"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of the opportunity provided to serve self-interest when Al Gore created the internet; and we should also thank Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey for creating Facebook and Twitter out of the kindness of their big hearts and not the thinness of their small wallets."
-Ben Franklin, Autobiography (1742)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Howling in the New Year

Here at Lost and Founders, we’ve come to observe that when one wakes up on January 1st, very few recollections from the night before remain completely within our grasp. One tends to wake up thinking “Jeeze, I’m never drinking again” or “Heavens, how on earth did I end up in this bathtub?” before attempting to piece together a night involving too much champagne, uncharacteristic amounts of counting down, and one defining and pervasive tradition: The Ball Drop. This truly American custom is one firmly rooted in our nation’s founding and one that with time has evolved into something far different from what it originally was. Today, the ball we drop in Time Square is a 1,070 lb. colossus engineered of crystal, strobe lighting, and rhinestones. In 1907, it was nothing more than a simple orb of wood and Iron. In 1796, when the tradition was first put into practice at Monticello, it wasn’t a ball at all, in fact, it was actually a living mammal, specifically, a wolf.

First and foremost, it is necessary to illustrate the little known reality that Thomas Jefferson bred wolves. Evidence suggests that after Martha’s death in 1782, a devastated TJ went out in search of a canine companion. Naturally, Jefferson first bought a dog. Within a week he disposed of it, he decided that its domestic and docile nature reeked of old-world tyranny and famously cried: “Timid dogs prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty!!”. Still feeling lonely and now driven by an insatiable desire to find a truly republican pet, Jefferson hit the books. It wasn’t until he came across an image of the mythical founding of the Rome that he realized exactly what the perfect pet would be. He, like Romulus and Remus before him, would nourish republicanism with the teat of the Capitoline wolf.

Jefferson immediately set about breeding and raising wolves. He replaced his horses and attached wolves to his carriage (the Iditarod still honors this legacy), he replaced his dairy cows and pioneered the wolf-milking industry (one that did everything but prosper), and illogically convinced himself that wolves were vital to the development of republican virtue (“Just look at the way they taught honesty to the little boy who cried wolf!”). World renowned Jefferson scholars, including Shakira, have worked to bring Jefferson’s obsession to light with essays, books, and even hit singles like “There’s a She-Wolf in My Closet” (The story of Jefferson’s most prized she-wolf, Sally).

His fixation with wolves established, we can move on to the night of December 31st, 1796.

Knowing Jefferson’s character as we do, one is naturally inclined to imagine that New Years at Monticello was the Bomb.com. Well, it was. We have no way of knowing exactly what went on, but a drunk text (ok, it was a sloppily written letter) from Washington to the not-invited Alexander Hamilton offers a glimpse into what may have happened that New Year’s Eve: “yoo hammy what it do, my b fuhr real I told Jeffy you aight but he ain bout it”. This particular message actually reveals nothing. All we do know is that Abigail Adams (sober sister if you ever met one), wrote to a friend in Madrid the next day, she explained that as the clock struck midnight; Dolly Madison decided to scale to the top of the house’s domed roof and once there, punted a wolf into the midst of the party. As the falling wolf gave its last howl, the throng erupted into cheers and decided that from now on they’d always usher in the New Year by dropping a wolf from the roof. The Adamses never went back.

Skeptics bring up a letter written to John Holmes in 1820: “But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go”. This quote, for centuries thought to be a metaphor describing America’s precarious situation with regards to the practice of slavery, seems to suggest that Jefferson would have been opposed to the dropping of a wolf from a roof-top. We cannot however forget just how big of a hypocrite TJ was. He abhorred the practice of slavery while holding slaves himself; he was a strict constructionist who annexed the Louisiana Purchase without any constitutional authority to do so, and he most certainly dropped wolves from the roof of his home while professing that he couldn’t possibly “let them go”.

With Jefferson’s death in 1826, Monticello was sold to pay for the insurmountable debt that was brought about by the wolves. The tradition died out until 1907, when Teddy Roosevelt, foreseeing his eventual placement on Mount Rushmore, decided he should form some type of relationship with the man with whom he'd be sharing a mountainside for all eternity. Roosevelt desperately sought out a Jeffersonian tradition to revive and finally came across one still practiced in Spain by the descendants of the Adamses’ correspondent in Madrid. Time and language however had had their way. “Wolf” was originally translated to “lobo” in Spanish which degenerated with time into “lóbulo” which when translated back to English became “lobe”. Roosevelt, more than just a little confused, looked up the word in the dictionary and found:

lobe (ləʊb) –n

1. Any rounded projection forming part of a larger structure

He hastily decided that Jefferson must have dropped some type of ball from the roof of Monticello and the tradition has been rooted into the very fabric of America ever since.

We at Lost and Founders wish you all the best for 2012, and hope your New Years Eve is as devoid of wolves as you want it to be. (Don’t get us wrong, if wolves are your thing then go for it, you must be pleased to find out that you share so much with the author of the Declaration and we completely support it).

Friday, December 23, 2011

George Washington’s Eggnog: The Truth Behind the Whiskey Rebellion

Everyone knew you couldn’t miss the Washington’s Christmas Extravaganza. Invites were like French military victories; hard to come by, eloquently written and delivered with fine wine and aged cheese. Men were known to say that attendance was a must because of the high brow philosophical and political discussions about liberty, freedom and English inferiority. Women, of course, saw it as an opportunity to force their husbands into wearing more than whitey tighties for the few weeks that the kids were out of school and sitting around the house. As we did further research we came to realize that the Washington Christmas Extravaganza was so popular for other reasons, let’s face it, the Washington’s make  kick ass eggnog and don’t hold back on the liquor.

In 1784, the Washington Christmas Extravaganza led to the creation of the nation’s first a capella group. In a moment of drunken revelry Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Wythe, and Benjamin Rush gathered around a table slammed their pints of eggnog and proceeded to spend the rest of the night ‘caroling’ to all of the other guests. Upon completing their especially heinous version of Silent Night; Dolly Madison asked ‘what shall I call you singing gentlemen?’ Benjamin Franklin looked left and right before replying ‘between our smooth voices and heads it’s best that we be referred to as The Barbershop Quartet.’ The name stuck and those 4 could be seen cajoling guests for years to come.

Later, in 1787 Sam Adams spent the 3-days after the party camped out on the Washington’s porch bellowing for figgy pudding. His stalwart behavior earned him some lines in the now popularized song ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’. He finally got his figgy pudding. It took 3-days for Jefferson to ride home to Monticello and return with figs from his store houses.
While these past stories seem light hearted and comical. The Washington Christmas Extravaganza of 1790 was one of the most politically defining moments in the nation’s young history. It was the first time Alexander Hamilton was invited and he was nervous. He spent the morning at home studying. Studying anything he could think of to prepare himself for the political discussion of the night. He committed the Articles of Confederation to memory in case anyone wanted to draw from the past and even memorized the order in which the 56-signers signed the Declaration of Independence. No one warned Hamilton of the shitshow that would ensue once he arrived.

Upon knocking on the door, Hamilton knew he was in for it. George himself answered and said there was something he would like to talk to him about. Washington promptly took Hamilton to the kitchen and forced Hamilton to chug a pint of egg nog. ‘Too much rum?’ Washington asked.  ‘More rye whiskey?’ Hamilton responded that it was perfect. Washington patted him on the back, said ‘It always is, enjoy the party!’ and disappeared into the masses of political elites, frosted sugar cookies and tacky Christmas sweaters. (Our artists did a rendering of the recipe and came up with the following historically based photo of Washington's Egg Nog)

Hamilton just couldn’t hold back. Before he knew it he was 5 cups of eggnog deep and talking up a storm. That’s when it struck him. An idea on how to fill the nation’s coffers, he tracked down Washington who was locked in a flip cup duel with Aaron Burr. Everyone knew that this was an annual bet that ended in the loser streaking around the house. The ladies also knew that Washington had never lost as they had never been privy to see his privies running around the house. Hamilton, of course, was a noob and thought it to be a regular duel. He ran up to the table and pushed all the cups aside just as Burr was about to demolish Washington. As Burr protested the distraction, Hamilton began blathering about ways to make money for the nation. To the joy of the gathered crowd Washington said ‘more money = more eggnog. Tell me more’ Hamilton then proceeded to lay out his plan to tax whiskey.

A very drunk George Washington responded ‘Rye not’ Hamilton initially heard ‘why not?’ and took this response to be positive as he thought that he was given the go ahead to introduce the new whiskey tax. He then moved to discussing how they would collect the tax at market so that they didn’t have to track down each distillery. He did note that it would be hard to determine if they had made their whiskey from rye or corn. They simply had to implement a tasting regime and charge rye whiskey at a higher rate due to its higher quality. Washington reiterated. ‘Rye not! You shall have your whiskey tax, but not on rye.’ As a Christmas Extravaganza noob Hamilton was unaware of the fact that Washington ran a rye whiskey distillery. Hamilton quickly got the message and the crowd rejoiced. Burr, of course, never forgave him for interrupting the duel. After the quick respite Washington handily embarrassed Burr who was forced, again, to run naked around Mount Vernon.

As we all know, the general public didn’t meet Hamilton’s idea with as much excitement. Our hope this Christmas is to tame the Whiskey Rebellion ghosts of Christmas past. Take this recipe and enjoy your holidays! Merry Christmas from Lost and Founders, this one’s on George Washington.

2 cups brandy
1 cup rye whiskey
1 cup dark Jamaica rum
1/2 cup cream sherry
8 extra large eggs
10 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 quart milk
1 quart heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick

Mix liquors first in a separate container. Separate yolks and whites into two large mixing bowls. Blanchir egg yolks (beat adding in sugar until the mixture turns a light yellow). Add liquor slowly to egg yolk mixture, continuing to beat (mixture will turn brown) until well incorporated. Add milk and cream simultaneously, slowly beating the mixture. Set aside.
Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into the alcohol mixture. Add nutmeg and cinnamon stick, and stir well to incorporate. Cover mixture in an airtight container.
Allow egg nog to cure undisturbed for several days (4-7) in the coldest part of the refrigerator, or outside in a very cold (below 40 degrees) place. The mixture will separate as it cures. This is OK. Just be sure to re-incorporate mixture before serving cold.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Benjamin Franklin is Santa Claus

Happy December everyone! The Lost and Founders staff would like to start by apologizing to our readers for the tremendously long hiatus these past months. We take pride in our dedication to unraveling the truth in history and feel remiss about the lapse in posting. It was; however, unavoidable. Our staff was in fact given the tremendous opportunity to travel with former President Lincoln in his time machine to correct several wrongs that occurred between the period of 1903-1919. Fear not, you won't notice a thing - today's history books will have automatically been re-written to reflect the changes. We may though get into some of the nitty gritty in a future post because some of it was pretty damn cool. It never ceases to amaze us how much of a badass America landed in ol' Honest Abe.

At any rate, we're back! And we would like to kick off end the year with a few apt lessons on the original association between the United States and the holiday most Americans celebrate today as Christmas. Today, we will cover a detail that, though obvious if you are paying attention to the facts, is often overlooked: the true origin of Santa Claus.

The year was 1754. Murmurs of revolution were already beginning and the colonies were crying out for a means to procure items not sold in town or grown on their own property. Benjamin Franklin answered this cry when he began publishing the first concept of the "catalog," a mail-order pamphlet from which parents could send requests for gifts that would be delivered by courier directly to them. It was brilliant concept that had never been attempted anywhere in the world, and children all over the colonies began sending wish lists to Franklin, who guaranteed that items would be delivered to even the most remote areas. That's right, children would write down things they wanted for Christmas and Franklin and his couriers would bring them presents.

Initially, the catalog included only books, but quickly also started providing toys under the guise of books as children were the primary audience. Colonial kids used decoder rings (similar to the ones later made popular in the 1950s as a prize from cereal boxes) to determine what toy was actually represented by a particular book title in the catalog. The rings themselves were found in bags of grain and referred to as E.L.F rings (Extra special Loot from Franklin's shoppe). Starting to piece it together?

Eventually, Franklin's workshop came under fire from parents who intended to use his catalog system for purchasing educational materials for their children, and instead were duped into buying them toys. A common joke of the era was marking children as "naughty" or "nice" when mail-order items arrived and it was discovered whether or not they were actually what was purchased. The entrepreneurial Franklin was at the time was making literal boatloads of money from his ruse, and so to counter the backlash from angry parents he created the character Santa Claus and began dressing in a red and white suit as a clever cover for his antics. This should also ring a few bells - the colors red and white, which are now commonly labeled as Christmas colors, were actually used because they matched the colors of the Rebellious Stripes flag that would later become the basis for our national flag (Franklin was as we well know very patriotic).


So to sum up, by December of 1759, Ben Franklin's mail-order service had evolved into a booming business of children sending wish lists for toys to a mysterious man in a red suit that would deliver them on or about Christmas morning (the catalog was published every November right after Thanksgiving). Though parents had many issues with this early on, the trend became tradition as these things often do and eventually the gift-giving rituals and the character of Santa that we know today became widespread throughout the colonies and eventually even the rest of the world. Careful readers will notice that we have not mentioned other parts of the Western "Santa" legend such as the north pole or flying reindeer. That is because these parts of the tale were fabrications created by Hallmark to sell cards beginning in 1927.

So there you have it folks! The true story of Santa Claus brought to you once again by a founding father! Keep this in mind when you pass out gifts to your children this holiday season and remember to give your family's household portrait of Ben Franklin a wink. We'll see you next week with more of the true history behind the history!

The Lost and Founders