One would like to think of human history as an unbroken march toward enlightenment in which superstition and magical beliefs are gradually discarded in favor of rational thought and evidence-based decisions. One would like to, but then one remembers the media’s obsession with Mayan doomsday predictions never actually predicted by actual Mayans, and the scandalous failure of most Nova Scotia health care workers to get the ‘flu vaccine (thus depriving themselves, their families, and their patients of the most effective life-saving advance in medical history), and today’s numerological media trope-de-jour: the fact that today’s (arbitrary) date can be rendered as 12-12-12.

So it was with a mixture of amusement and chagrin that we read (courtesy of Lauren Oostveen of the Nova Scotia Archives) the New York Times’s account of the last 12-12-12 iteration, the one that occurred on December 12, 1912. The anonymous Times writer of a century ago cataloged the carry-on about arbitrary dates with an air of droll contempt that seems not at all dated.

[F]or those who live on past to-day, there will still be available some triple-plated dates of magical mischance. And one of them, to come a mere thirty-two years from now, will outdo all other combinations in the magic of its mixture. It will come on April 11, 1944, and the 4-11-44 that may then be written will, of course, bring out into the letter writing industry every soul that ever hugged a rabbit’s foot, threw a horseshoe over the left shoulder, or trembled when he broke a mirror or walked under a ladder.

So mark this down as one area where 100 years of humankind’s relentless march toward rationality appears to have gained no ground whatsoever. Here’s the whole Times piece:


Dracula at Dalhousie: The mystery of the pilfered documents

Lauren Oostveen, Nova Scotia’s tweeting archivist, today unearthed a clipping from The 4th Estate, Halifax’s one-time alternative weekly, about a vampire conflab that took place at Dalhouse 39 years ago this month. The 4th Estate story is good, but the yarn Oostveen dug up to go with it is even better.

Organized by English Professor Devendra P. Varma, a renowned Dracula-lit buff, the goth-before-its-time conference boasted “the largest gathering of vampire experts ever presented in Canada,” and featured a screening of the classic 1931 movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

The Himalayan-born Varma, who died in 1994, was apparently quite a character. According to Oostveen, he “had a ten­dency to believe in con­spir­a­cies, secret police, and other forces” who, he believed, harboured an unsavoury interest in his collection of vampire books and memorabilia. At his insistence, “the really important stuff” was kept in a locked cabinet at the departmental library.

Time passes, [and] the library peri­od­i­cally asks about his use of their space, does he really need this secure storage, and so on. He says yes, and the cab­inet gets moved a few times as the library moves divi­sions and departments.

The Berlin wall falls, the world is more open, evil forces are in retreat, and Varma decides he can take home his trove of vam­pire doc­u­ments and literature.

He comes to the library with the one and only key, and of course, it’s an empty cabinet.”

Oostveen professes not to know who to blame for the pilferage: Abraham van Helsing or Dracula. I suspect Cletus Hollohan had a hand in it.

Seen over Halifax

What’s that ghostly visage cruising over Halifax on an overcast Fourth of July, 1936. Hint: take a closer look at the logo emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

It’s Luftschiff Zeppelin #129, better known as the Hindenburg, on a transatlantic flight just 10 months before its catastrophic docking at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.

The photo is one of many fascinating images on a Nova Scotia Archives web display called An East Coast Port: Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945.

The Hindenburg overflew the city at about 1000 feet, causing the Halifax Herald to fret two days later over the possibility “those aboard the Hindenburg were taking pictures of Halifax and other places, for the files of the German air ministry.”

The same Nova Scotia Archives web feature includes film clips from the period, including this riveting footage of a German U-Boat crew surrending to US and Canadian vessels off Shelburne in 1945. Note especially the crewmen being patted down at the 0:50 second mark, and the sullen faces of the hapless submariners assembled on an unidentified wharf at the 1:30 mark. This is not how they expected their war to turn out.

UPDATE: Reader Derek Andrews points out that a dirigible—one of ours, presumably—appears in this video as well.

The Nova Scotia Archives also makes its videos available in a more user-friendly format on YouTube.

H/T: Iain Grant and Richard Stephenson, and thanks to the Archives’ social marketing whirlwind Lauren Oostveen.