Sunk with Margaret Fuller

Returning from Italy with her husband and infant son, the American feminist and critic Margaret Fuller drowned on 19 July 1850 when the Elizabeth sank within sight of Fire Island. Her papers were lost, including the manuscript of her history of the short-lived Roman Republic, and her body was never recovered.

Also lost in the wreck was a statue by Hiram Powers of John C. Calhoun, the proslavery senator from South Carolina who had died in March, before the Compromise of 1850 had been worked out. But on 26 August 1850, the New York Herald reported that the statue had been found. Captain Waldron of the cutter Morris tried to raise it, still in its packing crate, but “by some awkwardness or other of a person on board, in attempting to hook it up, the lid was broken off, and . . . the statue was injured. The boatswain then stripped, and dived down . . . He felt the legs and other parts so distinctly as to leave no doubt of the certainty of the object.” Unfortunately, no divers on hand knew how to attach the tackle to the statue to raise it, and it remained submerged. Perhaps it was raised later, but I haven’t yet stumbled across an article saying so.

Postscript: According to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the North Carolina Museum of Art once owned a marble statue of Calhoun by Powers, which was only 29 inches tall, but it’s currently listed as “unaccessioned.”

Post-postscript: On 9 November 1850, the Herald reported that the statue was indeed recovered, thanks to “James A. Whipple, the celebrated Boston diver. . . . The only injury . . . is the loss of the left arm from the elbow.” The life-size statue, “clothed with the Roman toga and sandals,” was shipped to Charleston on board the steamship Southerner a few days later (Herald11 November 1850).

Not singing

I was unable to find a metaphor for the sparrowsong,
which did not wake me, already vigilant.
A truck backing up. Counting, with no increase in number.
A leak in the self, aggravated by the wish to stay alive.

Tea in Iraq

T. R. Klysa, USMC, sends these photos of Iraqis and their tea, which, he says, “is served very hot, with lots of sugar, in little shot glasses. ‘Tea makers’ are included on government-employee rosters and count as civil servants. We are paying them at the moment.”



Left: “After a mission of explosive ordinance disposal (getting rid of unexploded ordinance in farmlands).” Al Kifl, Iraq. May 28, 2003. Right:Coffee shop, Al Hillah, Iraq. May 23, 2003.



Elementary school, Hasimiah, Iraq. May 25, 2003.

Artificial leeches

On 3 April 1850, the New York Herald hailed a new and extraordinary invention by a Frenchman named Dr. Alexandre: artificial leeches. “They never fail, they give no pain, they cause no trouble, they inoculate with no disease, they do not crawl and scare one, and wriggle and refuse to bite,” the reporter wrote. No longer would American doctors have to import the “horrid reptiles” from Sweden.

What did artificial leeches look like? The Herald doesn’t say. My first guess was that they must have been metal and demonic, with gears and pincers, like the cockroach-in-a-watchfob that turns people into vampires in Cronos. Then I thought of rubber suction cups, which would be less glamorous but more plausible. It turns out, however, upon a consultation with Google, that an artificial leech looks like the cylinder of a pin-and-tumbler lock, attached to a glass syringe with a cork plunger.

A few days later, the Herald returned to the jewelry and fancy warehouse that was selling the artificial leeches, only to discover that Dr. Alexandre was debuting a second invention, “a sort of sub-marine boat, in which a company of persons can go down to the bottom of a river, have communication with the ground, perform any kind of work by digging or otherwise, and return to the surface when they please” (8 April 1850). This submarine would be very useful to the gold prospectors in California, the reporter supposed, “but for home purposes . . . , we admire the artificial leeches more.”

Shorty gets busted

On 15 January 1850, a young woman nicknamed Shorty was seen spending money with abandon in the groggeries of the New York City slum Five Points. A constable arrested her, because he thought that the money—more than sixty dollars—must have been stolen.

In fact Shorty had earned it. As she explained to the judge, and as the New York Herald reported the next day, at the end of a three-month stint in prison for prostitution, Shorty had dressed as a sailor, gone to Nantucket, and signed up for a whaling cruise. “In this disguise this young woman maintained her position among the other men in the forecastle for over seven months,” the Herald wrote. She wasn’t discovered until after the ship had rounded Cape Horn. Then the captain turned her over to the American consul, who sent her home to New York. In Five Points she was spending her wages.

It’s intriguing that it was Shorty’s money, and her prodigality with it, that didn’t look altogether gender-appropriate. In New York, she dressed femme, more or less. The Herald reporter described her thus:

This singular female has a very good looking countenance, short stature, and broad build; her hair was cut short; she both chewed and smoked tobacco, and talked sailor lingo very fluently. . . . Her manner of walking and movements of her body would appear to the observer as if she was a young man dressed up in female clothing.

Upon hearing Shorty’s explanation, the judge released her.