Monday, February 23, 2015

"Lost Bird" is Not Forgotten

 Last Wednesday I re-posted the story of Lost Bird, the infant girl who was found alive beneath her mother's frozen body four days after the Massacre of Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890.  Named  “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird”-- by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her,  she was adopted –as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.  In her short life,“Lost Bird” suffered every kind of injury and abuse the White Man imposed on Native Americans.  She died on Valentine’s Day in 1920, aged 29, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in California, but 71 years later, her people, the Lakota, found her grave and brought her remains back to Wounded Knee, the place where she was found as an infant beneath her mother’s frozen body. 

The reason I reposted her story last week was that I received a letter from Brian George, a Native American who lives and works at the St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain South Dakota.  In our correspondence I was moved and delighted to learn that he honors Lost Bird every year at her grave and keeps her memory alive among her people 95 years after her death.  Brian has given me permission to quote from the e-mails we've exchanged, and he promises to tell me more details of his experiences-- sensing her presence during his pilgrimages to her grave-- when he travels to New England next summer on business.

On Jan. 30 he wrote in part:

"Good morning Joan,

While researching Lost Bird, I came across Lost Bird: Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man. Thank you for sharing her  story for the world to view and know. ...I have a special connection with Zintkala Nuni. I am also Native American, Chickasaw and Choctaw, from Oklahoma, but have worked here at St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota for 5 years. St. Joe’s is on the very same grounds Zintka went to school at Chamberlain Industrial Boarding School from 1904-05. She very much liked it at this school. One of the few bright spots in her life.
Every Valentine’s Day (day of her death), I go to Wounded Knee and take flowers and tobacco prayer ties for her. I spend some of the day with her in prayer. I am a cynical person, but have had many unexplained happenings while visiting her.  These things are not scary, but comforting to know her spirit is still very much alive and I have always had witnesses with me. In two weeks I will be visiting her again.
Please don’t think I am some off-the-wall person. My job at the school is Major Gift Officer, but I started as a houseparent raising 12 Lakota children at a time. I can say that I have helped raise 12 teenage girls at once. Quite the experience, but I survived and have wonderful relationships with them to this day."

I wrote back to Brian saying I was eager to hear more about his visitations with "Lost Bird" and he wrote back an e-mail that I found inspiring, so I'm quoting it here in part, along with the photo of the tattoo that he wears to remember her--and why he has it.

"I have attached a photo of Zintka on my shoulder. Under her picture is the word, Wakanyeja, which translates in Lakota as “ children are sacred” or “children are a gift.” I have never wanted a tattoo in my life until my connection with her. I was 49 when I went to Pine Ridge and got the tattoo about 12 miles from where she was found. The artist freehanded the tattoo from a picture in the book. A Lakota artist had to do the work of someone so sacred in Lakota history.
Why did I get the tattoo?  Every morning as I brush my teeth and I do mean EVERY MORNING, I look at the tattoo and think of all the hardship and tragedy she experienced in her short life and make sure I do everything I can each day so that our 212 young Lakota students don’t endure the same. I have tried to turn her tragedy into an inspiration. The Lakota children desperately need positive, strong and influential Native role models. My passion in life is empowering, motivating and mentoring our next generation of leaders in Indian Country. The values of work ethic, integrity, resiliency and self-determination are some of the traits I mentor to our students. I believe Zintka knows that all my waking hours I am about helping the Lakota children and she is my guide.
No one should have to live the life, Zintkala Nuni lived. Living 30 minutes away from some of the poorest reservations in the country, I see the endless cycle of poverty, addiction, suicide and abuse. Almost a feeling of hopelessness. However the people are resilient, strong and have that special Native sense of humor. They are survivalists.
I call the reservations in our country, “The Forgotten America.” We don’t have a third world country in our backyard. It’s in our living room!  
I believe Zintka is my “guiding spirit” and after I share my stories I’m sure you will agree. Even the spiritual journey about how I arrived in South Dakota from Oklahoma 5 years ago is incredible.
Generosity is the Heart of Native America !
God Bless
I'm grateful to Brian for sharing his experiences with "Lost Bird" and her descendents, and for his eloquent testimony about what she means to  him and to the Lakota children.   I'm looking forward to meeting Brian in person this summer to hear about his visitations with Lost Bird first hand, and I'll  definitely share them with you on this blog. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Update: Lost Bird, Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man

 Of all the stories I’ve uncovered while researching the antique photographs in my collection, this one is the most heartbreaking.  Starting with the Massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890, “Lost Bird” suffered every kind of injury and abuse the White Man imposed on Native Americans.  She died on Valentine’s Day in 1920, aged 29, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in California, but 71 years later, her people, the Lakota, found her grave and brought her remains back to Wounded Knee, the place where she was found as an infant beneath her mother’s frozen body.

  I first posted this story on my blog “A Rolling Crone” in 2012, but am re-posting it now because I recently heard from a man, a Native American, who has been visiting “Lost Bird’s” grave with flowers on the anniversary of her death for years, and feels he has had spiritual communications from her.  I’ll tell his story in a subsequent post.

This antique photo is the most expensive and I think the most interesting one in my collection.  It’s an Imperial—which means a giant version of the cabinet card-- and measures about 7 by 10 inches; an albumen print mounted on decorative board.  It was taken in Beatrice, Nebraska by a photographer named Taylor.

As you can see, the photograph shows a handsome, stern-looking military officer in a general’s uniform holding an adorable Native American baby.  The officer is Gen. Leonard Colby who adopted this baby and had the photograph taken—as a public relations gesture.

This baby girl was found alive beneath the frozen body of her mother four days after the killing of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 29, 1890, in what came to be known as the Massacre of Wounded Knee.  On the infant’s head was a leather cap decorated with beaded designs showing the American flag.

She was named “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird” by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her, but she was adopted –also as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.

Over the protests of the Lakotas, he adopted the child, claiming that he was a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  He promised to bring food to the surviving tribe members if they’d give him this living souvenir of Wounded Knee. Then he had this photograph taken.  On the back Colby wrote in lead pencil on the black cardboard, words which are now nearly indecipherable:   “… girl found on the field of Wounded Knee…mother’s back on the fourth day after the battle, was found by me.  She was about 4 or 5 months old and was frozen on her head and feet, but entirely recovered.  The battle occurred Dec. 29, 1890, about fifteen miles walking from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” 

Gen. Colby adopted the baby without even consulting his wife, Clara Bewick Colby, who was in Washington D.C. at the time, working as a suffragette activist, lecturer, publisher and writer.   The well-meaning adoptive mother brought the infant to Washington where Zintka, as they called her, grew up, buffeted by all the current social trends of the time—women’s suffrage, rejection by her own people, exploitation of her background by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, early silent films and vaudeville. 

As an adolescent, longing to return to the West to learn more about her origins.  Zintka went to Beatrice, Neb., to live with Colby, who by then had left his wife and daughter and married her former nanny.  The girl may have been sexually abused by her adoptive father, because she became pregnant under his care and was shipped off to a prison-like home for pregnant women.  Her infant son was stillborn but the girl was confined to the reformatory for another year.

Zintka returned eventually to her mother in Washington, then married a man who infected her with syphilis.  She tried different careers, including working with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which exploited her Native American background.    She tried to work in vaudeville and the early movie business—dressed as an Indian, of course-- and reportedly may have worked as a prostitute as well.

Zintka had two more children—one died and she gave the other to an Indian woman who, she felt, could take care of him better, because she and her ailing husband were desperately poor.

She fell ill in February of 1920 during an influenza epidemic, and on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, “Lost Bird” died at the age of 29 of the Spanish flu complicated by syphilis.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in California.

The only bright light in Zintka’s story is that her bones were exhumed in 1991, seventy-one years after her death, by the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association, to be returned to the battlefield and buried with great ceremony while news media and hundreds of Native American descendants watched.  A Lakota woman said, “Lost Bird has returned today to the same place she was taken from.  This means a new beginning, a process of healing is completed.  We can be proud to be a Lakota.  To our sacred children, this means a beginning.”

The story of Lost Bird is so steeped in irony that it reads as a fable of the exploitation and torture of the Native Americans by the white invaders.  On her own trail of tears, during her short life, Zintka was robbed of her name and her mother and any opportunity to learn about her own culture.  Despite her adoptive mother’s love and good intentions, she was terribly unhappy—prevented from going back to the West to find her kin and then sexually abused when she did return to the West. She was exploited and stereotyped by the film and entertainment world, eventually to die before she reached 30.

Lost Bird’s story has been told by Renee Sansom Flood in the 1998 book “Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota”, and Ms. Flood also spurred the effort to find Zintka’s grave and bring her home.  The author was a social worker in South Dakota when a colleague showed her a faded photograph that set her out on her years of research and writing.  That photo, found by the woman working with Renee Flood in an old trunk in her late father’s attic, was the same photo I own today—with Colby’s writing on the back. Renee Flood became so obsessed with telling Lost Bird’s story and bringing her home to be buried with her people that she had recurring dreams of the little girl until she fulfilled her obsession.
I know that owning this historic photograph is a serious responsibility. I, too, would like to  spread the story of Zintka’s  sad life.  The story of Lost Bird is a vivid illustration of how a faded old photograph, over a century old, can have the power to move people to make discoveries long after the subject and the photographer are dead.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Icicles Are Bigger Than Yours

 Having grown up in Minnesota I tend to assume an expression of scorn when my Massachusetts neighbors complain about the winter blizzards.  "You call this snow?" I'd sniff.  "Back in Minnesota the snow was so deep we'd have to  go out by the second story windows."

But now it's official.  Worcester, MA has been cited as having the most snow of any city in the U.S. this winter--something around 100 inches since January 1st, last time I checked. 

By escaping to Florida  halfway through January, we cleverly missed most of the Blizzard of 2015 until now, coming back in time to experience the latest storm that ruined everyone's Valentine's Day plans and dropped another foot of snow on top of the  previous accumulation.
Here's a photo looking down at the stonewall-enclosed swimming pool.  That dimple in the middle is the diving board.  The drift against the back wall hides the rock garden and fishpond.  I'm not very optimistic that the fish will survive until spring--I'll let you know.
This is a photo of the pool from ground level.   At left you can see the backs of the plastic lounge chairs that I forgot to take inside in the fall.
Here's a photo of the front of our house that I took yesterday.  I used to wonder at the way that New Englanders never expect guests to come in the front door, but now I understand.  We use the side porch door as an entrance, and none of our neighbors have plowed out their front doors either.
Here's a photo of our house that I took today, after last night's blizzard.  You can see that the snow is deeper and that giant icicle at the left corner of the house is bigger.  Pretty soon it will reach the ground and be transformed from a stalactite to a stalagmite, I think.  This year I learned about ice dams and how they are responsible for the leak that's dripping into a bucket in one corner of the dining room.  Next year I'll know what to do to prevent them, but for this winter, it's too late.
And to make your day complete, here's the last photo I took in South Beach, Miami, six days ago.  Only five more weeks until Spring!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentines in the U.S.—It All Started Here

(I posted this last year but have been collecting new antique Valentines since then-- I LOVE the Victorian German-made ones  because they're  so elaborate and fragile and full of romance.  Why can't some modern card company reproduce them in all their three-dimensional glory? ) 

 Worcester, MA, the once-bustling industrial metropolis 45 minutes west of Boston where I live, is enormously proud of its rather peculiar list of “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the birth control pill, the first perfect game in major league baseball, the first liquid-fueled rocket and the ubiquitous yellow Smiley Face icon.
And every year about this time, you hear about how Worcester produced the first commercial valentines in this country thanks to a foresighted young woman named Esther Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”
Esther Howland (1828-1904) attended Mount Holyoke at the same time as Emily Dickinson. She was the daughter of a successful Worcester stationer and, in 1847, she received a frilly English valentine that inspired her to ask her father to order materials from England so that she could assemble her own.  She then convinced her brother, a salesman for the company, to show a few of her valentines on his sales rounds.
The initial demand was overwhelming and Esther gathered some of her friends to help her assemble the valentines, seating them around a long table on the third floor of her home.  The company was eventually earning $100,000—a phenomenal success.
Esther is considered significant because, according to historians, she was among the first commercially successful women overseeing a female-run business, and she basically created the assembly-line system, paying the local women “liberally”.  She introduced layers of lace, three-dimensional accordion effects, and insisted that the verses be hidden inside--something you had to hunt for. She had her staff mark the back of each valentine with a red “H”.
In the Victorian era, Valentines were wildly popular, and the elaborate cards were scrutinized for clues—even the position of the stamp on the envelope meant something. Often the valentine was intended as a marriage proposal.

On Feb. 14, 1849, Emily Dickinson wrote to her cousin, “The last week has been a merry one in Amherst; notes have flown around like snowflakes.  Ancient gentlemen & spinsters, forgetting time & multitude of years, have doffed their wrinkles – in exchange for smiles…”
In 1879—after 30 years in business—Esther Howland merged with Edward Taft, the son of Jotham Taft, a North Grafton valentine maker.  Together they formed the New England Valentine Co. (and their cards were marked “N.E.V.Co.”)
This is where Esther Howland’s title of “Mother of the Valentine” begins to get a little shaky.
It seems, upon much study, that Edward Taft’s father, Jotham Taft of North Grafton, a small village near Worcester, started the commercial valentine business in the U.S. even before Miss Howland did,  but he didn’t like to talk about it, because the Taft family were strict Quakers and Jotham Taft’s mother sternly disapproved of such frivolity as Valentines. (Full disclosure—I live in North Grafton, about a stone’s throw from where Taft worked.)
In 1836, Jotham Taft married Sarah E. Coe of Rhode Island and two years later, they welcomed twin sons.  But in 1840, one of the twins died suddenly, leaving Mrs. Taft prostrate with grief.  Jotham decided to take his wife and surviving son to Europe with him on a buying trip for the stationer who employed him, and while in Germany, he bought many valentines supplies—laces, lithographs, birds and cupids.
When he returned, Taft began making valentines with his wife’s help, and in 1844—3 years before Esther Howland graduated from college—he opened a valentine “factory” in North Grafton (then called New England Village.)  But because of his mother’s disapproval, Taft never put his own name on the valentines—only “Wood” (his middle name) or “N.E.V.” for “New England Village”.  Some believed that Taft trained Elizabeth Howland as one of his workers before she opened her own factory.
Taft and Howland merged into the New England Valentine Co. in 1879, and a year later Esther’s father became ill and she left her business to care for him.  After he died, she moved in with one of her brothers and she passed away in 1904.Unfortunately, despite all the couples who presumably found their true love thanks to Esther’s creations, the “Mother of the Valentine” never married.

In 1881, George C. Whitney bought the combined business of Taft and Howland and it became The Whitney Co,  which dominated valentine production for many years.  Instead of cards laboriously made by hand, Whitney turned to machine- printed valentines and eventually added postcards in the 1890’s.  The Whitney designs, featuring children who resembled the “Campbell Soup “ kids, were wildly popular, although more often exchanged by children than adult lovers, and in 1942 the Whitney factory closed, as a result of wartime paper shortages.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Shock and Awe in South Beach

In my previous post I mentioned that Lincoln Road Mall in South Beach, Miami was designed in the Miami Modern style back in 1960 by architect Morris Lapidus -- creating one of the first pedestrian malls ever--and has been on the cutting edge of art, fashion, design and cuisine ever since.

On this visit, now stretching into my fourth week since yest another snow storm cancelled our flight back to Boston today, I've noticed that, while Lincoln Road is still as energetic, lively, surprising and seductive as ever, some changes over the past four years were not for the better. The colorful art deco facade of the previous Lincoln Theater has been painted white and turned into an H&M store and some restaurants.

But every day, when I venture out onto Lincoln Road to get my morning coffee and newspapers, or  walk the five or so blocks down to the beach,  I see astonishing people and places unlike those on any other street in the world, and every day I  return to the apartment in a state of shock and awe.

 This blonde with the improbably long legs and hair and impossibly high heels has got the South Beach fashion vibe down perfectly--accessorized by a small fluffy dog (sometimes dyed to match the owner's hair) and maximum exposure of skin.

This blonde displays her love of Florida with the tattoo on her back.  The young man with her has his own tattoo art.
Every day I admire the energy of the street performers, like the break dancers.
 Risking a broken neck on the cement.
Every day I see the armless artist who paints with his feet.  

He works in the shadow of the church that doesn't reject anyone.

This young man is organizing rallies to free Lolita, the Orca at  the Miami Seaquarium for 40 years who, since the death of her mate, is called the "loneliest Orca in the world.

People on Lincoln Road often have unusual pets.

And unusual fashions, like this gentleman who wears this outfit every day.
The grassy knoll is filled with frolicking children day and night.  The balloon man is there, and at night another man sells  whirly toys with colored lights that are projected into the sky by elastic band sling shots and often get stuck in the palm trees overhead.
Kids also love feeding the fish in the several fountains-fish so big they'd make a hearty meal.
This heron clearly had the same thought.

Lincoln Road has lots of art galleries, including one devoted to Florida's famous pop artist Romero Britto (he even decorated the parking meters in Miami.)
And on Sundays Lincoln Road turns into an outdoor antiques market.

And a farmer's market of organic, locally grown produce.

No wonder everyone turns up on Lincoln Road sooner or later when they get tired of snow and winter.  One day I even spied Santa Claus sitting in the sun on the grassy knoll.
But then in the next block I saw this guy (below).
Will the real Santa please stand up?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Back in South Beach--Still the Strangest Place on Earth

I'm re-posting below something I wrote about South Beach, Miami, and especially Lincoln Road, back in September of 2011 when I spent a month here while awaiting the birth of first grandchild Amalia.   Now I've been back in her parents' wonderful art- deco apartment for some three weeks, this time with 3 1/2 year old Amalia along for part of it, and I've found changes--some for the better, some not.  I'll report on the changes in my next post.  But still, every day, walking up and down Lincoln Road, the pedestrian street full of restaurants, theaters and art galleries at the heart of South Beach , I'm convinced it's one of the most fascinating and, well, strangest, streets in the world. 

  South Beach—We’re Not in Kansas any More

I’ve now been living in South Beach, Miami, for over a month and I think it’s time to go home.  The other day I was walking on Lincoln Road behind a six-foot-tall curvaceous female wearing only a tiny black string bikini and very tall spike heels, and I took a good second look to decide whether she was a man or a woman. 
This is not such a strange reaction on my part, since nearby Ocean Drive swarms with gay bars and drag brunches in its elegant Art Deco hotels.   Absolutely no extreme or peculiar dress gets a second look on Lincoln Road, while back home in Worcester, MA, the bikini-wearing vision in front of me might get arrested, if she was walking on Main Street.
Lincoln Road, the heart of South Beach, was re-designed around 1960, by Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus.  His design for Lincoln Road, with exotic gardens, bubbling fountains, raised “grassy knolls” for kids to play on and an amphitheater, reflected the Miami Modern Architecture, or "MiMo", style. The road was closed to traffic and became one of the nation's first pedestrian malls—stretching for eight blocks from Alton Road to Washington Avenue.
I’ve been here since Aug. 12,  renting an apartment in the same Art-deco building where daughter Eleni, her husband Emilio and my first grandchild, two-week-old Amalía, live.  (For an account of Eleni’s trials, tribulations and triumphs mastering the art of breast feeding, check out her blog post, “Say Yes to the Breast.”)
Every morning I set out to the nearest Starbucks, half a block away, past the optimistically waiting pigeons, to get my coffee and newspaper and then I walk up and down Lincoln Road, marveling at the rare and amazing  species of people, animals, flowers and birds.  This is surely the most exotic, bizarre and just plain weird street I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from someone who lived on Manhattan’s 14th street in the 1960’s and is familiar with Venice Beach in LA and Haight Ashbury back in the day. Skate-board champs, shirtless and covered with tattoos, somehow avoid running down Hasidic Jews and  bikinied beauties.
Every day you see the regulars—panhandlers and people who earn money as living statues (this one is Ghost Elvis)
or weaving palm fronds into baskets,
juggling or letting  people admire his pet lemur  (or whatever this is.)
There are a plethora of design stores and art galleries.  I loved this piece of art work—a dog excreting a long length of pink fabric—juxtaposed with the nearby Dog-pot.
If you are a seasoned Lincoln Road pedestrian, your accessory of choice is a small dog or a baby in a stroller, and your vehicle is a Segway, or a skateboard, a rented bicycle or a motorized wheel chair.
I think no street anywhere has the caliber of restaurants, food stores and cafes as those found on Lincoln Road. I’m trying to taste every one of the tartes at Paul’s, which is so French that both staff and clientele seem to speak French most of the time. 
I’ve already discovered my favorite flavor of ice cream at Kilwins.  (It’s Kilwin’s Tracks—they throw in bits of all their hand-made candies.)   
The Ice Box, which serves indescribable brunches, makes, according to Oprah, “the best cake in the United States”.  Good thing there’s no scale in this rented apartment.
All the restaurants lining Lincoln Road have tables indoors and outside, and most people sit outside, despite the sweltering heat.  Cooling fans and misting machines make it bearable.
Overhead are towering palm trees chock full of parrots and parakeets which squawk non-stop and sometimes come down to be hand-fed morsels 
Orchids  grow parasitically on many trees but the most famous tree on Lincoln Road is this “Orchid Tree” dripping with  blooms that look like orchids but bloom only at night.  Its proper name is Bauhinia Varigata.
Lincoln Road turns into an outdoor market every Sunday, selling every exotic type of fruit or flower or spice or Latin food that you can think of.

An atmosphere of sin hangs heavy over the street, especially at night.  There are party busses with smoked glass windows and advertisements for “No-Tell Hotels”. 

Every time I walk by the  “Vice Lounge” I wonder what goes on inside.  This is what the outside looks like.
 When you have exhausted all the pleasures and vices of Lincoln Road, you can continue to the end, where the Ritz Hotel offers the best Happy Hour food and drink around.  (Every single restaurant and bar has a happy hour every day, sometimes starting at noon.)  Or you can hitch a parachute right on the beach.
No wonder every time I walk down Lincoln Road I feel like Alice falling through the rabbit hole or Dorothy landing in Oz.   But like those two ladies, I’ll have to return home in the end.  Sadly I’m leaving South Beach and my new granddaughter in four days.  Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”, but I’m here to tell you, home is no place like Lincoln Road.