Archive for February, 2014

History I Never Knew: From the Annals of Mixology and Medicine

February 28, 2014

The Monkey Gland

The Monkey Gland

Hey guys – looking for a “potent” cocktail to order the next time you’re out on the town?

Try the following: 2 ounces gin, 1 1/2 ounces orange juice, 2 dashes of grenadine, 2 dashes of Pernod or Bénédictine, and a twist of orange peel.

Tell the bartender to shake the gin, orange juice, grenadine, and Pernod with ice, then strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish it with the orange peel.

And be sure to order it that way and not by its name, lest you provoke a snicker from a bartender who knows the drink’s history. This cocktail is a Monkey Gland. And its history is an interesting one indeed.

Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, mixed the first Monkey Gland in the 1920s. He did it in recognition of the work of French surgeon Serge Voronoff.

Serge Voronoff (1866 - 1951)

Serge Voronoff (1866 – 1951)

Voronoff was born to a Jewish family near Voronezh, Russia in 1866. He emigrated to France at the age of 18, where he studied medicine and learned surgical techniques of transplantation under tutelage of Nobel Prize recipient Alexis Carrel. Between 1896 and 1910, Voronoff worked in Egypt, studying the retarding effects that castration had on eunuchs. That experience led him to his later work that ultimately gave the world the Monkey Gland cocktail.

Voronoff perfected the technique of transplanting testicle tissue from various primates into men. This, he claimed, would increase both longevity and sex drive. His research was bankrolled by a daughter of Jabez Bostwick, first treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. He started off transplanting testicle tissue from younger animals into older ones – sheep, goats, and bulls – and claimed that that the older ones became stronger and more vigorous.

Eventually, Voronoff moved to human male patients and began grafting thin slices of baboon and ape testicles into them. He wrote a book titled “Rejuvenation by Grafting.” The poet e.e. cummings wrote of “a famous doctor who inserted monkey glands in millionaires.” Irving Berlin’s song “Monkey-Doodle-Doo,” featured in a Marx Brothers film “The Coconuts,” has a line, “If you’re too old for dancing/Get yourself a monkey gland.”

About 500 men underwent the procedure in France, and thousands more around the world did too. They included Harold McCormick, chairman of the board of International Harvester and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, military hero of World War I and president of Turkey.

The operation was in such high demand that Voronoff set up a monkey farm on the Italian Riviera. He gained fame and made a lot of money. The procedure was fashionable until the 1940s, when its ineffectiveness became known throughout the scientific and medical communities.

Voronoff was quickly discredited and became the butt of jokes. He died in 1951. His reputation did not recover any ground until the 1990s when discovery that the Sertoli cells of the testes constitute a barrier to the immune system. This makes the testes an immunologically privileged site for the transplantation of foreign tissue. So, in fact, the thin slices of monkey testicles implanted by Voronoff may have survived to produce some benefit.

More recently, there have been successful experiments in reducing insulin requirements in diabetics. The techniques involved implanting into the diabetic patients pancreatic islet cells from pigs. The pig cells were coated in Sertoli cells, which insulated the pig cells from attack by the patients’ immune systems. No immunosuppressive drugs were required.

So maybe we should raise a glass to the good Doctor Voronoff after all. Need I suggest what drink we quaff in his honor?

The Story of the First Anecdote, and Other History I Never Knew

February 24, 2014

The Emperor Justinian

The Emperor Justinian

Justinian the Great was a mighty important guy in the history of the world.

The last Roman Emperor whose native tongue was Latin, he ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565. His armies reconquered much of the old Roman Empire that had been lost to invading hordes. He rewrote the body of law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many countries.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

Justinian’s building program included the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which was the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for almost a thousand years. After the Ottomans took over, it became a mosque. Since 1935, it has been a museum.

Like most powerful politicians who tend to their image, Justinian had a historian who crafted fawning, flattering accounts of his exploits. Procopius of Caesarea wrote “The Wars of Justinian” and “The Buildings of Justinian.” Both were published during the emperor’s lifetime. The accomplishments chronicled therein were noteworthy.

The seductive Theodora

The seductive Theodora

However, the military and architectural feasts weren’t the emperor’s whole story. Procopius also wrote “The Secret History.” It contained the really interesting stuff, including unvarnished tales about the often scandalous private lives of Justinian and his seductive wife Theodora. The manuscript remained unpublished until 1623, when it was discovered in the Vatican Library.

The existence of The Secret History had been known earlier. It was mentioned in a 10th Century Byzantine encyclopedia called the Suda. In that encyclopedia, the Secret History was referred to by the Greek word “Anekdota,” or in Latin as “Anecdota.” Both of these mean “unpublished writings.”

Procopius of Caesarea

Procopius of Caesarea

The earliest meaning of “anecdote” in English was thus “Secret, private, or hitherto unpublished narratives or details of history.” Only later did the word come to have its present meaning: “The narrative of a detached incident, or of a single event, told as being in itself interesting or striking.”

Justinian and Theodora, perhaps the Western World’s first Power Couple, didn’t have to worry about paparazzi, bloggers, or Facebook. Their naughty antics remained secret for nearly a thousand years. But the first anecdote, starring them, eventually found the light of day.

So, my friend, be careful what you write and what you post, lest you too have your own anecdotes become known to all the world.

Lives of Service, Lives of Generosity: Honoring “Men for Others”

February 14, 2014

BC High 1967 classmates Christoper Small, left, and Tom Burke after Chris received the school's prestigious Saint Ignatius Award.

BC High 1967 classmates Christoper Small, left, and Tom Burke after Chris received the school’s prestigious Saint Ignatius Award.

Today I attended a reception honoring my BC High 1967 classmate Christopher Small, who has been Executive Director of the Italian Home for Children for the past 35 years.

Chris received the St. Ignatius Medal, BC High’s highest alumni award. It goes to graduates who “have exemplified the ideals of the school through high moral character and selfless service to the community.”

Superb choice. Congratulations to Chris, thanks to him for his career as a man for others, and kudos to the school for its wisdom in selecting him.

The Italian Home is one of the most respected and well-run social service agencies in Massachusetts. It is also recognized by the Council on Accreditation (COA). This certifies that the Home meets the highest national standards and delivers the best quality care to its communities. About 100 children are served each day on the Home’s Jamaica Plain campus. Another 20 kids attend programs at its Cranwood Group Home in East Freetown.

In his briefs and gracious acceptance speech before the school’s entire student body, Chris talked about how his experiences at BC High helped him to discern the signs and signals that led him to his life’s work.

“I was always challenged to examine things for what they meant, both in general and in particular for me. Many times, I got a feeling – a feeling for when I was doing my best work, when I was making plans or judgments or decisions. It was the feeling that I was doing the right thing.”

At first, Chris had no thought of a career in social services. He went to BC, majored in physics and math for three years, and aimed to be a scientist. During vacations he worked at IHop. But in the summer following junior year, he got a job working with emotionally disturbed youngsters at the New England home for Little Wanderers.

“It took me a couple of weeks and a handful of experiences with these special kids to give me that feeling. I recognized that I was meant to work with them. At the ripe old age of 20, I was lucky enough to find the work that I was born to do,” he said.

After that summer, Chris didn’t bother finishing his science training at Boston College. Rather he went right into the field and eventually earned a degree in social work at Boston University.
Chris closed his remarks by telling the students that each of them was developing his own version of the feeling.

“I hope you pay attention to what your heart tells you, and to have the courage to let your choices by governed by who you really are, rather than by what you think others think you are. And however successful or influential you aspire to be, your greatest achievements will always involve what happens between you and others. They may be your loved ones, or good friends, or total strangers. But if you put others and their needs first, ahead of your own, it won’t feel like a sacrifice. Think of them as opportunities you’ll encounter unexpectedly, on whatever path you choose.

“Measure wealth not by the things you have but by the things that you have that you would not exchange for money,” he concluded.

Chris was one of three alumni recipients of BC High’s Ignatius Award. The others were mathematician Paul Sally, a Roslindale native and professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago, and Reverend Richard “Doc” Conway of the Boston archdiocese.

Professor Sally, a 1950 BC High graduate who died on December 30, 2013, taught at Chicago for 50 years. He led the University’s Mathematics Project, which developed “Chicago Math” for grade school children.

Father Conway, a Class of 1955 alumnus, grew up in Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. He worked in many parishes in and around Boston. In 2012 he received the Crime Fighter of the Year award from the Boston Police for his work with the city’s young people.

BC High also honored William A. MacNeill with its Shields Award for his lifetime of service as a teacher, track coach, and vice president of development. A Roxbury native whose family was too poor to send him to BC High, MacNeill enlisted in the Army at age 17. He served in Europe and Korea and graduated from Boston College in 1956. He organized BC High’s first fund raising program in 1971.

I had Bill for history and as a coach in cross country. Later on, when I was in the development business, we’d frequently talk shop. He did a lot, very quietly and unobtrusively, for people and for other worthy causes in addition to BC High. I’m glad that he was among the honorees as well.

It was a good day to be back at the old school, all right!

Today’s History Lesson: Music and Sports – How Golf’s Bogey Got Its Name, and Who Colonel Bogey Really Was

February 6, 2014

Bandmaster Lt. J.F. Ricketts, composer of  "The Colonel Bogey March."

Bandmaster Lt. J.F. Ricketts, composer of “The Colonel Bogey March.”

By the time Lieutenant J.F. Ricketts wrote “The Colonel Bogey March” in 1914, the fictitious Colonel Bogey was already the presiding spirit of golf links in Britain. This is the story of how Ricketts’s famous song was written, and of how the bogey came to mean one over par in golf.

Let’s go back, first, to a popular British song of the late 19th century. The “Bogey Man,” who lived in the shadows, was the star of said song. It went “I’m the Bogey man, catch me if you can.” “Bogle” had been the term for a Scottish goblin since the 16th Century. A Bogey-man was a popular term for a goblin or devil.

In 1890, Hugh Rotherham, secretary of the Coventry, England Golf Club, proposed standardizing the number of shots at each hole that a good golfer should take. He called that number the “ground score.” A Dr. Browne, Secretary of the Great Yarmouth Club, adopted the idea. Great Yarmouth used it in match play. During one competition, a Major Charles Wellman exclaimed to Dr. Browne, “This player of yours is a regular Bogey man.”

In Yarmouth and elsewhere the ground score became known as the Bogey score. So it was, originally, the measure of a well-played round of golf. Golfers of the time thought that they were playing against “Mister Bogey” when measuring themselves against the bogey score. They would, as the song went, try to catch the Bogey man. Bogey was interchangeable with the word “par.”

In 1892, Colonel Seely-Vidal, the Secretary of the United Services Club at Gosport, worked out the “Bogey” for his course. All members of the United Club had a military rank, and they felt they could not measure themselves against a “Mister” Bogey or have him as a member. So they gave him the honorary rank of Colonel, and “Colonel Bogey” was born.

Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa in "Bridge on the River Kwai," the movie that introduced a generation of Americans to "The Colonel Bogey March."

Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” the movie that introduced a generation of Americans to “The Colonel Bogey March.”

Lieutenant Ricketts (1881-1945) was a British army bandmaster who later became director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth. He published “Colonel Bogey” and his other compositions under the pseudonym Kenneth Alford, because service personnel were not supposed to have jobs outside of the military.

The tune was said to have been inspired by a military man who was also a golfer. That golfer did not shout “Fore” when it was called for. Instead, he whistled a two-note phrase, a descending interval which begins each line of the march’s melody.

The bogey got demoted to its present one-over-par status in the early 20th century. Although the first noted use of the word “Par” in golf was in Britain and predates that of Bogey. “Par” comes from a stock exchange term – a stock may be priced above or below its normal or “par” figure.

In 1870, a British golf writer asked golf professionals David Strath and James Anderson, what score would win “The Belt,” which was the winning trophy for “The Open” at Prestwick. Strath and Anderson said that perfect play should produce a score of 49 for Prestwick’s twelve holes. The writer, whose name was Doleman, called this “Par for Prestwick.”

However, the bogey scoring system as the high-performance standard would take effect in Britain first. But over Across the Pond, things were changing.

Shortly before the turn of the century, the American Women’s Golf Association began to develop a national handicapping system for women, and the Men’s Association soon followed suit. In 1911, the Men’s USGA set down the following modern distances for determining Par: Up to 225 yards, Par 3; 225 to 425 yards, Par 4; 426 to 600 yards, Par 5; and over 601 yards, Par 6.

Golf continued to improve in America, and scores started to come down. But many old British courses did not adjust their courses or their Bogey scores.

This meant that good golfers and all the professionals were achieving lower than a Bogey score. The United States had an up-to-date national standard of distances for holes, but the British Bogey ratings were determined by each club and were no longer appropriate for professionals.

Americans began referring to one over Par as a Bogey, much to British chagrin.

And now you know the rest of the story.

History I Never Knew: Aristides de Sousa Mendes; and Why We Should All Try to be Historians

February 4, 2014

Not long ago I came across this story in The Forward. It is about Aristides de Souza Mendes, the “Portuguese Schindler,” as he is called.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes and a life-saving transit visa

Aristides de Sousa Mendes and a life-saving transit visa

I’d never heard of Sousa Mendes before. He was another of those most admirable people of the hellish Europe of the 1930’s – people who did everything in their power, at great risk to themselves, to aid the Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

A diplomat stationed in Bordeaux, France, Sousa Mendes used his official position to provide transit visas to Jews who were fleeing through Portugal to safer countries. Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar had forbidden it; Sousa Mendes did it anyway.

Oskar Schindler and his "List"

Oskar Schindler and his “List”

This article also serves as an important lesson about human history. That lesson: history’s heroes are those whose stories are faithfully recorded and told. But not all of those stories have been told. History is forever incomplete, a work in process. We can all do our part to advance that work.

Until the 1970s, the story of Aristides Sousa Mendes remained hidden. It had been suppressed by Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968. Today, Mendes is rightly regarded as a Portuguese national hero. Salazar? Who the hell cares.

Irena Sendler and the truck she used to smuggle about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto

Irena Sendler and the truck she used to smuggle about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto

Sousa Mendes is honored along with Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg, Irena Sendler, and almost 25,000 others in the Garden of the Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal

In this case, the good man finally receives his due. The bad man, prosperous and powerful while on earth, shrinks further into the dark alleyways of oblivion with every passing year.

Avenue of the Righteous in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

Avenue of the Righteous in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

It doesn’t always happen that way. There are millions of stories out there, still waiting to be told. Their heroes and heroines aren’t always the “great people” either. They won’t be in the history books. But they should remain in our hearts.

You don’t need to be a professional historian. You don’t have to write a book. But you can seek out those quiet, unknown heroes. Listen to their stories. And pass those stories on.