Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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The Facile Fasces

January 23, 2015





While watching President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address, I spotted something on TV that reminded me of my interest in symbols and customs. For me, it isn’t enough that something exists; I want to know why. Have you ever noticed the large wall decorations flanking the podium in the US House of Representatives? They’re called fasces; the word derives from the Latin word fascis, meaning bundle.





Notice the fasces beneath the eagle on the staff



When it comes to countries, the United States is little more than a baby. Some countries are a thousand years old while the USA has yet to reach two-hundred and fifty. In spite of our short time on the world stage, the fledgling American colonies managed to set the stage for future greatness by creating, in remarkably short order, the symbols and trappings of nationalism so apparent in older countries. Today our nation is rich with patriotic paraphernalia, but it wasn’t always so. After breaking away from Great Britain in 1776, we had to create our own symbols.


Since the founding fathers were a well-educated bunch, they looked to the past for symbols to borrow, and since they were striving to create a republic, they settled on Republican Rome—that period before the establishment of an empire when Rome had a representative government instead of all-powerful emperors. Our senate is a reflection of Rome’s SPQR (The Senate and People of Rome) as is our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the interior of the Capitol (see Rome’s Pantheon). Aside from the English writing engraved on it, the Supreme Court Building would look at home on the ancient Roman Forum. 





Reenactment of lictors carrying fasces in a procession


During Rome’s long Republic (509-27BC) the fasces came to represent the authority of the consul, elected by the Roman senate. A single stick is easy to break, but when bundled with others they become strong. In parades and triumphs, these fasces were carried by lictors (magistrates) to show the power of working together.


In addition to building a capitol that looks much like ancient Rome, replete with flagpoles capped with Roman eagles, the fasces are everywhere, and I’m not just talking about money like the dime. Check out these examples.




Washington leaning on fasces



Lincoln flanked by fasces



America wasn’t alone in borrowing the Roman fasces. Another country did so in a more obvious way. Benito Mussolini chose the fasces to symbolize his party of black-shirted thugs—the Fascists—degrading it to a symbol of absolute power and totalitarian authority. Check out this German stamp showing Mussolini with the fasces and a close friend. It must have been awkward having so many fasces enshrined in Washington D.C. during World War II.



The United States has come a long way in establishing its own identity, using tools like Hollywood, television, radio, sports and scientific achievements, but there was a time when we needed help establishing our identity. Today, we’ve yet to wean ourselves from Roman influence, which will be apparent while watching the Super Bowl in a stadium that pays homage to the Coliseum and Roman architecture. 






That was very interesting. I guess we take after Rome in other ways as well, like invading other countries for their resources. Can an emperor be far behind?
By: Ellen Abbott on January 23, 2015
VERY interesting! I love reading your blog because you're so full of knowledge....I find this fascinating!
By: Scott Park on January 23, 2015
I very carefully read and enjoyed this and yet, when I hit the second captioned photo, I wondered why in hell anyone would carry FESCES in a procession.
By: Mitchell is Moving on January 23, 2015
neat! thanks for the education!
By: TexWisGirl on January 23, 2015
I sometimes leave here feeling as if I have just taken an art history class! Now when I visit DC I will be keeping my eyes open.
By: Tabor on January 23, 2015
Fascinating! I'd never noticed them before. I'm sure I'll see them everywhere now.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on January 23, 2015
You're full of it--knowledge, that is!!
By: fishducky on January 23, 2015
You find the most interesting objects to write about....and at first my dyslexic eyes thought I was reading "feces" instead of fasces....especially with the current "full of it" behavior of most residents of Washington DC ....cheers and have a great day!
By: Kathe W. on January 23, 2015
Thanks for a fascinating and instructional post. Marvelous bit of education here today. Your curiosity and knowledge is to our benefit!
By: Tom Cochrun on January 23, 2015
And why are the Super Bowls named in Roman numerals? This one is Super Bowl XLIX.
By: Catalyst on January 23, 2015
The Founding Fathers were a very intelligent bunch, and i wonder what they would think of what we have done with their Republic.
By: mimi on January 23, 2015
You have such a good eye. I never saw those but will now look for them. I love the idea of bundling for strength. I usually learn something each time I come here.
By: Akansas Patti on January 23, 2015
Interesting. Of course, for Rome, it didn't end too well.
By: Tom Sightings on January 23, 2015
I had no idea what "fasces" were. Thanks for the unexpected history lesson! Have a great weekend!
By: Lexa Cain on January 23, 2015
The background behind objects that are very common is fascinating. You've shown where these things came from and their meaning.
By: red on January 23, 2015
Who'da thunk it? I had no idea. Thanks for explaining. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 23, 2015
The son, father, husband, jeweller, artist, writer and teacher... a man of many skills. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 23, 2015
Never noticed them. Now I will.
By: Val on January 23, 2015
Always learn something new here. Now I'm off to google where the Super Bowl will be played this year (and when).
By: Pixel Peeper on January 23, 2015
fascesinating stuff!
By: Cranky on January 23, 2015
You have a great blog. It's fun to learn about interesting things. Keep your fasces strong.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on January 24, 2015
A most interesting post Steve.
By: John on January 24, 2015
I have often found the plethora of Roman symbolism in American culture rather worrisome. Ancient Rome is my favourite period to study historically. Pax Romana was a very great period in its day, but it is important not to forget there was a great deal of brutality in the time and the symbolism of the fascis was for the benefit of the few and not the many.
By: The Broad on January 24, 2015
I always learn something new while reading your blog. Thank you
By: maryellen bess on January 24, 2015
It has been reported that this will be the last Super Bowl with Roman numerals. For the next one is the 50th, which is an L in Roman numerals, and it was decided that too many would associate the L with loser. Sigh.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on January 24, 2015
Better than "feces." Less to clean up.
By: Al Penwasser on January 25, 2015
Well, I learn something every time I stop by- this I definitely did not know. Have a super week.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on January 27, 2015

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