The Tower of London

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The Tower of London.

When it is mentioned normally two (or three depending on how you count them) things jump to a person’s mind. The Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy and the sight of grisly tortures and executions.

As is the case with most historical places the above is both true and false. First the Jewels…and a True fact!

True: The new Crown Jewels are housed in one area of the Tower of London and are usually open to viewing by the public. I say ‘new’ because all of the Jewels are ‘modern’ in that they were all made after 1660. When the people of Britain temporarily abolished the monarchy in 1649, following the execution of Charles the I, all of the Crown Jewels at the time were melted down, the gold and silver turned into coins and the jewels disposed of in various ways. When the monarchy was re-established they made new Jewels which are still used today by Queen Elizabeth the II and will be used by future monarchs during the coronations and other ceremonies.

Now Jewels are nice and all but…I kind of suspect that a lot of people are more morbidly curious about the second of my statements then the first. So on to the torture!

True AND False: The Tower was used as a prison, a torture chamber and as an execution ground.

Now here is where things get a bit muddled and fact and fiction tend to get all tangled up. If there is one thing I have noticed about people it is that, somewhere deep down inside, we are all fascinated by these kinds of subjects. As a result they can get blown out of proportion and made…bigger than they really are.

The Tower was used as all of the above but it was also a fortress meant to protect the city of London, it was a place where merchants set up markets, the monarchy used it as their base of power for quite some time and it is still occupied today. Many of the staff who work at the Tower in various positions also live there.

Norman the Conqueror built the White Tower (see photo above) in 1066. By building his fortress over the River Thames he could control and protect the capital city of London. Between the 11th and the 16th centuries a whole complex of buildings grew up around the White Tower, creating what we now call the ‘Tower of London’. It became a main symbol of the monarchy as it housed the royal family at times, the Mint, a storage place for the royal records, and the housing point for a garrison meant to both defend and suppress the population of London.

The bloody history of the Tower first rose up in the rumor of the “Princes of the Tower” which was further immortalized in William Shakespeare’s play “Richard the III”. In the early 1480s Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, were the only surviving children of Edward the IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. Despite the weighty titles the two boys were only 12 and 9 at the time and, while the younger Edward’s claim on the throne was debated, they were placed in the care of their uncle, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Once Edward’s claim to the throne was secured Duke Richard housed the boys in the Tower of London, supposedly while waiting for the coronation. Only the boys disappeared and Richard took the throne himself, becoming King Richard the III of England.

As the boys were never found it was rumored that Richard had murdered them both in order to claim the throne. While Shakespeare went with that theory himself in his play (therefore securing it as ‘fact’ in the minds of anyone who has read his play all the way up to modern times) it has never been proven. In fact there were several suspects at the time. In light of the recent discovery of a skeleton that is widely suspected (and almost proven) to be Richard the III’s skeleton, there has been some discussion on re-examining the disappearance to see what else might turn up.

In 1674 workmen found a box containing two small skeletons buried near the White Tower. This find gave further weight to the idea that the princes were in fact murdered (Since other rumors had cropped up that they’d escaped the Tower). Though it could not be proven that these were the bodies of the missing princes King Charles II had them re-buried in Westminster Abbey, thus adding a new twist to a very old mystery.

That was the first incident that led to the Tower’s more dubious modern reputation. But it really started with Henry VIII, his spilt from the Roman Catholic Church, his use of the Tower as a place to imprison his opponents and where two of his wives were executed.

While the basement of the Tower, being an active center of the monarchy, was regularly used to house prisoners and gather information from them, this function became more prominent during the religious upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries as the Catholic and Protestant churches began a long, monarchy-fueled battle for dominance in England. During this time the basement of the Tower became infamous as a torture area for priests, sympathizers to either side and anyone else that the government had grounds to view as ‘suspicious’. In fact you can still visit the Tower of London today and enter one area that has torture devices set up where you can learn about them. Expect a bit of a line though…it’s a place that draws the morbidly curious to it.

But the real question here is often about the executions that took place on Tower Green toward the center of the Tower of London.

The fact of the matter is that only a handful of executions actually took place on Tower Green. Most of them were public affairs, taking place some ways from the Tower on Tower Hill. However at times (roughly around seven according to most records) an execution was too politically sensitive to take place in public or they might decide to afford some privacy to the condemned. The latter most commonly was granted to female prisoners of high status.

While I won’t go into grisly details of the executions all of the ones at the Tower were beheading by sword or by axe. Among the rather short list of victims were two of the wives of Henry the VIII: His second wife Ann Boleyn, and his fifth wife Catherine Howard. Jane Seymour, the Nine Day Queen, was executed there as well. The three of the other four recorded deaths at Tower Green were also related to the Tudor reign. Margaret Pole was an ally of Henry the VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon and so convicted of treason following Anne’s fall from grace. Jane Boleyen (Who gave damning evidence against her sister-in-law Anne Bolyen) had encouraged the dalliances of Catherine Howard and was executed right after Catherine. Richard Duvereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth the I who later turned against her, was executed for treason following a failed rebellion. The only remembered execution at Tower Green that was not connected to the Tudor reign was William Hastings who was executed in connection with the Princes of the Tower and King Richard III’s rise to power.

So, as can be seen above, despite the hype there really were not that many deaths officially at the Tower. Most of them were some distance away in London proper on Tower Hill. Still the intrigue lives on since most of the victims were women and several were quite young with tragic histories. Artists and fiction writers have heavily romanticized these histories over the years, adding to the allure.

At almost a thousand years old the Tower is one of the oldest still-standing structures of power in the world. With its age comes a long, dramatic, bloody and exciting history that continues to intrigue people. Whether people come because they’re history buffs, they’re fascinated with the Royal families of England, or they’ve just watched a lot of episodes of shows like “Tudors” and “Reign”, they want to see the places were so many moments in history happened.

Also we are generally fascinated by that which lies outside of our culturally-appointed comfort zones so, rather like moths, we are drawn in by the tragic histories and tales that fill the Tower. We want to see these places for ourselves, to stand on the stones and try to imagine back into the past, so far back that we have no authentic frame of reference for it, and try to imagine a time when these grisly matters were a fact of existence rather than something viewed through the lens of a story.

Deep down inside we all know that the world is so much older than we are—that it has gone on for ages long before our distant ancestors lived and it will keep spinning on in some form for years into the future. We just want some small proof of that. And, standing on grounds surrounded by buildings that date back to the 11th century at their oldest, we find a piece of that proof.

And that keeps us coming back.

I hope if you’re ever in the area that you’ll stop by the Tower! It’s quite amazing , well worth the visit and the wait to get in should there be a line! It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site along with being one of the palaces of England. More information about visiting the Tower and its history can be found on the Tower’s website: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon\ . Have great adventures until the next time we meet!

The Moore Theater

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What exactly does it mean to offer your theater to ‘legitimate shows’? According to Mr. Webster the definition of ‘legitimate’ that applies to this context is “relating to plays acted by professional actors but not including revues, burlesques, or some forms of musical comedy”.

Now why did this matter?

I’m not sure if this sign was part of the original Moore Theatre’s design or added at some point during the theatre’s 108-year history but in 1907, when the Moore opened, theatre did not always have the best of reputations. While being one of the main forms of public entertainment there were many types of shows performed on stages and some were less respectable than others. Bawdy comedies, vaudeville performances, burlesques (at this point in history more song-and-dance shows then the strip teases they became), and dance hall performances painted a wide and varied picture of the ‘stage’ in many peoples minds. Some legitimate theatres, eager to distance themselves from these scandalous groups, actually advertised themselves more as lecture halls then performance venues. To that end they could calm the fears of the more reserved and conservatives members of society which would ensure that they stayed in business.

The Moore is the oldest still-operating theatre in Seattle. As the sign promises it does offer real stage shows along with the mentioned concerts and other types of entertainment. When it opened it catered to Seattle’s elite though, like many theatre venues, it was sorely hit by the changing times and almost closed its doors permanently during the 1970s before a huge innovation saved it…but more on that turn of events in a moment.

The Moore had a long and (rather) glorious run before the 1970s came about. In its first decade it was the home of the Seattle Symphony, and such performers as Ethel Barrymore, and the Marx Brothers graced their stage along with presentations of several Shakespeare plays and “Madame Butterfly”.

The Moore was bought by the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit right after the first World War ended. They kept it as their main base until 1927. That was when they built their own theatre (now closed) several blocks away. At that point the Moore went up for lease and it was rented by Cecilia Schultz, a premotor of different arts in Seattle. She used the theater for a wide variety of events ranging from musical performances to lectures by Robert Ripley. After she retired in 1949 the Moore was rented mainly by different religious revivals and other smaller events.

Another short run of glory began in 1954 when Hugh Becket, the manager of the freshly-closed Seattle Metropolitan Theatre, took over the Moore and continued his business of booking and hosting plays and performances. Still it did not last long and The Moore was back to renting itself out and struggling to stay ahead of newer theatres and the afore-mentioned rise of the cinema within a few years. By the 1970s the theatre was on the ropes even though it had been added to the historic registry of Seattle in 1974.

As they say though adaptation is the key to survival.

In 1975 two Canadians, Darryl MacDonald and Dan Ireland, took on the theatre and transformed it into a cinema house. They meant to use it as a home for Hollywood revivals and foreign films but in 1976 the Moore, now called the Moore Egyptian, became the home to the first annual Seattle International Film Festival. As SIFF went on to become one of the most successful film festivals in America it moved its headquarters first to a theatre on Capital Hill and then to another building at City Center in Seattle. Ten years later the Moore (dropping “Egyptian” from the title as that went to the new SIFF theatre In Capital Hill) was again without tenants and reverted to being an event-to-event rental again.

In 1992 Ida Cole, an alumna of Microsoft, and her non-profit organization, The Seattle Landmark Association (Which would later become the Seattle Theatre Group), leased the property from its long-time owner George Toulouse. His ownership was the main reason behind the theatre surviving so long with its historical architecture mainly intact.

Now the Moore Theatre, the Seattle Theatre Group still leasing it from the Toulouse family, has returned to its roots as a venue for dynamic entertainment. They have incorporated all of the new additions that have been added over the years which allows which allows them to use the space for all kinds of events, from bands giving concerts to dance troupes and stage actors performing on stage along with using it as a movie theatre.

The Moore Theatre is a true survivor story. In an era when cities across the United States are losing so many of their historic buildings it’s comforting to know that a few of them manage to hang on through dedicated supporters and sheer persistence. Let’s hope we start hearing more success stories like the Moore in the years to come!

Dictionary cited from: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legtimate

Information about the Moore Theatre gathered from www.historylink.org , Wikipedia.org , and http://www.stgpresents.org/moore

The Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum–Seattle’s Hidden Museum

Pioneer Square is a treasure trove for Seattle history, being one of the oldest areas of the city. At 317 3rd Avenue South, about a block from the train station and the International District Link Light Rail station, you can find the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum. This is a small museum where the general public can access most of the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff Department’s histories. I cannot say ‘all’ of the history since most of the records and photographs from the departments’ early histories (prior to June 1889) was lost in the Great Seattle Fire which I will probably do a whole blog on since that disaster really shaped the face of the ‘modern’ city. They have only been able to locate one photograph of the department before 1889—it was found in a private collection and, as of the time I visited, it was in the museum.

It is not a large museum compared to many in Seattle but it is the largest privately funded police museum in United States. Inside of the museum the exhibits focus on related photographs and documents from the history of the area, displays on weaponry, uniforms, and badges as they progressed. There is also a vintage communication section and a jail cell for visitors to explore.

I originally headed to the museum to research a Steampunk novel I was working on. I was able to spend a very pleasant afternoon wandering around the displays and chatting with the elderly lady at the front desk. She was one of the few volunteers who help keep the museum open—it is a small affair and sometimes it gets passed over more than it deserves.

As she showed me the museum is laid out in a chronological order, starting with the Sheriff’s department that covered the territory before Seattle was officially incorporated. With gaps for the information lost in the fire (the original police station burned down) it moved into the 20th century, discussing the back-and-forth tensions between the Sheriff’s department and the Police department. Bootlegging came up next and the Prohibition—slowly it moved into the Depression, and then the changes the department went through during World War II. Along the way they discussed how the police department grew and changed as the area grew bigger and more small towns were incorporated in. Finally it moved into modern times and some of the more well-known crime histories in the area. The interactive displays like a 9-1-1 dispatcher console are located in a side room toward the back of the museum—they’re really fun to take a peek at!

Since this museum is often passed over except by researchers like myself, or visitors to Seattle who’ve seen it on a map and are curious, you do not need to worry about fighting large crowds. I was alone in the building for over an hour before a small group of travelers came in to check out the displays.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Anyone 12 and older are considered adults and their admission is $4.00 per person. Children 11 and under, along with handicapped guests, are $2.00 per person.

If you are a researcher the museum does have access to a research library. However it is not open to the public due to the delicate materials being stored there. Requests for information may be submitted to the museum by either calling the museum or writing to them. They will need an explanation of what you are looking for and the reason why—once they have that information they’ll help you as best they can. More information about the library can be found on the website: http://www.seametropolicemuseum.org/default.html

Now you all go out and have a good time exploring one of Seattle’s over-looked gems!

The Mammoth of Vancouver Island

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The above is a photo of one of the most popular museum dioramas viewable right now. This amazing Wooly Mammoth welcomes visitors of the Royal British Columbia into the Natural History Gallery. For the first thirty-odd years that the display was open this fellow was protected behind glass. In the spring of 2004 the museum designed to re-design the diorama and when it re-opened the glass had been removed and they added some of the background and environmental-details that can be seen here, including fiberglass casts of glacial rocks. They also added fans to stimulate a cold breeze, creating an icy chill. Later in 2008 a recording of elephant calls and rushing wind was included. This soundtrack can be heard through the whole front half of the gallery.

The fully revamped display can be just a touch eerie in the best way possible. The hall leading up to it focuses on Ancient Earth and the creatures that lived there. As you work your way up through cases of fossils and preserved bones the Mammoth serves as the crowning jewel to the collection. With all of the display’s features working together it is very easy to imagine a time when these beings freely roamed a much different Earth.

The whole museum is a treat—a real Must-See if you’re in Victoria for a few days! In May 2015, on the 13th, they are opening a special exhibit on the Gold Rush in British Columbia. They also have a long-term exhibit, through June 2017, on the languages of the First Nations in British Columbia.

The museum is open daily with one-or-two-day admissions for sale. You can also add I-Max tickets. Children between 3-5 years are free to the museum but I-max tickets must still be purchased at reduced rates. Youth is considered the ages between 6-18 years, Adults are 19 years and up, Students are 19 years and up with valid ID, and Seniors are over 65 years old. As ticket prices vary from season to season I would highly recommend a stop by their website to check prices, hours, and other details of the museum including handicap access, eating facilities in the museum and directions.

Enjoy your trip!