Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Elixer of Life Found Beneath NYC

Image source: Design & Trend

A 150-year-old glass vial containing the "Elixer of Life" was found in New York City on a hotel construction site in the Lower East Side. Once the location of a German beer garden and music hall, many liquor bottles dating back to the 1850s have been unearthed, but none as interesting as the concoction believed to help people cheat death. After analyzing the contents, archaeologists tracked down the recipe in a 19th century German  medical guide:
Aloe - 13 grams
Rhubarb - 2.3 grams
Gentian - 2.3 grams
Zedoary (white turmeric) - 2.3 grams
Spanish saffron - 2.3 grams
Water - 4 ounces
Grain alcohol (vodka, gin) - 12 ounces 
Squeeze out the liquid from the aloe and set aside. Crush the rhubarb, gentian, zedoary and Spanish saffron (for a modern twist, use a blender for this part), and mix them with the aloe liquid, water and alcohol. Let the mixture sit for three days, shaking frequently. Then filter it using a cheesecloth or coffee filter, and serve. Be careful with the liquid — the saffron can dye your hands or other kitchen items.
Many of the ingredients are still used in herbal medicines and natural remedies today. Aloe has an anti-inflammatory effect, Gentian root and powdered rhubarb help digestion, white turmeric is said to purify blood and help cell regeneration, and Spanish saffron is used to treat many health conditions, including depression.

The bottle held less than one ounce and it is likely the product was taken one drop at a time. The team that unearthed the elixir is planning on brewing the concoction within the next few weeks to discover the taste and effects. I'm thinking disgusting and not much.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Disinformation Operation

A welcomed departure away from the "What Should Your Bar or Bat Mizvah's Entrance Song Be?" type-quizzes, Buzzfeed posted this quirky little video telling the story of a little known Allied disinformation operation against the Germans in 1943. They cram a whole lotta information in three minutes, so here is a breakdown of "The One WW2 Story They Don't Teach You In School" so that you may avoid watching this three times. It's about a corpse, so you know, it's interesting.

The British military hoped to attract Germany's attention elsewhere as plans to invade Sicily were in the works. Operation Mincemeat was developed as a scheme to make Germany shift their forces to Greece and Sardinia in order to open up Sicily's coast. The British military took the corpse of death-by-suicide man, dressed him as a soldier, and staged a plane crash off the coast of Spain. The "drowned" soldier, adorned with a fake picture of a fiancé, fake love letters, fake receipts, and most importantly fake Allied plans to invade Sardinia and Greece, washed ashore. The Germans took the bait, moved their forces elsewhere, and Sicily was ripe for the taking.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

America's Most Endangered Places (2014 Ed.)

The 2014 list of America's Most Endangered Places was released this month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust has been creating this annual list since 1987 and its popularity has brought necessary attention to many of the sites. See who made the cut, and compare the list to last year's here

Image source: Fox News

The Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, SD is a century-old hospital which was used to treat Civil War veterans with lung and respiratory problems. The Department of Veterans Affairs is planning on abandoning the building and moving 60 miles away to open an outpatient clinic.

Image source: NTHP

Bay Harbor's East Island, located in Miami's Biscayne Bay, contains one of the largest concentrations of mid-century Miami Modern style architecture in the country. The island's cultural significance may be a thing of the past, as new development becomes more desirable.

Image source:

The six-story Chattanooga State Office Building in Tennessee was recently decommissioned and may be demolished by the new owner. The "sturdy mountain folk" on an outside bronze frieze represent Chattanooga's history and add significance to this cultural landmark.

Image source: Inhabitant

Frank Lloyd Wright's Spring House in Tallahassee is the only residence built in Florida designed by the famous architect. It is one of the few buildings he designed in the "solar hemicycle" form which was intended to reflect forms found in the natural world. Today, it remains eroded by time and weather.

Image source:

Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, CA was a small agricultural community that was established in the 1800s. The collection of buildings tell a story of the old California, Orange County agriculture, and of California's Japanese American pioneers. Today, it faces demolition.

Image source: Wikipedia

Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona in Hawaii was constructed in 1837 from recycled stones of an ancient Hawaiian temple. Hawaii's first Christian church is at risk from earthquakes and years of wear.

Image source: Local View, Cincinnati

Home to the Cincinnati Arts Association, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, and Cincinnati Ballet, the 1878 High Victorian Gothic Music Hall in Ohio is suffering from deterioration and water damage.

Image source: The New York History Blog

LG Electronics plans to build their headquarters along the banks of The Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. The 143-foot building will "spoil the scenic view of the New Jersey cliffs along the Hudson River," according to the NTHP.

Image source: NextSTL

The Palladium Building in St. Louis, MO contributed to the development of African-American music. Once called "Club Plantation," the venue where Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald once performed does not have an official landmark status, leaving its future uncertain.

Image source: WTOP

Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, VA was a former hub of the slave trade. The section of town which included a restaurant, entertainment enclave, and a jail that housed "12 Years A Slave" author Solomon Northup at one time is facing destruction to make way for a minor league baseball stadium.

Image source: Cincinnati Museum Center

Lastly, the Union Terminal is the second Cincinnati landmark to make this year's list. The 81-year-old Art Deco train station has severe structural and water damage which threaten its survival.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#Cakespeare Results

The Victoria and Albert Museum's Cakespeare competition ended last month in which people were encouraged to create a Shakespeare-themed cake in honor of the Bard's 450th birthday and upload a photo to Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #Cakespeare. A winner was chosen, and the V&A Museum compiled all the entries on their Pinterest page. Some are awesome, others not so great. But who cares, cake is cake is cake.

Image sources: Victoria and Albert Museum

Monday, June 23, 2014

Toddler Mummy Opens Her Eyes

A Night at the Museum does not seem as fantastical as it used to since the discovery of a pharaoh statue spinning in circles at a British Museum last year and a toddler mummy appearing to open and close her eyes in an Italian catacomb. Museums are coming alive. Except Robin Williams isn't making any appearances as Teddy Roosevelt yet. The spinning pharaoh myth has since been squashed but the case of the mummy child remained at large until a few days ago.

Two year old Rosalia "Sleeping Beauty" Lombardo died of pneumonia in 1920 and in hopes of preserving her adorableness, was embalmed by the noted taxidermist, Alfredo Salafia, at the request of her father. You know, like you would a deer from a hunting trip. Rosalia was placed in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily among 8,000 other mummies. 

Captured in lapse photos and videos, Rosalia appears to open and close her eyes several times a day. You be the judge:

Put. That. Little. Girl. On. Lockdown. Curator of the Capuchin Catacombs, Dario Piombino-Mascali, assures the public that the phenomenon is only an optical illusion caused by the changing light that filters into the room throughout the day. In fact, Rosalia's eyelids have never been completely closed. 

The mummification of Rosalia is still considered one of the best examples in the world, although Salafia's methods remained a mystery until 2009. A handwritten manuscript was found in which Salafia listed the chemicals he used to preserve the body: "one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid.” With a single injection, Salafia used formalin to kill the bacteria, glycerin to keep the body from overdrying, salicylic acid to kill fungi, and zinc salts to petrify Rosalia’s body. 

Rosalia stands out among all others in the catacombs because not only is she one of the last to be placed inside, but she was mummified artificially, a strong departure from the others whose mummification process included exposure to the dry environment. Oh, and she freaking blinks.