Trading Under the Buttonwood Tree

Existential Dread, Pseudoscience

 

A depiction of traders under the buttonwood tree, 1945

The New York Stock Exchange was established today in 1792 under the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement. Whenever I picture the stock exchange as an actual object, I picture that giant wheel on The Price is Right. I mean that’s pretty much how all that Wall Street stuff works right? This probably explains my financial acumen. Alexander Hamilton would be so proud.

Speaking of wheels of fortune, the Antikythera mechanism was discovered today in 1902 by archaeologist Valerios Stais. Described as an ancient analog computer believed to have been assembled between 100 to 200 B.C. with the purpose of predicting astrology and eclipses. Its complex mechanics point to a knowledge of technology that was not seen again until the 14th century.

This reminded me of the wonderful podcast S -Town. Did you listen to this last summer too? It’s a seven-episode podcast, mainly interviewing a very eccentric horologist in Woodstock, Alabama. It starts out having you think it’s about certain things but veers into very unexpected places. The clockmaker is very interested in collecting sundial mottos, small quotes that are placed by the maker to express some sentiment, but as he explains, they are usually kind of dark. Sort of a yin and yang thing, reminding us of our mortality in the glare of the bright sun. There are several beautiful ones that he reads, but his favorite is “tedious and brief.” I will leave it at that in case you haven’t heard it and want to check it out.

I heard it in August, shortly before the solar eclipse, and a milestone birthday, and right before our house was sold unexpectedly, enabling us to move to a completely different part of the country. It was kind of a surreal time, and this story got very wound up in those memories.

Born today

Cover page of Investigations into Magic via lascosasquenuncaexistieron.com

Belgian theologian Martín Delrio was born today in 1551. He wrote and published a six-volume set titled Investigations into Magic, mainly concerning witchcraft, superstition, and, you know, Magic. It looks like it has been translated into English so … summer beach read?

Also born today mathematician Charlotte Barnum in 1860; inventor Frederick McKinley Jones, who you can thank for a number of innovations especially in long-haul refrigeration, was born in 1893; and physicist Julius Sumner Miller in 1909. He was teaching kids science on tv long before Bill Nye the Science guy (though I am grateful for his contributions too).

 

Blacksmith and manufacturer John Deere died in 1886. Prince Boris Borisovich Golitsyn died in 1916. He invented the first seismograph, a very impressive instrument that will no doubt be regarded with the awe of the Antikythera mechanism inspired back in 1902 “A civilization smart enough to create this, and yet they were so, so dumb.”

In summary

My mother’s side of the family is all Italian Roman Catholic, so I have a soft spot for superstitions. Mainly I glom onto the bad luck omens. Unfortunately, the number 17 is bad luck in Italian lore. Something about it looking like a man hanging in the gallows, and in Roman numerals, the anagram spells something about tempting death. Those fun-loving Italians. Thirteen is actually a lucky number, though obviously never sit down to a table of twelve thereby making it thirteen, because well that should be a given.

Other favorite superstitions of mine include an unhung hat; crossed cutlery on a dinner plate; boiled over milk, shoes left facing in opposite directions; and broken picture frames. Don’t ever hold a mirror up to a mirror unless you want to invite the evil eye. No birds in a home, ever. Though curiously if one poops on you outside, that is good luck. Let’s be reasonable here and assume that one was made up on the spot by some sad sack with bird shit on his shoulder. Well played, bird shit man, well played. Because our great, great, great grandmothers heard you, and your feeble lie traveled an ocean and continues to this day.

Like I said, I collect them, so if you have any good ones, let me know in the comments. And yes, I absolutely throw spilled salt over my left shoulder. Not to chase the devil away, but just in case he needs any seasoning for his dinner or wants to make me potato chips or something. At my age, I am happy for the company.

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