‘Cakes & Prayers’: 60th anniversary for Mount Everest, Queen Elizabeth II and a unique interfaith celebration

WEDNESDAY, MAY 29, and SUNDAY, JUNE 2: The New York Times captured the spirit 60 years ago in its headline: “CAKES and PRAYERS.” The Times staff was scrambling to assemble scattered information on the first successful human ascent of the world’s highest mountain. The Times story described New Zealand beekeeper Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay as eating mint cake and offering prayers at the summit. It was a moment of “reverence and gratitude,” the Times reported, as “each man prayed in his fashion.” Hillary (1919-2008) was Christian; Norgay (1914-1986) was a devout Buddhist.

Around the world, the British Commonwealth still was recovering from World War II. The startling news of a human conquest of Everest’s deadly height snowballed into coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Newspapers reported that the first news-flash to reach London of the Hillary-Norgay success was delivered personally to Elizabeth on the eve of her big own big event. Reporters described the Everest accomplishment as a coronation gift for the new queen.

These landmark anniversaries will be jointly commemorated this year when Hillary’s son, Peter, and Norgay’s son, Jamling, join Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Geographical Society in London.


In the months approaching the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Mt. Everest, climbers of every age and ethnicity have been heading to the mountain to break more records. In a book released in tandem with the anniversary, humanities professor Peter Hansen points out that human fascination with Everest is a powerful metaphor for our changing relationship with the environment. The book is titled The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the Enlightenment.Hansen argues that mountain peaks were viewed with awe and reverence throughout most of human history. Only with the Age of Enlightenment did popular culture shift toward “defeating” these massive works of nature.

We know you’re wondering: What are the latest stats for Mt. Everest climbs? Upward of 3,000 people have scaled the world’s tallest mountain since Hillary and Norgay—with more than 200 perishing in the attempt—but recently, more mountaineers than ever have been attempting to break records. Here’s the official list:

    • Oldest: Japanese climber and extreme skier Yuichiro Miura scaled Everest at age 80, just a couple of weeks ago—his third ascent of Everest since his 70th birthday.
    • Youngest: American Jordan Romero took on Everest at age 13 in May 2010.
    • Most frequent: Nepalese native Apa Sherpa has reached Mt. Everest’s top a record 21 times. “Super Sherpa” made his 21st climb in May 2011. Sherpa also is a global hero because of his work with the Eco Everest Expedition, the team that has brought down more than 12 tons of other climbers’ garbage over the past three years.
    • More 2013 firsts: Arunima Sinha became the first woman to climb Mt. Everest with prosthetic legs; meanwhile, Raha Moharrak became the first Saudi woman to top Everest, making a dent in the conservative Saudi view of women’s roles. Nepalese climber Chhurim (who, like most Sherpas, goes by just one name) became the first female to summit Everest twice in one season.

As pointed out by both scientists and Norgay’s grandson, Everest celebrations should also recall the crucial need to preserve the Himalayas. Tons of garbage has collected on the mountain from climbers through the years. The mountain’s runoff waters are vital to a large region during the dry season, so decomposing refuse can spell catastrophe for tens of thousands. Global warming is melting snow and ice atop the Himalayas at an increasing rate, causing glaciers to disappear faster every year. (The Guardian reports.)  After a 13 percent overall glacier shrinkage since Hillary and Norgay took to the peak—the climb is quite different now than it was 60 years ago.


Events surrounding the coronation went on for weeks and news stories popped up around the world day after day. In the era after World War II—but decades before the Internet—a “live television” broadcast from an unfolding news event was rare and exciting. The BBC network had been a pioneer in this technology and first broadcast a live TV show in 1929! But live on-the-scene news events were unknown until after World War II. In 1953, the crowning of Elizabeth was the first coronation ever broadcast live. (Watch a portion of that original broadcast on YouTube.)

On that day, 27-year-old Elizabeth rode the Gold State Coach through the streets of London, leaving Buckingham Palace to arrive at Westminster Abbey. Approximately 3 million spectators had been lining the streets overnight to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth, and more than 200 microphones had been stationed along the procession route. Foreign royalty and heads of state rode in a seemingly endless parade of carriages, as 750 commentators broadcast the events in 39 languages. (Learn 50 facts about the Queen’s Coronation from the official website of the British Monarchy.)

Despite objection by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Elizabeth had previously asked that her entire coronation be filmed by television cameras—with the exceptions of being anointed and taking communion. Before 8,000 live spectators and millions of television viewers, Elizabeth swore an oath to uphold the laws of her nations and to govern the Church of England. As Elizabeth left Westminster Abbey that day, guests sang out, “God Save the Queen.”


Sixty years isn’t the same as a 50-year or centennial milestone, so anniversary events vary widely. Most are regional in nature. Check news sources in your part of the world for events marking these 60th anniversaries. Many public television stations across the U.S. will be airing a three-part series on the life of Queen Elizabeth II called The Diamond Queen; some also will air a portion of the 1953 TV coverage of Elizabeth’s coronation. But, check your local TV guide for details and these programs will not air everywhere.

Popular media is buzzing over the royal baby’s due date of July 13—right in the middle of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Festival. British newspaper also are reporting on the more serious role that the queen has played in recent history. The more conservative Telegraph newspaper headlined one story: “Only the Queen has Been Our Constant,” commenting on her loyal status through the ever-changing demands of the last six decades. The Telegraph also notes, in a separate story, that the next royal coronation will break longstanding tradition by making a place for people of faith outside of Christianity.

50th Anniversary of Dr. ML King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail (plus National Card and Letter Writing Month)

APRIL to MAY 12, 2013: The annual campaign called “National Card and Letter Writing Month” runs through Mother’s Day—or, at least, this celebration is supposed to cover that period and focus on Moms. This year, however, the mid-April emphasis on letter writing has taken a dramatic turn with the April 16 milestone in American civil rights: the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

What is ‘National Card and Letter Writing Month?
A big-budget campaign kicked this idea into high gear for the 2008 release of the HBO mini-series John Adams. (It’s still a great choice on DVD.) The producers partnered with the US Postal Service and encouraged school children to put ink on paper. The campaign did, indeed, inspire countless letters. It’s “countless” today because the Postal Service and HBO have removed materials about the campaign from the Internet. Nevertheless, the annual “month” continues to show up on many calendars of cultural events—and, hey, it’s still a terrific idea, don’t you think? Get out a pen and paper now—or make a greeting card—and send Mom an early Mother’s Day greeting.


If you’re scratching your head about this particular “month,” you may be recalling other festivals of letter writing that have spanned the past century. Among the many other independently proclaimed holidays is a National Letter Writing Day. There also is a National Letter Writing Week. Each indie effort, supported by various groups, still has supporters. These other festivals span the calendar—one starts each year in January, after the Christmas card flood has ebbed; another comes in autumn.

But in 2013, as in 2008, there is fresh historical fuel for April letters …


TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2013: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “letter” was more of a jigsaw puzzle that now has many godfathers claiming its birth. Also, the letter should be remembered not as an impulsive note—but as a strategic step planned in advance like many of the great milestones in the civil rights movement. Today, King’s letter is dated to April 16, 1963, although the letter was completed over a longer period than that one day. The long manifesto was a rebuke of eight religious leaders who had just (on April 12) made a public appeal for an end to confrontational demonstrations. The clergymen included Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist leaders, plus a rabbi. They called for the campaign to move from the streets to the courts. King’s famous letter told the nation why that plea was naive.


Earlier this year, Americans were reminded of the letter’s origin, when poet and longtime New York Times editor Harry Shapiro died. As editor of The New York Times Magazine in the early 1960s, Shapiro telephoned the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and asked that King use a future time in jail to write a letter to the nation. This was a challenge for King, because Southern jails were notoriously inhospitable places. Nevertheless, King used his jailing in the spring of 1963 to begin jotting passages for his most famous letter—on torn-off pieces of old newspapers. These fragments were passed to his lawyers and then were assembled at SCLC headquarters and conveyed to Shapiro. Unfortunately for his career as an editor, Shapiro’s most historic acquisition was deemed unacceptable for publication by his bosses.

Perhaps understandably after half a century, everyone involved in the release of King’s letter recalls the publication through a personal lens. The Shapiro obituary in the New York Times mentions the Christian Century, among other publications that finally spread King’s letter coast to coast. Meanwhile, the Christian Century’s own in-depth history of the letter doesn’t mention Shapiro and, instead, focuses on the Christian Century’s own role.

The Christian Century history says, in part: “The Century had itself counseled moderation in the late 1950s, although not without an acute awareness that ‘to plead for time for white Americans’ education and conversion is at the same time to ask Negro Americans for more patience with the insufferable, more making-do with the present possibilities of action. It is to risk misinterpretation to knuckling under to white bitter-enders.’ By 1963, the magazine had run out of patience. ‘Why not now?’ the editors asked in March on the eve of the Birmingham demonstrations. … The Century reported and commented fully on racial politics in Birmingham and elsewhere, publishing more articles on race relations in 1963 than on any other subject.

And the impact of King’s letter? It ignited both renewed passion among civil rights veterans—and fresh allegiance from other men and women who had been on the sidelines of the struggle until King’s eloquent letter urged them to take action. The University of Pennsylvania is one of many colleges that offers a complete online text of King’s famous letter.

Months after publishing the letter, the Christian Century reported that “it had received over 50 responses to the letter from readers, all of them favorable. ‘In all my years of reading your periodical,’ one declared, ‘I have never been more moved by a single issue. What a shaking experience! If the canon of Holy Scriptures were not closed, I would nominate Martin Luther King’s statement either as a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles or as an addition to the Epistles in the best tradition of the Pauline prison letters.’


BIRMINGHAM GATHERING OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TOGETHER: The nationwide ecumenical organization called Christian Churches Together is convening a two-day conference in Birmingham to remember King’s letter and to sign a 2013 response on April 15, encouraging church leaders to keep King’s message alive in today’s struggles for justice. Much of this event is closed to the public, but participants later plan to publish their new joint letter.

A DETROIT READING OF KING’S LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL: In this major Northern city where King also marched in the civil rights era, the 50th anniversary of the letter will be marked by readings from King’s letter every half hour from 10:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. The event is scheduled at the Hubbard Branch of the Detroit Public Library. This event is open to the public.


A major new memoir debuts in early 2013 called, Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in LettersThis inspiring collection of actual mail between two young women is fresh evidence of the power of letters to shape our lives and deepen our spiritual insights.
Coming on Monday April 15: ReadTheSpirit will publish an in-depth interview with Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith, the two women who penned the letters found in Love & Salt.

In their book, the two women quote another great American writer, Emily Dickinson: “A letter always seemed to me like immortality.”

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural diversity.)


EU officially lists UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945. The UN adopted a Holocaust Remembrance Day for this dateSUNDAY, JANUARY 27: International Holocaust Remembrance Day extends beyond the United Nations today, enveloping all of the European Union: for the first time since its inception, the European Union incorporated this day of memorial onto its official calendar. The United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day by resolution in 2005, declaring that it would not deny any aspect of the Holocaust as an historical event. The anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp—January 27—would mark the annual remembrance of the Holocaust. This year, UN Member Nations are creating educational programs based around the theme, “Rescue during the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.” Persistent recollection will, in hopes, prevent acts of genocide in the future.

Days before the international memorial, the UN kicked off its initiative with a speech by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Aside from discussing historical events Ki-moon brought attention to the 60,000 killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in early 2011. With the conflict escalating, Ki-moon expressed concern “not simply because of the terrible suffering, but because of what may come next. Each day’s delay in resolving the crisis raises the spectre of the violence spreading along religious and ethnic lines.” Other events through the week included the Discussion Papers Journal, a compilation of 10 papers written by Holocaust and genocide studies scholars from across the globe, intended to spark discussions among students and raise awareness. Also released was a documentary film by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Michael King, entitled “The Rescuers” and highlighting the efforts of diplomats who risked their positions and lives to save tens of thousands of lives during the WWII.

National days of commemoration existed prior to the UN’s International Day, such as German’s Day of Remembrance for the victims of National Socialism, but the State of Israel desired something greater and introduced Resolution 60/7 to the UN as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, the entire EU observes the memorial, as well as UN Member Nations and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.


While the European Parliament hosted remembrance ceremonies on Jan. 27 in recent years, 2013 marks a significant milestone: for the first time, the date was officially placed on the EU calendar. (Israel National News has the story.) The kickoff year embraces a theme of honoring the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes, and the president of the European Jewish Congress remarked that “the fact that this event is warmly embraced by the most prominent European institutions sends a strong message against hate, racism and anti-Semitism.” The 2013 ceremony is set to take place in Brussels.

Mormon: Pioneer Day families rally behind Romney

Salt Lake Valley was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1847. Photo in public domainTUESDAY, JULY 24: If Independence Day were to settle in one state, it would look something like Utah does on Pioneer Day. Utahns celebrate with parades, fireworks, rodeos, dances and more. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remember the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City, when their ancestors ended a torturous 1,300-mile journey and finally found a new home. (Wikipedia has details.)

For non-Mormon Utahns, the state’s rich history and the cultures that have contributed to it are cause enough for celebration. An official state holiday, Pioneer Day closes government offices and many businesses in Utah. The Days of ’47—commemorating the arrival of Mormon pilgrims in 1847—opens a slew of pioneer-centered events in a grand statewide festival. (Watch the 2012 Pioneer Day Concert here.)

What won’t end with the festival, though, is the national political spotlight on Mormons, this year. In news stories nationwide, the story of Romney-family roots in the LDS church continues to unfold.


What are these much talked about Romney-Mormon roots?
They relate to the establishment of the LDS church as we know it today. Early converts to the church gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, to help prophet Joseph Smith build a “New Jerusalem.” Things were going well. Smith became the mayor of Nauvoo and was contemplating running for president of the United States. As we reported in June, Smiths’ rise to prominence and that first big expansion of the church ended in tragedy. To this day, Mormons recall the murder of Joseph and his brother Hyrum by a mob.

The faithful were forced from Nauvoo and began a vast westward migration. By foot and horseback, approximately 70,000 Mormons survived disease, Indians and even threats by U.S. troops before entering Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. (Follow the trail and read participants’ stories at LDS.org.) Each year, some Mormons reenact this entrance by dressing in period clothing and pushing handcarts along parts of the Mormon Trail. (The LDS Church advises members to be “modern pioneers.”) Of course, the entire Mormon Exodus, as the westward migration often is described today, took several years to complete.


Miles RomneyThe Romneys are more than recent converts to the faith. They were early builders of the church, beginning with Mitt Romney’s Great Great Grandfather Miles Romney. Born in 1806, Miles was an exceptionally talented carpenter born in northern England. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell Romney, were Anglicans and were well established in their community. Then, in 1837, some LDS missionaries knocked on their door—and the rest is Mormon history.

Elizabeth Gaskell RomneyThey were baptized in a nearby river and moved to Nauvoo where Miles Romney’s talents blossomed. As it turns out, his skills weren’t limited to carpentry; soon he was working as an architect and supervisor of large-scale construction. He played a role in completing the Nauvoo temple. The Romneys were part of the Mormon Exodus and, once in Utah, Miles Romney soon was working on some of the church’s most ambitious construction projects. He was head of the construction team that completed the first Mormon temple—the LDS temple at St. George, Utah. Later, Brigham Young invited him to design what is now a U.S. historical landmark: Young’s Winter Home and Office.

Want more on early Romney family history? Wikipedia charts it all, complete with a handy family tree at the end of the article. Look at the photo of Mitt’s father with that article, compare that with Miles and Mitt—and you can see a resemblance in the men down through the centuries.


As the New York Times and other newspapers have reported, Mitt Romney’s connection with LDS pioneers isn’t historical trivia. For more, read the entire July 16 New York Times article, which was timed to coincide with the summertime Pioneer Day celebrations—but also draws contemporary connections. The NYTimes reports, in part: Now, more than 150 years later, descendants of those first families of Mormonism are joining together in a new effort: delivering the White House to Mitt Romney, whose great-great-grandfather Miles Romney settled alongside many of their ancestors in Nauvoo in 1841 and joined their torturous migration. These families—Marriotts, Rollinses, Gardners and others—have formed a financial bulwark and support network for Mr. Romney at every important point in his political career.

No, this reporting isn’t an East Coast plot against the Mormon church. This is a fascinating story of a minority community within the U.S., after many years of stereotypes and bigotry (including the murder of the Mormon founder), drawing on collective connections in an election year.

As Dr. Wayne Baker reports in the OurValues column, this matchup between an African-American president seeking re-election and a Mormon candidate seeking to break the religion barrier is historic.

In Utah, journalists also are closely examining these links. The Salt Lake Tribune’s award-winning religion newswriter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, just reported on July 20 that Romney referenced the Book of Mormon in his remarks after the tragic theater shootings in Colorado.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Trans-Atlantic friends celebrate War of 1812 bicentennial

Ecuadorian Tall ship Guayas entering the port of Baltimore as part of the Star-Spangled Sailabration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812MONDAY, JUNE 18: If you live in the region of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., then you’ve seen the huge preparations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. More than a million people are expected to converge on Baltimore to see an international array of tall ships, among other festivities. That’s a prediction published in The Washington Post. How glorious to recall a war in which combatants are now best friends!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughed about this with British guests at a reception. She began: In our relationship, it’s always spring. It’s always being renewed, it is always durable, it is a cornerstone of both of our nations’ foreign policies, and it has such a great resonance between our two peoples.

Clinton then told an 1812 story: It was my predecessor in one of my other lives, Dolly Madison, who actually saved the extraordinary portraits of George and Martha Washington. Having received word from her husband, who was truly being a Commander-in-Chief in the field, that unfortunately the British truly were coming—(laughter from the audience)—she rushed from the White House, taking some treasures with her, leaving behind the meal that she had prepared for her husband and his officers. And the British officers ate the meal before they burned the White House. (laughter from the audience) So, we are looking forward, but nevertheless, there are certain memories that are also of significance.


A milestone in the War of 1812 took place on Lake Erie in September 1813, but the financially strapped City of Detroit is more focused on survival than on launching major international celebrations. The big news in Detroit actually is about U.S.-Canadian cooperation in trying to complete a second bridge from the city into Ontario. That complex deal was just unveiled this week—negotiated secretly to counter well-heeled opponents backed by the private owner of the existing bridge to Canada. Even though there is relatively little public sign of it, the Midwest is coming up on the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, when Commander Oliver Hazard Perry penned his most famous lines. The words were scrawled in a hasty note to army commander General William Henry Harrison (later our 9th president). Perry’s exact words were: “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry.” Of course, with apologies to Perry, Americans now tend to remember the line as revised by Pogo possum: “We have met the enemy—and he is us.”

Will you be in or near Michigan this month? Although Detroit isn’t planning much for the bicentennial, this summer, a special traveling exhibition on the War of 1812 is opening at the museum on Belle Isle, still a major gem in the Motor City’s crown. The Detroit News reports that the exhibit eventually will appear in many other cities.


Each year, June 21, is National Aboriginal Day (also widely called First Nations Day) in Canada. So, Canadian commentators on the bicentennial are paying particular attention to the Aboriginal role in the War of 1812. In the United States, centuries of anti-Indian policies have twisted our historical perspectives on native peoples. Americans tend to find our “war heroes” among the U.S. armed forces. From a Canadian perspective, however, native peoples were heroes of the War of 1812. Here is a fascinating column by the Globe and Mail’s James Bartleman, headlined: “Remember the native warriors duing War of 1812 bicentennial.” Bartleman writes, in part: Ontario, and probably a good part of the rest of present day Canada, would now be part of the United States were it not for the native warriors who overwhelmingly came to the defence of the British Crown in the first year of the War of 1812-1814. When Congress declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, former president Thomas Jefferson, speaking from his estate at Monticello in Virginia, said “the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.”

Want more from Indian perspectives? ReadTheSpirit publishes the memoir of Warren Petoskey, a well-known advocate for Indian concerns who is part of the Odawa people. The Odawa homeland once spanned Michigan and Ontario and these families moved regularly through the Great Lakes waterways. Warren writes in inspiring ways about Indian appreciation for the spirituality of the earth. He tells stories handed down to him through many generations. And he writes about the difficult legacy Indian families face even in this new millennium.

Want a more detailed history of the War of 1812? Wikipedia has quite a detailed overview, plus dozens of links to additional articles about individual participants and battles.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Anniversaries: Walter Cronkite takes CBS chair 50 years ago

Walter Cronkite reporting from Vietnam. U.S. Defense Dept. photo now in public domain.MONDAY, APRIL 16, 1962: On this day, 50 years ago, Walter Cronkite took the anchor chair at CBS News from Douglas Edwards. Even before he took the most important seat in American news media, Cronkite was the first TV journalist to be called an “anchor” (when he headed CBS coverage of a political convention in 1952). In less than a year in the nightly news anchor’s chair, Cronkite and CBS took Americans from 15 minutes of news headlines to our first half-hour-length nightly news report on Sept. 2, 1963. Even that length wasn’t enough time to cover what we needed to know each day, Cronkite said later.

As our leading voice on news, Cronkite saw us through gee-whiz scientific innovations, President Kennedy’s assassination, the war in Vietnam, the first landing on the moon, Watergate and so much more. His rare moments of personal emotion and opinion became historical landmarks—so different than the current world of TV news where fiery personal viewpoints are encouraged.

Cronkite’s last day in the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News was on March 6, 1981, when Dan Rather took the chair. For that special day, Charles Osgood prepared a brief retrospective, which you can see below. Some of the footage is grainy—or even downright snowy—but can you recall what our little black-and-white TV screens looked like when Cronkite first took the air? The video is worth watching both because of Osgood’s eloquent overview and because we hear that Voice, Cronkite’s voice. Click the video screen below to watch the clip. (If you don’t see a screen, try reloading this story on your browser.)


On Feb. 27, 1968, Cronkite completed a lengthy report on America’s current war, which he had produced himself while traveling through parts of Vietnam. He stunned the nation by including a brief editorial criticizing the escalation of U.S. forces. (A clip of the original editorial is in the video, above.) In favor of diplomatic negotiations, Cronkite rejected President Lyndon B. Johnson’s optimism for further military deployment to end the standoff between U.S. and Viet Cong forces. In a 1996 interview, shown below, Cronkite remembers the effect his editorial had on President Johnson, who reportedly have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Cronkite died in 2009 at age 92. Far from an answer in triva games, the name Walter Cronkite continues to open new perspectives on news media. This week, on April 19, 2012, the University of Texas at Austin, which Cronkite attended in the 1930s, will unveil a major art installation reflecting on his legacy by artist Ben Rubin. What’s the name of this new multimedia artwork? Of course, it’s simply …

“And That’s the Way It Is.”

Read the two other related stories, including our remembrance of Mike Wallace’s tough take on religion and philosophy throughout his television career. And, from Walt Whitman, a remembrance of his famous When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Milestone: After 117 years, Kodak stops making cameras

Kodak founder George Eastman tests one of his early cameras aboard a ship in 1890. By 1900, Eastman introduced the world-changing Brownie camera, priced at $1 each. That marketing is in keeping with Kodak’s famous slogan: “You push the button, we do the rest.”THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9: Mark this milestone in your journals, note it in your blogs and newsletters—the creative force that made modern media possible has stopped making cameras for the first time in 117 years. KODAK announced on February 9, 2012, the end of camera production (and the end of its pocket video cameras and digital picture frames). One more media giant has failed to adapt to the emerging digital media that it helped to create and is foundering on the rocky shores of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Is this an over-the-top way of describing this milestone? In one word: No. Consider …

By the mid 1880s, George Eastman (Kodak’s founder) owned the U.S. Patent to his greatest development: roll film. He also quickly consolidated ideas from a number of American inventors so that Eastman controlled and produced America’s first inexpensive cameras for roll film. Prior to that time, photography depended on cumbersome plates made of various rigid substances. Eastman’s innovations opened the floodgates to everyday photography. On a larger scale, his roll film allowed other inventors, especially Thomas Edison, to launch the American movie industry. Kodak so completely dominated these emerging fields of media that 80 of the American movies that went on to win the Best Picture Oscar were shot on Kodak film.

Hollywood wasn’t the only place where Kodak pretty much owned the entire photographic market. In a widely cited Harvard Business School report on Kodak, the year 1976 is identified as one peak in Kodak’s fortunes. In that year, Kodak produced 90 percent of all film sold in the U.S. and 85 percent of all cameras.

One myth floating around the Internet this week is that Kodak ignored digital photography. On the contrary, a Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson invented the digital camera. Perhaps digital photography was inevitable, given the direction of modern science, but Kodak was at the opening gate of this new era. In fact, Sasson opened the gate for Kodak and the rest of the world. The Kodak digital-camera patents were awarded between 1974 and 1976. Unfortunately, innovators in the rest of the world raced far beyond Kodak with the processes the media giant introduced.

Yes, news reports on Kodak over the past week all cite the company’s far-too-complacent assumptions about film and traditional cameras. Much like the too-complacent assumptions of American newspaper moguls, which sidelined newspapers as the dominant force in news media around the world, Kodak let its virtual monopoly on American photography slip away. Some news reports say that the Kodak decision to let Fuji film sponsor the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was a key tipping point. Certainly, Kodak’s failure was obvious by 2009, when the company ended production of Kodachrome film after 74 years.

Today, Kodak is trying to stave off complete disaster by focusing on its home-printer technology, according to business reports over the past week. Whether Kodak can survive 2012 is still a serious question. After all, the company already seems to have wrung dry the possibilities for large court settlements with competitors, based on its legacy of patents over the past century. That settlement money now is gone, too.

One possible solution? Kodak may become the Colonel Harland Sanders of the media industry. At this point, lots of companies around the world are eager to get their hands on that Kodak name and logo.

Want to strike a positive blow on the new-media frontier? Check out ReadTheSpirit’s newest book release, this week’s publicaiton of Our Lent, 2nd Edition. In a short supplement to the new edition, ReadTheSpirit Publisher John Hile writes: “ReadTheSpirit Books produces its titles using innovative digital systems that serve the emerging wave of readers who want their books delivered in a wide range of formats—from traditional print to digital readers in many shapes and sizes. This book was produced using this entirely digital process that separates the core content of the book from details of final presentation, a process we have developed that easily increases the flexibility and accessibility of our books.
Interested in that next-wave development of digital production for small publishing houses? Email us at [email protected] and ask to talk with our publisher, John Hile. After two years of software development by Hile, Our Lent 2nd Edition is the first book we have produced with our newly complete digital workflow. We welcome questions from other interested professionals.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.