Thomas Orde-Lees

In touch with the Shackleton expedition – literally.

Thomas Orde-Lees
photo by Frank Hurley – Public Domain

Although I am woefully far behind in processing and sharing images from our trip to the Falklands and South Georgia – over two months ago! – I still dream of those landscapes and the intense history behind them. Today (May 20) is celebrated in South Georgia as Shackleton Day, recognizing this day 107 years ago when Ernest Shackleton and two of his crew (Frank Worsely and Thomas Crean) stumbled into the tiny whaling station of Stromness, on the east side of South Georgia. That was their first contact with civilization since they had left South Georgia 18 months earlier, having failed in their expedition but accomplished one of the most incredible feats of survival and navigation ever recorded. (I’ve written about that story before.) I had the good fortune to walk in Shackleton’s steps during our visit in March, descending into Stromness just as he and Worsely and Crean had done a century earlier. (More on that hike to come later!) But since returning home I’ve had another amazing opportunity to connect with that incredible expedition: to read and to hold the diary of Thomas Orde-Lees, the expedition’s ski expert and storemaster. Read on!

Diary of Thomas Orde-Lees, written during the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in 1914-16. (Collection of Rauner Library, Dartmouth College)
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Lenin in Zürich

Lenin spent a year in Zürich while writing his book.

If you wander down a tiny street in the Altstadt (old town), you may come across a nondescript historical marker indicating that “Lenin lived here.”

A residence of Lenin when he was living in Zurich.

Indeed, it turns out that Lenin and his wife lived here for a year, 1916-17, while he worked on his book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. A nearby marker gives more details:

A residence of Lenin when he was living in Zurich.

For more, see here and Wikipedia.

Return to Sulzau

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” said Laurence, as we drove from the train station in Horb toward Sulzau, Germany, the tiny village where my great-great-great grandfather Franz Kotz first learned his trade as a schreiner (cabinetmaker) and which he left in 1848 to find a new life in America.  I never imagined that I might be back in Sulzau so soon, in search of the Sulzau-Kotz connection – and I certainly never imagined I would meet a distant cousin, today.  Read on!

Franz Kotz, 1822-1887
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A curious (and historic) old building on the edge of campus.

I’ve walked by this curious old building a few times, and always paused to ponder its origin, its purpose, and its sad condition (never seen in this prim part of town).  It sits snugly between a posh residential neighborhood and the focal point of three campuses: ETH, the University of Zürich (UZH), and the UZH hospital.  Clearly, it once had a walk-up counter where one could arrange for the fabrication of chemical/technical apparatus.

Puzzled, a little Googling lead me to a brochure a local historical society wrote about this building.  From what I can glean from that brochure (in German), this workshop was built in 1863 next to a small house, home to several generations of plumbers. The later generations apparently specialized in scientific apparatus as well as home plumbing solutions (Wasch & Badeeinrichtungen – wash and bathroom furnishings). After decades of disrepair, the property was protected under a local archaeological ordinance, purchased by the city, then restored into beautiful shape. It was left unused, however, and sadly became the target of graffiti vandals. It now appears likely to be demolished when the hospital next needs to expand.  The adjacent house is now used by ETH as a daycare facility.


Sulzau – ancestral Kotz home

A trip to Germany, and back in time, to discover our family heritage.

Franz_KotzOn a late-winter day more than 180 years ago my great-great-great grandfather walked out of the Main Office of the Kingdom of Württemberg carrying his Heimath-Schein (Certificate of Residence) inside his Wander-Buch (“wandering book”). On that day, March 8, 1830, he was just fifteen years old. This ‘passport’ allowed Franz Kotz to travel beyond his home village of Sulzau – now part of southern Germany.  Sulzau, still a tiny village tucked alongside the Neckar river, is just a two-hour drive from Zürich, so we decided to make a quick visit.  Read on as we wander the quiet streets of Sulzau, dine in a castle, and dig into our family history.

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Bletchley Park

A visit to Bletchley Park, the fascinating location where the British cracked the Enigma cypher during WWII.

Every computer scientist must visit Bletchley Park!  And, for that matter, anyone interested in computing history, spycraft, or World War II.  While on a short trip to London, we spent Sunday afternoon on a brief visit to this fascinating museum at the once-secret site where the British cracked the cryptographic codes of the Germans, during the war, and where, in effect, the modern computing era had its beginnings.  The story was the subject of the recent movie, The Imitation Game,  starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.2019-09-29-72336.jpg

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