Morbid Anatomy Library in tandem with The Coney Island Museum.              -From the Morbid Anatomy blog

Courtesy of the Morbid Anatomy Library blog.

Read ahead for the full schedule, or visit The Morbid Anatomy blog for a listing with full links! 

Saturday and Sunday, April 21st and 22nd


11:00 – 12:00: Keynote Addresses

  • Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy Library
  • Aaron Beebe, Coney Island Museum

12:00 – 1:00: Lunch

1:00 – 3:30: Immersive Amusements: Cosmoramas, Cycloramas and Panoramic Illusions: Panel discussion moderated and introduced by Aaron Beebe, The Coney Island Museum

  • Suzanne Wray
  • Sara Velas, The Velaslavasay Panorama
  • Jessica Routhier, The Saco Museum
  • Errki Huhtamo, UCLA
  • Russell Potter, Rhode Island College
  • Denise Blake Oleksijczuk, Simon Fraser University

4:00 – 5:00: The Business of the Dead: Frederik Ruysch as an Entrepreneurial Anatomist, Lecture by Daniel Margocsy, Hunter College

5:00: Christmas in America: Miss Velma and the Evangelist Spectacle: Screening of “Christmas in America,” an early 1970s television special by Miss Velma, early TV evangelist, introduced by Daniel Paul


11:00 – 1:00: Religion and Spectacle: A panel with discussion moderated and introduced by Joanna Ebenstein,Morbid Anatomy Library

  • Paul Koudounaris, author of Empire of Death
  • Shannon Taggart, Photographer
  • The Venerable Tsering Phunstok
  • Colin Dickey, author of Cranioklepty

1:00 – 2:30: Lunch and Sideshow Visit

2:30 – 3:30: Traveling Ethnographic Shows and Human Zoos, a lecture by Elizabeth Bradley

3:30 – 5:30: Theater Rethunk: An Alternative History of the Theatrical: A panel with discussion moderated and introduced by Chris Muller

  • Amy Herzog, Queens College
  • An as-of-yet unnamed representative of Sleep No More
  • Chris Muller, New York University
  • Dick Zigun, Founder of Coney Island USA

And now, for the full 10-day Congress Schedule:

Friday, April 13
Opening Night Party featuring The Lizard Man and the annual inductions into the Sideshow Hall of Fame.

Saturday, April 14
Alumni Weekend at Sideshows by the Seashore (Continuous Admission, Tickets at the door); Colonnade of Curiosities in the Freak Bar.

Sunday, April 15
Alumni Weekend at Sideshows by the Seashore (Continuous Admission, Tickets at the door); Colonnade of Curiosities in the Freak Bar

Monday April 16th
7:30 – (Lecture) Amy Herzog: Architectural Fictions: Economic Development, Immersive Renderings, and the Virtualization of Brooklyn
9:00 – (Performance) Shea Love and the Circus Emporium

Tuesday April 17th
7:30 – (Lecture) Philip Kadish: “Pinhead Races and the White Man’s Burden”
9:00 – (Performance) The Squidling Bros Sideshow

Wednesday April 18th
7:30 -(Lecture/Performance) ‘An Evening of Fate, Chance and Mystery’ with Lord Whimsy and Les the Mentalist
9:00 – (Performance) Jo Boobs

Thursday April 19th
7:30 – (Lecture/Performance) Erkki Huhtamo: “Mareorama Revisited”
9:00 – (Performance) The Curious Couple from Coney Island

Friday April 20th
7:30 – (Performance/Reading) “Venus,” a play by Suzan Lori Parks
9:00 – (Performance/Lecture) Sideshow Legend Jim Rose

Saturday April 21st
Super Freak Weekend at Sideshows by the Seashore (Continuous Admission, Tickets at the door); Colonnade of Curiosities in the Freak Bar
Congress For Curious People (Day 1 of a 2-day Symposium)

Sunday April 22nd
Super Freak Weekend at Sideshows by the Seashore (Continuous Admission, Tickets at the door); Colonnade of Curiosities in the Freak Bar
Congress For Curious People (Day 2 of a 2-day Symposium)