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Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) Gave Us the Poinsettia

Did you receive a poinsettia plant for Christmas?  No doubt we all drank in their red, burgundy, white, pink, and spotted presence everywhere this season in stores and on dinner tables.

Photo by Scott Bauer.

In 2010, Americans spent $17B on poinsettia plants and probably a lot more than that this year in 2013, mainly because there are more of us.

The one I had for over a year recently died.  I was aiming to keep it around through this holiday season but it did not make it.  I was so disappointed.  I wondered if I killed it with too much water, not enough light, or by loving it to death. Out of curiosity, I looked up poinsettias to learn about their life span.

First of all, I found out that the poinsettia is not native to the U.S.  When Joel Roberts Poinsett was tapped to be the first U.S. minister to Mexico (1825 – 1830), he tromped around the Mexican forests in his spare time and fell in love with the crimson bush-like growth he found by the sides of the trails.  Mexicans called it Flor de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Flower.)  In Mexico, Flor de Noche Buena is a perennial shrub that grows as tall as 15 feet.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Secretary of War, ...

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Secretary of War, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, first American minister to Mexico, and namesake of the poinsettia flower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since Poinsett was not only a politician but an amateur botanist, he took some samples and shipped the cuttings back to his own greenhouse at his South Carolina home.  Over time, the plants flourished, multiplied, and became popular in the U.S.   They were so fashionable that they needed a name that was easier to remember than their botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima.  In his book “Conquest of Mexico,” William Prescott, a writer, historian and horticulturalist, told the story of Poinsett’s love affair with the beautiful plant and coined the name “poinsettia.”  It stuck.

The story of Joel Roberts Poinsett is fascinating in itself.  World traveler, adventurer, politician, and dabbler in botany, he led an extremely privileged and colorful life.  But his “snippet of harmony” for this blog-writer is that he “discovered” the wonderful poinsettia and perpetuated its presence for all of us to enjoy in the United States.

Now my task is to see if I can do a better job keeping my next poinsettia alive!  However, according to the University of Illinois Extension, I would be lucky to keep my plant 6 to 8 weeks!! Mine thrived for almost a YEAR.  So I don’t feel so bad.  If you have a poinsettia, here are tips from the U. of Illinois Extension pages on poinsettias:

The length of time your poinsettia will give you pleasure is dependent on (1) maturity of the plant, (2) when you buy it, and (3) how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months.

  • After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves.
  • Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows.
  • Keep poinsettias out of warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows.
  • Poinsettias require day temperatures of 60 to 70°F and night temperatures of 55°F. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life.
  • Check the soil daily. Punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner.
  • Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Do not fertilize when it is in bloom.
  • With good care, a poinsettia will last 6-8 weeks in your home.
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Video

Willard Herman Scott, Jr. – A Man of the Centuries (b. 1934)

1990 Emmy Awards NOTE: Permission granted to c...

1990 Emmy Awards NOTE: Permission granted to copy, publish, broadcast or post any of my photos, but please credit “photo by Alan Light” if you can. Thanks. Scanned from the original 35MM film negative. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Willard Scott loves to celebrate life: witness his heart-warming tributes to centenarians. Hired by NBC in 1980 to do weather for The Today Show, Scott was held in high regard by audiences.  One admirer suggested he give birthday greetings to people who had reached 100 years of age, or greater, as part of his weather report.  Scott liked the idea and began the tributes in 1983.  Even though he left the show in 1996, he periodically makes appearances to deliver the tributes which are now sponsored by Smuckers Jellies.

Because of his generous remembrances of the aging, and for other reasons, I hereby give Willard Scott the title: “A Man of the Centuries.”  An additional title belonging to Scott is that he is recognized by many to be the original  “Ronald McDonald.”  Before I delve into that amazing story, and speaking of titles, I might as well tell you, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I feel a special affinity to Willard Scott because my last boss-lady dubbed my husband with the nickname “Ronald McDonald.” My husband didn’t look anything like Ronald McDonald, nor like Willard Scott, but his first name was Ron.  He took a liking to my boss’s cheerful greeting, “Howdy, Ronald McDonald!” (she was from West Virginia) each time she saw him.  After she died, he often reminisced about her habit of tagging people with “character monikers.”  She called me “Snoopy!”

Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald, from the fir...

Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald, from the first of three pre-recorded television advertisements to feature Ronald. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But back to Ronald McDonald.   In Willard Scott’s book, The Joy of Living, (1982) Scott wrote that he was asked by McDonalds to create the role of Ronald McDonald. One wonders if the idea of Ronald McDonald was born from a previous children’s character that Scott brought to life called Bozo the Clown. For it was from 1959-1962 that Scott appeared on children’s programs produced by local DC TV stations as Bozo the Clown, and he subsequently enacted Ronald McDonald from 1963-1966.  We look at the photo showing Scott with a box on his head and a cup on his nose and realize that the evolving Ronald McDonald, somewhere along the line, hired a new costume designer and a different make-up artist.  AND today the modern Ronald McDonald persona, embodied by numerous actors, reaches far and wide into many kinds of special events, parties, and hospitals.  But let’s not forget that the trend-setter for the Ronald McDonald character was Willard Scott.   Just being himself, to this day, Scott brings cheer and good-will wherever he goes.

There’s another large part of Scott’s life that touches a major chord with me since I am a novice radio show host myself.  Are any of you old enough to remember the Joy Boys Radio Show?  Well, it was aired nightly out of NBC owned WRC-AM in Washington DC (1955-1972) and two more years out of another DC radio station.  Who were the Joy Boys?

Ed Walker (l) and Willard Scott, The Joy Boys ...

Ed Walker (l) and Willard Scott, The Joy Boys (1965) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They were Willard Scott and Ed Walker and improvised comedy was their schtick.  Ed was blind, in fact, blind since birth, so their method of preparation for the show was unique.  They discussed a situation to use as basis for the broadcast, then developed characters which their voices would portray, and Willard wrote out some lead lines to use as the “situation” unrolled on the show.  Before the show, Ed would memorize their discussion.  Then they’d go live and proceed to entertain, enrich, uplift, and encourage all those within earshot.  Just a couple of Joy Boys, the two men remained fast friends.

If I had a trophy or medal, I’d hand it to Willard Herman Scott along with the title “A Man of the Centuries” because he has reverence for the aging, he has a sense of humor, and he vigorously celebrates life.  Do these activities promote harmony in our society?  Indeed.  Carry on, Mr. Scott.

Video

Walter Elias Disney – Father of Mickey Mouse and Father of Urban Improvement (1901 – 1966)

Today I drove my friend to the airport where she was boarding a plane headed for Disneyland.  Our conversation about Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney, young visionaries in early animated film production, spurred me to get busy on my planned blog about Walt Disney.  I want to talk about why his contributions to society mean so much to all of us.

Walt Disney was a rare man in history, who focused on his family and friends, all the while creating characters and stories to entertain and bring harmony to the world.  He was truly a man of harmony.  Still today, his creations stimulate harmonious relationships in families.  Further, he was a man of the future: he designed a prototype community of tomorrow for improved urban living.Image

Roy O. and Walt Disney on the day they opened Disney Studios, October 16, 1923.  In this rare historical photo, the ladies are not identified.

In 1923, Walt and Roy opened the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in the rear of a small Los Angeles realty company office.   They soon moved to larger quarters and renamed their company: Disney Studios.  By 1928, Mickey Mouse had been born, followed by a host of famous, lovable characters known to us all.

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarf...

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarfs in a scene from the original 1937 ”Snow White (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A mere eleven years later, the brothers released their first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Their company flourished.

When World War II began, Walt and Roy focused their entire efforts on aiding American involvement in the war.  Donald Duck became very busy as the star of films to educate both the American public and military personnel.  After the war ended, Disney returned to producing family films.

The construction of Disneyland

Walt Disney views the construction of Disneyland

By 1950, Walt was deep into plans for his long-held dream to build Disneyland, although Roy was not so sure the project was realistic. Walt forged ahead, finding land, drawing plans, and seeking investors. Construction began on July 16, 1954.

Do you get the idea that Walt followed his dreams?  Keep in mind that he did so without impugning anyone’s reluctance to join him, and there were many detractors along the way.  Would you say he was an advocate for harmonious relationships?  Of course, we don’t know what he was like behind the scenes, but we do read that he was turned down by major television corporations, and laughed at by leaders who viewed his dream for a family entertainment park as “grandiose.”  He kept developing his vision and working with Bruce W. McNeil of McNeil Construction.  The entire project team, assembled by Walt, brought Disneyland to fruition on July 17, 1955.  The famous Disney characters greeted guests, and the party was launched.

Disneyland employee cafeteria in 1961

Disneyland employee cafeteria, 1961

If you closely examine the photo on the right, how many of the characters can you identify?  Is that Snow White in front picking up lunch in the Disneyland employee cafeteria?  And who is behind her?  That guy at the end of the line will have to take off his head before he can eat!

The energy, humor, and clear thinking that Walt Disney put into creating Disneyland was magnificent.  Whether he knew it or not, he was generating a positive influence on lives for generations to come.  We can look back now and say “the rest is history.”

Near the end of his life, Walt Disney had another burning idea which he felt required action.  Sometime in the 1960s, he began to think about the future life his many grandchildren would have … living in crowded, crime-ridden, modern cities.  He studied urban planning books and talked with leaders in urban development.  Purchasing 27,400 acres of Florida swamp land, he began to lay plans for another Disney park, but one which provided more than entertainment.  In fact, the entertainment section of the park would be in the far north corner of the property, and the community of the future would occupy the major front portion.  He wanted to build a clean, efficient, safe community where 20,000 people could rent homes and live in peace and harmony on the property.  Each adult renter would have a job in the community.

These plans embodied the inception of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT.)  “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” (Walt Disney, October 27, 1966) 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxC_a7qnGi8

We all know the EPCOT which Walt Disney envisioned was never realized.  After his death in 1966, officials in the Disney corporation constructed a replica of the Magic Kingdom on the Florida property, built some hotels, and opened the Walt Disney World Resort in1971.  Much later in 1982, developers launched what is called the EPCOT theme park within Disney World.  EPCOT includes two major sections: Future World (technology pavilions) and World Showcase (international pavilions.)

Did Walt Disney fail because the EPCOT  he designed did not materialize?  No!  What he did was inspire others to pursue their own dream, but on a different scale and in a different way.  Walt Disney’s legacy is that he used his talents … his whole being … to bring harmony into his own life and into the lives of those around him.  Take a look at the crowd surrounding Walt Disney.  You and I are there.

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