Snapshots: Ye old farrier

Rudolph Celinas: World War I horseshoer


World War I irrevocably changed the view of warfare in a number of ways. The trench bogs, the introduction of tanks, weapons of mass destruction (mustard gas) and the last-gasp reliance on horses for either hauling artillery or cavalry officers through the endless mud and muck.

Animals were integral to the war effort. According to the website, the US Army had six classes of animals to fulfill military hauling requirements. These were:

• For the cavalry: Active horses from 950 to 1,200 pounds

• For hauling light artillery: Strong active horses from 1,150 to 1,300 pounds

• For hauling siege batteries: Powerful horses from 1,400 to 1,700 pounds

• For hauling wheelers above 1,150 pounds or leaders above 1,000 pounds: pack and draft mules

Naturally, these animals required care and the Veterinary Corps stepped in to help out. Below, is some film footage from 1918 showing some of the various steps taken to prepare a horse for the war effort.

While today’s military veterinarians still take care of the ceremonial horses, they also look after sniffer dogs currently helping out troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Sharing Saturday: Protecting the Bones from Thieves

Today’s Sharing Saturday post comes from the Bones Don’t Lie blog, run by Katy Meyers Emery, an Anthropology PhD Candidate who specializes in Mortuary archaeology and bio-archaeology.

Check it out: Grave Guns, Coffin Torpedoes, and Other Methods of Protecting Your Bones From Thieves

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Soapy Smith: Con Artist Extraordinaire

For anyone heading out to Vegas…

Soapy Smith

Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

Soapy Smith is one of the most well-known and amoral criminal masterminds of 19th century America. An accomplished con artist from the age of 19, he eventually rose to command a gang network of criminal activity through a combination of wit, charm, and weapons.

Jefferson Randall Smith II was born November 2, 1860 into a wealthy, educated Southern family. His grandfather was a plantation owner and his father was a lawyer. However, the after-effects of the Civil War broke the family financially, causing them to move to Texas for a fresh start.

At the age of 19, Smith got his own fresh start in Forth Worth when he began his career as a con man known for his soap shell game and the 3-card monte (which is simply another version of the shell game).

Shell games can be traced back to the Middle Ages where it was often played with thimbles. In the 19th century, it was a popular county fair distraction played with either peas and three shells or balls and cups. The object of the game was to bet where the pea had been hidden. If the guess was correct, the person would win double the money initially put down.

However, due to the expert sleight of hand ability of most shell game players, the bet placer would never win.

Note: Keep in mind that sleight of hand ability shouldn’t always be considered bad. In 2006, David Copperfield confused a would-be thief by claiming he had no wallet on him at the time he was being mugged. Sleight of hand allowed Copperfield to hide his wallet elsewhere.

The same scenario plays out with 3-card monte.

Three cards are placed face-down and the person placing the bet is asked to find the winning card after they’ve been shuffled. In the rare event that a bet placer actually chooses correctly, quick sleight of hand allows the dealer to slide another, losing card under the winner by using a “throw” technique or a Mexican turnover trick.

Smith took the shell game a few steps further by wrapping $1 to $100 bills around several bars of soap and placing them alongside of regular soap bars. The customer put down $1 for a chance to guess where the currency- wrapped soap was located. However, Smith kept track of which bars were wrapped and ensured his accompanying gang members always “won” these, thus encouraging more people to play.

Hence the nickname, Soapy Smith.

But while con games kept food on the table, Soapy was always attuned to new opportunities that might make him some quick money. The instability found throughout many 19th century frontier towns certainly assisted him in this goal.

In Denver, Colorado one business venture included a ‘discount’ train ticket sales office. The money would be taken but strangely enough, the ticketmaster was never around to dispense the purchased tickets. Another scam included his acting as sheriff to help ‘close down’ local gambling joints and brothels. Patrons who had lost large sums of money in his businesses were ‘arrested’ and then released if they went quietly home without attempting to reclaim their losses. Unfortunately, this easy way of money didn’t last too long after it was discovered Smith was rigging elections. He was asked to leave town sooner rather than later.

Smith’s final hurrah was in Skagway, Alaska from 1897-1898 .

At this time, the Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing and seeing boundless opportunities for easy money in another frontier town, Smith moved north and began relieving miners of their heavy gold-carrying burdens.

A telegraph office (with wires extending only to the wall) was built. Miners stood in line waiting their turn to send a message home about their earnings while members of Smith’s gang worked their shell games and 3-card monte cons.

When one vigilante crew was finally established with the goal of cleaning up crime (and ideally, getting rid of Soapy), Smith simply formed his own gang to go after the vigilante crew.

During the Spanish-American war, Smith organized his own Skagway Military Company as potential fighters, even obtaining President McKinley’s recognition of his organizational efforts. Never one to leave a potential income stone unturned. Smith turned this presidential recognition to his advantage by using it to shore up his political control over Skagway.

But all good things must come to an end.

On July 8, 1898, the day after Soapy’s crew swindled $2,700 from a Klondike Miner, vigilantes met with him to discuss repayment terms. An argument broke out and led to a gunfight and Smith was shot and killed.

His grave remains a highlight for Skagway tourists

Other Resources:

• YouTube Video: How to perform a Mexican Turnover

• YouTube Video: How to perform a card throw

• Soapy Smith, Con Man’s Empire

• Legends of America: Soapy Smith, Bunko Man of America

Google Timeline of Soapy Smith’s life


Filed under Commentary, Travel

Snapshots: The Spanish Mason

Check out all the relief carvings behind the statue (ladder, shovel, compass, level, etc.). If this isn’t an example of a Mason, then I don’t know what is.

Cementiri de l’Est, Barcelona

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Be careful with those secrets…

Today’s Sharing Saturday post on what to do when you discover a secret, comes from The Joy of Genealogy.  Enjoy!

When you unearth a family secret, be careful what you do with it…


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Illegible headstones? There’s an app for that

For those of you heading out on vacation this month, don’t forget that cellphones aren’t just for taking pictures.

Popular consensus seems to be that cell phones are far too prevalent in daily life. Tweeting, texting, music, surfing, games – the list is endless. Some might even say phones have become more toy than tool.

Aside from basic functions and some photo capabilities, it’s certainly not much help in old graveyards, right? Well, if John Bottorff has anything to do about it, cell phones might become a genealogist’s best friend.

Bottorff, the owner of Objecs, LLC, has developed three, cell-phone readable tablets suitable for both the new and old, illegible gravestones. Called the Personal Rosetta Stone, these tablets store selected personal data via RFID technology and are mounted on the gravestone. By touching the stone with an NFC-RFID enabled cell phone, genealogical information is then uploaded to the viewer screen.

What is RFID technology?

According to

“RFID (or Radio-Frequency Identification) refers to a small electronic device consisting of a micro chip (carrying up to 2,000 bytes of data) and an antenna.

The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.”

Earlier this week, I caught up with John to find out more.

RFID in tombstones? How did this get started?

Well, like many new business ideas, it branched off from something else. A Portuguese client thought our object hyperlink products might be useful for identifying the crumbling, 600-year old tombstones on his property. Ultimately, he wanted to share this information via cell phone. This was easy enough to do since European mobile devices are automatically configured to access information via hardlinks.

However, it’s a different story here in the U.S.

Why? Are American cell phones different?

American cell phones are typically locked and providers don’t offer NFC-RFID enabling at this time. At least not yet. Eventually, the technology will be incorporated and there are some who do have it now, but these are the geeks who bought the equipment overseas and brought it home. However, our tablets do work with all Internet enabled phones, but only NFC enabled phones can use our wireless touch technology.

Keep in mind, that the information can also be pulled manually.We know a third-party vendor that developed an app for iPhone users – yes, there’s an app for that. But it’s not ours.

When do you see our phones handling this technology?

I anticipate this happening around 2010.

How does the RFID chip get into the tablet/headstone?

There’s a way to embed the electronics but it’s a trade secret on how the stone mason carves it all in. I can’t elaborate any further.

The tablets have some kind of engraved symbols. Can you explain these?

We designed the Rosetta Stone to be an artifact, meaning the customer can choose symbols that best defined a person’s life. For example, we offer the scales of justice describe a judge, a badge to signify a policeman, or a sailboat to describe someone who liked sailing. At this time, we have a library of about 800 symbols, many of them developed through customer feedback.

What’s the most unique symbol?

The jail cell symbol (Check out #70 on the symbols list).

So, the customer picks a tablet, chooses the symbols, and then what?

The tablet and chip tag are then set into the headstone. Later on, a genealogist with an enabled cell phone camera and internet connection, could take a picture of the barcode (in this case, the tablet). This action triggers a link and redirection of the phone’s web browser to the desired URL target and related database information. (Here’s a more detailed explanation)

Your website mentions three types of tablets. What are they?

The three types are Millennium, Century, and Decade.

The Millennium class is the longest wearing because it’s made out of granite and the Century class is made from travertine stone. While the Century type is specifically designed as an indoor family heirloom, it can be used outdoors. The third is the Decade, a metal, polypropelyne (thermoplastic molding) marker. These were what we originally mailed to our Portuguese client.

What unexpected surprises have you encountered?

Actually, it’s the market. We initially approached this product assuming that our customers were the 55- and older, genealogy-oriented market. We’re now finding out that the age bracket is actually lower, ranging from 40-year olds, down to even 20-somethings.

What’s been the reaction from genealogy societies?

There’s been little to no reaction from genealogy societies. This has been surprising considering the amount of data out there that could be put to wider access. Perhaps there is a lack of knowledge about the product or skepticism about whether the particularly small, local info would even be worthwhile entering in this database? I don’t know.

What message are you hoping to send with this product?

It’s important to identify your place in time, regardless of who you are or your life’s story. Future generations are going to want to learn about the past and this is one way of helping them out. Today’s barber might not think his work is important but three generations from now, another barber might disagree.


Filed under Commentary, Restoration, Symbols

Tales From The Crypts


Resharing this post from March, 2009. If you ever get a chance to visit Rome, do be sure to check out the catacombs a few miles outside the city.

Spanning over 350 miles in length and still possessing original sections of bone-rattling cobbles, the Appian Way was once famous for displaying the crucified remains of Spartacus’ army. While still popular, visitors instead choose to see another type of remains called the catacombs.


Catacomb of Vigna Cassia, courtesy of PCAS

Under Roman rule, it was illegal to bury the dead inside city walls. But while the Romans cremated their dead, early Christians did not have this option and faced the problem of finding land for burials. This problem was solved by digging deep within the soft tufa rock prevalent around Rome, allowing tunneled layers of rectangular niches to be easily carved out. Experts have estimated that at one time, there were approximately thirty-six active catacomb sites up to 90 miles in length and holding between 500,000 and 750,000 remains.(1)

After Christianity became the official state religion in 394 A.D., the need for catacomb burials  slowly declined (2) and site locations were forgotten until rediscovery in the 16th century. Today, there is a continual swarm of tourists visiting any one of the three major catacombs on Via Appia: St. Callixtus, San Sebastiano and Santa Domatilla. Continue reading


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