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Erika Janik

Writer, Historian, Inveterate Seeker. Curious About Everything (especially history). Passionate About Writing.

Month

December 2013

Favorite History Reads of the Year

Lists of top ten this or that are common in December. In the midst of holiday shopping and feting, we feel compelled to sum it all up before launching in to another year filled with all new items (or variations on a theme) to categorize, list, and rate.

I’m certainly not immune to the ranking and collecting. I eagerly click on just about any list of top books of the year put out by anyone on any topic while keeping my local library system website cued up in another window for easy additions to my library request/hold list. And I certainly love those collected works of Best that come out around this time of year – best food writing, nature and science, short stories, essays.

But I’ve noticed a glaring omission – at least to my eyes. Where’s the Best American History Writing? If anyone is reading, I volunteer to be the series editor.

Here, in no particular order and definitely not comprehensive, are some history stories I enjoyed this past year. It’s an eclectic bunch but then, I’m interested in just about anything if told well.

“The Prodigal Daughter: Writing, History, and Mourning” (New Yorker) by Jill Lepore
A fascinating story that brings together Lepore’s own life story (and particularly that of her mother) with the life of Jane Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s sister. It’s a stunning blend of memoir and history.

“The Earliest Libraries-on-Wheels Looked Way Cooler than Today’s Bookmobiles” (Smithsonian blog)
A fun pictorial look at book mobiles past.

“A Skillful Horsewoman’: A Brief History of Royal Childhoods” (The Atlantic) Olga Khazan
I’m an Anglophile through and through so I loved reading this short history of royal children (sounds miserable)

A Theology of Wild Apples” (Apple Orchard blog)
Having written a book on apples myself and gone to grad school to study colonial America, I could scarcely resist this look at Puritans and wild apples.

Voice Hero: The Inventor of Karaoke Speaks” (The Appendix)
The charming story of the invention of karaoke from the inventor himself.

“Busker Rhymes” (The Pirate Omnibus)
Buskers have been annoying people on public transportation for a long time.

 

Don’t even get me started on history books I loved…

A Wisconsin Chiropractic Tale

After spending several years researching alternative healing methods for my new book, I was surprised to only recently learn the story of chiropractor Clarence Gonstead. Even more so because I’ve driven by the modernist Gonstead clinic in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, countless times.

Born in South Dakota in 1898, Gonstead grew up on a dairy farm in Primrose, Wisconsin, with an interest in automotive and tractor repair. Stricken with rheumatoid arthritis at 19, the bedridden Gonstead had exhausted nearly all of his medical options when he sought the services of a Madison chiropractor. The treatment worked. Gonstead was soon up and walking. This life changing experience led Gonstead to devote his life to chiropractic – a not uncommon conversion story in the annals of alternative medicine.

Source: Wikichiro
Source: Wikichiro

To save money for school, Gonstead worked as an automotive engineer. In 1923, he graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa (the Palmers had founded chiropractic in the 1890s), and a few years later, set up his own practice in Mt. Horeb.

Gonstead didn’t stick with the Palmer’s original theory. Rather than a vertebral bone causing nerve pressure (and thus disease) as founder D.D. Palmer and his son B.J. believed, Gonstead suggested that the vertebral disc caused nerve pressure. He developed his own method of spinal assessment to locate the spinal impingement, known as a subluxation in chiropractic.

“The principles of the Gonstead Method are the simple principles of chiropractic put to work; how to understand what causes nerve pressure, how to find it on the patient, how to achieve a corrective setting of the offending vertebra, and how to know when the chiropractor’s job is done, and nature’s begins,” explained Gonstead.

Neither D.D. nor B.J. Palmer took kindly to the ideas of others, even other chiropractors, so Gonstead likely received a chilly response to his technique.

Patients, on the other hand, loved Gonstead’s methods and they came from all over the country seeking his care. His clinic, a midcentury modern structure designed by Wisconsin architect John Steinmann, was one of the largest in the world with seating for 106 patients, a lab and research facilities, and seminar rooms. He even built a hotel, the Karakhal Inn, in 1965 to accommodate patients from out of town and other chiropractors seeking to learn his method. Business was so good that a regular limousine service traveled between the Madison airport and the Mt. Horeb clinic. Patients with their own private planes could land at Gonstead’s personal airstrip on the outskirts of town. For many years, the clinic was the largest chiropractic clinic in the world.

Gonstead also had a rather notable home. Herb Fritz, Jr., an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the private home on 55 acres in the late 1940s or early 50s. Unfortunately, the home burned down in 1992.

Gonstead died in 1978 and a nonprofit foundation now runs his clinic. His method has spawned followers and practitioners around the world.

Christmas Comes Early: My Advance Copies Have Arrived

My husband lifted two boxes inside the front door when he came from work on Friday. “Something for you,” he said. My mom had warned that she’d sent presents and not to open them so I paid little attention to the boxes and left them sitting by the door. Until the next morning when I happened to glance at the return address, fully expecting to see my mom’s name but instead saw: Beacon.

My books!!

The official publication date isn’t until January 7 but here’s some visual proof that this thing is real. At this time last year, I was tearing my hair out finishing the draft, rewriting, deleting, questioning everything, undoing that previous deletion, writing, deleting, repeat. Repeat.

This year is much better.

Books

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