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Nothing Personal, Fellas: When Bob Hope Beat the Marines to North Korea

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They say there is a healing power in laughter, so I always go well supplied with jokes. And I’ve discovered that are men our pretty quick with a joke themselves – Bob Hope

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By Ken Zurski

In the book On Desperate Ground, a retelling of the troubled Korean War’s Chosin Reservoir Campaign, author Hampton Sides deftly and brilliantly chronicles the officers and soldiers who fought a perilous and ultimately hopeless battle.

Rough terrain, freezing conditions and poor decision making were the Americans undoing, Sides surmises, but the soldiers, especially the brave Marines somehow prevailed by sheer ingenuity and determination. Their reasoning for retreating, if you can call it that, was resolute: to live to fight another day rather than sit and be slaughtered. Losses were already great.

The enemy seemed to be on a suicide mission to keep the Marines from reaching Pyongyang, something General Douglas MacArthur thought they would do with ease. But that was against only North Korean forces.  When the Chinese joined the fight, their sheer size alone pinned the Americans into a corner, a trap without an escape hatch.  The Korean winter was another matter. Frostbite took soldiers toes and fingers and weapons wouldn’t fire. Eventually, an impossible rescue mission was devised to retrieve  the trapped and wounded soldiers.

It was just the start of the Korean conflict, but as Sides writes, it was the war’s “greatest battle.”

The brave Marines in this case, the First Marine Division, a body of 20-thousand strong, were certainly the last to leave the Chosin Reservoir. But unlike the classic Marine Corp motto that a Marine is always “the first to arrive and the last leave,” in this instance, which Sides touches on in the book, they were not the first to arrive.

It wasn’t their fault.

On September 15, 1950, after a successful water landing at a South Korean seawall, the Marines quickly secured the occupied town of Inchon. It was a commanding early victory for the Americans and one General MacArthur took credit for. Then as Sides so painstakingly points out, the general got greedy. He wanted to work his way inland and claim the whole peninsula for the Americans and its allies.

North Korea and its communist leader would be quickly overrun, he predicted.

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. Oliver P. Smith

He ordered his field generals, Edward Almond and Oliver P. Smith to lead the charge. The plan: Marines would enter North Korean territory by sea, leaving Inchon and sailing down the Yellow Sea to a landing in a port city known as Wonsan. The first to arrive! From there they would convoy by vehicle and foot to the capital city.

But not everything went as planned. The transport ships had to stop short of the coast. An intelligence report arrived that the North Koreans along with the Russians had mined the waters off Wonsan. “Eventually the word shifted through the ranks,” Sides writes. The Marines would have to remain out to sea, stalled, while minesweepers cleared the coastline.

The reports were accurate. Thousands of mines were planted and the excavation was long, arduous and costly (two American minesweepers lost their lives). The Marines in the transports could do nothing but wait. Bobbing in circles, and bucked by waves which never seemed to subside, morale waned, food rations ran short, and the ships began to reek of sweat. “Never did time die a harder death,” one disparate soldier explained. “And never did the grumblers have so much to grouse about,”

Then even more bad news, especially to a proud Marine.

Wonsan was already occupied by Republic of South Korea forces who worked overland from Seoul. Nearby an air field was established allowing American forces, both Marine specialists and the U.S Army X-Corps, to be flown in instead. “We had the word that the beach had been secured, but we came in fully loaded and ready to fight if necessary,” said Marine Joe Lieutenant  Joe Owen to Stars and Stripes in 2011. “Then we saw the flyboys standing on the beach waving us in.”

Before the Marines arrived, however, Wonsan was deemed secure enough to fly in the USO show featuring popular comedian Bob Hope and actress Marilyn Maxwell. Hope had done the same for troop units in World War II. This was his first visit to Korea. “I hate war with all my guts,” Hope would later say about his USO tours, “but I admire the guys with guts enough to fight them when they have to be fought.”

In Wonsan, while flying overhead, Hope spotted the armada of stalled transport ships.  In his usual deadpan style, he joked about beating the leathernecks to shore. “Boy are we going to have a big show tonight,” he quipped. “I want you guys to back me up at all my landings.”

A bit of levity before the nightmare campaign would begin.

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Bob Hope with troops in Wonsan , North Korea 1950 (courtesy Readers Digest)

 

The Greatest Showman’s ‘To-Do’ List

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By Ken Zurski

In addition to his celebrated showy attributes and unabashed self-promotion, P.T. Barnum kept a meticulous daily schedule.

Every day before leaving his lavish home in Fairfield, Connecticut, after a sip of hot chocolate and a roll, Barnum would make a “to-do” list right down to where and what he would eat that day and when he would take a stroll in the garden.

One day, Barnum wrote on his “to-do” list: “drop Charity [his wife] off at the dress maker.”

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P.T. Barnum and Charity

When Barnum returned home that day, his daughter asked, “Where is mother?”

Barnum thought for a moment then realized he had dropped his wife off as scheduled, but did not return to pick her up because he had not put it on the list.

He immediately called for a carriage to retrieve her.

She was “exceedingly angry,” Barnum explained.

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Vince Guaraldi: The Man Behind the Music of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

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By Ken Zurski

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Vince Guaraldi

In 1965, while traveling by taxi over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, television producer Lee Mendelson heard a single version of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” a Grammy Award winning jazz song written and composed by a local musician named Vince Guaraldi.

Mendelson liked what he heard and contacted the jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Put me in touch with Guaraldi, he asked.

Vince Guaraldi was a jazz pianist, born in 1928 in San Francisco to a musical family which included an uncle, Muzzy Marcellino, a singer known for his whistling. After serving a stint as a cook in the Korean War, Guaraldi returned to his studies as a musician and composer, contributing to several bands and projects in the Bay area.

He wrote and recorded his first original piece in 1953. Then in the 1960’s, Guaraldi, who was the conductor and composer of the Eucharist chorus in San Francisco, released several recordings of waltzes and jazz pieces including an original piece titled “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

That’s when a certain aforementioned TV producer heard the song while stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Lee Mendelson

Mendelson called Guaraldi.

He asked the composer to score a planned documentary of Charlie Brown, an idea Mendelson had after producing a successful documentary of San Fransico Giants baseball slugger Willie Mays. “Why not do a documentary on one of the worst baseball players,” Mendelson proposed to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz.

Schultz liked the idea, and gave the project a green light. Guaraldi enthusiastically agreed to come up with something musical for the documentary.  Several weeks later, Mendelson received a call. It was Guaraldi who performed a version of “Linus and Lucy” to Mendelson over the phone.

When the documentary idea was scrapped, Mendelson picked the song and Guaraldi’s music to accompany a new Charlie Brown Christmas special to air on television in 1965.

It was, as they say, a perfect fit. But it wasn’t an easy sell. Network executives didn’t like the special at first viewing and thought the jazzy score was odd and that people wouldn’t get it.

Regardless, the program aired as scheduled and became so popular that it was included each and every Christmas after that and quickly became the holiday television institution it is to this day.

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Over the next 10 years, Guaraldi would score 17 “Peanuts” television specials, plus the feature film “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” In 1976, while on tour and resting in between sets at a club in Menlo Park California, Guaraldi collapsed and died from an apparent aortic aneurysm. He was 47.

“It was totally unexpected, ” said Mendelson. “He was so young.”

During the funeral service, “Peanuts” music was played over the church’s sound system.

Although Guaraldi was working on another “Peanuts” special at the time of his death, his first score, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is still his most famous and most popular work.

The soundtrack released shortly after the special in 1965 and reissued in several formats since, remains one of the top selling Christmas albums of all-time.  

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The Humble Story that Inspired ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

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By Ken Zurski

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Philip Van Doren Stern

In November 1939 Philip Van Doren Stern, an American author, editor and Civil War historian wrote an original story titled “The Greatest Gift” a heartwarming Christmas tale about a man named George Pratt who gets a dying wish granted that literally changes his life.

Stern’s story begins on a Christmas Eve night as a despondent George leans over the rail of an iron railroad bridge. He contemplates jumping into the river below:

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him
said.

George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen
before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round
cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been
shaved. 
“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.

“What you were thinking of doing.”

“How do you know what I was thinking?”

“Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the
stranger said easily.

George tells the man that he wishes he was never born. The man tells George his wish is granted. “You’ve never been born,” he says.

“The Stranger,” as he is called, then tells George to pose as a door-to-door brush salesman to avoid any confusion with people he knows well, but who now have no idea who he is.

When George confronts his wife Mary, she’s married with a child, a son, who pretends to shoot George with a toy gun. “You’re dead,” the boy tells him.  Dejected, George offers her a complementary brush and leaves.

George goes back to the bridge to confront “the stranger” and demands an explanation. “You already had the greatest gift of all,” the stranger explains, “the gift of life.” George begs for his old life back and returns home to Mary.  There he finds the brush he gave her.

Stern desperately tried to get his little story published, but it never sold. So in 1943, he made it into a Christmas card book and mailed 200 copies to family and friends.

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The card book and story somehow caught the attention of RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead who showed it to actor Cary Grant’s agent.

In April 1944, RKO bought the rights but failed to create a satisfactory script.

Grant went on to make another Christmas movie “The Bishop’s Wife.”

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However, another acclaimed Hollywood heavyweight, Frank Capra, who already had three Best Directing Oscars to his name, liked the idea.  RKO was happy to unload the rights.

“The story itself is slight, in the sense, it’s short,” Capri said referring to Stern’s book. “But not slight in content.”

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Capra bought it and brought in a slew of writers to polish and stretch Stern’s book into a full length feature film.  They hired another a well-known actor James Stewart to play the main character, now renamed George Bailey. “The Stranger” in the book became a guardian angel named Clarence. And while the rest of the film is mostly a screenwriter’s version, the story of George saving his little brother from a drowning incident was included from the book.

In December of 1946, seven years after Stern wrote the original story, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in theaters.

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Ask Your Local Library to Add UNREMEMBERED!

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The global library catalog World Cat categorizes UNREMEMBERED under these three Genre/Forms:
“True adventure stories. biography and anecdotes.”

Ask your local library to get it …give the book title and the author. Available on Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Amazon http://a.co/d/iteJoll

“UNREMEMBERED: Tales of the Nearly Famous and the Not Quite Forgotten

Ken Zurski, author of The Wreck of the Columbia and Peoria Stories, provides a fascinating collection of once famous people and events that are now all but forgotten by time. Using a backdrop of schemes and discoveries, adventures and tragedies, Zurski weaves these figures and the events that shaped them into a narrative that reveals history’s many coincidences, connections, and correlations.

We tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, soar on the first transcontinental machine-powered flight, and founder aboard a burning steamboat. From an adventurous young woman circumnavigating the globe to a self-absorbed eccentric running for President of the United States, Unremembered brings back these lost stories and souls for a new generation to discover.

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FEATURING
John Alcock
Nellie Bly
Isambard K. Brunel
Samuel Cunard
Nathaniel Currier
Annie Edson Taylor
Ruth Elder
William Harnden
Father Louis Hennepin
Dorothy Kilgallen
Samuel Langley
Bobby Leach
John Ledyard
Thomas Moran
Catherine O’Leary
William B. Ogden
Fanny Palmer
Sam Patch
Rembrandt Peale
Cal Rodgers
Amos Root
Janet Scudder
George Francis Train
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Arthur Whitten Brown
John Wise
Victoria Woodhull

Andrew Lloyd Webber Found His First ‘Jesus’ at a Deep Purple Concert.

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By Ken Zurski

As rock n roll trivia goes this one is divine…

It begins when a rock singer named Ian Gillan joined an emerging progressive music group called Deep Purple.  Gillan, who to this point was a journeyman vocalist for other bands, had no idea where his rock swagger might take him.

To the very top it would seem.

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Ian Gillan

It was the summer of 1969 and Deep Purple was on the charts with the trippy hit “Hush.”

Hush, hush
I thought I heard her calling my name now
Hush, hush
She broke my heart but I love her just the same now

While the single’s success was welcoming, the band members were looking to add a harder edge to their sound and in turn find a more permanent lead singer. Gillan’s vocal range fit right in. The English-born Gillan had fronted a few groups, wrote some songs, but none failed to ignite. The Deep Purple gig was a godsend…literally.

That’s because also paying attention to the band’s progress were a gaggle of theater producers who were looking to put on a musical based on the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They were searching for a singer with a strong vocal range who could handle the demands of the rock tinged, almost heavy metal like passages, in the score. If all went as planned, an album would likely be followed by a theatrical version, and possibly a movie.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber

The musical’s composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously attended a Deep Purple concert (without Gillan) and was unimpressed. Once Gillan was on board, however, Webber gave the band’s manager another call. “The moment I heard Ian’s primal scream was the moment I found my Jesus,”  Webber would later remark in his 2018 memoir, Unmasked.

Gillan recorded the album under the watchful eye – and ear, in this case –  of Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Gillan’s version of “Gethsemane” was a highlight for Webber who called the singer’s vocals “extraordinary.”

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As a concept album and rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a huge hit. Gillan was slated  for an arena tour and ultimately considered to reprise his studio role on Broadway, but rock n roll intervened. His commitment to Deep Purple came first and in 1973 in casting for the movie version, Gillan who was top on the director’s list, refused the role due to salary demands and conflicts with the band’s touring schedule.

Jeff Fenholt eventually took on the role of Jesus for the first arena tour and Ted Neeley in the movie.

Gillan likely had no regrets about his decision. After a successful stint with the band including several radio singles like “Smoke on the Water” and “Woman from Tokyo,” Gillan left Deep Purple in 1973, later fronted Black Sabbath for spell and eventually returned to Deep Purple in the 90’s.

Gillan would never reprise the role of “Jesus.”

 

UNREMEMBERED PUT-DOWNS: William Shakespeare, Prince Hal and the Art of the Insult

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By Ken Zurski

In William Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I & II, King Henry is troubled by his son Hal’s disreputable behavior. That’s because the youthful Prince Hal, the future King Henry V, is a rabble-rouser in his father’s eyes. For example, throughout the play, Hal forsakes his roots by frequenting taverns and conversing with peasants and lowlifes. This royal debauchery gives Shakespeare a chance to introduce the character of Falstaff, Prince Hal’s friend and foil.

Described as “fat, drunk, and corrupt,” Falstaff is satirically based on Sir John Oldcastle, a historical figure who was much more sagacious than the buffoonish character portrayed in the play.  Still, Shakespeare originally wanted to name Falstaff, Oldcastle, but descendants of the family objected. Regardless, Falstaff is one for the ages: An entertaining braggart, liar and cheat, who both interjects and deflects colorful and deviously intended barbs.

This Clearly amuses Prince Hal, who berates Falstaff with his own words or those of others, lest he be the one judged.

His descriptions, however, are some of the greatest put-downs of the 16th century. “Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours?’ he explains, then unleashes a folly of insults mostly in relation to Falstaff’s girth: “The bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly.”

The prince’s jabs are meant to solidify the future King’s own disregard for those who criticize the “merry and old,” as Falstaff relates. But Falstaff doesn’t mind. When Prince Hal calls Falstaff, “the old white bearded devil,” Falstaff gleefully responds:

“My lord, I know the man.”

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UNREMEMBERED [the book] out Thursday, August 9

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A book based in part on the blog site “UNREMEMBERED History” releases Thursday, August 9.  E-book to follow:  https://amzn.to/2KECpAj

Unremembered

Ken Zurski, author of The Wreck of the Columbia and Peoria Stories, provides a fascinating collection of once famous people and events that are now all but forgotten by time. Using a backdrop of schemes and discoveries, adventures and tragedies, Zurski weaves these figures and the events that shaped them into a narrative that reveals history’s many coincidences, connections, and correlations.

We tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, soar on the first transcontinental machine-powered flight, and founder aboard a burning steamboat. From an adventurous young woman circumnavigating the globe to a self-absorbed eccentric running for President of the United States, Unremembered brings back these lost stories and souls for a new generation to discover.

FEATURING
John Alcock
Nellie Bly
Isambard K. Brunel
Samuel Cunard
Nathaniel Currier
Annie Edson Taylor
Ruth Elder
William Harnden
Father Louis Hennepin
Dorothy Kilgallen
Samuel Langley
Bobby Leach
John Ledyard
Thomas Moran
Catherine O’Leary
William B. Ogden
Fanny Palmer
Sam Patch
Rembrandt Peale
Cal Rodgers
Amos Root
Janet Scudder
George Francis Train
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Arthur Whitten Brown
John Wise
Victoria Woodhull

The First ‘Wizard of Oz’ Movie Had No Songs, Witches, or Toto

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By Ken Zurski

In 1925, when Judy Garland was only three-years-old, a movie version of “The Wizard of Oz” was released that was loosely based on a stage play of the same name which in itself was loosely based on L. Frank Baum’s famous book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

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There was no singing of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” in this film version. In fact, there was no singing at all. “Talkies” as they were known in the movie business, hadn’t been perfected yet. This was a silent movie and compared to the musical film that was released fifteen years later in 1939, this version, as were other early adaptations of Baum’s book, remains somewhat of an enigma.

Here’s why: Baum’s book came out in 1900 and became an instant best seller. Two years later, under Baum’s direction a play based on the book was set to music and opened in Chicago. The title was shortened and the story was altered slightly. The main difference between the book and the stage adaptation, however, was an obvious one. Baum wrote the book specifically for children, while the play was geared for adults. Due to the popularity of the stage version, a 13-minute live action short was released that mostly confused viewers familiar with the book. The first full-length movie version then in 1924 was also based on the play and differed quite a bit from Baum’s original story

In the film, Dorothy and three farmhands arrive in Oz after a tornado sweeps them away. The Wizard proclaims Dorothy the long lost Princess of Oz, but the Prime Minister, named Kruel, wants nothing to do with her. The prince, however, named Kynd, welcomes the princess’s return and accuses the farmhands of kidnapping her.

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To thwart the Prince’s soldiers, the farmhands, who are madly in love with Dorothy, dress up in disguise: one as a scarecrow and one in sheets of tin. The two men are eventually caught but the third farmhand who dons a lion’s costume, scares the guards, and helps the others escape. The Tin Man eventually sides with Kruel and the whole tangled mess leads to a showdown in a tower between the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, both of whom lose Dorothy’s affections to the handsome prince. The movie ends as the 1939 version does, when Dorothy wakes up from a dream.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ goes way beyond even our wildest expectations,” proclaimed  I.E. Chadwick, president of Chadwick pictures, upon its release. “A thing of great beauty and fantasy. Marvelously entertaining. A knockout!”

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Larry Semon

The movie’s top billing went to a popular comedian named Larry Semon, who played the scarecrow and directed the film. Dorothy Dwan, Semon’s real life wife, played Dorothy. The movie was advertised as a comedy and it did well at first.  ‘It’s a Whiz!” was one excited description. But it didn’t last. By the time the Garland version appeared, the silent film had long since been forgotten.

Yet, the movie may best be remembered for the introduction of the larger-than-life figure who played The Tin Man. “Large” in this instance, referring to his outwardly size. The relative newcomer’s portliness would eventually become his trademark, but for this role, it was more a liability. Even a fellow actor questioned why a man of his girth would – or even could – wear a suit made of tin. “What are you going to do about the costume?” he asked. Oliver Hardy as it turned out would go on to have greater success as the bigger half, literally, of the comedic duo, Laurel and Hardy.

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But the most glaring difference of the early film may be the absence of many of Baum’s most enduring characters, including two that featured prominently in Garland’s version: the Wicked Witch and Dorothy’s little dog, Toto.

In fact, in the stage version, Toto was replaced by a cow named Imogene.

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Agostino Ramelli and ‘The Book Wheel’

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By Ken Zurski

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Agostino Ramelli was a military engineer, which meant he wore the armored suit and carried the sword, but used his brain rather than brawn on the battlefield. This came in handy during the 16th century French Wars of Religion.  The Italian born Ramelli went to France, took up arms with the Catholic League, and was captured by the Protestants (Huguenots). While incarcerated, Ramelli not only found a way to break out, but in as well.

After he escaped – or was exchanged – Ramelli returned and breached the fortification by mining under a bastion. From that point on, he called himself “Capitano” and dedicated his life to figuring things out.

In 1588, he released a book titled, Various and Ingenious Machines of Capitano Ramelli. The expertly illustrated book was a compilation of 195 machines that made laborious tasks more practical. Many of the machines lifted things in crafty ways, like water, or solid objects, like doors off their hinges. One machine milled flour using rollers rather than stones.

Then there was the Book Wheel.

“This is a beautiful and ingenious machine, very useful and convenient,” Ramelli wrote. By convenient, he meant for those suffering from gout, a painful joint disease which made walking or standing difficult. A noble gesture, for sure, but the wheel itself was six-feet in diameter. So its doubtful Ramelli designed it strictly for the disabled. Nevertheless, its usefulness is left up to the user to decide. The operator remains seated while the books, eight in all, each come to the front by turning the wheel.

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Ramelli was especially proud of the gearing system that kept the books constantly level to the ground. He built an intricate gear for each slot and prominently featured a diagram in his book. The impressive technology was similar to that used in an astronomical clock.

It was also wholly unnecessary.

A simple swivel pivot and gravity could do the trick just as engineer George Ferris would prove many centuries later in a similar design of a wheel carried people rather than books.

Speculation is Ramelli knew this, but as a mathematician, and a bit of a swank, couldn’t help himself.