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The French Connection

In 1884, Virginie Amélie Gautreau, a Parisian socialite celebrated for her eccentric beauty and rumored liaisons, agreed to pose for rising star artist, John Singer Sargent. What they assumed would be a collaboration advancing both their social positions had, alas, the opposite effect. When the painting was unveiled at the Paris Salon, entitled Portrait de Mme ***, the public, who had no trouble identifying the subject, was appalled by Virginie’s revealing gown with its right strap falling casually off her shoulder, her corpse-like skin and provocative pose. It was also savaged by critics crying that no well-born lady would dress in such an unconventional manner. Desperate to save the moment, Sargent painted the strap back in place and renamed the painting Madam...

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The Burnings of Atlanta

While writing about the burning of Atlanta in my blog on Gone with the Wind’s 75th birthday, as an ex-Atlantan, I remembered that the city had been plagued by other fires. Aside from the 1864 blaze set by the Confederates, followed by General Sherman’s notorious conflagration consuming a third of the city, there was also the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917. It arose from four separate, relatively insignificant blazes one quiet May morning and quickly spread the fire department’s resources dangerously thin. Morphing into one enormous incendiary beast, it required the assistance of firefighters from as far away as Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee, to bring it under control. After raging for eleven hours, it consumed 22 million gallons of water and destroyed almost...

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