Ancient Roman, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, In the footsteps of the Ceasers, Italy, Lost and Found, Palaces, Roman History, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The Caesars, The Isle of Capri, Travel, Uncategorized, World history

The Isle of Capri: Resort of the Caesars


A view of the harbor

Marina Grande, the main harbor of the Isle of Capri



Ron Current

Ron Current

Part of our tour was a daytrip to the magical and romantic Isle of Capri, which is only a short forty minute ferry ride from Sorrento. Capri is one of three islands located just outside the Bay of Naples: the others are Ischia and Procida. But the most famous of them all is Capri. As we cruise there I’ll give you a brief history of the Isle of Capri.

Although it’s known that Capri was settled by Bronze Age Greeks it is now thought that the island was inhabited at a much earlier time. The first record of this comes from when the Emperor Augustus was excavating for his villa where large bones and stone weapons were unearthed. Modern archaeologists now believe that the island was indeed inhabited during the Neolithic period, from 10,200 BC till around 2,500 BC.
However the most famous settlers of the island were the Romans, and two of their emperors. As I mentioned above the first emperor to build a villa on Capri was Augustus. Augustus needed a place to get away from the heat and crowds of Rome, he chose Capri for its mild climate, remoteness and its rocky cliffs that offered him protection from would be assassins. But it would be his successor Tiberius that would out do him in the scale, grandeur and numbers of villas built on the island. Tiberius constructed twelve palaces on Capri, the largest being Villa Jovis.


Bust of Tiberius Caesar, the Romisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne

During his rule Tiberius began spending more and more time at Villa Jovis than he did in Rome. Fear of assassination became such a paranoia for him that he self-exiled himself to Capri were his personal security was much better than in Rome. It was at Jovis that he spent the rest of his life until his death in 37 AD.
Villa Jovis sits atop Monte Tiberio, the islands second highest peak. The palace covers almost 1.7 acres and was built at different levels. Water was an issue for such a large complex, with all the servants and solders serving and protecting the emperor. To solve that problem four huge barrel roofed cisterns were built to collect and store water, providing more than enough even for hot baths.


The ruins of Villa Jovis

Today only eight levels remain of the Villa Jovis complex, but it does give visitors a feeling of what it must have looked like when Tiberius Caesar ruled from there. Sadly, since this was just a day trip there wasn’t time to visit the site.

Our ferry docked at the port of Marina Grande on the island’s north side. As you disembark you’ll notice that the harbor is a mixture of small colorful fishing boats, day cruisers and multi-million dollar yachts. Unlike many other island ports Marina Grande isn’t the main town, it’s Capri sitting 800 feet above the harbor.

The port of Marina Grande

The harbor of Marina Grande

To get to the town of Capri you can: walk, take a bike, take a taxi, or the funicular. We decided on the funicular. Capri’s funicular is a cable car that holds 70 passengers and pulls itself up a steep incline to the town. As you’re riding up you get a great view of the harbor and its surrounding cliffs with white washed houses clinging to their sides.
The funicular station lets you off on the Piazzetta, the center of town. If you are a people watcher Capri is the place to be, for this is the place where the who’s who of Europe come to stay and shop, and if you’re a shopper Capri has the largest selection of exclusive brand name shops in one location.



street of Capri street one

Street in Capri


Our next stop was a little higher up the mountain, the town of Anacapri. We choose one of the island’s buses to get us there. The buses on Capri are not like the buses we think of, they’re more like minivans. I have been on many thrill rides but nothing compared to this bus ride. The road up to Anacapri is very, very narrow and full of traffic going up and down. Add to that they all drive at Italian speed. Our seat was near the front and all we could see were cars, motor scooters and buses coming right at us. It was surprising that we weren’t involved in a head-on collision. Finally arriving at Anacapri we quickly got off, and I found a shop where I could sample another Limoncello.

Narrow road

close call on the road to Anacapri

Anacapri is a little less fancy and more laidback that Capri, and the shops are not as high end as in Capri. Things to see in Anacapri: the small church of Chiesa di San Michele with its eighteenth-century majolica floor, which is a form of painted ceramic. Also there’s the Villa San Michele built by the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. If you like antiques this is the place to visit.
Just a little past the Villa San Michele is what is known as the La Scala Fenicia or Phoenician Steps. This steep rock stairway was the only way to get from Marina Grande, Capri and Anacapri for centuries. Although called the Phoenician Steps they were most likely constructed by the ancient Greek colonist.

The ancient stairs

the top of the Phoenician Steps

Another popular thing to do while in Anacapri is go to the top of Mount Solaro, the island’s highest peak. From up there they say the view is spectacular. However there’s only two ways to get to the top: walk or take the chair left. And when I say a chair lift, I mean a chair. It’s a single seat chair that hangs on a cable with your legs dangling in the air.

the Chairlift to the top

The chair lift to Mount Solaro


I wish that we had time to see the other sites that Capri had to offer, especially the world famous Grotta Azzurra or Blue Grotto. But it gives us something to go back for.


Ancient Roman, history and travel, History in Time, Italy, Killer Volcanos of the World, Lost and Found, Mount Vesuvius, Myths and Legends, Pampeii, Roman History, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The Roman Republic, Travel, Uncategorized, Volcanos, World history

Pompeii: A City Frozen in Time

“Broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for the darkness of the night… it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night.”
“I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing to a pine tree; for it shot up to a great height in the form of a tall trunk, which spread out at the top as though into branches. …Occasionally it was brighter, occasionally darker and spotted, as it was either more or less filled with earth and cinders.”
Pliny the Younger, August 79 AD

Ron Current

was Ron Current

These are the writings of the young Roman Pliny the Younger as he described the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the City of Pompeii as he watched from across the Bay of Naples. Pliny’s is the only recorded account of what occurred during those 24 hours of horror and suffering by the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum in August of 79 AD.

Welcome to my first posting of 2018, with this post I’ll return to our 2015 trip to Italy.
When my wife and I were planning this trip visiting Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius was a must for me. Vesuvius and Pompeii had been on my bucket list ever since I saw the 1959 movie “The Last Days of Pompeii.” It was also that movie that gave me the deep interest in volcanos. Now, as our tour bus left Rome, I was excited that soon another one of my life’s dreams would be fulfilled. So as we motor down to one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites I’ll give you a brief history of Pompeii, and the Volcano that froze it in time.

A church setting above Pompeii

The church at the top of the photo is at ground level. This gives you an idea as how deep Pompeii was buried.

The Eruption
The story of Pompeii’s eventual fate actually began seventeen years before the 79 AD eruption. On February 5, 62 AD a massive earthquake struck the region around the Bay of Naples, where Pompeii and Herculaneum were located. This earthquake caused severe damage in both cities. What the citizens didn’t know was that the earthquake was caused by magma moving up deep inside of Mt. Vesuvius. Earthquakes were fairly common in Italy, and the large gray Mt. Vesuvius seemed to be nothing more than just another mountain. Since Vesuvius hadn’t erupted in centuries most had forgotten that it was a volcano. They also didn’t know that the low hills that ringed Vesuvius were the remains of a much larger prehistoric volcano, and that the 4,000 foot Vesuvius was actually a new cone that had built up in its caldera.

Street of Pomeii

Street in Pompeii

On the hot afternoon of August 24, 79 AD the citizens felt continued earthquakes and heard loud rumblings coming from the mountain. This was followed by flames leaping out of its summit craters, Vesuvius had two. Soon a large column of thick black smoke shot up, to what is believed to have been 20 miles into the stratosphere. This column of smoke had a particular shape described by Pliny the Younger as, ““I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing to a (Mediterranean) pine tree.” Today volcanologists refer to these types of eruptions as “Plinian,” after Pliny.
The citizens watched the mountain in amazement, but soon it began to rain down ash and pumice onto the city. At that point some decided to leave, but sadly many chose to stay and ride it out.

The Theater of Pompeii

The main 5,000 seat theater of Pompeii that is still used today for plays and concerts.

As the day wore on the eruptive blasts became more and more intense, and more and more ash rained down causing those that stayed to panic. They began collecting their belongings to leave, but for many it was too late. The heavy ash had now gotten so deep that the roofs of some of the homes began to collapse, and it was now so thick that it was hard to see and to breathe.
At around midnight the amount of materials, called tephra, within the bellowing cloud caused it to collapse releasing the first of the pyroclastic surges. Pyroclastic surges are a ground hugging fluidized mass of gas and rock that travels down the sides of  volcanos at several hundred miles per hour, and with temperatures of nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Via Stabiana of Pompeii

The Via Stabiana

The first surge engulfed the city of Herculaneum, but Pompeii didn’t stay lucky for long. Throughout the night new columns of tephra would shoot up out of the craters, and then collapse into another pyroclastic surge. Scientists estimate that there may have been as many as six pyroclastic surges that horrible night. Now Pompeii was also encased in super-heated mud and gases. This is what killed those that stayed too long, no one could have survived.

An unfortunate Roman of Vesuvius' wrath

The cast of a poor victim of Vesuvius’ wrath.

The Aftermath
As morning came Vesuvius had quieted, leaving behind an unearthly smoldering gray landscape. All traces of Pompeii and Herculaneum had been erased under one and a half millions tons of volcanic material. Although no one knows for sure how many were killed in the eruption it is believed to have been around 2,000, or 13% of the city’s population. Herculaneum suffered fewer losses due to its lesser population, and that most had left when the eruption started.
Over the weeks that followed some came back looking for family members to no avail. In most cases when a disaster hits people soon come back and rebuild, but not so with Pompeii and Herculaneum. So traumatic was this event, and the fact that the cities were buried under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice, Pompeii and Herculaneum were never rebuilt, and were soon forgotten.

The exercise yard of the Stabian Bath

The exercise yard of the Stabian Baths

The popular story is that Pompeii lay hidden and unknown until the 18th century, however this is incorrect. Archaeologists have found signs of looters digging tunnels into the buried houses looking for buried riches. Officially Pompeii was lost for 1,500 years when it was rediscovered in 1599. But it wasn’t until 150 years later that any serious excavations began. This was done by the Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738.

The courtyard garden at the House of Memander

The courtyard garden of the House of Menander.

We arrive
Arriving at the archaeological site we exited our bus and followed our guide into the unearthed Roman city. As we entered I looked up to see houses sitting above us, this gave me a good perspective as to how deep Pompeii had been buried.

It still works! 2,000 year old drinking fountain

One of the 2,000 year old drinking fountains that still works.

As you walk amongst the ruins you get a true snapshot into the lives of first century Romans. As you walk along the streets you can see the worn groves made by chariots and wagons, take a drink from a Roman fountain, and see the temples where Romans worshiped their gods. Inside the houses are colorful frescos and walls paintings. This was the life of people in a great city more than 2,000 years ago.

The portrait of a poet on the House of Menander

The fresco of a seated poet in the House of Menander.

Protecting Pompeii
For over the 250 years Pompeii has been a major tourist destination of Italy. It is estimated that over 2.6 million visitors per year visit this ancient city. This has caused many problems connected to large volumes of tourists crowded  into such a fragile site. Hoping to reduce the number of visitors to Pompeii the governing body has expanded the use of entry tickets to include Herculaneum and the town of Stabiae, and Villa Poppaesa, which were also buried in the 79 AD eruption.
The masses of tourists is but one of the problems facing Pompeii’s future. For 2,000 years the volcanic materials of Mt. Vesuvius had protected the building and art of this ancient city from the elements. Sealing out air and moisture let its buried objects remain preserved. But once exposed they now became subject to wind, rain, light exposure, erosion, plants, and animals that’s been causing rapidly deterioration.

Supporting the walls

Supports holding up buildings walls

Many of the building at Pompeii have started to fall apart, or even collapse. I could see the efforts of trying to preserve this treasure, with houses and temples closed, and supports holding up walls. We can only hope that Pompeii can be saved.
All funding today is directed at trying to preserving this site. But it’s estimated that over 355 million US dollars is needed to just stabilize the two-thirds of the city that’s already been excavated. UNESCO in 2013 declared that if preservation work had not progressed Pompeii would be listed as in danger.

Me at the Forum of Pompeii with the Mountain in the background.

Standing in the Forum of Pompeii with “the Mountain” in the distance.

The Sleeping Giant
As I stood in the Forum of Pompeii looking at Vesuvius 5 miles in the distance I couldn’t help but think that modern Italians have fallen into the same complacent bliss with this fire mountain as did the ancient Romans of Pompeii. There are over 3 million people living within 20 miles of the mountain, and all are in danger from another eruption as big as the one in 79 AD. Volcanologists say that it’s not if, but when she awakes.
But because Vesuvius hasn’t stirred in recent history (the last eruption was in 1944) they don’t seem to fear her.  However Mt. Vesuvius is a proven killer, but yet she’s is a beautiful killer.

American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, History of U-Haul Trailers, How famous buinesses got started, Lost and Found, Ridgefield Washington, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: U-Haul


Ron Current

Ron Current

One of the things I love about traveling, ether overseas or around the United States, is finding little historical locations completely by accident and unexpectedly. As when passing through the town of LeRoy New York and finding that’s where Jell-O dessert was created.
This again happened on my wife’s and my visit to the State of Washington. After a day of sightseeing north of Vancouver Washington we decided to find a place to have dinner. What we felt like having was pizza but not from one of those pizza chains, something local. Using the app on our smartphone we found a pizzeria that sounded good only 3 miles off of I-5 in the town of Ridgefield. As we entered the city there on the welcome sign it read, “Welcome to Ridgefield, the birthplace of U-Haul.” We had struck obscure historical gold again.

Ridgefield sign

Photo by author

I believe that just about everyone in the United States has rented from U-Haul at least once, ether one of their trailers or trucks. The story of U-Haul is another one of entrepreneurial inspiration and hard work, but as with the story of McDonald’s and Jell-O it has a sad side also.
U-Haul’s beginnings is a simply tale of a couple needing something, not being able find it, then building a business to fulfill that need for others. The story of U-Haul begins in Los Angeles California in 1945 at the end of World War II when the newly discharged 29 year old Navy veteran Leonard “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary, tried to rent a tailer to take their belongings north to Portland Oregon. What they found was that there were trailer rental companies in Los Angeles but they could only be used around that city, and they were also very small. Cramming what luggage they could, along with their small son, into their 1937 Ford they headed north. On their way to Portland they talked about the need for a trailer rental that people could use from city to city or even from state to state on a one way bases. Besides coming up with this business plan they also came up with a name for their company, U-Haul.
With a $5,000 investment Sam began building his trailers in the garage on Anna Mary’s parent’s home just outside of Ridgefield Washington. Shoen’s idea was to build the trailers and then find partnering gas stations, which would be franchised agents, to rent them, and splitting the rental fees. Within two weeks of them leaving Los Angeles the first of their 4’ X 7’ U-Haul trailers was sitting at a Mobil gas station on Interstate Street in Portland ready to be rented.

U-Haul truck

Photo by William Grimes from Wikipedia

Shoen came up with a great marketing plan; First he developed a unique look for his trailers by painting them bright orange. Secondly he identified all of his trailers with the name, U-Haul Co. And thirdly he included advertising messages on each trailer that read: “Trailer Rental,” and “$2.00 Per Day.” In addition to helping grow his U-Haul outlets he offered discounts to customers that signed up gas station agents at their destination.
All of Shoen’s hard work and marketing paid off; by the end of 1949 you could rent a U-Haul trailer one way to almost any city in the United States, and by 1955 you could rent one throughout Canada. By the end of 1959 the U-Haul trailer fleet numbered over 42,600 trailers across North America. In 1951 Shoen reorganized the U-Haul Trailer Rental Company under a new holding company named Associated Rental Companies of American (ARCOA). In 1967 Shoen moved the corporate offices from Portland Oregon to Phoenix Arizona.
Today U-Haul remains the largest do-it-yourself moving rental company in the country. Since Sam Shoen’s first trailers U-Haul has added to its lineup trucks, vans and large storage containers. Some of their franchises also offer self-storage units, package shipping supplies, and alternative-fuels for vehicles and backyard grills.


A success marred with tragedies
On May 4, 1957 Sam came home and expressed to Anna Mary how great things were going for them and U-Haul, life couldn’t have been better. That night tragedy struck, Anna died of a heart attack at only 34 years old, and Sam was left with six young children to care for. Doctors had told Anna not to have children because of her heart condition, but she and Sam couldn’t resist having a large family.
After Anna’s death Shoen married four more times, three ending in divorce. He would also father six more children with his other wives in addition to the six with Anna. Shoen made all of his children stockholders in ARCOA, leaving only 2% of the stock and control for himself. In 1986 two of his sons, Mark and Edward launched a successful takeover of the business to which Sam could do nothing about.
On October 4, 1999 Leonard Shoen was killed in Las Vegas Nevada when he ran his car into a telephone pole, he was 83 years old. The Cook County Coroner’s office ruled it a suicide.
Finding the site where Shoen built his first U-Haul trailers



Main Street Ridgefield. Photo from Wikipedia. 


I went to the Ridgefield City’s website to see if they told the location of Anna’s parent’s ranch and the garage Sam used to build his trailers in. Under the heading of, “what to see in Ridgefield,” it showed the location and an address just north of the downtown. The problem we had was that the address on the website didn’t match up with the road that was indicated on the map. We even asked those working in the restaurant if they knew where it was, to no avail. After multiple times driving back and forth we finally gave up. But somewhere on one of those back country roads north of the town is a garage where U-Haul began.
Going back to why we went to Ridgefield to begin with, to find a local pizzeria. What we found was Vinnie’s. Vinnie’s is a small family restaurant specializing in simple Italian fare.
Salvatore Oliveri, a Sicilian restaurateur, began his journey across the United States from New York city bringing his family recipe for the perfect New York style pizza with him. The Oliveri family is still very much involved is maintaining the quality and service at their restaurants.

2017-07-21 17.54.42

Vinnie’s in Ridgefield. Photo by author

My wife and I started with a delicious Mediterranean salad, followed by their “Combination” pizza. The pizza was fantastic, and a true New York style in crust and sauce.
After we finished our server asked if we’d like dessert, we asked “what do you have?” She went down a list of six items ending with Cannoli and Tiramisu, of which she said, “Mama had just made them.” We had both, and they were to die for.
We like Vinnie’s so much that we made the trek out from Vancouver once again before we left.
They also have a location in Vancouver, but we liked the small town feel of their Ridgefield restaurant, so I highly recommend going there. And while you’re in Ridgefield see if you can find that garage, the true birthplace of U-Haul.


if you like this post please read my others on how businesses got started: McDonald’s Restaurants, Jell-O, and Starbucks.


American history, Folgers Coffee, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Nantucket, Seattle Washington, Starbucks Coffe, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington State

Where it all started: Starbucks


Ron Current

Ron Current

I can’t wait for the month of November to come around, because that’s when Starbucks begins to feature its Peppermint Mocha Latte. I’m sure that many of you have your own favorite Starbucks coffee or Teavana tea drink, and that’s because Starbucks is the largest, and most prolific, coffeehouse chain in the world.
Most every city, town, freeway rest area, and airport has at least one, and sometimes more, Starbucks Cafes. If you miss and happen to drive past one, don’t worry, they’ll be another coming up real soon.
We all know what Starbucks is, even if we don’t drink coffee. And most of us know that Starbucks got its start in Seattle Washington USA. But what you may not know is how it got it’s name, where their very first location really was, and what unique little historical coincidence does Starbucks have with another major coffee company.
In this post I will show you a photo of where the actual “first” Starbucks site was and tell you about that very unique little historical coincidence that even the founders of Starbucks may not have known.
So while we’re waiting in line for our coffee let me give you a short synopsis of Starbucks’ history.
It’s all about the name
The story of Starbucks begins with three University of San Francisco schoolmates: Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker. Although after graduation each had gone off to different careers (Baldwin was an English teacher, Siegl a history teacher, and Bowker a writer) they stayed in touch. They had long wanted to go into business together and were looking for just that right business to go into. They became inspired by the growing number of gourmet coffees coming onto the market, especially those from a coffee roasting entrepreneur named Alfred Peet, and his Peet’s Coffee in the San Francisco. They believed that a store selling high quality coffee beans and brewing equipment was  the type of business they were looking for.


Pike Place Street and its Pike Place Market. Starbucks is in the building in the background on the right.

They learned the techniques of roasting and brewing coffee from the master, Peet himself. They put together a business plan, selected the city they wanted to open their store in, and where ready to go except for one thing, they didn’t have a name for their business that was a real grabber. They knew the name had to be easy to remember and able to attract the attention of consumers.
They started brainstorming for just that right name; two suggestions where, Cargo House and Pequod. None where good enough to excite them. Finally running out of ideas themselves they decided to get an opinion from someone on the outside.

Besides being a writer Gordon Bowker also owned a small adverting business with another friend, Terry Heckler. Heckler suggested that they find a name that started with the letters “s” and “t.” His theory was that names that start with those two letters sounded very powerful.
The friends had already decided to open their store in Seattle and figured that a local sounding name would be helpful. They began going through old mining maps of the Cascade Mountains looking for a name of an old mining town that started with “st”. Soon they found the town of Starbo, it was close, but no cigar.
Even though Starbo started with the right letters it didn’t have what they were looking for; however it did remind them of one of their other names, Pequod. Pequod was the name of the fictional whaling ship in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, and the ships first mate was named, Starbuck. Bingo! It started with the right letters, was unique, easy to remember, and very powerful sounding. So the name for their new coffee company would be, Starbucks.
Where was the “original” Starbucks location?

The original first location of Starbuks

2000 Western Avenue, it was here that Starbucks opened its very first store in 1971

Near the Seattle waterfront they selected a corner storefront at 2000 Western Avenue; adjacent to Pike Place Street and its popular Pike Place Market. On March 31, 1971 the three friends finally fulfilled their dream and opened a business together.
This first Starbucks only sold roasted coffee beans and coffee brewing equipment, the only brewed coffee they served was as free samples to showcase their different coffee blends. But over time, due to customer requests, they started to add brewed coffee for sale, it was then that Starbucks became more of a coffee café instead of just a coffee bean store.

The original Starbucks store or is it

What many believe as the first Starbucks is actually its second location. They moved to 1912 Pike Place in 1976. It’s still open, with very long lines.


In 1976 they moved their coffee café down the street to 1912 Pike Place, where it still operates today.

To most visitors seeking the “original” first Starbucks they think it’s this Pike Place location, but in reality you need to walk a half block back from that location to where Pike Place intersects with Western Avenue and Virginia Street; it’s there at that corner, now occupied by another restaurant, that Starbucks began in March of 1971.


That assumed first location on Pike Place has an incredibly long line, all the time. So if you want a Starbucks coffee, and don’t want to stand in that very, very long line, may I suggest that you walk a block in the other direction and around the corner to where Pike Place meets 1st Avenue, there you’ll find a Starbucks with a much shorter line.
In 1984 the three friends bought out their old mentor’s Peet’s Coffee, and in 1987 the three founders sold their interests in Starbucks to one of their former managers, Howard Schultz, and in June of 1992 Starbucks went public on the New York Stock Exchange. Starbucks has also acquired Teavana teas, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torefaziona Italia, Diedrich Coffee, and its Coffee People brand.
Today Starbucks has over 23,768 locations, and growing, worldwide. They’ve expanded their café’s offerings to include specialty food items and a wide range of hot and cold specialty coffee and tea drinks.
From three friends that wanted to go into business together, to finding the right name, the Starbucks Coffee Company is now the largest coffeehouse chain in the world, with revenues of over nineteen billions dollars.
What do Starbucks, Folgers Coffee and Nantucket Island, Massachusetts have in common?


The main street of Nantucket Island, home of the Starbuck and Folger families.

To answer that question we need to go back to when those three founders were trying to come up with a name for their company. They chose the name of the first mate of the Whaling ship in Moby-Dick because it started with an “st” and sounded strong. But what they most likely didn’t realize is that Melville’s novel was based on the true story of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, and its misadventure with a giant white Sperm whale. But what’s even more interesting is that Melville used the names of real Nantucket families in his story. One of those families used by Melville was of one of the original investors in the purchasing of Nantucket from the Indians, Starbuck.
Now here’s that unbelievable historical coincidence, another one of those Nantucket founding families was Folger. Yes, this is the same family whose descendants would move to San Francisco and start Folgers Coffee.

Two Nantucket families , both connected to coffee.



American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Jell-O, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: Jell-O


Ron Current

Ron Current

This post isn’t about a well-known business, but rather a well-known dessert. How I came across this story is another reason why I love “everyday history,” because you never know when or where you’ll find it. And finding this little historical gem is a perfect example.
During a quick weekend trip to New York State for the purpose of tracking down where one of my wife’s Revolutionary War ancestors had settled near the City of Batavia we passed through the small town of LeRoy, and there on the town’s welcome sign it read, “LeRoy, the Home of Jell-O.” This was an exciting, and unexpected, surprise that I had to check it out.
Like McDonald’s most everyone has a Jell-O story from their childhood. For me it was my Mother adding Pineapple chucks to Strawberry Jell-O, which is now my Daughters favorite too.
But before we tour LeRoy’s Jell-O Gallery museum let me give a short history of Jell-O and its connection to Leroy.
From the kitchen of Pearle and May Wait

Peale Wait two

Pearle B Wait, photo taken from Find-A-Grave. There are no photos of May Wait that I could find.

In 1897 a Leroy entrepreneurial couple by the names of Pearle and May Wait had been trying, unsuccessfully, to start a cough syrup and laxative business in their kitchen. After years of getting nowhere with this line of products they decided to try something they knew more about, food. What Pearle and May where really good at was making sweet syrups from local fruits and berries.
No one knows what gave them the idea to combine their fruit syrups with gelatin, then turning it into a powder that would become a tasty sweet and fruity dessert when water was added, but they did and it worked. Although gelatins had been around for a very long time no one had combined it with anything to make it taste good before the Waits. The desserts of that time were cakes and pies which took lots of time and ingredients to make. The process that the Waits developed was quick and easy to make, and a little known fact, that their Jell-O didn’t need to be refrigerated, which wasn’t available in the late 19th century. All you needed was the powder, water and let it stand for a while.
It was May who came up with the name for their new product by combining the words gelatin and jelly. She then added the letter “O” at the end, which was a popular marking practice at the time. The first flavors they offered were strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and orange.
Although Pearle and May had invented a revolutionary new tasty dessert they didn’t have enough money to advertise and promote their new treat. Unable to make a living selling Jell-O themselves they sold the formula, patent, and name to a neighbor, Orator Frank Woodward for $450 in 1899.
Woodward, with his Genesee Pure Food Company, had the manufacturing capability, and was already a success with his roasted cereal coffee substitute, Grain-O. He channeled the income from Grain-O into the marketing and sales for Jell-O, but the initial sales of Jell-O were extremely slow. At one point a frustrated Woodard thought of selling the whole business, Grain-O, Jell-O and all, for $35.
But Woodward, being a natural born marketer, wouldn’t give up. He developed a two part strategy: first he’d send his sales force out, wearing fancy suits; to distribute free samples and the Jell-O cookbook he had created. He then had these salesmen go around to the local grocers telling them that they better stock their shelves with this new product because, “they’ll be a run on the store for it.” Although it worked in the local region it didn’t have the far reaching success that Woodward had hoped.
Early in 1900 Orator became ill and his wife Cora took over running the business, she would finally develop the full potential of Jell-O. In 1904 Cora hired William Humelbaugh to help with the advertising. Humelbaugh suggested that they run an ad for Jell-O in the Ladies Home Journal, one of the most popular magazines of the time, at a cost of $336; the ad featured a smiling housewife in an apron proclaiming that Jell-O was, “America’s Favorite Dessert.” This new adverting campaign took off causing sales for Jell-O that year to jump to $250,000. Jell-O sales continued to grow, and well known artists were hired to create artwork promoting Jell-O, one being Norman Rockwell.
In 1925 the Postum Cereal Company (today’s General Foods) bought Genesee Pure Foods and Jell-O. At that time the Jell-O factory was the largest employer in LeRoy. In 1964 the corporation moved its Jell-O manufacturing operation out of LeRoy, ending almost a century in the city. The original Woodward factory has since been torn down.


May’s grave. From Find-A-Grave



The story of Jell-O, like McDonald’s, is one of both success and misfortune. For Pearle and May Wait they sold their invention for $450, which would be around $12,000 today, while Orator and Cora Woodward’s company raked in $250,000, around $6.2 million today, in sales for Jell-O just five years later. This difference between these two stories can clearly be seen at LeRoy’s Machpelah Cemetery where both families are laid to rest.


Pearle’s grave. from Find-A-Grave

The Woodward’s are entombed in a Greek style crypt, while Pearle and May lie side by side with only simple headstones.


The Woodward’s Tomb. Photo from Find-A-Grave




The Jell-O Gallery


The Jell-O Gallery. Photo by author

LeRoy is about thirty miles from Rochester, New York on Route 5 (East Main Street in the town). The museum is called the “Jell-O Gallery” and is located about a half mile east of Oatka Creek behind the equally historic LeRoy House (more on this later).To find the LeRoy House you need to just look for the burgundy and gold yard sign for the LeRoy House on the north side of the road. You can park on the street or drive around and use the parking lot in back. The Jell-O Gallery is on the second floor of what was once the Union Free School (more on that later also) building.


The Jell-O Brick Road. Photo by author

Another thing I enjoy about doing the research for my posts is finding out information that I didn’t know, or of things that I missed while visiting these sites. This allows me to let you know what the background story is and what to look for when you visit. I almost missed when visiting the museum the “Jell-O Brick Road,” with the names of the former factory employees  inscribed on the bricks.
Besides the history of Jell-O the museum is filled with thousands of Jell-O related items, molds, advertising posters, signs, toys, recipe books, and other items. You can also vote for which Jell-O flavor is your favorite.
The museum is operated by the LeRoy Historical Society and is open April through December seven days: Monday – Saturday 10am till 4 pm and Sunday 1 pm till 4 pm. From January through March it’s only open weekdays from 10 am till 4 pm. It’s closed on major holidays.
Admission is really inexpensive: Adults $5, children 6 to 11 years old $1.50, 5 years and under are free. Also included with the admission is the transportation history exhibit downstairs.
The Leroy House and Union Free School


The LeRoy House. Photo by author

When you visit the Jell-O Gallery give yourself time to check out the LeRoy House.
This Greek revival style house was originally built as a land office in the early part of the 19th century. These land offices were part of the independent General Land Office agency of the United States government. This agency was formed in 1812, for the surveying and distribution of public lands.
The LeRoy House was built by Jacob LeRoy, one of the early land agents and settlers to the area. LeRoy expanded the house over time, making it one of the largest and well-furnished homes in the region. In fact LeRoy hosted in this house the wedding reception for Daniel Webster’s second marriage to one of his sisters.
Today the LeRoy House is a museum displaying its history as a land office and of life in the early 19th century. When you walk through you’ll go back in time to what life was like in the finer homes on the early frontier. Upstairs is a room that is dedicated to the American Boy Scouts, featuring uniforms and other items.
The Union Free School


The Union Free School building, now home to the Jell-O Gallery and transportation  museum. Photo by author

Besides housing the Jell-O Gallery and transportation museums this three-story limestone building was first home to the LeRoy Academic Institute, one of the first educational schools in the area, and later the local high school. It the 20th century if ceased being used for education and was converted for the manufacturing of patent medicines. It was bought, along with the LeRoy House, by the historical society in the 1940s.




American history, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, How famous buinesses got started, Lost and Found, McDonald's Restaurants, Myths and Legends, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Things to see in California, Travel, Uncategorized

Where it all started: McDonald’s

Ron Current

Ron Current

I see history as being more than just ancient sites, people and politics. For me there is a history in everyday life. Even our contemporary businesses, that we see or visit every day, have a history. How did they get started, where did they start, and most importantly, who started them. Some of these stories we know, and some we think we know.
My next series of posts will be on some of those businesses that have become cultural icons, not just in the United States but worldwide. I hope that these posts will shed some light on the origins of these well known businesses. So sit back and enjoy “where it all started.”



McDonald’s Restaurant Museum, San Bernardino, California

The McDonald's museum

The “unofficial” McDonald’s Museum today, on the site of the original McDonald’s brothers restaurant. Photo by the author   

I can remember clearly when the first McDonald’s restaurants opened near where I lived in Mount Clemens, Michigan. To be honest I wasn’t too excited about this interloper, because we had our own “Golden Point” hamburger drive-in. But eventually Mickey Dee’s won out, and the “Point” vanished into fond memories.
Over the years McDonald’s finally became my hamburger place of choice. I remember that I could get five hamburgers, two orders of fries and two large Cokes for $1.83. But that was back in the late 1960’s and McDonald’s is much different today. Back then you’d walked up to a window that was located in the front of the building, ordered your food, which was waiting lined up in rows behind the server. The famous French fries where cut from whole potatoes, the milkshakes were hand made with real ice cream and blended with a large mixer, and you ate in your car. Also all the servers were young men.
We all have our McDonald’s stories to tell about this great American, and worldwide, tradition. However I had no idea of the history of this place with the golden arches until I read Ray Kroc’s autobiography, Grinding it Out. What I learned was that Ray Kroc really wasn’t the originator of McDonald’s, but rather the marketer and developer of what is todays McDonald’s. In his book Kroc credits two brothers in San Bernardino California for creating the process and providing its name.


The saved historic sign. Photo by the author

While visiting Palm Springs this year I learned that there was a museum on the site of the original McDonald’s  restaurant in San Bernardino, about an hour from where I was staying, so I decided to drive over and see it. While we’re driving there let me give you a little history of McDonald’s.


The McDonald brothers
In the late 1930’s Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, two transplanted brothers from Manchester, New Hampshire, had a small restaurant selling Hot Dogs, orange juice, coffee and tea called the “Airdrome” in Monrovia California. Wanting to expand their offering in 1940 they moved their entire restaurant, building and all, to 14th and E Street (old Route 66) in San Bernardino California. There they converted it to a Bar-B-Q Drive-In, complete with young female car hops. There was a good and a bad to this new operation: Good, because it became the #1 teen hangout, and bad, because it became the #1 teen hangout. They had problems with unruly teens that kept families away. So Dick and Mac decided to reinvent their concept again to become more family friendly. Seeing that the hamburgers and French fries where their top sellers they decided to cut the menu to just those items.


Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, photo from the internet

Dick McDonald, with an engineering background, created a flow chart to maximize speed and efficiency in the foods preparation, which they called “Speedee Service.” Dick and Mac remodeled their restaurant building and discontinued using car hops. On December 12, 1948 they cut the ribbon on their new restaurant, that they named after their family, “McDonald’s.” Not only was the food delivered fast it was very inexpensive for a family; The hamburgers cost 15 cents and the fries 10 cents, which was great for 1948.
In 1949 the success of the brother’s McDonald’s attracted the attention of milkshake Multi-Mixer Salesmen Ray Kroc. Kroc convinced the brothers that they should francize their concept, with Kroc getting the francize ownership east of the Mississippi River. Soon there became conflict on what was the vision for McDonald’s between the brothers and Kroc, so in 1961, Kroc bought out the brother’s interest and all of their rights for $2.7 million dollars. This might sound pretty good until you know that Kroc’s net worth when he died in 1984 was just under 400 million.


The original McDonald’s as it was in 1948. Photo from the internet.

There parting was not pleasant, and with this terrible relationship between Kroc and the brothers, Kroc forced them to change their restaurant’s name to “Big M.” Then adding insult to injury Kroc built one of his “McDonald’s just down the street. Dick and Mac couldn’t compete with this new McDonald’s and closed their restaurant in 1962.


If you get a chance and see the movie “the Founder” you’ll get a idea on what happened, which follows the history fairly close.

The original restaurant’s site today
In 1972 the restaurant building was torn down, with only the original McDonald’s street sign being saved by a concerned neighbor. This sign helps you to find the site where McDonald brothers original McDonald’s was and the museum. The current building there now was built in 1980, and in 1998 it was purchase by Albert Okura, a big McDonald’s fan, the owner of the Pollo Rotisserie restaurants.

Inside the McDonald's museum

Inside the  San Bernardino museum. This museum has everything McDonald’s, not only dating from the brothers but current McDonald’s items. Photo by the author

Okura believes in preserving history, and knowing that the site is a valuable piece of American restaurant history, opened this “unofficial” McDonald’s museum on December 12, 1998, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Dick and Mac’s McDonald’s.
The museum specializes in the early McDonald’s years as well as items that are more contemporary.  On display are some of the items used in the brother’s original restaurant. There is also a host of McDonald’s packaging, advertising and promotional items to see.

Origanial items from the first McDonald's

Items used at the original McDonald’s. Some were used in the Movie “the Founder.” Photo by the author 

The museum does accepts donations of all McDonald’s related items, and they’d really love to have a Ronald McDonald costume.


The museum is open 7 days, and admission is FREE.

The McDonald’s corporation does not recognize this site, or its museum, as the “original.” They consider Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois as location #1. It has a museum also, which I plan on visiting in the future.

Next: “It wiggles and it jiggles,” the story of Jell-O


Ancient Roman, history and travel, History in Time, History of the Roman Forum, In the footsteps of the Ceasers, Italy, Julius Caesar, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Roman History, Rome, Shakespeare, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The assassanation of Julius Caesar, The Caesars, The Roman Forum, The Roman Republic, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Rome, World history

The Roman Forum: Searching for Caesar’s Grave


Ron Current

Ron Current

The assassination of Julius Caesar was only the beginnings of this historic story of ancient Roman intrigue, what came next was his funeral and cremation. For this story we’ll return to the Roman Forum, and my surprising find.
As I stated in my last post (The Roman Forum: Searching for the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination) I expected to find where he was murdered in the Forum, and although I didn’t find the site of his assassination there I did find something even more amazing- his grave!
But before I describe what I found I’d like to again go back in time to 44 BC, and the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination.

The Funeral of Julius Caesar
There are no firsthand accounts as what took place at Caesar’s funeral and cremation. What we know comes from two sources: the Greek historian Appian of Alexandria (c. 95-c.165), in his Roman history writings History of the Civil Wars, and the Roman scholar Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.71-c.135), in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, both written decades after Caesar’s funeral. From these two accounts we get a picture as to what may have taken place in 44 BC.


The reconstructed Rostra in the Roman Forum today

A few days after Caesar’s assassination his body, still in the cloths he wore when murdered, was taken on a bier of ivory and placed on the Rostra in the Roman Forum. In the Forum today is the reconstructed rostra that sits on that site near the Temple of Saturn and the Arch of Serverus. The condition of Caesar’s body couldn’t have been very good after days in the heat of Rome, embalming hadn’t been invented in 44 BC. This would have added to the horror of the event. Also on the Rostra, next to the body, was a torso of Caesar made of wax, which revolved mechanically, showing the 23 stab wounds.
The large crowd that had gathered for the funeral was becoming more and more agitated as time went on, and there was great wailing and moaning coming from them. Armed men were placed in front of the Rostra to hold back the crowd as Caesar’s friend and Consul Marc Antony took to the platform to give the funeral oration.
Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Act III, Scene II of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.




Marc Antony giving his address at Caesar’s funeral

These opening lines by Marc Antony in Julius Caesar at Caesars funeral are perhaps the most recognized and well known lines in all of Shakespeare’s works, however Appian presents another version of Antony’s opening words, “It is not right, my fellow-citizens, for the funeral oration in praise of so great a man be delivered by me, a single individual, instead of by his whole country…” Although a word-for-word record of what Antony actually said hasn’t been found both Appian and Tranquillius state that what he said denounced the conspirators for their ghastly act and turned the crowd of mourners into an enraged mob.



After Antony’s speech the mob rushed the Rostra, pushing passed the guards, seizing the bier with Caesar’s body, and carried it down the Via Sacra to the Forum’s square, between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Caster and Polllux. There they sat it down, covering it with wood, clothes, furniture, anything that would burn, and set it ablaze. It was said that fire was so large and out of control that several of the building in the Forum were damaged.
After the funeral pyre had burned out the crowed, still enraged, went through the city burning the houses of the conspirators. This caused many of the them to flee the city. Both Antony and Octavian used this anger to their own political ends, getting rid of the senate conspirators and to form their own seat of power in Rome.
One year later, in 42 BC they, along with Marcus Lepidus, formed yet another three person ruling partnership called the Second Triumvirate. Also they got the new puppet senate to formally deify Caesar, making him the first Roman to be named a god. In addition Octavian pushed the senate to name him “Divi filius,” or Son of god, giving him more power than Antony and Lepidus.
Finally after years of another civil war and his political gamesmanship Octavian had killed all of Caesar’s murders and Marc Antony, and exiled Lepidus, leaving him in absolute power of Rome. This culminated with the senate titling him with the name “Augustus,” in Latin meaning “the illustrious one.” This title was more of a religious title of authority than a political one that would allow Augustus Caesar to maneuver his way into becoming Rome’s first emperor, and ending the Roman Republic era.
The Temple of Divus Caesar
Caesar’s ashes had been collected and later placed in the base of the Alter the Rome Senate had erected on the site of his cremation. In 31 BC Octavian began the construction of a temple to honor his adopted father also at that site. In 29 BC, two years later, the temple was dedicated to “Divus Julius,” the Deified Caesar.


This is what the Temple of Caesar may have looked like. Note the recess with the Alter at the center front

One of the most unique aspects of the Temple of Caesar was the recess built into its front to accommodate the senate’s Alter holding Caesar’s ashes. Around this recess was constructed a raised orators platform designed to be the new rostra for public speeches. This platform was adorned with the bronze rams taken from the ships of Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. The temple was flanked by two arches, one for the Battle of Actium and the other to celebrate Augustus’ returning the Legionary Standards after the battle of Carrhae. Inside the temple was a large statue of Julius Caesar, which included a star on his head and bearing the augural staff in its right hand. This statue could be seen from the Forum outside when the temple’s doors were open.
It’s recorded that the Temple of Caesar remained mostly intact until the late 15th century, after which it was stripped of its marble and stone.
The Temple of the Deified Caesar today
To find the Temple of Caesar in the Roman Forum when going through the Arch of Constantine entrance you walk down the still unexcavated hill toward the center of the Forum. As you pass the Temple of Antonius and Faustina on the Via Sacra, and behind the columns of the Temple of Vesta and those of the Temple of Castor and Pollus, you’ll see what looks like a small roof covering something; this is what remains of the Temple of Caesar.



The Temple of Caesar

The remains of the Temple of Caesar in the Forum today

As you walk around to its front all you’ll see are just parts of the temple’s cement core. These were the base which supported the orators’ platform and temple building, and is all that remains of the temple itself. There are segments of the temple’s decorations around the site and also in the Forum Museum but that all. What really amazed and thrilled me is what I found the roof protecting.
As you walk under the roof and around the cement wall of the old temple you’ll see what looks like a pile of gray dirt. This is what’s left of the Alter that the Roman Senate erected over 2,000 years ago, the Alter holding the ashes of Julius Caesar. It’s then that it hits you, you are looking at the grave and final resting place of the most famous Roman in history, Julius Caesar.

The Altar in the Temple of Caesar, which is said to have held Julius Caesars ashes

The remains of the senate’s Alter with Caesar’s ashes

Still today people of Rome, and visitors, pay homage to this great man by offering coins and flowers on his grave, and for me it was a fabulous, and unexpected discovery.





This ends my seven part series on the Roman Forums. I hope you’ll read, or re-read them all:
The Roman Forum: Part I, the center of an empire
The Roman Forum: Part II, a walking exploration
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Julius and Augustus Caesar
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Emperors Vespasian and Nerva
The Imperial Fora of Rome: Forum of Trajan
The Roman Forum: Searching for the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination