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Posts by Jay Vissers

A Fleeting Moment: An Imperial Visit to a Doomed Ship

This photo from the Digital Gallery shows Tsar Nicholas II paying a royal visit to the new battleship "Kniaz Suvorov," flagship of the Russian Baltic Fleet. It's September 1904, and Russia has been at war with Japan since February, when Japanese torpedo boats staged a surprise night attack, without declaration of  hostilities, on the Russian Pacific Squadron anchored at Port Arthur in Manchuria.

This Pacific Squadron is now blockaded by a Japanese fleet outside the harbor and a Japanese army in the surrounding hills, so the Tsar has ordered his Baltic 

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Bravery or folly in the details: Finding Francisco Solano Lopez's portrait in the Picture Collection

While looking through the "Personalities" reference files in the Picture Collection, I happened across this official portrait of a proud, confident man in a tightly-buttoned uniform with waist sash and epaulettes.

Portrait of Francisco Solano Lopez, President of Paraguay (Born 1827-Elected president 1862-Died 1870). From the French magazine L'Illustration, November 29th, 1862.This sort of uniform, along with the feather-decorated cocked hat that went with it, was very much the norm in its day, but now evokes thoughts of Ruritanian romances and comic operas.  

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Old McDonald ... and Dick and Jane

This is one of my favorite images from the million and a half items held by the NYPL’s Picture Collection. Of course, I haven’t seen them all, and if you ask my co-workers they’ll tell you that I usually work with pictures about ships, airplanes, battles and weird animals like bats, insects and snakes. But this image really stirs me. Every few months I take it from its folder (labeled FAMILY LIFE – 1950s) and revisit it to remind me of the evocative power of art from another time. This picture stands for all the reasons we save it and other pictures for the public to use and Read More ›

The Church of Literary and Artistically Significant Stuff

Don’t know? Make it up!

When I was a kid, I knew that grown-ups used big words with meanings I didn’t understand. There was always the assumption that as I got older, I’d learn these as a matter of course. In the meantime, however, I could always make up definitions based on other words I knew that sounded like the new one. Some of them still stick with me because, in my opinion, they’re better than the real things. For example…

I heard that someone had “matriculated”. This is a rather pompous way of saying that he or she had signed up for college, but I didn’t 

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Crystal myth, the drug so dear … Great fires in history

There is a saying that some of the most precious moments in our lives are special just because we didn’t know that they were important at that time.

I mention this because for the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing a resurgence of interest in the topic of famous fires, a subject that has fascinated and haunted me ever since I happened across a book on the topic at the library at MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa, Florida) when I was eleven years old. I remember sitting in the aisle between the shelves, utterly spellbound by black and white photos of the aftermaths of 

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