The holiday we celebrate is named after a Christian martyr who was killed in the fifth century. Valentinus was a priest who secretly performed marriages for Roman soldiers who were forbidden to marry by Emperor Claudius. He was caught, tortured and killed for disobeying the emperor’s edict. Legend says that while he was awaiting his execution in jail he restored the sight of the jailer’s blind daughter. There is also a legend that the last words he wrote were in a note to the jailer’s daughter that he signed, “from your Valentine.”
Valentine and his saint’s day became synonymous with love. Although valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages they weren't widely distributed in the United States until Esther Howland made her mark on the card industry. Esther, a student at Mt. Holyoke College, received a Valentine’s Day card created by an English company. Her father was a stationer and Esther got the idea to make her own cards and sell them in his store in Springfield, Massachusetts. She began to publish and sell valentines in 1850. The cards caught on.
Soon she was hiring her friends to help her keep up with the business. Even though the practice of sending pre-printed cards was mocked in a New York Times editorial in 1856, the business actually grew. In 1866 New Yorkers mailed more than 86,000 cards. And although most were priced low enough for anyone to send, they were also becoming more elaborate. Some were reported to sell for $500 each.
Today valentines are no less popular. More than 150 million cards are exchanged each year on February 14th. Some of those are still handmade, but the majority of them, 145 million in 2013, are purchased.
And there are still some very expensive cards created for those willing to spend the big bucks on their valentine. One of the most expensive cards you can buy is custom made by Gilded Age Greetings. For a price of $3,500 they will create a card that comes complete with 23-karat gold and precious stones. Their most expensive card comes at a whopping $5,000. Most will argue that it is the sentiment that counts the most when sending a Valentine greeting. Homemade cards with a lovely wish are most often the most memorable.
Here's a story of some animals you can love. How could capturing the last wild California condors help save them? Why are some states planning to cull populations of the gray wolf, despite this species only recently making it off the endangered list? How did a decision made during the Civil War to use alligator skin for cheap boots nearly drive the animal to extinction?
Nancy Castaldo's Back from the Brink answers these questions and more as it delves into the threats to seven species, and the scientific and political efforts to coax them back from the brink of extinction. This rich, informational look at the problem of extinction has a hopeful tone: all of these animals’ numbers are now on the rise.
We may think nothing of travelling to the other side of the world, but things were much different two centuries ago. Only adventurers and explorers ventured to faraway places.
That changed when three important breakthroughs occurred. In 1869 the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in America. It enabled people and goods to travel easily. In 1870, the Indian railways were linked, increasing trade and travel opportunities. And the Suez Canal opened in 1869 allowing ships to sail from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
These three leaps forward made it possible for someone to travel around the world. The idea was exciting.
Jules Verne was one of the many people imagining such a trip. He wrote a bestseller in 1873 about a man who bet his friends that he could travel around the world in eighty days.
“I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less,” says Phileas Fogg at the beginning of Jules Verne’s adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days.
In those days, making the trip in eighty days or less was almost impossible. The only way people traveled during that time was by ship, train or carriage. And there were always delays.
Stunt reporter, Nellie Bly, also wondered if it could be done. Although women faced the challenges of not readily being able to travel alone, they also felt the lure of adventure.
Nellie pitched the idea to her editor and a year later, he consented to send her. She would not only beat Phileas Fogg’s record, but she would prove that a woman could do it.
Nellie began her trip in November 1889 on a ship sailing for England. She carried with her only one bag and one dress-- and no chaperone.
Soon all of America was rooting for her. Along the way delays made it seem like it wouldn’t happen. Storms rocked her ship. Weather slowed her down. Could Nellie do it? She was courageous and full of adventure. If anyone could it would be her.
She returned to New York on January 25, 1890, in a record 72 days, beating Phileas Fogg. Her journey rivaled the fictitious one Jules Verne had imagined. Nellie Bly had written herself into the history books!
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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