Eggcellent Easter 2023

Eggcellent Easter 2023

Looking for things to do this Easter Holidays in Wakefield? 

Here’s what’s on at Wakefield Museums and Castles for Saturday 1 to Monday 10 April!

Eggcellent Easter 2023 poster, includes photo of yellow tulips, little eggs and felt bunnies

Dragon Egg Week at Pontefract Castle. Includes photo of Ilbert the Dragon and a young visitor dressed as a knight

Dragon Egg Week at Pontefract Castle

The Easter Dragon Egg Hunt at Pontefract Castle is back, and better than ever. Help Ilbert the Dragon find all of his eggs on a new trail available from Saturday 1 April to Monday 10 April.

Join in with different dragon activities throughout the week, including storytelling, eco-friendly crafts and the first ever Dragon Parade!

Almost all of our eggcellent Dragon Egg Week activities, including the trail, are free. 

Trail available 10am – 4pm daily from the Visitor Centre.

Click here for full information about all Dragon Egg Week activities

Castleford Changes at Castleford Museum. Includes photo of two young visitors enjoying crafts

Castleford Changes at Castleford Museum

Monday 3, Tuesday 4 and Thursday 6* April

10am to 3pm

Free and drop-in

Have you noticed something different around town? We’re exploring how Castleford has changed over the last 100 years with a spotlight on the images from Albert Wainwright’s Castleford Sketchbook. 

Practice your sketching skills, make your mark on a community artwork, and look forward to what the next 100 years will bring! 

*Thurs 6: SEND families are welcome at all of our sessions but we are running this SEND session for those families who require a more relaxed atmosphere.

Let's Investigate Eggs! at Wakefield Museum. Includes photo of an egg painted with a farm scene

Let’s Investigate Eggs! at Wakefield Museum

Thursday 6 April

10am and 1.30pm

As Easter approaches, it’s an eggciting time to investigate eggs! Join us to explore egg related objects in the museum’s collection. 

Decorate your own excellent egg cup and take historical recipes home to make together. 

£2.50 per child. Accompanying adults free

The Wild Escape logo, including Art Fund and Arts Council England logos

The Wild Escape

Go on an animal adventure around our museums and make some eco-friendly crafts with The Wild Escape! 

All activities are free and drop-in.

Castleford Museum – Tues 11, Thurs 13 & Fri 14 April* (relaxed SEND day) – 10am to 3pm each day.

Pontefract Museum – Weds 12 April – 10.30am to 12.30pm and 1pm to 3pm

Wakefield Museum – Fri 14 April – 10.30am to 12.30pm and 1pm to 3.30pm

The Wild Escape is a major new project led by Art Fund uniting hundreds of museums with schools and families in a celebration of UK wildlife and creativity.

Fred the Frog finds his way home at Wakefield Museum

Fred the Frog Finds His Way Home at Wakefield Museum

Thursday 13 April

10.30am and 1.30pm

Free – booking required

Help Fred the Frog find his way home in this interactive storytelling, singalong and play session for 2-to-5-year-olds and their adults!

You can also make your own funny froggy friend to take home.

Let's Sow Some Seeds at Pontefract Castle. Includes photo of two young visitors exploring the herb garden at the Castle.

Let’s Sow Some Seeds! at Pontefract Castle

Thursday 13 April

10am and 1.30pm

Join us for this fun multi-sensory session where we will see, smell and sample some of the tasty herbs grown at the Castle! 

You will also get to create together, decorating your own plant pots and sowing herb seeds to grow at home. 

£2.50 per child, accompanying adults free

Click here for visitor and access information for all our sites

Click here for a printable PDF Easter Planner with all of our activities and workshops on

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The Long History of Forcing Jews to Wear Anti-Semitic Badges

The Long History of Forcing Jews to Wear Anti-Semitic Badges

Jews wearing yellow stars at the Kistarcsa concentration camp in Hungary in 1944

Jews wearing yellow stars at the Kistarcsa concentration camp in Hungary in 1944
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Growing up in Belgium, I’d hear the story of how my grandparents married during the Nazi occupation. It wasn’t a time for celebrations, particularly for Jewish families like theirs. Naively, though, they thought marriage would protect them from being separated should they be deported. In June 1942, they went to city hall with their loved ones—“decorated,” as my grandmother would say, with yellow stars.

Hearing that story as a child, I imagined them in dark clothes with shiny stars, each one a human Christmas tree—a celebratory image that only existed in my brain. Her most vivid memory of that day was the looks in people’s eyes: stares of curiosity, pity and contempt. The yellow star had transformed them, in onlookers’ eyes, from joyous newlyweds into miserable Jews.

Decades later, I completed a PhD on the history of forcing Jewish people to wear a badge. My grandmother called to congratulate me—and, I soon understood, to unburden herself of a story she’d never told before.

When the Nazis issued the law forcing Jewish Belgians to wear a yellow star in May 1942, my grandmother’s future father-in-law declared he would not wear it. The whole family tried to persuade him otherwise, fearing the consequences. In the end, my grandmother stitched the star on his coat.

I could hear her voice trembling on the phone as she told me she still could not forgive herself. My grandparents’ wedding two weeks later would be the last time she saw her father-in-law: He died in 1945 after being released from a transit camp and a detention home for elderly Jews, spending two years in terrible conditions.

Though the yellow badge has come to symbolize Nazi cruelty, it wasn’t an original idea. For many centuries, communities throughout Europe had forced Jewish residents to mark themselves.

Yellow wheels and pointed hats

In lands under Muslim rule, non-Muslims had been required to wear identifying marks since the Pact of Umar, a ruling attributed to a seventh-century caliph, though scholars believe it originated later. For Jews, these were usually a yellow belt called zunnar or a yellow turban.

In Europe, forced markings for Jews and Muslims were introduced by Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The pope explained that the markings were a means to prevent Christians from having sex with Jews and Muslims, thereby protecting society from “such prohibited intercourse.” But he didn’t specify how Jews’ or Muslims’ dress had to be different, resulting in various distinguishing signs.

Jews in pointed hats receive confirmation of their privileges from Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in the Codex Trevirensis, circa 1340

Jews in pointed hats receive confirmation of their privileges from Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in the Codex Trevirensis, circa 1340

Bildagentur-online / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ways to make Jews visible in the cities and towns of medieval Europe abounded, from yellow wheels in France to blue stripes in Sicily to yellow pointed hats in Germany to red capes in Hungary to white badges shaped like the Ten Commandments tablets in England. Since there were no large Muslim communities in Europe at the time, aside from in Spain, the regulation applied only to Jews in practice.

In northern Italy, Jews had to wear a round yellow badge in the 15th century and a yellow hat in the 16th century. The reason typically given was they were otherwise undistinguishable from the rest of the population. For Christian authorities, unmarked Jews were like gambling, drinking and prostitution: All represented the moral failings of Renaissance society and needed to be fixed.

Pretext for persecution

As I explain in my book, Marking the Jews in Renaissance Italy: Politics, Religion and the Power of Symbols, Jews were often arrested for not wearing the yellow badge or hat, sometimes while traveling away from home in places where no one knew them.

Clearly, then, Jews were recognizable from Christians in other ways, including their accents or behaviors, as well as the distinctive headwear and earrings worn by some Jewish women. The true aim of forcing Jews to wear emblems was not merely to identify them, as authorities claimed, but to target them.

Laws imposing a badge or hat were used to threaten and extort Jewish communities. Jews were willing to pay considerable sums to retract such laws or soften their provisions. They requested exemptions for women, children or travelers. When communal negotiations failed, wealthy Jews tried to negotiate for themselves and their families on an individual basis.

A manuscript illustration of England’s expulsion of Jews in 1290

A manuscript illustration of England’s expulsion of Jews in 1290 shows figures wearing badges shaped like the Ten Commandments tablets.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Badge laws were frequently reissued, which has led scholars to conclude their enforcement was inconsistent; after all, a legal directive that is steadily applied does not need to be reimposed. But the risk of arrest and extortion hanging over the heads of Jewish communities, coupled with Jews’ willingness to pay or negotiate to avoid these consequences, meant badge laws had adverse effects on Jewish life even when not enforced.

In the Duchy of Piedmont in modern-day Italy, for example, Jewish communities banded together to pay additional taxes, sometimes several times in the same year, to receive exemptions from wearing the Jewish badge. Though the Jews’ cohesion was remarkable, it had a high cost, as these communities ended up ruined and leaving the duchy.

When Italian Jews asked authorities to cancel or at least amend badge laws, they were not primarily worried about being recognized as Jews. The problem was being mocked or attacked. Violence had accompanied badge laws since their inception: Just a few years later, Innocent III wrote to French bishops that they needed to take every possible measure to ensure the badge did not expose the Jews to the “danger of loss of life.”

Yet harassment continued. Sometime in the 1560s, for example, the governor of Milan received a letter from Lazarino Pugieto and Moyses Fereves, bankers from Genoa, explaining that bandits had robbed them after recognizing them as Jews based on their badges. In 1572, Raffaele Carmini and Lazaro Levi, representatives of the communities of Pavia and Cremona, wrote that when Jews wore the yellow hat, youngsters attacked and insulted them. And in 1595, David Sacerdote, a successful musician from Monferrato, complained that he could not play with other musicians when wearing a yellow hat.

“There was a time when nobody noticed me”

Centuries later, the yellow star had the same effect.

During the era of Jewish Emancipation, which lasted from the late 18th into the 19th century, Jews finally received equal citizenship in the European countries in which they lived. The last distinctive badge or hat laws were also abolished then.

The Nazis, however, brought these regulations back to nations they occupied. In Poland, they forced Jews to wear a white armband with a blue star, while in Western Europe, it was a yellow star with the word Jew—Jude, Juif or Jood—inside. In Belgium and France, the stars were introduced in May and June 1942, shortly before the large-scale deportation of Jews began in these countries.

The Belgian version of the yellow star

The Belgian version of the yellow star

DRG-fan via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Max Jacob, a French Jewish artist and poet, wrote of experiencing a vision of Christ, and he converted to Christianity in 1909. During the Nazi occupation of France, he was nonetheless classified as a Jew and forced to wear the yellow star.

In the 1950 prose poem “Love of the Neighbor,” he wrote about the deep shame he experienced.

“Who has seen the toad cross a street?” he asked. No one had noticed it, despite the animal’s clownish, grimy appearance and weak leg. Jacob added, “There was a time when nobody noticed me in the street; now the children jeer at my yellow star. Happy toad! You have no yellow star.”

The Nazi context differed significantly from Renaissance Italy’s: There were no negotiations or exceptions, not even for large payments, and the marker was just one step in a systematic campaign of genocide. But the mockery, the loss of status and the shame remained.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Matthew A. Henson: The first African American to reach the North Pole

Matthew A. Henson: The first African American to reach the North Pole

Note: This blog contains direct quotes with outdated language that some readers may find offensive.

Portrait of Arctic explorer Matthew A. Henson.
Portrait of Arctic explorer Matthew A. Henson. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare_Frontispiece

Matthew Henson was the first African American to reach and stand on one of earth’s farthest reaches – the North Pole. He traveled with Robert Peary’s expeditions to venture into the desolate lands of the Arctic. In 1909, Henson, Peary, and four Indigenous natives stood at the top of the world for the first time in recorded history. Together, they faced numerous dangers, harsh landscapes, and sub-zero temperatures.

Henson understood the magnitude of the attempt to reach the North Pole, and that he represented all African American people should he be successful. In Henson’s 1912 autobiography, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1912), he tells us in his own words about his experiences and the challenges he overcame that led him to his monumental polar achievement. Within the book, he describes his “strongest doubts” and remembers his journey as one filled with “toil, fatigue, and exhaustion.” Nevertheless, his story is one of perseverance, grit, and determination.

Cover of Matthew A. Henson's autobiography A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.
Cover of Matthew A. Henson’s autobiography A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare

I could write about it, but wouldn’t you rather have Matthew Henson share his story? Come along with me as we follow in his own words, his epic journey to the North Pole.

Schooner Roosevelt name board, ca. 1905.
Schooner Roosevelt name board, ca. 1905. Roosevelt was used during Peary’s 1905-1906 and 1908-1909 expeditions to the Arctic. The Mariners’ Museum and Park 1940.0060.000001

Traveling on an early 20th-century ship had its charm, but also its share of discomforts. Henson describes being aboard SS Roosevelt as they made their way north toward the Arctic…

From Etah to Cape Sheridan, which was to be our last point north in the ship, consumed twenty-one days of the hardest kind of work imaginable for a ship…The constant jolting, bumping, and jarring against the ice-packs, forwards and backwards, the sudden stops and starts and the frequent storms made work and comfort aboard ship all but impossible.

Roosevelt in winter quarters at Cape Sheridan.
Roosevelt in winter quarters at Cape Sheridan. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare_138

And there were some important rules that had to be followed:

There is a general rule that every member of the expedition, including the sailors, must take a bath at least once a week, and it is wonderful how contagious bathing is. Even the Esquimos [sic] (now referred to as Inuit) catch it, and frequently Charley has to interrupt the upward development of some ambitious native, who has suddenly perceived the need of ablutions, and has started to scrub himself in the water that is intended for cooking purposes.

Henson, like the rest of the crew, had his assigned duties. But what did he do to pass the time while traveling for months onboard Roosevelt?

Roosevelt beached for repairs at the head of Etah Fiord.
Roosevelt beached for repairs at the head of Etah Fiord. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1905 .P3 Rare_Pl 72

On board ship there was quite an extensive library, especially on Arctic and Antarctic topics…In my own cabin I had Dickens’ “Bleak House,” Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads,” and the poems of Thomas Hood; also a copy of the Holy Bible, which had been given to me by a dear old lady in Brooklyn, N. Y. I also had Peary’s books, “Northward Over the Great Ice,” and his last work “Nearest the Pole.” During the long dreary midnights of the Arctic winter, I spent many a pleasant hour with my books.

Matthew Henson was quick to give credit where credit was due. He regularly applauded the tenacity and aptitude of the Esquimos. After all, they knew the land better than anyone, having lived there for thousands of years. But Henson also regularly praised and credited the expedition’s success to the North’s unlikely hero – the dog.

Sled dogs pulling cargo with man beside the cargo.
Polar transport. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G850 1910 .A5 Rare_192

Next to the Esquimos, the dogs are the most interesting subjects in the Arctic regions, and I could tell lots of tales to prove their intelligence and sagacity. These animals, more wolf than dog, have associated themselves with the human beings of this country as have their kin in more congenial places of the earth…Without the Esquimo dog, the story of the North Pole would remain untold; human ingenuity has not yet devised any other means to overcome the obstacles of cold, storm, and ice that nature has placed in the way than those that were utilized on this expedition.

The four North Pole Esquimos.
The four North Pole Esquimos. Image was taken by Henson. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare_77

What does one pack to wear to the frigid Arctic tundra? Furs, of course. But fresh furs have to stay clean because if they get too dirty, they become infested with vermin.

It is easy to become vermin-infested, and when all forms of life but man and dog seem to have disappeared, the bedbug still remains. Each person had taken a good hot bath with plenty of soap and water before we left the ship, and we had given each other what we called a “prize-fighter’s hair-cut.” We ran the clippers from forehead back, all over the head, and we looked like a precious bunch…

Admiral Robert Peary in his Arctic fur gear.
Admiral Robert Peary in his Arctic fur gear. The Mariners’ Museum and Park PP1561 Robert Peary.

The Arctic is no easy place to endure. Ice forms that shift under your feet. Blinding ice storms and dense fogs. Henson reminds us that traveling to earth’s farthest reaches was no simple feat:

These floes were hardly thick enough to hold a dog safely, but, there being no other way, we were obliged to cross on them. We set out with jaws squared by anxiety. A false step by any one would mean the end…For the next five hours our trail lay over heavy pressure ridges, in some places sixty feet high. We had to make a trail over the mountains of ice and then come back for the sledges. A difficult climb began. Pushing from our very toes, straining every muscle

It was during the march of the 3d of April that I endured an instant of hideous horror. We were crossing a lane of moving ice…when the block of ice I was using as a support slipped from underneath my feet, and before I knew it the sledge was out of my grasp, and I was floundering in the water of the lead. I did the best I could. I tore my hood from off my head and struggled frantically. My hands were gloved and I could not take hold of the ice, but before I could give the “Grand Hailing Sigh of Distress,” faithful old Ootah had grabbed me by the nape of the neck, the same as he would have grabbed a dog, and with one hand he pulled me out of the water, and with the other hurried the team across. He had saved my life.

Henson wearing his Arctic furs.
Matthew A. Henson immediately after the sledge journey to the pole and back. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare_123

The loss of life – especially that of his friend Professor Ross G. Marvin – weighed on Henson:

My good, kind friend was never again to see us, or talk with us. It is sad to write this. He went back to his death, drowned in the cold, black water of the Big Lead. In unmarked, unmarbled grave, he sleeps his last, long sleep.

As they neared their intended Polar destination, Matthew Henson begins describing the anxious excitement as they pressed onward:

Commander Peary and I were alone (save for the four Esquimos), the same as we had been so often in the past years, and as we looked at each other we realized our position and we knew without speaking that the time had come for us to demonstrate that we were the men who, it had been ordained, should unlock the door which held the mystery of the Arctic.

But the most evident feeling of pride came when they reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909:

A thrill of patriotism ran through me and I raised my voice to cheer the starry emblem of my native land. It was about ten or ten-thirty a. m., on the 7th of April, 1909, that the Commander gave the order to build a snow-shield to protect him from the flying drift of the surface-snow. I knew that he was about to take an observation, and while we worked I was nervously apprehensive, for I felt that the end of our journey had come….I was sure that he was satisfied, and I was confident that the journey had ended. Feeling that the time had come, I ungloved my right hand and went forward to congratulate him on the success of our eighteen years of effort…The Commander gave the word, “We will plant the stars and stripes—at the North Pole!” and it was done; on the peak of a huge paleocrystic floeberg the glorious banner was unfurled to the breeze, and as it snapped and crackled with the wind, I felt a savage joy and exultation.

Matthew Henson was aware that his contribution alongside Peary was a major accomplishment to all people of his race. His words demonstrate that he understood he would now have a place in history, alongside the great triumphs of other people of color:

Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man. From the building of the pyramids and the journey to the Cross, to the discovery of the new world and the discovery of the North Pole, the Negro had been the faithful and constant companion of the Caucasian, and I felt all that it was possible for me to feel, that it was I, a lowly member of my race, who had been chosen by fate to represent it, at this, almost the last of the world’s great work.

As Henson’s words reach the end of his book and his journey back home concluded, his final thoughts are of a bittersweet longing. There is pride in what he had done mixed with a yearning to be back in the Arctic lands, where friendships were made and historic feats completed:

To-day there is a more general knowledge of Commander Peary, his work and his success, and a vague understanding of the fact that Commander Peary’s sole companion from the realm of civilization, when he stood at the North Pole, was Matthew A. Henson, a Colored Man…

And now my story is ended; it is a tale that is told.

I long to see them all again! the brave, cheery companions of the trail of the North….the lure of the Arctic is tugging at my heart, to me the trail is calling!

Henson in his North Pole furs. Taken after his return to civilization.
Henson in his North Pole furs. Taken after his return to civilization. The Mariners’ Museum and Park G670 1909.P3 H5 Rare_139

To read more about Henson’s early life and work with Robert Peary, please read the blog post “Matthew Henson: An Arctic Explorer”, by Liz Williams, The Mariners’ registrar.

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Why Marie Antoinette's Reputation Changes With Each Generation

Why Marie Antoinette's Reputation Changes With Each Generation

Approximately 230 years after Marie Antoinette’s execution by guillotine at the hands of revolutionaries, the French queen remains one of history’s most recognizable royals. Depicted alternatively as a materialistic, self-absorbed young woman who ignored her people’s suffering; a more benign figure who was simply out of her depth; and a feminist scapegoat for men’s mistakes, she continues to captivate in large part because of her tragic fate.

“[Marie Antoinette] has no official power. She’s just the wife of the king of France, and yet she’s put to death,” says Catriona Seth, a historian and literary scholar at the University of Oxford. “It seems like an almost gratuitous action on the part of the revolutionaries. … [If] they had sent her back to Austria or put her in a convent,” she would be far less famous.

Emilia Schule as Marie Antoinette and Louis Cunningham as Louis XVI

Emilia Schüle as Marie Antoinette and Louis Cunningham as Louis XVI

Caroline Dubois – Capa Drama / Banijay Studios France / Les Gens / Canal+

Marie Antoinette’s exploits at the glittering court of Versailles, coupled with her dramatic fall from grace during the French Revolution, have inspired numerous silver screen adaptations, from a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer to Sofia Coppola’s sympathetic 2006 biopic. But “Marie Antoinette,” a new series premiering in the United States on March 19, is the first major English-language television show to tell the queen’s story. Much like Marie Antoinette herself, it’s proving controversial, with biographer Évelyne Lever deeming the production a “grotesque caricature” and a “litany of historic aberrations.”

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series’ debut on PBS.

Is “Marie Antoinette” based on a true story?

Yes, but with extensive dramatic license. Created by British screenwriter Deborah Davis, who co-wrote the 2018 period drama The Favourite, “Marie Antoinette” originally premiered in Europe in 2022. Featuring Emilia Schüle as the queen and Louis Cunningham as her hapless husband, Louis XVI, the show’s first season (one of three planned installments) covers roughly 1770 to 1781, beginning with Marie Antoinette’s journey to France and ending with the birth of her first son. In between these milestones, she struggles to win the affection of both her husband and her subjects, all while navigating the competing interests of her birth kingdom of Austria and her new home.

In keeping with the recent period drama trend of presenting historical figures and settings through a thoroughly modern lens (see “Bridgerton,” “The Great” and “The Serpent Queen”), “Marie Antoinette” offers a feminist take on the queen’s life. As Schüle told Variety last October, Marie Antoinette was a “rebel” who was “modern, emancipated, and fought for equality and for her personal freedom.”

In truth, says Melanie Clegg, author of Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History, the queen “absolutely wouldn’t have regarded herself” as a feminist, despite the fact that “she came from a place where a woman”—her mother, the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa—“was in charge.” Seth calls the label “anachronistic” and points out that it “doesn’t correspond to [Marie Antoinette’s] way of viewing things at all.”

The historian continues, “People have a tendency to try and make Marie Antoinette seem less complex than she actually was,” ignoring the changes in character she underwent over the course of her reign.

“Marie Antoinette” has sparked intense criticism in France, even leading Le Figaro to suggest that British and American filmmakers “should be banned from Versailles.” By portraying the queen as a “sort of militant feminist before her time” and including “an avalanche of scenes that are often vulgar, totally out of context and sometimes plain obscene,” the show insults her memory, the French newspaper argued. Lever, author of a 2000 biography of Marie Antoinette, told the publication that “as a historian, I am embarrassed that viewers believe that this series accurately reflects the times.”

What events does “Marie Antoinette” dramatize?

One of 16 children born to Maria Theresa, a Habsburg empress whose domain spanned modern-day Austria, Hungary, Italy and Croatia, Marie Antoinette was raised in Vienna. As a child, she crossed paths with a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, struggled with her academic studies, and excelled at dancing and music. Then known as Archduchess Maria Antonia, she was betrothed to the French dauphin, the future Louis XVI, to cement an alliance between their two countries. Wed to the 15-year-old Louis by proxy in April 1770, the 14-year-old Marie Antoinette arrived in France the following month.

“She was at once welcomed and made to feel unwelcome, since her husband wasn’t particularly excited about having a young wife,” says Seth, “[and] Austria was still considered by a number of people at court to be an enemy nation.”

Marie Antoinette found herself at the center of a decadent, lascivious court presided over by the dauphin’s paternal grandfather, Louis XV, and his mistress Madame du Barry. Given the comparatively “prudish nature of her … upbringing,” in the words of biographer Antonia Fraser, she was in many ways ill prepared for life in France, failing to immediately grasp the nature of du Barry’s role at Versailles, where the chief royal mistress was a formal title. Told that the sex worker-turned-mistress was there to pleasure the king, Fraser writes, Marie Antoinette cheerfully replied, “Oh, then I shall be her rival, because I too wish to give pleasure to the king.”

Marie Antoinette at age 13

Marie Antoinette at age 13

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette at age 16

Marie Antoinette at age 16

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The new dauphine’s main duty was to give birth to a male heir who would continue the Bourbon dynasty’s centuries-long reign. Maria Theresa had advised her daughter to “submit to [her] husband and produce children as soon as possible,” says Clegg, but this proved impossible, as young Louis was wholly uninterested in sex. Ultimately, it would take seven years for the couple to consummate their marriage. (Possible explanations for the delay include a condition called phimosis that would’ve made intercourse painful for Louis, the pair’s young age at the time of their wedding and Louis’ low sex drive.)

Marie Antoinette went to France “knowing and believing that the main focus of her life was to be a good wife and a mother,” Clegg explains. “She felt like she was failing in both [areas], so she floundered for a really long time.”

Unable to fulfill the role she’d been prepared for her whole life, Marie Antoinette sought distraction in the form of fashion, lavish balls and gambling. She chose her friends based on how much she enjoyed their company rather than their station in society, and she bristled at the court’s strict etiquette, repeatedly clashing with du Barry.

“The queen of France was always a foreign queen,” says Clegg, “and there was a general assumption that she would be quite docile. … The king would always have a French-born mistress who would lead the court, who would set the fashions, who would go to all the parties [and] who was assumed to have French interests very much at heart.”

Madame du Barry, chief mistress to Louis XV

Madame du Barry, chief mistress to Louis XV

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Louis XV

Louis XV

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette’s rivalry with du Barry came to a close in May 1774, when Louis XV died at age 64. The king’s eldest son had died a decade prior, so it fell to his 19-year-old grandson, who took the throne as Louis XVI, to promptly banish du Barry from court. The new monarch had more pressing matters at hand than the fate of a former mistress: According to the memoirs of one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting, Madame Campan, he and his wife “threw themselves on their knees” upon learning of Louis XV’s death, “pouring forth a flood of tears [as they] exclaimed, ‘Oh God, guide us, protect us; we are too young to reign.’”

What happened during Marie Antoinette’s reign?

Louis and Marie Antoinette inherited a kingdom on the brink of disaster. France was deeply in debt, and long-brewing tensions between different social classes were about to come to a head. Both royals believed in an absolute monarchy, but neither had the decisive, forceful personality needed to make such a system work. Adding to these troubles was the Flour War, a series of riots that took place in spring 1775 in response to rising bread prices and poor grain harvests.

Though Marie Antoinette was later purported to have said “Let them eat cake” when told of the starving peasantry’s plight (a falsehood convincingly debunked by Fraser and other historians), her correspondence suggests she was sensitive to her subjects’ suffering. After Louis’ coronation in June 1775, the queen wrote a heartfelt letter to her mother, saying, “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.” Still, she had limited political influence, and it was her own position at court, rather than the well-being of the citizenry, that served as her main priority.

Five years in, Marie Antoinette’s marriage remained unconsummated. Both disappointed by and defensive of this state of affairs, the queen increasingly retreated into her own world, transforming the Petit Trianon, a chateau on the grounds of Versailles, into a private haven for herself and her favorites. During these escapes from court, she and her friends often dressed up as shepherdesses and pretended to be peasants—actions interpreted by some of her contemporaries as mocking the lower classes.

1783 portrait of Marie Antoinette by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

This 1783 portrait of Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was criticized for showing the queen in informal attire.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Princess de Lamballe

The Princess de Lamballe, a close friend of Marie Antoinette, was killed by a revolutionary mob in 1792.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“She’s not always aware of the consequences of what she does and says, and sometimes what she did was open to misinterpretation,” says Seth. People saw Marie Antoinette’s time at Trianon “as a refusal to play the part of queen,” Seth adds, “[of] evidence of her having a secret life or an aspiration to have a parallel existence.”

In actuality, writes Fraser in Marie Antoinette: The Journey, “The whole point of [Trianon’s] interior was its exquisite simplicity. This desire for simplicity and retreat was in fact the key to the whole enterprise—that and the desire to have something personal to her.”

It was during these early years of Marie Antoinette’s reign that there began to be “something desperate about her enjoyment of pleasures,” according to Fraser. “The levity, the lightness of spirit, the volatility … with which [she] is so much associated in the popular mind … can be traced back to this period, when disappointment in her marriage began to be masked by enjoyment of her position.”

The long-awaited consummation only took place in August 1777, after an intervention by the queen’s oldest brother, Joseph II of Austria. Worried by reports of his sister’s extravagant spending and marital troubles, the emperor traveled to France, where he made a frank assessment of the situation, likening his brother-in-law to a recalcitrant donkey.

Joseph declared his sister and her husband “complete blunderers” and ordered the pair to fulfill their duty, offering advice that culminated in a successful coupling just before Louis’ 23rd birthday. “I am in the most essential happiness of my entire life,” Marie Antoinette wrote to her mother. “It has already been more than eight days since my marriage was perfectly consummated; the proof has been repeated and yesterday even more completely than the first time.”

Louis XVI

Louis XVI

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The queen gave birth to her first child, Marie Thérèse Charlotte, in December 1778. Though not the son and heir Marie Antoinette had hoped for, the infant enchanted her mother, who reportedly said, “A son would have been the property of the state. You shall be mine; you shall have my undivided care; you will share all my happinesses and you will alleviate my sufferings.”

If Marie Antoinette thought motherhood would stop the scurrilous gossip that had followed her since her arrival in France, she was sorely mistaken. Pamphlets known as libelles accused the queen of seeking sexual gratification outside of her marriage, with everyone from her brother-in-law to her female favorites to her servants. These pornographic caricatures sowed the seeds for Marie Antoinette “to be criticized throughout her life and be accused … of betraying the king,” says Seth. “Implicitly, if she’s betraying the king, [she’s] betraying France.”

Much of the vitriol directed at the queen stemmed from her purported sexual appetite; her perceived allegiance to Austria over France (critics dubbed her “l’Autrichienne,” or “the Austrian bitch”); and her dual status at French court. Both Louis XIV and Louis XV had official mistresses who served as the court’s dominant female presence, holding more sway over political matters than the kings’ actual wives. But Louis XVI never took a lover, meaning his wife effectively had to occupy the roles of both queen and mistress. More visible—and naturally flamboyant—than her predecessors, Marie Antoinette attracted criticism that would normally have been reserved for the royal mistress.

A 1785 portrait of Marie Antoinette and two of her children walking on the grounds of Petit Trianon

A 1785 portrait of Marie Antoinette and two of her children walking on the grounds of Petit Trianon

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A 1787 portrait of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children

A 1787 portrait of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Between 1781 and 1786, the queen gave birth to three more children: two sons, both named Louis, and a daughter, Sophie Hélène Béatrix. During these pregnancies, propagandists questioned the paternity of the royal children, identifying a rotating cast of courtiers—among them the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen—as their real fathers. (Of Marie Antoinette’s rumored lovers, it was Fersen she cared for most; according to Fraser, he was the only man she likely slept with outside of her marriage.)

Instead of taking the libelles seriously, the queen simply laughed them off. “She didn’t realize that people were actually reading these things and believing them,” Clegg says. “They were having a really profound [negative] effect on her reputation throughout France and beyond.”

A cartoon depicting Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI melting down gold coins to make furniture

A cartoon depicting Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI melting down gold coins to make furniture

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

What happened after the events depicted in “Marie Antoinette”?

The first season of “Marie Antoinette” ends with the birth of the dauphin, Louis Joseph Xavier François, in 1781, eight years before the beginning of the French Revolution. Disapproval of the queen’s lavish lifestyle—coupled with an “avalanche of defamation” leveled at her between 1789 and 1793, in the words of historian Robert Darnton—helped spark the unrest, but Marie Antoinette wasn’t solely to blame for the conflict. Her husband’s indecision on key issues, new democratic ideals linked to the Enlightenment, inequitable taxation, poor harvests and countless other factors contributed to the crisis, which started with the convening of the Estates General, an assembly of France’s three social classes, in May 1789. Revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress and prison on July 14 and imprisoned the royal family in the Tuileries Palace that October.

Arrest of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children after the flight to Varennes

Arrest of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children after the flight to Varennes

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

While under house arrest in Paris, Marie Antoinette assumed a more active role in her family, in part out of necessity. The king had fallen into a state of depression following the 7-year-old dauphin’s death in June 1789, and he found himself “trapped between what he wanted to do and what he had to do,” such as agreeing to a new French Constitution that stripped him of much of his power, says Seth. Marie Antoinette was the one who held “discussions, set up networks and [exchanged secret] political correspondences” with supporters. Working with Fersen and other royalists, she hatched a plan to spirit her family to safety in Austria. But the June 1791 escape attempt failed, greatly damaging the royals’ reputation and casting doubt that Louis could ever be content as a constitutional rather than absolute monarch.

On September 21, 1792, the Legislative Assembly officially abolished the monarchy and established the First Republic. The revolutionaries tried Louis for treason and executed him by guillotine the following January. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette followed him to the scaffold, transported in an open cart through crowds eager for the death of the “Austrian she-wolf,” a “monster who needed to slake her thirst on the blood of the French,” as the libelles described her. Her last words were an apology to the executioner for stepping on his foot: “I did not do it on purpose.”

Execution of Marie Antoinette

Execution of Marie Antoinette

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

What is Marie Antoinette’s legacy?

Marie Antoinette’s legacy varies depending on whom one asks. In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson claimed that “had there been no queen, there would have been no revolution.” Stefan Zweig, in his 1932 biography of Marie Antoinette, argued that she was “neither fire nor ice,” but rather “the average woman of yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Fraser, whose highly sympathetic biography served as the source material for Coppola’s 2006 film, told NPR that “married to another man, a man of more guts and strength, she might have made a great queen.”

Seth says Marie Antoinette’s most enduring legacies are her strong visual identity and influence on French music. Though the queen “may have judged things wrong,” Seth believes she set out to “improve the lot of the French and the state of the French nation as she saw it.”

Clegg is more critical in her assessment of Marie Antoinette, saying, “She acted with agency,” particularly toward the end of her life, “but she didn’t actually achieve very much.”

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette With a Rose, 1783

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette With a Rose, 1783

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

An unfinished portrait of Marie Antoinette by Alexander Kucharsky

An unfinished portrait of Marie Antoinette by Alexander Kucharsky

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Seth argues that the queen’s tragic death cemented her legacy. Paraphrasing a warning posed by writer Germaine de Staël ahead of Marie Antoinette’s execution, the historian says, “If you execute [Marie Antoinette], you will consecrate her. You will turn her into this martyr figure, and, in a sense, you will give her a power she doesn’t have. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Ultimately, Marie Antoinette is best understood as a cipher whose life has been continually reinterpreted—and weaponized—to fit a specific agenda, whether it be the royalist cause in 19th-century France or contemporary feminism.

The queen, biographer Lever told Le Figaro, “is a woman-mirror who reflects the fantasies of each period, from her times to today.”

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The Tenacious Women Reporters Who Helped Expose the Boston Strangler

The Tenacious Women Reporters Who Helped Expose the Boston Strangler

Carrie Coon and Keira Knightley in "Boston Strangler"

Carrie Coon (left) as Jean Cole and Keira Knightley (right) as Loretta McLaughlin in the Boston Strangler movie
20th Century Studios / Hulu

Even after his capture, confession and incarceration, the identity of the “Boston Strangler” remained contested.

Skeptics both then and now claimed the man who had confessed to the crimes, Albert DeSalvo, couldn’t have committed all 13 of the murders attributed to him. Even in the local police department, some refused to believe the killings that haunted Boston in the early 1960s were the work of a lone individual. According to these critics, one killer may have been responsible for some of the murders, but copycats likely capitalized on the terror, too, drawing on detailed newspaper coverage of the crimes to replicate the strangler’s M.O.

The speculation surrounding the serial killer is now getting the Hollywood treatment, with a particular focus on two women journalists who doggedly reported on the murders of single women across the Boston area. Premiering on Hulu and Disney+ on March 17, Boston Strangler stars Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as reporters Loretta McLaughlin and Jean Cole, respectively. The pair’s investigations for the Boston Record American (a forebearer of the Boston Herald) offered scrupulous insights on the murders and advanced the theory that the crimes were the work of a single killer, whom they dubbed the “Boston Strangler.”

The new film charts the women’s attempts to report on the escalating crimes while navigating sexism in the workplace and police recalcitrance prompted by the depth of their reporting. In the summer of 1962, toward the start of the killing spree, “an editor disputed the worth of a series on the four dead women, noting that they were ‘nobodies,’” McLaughlin later recalled. “Why should anyone murder four obscure women? That was what made them so interesting … sisters in anonymity, like all of us.”

McLaughlin and Cole’s reporting sparked controversy both in the newsroom and beyond. Their first major story together, published in January 1963, was headlined “Two Girl Reporters Analyze Strangler”—a title that ignored the pair’s journalistic achievements and the fact that they were then in their 30s. Authorities were angry at the level of detail the Record American revealed to the public, and they rejected the pair’s suggestion that one man was responsible for terrorizing the women of the city. The police also tried to suppress key information, including excerpts from files leaked by the medical examiner’s office.

Today, some still view the Record American’s coverage of the killings as damaging. Casey Sherman, author of A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Real Boston Strangler, says, “If you despised a woman in the 1960s, you had a blueprint on how to commit a Boston Strangler-style murder, because all of the grisly details were printed.” Knightley, meanwhile, tells Screen Rant the two reporters were simply providing information that needed to be public “to keep [the] women of Boston safe.”

The Boston Strangler is credited with the killings of 13 women between June 1962 and January 1964. Ranging in age from 19 to 85, most of the victims were sexually assaulted in their homes, then strangled to death with articles of clothing. (Exceptions included 26-year-old Beverly Samans, who was stabbed to death, and 85-year-old Mary Mullen, who seemingly died of a heart attack during the assault.)

Nine of the Boston Strangler's suspected victims

Nine of the Boston Strangler’s suspected victims (clockwise from top left): Sophie Clark, Jane Sullivan, Helen Blake, Ida Irga, Patricia Bissette, Mary Sullivan, Evelyn Corbin, Beverly Samans and Anna Slesers

The Boston Globe via

The first victim, 55-year-old Anna Slesers, was found strangled with her bathrobe belt on the kitchen floor of her apartment on June 14, 1962. Within a few weeks, two women in their 60s were also found sexually assaulted and strangled. A pattern was emerging of a madman brutalizing unmarried older women in their homes.

By late August, the number of victims was up to six: Slesers, Mullen, Nina Nichols, Helen Blake, Ida Irga and Jane Sullivan. (Authorities only attributed Mullen’s death to the Boston Strangler years later, when DeSalvo confessed to attacking her.) Local newspapers carried breathless coverage of the killings, accusing a “phantom strangler” of unleashing a “maniacal spree of violence [that has] gripped in terror thousands of Greater Boston women who live alone,” as the Boston Globe put it.

What unnerved so many was that these women had been attacked in their own homes after apparently voluntarily allowing the killer inside. To protect themselves, some women began carrying pepper and ammonia, tear gas guns, or hatpins. Police advised women who lived alone to lock all of their doors and windows and “let no one into an apartment until positive identification is established.”

Record-American artist Sam Nazzaro draws a sketch of the Boston Strangler in August 1962.

Record American artist Sam Nazzaro draws a sketch of the Boston Strangler in August 1962.

Boston Public Library under CC BY-NC-ND

A brief respite arrived in fall 1962, with no new killings reported until December. The break helped authorities better mobilize to investigate the murders and improve communication between units from the various municipalities in which the crimes took place.

Initially, the assailant was believed to be targeting middle-aged or elderly women. Then, on December 5, Sophie Clark, a 20-year-old African American student at the Carnegie Institute of Medical Technology, was found strangled with a pair of stockings in the foyer of her apartment.

The police investigation took a sharp turn. The murders were no longer limited to older white women, and the killer—or killers, as some posited—was becoming more brazen in his attacks, leaving semen at a crime scene for the first time. Another young woman, 22-year-old Patricia Bissette, turned up dead in her apartment, a white blouse and three stockings tied around her neck, on New Year’s Eve.

Loretta McLaughlin later in life

Loretta McLaughlin later in life

Courtesy of the Boston Globe

After reports of the fourth killing broke that summer, McLaughlin urged her editor at the Record American to give her the space to probe the unsolved murders. She and Cole were already accomplished investigative journalists: McLaughlin had earned recognition for her medical stories, while Cole was known for a yearslong exposé on nursing homes in Massachusetts.

Beginning in January 1963, the pair wrote a major investigative series on the strangler, “in which they not only reconstructed the crimes themselves but dissected the police investigations as well,” writes Susan Kelly in her book The Boston Stranglers, originally published in 1995.

McLaughlin and Cole were among the most vocal critics of the investigation’s inefficiencies and oversights. In tense meetings with the attorney general’s office, the pair argued that the Boston Police Department had fed false information to the press and failed to exchange the names of suspects with other law enforcement agencies, among other examples of mismanagement.

All of the duo’s articles were meticulous and unsparing in their details. In a January 14 report about Blake, for instance, McLaughlin and Cole recounted how the killer had apparently sifted through the 65-year-old’s belongings:

Some drawers are pulled out of a desk and a bureau. Others are removed completely and set on the floor. … Helen’s watches have all been examined and placed on the bureau. Her jewelry boxes have been opened and are on the floor. Her pocketbooks have been gone through. Even the sugar bowl and teapot have been looked into.

Jean Cole

Jean Cole

Courtesy of the Boston Herald

Authorities were livid that such extensive detail had filtered out to the public, arguing that anyone could confess to or imitate the murders based on this information. As Kelly notes, a January 23 article furthered these fears, listing the names, ages, employers and hobbies of the suspected victims, as well as their times of death, when their bodies were found, their causes of death, what they were wearing when they were killed, the probability of sexual assault and whether their apartment had been ransacked.

In articles like “Strangler Strong, Calm, Cold Killer,” McLaughlin and Cole argued the murders were the work of a single, intelligent psychopath with a history of sexually deviant behavior. Beyond the fact that all of the victims were single women, they found compelling connections between the attacks. According to Gerold Frank’s The Boston Strangler, published in 1966, the reporters noted that each victim was “orderly, well-groomed, self-sufficient, respectable.” The murders often involved “strangling, using a personal article of the victim,” and the assailant usually spent time “inspecting the victim’s belongings” after the attack. The sexual assaults were “peculiarly incomplete.”

After publishing 29 articles in just one month, McLaughlin and Cole’s carte blanche reporting freedom came to a screeching halt. Enormous external political pressure, plus internal newspaper politics, shut down their efforts in February 1963. Critics, among them the women’s editors, the police and the senior medical examiner, considered the pair meddling reporters who weren’t actually helping the investigation. Detective James Mellon refused to read the series, telling a friend, “I want to be sure that what I know comes from the case itself, not from someone’s typewriter.”

Four more murders attributed to the Boston Strangler took place in 1963, confounding investigators and leaving the public convinced there was no end to the killings in sight. Joann Graff, 22, was the youngest of the four new victims, while 69-year-old Mary Brown was the oldest. Brown had been stabbed multiple times but died of strangulation; another victim, 26-year-old Samans, died of stab wounds but was found with scarves and a stocking tied around her neck. The killer’s final victim, 19-year-old Mary Sullivan, was murdered on January 4, 1964.

Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke took control of the investigation a few days later, launching a major task force commonly referred to as the “Strangler Bureau.” He promised to centralize competing investigations in different municipalities and dedicate new resources to capturing this phantom killer.

McLaughlin and Cole at the site of Ida Irga's murder

McLaughlin and Cole at the site of Ida Irga’s murder

Courtesy of the Boston Herald via

A major development in the case arrived on October 27, 1964, when DeSalvo—later described by the Boston Herald as an “erstwhile … handyman”—conned his way into a woman’s home by posing as a police detective. In a break from the Boston Strangler’s established pattern, DeSalvo raped the woman, apologized to her and then left. She reported him to the police, who picked him up based on her description. When DeSalvo’s photograph appeared in the newspapers, other women came forward to say he’d attacked them, too.

DeSalvo was charged with assault, burglary and sex offenses—but not murder. While awaiting trial for a different set of attacks known as the “Green Man” crimes in late 1965, he told a fellow inmate he was also responsible for the Boston Strangler killings. The inmate then relayed this intelligence to his attorney.

Subsequent conversations with police seemingly confirmed DeSalvo’s guilt. He knew specific details of the murders, such as the color of the furniture in some of the victims’ apartments and the identity of a victim whose photograph had never been previously published. His confession helped convince the people of Boston the serial killer had finally been caught. But doubts lingered, as no physical evidence linked DeSalvo to the crimes.

DeSalvo stood trial for the Green Man assaults in January 1967. The Record American covered the trial, using Cole and a string of other reporters to keep readers updated, but didn’t revisit the 1963 series.

Albert DeSalvo is escorted by police officers during his trial

Albert DeSalvo is escorted by police officers during his January 1967 trial.

Boston Public Library under CC BY-NC-ND

DeSalvo’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey (who later defended Patty Hearst and O.J. Simpson), argued for his client to end up in a hospital, “where doctors could try to find out what made him kill.” Instead, DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison—a result that led Bailey to declare, “Society is deprived of a study that might help deter other mass killers who lived among us, waiting for the trigger to go off inside them.”

DeSalvo was never tried for the Boston Strangler murders. Besides a February 1967 jailbreak that sparked a statewide manhunt, he spent the remainder of his life in prison. He was stabbed to death in a prison infirmary in November 1973, shortly after recanting his confession.

Debates over DeSalvo’s guilt continue to this day, despite a 2013 DNA analysis that convincingly connected him to Sullivan’s murder. Investigators concluded that DeSalvo was “most likely” responsible for the other Boston Strangler killings, too. But some dispute this point, emphasizing that the DNA only links DeSalvo to one of the murders and speculating that multiple killers were responsible for the rest of the crimes. Kelly, for instance, sticks to her original conclusion that “there was not one Boston Strangler, but rather a bare minimum of six and much more likely eight or nine.”

Certain contemporary observers also remain unconvinced that McLaughlin and Cole’s work was in the public interest. They “helped to create and feed the narrative that there was a sole serial killer stalking the women of Boston from 1962 [to] 1964,” says Sherman, who is Sullivan’s nephew. “By doing so, they did a disservice to investigators working for the Boston Strangler Task Force, [which] identified at least six suspects who they believed had committed the murders independently from each other.” (Decades after the murders, McLaughlin remained adamant that DeSalvo was the assailant, writing, “People still ask if Albert DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Yes, he was.”)

Others give credit where credit is due. In her book, Kelly argues that the pair’s reporting was “brilliant investigative journalism” and the work of “two extraordinarily resourceful and tenacious reporters.” Still, she qualifies her praise by writing, “The template for homicide provided by the Record American’s ‘Strangle Worksheet’ no doubt influenced [other criminals] as well.”

In a 1991 op-ed, McLaughlin recalled how editors undermined her reporting because of her gender: “Being a female reporter was often semi-apologetically noted for the readers. … Among my newsclips are several with a headline stating, ‘Girl reporter covers’ whatever it was, from murder to presidential elections.” After covering the Boston Strangler murders, however, both McLaughlin and Cole went on to have storied careers in investigative journalism.

McLaughlin focused on health and medicine, particularly emerging public health issues like the AIDS epidemic. She reported on the “mysterious new disorder” as early as 1982. Later, as an editorial page editor at the Boston Globe, she used her position to blast “the federal government for its failure to respond forcefully to the [AIDS] crisis,” said colleague Marjorie Pritchard in her obituary. McLaughlin died in 2018 at age 90.

Arthur Godfrey and Loretta McLaughlin talking on an airplane in September 1962

Loretta McLaughlin and fellow journalist Arthur Godfrey talking on an airplane in September 1962

Boston Public Library under CC BY-NC-ND

Cole, meanwhile, stayed on the crime beat. In the mid-1960s, she reported on criminal activity in a downtown Boston district known for its sex work and underage drinking. She and her colleagues at the Record American coined a popular nickname for the neighborhood: the “Combat Zone.” Cole worked at the Record American’s successor publication, the Boston Herald American, until her retirement in 1981. She died in 2015 at age 89.

Reminiscing about Cole to the Boston Herald earlier this year, her brother, photographer Kevin Cole, described her as “very tough. She did the stories women didn’t do—murders included.”

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Katharine Cornell: A Legend of American Theater

Katharine Cornell: A Legend of American Theater

As an eager high school thespian and a lifelong lover of theater, I was so excited to discover an interesting group of Official US Army photographs that are among the tens of thousands in The Mariners’ Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation World War II collection. I really wondered what stories these wartime images could tell. So, sit back and enjoy what I learned.  

Imagine. You are Margalo Gillmore. Respected British actress of stage and screen, coming from four generations of actors and artists. Here you are, standing next to Katharine Cornell – a dynamic woman whom you have worked with twice prior to this venture, both times on Broadway. Her stoic, stern demeanor and arched eyebrows are somehow calming. You are not nervous, but the weight of the situation is heavy. But it is only a simulation. A drill to prepare for the possibility of being subjected to those vicious chemicals being used in the war. The reality is: this is a daunting task. She looks at you, smirks, and straps on her gas mask turning toward the door of the gas chamber behind you. 

Katharine Cornell, second from left, and Margalo Gillmore, center, practice a gas mask drill by stepping into a gas chamber.
Katharine Cornell, second from left, and Margalo Gillmore, center, practice a gas mask drill by stepping into a gas chamber.
The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003-01–E-9162.

Katharine Cornell is a tenacious and passionate performer, regarded as one of the leading ladies on Broadway. She earned the nickname “The First Lady of the American Theater” by critic Alexander Woollcott. Getting her start in minor roles and failed acting auditions for the Washington Square Players, Cornell eventually went on to find success as part of a touring company. With her acclaimed performance as Jo March in a London production of Little Women, Cornell established herself as a leading lady. 

Katharine Cornell, right, is poured a glass of lemonade by a Red Cross volunteer.
Katharine Cornell, right, is poured a glass of lemonade by a Red Cross volunteer.
The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003-01–L-9099.

She was even one of the three women to win the first-ever Tony Award for Lead Actress (Dramatic). She is unabashedly theatrical, perfect for the stage. She made an entree into television later in her career and her only film credit was a two-minute bit in Stage Door Canteen, where she played herself, handing out food to soldiers during World War II. 

Katharine Cornell and her husband, theatrical producer Guthrie McClintic, in uniform.
Katharine Cornell and her husband, theatrical producer Guthrie McClintic, in uniform.
The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003/01-#E-9169.

How Cornell and Gillmore came into contact with a gas chamber is pretty simple yet fascinating. In order to bring enjoyment to the troops – without being as potentially provocative the way a USO show can be – leading actors and actresses from the American Theatre Wing in New York banded together to create a theater company for the Allied troops during the Second World War.  

Katharine Cornell shakes hands with General Kilpatrick at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation.
Katharine Cornell shakes hands with General Kilpatrick at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation.
The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003-01–L-9100.

The stage is set: The Barretts of Wimpole Street. The audience: troops stationed in Italy. All the cast needed to do was go from being Broadway performers to military-trained thespians! 

Katherine Cornell in the original Broadway production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 1931.
Katherine Cornell in the original Broadway production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 1931. Theater Magazine Company. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Training began with an early morning wake up at Camp Patrick Henry (present-day Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport), breakfast, military training involving hiking and scaling abandoned-ship drills, and concluding with rehearsals for the play. The usual day for a thespian-in-training in this wartime troupe.

Katharine Cornell, right, and actress Elaine Perry climbing a rope wall.
Katharine Cornell, right, and actress Elaine Perry climbing a rope wall. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003/01-#E-9161.

Katharine and her troupe would soon land on the Italian war front. Initially, some actors were nervous that the war-weary troops would not want to listen to a three-hour drama about poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example, but rather prefer a USO show with lots of dancing and little-to-no plot. As the legend goes, during one performance, the audience started to become rowdy. A few actors were worried the audience would walk out. Cornell, on the other hand, stayed in character, waiting for the ruckus to subside.  She continued with the performance, and the audience was so enraptured with her they gave the cast a standing ovation at the play’s conclusion. 

Katharine Cornell unpacks bags in a stateroom in the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation.
Katharine Cornell unpacks bags in a stateroom in the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0003-01–L-9111.

Cornell would return to Broadway a year after the war ended, appearing in the 1946 production of Antigone and the production of Candida a few months later. She would refrain from moving to television and film until her television appearance in 1956 in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

Katherine Cornell reprises her role as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her television debut in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.
Katherine Cornell reprises her role as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her television debut in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Producers’ Showcase, NBC Television. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Public Domain.


Ennis, Thomas W. “Margalo Gillmore, An Actress on Stage and on the Screen.” The New York 

Times. July 2, 1986. 

“Katharine Cornell: Biography.” 2023.

“Katharine Cornell (Performer).” Playbill. Accessed February 22, 2023.

Whitman, Alden. “Katharine Cornell Is Dead at 81.” June 10, 1974. The New York Times

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