« May 10, 2009 | Main | May 12, 2009 »

May 11, 2009

Martha Mason, who wrote a book about living 60 years in an iron lung, is dead at 71


Long story short: Mason (above, with Mary Dalton, who directed a documentary about her)  was stricken with polio in 1948 at the age of 11, then spent the next year in hospitals before being sent home in an iron lung with a prognosis that she'd be dead within a year.

Margalit Fox's obituary in yesterday's New York Times could be an anodyne if you've been feeling depressed lately; it follows.


Martha Mason, Who Wrote Book About Her Decades in an Iron Lung, Dies at 71

Ever since the 1940s, when she was a girl in a small Southern town, Martha Mason dreamed of being a writer. But it was not till nearly half a century later, with the aid of a voice-activated computer, that she could begin setting a memoir down on paper.

Published in 2003, Ms. Mason’s memoir, "Breath," is not well known outside the Southeast, or perhaps even outside North Carolina, where she was born, grew up and died. It was published by a small regional house, Down Home Press, and was not widely reviewed. But the truly significant thing is that the book was written at all.

Ms. Mason died on Monday at her home in Lattimore, N.C. She was 71 and had lived for more than 60 years in an iron lung.

Her death was confirmed by a friend, Mary Dalton, who said Ms. Mason had died in her sleep.

Paralyzed from the neck down as a result of childhood polio, Ms. Mason was one of the last handful of Americans, perhaps 30 people, who live full time in iron lungs. There is no documented case of any American’s having done so for quite as long as she, David W. Rose, the archivist of the March of Dimes Foundation, said on Friday.

Ms. Mason is the subject of a documentary film, "Martha in Lattimore,” released in 2005 and directed by Ms. Dalton. She also appeared in "The Final Inch," a documentary about polio that was nominated for a Academy Award this year.

From her horizontal world — a 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head — Ms. Mason lived a life that was by her own account fine and full, reading voraciously, graduating with highest honors from high school and college, entertaining and eventually writing.

She chose to remain in an iron lung, she often said, for the freedom it gave her. It let her breathe without tubes in her throat, incisions or hospital stays, as newer, smaller ventilators might require. It took no professional training to operate, letting her remain mistress of her own house, with just two aides assisting her.

“I’m happy with who I am, where I am,” Ms. Mason told The Charlotte Observer in 2003. “I wouldn’t have chosen this life, certainly. But given this life, I’ve probably had the best situation anyone could ask for.”

Ms. Mason’s only immediate survivors are her aides, Ginger Justice and Melissa Boheler, whom she considered family.

Martha Ann Mason was born on May 31, 1937, and reared in Lattimore, a small town about 50 miles west of Charlotte. In September 1948, when she was 11, Martha went to bed one night feeling achy. She did not tell her parents because she did not want to compound their sorrow: that day, they had buried her 13-year-old brother, Gaston, who had died of polio a few days before.

Martha spent the next year in hospitals before being sent home in an iron lung. Doctors told her parents she would live another year at most.

She survived, she later said, because she was endlessly curious and there was so much to learn.

With daily visits from her teachers, Martha resumed her studies, graduating first in her high school class. She entered Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., receiving an associate’s degree in 1958.

Afterward, Ms. Mason and her iron lung were transported by bakery truck to Winston-Salem, where she enrolled in Wake Forest College. There, she joined a student group seeking to integrate the campus. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest in 1960.

At both colleges — they are now universities — Ms. Mason lived with her parents in a campus apartment and attended lectures by intercom. At both colleges, she graduated first in her class.

Returning to Lattimore, Ms. Mason began writing for the local newspaper, dictating her articles to her mother, Euphra. Not long afterward, Ms. Mason’s father, Willard, suffered a major heart attack and became an invalid, requiring Euphra to care for him, too. There was no more time for taking dictation. For decades afterward, Ms. Mason wrote only in her head, publishing nothing. Her father died in 1977.

Perhaps only in a place like Lattimore, whose current population is not much more than 400, could Ms. Mason have thrived as well as she did. For if Ms. Mason could not go to the town, then the town was quite prepared to come to her. The doctor visited regularly, of course, but so did all the neighbors and the neighbors’ neighbors. So did members of the local fire department, who came by during power failures to make sure her backup generator was working.

Ms. Mason often gave dinner parties — she ate lying down, with her guests around the table and the iron lung pushed up beside it — and savored lively conversation, good gossip and the occasional bawdy story. Amid the rhythmic whoosh ... whoosh of the iron lung, the local book club met in her home. High school graduates stopped by so she could admire them in their caps and gowns, as did just-married couples in their wedding finery. Souvenir magnets from faraway places, gifts from traveling friends, adorned the yellow exterior of Ms. Mason’s iron lung like labels on a steamer trunk.

But small-town life could have its drawbacks. “She’s an intellectual, yet the local video store was not going to have 'Wild Strawberries' for her to rent,” Ms. Dalton, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “She could talk to anybody, but she needed that kind of intellectual stimulation, too. And there were years when I imagine that was a little hard to come by.”

That changed in the mid-1990s, when Ms. Mason acquired a voice-activated computer with e-mail capability and Internet access. The computer brought her the world. It also let her contemplate writing her memoir, which is subtitled “Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung.”

She began the book in tribute to her mother. In the late 1980s, after a series of strokes, Euphra Mason descended into dementia and abusiveness, occasionally slapping and cursing her daughter. Ms. Mason insisted that her mother remain at home. From her iron lung, she took over the running of the household, planning meals, paying bills and arranging for her mother’s care.

After her mother’s death in 1998, Ms. Mason began work on her book in earnest. There, in her childhood home, with a microphone at her mouth and the music of the iron lung for company, she wrote her life story sentence by sentence in her soft Southern voice, with her own breath.

May 11, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

May 11, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The two faces of Nefertiti


Long story short: The famous artwork above has a second visage, made of stone beneath its stucco face.

Here's a March 31, 2009 CBC News story with details.


CT scan uncovers hidden face of Nefertiti

Researchers in Germany have discovered that Nefertiti, an Egyptian bust on display on Berlin's Altes Museum, has two faces.

A team led by Dr. Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school, used modern medical technology — a CT scan — to look under the stucco exterior of the 3,300-year-old work.

They discovered a detailed stone carving of the face of Nefertiti that differs from the external stucco face, which has earned her a reputation as The Beauty of the Nile, according to a study published Tuesday in the monthly journal Radiology.

It is not the first time scientists have used medical technology to peek beneath the surface of the antiquity, but modern computed tomography, or CT, gives a more detailed picture of the stone underneath than earlier techniques.

The Nefertiti bust consists of a limestone core covered in layers of stucco of varying thickness.

"Until we did this scan, how deep the stucco was and whether a second face was underneath it was unknown," Huppertz said. "The hypothesis was that the stone underneath was just a support."

Instead, it turned out to be a skilfully rendered artwork.

The scan (below)


reveals that the stone carving of her face had creases at the corners of the mouth and a bump on the nose that don't appear in the stucco version. The stucco artist also appears to have enhanced the height of her cheekbones.

"Changes were made, but some of them are positive, others are negative," Huppertz said.

May have been powerful ruler

Nefertiti was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten and may have been a powerful ruler in her own right. She lived from about 1370 BC to 1330 BC.

Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust in 1912 and added it to Berlin's Egyptian collection housed in a group of museums on Museum Island.

"We acquired a lot of information on how the bust was manufactured more than 3,300 years ago by the royal sculptor," Huppertz said, adding that this knowledge would help in preserving the work.

The museum refused to return the bust to Egypt for an exhibit in 2007, saying it was too fragile to travel.

Egyptologists, including experts at the British Museum in London, are now studying the differences, trying to pinpoint why someone in a position of power would have ordered them.

Huppertz said the Pharoah himself may have ordered the wrinkles smoothed on his wife's face to conform with conventional standards of beauty in 14th century B.C.

"It is possible that the bust of Nefertiti was commissioned, probably by Akhenaten himself, to represent Nefertiti according to his personal perception," he said.

The bust, currently on display at the Altes Museum, will move into the Neues Museum when it reopens in October after a restoration by British architect David Chipperfield.

May 11, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

All-in-1 Stamp


By Ji Lee, whose day job is Creative Director at Google Creative Lab in New York City.

[via Swissmiss and lila]

May 11, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Honolulu Surfing Museum

Surf's up.

May 11, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fashionista Swine Flu Masks


Designed by Irina Blok, who is "looking for an art director job" (irinablok@gmail.com).

Nice resumé.


May 11, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption' — by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton


Longtime readers may recall Jennifer Thompson's powerful June 18, 2000 New York Times Op-Ed page essay, "I Was Certain, But I Was Wrong," which recounted how her positive I.D. of a man named Ronald Cotton (above) as her rapist sent him — an innocent man, as it turned out — to prison for 11 years.

Now comes their book (below), reviewed


in yesterday's Washington Post by Kate Tuttle, as follows.


Criminal Justice

Nearly everyone in prison protests innocence, but Ronald Cotton was telling the truth. Cotton was just 22 when he walked into a Burlington, N.C., police station to answer rape allegations; he spent the next 11 years seeking freedom. "Put a man in a cage with beasts and throw away the key, and it's usually not long before the man is a beast himself," he writes in this unusual joint memoir, written with his accuser, now friend, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino.

Considering the odds stacked against him — a bum alibi, a victim focused on being the strongest possible witness, a justice system all too willing to send another young black man to jail — it's extraordinary that Cotton emerged from prison at all. More stunning still was his willingness, upon exoneration by DNA evidence, to forgive the people who put him there, including rape victim Thompson-Cannino, whose erroneous identification of Cotton in a police line-up had begun his horrible odyssey.

Their story, told here in alternating sections, emphasizes that both were victims. Still, as both acknowledge, Thompson-Cannino, traumatized as she was, spent the next decade in freedom, marrying and having kids, while Cotton endured prison. Left mostly unexamined is the role race played in his incarceration, but even the most cynical reader will be impressed with Cotton's resilience and grace.

May 11, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack



Designed by Jan Hoekstra and Leon Ramakers.

Provides a hook for smooth surfaces like tile or glass without the need for drilling or permanent adhesives.


Showers, windows, doors, walls, etc.

Aqua, White, Purple or Charcoal.


4.75"Ø x 3.33"D.


May 11, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

« May 10, 2009 | Main | May 12, 2009 »