The Mystery of The Amber Room

One of the sights I most wanted to see on a visit in July 2014 to St. Petersburg, Russia,  was the reconstructed Amber Room in Catherine Palace.

The original Amber Room was stolen by the Nazis in 1941, but the room was painstakingly reconstructed from black and white photographs and re-installed in 2003, with funds from German patrons.

It’s a magnificent room, and I wish I could have lingered longer.  My husband and I were on a tour, and we moved quickly through the beautiful rooms of the splendid Catherine Palace.  I had just enough time to take the above photo of a corner of The Amber Room, which shows how the pieces of amber are fitted together.

The Amber Room was on a long list of artworks that Adolph Hitler wanted looted from throughout Europe for a Third Reich Art Museum.  In 1941, the Nazis dismantled and removed  The Amber Room from Catherine Palace in the town of Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. They trashed most of what was left of the Catherine Palace, which has also been restored with some work left to be done.

Although one mosaic from the Amber Room turned up at auction in 19xx, the rest of the room hasn’t been seen since. Art experts fear that the delicate pieces of the room didn’t survive. Below is a story about a man who is hot on its trail. I hope he finds the magnificent Amber Room.

Guard at Catherine Palace, Russia Post Cards
Guard at the Catherine Palace.
Welcome to Catherine Palace, Russia Poster
Military Band Greets Visitors to Catherine Palace.

 

Watch this National Geographic Video about the History of The Amber Room.

Wikipedia: About the Amber Room.

German pensioner needs drill to dig for Nazi-looted Amber Room

German Pensioner Needs Drill to Dig for Nazi-looted Amber Room

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) – A pensioner has started digging in Germany’s western Ruhr region for the Amber Room, a priceless work of art looted by Nazis from the Soviet Union during World War Two and missing for 70 years, but says he needs a new drill to help him.

Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Amber Room was an ornate chamber made of amber panels given to Czar Peter the Great by Prussia’s Friedrich Wilhelm I in 1716.

German troops stole the treasure chamber from a palace near St Petersburg in 1941 and took it to Koenigsberg, now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, before it disappeared.

Conspiracy theories abound about the whereabouts of what some say is the world’s most valuable piece of lost art. Some historians think it was destroyed in the war, others say Germans smuggled it to safety.

Now 68-year-old pensioner Karl-Heinz Kleine says he thinks the chamber is hidden under the town of Wuppertal, deep in western Germany’s industrial Ruhr area.

After analyzing the evidence, Kleine has concluded that Erich Koch, who was the Nazis’ chief administrator in East Prussia, may have secretly dispatched it to his home town.

“Wuppertal has a large number of tunnels and bunkers which have not yet been searched for the Amber Room. We have started looking in possible hiding places here,” Kleine said.

“But the search is very costly. We need helpers, special equipment and money,” Kleine told Reuters, adding that a building firm which had lent him a drill had asked for it back.

“I only have a small pension, a new machine is too expensive for me. But whoever helps will get his share of the Amber Room when we find it,” he told Reuters.

“I am optimistic. I just need the tools, then it could go quickly,” he said.

Even Communist East Germany’s loathed Stasi secret police tried and failed to find the Amber Room. Hobby treasure hunters have launched expensive searches for it across Germany, from lake bottoms to mines in the eastern Ore Mountains. But in vain.

Historians say Erich Koch, convicted of war crimes by a Polish court, amassed a hoard of looted art and had it transported west from Koenigsberg in the final months of the war as the Soviet forces drew closer.

Russian craftsmen, helped by German funds, have recreated a replica of the Amber Room at the Catherine Palace from where the original was stolen.

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Filed under Art, Europe, Photography, Travel

The Rainmaker in San Diego

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  Mark Twain made famous this quote by his writer friend Charles Dudley Warner.

According to an account in Wikipedia, the citizens of San Diego so appreciated Warner’s flattering description of their city in his book, Our Italy, that they named three consecutive streets in the Point Loma neighborhood after him: Charles Street, Dudley Street, and Warner Street.

Interestingly, San Diego leaders later proved Dudley’s quote wrong by actually hiring someone to change their weather.  In 1915, the San Diego area was suffering a drought.  They asked Charles Mallory Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam Reservoir. Hatfield, who was from the San Diego area, had already achieved some acclaim for bringing rain to other areas, including Los Angeles. Hatfield was a “pluviculturist,” a fancy term for rainmaker.  By 1902, he had created a secret mixture of 23 chemicals in large galvanized evaporating tanks that, he claimed, attracted rain. (He took this recipe to the grave.) Hatfield called himself a “moisture accelerator.”

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California's drought.

The Original Rainmaker, Charles Mallory Hatfield was hired to cure California’s drought.

A Kansas native, but raised in California, Hatfield traveled western North America promising to bring rain to areas suffering a drought.  One of his biggest “successes” was San Diego, although he didn’t get paid because he “created” too much rain and was lucky he didn’t have to pay for damages.  Hatfield was hired by the city to fill the reservoir, which was only a third full.  Not long after he set up his apparatus filled with his secret chemical connection, it began to rain, and eventually the reservoir was filled  to overflowing and other areas flooded.  At least 20 people were drowned.

It’s likely the rain wasn’t the result of Hatfield’s efforts, but it was certainly a coincidence that more rain fell than usual.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rain is most likely in November through March, with January, on average, measuring 2.28 inches.  NOAA didn’t mention January 1916 as being particularly rainy, though. When I visited my daughter in Huntington Beach, California, in January 2010, we had several days of perfect weather during which we watched a surfing competition and then a couple of days of really hard rain and high winds, something I’m no stranger to in Kansas, but golly, I came to California for the sun!  There was even a small tornado on the beach, which flipped over a car. (Click the link to my “Outgunned” post at the bottom of this post to see surfing competition photos.)

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in january 2010.

This car flipped over in a Long Beach, California, tornado in January 2010.

From the text associated with the YouTube video above about Charles Mallory Hatfield: “In 1915 the San Diego city council, pressured by the San Diego Wide Awake Improvement Club, approached Hatfield to produce rain to fill the Morena Dam reservoir. Hatfield offered to produce rain for free, then charge $1,000 per inch ($393.7 per centimetre) for between forty to fifty inches (1.02 to 1.27 m) and free again over fifty inches (1.27 m). The council voted four to one for a $10,000 fee, payable when the reservoir was filled. Hatfield, with his brother, built a 20-foot (6 m) tower beside Lake Morena and was ready early in the New Year.

On January 5, 1916 heavy rain began – and grew gradually heavier day by day. Dry riverbeds filled to the point of flooding. Worsening floods destroyed bridges, marooned trains and cut phone cables – not to mention flooding homes and farms. Two dams, Sweetwater Dam and one at Lower Otay Lake, overflowed. Rain stopped January 20 but resumed two days later. On January 27 Lower Otay Dam broke, increasing the devastation and reportedly causing about 20 deaths (accounts vary on the exact number).”

Despite Hatfield’s flood, San Diego is said to have one of the most ideal climates in the world.  When I learned that my paternal grandparents lived in the San Diego area in the 1920s, I took an interest in the area’s history.  My grandfather Jack Sherman was a civil engineer surveying projects there, including orchards. My grandparents left California when my father and his two sisters were still young, returning to the Sturgis, South Dakota, where my grandmother’s parents owned a hotel. My grandmother missed home and her mother was sick, but when I first heard about that, I thought, leave sunny southern California, hmmm?  They had good reasons to leave. In addition to my maternal great-grandmother’s poor health, my grandparents’ Escondido house had burned down after a worker knocked over a lantern, but the Black Hills of South Dakota are cold! Of course, had they stayed, my parents wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be telling this story.
My blog post on the Surfing Competition called “Outgunned.” My lens envy.
Wikipedia History of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
San Diego History Journal Biography of Charles Mallory Hatfield.
Charles Hatfield is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Southern California Tornado in January 2010.

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Filed under Environment, History, Journalism, Life

2014 in review

Thank you all for stopping by.  Happy New Year!  Hope to see you in 2015! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Have a Meowy Christmas and a Tail Wagging New Year!

This Gingerbread House, by pastry chef Greg Connolly, resembles the Wayside Waifs building with its characteristic silo.  It greets visitors, staff and volunteers who come to Wayside Waifs.

This Gingerbread House, by pastry chef Greg Connolly, resembles the Wayside Waifs building with its characteristic silo. It greets visitors, staff and volunteers who come to Wayside Waifs.

Greg Connolly, a pastry chef, created and donated this cute gingerbread house to Wayside Waifs, where it is displayed in the entry hall for the Christmas season. Wayside Waifs is a no-kill animal shelter in Kansas City, Missouri.

The house shows a cookie squirrel on Wayside Waifs’ signature silo rooftop. Along the dogbone fence, written in the snow in yellow, is “Fleas Navidad.”  Don’t miss the fire hydrant, and look for the dogs wearing Christmas sweaters and the grinning snowmen in the frosty yard.  Inside, I’m sure there are kitties tucked in bed, waiting for Santa to bring a jingle ball.

From the Wayside Waifs website: “Wayside Waifs is committed to finding homes for all adoptable pets. Wayside is the largest pet adoption center in Kansas City, placing over 5,400 animals each year in loving forever homes. Wayside does not euthanize adoptable animals, and there are no time limits for animals in our care. Only animals suffering from significant medical issues or those that pose a danger are humanely euthanized. Wayside Waifs is proud to be a part of Kansas City’s no kill community.”

UPDATE:  Here’s a video of puppies enjoying this gingerbread house.

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Filed under Animals, Humor, Kansas City, Life

Lots of Locks of Love!

The Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a popular backdrop for newlywed photos.  Here a couple stands on a bridge over one of St. Petersburg's many canals with the onion domes of the church behind them. In the red circle, not really visible in this photo, is one lock attached to the bridge rail.  I'm not sure whether this trend hasn't caught on yet in St. Petersburg, or whether previous locks have been removed.

The Church of the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a popular backdrop for newlywed photos. Here a couple stands on a bridge over one of St. Petersburg’s many canals with the onion domes of the church behind them. In the red circle, not really visible in this photo, is one lock attached to the bridge rail. I’m not sure whether this trend hasn’t caught on yet in St. Petersburg, or whether previous locks have been removed.

One of my favorite travel blogs is Gallivance by Terri and  James Vance.  When I read their post (linked below) on the trend of lovers placing locks on bridges and throwing the key in the river, I looked through my photos to find some examples of photos I’d taken of this trend. I only found these two, but never fear.  There are lots and lots more photos of locks in the Gallivance post, so don’t miss it!

Locks on a bridge in Nyhavn, an historic area of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Locks on a bridge in Nyhavn, an historic area of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Here’s the post by Terri and James Vance, which shows a lot of bridges where this locks of love trend has taken over, including one bridge in Cologne, which is bristling with so many locks you can barely see the bridge.

Cologne’s Locks of Love Bridge: A Romantic Fad or Steel Graffiti?

Here’s another post of some locks of love in Spain, which I stumbled upon

Locks of Love on a rail along the beach near the Anchor Museum in Salinas, Spain.

About the Church of the Savior on Blood, which is also known as Church of the Spilled Blood.

About Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Filed under Photography, Travel

Dogs of Peru

Peruvian Hairless Dog Post Card
Peruvian Hairless Dog
Photograph by Catherine Sherman

I love photographing animals.  On a recent trip to Peru, I saw hundreds of dogs, so my camera got a real workout.

We saw many kinds of dogs, including this Peruvian Hairless dog (shown above) posing on a street in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. We saw many dogs wearing clothes, but few wearing collars or on leashes.  Most wander freely, but seem to have homes or territories they return to. We often saw dogs sitting in the doorways to shops (and sometimes a cat inside) and at the front door of houses.

An ancient breed, the Peruvian Hairless Dog is the national dog of Peru. The dogs were kept as pets during the Inca Empire, but their history goes back even further. Depictions of Peruvian hairless dogs appear around 750 A.D. on ceramic pots and were featured on ceramic vessels in several Peruvian cultures. The Spanish conquest of Peru nearly caused the extinction of the breed. The dogs survived in rural areas, where the people believed that they held a mystical value. There’s a photo of another Peruvian Hairless dog in a shirt in one of the photos below.

Gray-Striped Dog in Cusco, Peru Postcards
Gray-Striped Dog in Cusco, Peru
Photograph by Catherine Sherman

We saw this dog near the main square (Plaza de Armas) of Cusco, often sitting in the grass. Here his coloring blends in with the ancient Inca stonework.

Dog Waiting in Front Of Blue Door, Cusco, Peru Post Card
Dog Waiting in Front of Blue Door, Cusco, Peru
Photograph by Catherine Sherman
A chihuahua shows off her fabulous dress as she stands in the doorway of a restaurant in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.  Isn't she a cute little diva?

A chihuahua shows off her fabulous dress as she stands in the doorway of a restaurant in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. Isn’t she a cute little diva?

A Peruvian Hairless dog, the national dog of Peru, wears a shirt to protect his bare skin.  He stands on a walkway along the railroad tracks in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

A Peruvian Hairless dog, the national dog of Peru, wears a shirt to protect his bare skin. He stands on a walkway along the railroad tracks in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

A man and his sportily-dressed dog rest on a street in Lima, Peru.

A man and his sportily-dressed dog rest on a street in Lima, Peru.

I think these are police dogs in Lima, Peru.  Here they are resting, but a few minutes later they were all awake and standing by the policemen.

I think these are police dogs in Lima, Peru. Here they are resting, but a few minutes later they were all awake and standing by the policemen.

Look at this cutie pie on a street in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  You can see an example of the ancient Inca stonework in this town, where an Inca emperor had an estate.

Look at this cutie pie on a street in Ollantaytambo, Peru. You can see an example of the ancient Inca stonework in this town, where an Inca emperor had an estate.

Here's another dog photographer, capturing this dog who has just gotten a drink at a dog watering fountain in Cusco, Peru.

Here’s another dog photographer, capturing this dog who has just gotten a drink at a dog watering fountain in Cusco, Peru.

A hairless chihuahua sports a camouflage jacket on a street in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

A hairless chihuahua sports a camouflage jacket on a street in Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

A hairless chihuahua in a camouflage jacket watches a man with a wheelbarrow on a street in Aguas Calientes, Peru, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes, so most goods come in by train and are wheeled around.

A hairless chihuahua in a camouflage jacket watches a man with a wheelbarrow on a street in Aguas Calientes, Peru, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. There are no roads to Aguas Calientes, so most goods come in by train and are wheeled around.

Most dogs we met in Peru ignored us, but this dog was friendly and stretched out in a greeting at the entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu.  He didn't seem to want food, which is good, because I didn't have any. He was at the entrance both days we went to Machu Picchu.

Most dogs we met in Peru ignored us, but this dog was friendly and stretched out in a greeting at the entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu. He didn’t seem to want food, which is good, because I didn’t have any. He was at the entrance both days we went to Machu Picchu.

A man has a German Shepherd on a  leash while the puppies obediently follow across a street in Cusco, Peru.  You can see another dog lounging inside the shop just beyond. A man has a German Shepherd on a leash while the puppies obediently follow across a street in Cusco, Peru. You can see another dog lounging inside the shop just beyond.

Dogs meet up on a street in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

Dogs meet up on a street in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

A woman takes her fashionably dressed dog for a walk in Cusco, Peru.

A woman takes her fashionably dressed dog for a walk in Cusco, Peru.

This friendly Shar Pei dog patrols his corner of a market in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  The Shar Pei, which originated in China, is considered one of the most rare dog breeds.  Its name derives from the Cantonese words "sand skin" and refers to the texture of its short, rough coat.  As puppies, Shar Pei have numerous wrinkles, but as they mature, these wrinkles loosen and spread out as they "grow into their skin". Shar Pei were named in 1978 as one of the world's rarest dog breeds by TIME magazine and the Guinness World Records. The American Kennel Club did not recognize the breed until 1991.

This friendly Shar Pei dog patrols his corner of a market in Ollantaytambo, Peru. The Shar Pei, which originated in China, is considered one of the most rare dog breeds. Its name derives from the Cantonese words “sand skin” and refers to the texture of its short, rough coat. As puppies, Shar Pei have numerous wrinkles, but as they mature, these wrinkles loosen and spread out as they “grow into their skin”. Shar Pei were named in 1978 as one of the world’s rarest dog breeds by TIME magazine and the Guinness World Records. The American Kennel Club did not recognize the breed until 1991.

A dog sits in front of a shop in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

A dog sits in front of a shop in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

I took the following photographs from our van when we drove from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, so I apologize for the marginal quality. I really could have taken photos of dogs all day, and wished we could have stopped.

A dog waits at a doorway.  On the wall and light pole near him are political posters.

A dog waits at a doorway. On the wall and light pole near him are political posters.

A dog in Cusco, Peru.

A dog in Cusco, Peru.

A little white shaggy dog sits on a sidewalk in Cusco, Peru.

A little white shaggy dog sits on a sidewalk in Cusco, Peru.

A dog watches cars and trucks go by on the highway from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, Peru. (Taken from my car window.)

A dog watches cars and trucks go by on the highway from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, Peru. (Taken from my car window.)

Dogs dig in trash bags along a highway near Cusco, Peru.

Dogs dig in trash bags along a highway near Cusco, Peru.

Peru Dog Rescue

Misunderstanding the Canines of Cusco, Peru

Not to leave out cats, here is a link to my son and daughter-in-law’s photos of the cat park in the Miraflores District of Lima, Peru.  Some of the about 120 cats descend from a pair that city authorities introduced in the late 1990s to control a rat infestation. Others were abandoned. You know you can’t resist clicking on this link!

Cat Park in Lima, Peru.

Shar Pei Dog, Ollantaytambo, Peru
Shar Pei Dog
Photograph by Catherine Sherman

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Filed under Animals, Cats, Dogs, History, Photography, Travel

Scenes From Autumn in the Missouri Countryside

Colorful Flint or Indian Corn
“Colorful Indian Corn” by Catherine Sherman

My friend Lynn and I took our cameras to a couple of Missouri farms that sell pumpkins, apples and other goods, offer hay rides and let children pet animals. The weather was beautiful, and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the summer-like days before winter hits.

Ripe Red apples are ready to be picked.

Ripe Red apples are ready to be picked.

Old Farm Wagon in Hay Field Poster
“Old Farm Wagon in a Hay Field” by Catherine Sherman
The Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri, offers a variety of farm goods for sale as well as activities for children.

The Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri, offers a variety of farm goods for sale as well as activities for families, and is a place for receptions, church and school picnics and weddings.

This goat hopes I can read the sign at Red Barn Farm: Goat Feeding Station.  Lucky for her, there were several children who didn't even need a sign to recognize a goat in need of a treat.

This goat hopes I can read the sign at Red Barn Farm: Goat Feeding Station. Lucky for her, there were several children who didn’t even need a sign to recognize a goat in need of a treat.

Choose a pumpkin at Red Barn Farm!

Choose a pumpkin at Red Barn Farm!

The Farmer’s House Market near Weston, Missouri, sells locally grown and produced “farm to table” products such as vegetables, fruit, honey, cheese and farm and home related items.  It's a working farm where children, youth and young adults with developmental disabilities can live, work, play and grow.

The Farmer’s House Market near Weston, Missouri, sells locally grown and produced “farm to table” products such as vegetables, fruit, honey, cheese and farm and home related items. It’s a working farm where children, youth and young adults with developmental disabilities can live, work, play and grow.

A beautiful palomino horse stands on a hill against a bright blue sky at Red Barn Farm.

A beautiful palomino horse stands on a hill against a bright blue sky at Red Barn Farm.

A scarecrow welcomes visitors to the apple orchard at Red Barn Farm.

A scarecrow welcomes visitors to the apple orchard at Red Barn Farm.

Mini white pumpkins and other produce are for sale at The Farmer's House in Weston, Missouri.

Mini white pumpkins and other produce are for sale at The Farmer’s House in Weston, Missouri.

Bride and Groom scarecrows enjoy a beautiful autumn day at Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

Bride and Groom scarecrows enjoy a beautiful autumn day at Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

About The Farmer’s House.

Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

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Filed under Entertainment, Gardening, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Photography