Africa

Cullinan Diamond roughStar of Africa IIt is the symbol of love. It’s a big part of the thing every girl wants to receive from the man she loves. Lot’s of people think that the size of the diamond is a show of stature, and I suppose it is, but there can be a point that would qualify as extreme. Such was the case on January 25, 1905, at the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa, when a 3,106 caret diamond was discovered during a routine inspection by the mine’s superintendent. Weighing 1.33 pounds, and christened the “Cullinan,” it was the largest diamond ever found. Now, girls…I’m sure that you would love to have a large diamond ring, but carrying around a 1.33 pound ring on your finger would be just a little bit much. Still, I would have thought that the owner might have cut the stone into as large a cut stone as possible to be used for a museum piece, but he had very different plans.

Frederick Wells was 18 feet below the earth’s surface when his light flashed off of something embedded in the wall just above him. I’m sure he had a pretty good idea of what he had. His discovery was immediately presented to Sir Thomas Cullinan, the mine’s owner. Cullinan decided to sell the diamond to the Transvaal provincial government. Transvaal presented the stone to Britain’s King Edward VII as a birthday gift. They were worried that the diamond might be stolen while in transit from Africa to London, so King Edward VII arranged to send a phony diamond aboard a steamer ship guarded by detectives as a diversionary tactic. While the decoy slowly made its way from Africa on the ship, the Cullinan was sent to England in a plain box. It was an amazing plan, and I can certainly understand their concerns. King Edward VII entrusted the cutting of the Cullinan to Joseph Asscher, head of the Asscher Diamond Company of Amsterdam. Asscher had cut the famous Excelsior Diamond, a 971 carat diamond found in 1893. He studied the Cullinan stone for a full six months before even attempting the cut. On his first attempt, the steel blade broke, with no effect on the diamond. That had to be enough to break his confidence. On the second attempt, the diamond shattered exactly as planned, but Asscher fainted from nervous exhaustion immediately after.

The Cullinan was later cut into nine large stones and about 100 smaller ones. In total, the diamonds were Cullinan diamonds nine largestvalued at millions of dollars. The largest stone is called the “Star of Africa I,” or “Cullinan I,” and at 530 carats, it is the largest cut fine quality colorless diamond in the world. The second largest stone, the “Star of Africa II” or “Cullinan II,” is 317 carats. Both of these stones, as well as the “Cullinan III,” are on display in the Tower of London with Britain’s other crown jewels, so I guess that part of the diamond ended up in a museum. The Cullinan I is mounted in the British Sovereign’s Royal Scepter, while the Cullinan II sits in the Imperial State Crown. Both fitting placements for such stones. Of course, the value of the stones would increase with cutting. The original stone was insured for $1,250,000 in 1905, and would be valued at $30,179,000 today.

Yellow Fever VirusWhen I come across a husband and wife, who both died on the same day, my curiosity kicks into overdrive. That just seems so unusual. Nevertheless, such was the case for my husband, Bob’s 4th great grandparents, Cloudsbury and Elizabeth Kirby, both of whom died on August 29, 1878 in Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa. At first, I wondered if it was an error, and I suppose it could be, but that is the information I have at this point, so that is what I have to go with.

My first thought was to check for disasters in the area, like tornados, fires, or floods, but I was unable to find anything that specifically happened in Mount Ayr, Iowa on August 29, 1878. Looking for these kinds of specific things can be a long and frustrating process, but I just can’t imagine too many situations where both halves of a couple would pass on the same day. I searched and found that there were tornadoes during that year, but nothing specifically on that day, so I doubt that a tornado is the culprit here.

When the possibility of a disaster was removed, I began to think about illness, so I looked up and epidemics in the area. That is when I came across a definite possibility…the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1876 to 1878, which took many lives in the southern United States. Yellow fever, known historically as yellow jack or yellow plague is an acute viral disease, that is usually spread by the female mosquito. Symptoms include fever, chills, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pains particularly in the back, and headaches. Many people improve after a few days, but when the symptoms return, they can cause kidney damage, liver failure (causing yellow skin, probably the reason for the name Yellow Fever), bleeding, and ultimately death. These days there is a vaccine against Yellow Fever and some countries require it for travelers. Other countries try to control the virus by killing off as many mosquitoes as possible. Nevertheless, Yellow Fever causes 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths every year with nearly 90% of those occurring in Africa, these days. Since the 17th century, several major outbreaks have occurred in America, Africa, and Europe. In the 18th and 19th centuries yellow fever was seen as the most dangerous of infectious diseases.

I can’t say for sure that Yellow Fever is what took the lives of Bob’s 4th great grandparents, but with the epidemic that occurred during that time, I have to think that it is a possibility. I have looked at the lists of people know to have died of Yellow Fever during that epidemic, and did not see Cloudsbury and Elizabeth Kirby on the list, but the list was incomplete, with many people only listed as a number. At this time, unless more information somehow surfaces, I will probably never know for sure, but the epidemic, which apparently came in from Cuba caused 100,000 people to become ill, and killed 20,000 people, so it is likely that they were too busy, trying to help people get better, to keep really great records as to the names of the dead. I have to feel really sorry for people of that time. They didn’t really know what was causing the epidemic and would not have had a way to do much about it anyway, so many lives were lost. Thankfully for the people of this century, Yellow Fever can be prevented by vaccination, and it is usually found in Africa, so we don’t really see much of it here.

The battleFlakYesterday, I read a tribute written by the grandchild of an airman who served in a B-17 Bomber during World War II, and I found myself both curious and a little annoyed by the first few lines of the story. Oh, I know that the writer was as proud of his grandfather, as I am of my dad, but when the story started out saying that in order to go home, those men had to fly twice as many missions as the 25 my dad’s group had to fly, I got really curious. My search for information would lead me to probably the same “bone chilling” feeling as the other author’s information had. The author’s grandfather, like my dad, was the flight engineer, except that he had been stationed in Northern Africa, where my dad had been in England, at Great Ashfield. While I don’t dispute his grandfather’s bone chilling missions, I’m nevertheless, not sure he understood what the fighting was like in England, and especially at Great Ashfield.

It is true that the crews at Great Ashfield only flew 25 missions before going home. The reasons are maybe even more bone chilling than the mission report the other author was reading. The article I found puts it like this. “The average life of a B-17 bomber at Great Ashfield was just over 4 months. Very few B-17 bombers that were transferred to the base lasted a complete tour of duty. The average Airman lasted 15 combat missions and few completed an entire tour of 25 missions. Much less 35 !!!! The average LIFE of a Ball Turret Gunner in combat was 12 MINUTES.” Thankfully my dad was not the ball turret gunner, but rather the top turret gunner…still, Great Ashfield was where my dad had served!!! And he was one of those “few” who lived to go home. His plane was one of those “very few” Bombers that lasted a complete tour of duty. In all the years that I have known about my dad’s war years, I guess that I didn’t really allow myself to think about what could have happened…probably because it was too hard to think about.

Even when Dad told me about the 3 Poplar trees at the end of the runway…the landmark that let them know that for another mission, at least, they were safely home. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to board that B-17 Bomber in the morning, not knowing whether or not you would see the base again…much less your family. Then to see those trees, and to know that you were safe, would be almost overwhelming.

I am no longer annoyed at the author of the other article, and I agree that his grandfather is just as much a hero as my dad is. Both of these men bravely stepped into those planes Dad looking at B-17G BomberSafely Homeevery time they were told to, and flew off into battle, not knowing if they would return. Rather than feeling annoyed, I feel a kinship to the other author, because had circumstances ended differently neither of us would have existed. Our lives are what they are, because his grandfather and my dad were among the few who survived battle in a B-17 Bomber, and among the few whose B-17 Bomber and the grace of God, brought them safely home to their families.

When kids are little, the whole meal thing can be…well, a challenge. No kid is the same, and there are always things they don’t like to eat. To make matters worse, if you were raised in my generation, you were always told that you needed to clean up your plate, because there were children starving in Africa. It occurred to us that our not cleaning our plate was not going to help them anyway, but that was still the thing we were told. Of course, our parents were trying to teach us not to be wasteful, but when I was looking at tomatoes or peas…which I still do not really like, it didn’t make any difference, because I figured that if those children in Africa wanted my tomatoes or peas, they were welcome to them…just get me a to go box and I’d figure out a way to pay the postage.

My parents didn’t go for that, so I had to sit there until I cleaned up my plate. Yuck!! I tried everything I could think of to get out of it. I would put a forkful of peas in my mouth and then spit them into my napkin, but the darned things wouldn’t always stay in there, so I ended up getting them back. After a while, I learned how to make them stay in there pretty good, but I still got caught most of the time. Now tomatoes were a different story. Putting a forkful of stewed tomatoes in my mouth produced a pretty much instant gagging effect that was not faked, and trying to swallow was almost worse. I learned to plug my nose and swallow those nasty things whole…and quickly.

Sometimes, it isn’t a matter of not liking a food, but taking more than you can eat. My sister, Alena found that out on Thanksgiving one year, when she wanted to have the entire turkey leg. She argued with my dad about it until he finally gave in and let her have the entire turkey leg. Of course, she couldn’t eat it all, so Dad said she could have it the next day. Well, she still couldn’t eat it all, so she got it the next day…and the next. By that time it was covered with cranberry sauce and gravy, and just the site of it made Alena cringe. Dad would get that silly turkey leg out every day, and try to hide his emotions when he handed it to Alena. Finally, the turkey leg ended up in the trash, and to this day, Alena doesn’t eat the leg on turkey or chicken.

Yes, food can be an issue with kids , but eventually they outgrown that pickiness…or just grow up and move out, so they can make their own food choices. There are some things that I still don’t like…and probably never will, but as I found out recently with Avocados, it never hurts to try thing again once in a while, because your tastes might change. You never know, but tomatoes and peas…well not yet.

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