White Elephant - June 10, 2014

The phrase "white elephant" is pretty common.  It refers to a possession that causes great inconvenience, often at great expense.  Few people know where the phrase comes from, though. Surprisingly, it comes from real, living white elephants.  Southeastern Asian countries including Thailand (formerly Siam), Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos and Cambodia (formerly Laos and Cambodia), have had populations of elephants for centuries.  White elephants are extremely rare, and are perceived to be blessings for peace and prosperity for their kingdoms.  To receive a white elephant was a great gift, and one not to be taken lightly.  Should the elephant die of any but natural causes could be construed as a great evil.

Of course, caring for an elephant is a lot of work and very expensive.  The life expectancy of an elephant in Asia averages sixty years.  This was a gift few people wanted, but that no one had the courage to deny.  We on the American Treasure Tour have our own white elephant; however, it has not inspired any dread because it is not living.  In fact, it is quite cute and requires minimal maintenance.  Maybe a little dusting now and again (thank you, Woody!).  Maybe you can spot it when you take the tram ride through the Toy Box next time....

QUESTION:  What massive monument in the United States designed by Korczak Ziolkowski is considered a massive white elephant?

a)  Mount Rushmore

b)  Stone Mountain

c)  Crazy Horse

d)  Seattle Space Needle

Answer Below


We talked briefly yesterday about Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witch hunts in the 1950's. We jump back a few centuries today to recognize the most famous American witch hunts ever conducted.  In fact, they are the witch hunts that some might say inspire the phrase!  Salem, Massachusetts, found twenty men and women executed on charges of practicing witchcraft in 1692.  Today, Bridget Bishop lost her life "for certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries."

It is graduation season in the United States!  Although many colleges have already handed out their diplomas, today was a very special day in 1854, when the first class of students participating in a structured four-year term graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  This was the first official graduation to occur on the campus that was established nine years earlier.  It was a good day. 


Hattie McDaniel was one of thirteen children born to former slaves in 1895 Wichita, Kansas.  A woman of many talents, she is accredited as being the first African-American woman to sing on radio, as well as the first to win an Oscar - for Best Supporting Actress in the 1939 Civil War-era film Gone With the Wind.  She also wrote music, starred in as many as three hundred films, and perform on television.  A talented woman who is now mostly remembered for playing Scarlett O'Hara's enslaved servant Mammy, McDaniel certainly deserved great praise for her many accomplishments.

There are likely celebrations going on today in the White House, as the youngest Obama is turning thirteen.  Sasha was born in 2001 in Chicago and, when she moved into the famous home in Washington, D.C. in 2009, she became its youngest resident since that of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1961.  Happy birthday, Sasha.  With two teenage daughters, one wonders how President Obama will have time to run the country!

QUOTE:  I did my best, and God did the rest! - Hattie McDaniel

Answer:  c)  Crazy Horse.  Because Ziolkowski refused to accept any federal funding for this project, its completion is dependent upon traditional donations.  Its exorbitant size and high expense make unlikely the prospects of it being finished any time soon.  (And by soon, we are talking the next century, possibly.)