Category Archives: Links to External Articles

Virtual Tour: Money Museum

Let’s go on a virtual outing! This time, to a Swiss museum located on my doorstep, in Zürich. I can’t imagine a better place to have a museum on that topic.

Have you ever wondered where coins started, or what the history of money is? Look no further. Have you ever wondered what blockchain technology is, or what cryptocurrencies are (and there are over 8 thousand so far!)?

Included in the tour are 5-minute podcasts exploring the topic of money, as well as visual tours of coins throughout time and regions.

Besides the online presence, this museum is also a library and a forum, where people can gather for lectures and discussion groups around the topic of money, finances, markets, etc.

Coins are just one form of payment, but throughout the centuries, different people have put a value on different objects, and trading them became a type of currency: When the Russian currency nosedived in value, vodka became a currency because, in that culture, vodka was the most stable commodity! In other cultures, beads, shells, water gourds, and many other objects have been currency; in another article, I’ve talked about hack silver – jewellery worn with scoring to allow easy division into pieces to trade for goods.

Here’s a quick question for you: Do you know what your money really looks like? We may have handled it dozens of times in a week, but have we ever really stopped to examine it? I remember back when shillings were still valid coinage in Britain – they were used in lieu of 5p pieces; when the new coins came into circulation, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what they’d looked like before! The same goes for banknotes here in Switzerland, which changed to the current design back in 1995. Once a new coin or banknote comes into use, it’s hard to remember what the old ones looked like. Interestingly, some Swiss coins have not changed; I once found a 10-rappen coin in my purse from 1899! It went straight into my coin collection. Since then, I always check my loose change. As a matter of fact, the 10-rappen coin holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest original currency in circulation.

The history and scope of money is a fascinating one, once you scratch below the surface. Click here to take the virtual tour through the world of money, and enjoy!

The Swiss 10-rappen coin, the oldest original currency in circulation today.

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History Undusted: Advent Calendars

This month has flown by! Last weekend was our church’s annual advent market, and I was present with tables full of crafts, as well as marble-iced cookies, Spitzbuben, cheese cookies & apple chips (dehydrated). Before it took off, I was preparing, baking, labelling, and doing all the little bits and bobs to get ready; it went off well, considering the limitations of Covid. I also got our own Advent calendar completed – I talk about that more in a previous post. But the whole topic of the market got me wondering where Advent calendars started, so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve discovered: As you probably know, advent calendars today can take any form you choose; the only common factor is that they usually cover 24 days and begin on 1 December (as opposed to following the 4 Advent Sundays – this year, the first Sunday fell on 28 November). The first calendars weren’t: In the early 1800s, German protestants began marking chalk lines on a wall or lighting a candle each day of the Advent season; they sometimes accompanied the act with a devotional reading or with an image centered around the advent, or coming, of Jesus (traditionally celebrated on 25 December, though that was hardly his birthday – but that’s another topic). The first actual calendars were made of cardboard in Germany, and appeared in the early 1900s; they often had either a poem or a picture behind each door, and were produced until World War 2, when the Nazis banned their use on the excuse that cardboard was scarce – and then, in 1943, they promptly sent out advent booklets to every mother in the land – but they seem to have missed the point: their versions had images of German soldiers blowing up Russian tanks and sinking allied ships!
The Nazi’s idea of Advent celebrations… the less said, the better!
After the war, Richard Sellmer, of Stuttgart, was able to get permission from the allied officials to begin printing cardboard Advent calendars once again, and his company still produces them today – click here to visit their website. After the war was over, the American soldiers took the idea back to the States; their popularity took off in the 1950s after a photo appeared in a newspaper of President Eisenhower’s grandchildren with a Sellmer calendar.
Image from the Sellmer website, showing President Eisenhower’s grandchildren opening a Sellmer calendar
I guess you could say that the rest is history! With Advent beginning, I hope yours is ready for Wednesday! And Christmas is coming soon! If you’re interested in knowing the history behind Santa’s red suit, just click here!

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Project TeamSeas

If you don’t follow certain vloggers on YouTube, you might not have heard of #TeamSeas yet; if you do and have, then join the team!

First, a bit of history on this campaign: Back in 2019, YouTuber MrBeast hit 20 million followers, and a fan suggested that he celebrate it by planting 20 million trees (as one does). Fellow YouTuber and engineer/inventor Mark Rober, formerly of Nasa’s JPL Mars Curiosity rover team, joined the effort to launch the collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation; YouTubers would raise the money through raising awareness, and for each dollar donated, a tree seedling would be planted by volunteers somewhere it was most needed, based on the assessments of the foundation’s research. The goal was reached before the end of 2020, reaching over $23,166,000 and counting.

Now fast forward to 29 October 2021: The same YouTubers have teamed up once again to launch TeamSeas, the aim of which is to clean up plastic marine debris.

Plastics, in the broader sense of the word, have been around for thousands of years, though the original products were made of natural rubbers or animals horns, both of which would break down and be reabsorbed into the environment with little impact. What we think of as plastics really began to boom after World War 2. The tragedy, or travesty, of it is that, from the beginning, manufacturers had no solution for recycling their product waste, but that didn’t slow down production. Every piece of plastic that has ever been made is in the environment somewhere.

In the oceans specifically, there are five natural gyres, or large circular ocean currents, and these corral floating debris into what are now known as “garbage patches”. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas, and that’s just what’s floating on the surface.

The topic is a fascinating one to me, because I’ve collected garbage from beaches when we’ve gone on holidays to coastal areas, and I’ve seen the problem growing. About ten years ago, a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat, was diving while on holiday in Greece. The garbage outnumbered the fish, and he decided to do something about it. He has invented robotic boats that are “great at catching plastic and terrible at catching fish,” as the catchments only go down a few meters, and move slow enough for fish and marine animals to simply swim down and away. He plans to release a fleet of these ships not only to the garbage gyres but also to the sources of the problems – rivers that wash garbage into the ocean from upstream.

The goal is for TeamSeas to raise $30 million before the end of this year; as of the moment of writing this, they have reached over $12,720,000. Half of the money raised will be going to Boyan Slat’s nonprofit organization to build and launch garbage-eating ships, and the other half of the money will go toward ocean conservation – this will be in the form of providing volunteers with the equipment necessary to clean up the beaches and waterways, and getting out onto the ocean to join the Ocean Cleanup’s work.

To find out more, please take the time to follow the links below:

Mark Rober’s informative video about what it’s all about

Boyan Slat’s The Ocean Cleanup nonprofit organization

TeamSea’s website – here, you can get up to date with what’s happening, and donate!

Watch some of the activity that takes place aboard an Ocean Cleanup vessel when a load comes in.

The Ocean Cleanup begins to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and closes the loop by recycling the collected garbage into pellets, which can be turned into useable products, such as sunglasses.

Please consider getting involved in any way you can! If you can’t get out there and collect rubbish from a beach, a few dollars will go a long way to helping others reach the goal of cleaning up the oceans. The biggest thing you can do is to become aware of your own environmental impact: Recycle; use products wisely and dispose of them properly; upcycle where possible; check with your local government agencies about ways to improve collection and reuse of rubbish in your area; buy products that are not wrapped in plastic (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables bought loose rather than in a plastic-wrapped convenience pack). Like the butterfly effect, every little step makes a huge difference in the long run.

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Psychology Undusted: Digital Dysmorphia

This topic is a bit of a rabbit hole, and longer than my usual article, but I feel that it’s an important issue to address.

Image Credit: Spark.ac.in

On one hand, living in a digital age is a blessing: It allows us to reach out and stay in contact with distant friends, family and, in these months of lockdowns and home offices, our co-workers. It allows us to learn anything, with a world of libraries and teachers and experts at our fingertips, but on the other hand, this age has also brought with it a phenomenon known as Digital Dysmorphia, Zoom-, Instagram-, Snapchat-, Facebook-, or simply Body Dysmorphia.

When lockdowns started in 2020, it wasn’t only a personal challenge for many, but also a huge challenge for businesses of every branch. Suddenly their personnel could no longer travel to international, or even national, meetings; they couldn’t meet their co-workers face to face, or even go into the office. Home office became, for many that still had work, a dream come true: Businesses that for years had claimed that home office would be too impractical suddenly found ways to carry on using tools like Zoom and Skype to gather virtual groups together for meetings. It became a common joke that many would be dressed for success on the top half, while the unseen half was PJs or boxer shorts or tutus, like John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” YouTube channel.

So what is Digital Dysmorphia? It’s the separating of oneself from one’s own real image by the distortion brought about through filters, enhancers and additions of body parts (e.g. large eyes, or bunny ears), using apps such as Snapchat; it’s the altering of reality, modifying self-perceived flaws, and presenting an altered reality of not only one’s physical appearance, but even one’s lifestyle (Instagram). Its danger is the destruction of self-esteem, fear of getting “caught in the lie” by being seen face-to-face by someone who only knows your digitalized self-image, and therefore fear of seeing people in person. It’s a different phenomenon than, say, knowing you need to update your online profile picture that was taken a decade ago. This dysmorphia, also known as BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder), is an active destruction of self-esteem through choosing distortions over reality. When someone has BDD, they are focused on their supposed physical flaws for hours a day, and they may take drastic measures to hide or fix them. BDD is sometimes diagnostically confused with OCD, social anxiety disorders, social phobia or depression. BDD was first described around the turn of the 20th century, but has only been taken seriously as an illness in the past few decades. To find out more, here is an interesting YouTube video (~8 min.)

The reason visual apps such as Zoom have made a negative impact on people is because we often see the image of ourselves onscreen as unflattering, perhaps because the camera sits too low, but also because we are looking at our own face for an hour or more at a time (it’s natural to be curious about how others see us, and our eyes are drawn to our own image because of it); while you might not be a teenager glued to your phone, if you’ve used Zoom or Skype, you’ve seen yourself through digital eyes.

Women especially, but not exclusively, have an added challenge: Every magazine image, and many social media images, are all air-brushed, photo-shopped and tweaked beyond humanly-attainable standards. We can never live up to the standard of beauty that marketing companies press on us, and that can wear on someone’s self-esteem.

Another danger in the digital age is the addiction to selfies: Trying to capture the perfect shot, the perfect moment, keeps people so focused on themselves that they completely miss the actual moment they’re trying to capture themselves in. Once in Scotland, my husband and I were enjoying a window-side lunch in a small road-side restaurant on the Isle of Skye; a bus-load of Asian tourists pulled up, and they faced the restaurant to take selfies of themselves with the background (which was the majestic Cuillin mountain range); they did not once turn around to see the actual scenery, but took dozens of photos of themselves before loading back up into the bus and leaving. They could have just saved themselves the trip, stayed at home, and put up a green screen with an image in the background.

Although we may tend to think of girls when we think of selfie addiction, the first British documented case was in 2014, then-19-year-old Danny Bowman. To read a fascinating article, click here: “Faking it: How Selfie Dysmorphia is Driving People to Seek Surgery”. Danny got to the point that he tried to commit suicide but was found in time by his parents and rehabilitated. He now raises awareness about mental health issues.

Image Credit: Bored Panda, Byron Denton

A few years ago, plastic surgeons were being asked to make a person look like this or that celebrity. Then lockdowns came into our collective lives, and Zoom became a household name; but with the sudden increase in digital contact, another, darker phenomena also increased, dubbed by cosmetic surgeons as the “Zoom Boom” to describe the increase. Now to be fair, Zoom is by no means solely responsible; every social media platform has the same dangers. Today, cosmetic surgeons are getting requests to make a person look like their digitalized self; but the requests are often not only impossible (e.g. Anime eyes or removing skin pores to give a porcelain complexion), but would also damage the person’s self-image further. A psychological anorexia, of sorts, it’s addictive and destructive. Plastic surgeons that place the patient’s mental health above their dollar signs must draw moral lines of age limits (younger and younger people are trying to get “preventative Botox” or “corrective” surgeries) and psychological screening.

For more in-depth articles on the topic, just click on the images in this article.

So, how can we avoid falling into the BDD traps? There are a few things you can do:

  • TURN OFF THE CAMERA: Just because you have the ability to have a visual call does not mean you must. If the caller complains that they can’t see you, just tell them to use their imagination, but leave the camera off. This can also apply to phone cameras – if you’re tempted to take selfies, put a sticker over the camera [this is something I do anyway, over front and back cameras – not because I take selfies, but because apps such as Google can and do hijack your camera to see you and your environment, and listen in… so keep your cell phone on flight-mode whenever possible, and “blindfold” them!].
  • LEARN TO IDENTIFY NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS: Everyone has something about their physical appearance that they don’t like; but if you catch yourself dwelling on a particular feature, try to change your perspective about it – try to compliment yourself, and then move on… positively focus on someone or something else besides yourself.
  • APPRECIATE YOURSELF: Taking care of yourself, getting enough rest, eating wisely, and exercising will all go a long way to restoring your self-esteem. Set small goals for yourself each day, and celebrate those times your reach those goals, giving yourself a big dose of grace when you’ve not been able to reach them. Taking this attitude will alleviate stress, which goes a long way toward supporting mental health.
  • GIVE COMPLIMENTS: This not only takes the focus off of ourselves, but it may be that the other person is struggling in this area, and a timely compliment may be the thing that saves their lives, literally. It’s never wrong to compliment someone, friend or stranger.

I hope that this “undusts” this topic a bit for you; if you know anyone who’s struggling with their self-image, let them know that they’re not alone, and that they’re beautiful.

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Psychology Undusted: Third Places

Several years ago, I wrote about this topic; but viewed from today’s perspective, I thought it might be worth ruminating on, so here’ goes:

Everyone has three places they spend time in: The first place is the home; the second is either school or the workplace; and the third is a place that feels comfortable – a home away from home, or a place we can unwind. The third place varies from person to person; it might be your local hairdresser’s, a pub, Starbucks, a small café, a favourite park bench, a nearby spot out in nature, or a library or museum. Companies like Starbucks have capitalized on people’s need for an environment of comfort; they have couches and armchairs and free Wi-Fi, and don’t make you feel like you need to drink up and move on. Your third place might even be virtual – Facebook and other social media sites where you like to “hang out” and connect with friends. It might be your local community centre; such places are crucial to a neighbourhood, whether or not we realize it, because they facilitate a sense of group identity. When a local crisis arises, they have been the places people gather to distribute clothing or food to those hit; meeting others, encouraging them, helping and being able to contribute to the greater good are all important to our sense of humanity; we all want to feel useful and needed in some way.

Thinking about that topic now through Covid-coloured glasses, at some point we’ve all lost our third places through lockdowns; the rules that govern social interaction have changed drastically, and it has effected the psychological health of both individuals and communities alike. While some of you may have been able to return to business as usual more or less, other regions have had multiple lockdowns; in either case, the subtle changes have made third places less inviting: Regulations about masks, needing to make reservations in restaurants that are half-empty, filling out contact tracing forms, etc. Perhaps your favourite haunt didn’t survive the financial strain of months of forced closure, or it closed because the owner passed away. More than missing that physical place, many people have suffered because of social distancing: Not being able to meet up with friends, spend time in good company, and, in the advent of mass home-office work, even the absence of spontaneous encounters with co-workers around the break room. Having a drink together over Skype or Zoom just isn’t the same; the spontaneity is missing. Those people who thrive on physical contact, such as a hug or a pat on the back, have suffered deeply on a psychological level whether they realize it or not.

Some positive effects have also come from lockdown: Many people have intentionally invested more into their local community; we’ve shopped locally or supported the local restaurants by ordering delivery or take-away more often than we normally would have, or bought from local farm shops (we’re blessed with an abundance of those in our area); by working at home, carbon emissions have been reduced by thousands of daily commuters (usually only one per car) not being on the road. Our holiday budgets have taken a breather. We’ve wasted less money on impulse-shopping. More and more people have felt the growing need to be off-grid and self-sufficient for future times of crisis, and the tiny home and homesteading movements are booming. More people are planting gardens, or they’re spending more time with their family.

Pre-pandemic habits made it easier to compartmentalize life: We had the home and the workplace in separate physical locations, which made it easier to leave the stress of one behind when returning to the other and, depending on your home or work environment, the relief of change might have been a subtle but necessary transition for your mental health. The potential emotional or mental strain that happened when those two places merged, at the same time losing our third place possibilities through lockdown, is not to be glossed over. The thing about the third place is that it’s also a responsibility-free zone; there are no expectations or obligations placed on us there; that kind of environment also inspires productivity and creativity, and many people have lamented becoming more “lazy” or “lackadaisical” in their habits over the past year; why get dressed up if you don’t have to go to work or be seen in public? Maybe you’ve grown comfortable in your “junk around the house” attire, or not wearing make-up or not shaving. The old adage of “Fine feathers make fine birds” is true: If you want to feel creative, dress for it; if you want to mean business in your schedule, dress for it. Even if you’re alone at home. Then, the transition to being seen by friends and strangers again might not be so daunting.

Returning to those third places may not be as easy at it sounds; we may never perceive such places the same ol’ way again. While some people can’t wait to get out and mingle, many of us have become cautious around groups of strangers – will they observe healthy social distancing and hygiene rules? Will they stay home if they’re sick? One thing I will never miss is someone giving me the Swiss three-kisses-to-the-cheeks greeting and then telling me they forgot to mention it – they have a cold. I’ve been far less sick in the last year, because of social distancing, than ever before*! I’ve been relieved to know that people are not wiping their noses on their hands and then offering it to me in greeting; hand disinfectants are ubiquitous now, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

[* I was recently chatting with my doctor about that topic, and she said that serious cases of influenza and pneumonia are already beginning to increase, even though it’s summer here; the suspicion in the medical community is that, because we’ve been disinfected and protected from fighting the minor cold viruses throughout the year, they’ve learned to hit aggressively if they get the chance. So talk to your doctor, or educate yourself through serious medical websites, about how you can support or encourage a healthy immune system.]

Today, while we were out for a day trip on the Lake of Zurich, I noticed that while many people have the typical pale blue medical masks, a variety of colours are becoming more common; they’ve at length become a fashion accessory. You can buy cloth masks in shops everywhere here now, or sew your own like I do. Back when this all started in 2020, many people scoffed at the idea of wearing a mask in public, and now it’s so engrained in us that we stare if someone forgot to put theirs on (here, they are required inside any building as well as when using public transport). Despite the hygienic regulations, things are slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy here; restaurants are open again (though masks can only be removed while you’re seated at your table); street cafés are popular because, as of right now, masks are not required outdoors (though that may change again now that the dangers of infection through aerosols are better understood and greater than previously assessed); and third places are becoming available again. People are cautious – and frankly, they have reason to be (I say this from the perspective of one who has long-term Covid symptoms that flare up every 3-4 weeks), but they’re starting to emerge from their hibernation, and that’s a good thing.

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Virtual Tour: Odd Collections

Most people collect something as a hobby; I’ve collected various things over the years: Stamps, postcards, arrow heads, fossils and minerals or gemstones, and coins. All of those are fairly common. The oddest thing I used to collect, in middle school, was spiders: I had about 500 different species in test tubes, and I would use them with my science fair presentations that was, for several years in a row, a growing display of all things arachnid, including my pet tarantulas.
But there are folks out there who make that last collection of mine look normal: People who collect thousands of toothbrushes, or back scratchers, or “Do Not Disturb” signs, or erasers, or milk bottles. Where most of us have a collection that fits into a storage box, others have them the size of an entire room or two. OCD is probably also on the top of their profile descriptives, but then maybe they’re just passionate or fascinated about something most people would never think about collecting.

To have a look at 43 odd collections, just click HERE. Some of these are only odd in their amount collected, while others are just downright gross (think world’s largest chewed gum ball, or navel lint…). Perhaps “enjoy” is the wrong sentiment in those cases, but nevertheless, have a fascinating time vicariously checking out the odd quirks of others!

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Virtual Tour: Warther Museum, Ohio

I don’t know about you, but I love going to museums; I’ve been in huge museums such as the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Maritime Museum, all in London, or the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; but some of the best museums I’ve seen have also been smaller. The mega-museums usually have so much to see that you can really only cover a wing or two in a day; but I’m the kind of visitor who likes to sit and contemplate the exhibit a while before moving on, which means I can cover even less ground. I’ll often absorb the information and history by creating a calligram or two (such as this ammonite). Pocket-sized museums, however, can offer a lot for their size; they often tell the story of the region, or of one family that made a difference in their worlds.

Today’s tour takes us the the latter kind of museum: The Warther Museum, in Dover, Ohio, tells the story of a man and his wife, Ernest & Frieda Warther, who had passion for what they did and for their community. The museum houses the collections of buttons and arrowheads the couple collected, which Frieda mounted and arranged into designs. Ernest “Mooney” Warther was a master wood carver, and his finest work, a locomotive engine car with moving parts throughout, was deemed by the Smithsonian as a masterpiece.

To see the collections for yourself and read the story of this little gem, just click here. Enjoy learning about a fascinating little piece of history!

Image credit: Warther Museum website

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Virtual Tour 7: Maple Syrup

It’s time for another tour! Today’s tour takes us on a sweet-tooth trip: Maple syrup, and how it’s made.

Usually made from the sap of sugar-, red-, or black maple trees, this sap is stored during the cold seasons in the trunks and roots of trees before winter to keep the tree conserved and primed for the warmer season; when the temperatures rise, the tree is ready to go – it begins moving sugar from its roots to the twigs, supplying the energy needed to grow new shoots and leaves. At this point, if the tree is “tapped” by drilling holes into the trunks and attaching a collection container, the sap flows, and can be processed into maple syrup; when done properly, the tree won’t be substantially hindered in its spring production.

But why is sap from the maple tree so dominant? What about other hardwood trees? There are at least 20 tree species that can be tapped for sap, including hickory, pecan, birch, sycamore and walnut; but while the maple trees can be tapped from January to March, as long as the nights are below freezing and the days are warmer, and they produce about 40 litres sap for 1 litre of syrup, some trees, such as the birch, can only be tapped for 2-3 weeks, and because the sugar content is much lower in this tree, it would take about 60 litres sap to make 1 litre of syrup. Walnut trees can be tapped from autumn through spring, but its syrup tends to have a bitter and astringent taste, and so it’s not a popular flavour.

When you consider that tapping a tree produces drops at a time, harvesting is a slow process; it explains why some trees are less preferred by producers, as their volume-to-production values are lower. A major factor in maple syrup production is that, before the colonization of North America, sugar maple trees were the most abundant trees in their areas; as the most dominant biomass, it was natural that they were the most experimented with, and early Native American tribes recognized their potential – they used the sap for everything from sweet snacks to medicines and poultices, and passed on their knowledge to early European settlers.

A cheap alternative is a “maple-flavoured” syrup, which is nothing more than corn syrup with flavouring and colouring added; but corn syrup (also known as glucose syrup), which is made from the starch of corn and is a common sweetener in many pre-packaged foods, can lead to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. It increases your appetite, promoting a vicious cycle, while the real deal, maple syrup, provides at least 24 antioxidants (according the healthline.com); these can neutralize free radicals, which are believed to be among the causes of ageing and many diseases. As with anything containing sugar, however, it should be enjoyed within reason!

So, now that we’re all on the same page as to what maple syrup actually is, let’s go on our tour!

The Wheelers Maple Syrup site gives you its background, how its produced, and much more.

The New England Maple Museum, in Pittsford, Vermont, takes you on a historical journey through the local sugaring industry, with an online shop.

The Food Insider takes you on an 8-minute insider’s tour through a video: “How Real Vermont Maple Syrup is Made

I hope you enjoy exploring these links, and admit it – how many of you have a hankering for pancakes now?

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Virtual Tour 6: Hobos

Today’s tour isn’t of a place, but of a group of people: Hobos. Come along with me as we explore their origins, their ethics, their slang, and even their secret language of symbols.

Hobos were migratory workers that began as displaced soldiers after the American Civil War, fought between 1861 and 1865. The conflict laid waste to large swaths of land, and many men returning found that they had no home to return to, or found families so economically devastated by the war that they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed – so those men took to the railways to take them cross-country looking for work. Before the advent of the train, these men tramped – walked – around the countryside in search of work. While railroads began in the US around 1830, they were not really nationwide until after 1910. Another group of people who took to life on the road were young men from large families; removing a hungry mouth or two could greatly benefit the family; some left with tearful goodbyes and promises to send wages when they could; others slipped out in the night and left on their adventure into the wider world.

The story goes that in the distant past, boys were often hired on temporarily to help with agricultural harvests; they were referred to as simply “boys”; but to distinguish them from other groups of workers, they were named after one of their tools, the hoe; gradually the term drifted from hoe-boy to the word we know today, “Hobo”. There is, in fact, no etymology of the word that I could find. It might also come from a railroad worker’s call on late 19th century railroads, “Ho, boy”, ho being a variation of “whoa”, used to either call attention from a distance, or as a command to stop. Perhaps the true origin of the word lies somewhere in between.

Both tramp and bum come from German, trampeln and bummeln, both referring to trekking, walking, ambling or wandering. But because both tramps and bums were associated with being lazy and opportunistic thieves, hobos carried the same stigma. Hobos, however, were honest and free; they had a strict moral code, were hard-working, and some even chose that lifestyle above their own personal wealth or position, such as James Eads Howe, founder of the International Brotherhood Welfare Association, an aid society for hobos; he was born into a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, but he chose instead to live as a hobo. Some simply wanted to live with no strings attached, no address to be found by state or federal government; today, we might call it living off-grid, though our contemporary version is far more luxurious than those early migrants could have ever aspired to.

James Eads Howe, founder of the International Brotherhood Welfare Association, an aid society for hobos. 1922. Source: Library of Congress

Up through the 1920s, hobos defined themselves in terms of being free-spirited; but when the subculture exploded during the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Great Depression forced men, women and children onto the highways and byways looking for work to survive, the hobo popular image shifted to a symbol of poverty wracking the nation. As factories closed across the country, many had no choice but to migrate. The most famous image from that time is by Dorothea Lange, taken of Florence Owen Thompson, a mother of seven starving children, living in a shanty during a pea harvest in Nipomo, California in 1936. The photographer captured the plight of the migrant workers, prompting the government to send food to the camp; the images did not gain popularity until the 1950s, however; it was probably too painfully familiar to people to garner much contemporary appreciation. After the Great Depression had passed, and World War 2 was over, the number of hobos decreased drastically, but has never died out completely.

Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother, age 32, Nipomo, California
Source: Library of Congress

Today, the hobo culture continues; whether they’re called hobos, or trainhoppers, or drifters, or solo ramblers, strays, or vagabonds, it is a worldwide movement. In South America, it is estimated that 400-500,000 migrants hop trains annually in an attempt to reach the United States. As Corona lockdowns affect companies, leading to layoffs and bankruptcies, I think we’ll see a surge in the number of hobos. Every year in Britt, Iowa, a hobo convention is held, where they celebrate the positive aspects of living free, and likely discuss how to do it honourably and well. It’s a chance to connect, and to feel part of a community while still being independent. Click here to see a few images from their 2013 convention.

Hobos didn’t just try to work hard; they had a moral code of conduct that included these tenets:

  • Decide your own life; don’t let another person rule you or run you.
  • When in towns, always respect the local law and officials – be a gentleman at all times.
  • Always try to find work, even if temporary, and look for jobs nobody wants. You’ll be helping a business along, but you’ll also ensure good will if you return to that town again.
  • Don’t take advantage of the vulnerable – either locals or other hobos.
  • When no work is available, make your own work – use your talents.
  • Don’t set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos by becoming a stupid drunk.
  • Always respect nature – do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
  • If in a community jungle, pitch in and help. Help others whenever needed – you may need their help one day.
  • When jungling in town, respect handouts and don’t wear them out – other hobos will be coming along who may need them more than you.
  • Don’t cause trouble in rail yards or in towns – other hobos will be coming, and they need the goodwill.
  • Try to stay clean – bathe whenever possible.
  • When travelling, ride your train respectfully – take no personal chances, cause no problems with the train crew, and act like an extra crew member – help where you can.
  • Do not allow other hobos to molest children – expose them to the law – they are the worst garbage to infest a society.
  • Help all runaway children, and try to talk them into returning home.

I’d say that these rules are good for everyone to live by, no matter what their status or situation. Besides a code of ethics, they had a separate language. Here’s some of their colourful slang:

  • Accommodation Car = Caboose of a train
  • Bad road = a train line made unusable by some hobo’s bad action or crime
  • Banjo = a small portable frying pan, sometime a “D” handled shovel
  • Barnacle = a person who sticks to one job for a year or more
  • Beachcomber = a hobo who hangs around seaports or dockyards
  • Bindle Stick = a collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tie at the end of a stick
  • Blowed-in-the-grass = a trustworthy, genuine person
  • Bone Polisher = a mean dog
  • Bone Orchard = graveyard
  • C, H & D = a person is Cold, Hungry and Dry (thirsty)
  • California Blankets = bedding made of newspaper
  • Calling in = using someone else’s campfire to warm up or cook
  • Catch the Westbound = to die
  • Chuck a Dummy = pretend to faint
  • Cover with the Moon = Sleep out in the open
  • Docandoberry = anything growing along a river that’s edible
  • Easy Mark = place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
  • Elevated = under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Flip = to board a moving train
  • Flop = a place to sleep, “Flophouse”, a cheap hotel
  • Glad rags = one’s best clothes
  • Graybacks, Crumbs = lice
  • Gump = a chicken
  • Honey Dipping = working with a shovel in a sewer
  • Hot = 1) a fugitive hobo; 2) a decent meal (“I could use three hots and a flop”)
  • Hot Shot = fast freight train, stops rarely
  • Jungle = an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate. Jungle Buzzard = a hobo or tramp who preys on his own
  • Knowledge Bus = a school bus used for shelter
  • Maeve = a young hobo, usually a girl; similar to Angelina (a young, inexperienced child)
  • Mulligan = a type of community stew, created by several hobos combining their ingredients
  • On the Fly = jumping a moving train
  • Padding the Hoof = travel by foot
  • Possum Belly = ride on the roof of a passenger car (one must lie flat)
  • Rum Dum = a drunkard
  • Sky Pilot = a preacher or minister
  • Spare Biscuits = looking for food in garbage cans
  • Stemming = panhandling or begging

Source: New Braunfels Railroad Museum, Texas

When hobos travelled from town to town, they never knew what to expect – would they be welcomed, or arrested? Out of the necessity to be prepared, a language of symbols grew: A hobo could give those who came after him a good idea of what to expect – was there work available? Would the police arrest a hobo on sight? Could you get a good meal at this house or that? The hobo would leave these symbols nearby – etched in the dirt road near a house, or marked on a stone or tree or a wall or a railcar. Here is an example of the symbols, though there are many more! Reading through them gives you a glimpse of some of the things they were up against.

In the images below, the young man getting on the train and the one cooking over a fire with a can on a stick are one and the same man – World lightweight boxing champion Lou Ambers, who travelled across the US to compete in Bootleg Bouts to earn money for his widowed mother.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of the world of hobos – without the dangers of train hopping!

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Virtual Tour 5: Switzerland

View from Lihn, Switzerland. Taken by Stefan Huesler in March 2005

Today’s tour brings you to my neck of the woods, so to speak: Switzerland. How many mountains we have here depends on who you ask; whatever the exact number, I can say that it’s hundreds. Even the Swiss Plateau, while technically lying between the Jura Mountains and the Alps, is mostly hilly. But perhaps what Swiss would consider a hill, others would view as a mountain. So what’s the actual difference between the two? That’s a grey area, at best: A hill is a landform that rises above the surrounding terrain and does not usually have a defined summit (peak); a mountain has a limited or defined summit area, and rises 300 metres or more above the surrounding landscape. While hills may be a result of glacial flow, erosion of surrounding regions, or faulting, mountains are formed through volcanic activity or faulting. But notice – both hills and mountains can be formed by faulting (the shifting of tectonic plates).

Whatever you call them, Switzerland is full of the beauties. They influence weather, sometimes dramatically, from one side to the other; while Lugano usually has Mediterranean weather, the northern side of the mountains has a cooler climate. Once, as we came over the Gotthard mountain pass from Lugano toward home on a warm, sunny day, we saw a wall of white cloud ahead, clearly defined on the road; when we drove into it, it was absolutely white, and we were unable to see much ahead. Not fog. A cloud. Where we live, our wet weather usually comes from the local mountain range; if the wind shifts from that direction during a grill dinner on our balcony, grab your plates and get inside before it hits.

Did you know that the term homesickness comes from the Swiss German word Heimweh (= home + ache)? It was exported in the 17th century by Swiss merchants and mercenaries working abroad, and refers not to family or house, but to the mountains and their longing for the sights of the Alps.

Below are a few links:

With the first, you can choose various panoramic starting points, exploring visually and/or with information about each point of interest.

Switzerland Virtual Tours

The second link takes you to live webcams in Switzerland, where you can see what’s going on. Keep in mind that if you’re looking at these webcams at the time of my uploading this blog (February 2021), we are currently in lockdown due to the second wave of COVID-19, so activity is far less than when shops are open (if you’re looking at town centres or skiing zones), though in town centres you’ll see kids riding bikes home from school in the afternoons, around 16:00 Swiss time (e.g. the town centre Appenzell webcam). Come back in a few weeks, and activity will have picked up once again. Hopefully!

Swiss Webcams

The third link takes you to a YouTube live webcam feed that switches locations occasionally, giving you an overview of several sites. The music they play over this live feed is a bit monotonous, so I’d suggest turning on your favourite musical alternative and muting the actual video.

24/7LIVEWebcams,Switzerland- YouTube

However you choose to enjoy this tour, welcome to Switzerland! Let me know what you viewed, and what you experienced, in the comments below!

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Filed under Articles, Etymology, Links to External Articles, Nature, Virtual Tours