History: Playboys, Tough Gals, and American Firsts

I’ve written almost 90 entries for the Clio website now. Some of my favorites have been:

  • The James Gordon Bennett Memorial in NYC, in which the founder of the New York Herald and his owl-obsessed, public-indecency-causing playboy son are discussed.
  • The Engineer’s Club building in NYC, where Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both hung out and, ironically, where Tesla received the Edison Medal in 1917.
  • El PolĂ­n Spring of San Francisco, where African American/Latina Juana Briones (1802-1889) gave medical aid to sailors and soldiers before leaving her abusive husband and going on to become one of the area’s most successful farmers and business owners.
  • Matthews Hall at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the first American Indian received a degree from an American university in 1665.
  • Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, the first hospital in America (founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin) and home to the country’s first surgical amphitheatre, first hospital apothecary, and first medical library, as well as being the first hospital to treat psychological illness as a curable illness instead of as a spiritual affliction.

Elevation drawing of Pennsylvania Hospital by William Strickland, 1755 (image from Wikimedia Commons)


I’ve been working on Philadelphia entries quite a bit lately (did you know it was originally colonized by Swedes??), and having a grand old time with the yellow fever epidemic. Why a person like me, who hates any kind of squishy disease (in either living or dead people) and only likes skeletal remains, should be so interested in outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, I don’t know. But I am. Yellow fever and cholera have a horrible morbid fascination for me, as do terrible medical ideas of the past (like bleeding patients who are dying of internal bleeding or treating opium addiction with morphine). It’s part of why my undergrad thesis centered on the medical use of mineral springs in Kentucky. Still, I’ll avoid going to the doctor for my own shots as long as is humanly possible. They had to give me Valium to give me my last Tetanus shot. Go figure.



Native Plants

I’ve become semi-obsessed with native plant species in the past few years – partly as a result of two awesome classes I took in undergrad, but increasingly also because it’s useful to know the ecology of places where you’re doing archaeology. And also because I have this dream garden I’m planning for when I have a house (which I don’t), and I’m very excited about the idea of using native flora to attract and support local fauna – birds, butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies, bats, frogs, toads, skinks, turtles…I’m interested in pretty much any wildlife that isn’t parasitic or deadly.

I decided to post about some of the native species I’ve encountered in the field this month, since I’ve come across some of my very favorite examples of why planting native is awesome. First, there’s this gorgeousness:


Passiflora incarnata (Maypop)

It’s a passionflower, and yes, it’s edible, according to Temperate Climate Permaculture (they even give instructions for using the fruit and leaves in cooking and teas). Not only is it gorgeous and tasty, it’s also good for your friendly neighborhood local pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. And who doesn’t want butterflies and hummingbirds in their garden??? Local birds like the fruit, too, so you can consider this a self-filling bird-feeder that squirrels won’t ravage.

Even more attractive to butterflies are several (very pretty!) varieties of native milkweed, which can be hot pink, pale pink, dark purple, and orange (I’ve also heard of red and yellow varieties, but I don’t know if those are native to this area or not). In the field this month, I worked in two areas full of milkweed plants, and there were literally dozens and dozens of butterflies going crazy over the flowers. Hummingbirds and bees are also fans, but the swallowtails, red spotted purple admirals, and monarchs were definitely the most enthusiastic dudes at the concert.


Swamp milkweed with Eastern tiger swallowtail (left) / Butterfly milkweed (right)

Native plants also support lightning bugs (who, like bees, are declining in population these days). Aside from being little twinkles of happiness, lightning bugs also EAT MOSQUITOES – so do dragonflies! So there’s an incentive for you to plant a rain garden of native species to attract lightning bugs and dragonflies.

I also met this horse last week, and there’s nothing that says Kentucky like a handsome horse, so here:


This horse was apparently taught as a foal not to take apples from strangers, because he wasn’t having it.