20 November 2010

Art Historians, German Translators, Frankish Kings, and Scrooge McDuck

A text message conversation with Brandi this morning about Disney characters led me down my second rabbit hole of the week. This one is about Frankish kings in the 7th century. The question that prompted this:

"Who is your favorite Disney character?"

The immediate answer of "Dagobert" came from my father.


He said that Dagobert was the rich uncle of Donald Duck – the one who would dive into a pile of gold coins while being a very stingy guy on the side. I am admittedly a bit ignorant about the side stories of Disney characters, but I knew who he was talking about.


Dagobert is what Scrooge McDuck was called in Germany.

I started Googling. The first result on my phone was for Dagobert I - the king of Austrasia (623–634), king of all the Franks (629–634), and king of Neustria and Burgundy (629–639).


Okay, too weird. Was there a connection? Unsure. Digging into this one took a really long time. Two hours. I read about Dagoberts I, II, and III, and none of them really gave any hints as to why this name was given to Scrooge in Germany. Well, Dagobert I took me down a side-rabbit-hole that ended up being a clue, but more on this later.

I also read about Dagobert of Pisa and Erich Dagobert von Drygalski.* I read about a famous German extortionist named Arno Funke.** I read the near-eleven-page Scrooge McDuck Wikipedia article.***

Still nothing. I searched on Metafilter, more Wikipedia, and then just started Googling all over the place. My father told me that his brother might know the answer. It was dinnertime in Germany at that moment, so I waited on that one. He also said that perhaps he was just called Dagobert Duck because it sounded good, and because it allowed for him to have an alliterative DD emblem all over the place. I supposed that was possible.

THEN, my final resort – which I was just turning to so I wouldn't feel like I had abandoned an unsolved mystery – got me close enough to feeling I had the answer. I went to the German Wikipedia page for Dagobert Duck and winced as I hit the Translate button (I'm still used to the horrors of Babelfish days). It introduced me to the person who gave Scrooge his German name – German Walt Disney translator Erika Fuchs.


Fuchs was a prolific Disney translator in Germany, and stuck all kinds of wordplay and hidden meaning into the stories. She seemed to have a ton of fun with it, and once said, "You can't be educated enough to translate comic books." Apparently some phrases have stayed in pop culture throughout time and there is even a term - Erikativ - for popular phrases she coined (no Scrooge pun intended). In 2001, she got a prestigious literature prize "for her work on Duckburg." I am SO DELIGHTED that someone became successful and famous for translating Duckburg stories for most of her career. She was an honorary member of – ready? - D.O.N.A.L.D. This stands for "Deutsche Organisation nichtkommerzieller Anhänger des lauteren Donaldismus" or the "German Organization of Non-commercial Devotees of the true Donaldism". HA! This is the best thing I've heard in weeks.

Anyway. It was Erika Fuchs who gave Scrooge the name Dagobert in her Duckburg translations, named after those Frankish Kings Dagobert I, II, and III. So my initial impulse WAS the right one, but I needed that Translator button (ha, das ironie).

And you know why this makes sense? I will tell you. First, let's go back to the Dagobert I clue I mentioned earlier.


That is a cathedral close to Paris called Saint Denis. Dagobert I founded this cathedral in Saint Denis's name, and is now buried there. Who is Saint Denis? A patron Saint of France. How was he martyred? By beheading.


That is a statue of Saint Denis. Apparently after he was beheaded, he walked six miles, preaching the word of God while holding his own head (yes). And apparently saints were beheaded happened enough that there is a term for statues depicting saints holding their own heads – cephalophores. Good grief. Anyway, at Saint Denis's burial place was erected a shrine, and this is where Dagobert I founded the Abbey of Saint Denis (a Benedictine monastery). This is now the cathedral of Saint Denis. The shrine was made by a goldsmith named Eligius.
Above all, Eligius fabricated a mausoleum for the holy martyr Denis in the city of Paris with a wonderful marble ciborium over it marvelously decorated with gold and gems. He composed a crest [at the top of a tomb] and a magnificent frontal and surrounded the throne of the altar with golden axes in a circle. He placed golden apples there, round and jeweled. He made a pulpit and a gate of silver and a roof for the throne of the altar on silver axes. He made a covering in the place before the tomb and fabricated an outside altar at the feet of the holy martyr. So much industry did he lavish there, at the king's request, and poured out so much that scarcely a single ornament was left in Gaul and it is the greatest wonder of all to this very day. [source]
So. A very lavish shrine, with gold and jewels everywhere. And these, unrelated to Saint Denis but very related to Dagobert I: gold Dagobert coins.


[source] and [source]

Know why this is interesting to me? Because I am an Art History nut.

Know who else was an Art History nut? Erika Fuchs. In the 1930s (about 10-15 years before Scrooge was invented and entered into German pop culture), Erika Fuchs studied Art History in university. And I'm fairly certain that this stuff is why she named this character after Dagobert I.

So cool. And now I'm exhausted. Hooray! I guess it's still a theory, but hopefully pretty close. And as I tweeted earlier:

* Erich Dagobert von Drygalski was a really cool geographer and took the first Antarctic aerial photo from a balloon, ever.
** Arno Funke used to place bombs all over Germany to get ransom money. He always strategically placed the bombs to minimize people getting hurt – he was mostly seen as a prankster who kept trying to get rich. He gave himself the pseudonym Dagobert after Scrooge McDuck, because he had visions of himself one day swimming in gold coins.
*** You have to read this thing. It is more thorough an historical account than some articles I have read about real people. It contains a personal history; educational history; professional history; psychological analysis; code of values and moral conduct; log of traveled countries and languages spoken; analyses on his relationship with Donald and Huey, Dewey and Louie; and short list of wealthy duck rivals in Duckburg. I can't believe how extensive this article is. It blew my mind.

Thanks to Brandi and my father for making this afternoon amusingly strange ^^

16 November 2010

From The Turtles to 1800s Organs

Tonight I had the intense urge to listen to You Showed Me by The Turtles:

I was compelled to Google "circus organ" after thinking that one never sounded so nice as it does in the opening notes of this song. And I found some really cool pictures:




This type of organ – called a calliope – was wheeled around by traveling circuses in the late 1800s. They work via steam (what?) passing through pipes (what??). Here is an old ad for one from 1874:


The calliope is kind of distant cousins with the train whistle (which makes sense now, steam and all).

Calliope mechanics evolved a bit over time: First they were played via a series of pins on a metal cylinder (like in a music box). Then there were organ keys, and a person played them (like in that ad, above). Then things went back to rotation-based systems with rolls of paper, and resembled player pianos.

I suppose I've only heard "good" versions of what a calliope sounds like, because apparently it's impossible to keep in tune, can be heard from a mile away (no volume control), and the notes' sound depends on how hot the steam is.

Here's a video of a riverboat calliope; you can see the steam flying out of the pipes:

EDIT: I just received an email from Zachary saying that he played this very calliope on the Delta Queen in the 1980s, "When I was about 5 while traveling down the Mississippi River on a riverboat trip that included a visit to the real setting of Mark Twain's work." Amazing.

And here's a video that came up when I searched "circus organ" on YouTube. The sound is different from a calliope, but I wonder if the vast world of 1800s organs gets mixed up easily since it still came up in search results. A quick Wikipedia search helped me figure out that this is a fairground organ, which is (it turns out) different. These were found around fairs and amusement parks, and if you play this video with your eyes closed, it will make perfect sense. Though, don't listen to this if you're not in a good mood, because you will want to throw your shoe out a window.

Randomly falling into a rabbit hole like this one at 1am makes me realize how many other insane things I don't know about yet. Jeez. I could easily spend another 2 hours researching different types of organs from the mid- to late-1800s (there are dance organs and street organs too; which of these sounds the most like a baseball game?).
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