Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes

This past weekend and some days this week I have been keenly interested in heroes. Whether modern or older I have wanted to know a bit more and pay personal homage to ordinary people who through acts of selflessness and the highest valor and courage, sacrificed unquestionably their own self-benefit for others, for a greater good, for a greater number in the future. Some of these remarkable stories included many war heroes, men who willing put themselves in lethal danger in order to protect their Brothers in Arms, their squad, platoon, or battalion. Their acts of sacrifice are legendary and should never be lost to time.

But there are also other heroes who never fought in any war, or armed conflict, but the risks and dangers they willingly faced were just as daunting, just as consequential as a soldier faces in combat. Many of them are women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their fight for equal rights, equal treatment, pay, and opportunities in patriarchal dominated societies across the globe deserve just as much awe, respect, and homage as any man’s stories of gallantry, valor, and sacrifice in war! Agreed? Of course you do if you are a fair and reasonable human being.

Some of the immediate names of female heroes that come to my mind are Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Billie Jean King, Malala Yousafzai, and a big one for birth-control Margaret Sanger who eventually laid the groundwork for America’s badly needed Planned Parenthood. However, the one specific woman I was reminded of this past Sunday and Monday was Emily Wilding Davison. If you are unfamiliar with Emily’s unwavering commitment to eliminating injustice and gender inequality, then watch this following 15-second clip of her public statement:

As part of my remembrance to many ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes for the betterment of humanity, I watched the 2015 film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Natalie Press, and Meryl Streep. The film is pretty accurate historically regarding Women’s Suffrage in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s England. From the Smithsonian Magazine web-page:

The filmmakers deliberately modeled [fictional character] Maud [Watts] on the stories of working class suffragettes, whose activism put their jobs, marriages and even custody of their children, at risk. “I think what was interesting for us was to create a rich ensemble of composite characters who we felt would carry the voices of these women who hadn’t been heard and allow them to segue and intersect with these extraordinary moments of history,” says Morgan.

Horse Racing - The Derby Stakes - Epsom - Suffragette Protest - 1913Many parts of the film were real historical events and characters.

…the bombing of Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s empty country house, and Davison’s fatal protest at the Epsom Derby – were real. After decades of peaceful protest with no result, suffragettes, particularly those in Emmeline Pankhurst’s (Meryl Streep in a brief cameo) Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), followed the motto “Deeds Not Words.” Taking pains not to hurt people, they created mayhem by attacking property – including slashing a Velázquez in the National Gallery  – and disrupting government meetings.

Emily Davison’s protest, whether to attach a scarf of her Movement’s colors to King George V’s horse or to sacrifice herself by death or maiming is unknown to this day. What happened in decades and a century later was unprecedented.

Today, Davison’s gravesite in Morpeth, Northumberland, is a feminist shrine that attracts visitors from around the world. […]

“What is extraordinary about that footage is you can see that this wasn’t a small movement of ladies who meet for tea in Kensington,” says Suffragette’s screenwriter Abi Morgan.  “This was a national and international movement.

Emily Davison closeup

Emily Davison’s entire story is quite remarkable for the time-period. She like most women of the time had very few options outside of the home and birthing then raising children. As a well-educated woman she taught as a teacher and live-in governess as well as attaining two college degrees from the University of London.

Davison was tireless and ingenious. She was arrested nine times for offenses ranging from breaking windows at Parliament to firebombing letterboxes. One of her more creative stunts was sneaking into a closet in the House of Commons one night in 1911 so she could claim Parliament as her place of residence on the official census. It was a subversive double protest. In one act, she could – as many suffragettes were attempting – avoid being counted as a citizen by a government that didn’t recognize her right to vote while if she were counted, it would be at the address of the center of that same discriminatory body.

After her first arrest she wrote gleefully to a friend. “Did you read about it? We went outside Lloyd George’s Budget meeting at Limehouse, and protested at women being kept out, etc. I was busy haranguing the crowd when the police came up and arrested me.” She describes breaking windows in her jail cells and adds “What do you think of me?” before signing off “your loving and rebellious friend.”

If you’re interested in more heroic details of the Suffrage Movement—which later fueled our modern-day Women’s March and activism for more women’s social, workforce, and legal equalities—then click here for the Smithsonian’s article. It is well worth the time.

As I finished Suffragette, I then moved on to another well-directed, acclaimed cast and historically accurate feminine hero 2009 film called Agora starring Rachel Weisz. If you are unfamiliar with the great female philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician named Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt, during the late 4th-century CE inside a Christianizing and increasingly patriarchal Roman Empire, then I suggest you study her and watch this outstanding film. Hypatia was perhaps one of the very earliest suffragette’s in human history.

Nevertheless, let’s never forget that extraordinary heroes come in all sizes, all races and ethnicities, and certainly all genders and sexual-orientations. They’re all human. That is no debate whatsoever.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5

“The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were love-sick with them.”
William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra

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Imagine you have fallen through a mysterious, sensory-overloading, weird disorienting  vortex that catapults you back to 41 BCE in Juliopolis (Tarsos), in the Roman Empire’s province of Cilicia. Many of the sounds and smells your ears and nose would capture are immediately unrecognizable, foreign, baffling your brain. For effect, play the following sound-byte:

Roman portThere within sight at the mouth of the calmly flowing Cydnus River you find the Roman port. Faintly you see and hear the hammering of many ship-workers and foremen yelling commands. You notice ten or twenty half-built Roman ships, some with two and others three deck-levels or more. These are dry-docked and just as many are finished, docked and tied-off in the harbor.

Traveling Turkey: Taursus

Cleopatra’s Gate in modern Tarsus, Mersin Turkey

Once you arrive to all the commotion trying to determine where you have fallen, what is happening, what has happened, “why is everyone gawking at me as I walk by,” it hits you. I am in 21st-century clothing, I do not speak Greek, and I think my money/currency is no good here.

A breeze picks up and brings another mystery. A distinct, unfamiliar scent crosses over your nostrils. In warm temperatures the aroma has touches of pungent, musky, woody and slight medicinal smells, but then you notice the faint compliments of sweet vanilla and black tea. With this aromatic orchestra comes the sounds of people chattering and rushing to the banks of the Kydnos River. You follow the excited crowds. There at the banks of the river you reach the wall of people lined on both shores yelling and waving out to this massive, golden-plated barge with huge reddish-purple sails on two masts. Being downwind the aromas smelt earlier cannot be avoided. You are witnessing the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater traveling up the river to Juliopolis to meet the Roman general Marc Antony.

Cleopatra's barge Tarsos

If you are ever in Berkeley, CA, stop by Mandy Aftel‘s alchemy shop on Walnut Street, called Aftel Perfumes, and travel back in time to ancient and not so ancient recipes of fragrances across the globe, including what might have been Cleopatra’s legendary perfume from her purple sails on the Kydnos River in 41 BCE Cilicia, but also on her seductive body and garments as she romanced Marc Antony!

Researchers Robert Littman, Jay Silverstein, Dora Goldsmith, and Sean Coughlin replicated some of the great Egyptian fragrances from the archaeological excavation of the 300 BCE city of Thmuis and its region’s famed Mendesian and Metopian perfumes. Both contained myrrh, a resin extracted from the tree (see image). Littman states I find it very pleasant, though it probably lingers a little longer than modern perfume. In ancient Egypt and many parts of the Mediterranean port-cities, inland to Rome’s trading network, most of the wealthy families, dignitaries, and rulers wore these scents though they were of a thicker consistency similar to our olive oils or molasses. Cleopatra made perfume herself in a personal workshop, says Mandy Aftel.

Commiphora_myrrha

It is even possible that when Marc Antony accepted Cleopatra’s invitation to come visit her in Alexandria, Egypt, the queen toured Antony through her perfume factory in Thmuis as she lavishly entertained him overwhelming the powerful general not only with the finest of foods, drink, music, and seduction royalty could imagine, Cleopatra also wanted heirs to Rome’s throne following Julius Caesar’s murder. The rest as they say, is history, and legend—although parts are factual and corroborated.

perfumes with myrrhWhether Cleopatra wore this fragrance to charm and lure one of Rome’s finest generals or not, it is certain that the elite of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly in Alexandria and the eastern provinces of Nabataea, Syria, and Cilicia, did indeed wear these strong, long-lasting scents. If you are ever in need of seducing a powerful figure for your own gain and those of your kingdom’s subjects, definitely have Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5 in your toiletry bag!

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Returning the Stolen Artifacts

As a young boy, Donald H. Miller of Orange Township in Rush County, Indiana had enjoyed digging up arrowheads, military uniform-buttons, and whatever else he could find from the past. It did not make any difference what time-period and apparently it made no difference to him if there was probable ownership or property rights attached to his finds.

Don Miller W9NTP-th

Donald H. Miller

Don Miller enrolled in engineering school prior to joining the U.S. Army Reserves in the 1940’s. He was later assigned to a Special Engineer Detachment in Los Alamos, NM, reaching Technician 4th Grade inside the Manhattan Project. But if you think that is an intriguing perhaps fantastical tidbit, wait until the FBI raids, investigates, and uncovers items inside his home-basement and amateur museum in April 2014. They find at least 42,000 rare and not-so-rare historical artifacts from numerous cultures around the globe. His and his wife’s collection included:

 

  • Two (believed) large dinosaur eggs laid in China
  • A wooden cowbell from Tibet
  • Over 300 arrowheads from the Western United States
  • An old dugout canoe from the Amazon River used by indigenous natives
  • An 1873 Winchester carbine believed to be used by a Sioux warrior in the Battle of Little Big Horn
  • Primitive axes carried by indigenous Indians of New Guinea
  • Spent bullet-casings from Civil War battlegrounds
  • Pre-Colombian pottery
  • Ming Dynasty jade
  • An Egyptian sarcophagus
  • A 1927 Wurlitzer pipe-organ Don would play for visitors

These were just a few of the artifacts the FBI crime detectives found in Mr. Miller’s home. What they also discovered that was not visible to visitors of his collection were around 2,000 human bones representing about 500 human beings, all of which are believed to be stolen from sacred Native American burial grounds.

Human skeletal remains that have been dug up from a shallow grave

Human remains found in Miller’s home

Don and wife Sue Miller were very active in their local church and foreign missionary work from the 1960’s into the late 1980’s then becoming short-term consultants for construction-missionary trips abroad. The couple was so serious about their missionary work and giving out Bibles to the locals that they organized Building for God International in 1979 in order to take advantage of America’s tax-exemptions, right-offs and religious traveling expenses. They also would host in their home pastors and their families from the foreign church congregations they had built. Yet, with so much concern about reaching international people in foreign lands with their personal ideology and controversial belief-system, Don and Sue seemed completely oblivious to the ethical and moral, let alone legal implications of filling their Waldron, Indiana home with precious and sacred artifacts and the remains of 500 human beings with family descendants.

Dark Rain Thom, a Shawnee descendant who served on the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission under three governors, said the motives of such collectors vary, and that it’s not uncommon for collections to come to light when an elderly person dies and descendants try to figure out what to do with artifacts.

Often, she said, family members then quietly donate them to museums or arrange to return them to specific tribes — if that provenance can be determined.

Some collectors are motivated by money, as the artifacts’ sale can be lucrative, Thom said. But others with interests in archaeology or anthropology are motivated by a desire to understand the development of a culture through its art items and everyday implements. And others, Thom said, are in it for the thrill of discovery.
Indystar.com Thousands of artifacts removed from rural Indiana home” by Diana Penner, accessed March 5, 2019

But the fact remains, Don Miller was not a licensed, professional, or even sanctioned guest archaeologist or anthropologist with any university or society in the world. He was a self-proclaimed historian and museum curator of his own stolen property and appointed by his God as an earnest missionary doing his God’s work. He was not always given proper access or any permission to go into certain sites, much less leave the country with artifacts. This is the mind-boggling, appalling self-perception Donald Miller had of himself.

The FBI have already returned artifacts to Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand and Spain to date, and about 360 artifacts have been repatriated to China. In 1979 the Archaeological Resources Protection Act forbade any sales, purchase, exchange, transport, or receipt of artifacts. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law protecting cultural and natural resources in the U.S. And in 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was signed into law making it illegal to buy or sell Native American remains. Over the course of his accumulation of items Don Miller purchased many, if not most of his artifacts, as well as illegally obtained and illegally brought them into the United States.

Why would someone who supposedly believes in saving non-American sinners in order for souls to leave our dead decaying human bodies and tombs for eternal life want with 2,000 bones of 500 humans? Why would a man who served in the U.S. military and took part in the Manhattan Project that ended WWII consciously and willingly break the very laws he vowed to fight for? What could possibly convince a man that what he was illegally amassing in his “basement museum” was even remotely ethical and meant (in his mind) for human prosperity, let alone his God’s will?

Donald Miller died in 2015 without any repercussions of his illicit crimes; never tried, fined, or punished. The FBI investigation and repatriation of artifacts from Miller’s home continues to this day.

Share your thoughts below about this bizarre man, his integrity, his religious beliefs and activity, and whether or not he provided any lasting legacy for future generations.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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