Martin Joe Laurello (1885-1955), aka “The Man with the Revolving Head,” “The Human Owl,” or “Bobby, The Boy with the Revolving Head,” was born in May 1885 in Nuremburg, Germany. He was born with a twisted spine that allowed his head to turn a complete 180°. When he had his head turned, his spine was in the shape of a question mark. He was married to Amelia Emmerling, and was a Nazi sympathizer.
He moved to America from Germany in 1921 and began performing with sideshows such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Ringling Brothers, and Barnum & Bailey. Aside from turning his head around, Martin Laurello (formally Martin Emmerling) trained dogs to do acrobatics and was a ventriloquist.
When Laurello would turn his head around, he could not breathe, however he was able to drink. Laurello was at Robert Ripley’s first ever Odditorium at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair and had performed at many Ripley’s odditoriums in the 1930s.
His last recorded appearance was on the show “You Asked For It” on March 24, 1952. He died of a heart attack and was cremated in 1955, at age 70. The video below was taken from the movie “The Incredible Life and Times of Robert Ripley: Believe it or Not!.”
William C. Gaines, Harold E. Martin, Miriam Ottenberg, Deborah Nelson, and Buzz Bissinger. What do all of these names have in common? Well, every single one of them has won the Pulitzer Prize award for investigative journalistic achievement.
Since its launch in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize has come to be regarded as a prestigious mark of recognition in the fields of journalism and literary arts. There are today 21 categories up for grabs in the annual presentation, with the jury members reserving the right to withhold an award if they believe no submissions in that category reach the standard. To wear the badge of Pulitzer Prize Winner is an accolade that is highly coveted.
It is definitely an acknowledgment of serious journalism. But there is a curious part to its inception, and that is the name of the award itself.
The “Oscar” of journalism is named after a man who arguably laid the grounds for what would be known later as “yellow journalism,” a sensationalist press that is the predecessor of today’s tabloid news.
Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He was involved in the newspaper business in 1868, when he started working for the Westliche Post. However, it took some 20 years for him to make a true mark in the field of journalism. By then, he had accumulated enough experience and wealth to own a newspaper; he purchased the New York World for a reported sum of $345,000.
With Pulitzer on top, the newspaper thrived and its circulation began breaking records. This was all due to Pulitzer’s knack for appealing to the masses. He knew what the common people wanted to read and he gave it to them. There were legitimate news stories, but also stories ranging from scandalous affairs to street crimes. People gobbled it up; they couldn’t get enough. Every new day had a new story to tell.
Pulitzer was active in the Democratic Party and interested in social causes. He recruited the investigative reporter Nellie Bly, who is famous for both her undercover reporting and headline-chasing exploits. Business was going well for Pulitzer right up until 1895 when William R. Hearst bought the New York Journal and became involved in the same business. This kick-started a great rivalry between them with a single goal in mind: Who would outsell the other. The crime-and-scandal-fueled rivalry soon turned into an all-out circulation war, giving birth to yellow journalism as we know it today.
So, in retrospect, if Joseph Pulitzer can be considered the one who set the foundation, then Hearst can be viewed as the one who set the course for the tabloids of the future.
Although both newspapers had high circulations, for the critics they were nothing more than low-brow publications. They despised them, especially their methods of reporting and affinity for sensationalism. It was around this period when the term “yellow journalism” became widely known, which brings us to its inception.
The term was already in use among journalists and reporters of the era, but it was Erwin Wardman, the then-editor of the New York Press, who published it first. Among peers, especially serious journalists, the term was often used in a derogatory sense for the news that they made fun of.
Also introduced by Wardman is another expression that was popular at the time–“yellow kid journalism.” For this phrase, he specifically alluded to the main character in Richard Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley comic strip that was published in the two rival newspapers. The Yellow Kid ran first in Pulitzer’s paper. When Outcault was lured away with a bigger salary by Hearst, Pulitzer hired another cartoonist to continue drawing the cartoon for his New York World.
Who invented the tabloids can be debated forever. However, the fact remains that it was Pulitzer who left $250,000 in his will to Columbia University to establish that now most prestigious prize. If it was the other way around, we might be talking about the Hearst Prize.
The Pulitzer Prize remains one of the most important awards for writing. And Joseph Pulitzer made sure that it would be named after him. Whatever his history, the board gives the award based on the quality of the writing itself.
Irving Berlin was born on May 11, 1888, in Tyumen, Russia. He arrived in New York in 1893 when he was only five years old. He would later become one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century.
During his career, he wrote nearly a thousand songs, including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Cheek To Cheek,” “What’ll I Do,” and of course “White Christmas,” which has proved to be his most popular song.
Berlin liked the song so much that he told his secretary Helmy Kresa: “Grab your pen and take down this song. It’s the best song I ever wrote. Hell, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.” So far, the sales numbers surely support his claim.
Berlin wrote the song for the box office hit “Holiday Inn” which was released in the summer of 1942. “White Christmas” was performed for the first time by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day, 1941, on Crosby’s weekly NBC radio program, The Kraft Music Hall.
During World War II, Crosby performed the song for the troops overseas and it became so popular that troops continued to request records of “White Christmas” during the winter months.
It was May 29, 1942, when Bing Crosby recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and Chorus for Decca Records. It was published on July 30 as a single at the same time “Holiday Inn” hit the movie theaters.
By the end of World War II “White Christmas” was the best-selling song of all time for the next 56 years, until Elton John’s re-release of “Candle in the Wind” after Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
“White Christmas” was so popular that Crosby had to re-record it in 1947, because the masters of his 1942 recording session were worn beyond use. After 75 years “White Christmas” is still the best-selling Christmas song of all time and it remains, to this day, the most popular recorded holiday song ever.
No one knows for sure what motivated Irving Berlin to write the song. It is widely assumed that it was written in either New York or LA in the early 1930s. Many suggest that when he wrote the song he was on the West Coast, missing his family, and gathered inspiration from the snowy winters of New York.
Berlin didn’t celebrate Christmas and his own feelings about the holiday were certainly ambivalent. He spent each Christmas Day visiting the grave of his son, Irving Berlin, Jr., who died on Christmas Day, 1928, at only three weeks old.
With just 54 words and 67 notes, “White Christmas” is the most popular Christmas song in America.
“White Christmas” has been recorded by numerous artists and it’s even listed in the Guinness World Records for selling more than 100 million copies worldwide.
Undoubtedly, “The House of the Rising Sun” is one of the most famous songs ever written. It became popular thanks to the British rock band the Animals, but before that happened, there is a huge story-line to be tackled.
Originally a traditional folk song, “The House of the Rising Sun,” also known as “Rising Sun Blues,” tells of life in New Orleans, back in the day when poverty was the fate of many people. Like the majority of classic folk ballads, the authorship of “The House of the Rising Sun” is tricky and uncertain.
Musicologists say that it is certainly based on the broadside ballad tradition; a type of ballad which differentiated from traditional ones. They were popular between the 16th and the 19th century and unlike the traditional ballads, which were more epic in nature, they spoke of love, religion, legends, and wonders, and some were even drinking songs. The ‘broadsheet’ contained the lyrics of the song, along with the name of some popular tune that would match with the lyrics.
In the case of “The House of the Rising Sun,” the theory is it resembles “The Unfortunate Rake,” a 16th-century folk song which over time has evolved into a huge number of variants. The earliest known variant of “The Unfortunate Rake” laments over a young man dying of syphilis. Other variants lament over the fate of young soldiers, sailors, cowboys, or maids, all of whom had lost their life too early.
According to Alan Lomax, a distinguished American collector of folk songs of the 20th century, “Rising Sun” was used as the name of a bawdy house in two traditional English songs, as well being used for pub names across England. He also suggested that the ‘location of the house’ changed from England to New Orleans by white southern performers.
Other sources suggest that the “Rising Sun” originated from France, and referred to a decorative use of sunburst insignia dating all the way back to Louis XIV; it could have been brought to North America by French immigrants.
There are also further unconfirmed implications of “The Rising Sun” being related to other folk songs, one of which, is the folk song “Matty Groves”.
One thing is clear, that the original “The House of the Rising Sun” is older than New Orleans itself, as the city was founded in 1718. Its lyrics were also varying and different than the one we are familiar with today.
The oldest published version of the lyrics is printed by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1925, in the Adventure Magazine, where Gordon ran a folk music column, ‘Old Songs Men Have Sung’; the magazine collected information on traditional American music from magazine’s readers. The lyrics of that version are as follows:
There is a house in New Orleans, it’s called the Rising Sun, It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl, Great God, and I for one
During the 1930’s, the first recordings of the song started to appear. The earliest known recording was released by Appalachian artists Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster. Their title was “Rising Sun Blues”.
On a further note, Alan Lomax, along with his father, curated the Archive of American Folk Songs for the Library of Congress. As part of their job, they worked on the field and were able to record a number of performances of the legendary song. In 1937, Alan produced a recording by the American folk singer, Georgia Turner. Her version of the song, entitled “The Rising Sun Blues” became the standard. This was the ancestor of hundreds of covers that were later on released by numerous performers, included Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and of the course The Animals, who first helped the song become a worldwide hit.
The Animals version made the folk song a number one hit in the UK, France, and the USA. As it was a traditional song recorded by an electric rock band for the first time, music critics regarded it as the “first folk-rock hit”. The American music critic and radio talk show host Dave Marsh would comment that the version by The Animals was “as if they’d connected the ancient tune to a live wire”.
BBC writer Ralph McLean would also note on the 1964 release that is had been “a revolutionary single” after which “the face of modern music was changed forever”.
A construction effort that likely lasted from the 11th to the 15th century, and was also refurbished during Victorian days, the Church of St Edward, Stow-on-the-Wold, in Gloucestershire, was built on the spot of a former Saxon church. The present-day edifice fuses various architectural styles. There are bits of Norman masonry and Early English types of arches and columns. Distinctive as well is the nave clerestory, a testimony to the late Gothic architectural twist.
While all of these authentic features are of interest in their own right, one that might have fueled the imagination of a famous writer is the church’s north door, flanked by two ancient yew trees. Rumor has it that this was the door that sparked J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Doors of Durin,” the west gate of Moria that appears in a scene in the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Nevertheless, this is still just a rumor, and nobody has so far authenticated it.
St Edward’s Church is a great attraction and place of interest, protected as a Historic England Grade I listed building. The small town of Stow-on-the-Wold can take pride in having such an architectural masterpiece within its boundaries.
Some praise of the church’s earliest features can be found inside, like the ornamental nailheads of the columns. These are among the church’s segments that hint of a church of similar proportions occupying the site before this one was completed.
Other portions of the church testify to it not being an ordinary architectural construction. The aisles of the nave are rather uneven. Different corbels, some plain-looking and some grotesque, can be noticed in the nave, perhaps depicting notables of the day.
The chancel is much restored, and it bears elements from Victorian days. The low part of the nave’s west wall further reveals the earliest masonry in the church, likely Norman style.
A grand picture depicting the Crucifixion scene, the work of Gaspar de Crayer, a Flemish painter active in the early 17th century and noted for his various altarpieces, is seen in the church’s south aisle. The piece was presented as a gift here in 1875. Some of the windows of the church are reputably an early 14th-century effort, distinctive for their pairs of trefoil panels that also embed tinier quatrefoils.
The tower gives an imposing feeling too; erected by 1447, it rises more than 80 feet in the air and contains probably the heaviest bells to be found across the county. While the current clock of the tower was installed by the mid-1920s, there was another clock that chimed the hour before, at least since 1580.
Architectural admirers will certainly enjoy all these various aspects of St Edward’s, and likely they will come across more great details upon visiting the church. Another striking element is the pair of old yew trees hugging the north door that is dated to either the 17th or 18th century.
This door, looking as if it had emerged from a fantasy world, perhaps inspired Tolkien in his writing of the memorable door he described in the first part of his famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, there isn’t any written account proving any connection of the Oxford-based writer with this site.
Tolkien included in his book an illustration of the west door of Moria, crafted by both dwarves and elves according to the books, and this was the entrance to Khazad-dûm. After the Dwarven city was left deserted, the manner of how the door could be opened was forgotten. When someone compares Tolkien’s illustration of the door with the actual door at St. Edward, there is only a slight resemblance between the two. More likely, what has heated the debate is the book’s adaption to the big screen, and how the door was depicted in the film.
St Edward’s Door is also known as the Yew Tree Door. Similar-looking doors, perhaps not as impressive as this one, can be spotted at other places in England. Tolkien could have been inspired by this door, or by several others, or possibly from something entirely different–for that, we can never be sure.