Monthly Archives: June 2012

Good boys and women’s suffrage

In the fight for women’s suffrage, there are many leading women who are remembered for their heroic efforts, but spare a thought for one Harry T Burn, who simply did what his mother asked because he was a good boy.

By 1920 most European countries had given women the vote, as did a few other countries (Canada gave them the vote in 1917), but the US still resisted the temptation.

In order to get the 19th amendment into law, it needed to be ratified by 36 states, but only 35 states did so, and it seemed the issue may drag for some time.  In August 1920, the state of Tennessee was to vote on the amendment, with both sides campaigning hard.  Those who supported women’s suffrage wore a yellow rose as a symbol of their vote, while those who opposed it wore a red rose.

Harry T Burn, he listened to his mother and changed history

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, wore his red rose proudly and expected to win the No vote, but a couple of late defections left the house tied 48-48.  A second vote was taken, and once again it was tied at 48-48.  Supporters of the amendment were disappointed, and this turned to dismay when a local newspaper ran a cartoon depicting an old woman chasing the letters RAT with a broom, trying to united them with the letters IFICATION.

This cartoon spurred one woman to write to her son, who happened to be a young representative in the Tennessee house, asking him to help Mrs Catt (a prominent Suffragist) with her “Rats”.

As the house voted for a third time, Harry was still wearing the red rose which symbolised his previous votes against the amendment, but he now stood up and voted for women’s suffrage.  The vote was now 49-47 in support of the amendment, and the uproar was so high that the governor suggested Harry wait until state troopers could be brought to provide a bodyguard.

Harry managed to sneak out on his own by climbing out of the window of a clerk’s office, crawling along a very narrow ledge, and then climbing in through a window of another office which had access to the lobby, and freedom.

Harry would later explain his actions by saying that it was his mother who asked him to change his vote in her letter, and that a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, also changed his vote so that he could introduce a motion to reconsider, but this motion was rejected and the 19th Amendment was ratified by one vote.

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Posted by on Monday 11th June 2012 in History, People


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Haydn a head of Beethoven

In 1827 the world of music mourned the death of Ludwig van Beethoven.  His funeral was attended by an estimated twenty thousand people and included many dignitaries and leading composers.

Despite this look, Beethoven kept his head

Among the throngs of people who came to pay their respects, one group came forward with a strange request.  These men believed in Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull in the belief it could give clues to a person’s intelligence and various attributes.

While it was easy to get hold of the skulls of executed criminals and of the poor who died in hospitals, what these men really wanted was the skull of a genius to see where this gift came from.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that this request was refused, but it was certainly not the first time these phrenologists tried to get hold of a composer’s skull.

Joseph Haydn in his prime, his head still attached to his body.

In 1809, as Napoleon’s troops approached Vienna, Joseph Haydn died and a simple funeral was hastily arranged.  Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II, pledged to transfer his remains to the family seat when the wars ended.  However, unknown to the Prince, his former secretary Joseph Carl Rosenbaum had agreed to an arrangement with local prison governor Johann Nepomuk Peter (an amateur phrenologist) to dig up Haydn’s corpse and remove the head.

Having cleaned the skull, Peter declared that the “bump of music” in Haydn’s skull was fully developed and was so proud of his possession that he kept it in a custom made box.  It was not until 11 years later, in 1820, that Prince Nikolaus decided to dig up Haydn’s remains and transfer them to a specially built tomb, and that’s when they discovered the head was missing.

Prince Nikolaus II, a man desperately in need of a head.

It did not take long for the Prince to discover the culprits were Rosenbaum and Peter and sent his soldiers round to find the skull.  Peter had by then given the skull to Rosenbaum, and when the soldiers came round he hid it in the straw of the bed and his wife lay on it pretending to be menstruating.  The soldiers gave up and came back empty handed.  After a few threats Rosenbaum got hold of another skull and gave it to Prince, but tests revealed it to be that of a 20 year old man.  Rosenbaum found another skull, of a much older man, and this was accepted as genuine and was buried with Haydn’s body.

Haydn’s real skull was kept with Rosenbaum, who left it for Peter in his will.  Peter’s will stated that the skull should then be given to the Vienna Conservatory of Music, but his wife gave it as a gift to her doctor, who gave it to the Austrian Institute of Pathology and Anatomy.  There was a lot of arguments and court cases involved as to who should own the skull (no consulted the Esterhazy family), but it finally stayed with the Society of Music in Vienna where it was kept in a glass case on top of the piano.

In 1932 Prince Paul Esterhazy decided to build a new marble tomb for Haydn, and he petitioned for the skull to be returned so it could be buried with the rest of Haydn.  Unfortunately, WWII and the cold war that followed created further complications.

Haydn’s final resting place

It was not until 1954 that the skull was finally returned and in a grand ceremony full of music, Haydn’s body and skull were finally laid to rest in Eisenstadt, the seat of the Esterhazy family.  It was the first time in nearly a century and a half that the body and head of the great composer were together again.

However, no one knew what to do with the existing skull in Haydn’s grave, and it was allowed to stay.  His tomb now contains a body and two heads, at least one of which we know to be Haydn.

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Posted by on Tuesday 5th June 2012 in Crime, History, People


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