Richard Morrison, in the Times (London) (July 19, 2004):
...Exactly 100 years ago, the American city of St Louis hosted the biggest exhibition of new technology the world had yet seen. An incredible 20 million people visited the 1904 World Fair, and the newfangled gadgets at which they gawped would revolutionise their lives and the century that followed. They included a prototype telephone answering-machine, and what we would now call a fax machine -though in 1904 it rejoiced in the splendid moniker of "telautograph" (wonder why the name never stuck?). Electric typewriters, electric clocks and dishwashers were also demonstrated for the first time. So were X-ray machines and baby incubators. And, rather more ominously, models of an amazing battleship that operated underwater - the first military submarine.
All fascinating. But 100 years on, it isn't what those 20 million visitors saw that is causing such a stir. It's what they ate. For according to the American view of history the 1904 World Fair also included the public debut of three culinary delectations that have since revolutionised noshing habits worldwide.
They are the hamburger, the hot dog...and the ice-cream cone, which a feisty editorial in the Chicago Tribune last week pronounced to be a "quintessentially American" invention. Indeed, the Americans have declared July to be "National Ice-Cream Month" to mark the cone's centenary.
Hmm. I don't intend to leap into the thorny debate about whether the hamburger and hot dog are true American inventions, or mere Yankee doodles on the sausage rolls that Germans have scoffed since the days of Attila the Hun (though I can't help noticing that the American who allegedly invented the hot dog in St Louis was called Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger).
But when it comes to the ice-cream cone, someone must speak out! Even American historians admit that the story about it being invented at the 1904 World Fair is pure piffle. Or, more to the point, pure waffle. According to the legend, the weather one day was so hot, and the consequent clamour for ice-cream so tumultuous, that vendors ran out of dishes in which to serve the white stuff. So an enterprising young vendor dashed to the neighbouring pastry stall -run by a Syrian called either Hamwi, Doumar or Kabbaz, depending on which version of the story you swallow -seized a handful of Middle Eastern waffles called zalabias, and twisted them into cone shapes in which he deposited his dollops of ice cream.
The trouble is that a New York street vendor called Marciony had been flogging ice-cream in edible waffle cups for years, and had been granted an American patent for an ice-cream cone in 1903, eight months before the St Louis fair. So if any American deserves the credit, it's him.
But he doesn't. Because Manchester got there first! According to Linda Stradley's I'll Have What They're Having: Legendary Local Cuisine, a British patent for an oven that could bake "biscuit cups for ice-cream" was granted to an Anglo Italian Mancunian called Antonio Valvano in 1902, a full year before Marciony obtained his patent. (Isn't it weird how these great ideas lie dormant for 40 centuries, then seem to occur to several people simultaneously?) What's more, Stradley contends, Manchester's Italian community had probably been eating ice-cream out of edible cones since at least the mid-19th-century....
John Murphy, in the Balt Sun (June 30, 2004):
GOREE ISLAND, Senegal - Standing in a narrow doorway opening onto the Atlantic Ocean, tour guide Aladji Ndiaye asked a visitor to this Senegalese island's Slave House to imagine the millions of shackled Africans who stepped through it, forced onto overcrowded ships that would carry them to lives of slavery in the Americas.
"After walking through the door, it was bye-bye, Africa," said Ndiaye, pausing before solemnly pointing to the choppy waters below. "Many would try to escape. Those who did died. It was better we give ourselves to the sharks than be slaves."
This portal - called the "door of no return" - is one of the most powerful symbols of the Atlantic slave trade, serving as a backdrop for high-profile visits to Africa by Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush and a destination for thousands of African-Americans in search of their roots.
More than 200,000 people travel to this rocky island off the coast of Dakar each year to step inside the dark, dungeon-like holding rooms in the pink stucco Slave House and hear details of how 20 million slaves were chained and fattened for export here. Many visitors are moved to tears.
But whatever its emotional or spiritual power, Goree Island's real role in the slave trade remains a matter of dispute, a contest between history and the power of myth.
Despite the claims by Senegal's tour guides and tourism industry, Goree Island was never a major shipping point for slaves, say historians. No slaves were ever sold at what is known as the "House of Slaves." No Africans ever stepped through the famous "door of no return" to waiting ships, either.
"The whole story is phony," says Philip D. Curtin, a retired professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University who has written more than two dozen books on Atlantic slave trade and African history.
First used as stopover by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, Goree Island was bought for a few iron nails by the Dutch before being seized by the French and the British.
Although it functioned as a commercial center, it was never a key departure point for slaves, Curtin says. Most Africans sold into slavery in the Senegal region would have departed from thriving slave depots at the mouths of the Senegal River to the north and the Gambia River to the south, he says.
During about 400 years of the Atlantic slave trade when an estimated 10 million Africans were taken from Africa, maybe 50,000 slaves - not 20 million as claimed by the Slave House curator - might have spent time on the island, Curtin says.
Even then, they would not have been locked in chains in the House of Slaves, Curtin says. Built in 1775-1778 by a wealthy merchant, it was one of the most beautiful homes on the island; it would not have been used as a warehouse for slaves other than those who might have been owned by the merchant.
Likewise, Curtin adds, the widely accepted story that the "door of no return" was the final departure point for millions of slaves is not true. There are too many rocks to allow boats to dock safely and a beach nearby that would have been the easiest place for loading ships, he says.
Curtin's assessment is widely shared by historians, including Abdoulaye Camara, curator of the Goree Island Historical Museum, which is a 10-minute walk from the Slave House.
The Slave House, says Camara, offers a distorted account of the island's history
- created with tourists in mind....