Albert Speer: “The Devil’s Architect”

The following article will be published as the cover story in the upcoming April/May issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at the controversial story of the “Nazi who said sorry.”

“The previous leadership of the German nation bears a collective guilt for the fate that now hangs over the German people. Each member of that leadership must personally assume his responsibility in such a way that the guilt which might otherwise descend upon the German people is expiated.” ~Albert Speer, writing to Johann Schwerin von Krosigk, the chairman of the ministerial cabinet in 1945~

Albert Speer is known to history as both “the Devil’s architect” and “the Nazi who said sorry.” These two conflicting monikers would appear to suggest Speer was a willing participant in the plans of Adolf Hitler – that is, until he realized the war was lost for Germany and tried to distance himself from the dictator. However, the truth is far more complicated than the simple notion that Speer tried to save his own skin by turning on Hitler at his hour of need.

It’s a rare thing for society to be granted unlimited access to historical events that would have, arguably, remained shrouded in secrecy had they not been documented in a memoir. When Speer sat down to write his story while incarcerated in Spandau Prison, he set out to reveal the whole truth – both the highs and lows in his remarkably rapid rise from architecture student to one of Hitler’s most trusted companions.

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How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas

The following article appears in the current December 2010/January 2011 issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at the storied author’s influence on how we celebrate Christmas.

llustration by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Title page of A Christmas Carol, 1843.

As historian A.N. Wilson wrote, “The early-19th century in England was the England of Dickens”.  No other author wrote so honestly about the hardships of those suffering extreme poverty during the industrial age. Dickens’s popularity was owed, in large part, to his ability to speak directly to those who endured daily struggles for survival in a society that emphasized work ethic and money above all else.

One of Dickens’ defining characteristics in his novels was the notion of human redemption. While villains always lurked on the edges of his greatest novels, Dickens never failed to instill a sense of hope in even the most dastardly of his creations. Among his most famous is that of Ebenezer Scrooge.

More than 160 years after its publication, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a part of people’s Yuletide traditions around the world; the soul at the centre of their holiday season. By simply focusing on one man’s self-discovery on the path to becoming a better person, Dickens superimposed his secular vision of Christmas on the public.

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The Rise and Fall of a Jacobite Prince

The following article appears in the current December 2010/January 2011 issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande chronicles Bonnie Prince Charlie’s 1745 Jacobite Rising and the Battle of Culloden.

“No blacker, bloodier page will be found in the history of any country than that which records the atrocities against a brave but vanquished enemy, perpetrated at the command and under the eyes of a British monarch’s son”.

~Liberal Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, 1894~

When it comes to the discussion of the Battle of Culloden, many are drawn into the romanticized image of a tartan-clad prince leading an army of fierce rebel Highlanders against the tyranny of England.

In reality, the nature behind the famous 1745 Jacobite Rising, and its bloody conclusion in April of 1746, is far too complex to be summed up with a single, heroic image. Contrary to popular belief, the Rising had little to do with national pride or fighting for a noble cause. It was not a war that pitted the Scots against the English. It was, instead, a brief rebellion attempting to restore both Catholicism and the Stuart line to the English throne.

Historians and Scottish locals continue, to this day, to debate the merits and disappointments of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed campaign and the violent aftermath of Culloden.

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Strange and Bizarre: The History of Freak Shows

The following article appears in the current October/November issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at different aspects of freak shows in England and the US in the 19th century.

Lazarus and Johannes Baptista Colloredo were one of the world’s most famous siblings. Many cities played host to the brothers as they traveled throughout Europe during the early-17th century. Since their birth in 1617 in Genoa, Italy, the Colloredo brothers both fascinated and horrified the general public.

Lazarus was thought to be quite handsome, appearing otherwise perfectly healthy, but for his conjoined twin brother. Joannes Baptista protruded, upside down, from his brother’s chest. He was significantly smaller than Lazarus, and only his upper body and left leg visibly extended from his brother’s torso. Although his mental capacity will never be fully ascertained, it is believed by historians that Joannes Baptista likely had very limited mental capabilities. It has been recorded that he could neither speak nor appeared to act under his own volition. His eyes were constantly closed and his mouth hung open at all times. The only response Joannes Baptista ever made to human contact was a squirming motion if someone laid a hand on his chest.

Lazarus went on tour with his brother in order to earn a living, even traveling to England to make an appearance at the court of King Charles I in the early 1640s. When not on exhibition, Lazarus would shield his brother from public view by covering him with a cloak. While little documentation exists on the Colloredo brothers, their popularity throughout Europe was neither unique nor unexpected, considering their exceptional physical condition.

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A Brief History of the Elephant Man

The following article appears in the current October/November issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at the short life of Joseph Merrick, London’s most famous sideshow performer.

“Ladies and gentlemen …with your indulgence, I would like to introduce Mr. Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. Before doing so, I ask you please to prepare yourselves. Brace yourself to witness one who is probably the most remarkable human being ever to draw the breath of life”.

~Tom “The Silver King” Norman, 1884~

The large canvas draped outside Michael Geary’s greengrocer shop at 123 Whitechapel Road featured the grotesque illustration of a man in the midst of transforming into an elephant. Paired with the description, “The Great Freak of Nature: Half-a-Man and Half-an- Elephant”, professional showman Tom “The Silver King” Norman knew he had the upper hand over all the other sideshow novelty acts performing in London in November of 1884.

The image had the desired effect, drawing in numerous patrons hoping to catch a glimpse of the deformed man. Among the curiosity-seekers was a young surgeon, Dr. Frederick Treves, who was employed at the Royal London Hospital across the street from the little shop. Treves paid two pence to Norman, requesting a private viewing of The Elephant Man. Norman, ever eager to earn quick cash on the side, readily consented.

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Walter Sickert: Capturing the Darker Side of Life

The following article was written for an upcoming issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at the life the enigmatic artist whom some believe was Jack the Ripper.

Walter Sickert was a man of mystery. Even those who were close to the acclaimed artist only saw a small glimpse into the life of the intensely private man. Sickert’s main devotion was his passion for capturing the darker side of life on canvas, holding a mirror up to society and its flaws.

However, his many artistic accomplishments have since been overshadowed by rumor and speculation.

In 1976, 34 years after his death in 1942, Sickert was moved to the top of the long list of Jack the Ripper suspects, which had been accumulating since the 1888 murders in London.

Authors Stephen Knight, Jean Overton Fuller and, most recently, Patricia Cornwell, have all published books citing Sickert as Jack the Ripper, claiming he even went so far as to sketch the bodies of his victims and display them in galleries around the world. Art historians and Sickert’s fans have since voiced their outrage over the allegations.

Was Sickert really Jack the Ripper or were these accusations a malicious smear campaign? Depending on where your opinion lies, the revelation that Sickert was the Ripper is either a remarkable achievement after the passage of so much time, or an irresponsible and slanderous attack on a good man’s character.

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The Leaping Madman: The Legend of Spring-Heeled Jack

Previously published in the August/September 2010 issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande looks at the myth behind one of England’s most enduring urban legends.

The 19th century was an age of science and reason; however, superstition remained a persistent school of thought, throughout the decades.

Before Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of Whitechapel in 1888, a different sort of terror was said to be roaming the streets of England. The stories of a tall, cloaked man with glowing red eyes who was able to reach spectacular heights with only the slightest of leaps, made its first reported appearance in 1837.

From the moment this figure made its first appearance, this strange phenomenon has gripped a nation, and baffled historians, for more than 60 years. Dubbed Spring-heeled Jack by media outlets eager to latch onto the story of a superhuman villain, this ghostly figure has remained one of England’s most enduring urban legends.

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