Tag Archives: history

The Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur

I love history. I love board games. So I was intrigued when I saw this video from The British Museum about the national board game of ancient Mesopotamia, the Royal Game of Ur. In it, Dr. Irving Finkel (noted philologist, Assyriologist, and the discoverer of the rules) takes on Tom Scott in the ancient race game.

If you’re interested in learning how Dr. Finkel discovered the rules. Make sure to check out this Curator’s Corner video where he goes into detail.

How Airships Worked

How Passenger Airships Worked

For years I didn’t understand the steampunk community’s obsession with airships. I understood that they were transportation ephemera of a sort and that they harkened back to a bygone era, but I always thought they were too small. This was due in large part to my misunderstanding of their construction.

I was further confused when I realized I didn’t understand how mooring masts worked. The giant spire atop the Empire State Building was initially designed to be a mooring mast, but I could never understand how passengers would get down from the gondola. Ropes? Ladders? Either way, it sounded like it would be dangerous.

It wasn’t until I read Larry Correia’s novel Hard Magic in January that I decided to look further into dirigibles. His book utilizes them a great deal, but I was having a difficult time picturing the spaces described, so I began to research. It turns out my assumptions were very wrong. Airships had decks! Passenger cabins! Lounges! Promenades! As I started asking my friends, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. I blame The Rocketeer.

So where were these accommodations? This surprised me as well. As the illustration below describes, they were most often inside the ridge frame of the airship itself.

A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100
A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100

For years, I operated under the assumption that passengers were as crammed into the tight space of a gondola (similar to military dirigibles.) But the tiny gondolas that dangled below looked uncomfortable for a long flight across the Atlantic. It turns out they were the exact opposite of cramped. When I realized they had more in common with starships, ocean liners, and riverboats, my perspective changed. They became something much more, and I immediately understood the obsession.

My research led me to The Airship Heritage Trust, which had a collection of images of the British R100, one of the premiere passenger airships of its day and similar in design to the famous Hindenburg. There you can find photos, ship plans, flight logs, and much more. If you’re looking for details, I highly recommend browsing that site.

Plans of the R100
Plans of the R100

I was fascinated by the layout, and the passion began to make sense. Below is a collection of images and some deck plans I have found relating to the interior and passenger spaces of airships. These come from the British R100 and R101 and the Nazi LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ 129 Hindenburg, and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II. I also included a photo at the end showing passengers boarding the R101 so you can see how mooring masts worked. Makes a lot more sense than what I had in my head. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping to give the gallery some unity.


[!] Note: While one of the most successful dirigibles, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin had a different layout than the others. It crammed passengers and crew into a large forward gondola that extended partly into the ship’s frame. You can see its design and deck plan here. The larger LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II moved passengers into the frame.


While airships won’t be appearing in my writing anytime soon, I now understand the attraction. They’re an ocean liner in the sky, a home to their crew, and a hotel to their passengers. They’re not at all cramped. I can see why they’d be the transportation choice for pulpy adventures. Just make sure you have your ticket.

The Masonic Gunboat

The Masonic Ironclad

Recently, I have found myself researching the American Civil War for my “riverpunk” project, Coal Belly. I have always been drawn to that era, the division of the United States was dramatic enough, but couple that with the rapid advances in technology and it makes for a strange world. Since Coal Belly is primarily a Weird Western that centers around steamboats and rivers, I was doing research into the riverboats of the Union Navy during the Civil War. That, in turn, led me to pictures of ironclad gunboats, which brought me to the USS Baron DeKalb.

USS St. Louis later renamed the USS Baron Dekalb
Commissioned as the USS St. Louis, this gunboat was later renamed the USS Baron DeKalb

It’s an intriguing photo that displays the tank-like aspect of early naval gunboats; because of their half-submerged shell-like appearance you can see how they got the nickname “pook turtles.” Usually, I file away images like this into an “Inspirations” folder, but before I could do that, I noticed something strange in the picture. There is a small, odd object hanging on the spreader bars between the DeKalb’s stacks. Let’s zoom in a bit closer…

Masonic Symbol hanging between the stacks of the USS Baron Dekalb
Is that a Masonic symbol hanging between the stacks of the USS Baron DeKalb?

Look familiar? That certainly appears to be the Freemason Square and Compasses hanging above the boat. There’s even a ghostly “G” fixed in the middle. Now, there have been are many books (fiction and nonfiction works) and loads of silly conspiracy theories written about Freemasonry’s ties to the founding of America. It is common knowledge that many of our founding fathers were involved in fraternal organizations. So while seeing a Freemason device hanging on the spreader bars of a US naval vessel did not come as a surprise to me; I was intrigued.

The mystery did not stop there. I spent more time poking around and found a few other interesting tidbits. One site noted the odd similarities between this photos of the USS Baron DeKalb and the USS Carondelet. It’s pretty uncanny. In fact, you could argue they are the same picture, just edited ever so slightly. The forward flag has changed between the images, and the Carondelet seems to have an inverted star in place of the Masonic symbol, but a lot of the photo is identical, even the trees in the background.

USS Carondelet (Left) and the USS Baron Dekalb (Right)
USS Carondelet (Left) and the USS Baron DeKalb (Right)

I also found an article reposted from the Scottish Rite Journal that suggested that one of the Dekalb’s captains was most likely a Mason, which could explain the symbol. Additionally, General Baron DeKalb—the riverboat’s namesake—was also a Freemason. So it’s possible the device was hung out of respect for him.

What does this all mean? I don’t know! Nevertheless, it is an entertaining little mystery and one I was happy to stumble upon. Many of my loyal readers know that I am a collector of American folk art that stems from American fraternal organizations and secret societies (particularly the Independent Order of Odd Fellows,) so it is always fun when I find bits and bobs like this during research. It’s a good example of how rich and complex our history can be, and how little details can lead to expansive stories in their own right. Plus, it was just too much fun to keep to myself.

Friday Link Pack 06/27/2014

Medievally Styled Illustrations by Sergey Yuhimov
It’s time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know!

Writing:

6 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books To Share With The App Generation
Nice list from Idea.TED to encourage the imagination and something something creative writing. I guess I get where they’re coming with the whole “App Generation” idea, but really, these are all real good summer reading for any generation.

Words For That
Need a word? A word for that? Well Words for That is a fun little site that is here to help. Worth checking out.

Breaking The Perfectionism–Procrastination Infinite Loop
We have all struggled with perfectionism and fought against procrastination. Denise Jacobs over at Web Standard Sherpa has some great advice on how to shake out of that loop. Really great for any creative.

I’m STILL having a Kindle Sale!
For the few weeks The Stars Were Right is available for only $1.99! Now is a good chance for Kindle owners to pick up a copy. Click here for more info. Tell your friends!

Art:

Sergey Yuhimov’s Medieval-Style Illustrations for Lord of the Rings
Beautiful images. The scene of Boromir’s death stands out in particular. (It’s my favorite scene from the book.) You should also check out the set of illustrations of the Hobbit I featured in a Link Pack earlier this year.

Bill Viola Projects Martyrs Within St. Paul’s Cathedral
Stunning permanent video installation. Not something I’d expect to see in a church. I think that’s why I dig it so much. It pushes the boundaries of what is usually considered proper or traditional.

After The Storm Limited Edition Prints
As of this morning there’s only a few of Kari-Lise‘s latest limited edition run of After the Storm. So nab it while you can.

Random:

America’s Abandoned Shopping Malls
I was real impressed with this series of photographs by Seph Lawless. He is able to capture feelings of tragedy and bleakness in a landscape that is all too familiar.

The Occult History of the Television Set
Television shows like Star Trek had tricorders and communicators that inspired the creation of the iPhone. What was the pop-culture phenomena that pushed the inventors of the television? Would you believe it’s own history is rooted in the occult? Interesting story.

The Best Infinite Looping GIFs on the Internet
It’s always hard making these lists because there all billions of great GIFs out there. That being said, there are some gems here.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

The Festival
Written in 1923 this is considered one of the first mythos stories. It also happens to be one of the first tales to feature Arkham, and the first to expand on the mysterious Cryptonomicon.

Farewell Gif of the Week:
Selfies.

(Brittany: I hope this kept you entertained for the rest of your Friday.)