The History of The Old Man of Coniston

  May is National Walking Month so I wanted to share with you the history behind a recent walk I did. The Old Man of Coniston (or Coniston Old Man) is located in the Lake District and is one of the fells in the Furness Fells . It is approximately 2632.61 ft high. The road up to the main car park for the hike was originally built to serve the slate quarry . The Coniston Old man has an extensive slate mining history dating back to 12th and 13th centuries. It was estimated that around this time slate began to be worked here and has been worked up until the present day. By the 1500s, established slate workings were present in the area. On the stony path on the way up to the summit, you can see numerous signs of the remnants of the slate industry from buildings and machinery to electrical pylons.   The summit itself is signified by a slate platform and cairn. Although this is a great spot to have lunch if the weather is good, the summit was historically used as a warning beacon which for

10 Weird Facts You Didn't Know About Stalin

 ‘Stalin takes care of each of us from the Kremlin’, Viktor Govorkov, 1940, Iskusstvo (Moscow, Leningrad) via Australian National University 
In today's post we're going to get close and personal with Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. Here are 10 weird yet wonderful facts you probably didn't know about Stalin.

1. Joseph Stalin was not his real name. He was actually called Josef Dzhugashvili, or Soso to his family. He first used his pseudonym 'Stalin' when writing for the St Petersburg based Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda, in 1912. Many historians believe that he took the name as it was similar to 'Lenin'. The meaning of 'Stalin' is steel or man of steel which I can never get out of my head when I think of the famous Superman movie, Man of Steel

2. He came from a violent family. Given Stalin's violent nature, it probably wont surprise you that he was beaten by his father as a child.  However, his violent upbringing goes further than that since he was also beaten by his mother and also witnessed his parents beating each other. Some historians including Tucker and Deutscher note that this exposure to violence played a role in developing his personality and may have even hardened him into a cruel man. However, Khlevniuk suggests that this was a pretty average upbringing for the time and too much emphasis should not be placed on this when assessing Stalin's political personality. 
Stalin 1901 aged 23 via Rare Historical Photos

3. Stalin wasn't actually Russian.
Despite having been a Russian dictator, Stalin wasn't actually Russian. He was born in Gori, Georgia. This makes his political career quite interesting since tried to suppress his Georgian nationality and hated seeing those who reminded him of it such as Georgian friends and his son Yakov who lived in Georgia. In 1904 he wrote an article against Georgian autonomy and during his career he consistently promoted Russian nationalism. 

4. Revolution was in His Blood. Maybe an exaggeration but he spent his formative years surrounded by revolution. Gori had a reputation for being a rebellious province as there were numerous peasant revolts against landlords. He also spent time at a seminary in Tiflis which has been described as a "cradle for revolutionaries" (in Rieber's "Stalin as a Georgian: The Formative Years). 
"Great Stalin! - Svetoch of Communism!" - 1949 by V. Ivanov via Soviet Posters

5. He Didn't Publicly Participate in the Revolution.
Stalin has been described as the "the man who missed the revolution" because he didn't play a visible role in the Revolution. However Radzinsky argues that he simply played more of a bureaucratic and organisational role during the revolution but his part was certainly important, particularly to Lenin who had trusted Stalin with making preparations if the revolution failed and finding safe houses for fellow revolutionaries. 
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at the Tehran Conference 1943 © IWM (A 20711)
6. He Wanted to be Perfect. From his childhood, Stalin had always wanted to be the best. During his political career he was very sensitive to how he was perceived and simply hated to be seen in a humorous way. For example, he was deeply irritated when Roosevelt and Churchill referred to him as 'Uncle Joe'.  He also associated himself with the party, meaning that if someone questioned him, they questioned the values of the party too. This developed into something known today as the Stalin's cult of personality. 

7. Stalin Hated Doctors. This was probably due to his paranoid nature. Stalin refused to let doctors treat his illnesses and accused several Kremlin doctors of trying to shorten the lives of Soviet leaders.

8. He was Devastated After the Death of his First Wife. When his first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, died from tuberculosis in 1907 he said, "this creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity". 

9. Stalin liked feijoas. A feijoa is a type of fruit that grows in various places including parts of South America, Georgia and New Zealand (where it is particularly popular). Apparently Stalin enjoyed the tangy taste of a feijoa and they also helped with feelings of nausea. 

10. He Had Webbed Feet. Stalin had a few physicals issues that he was self conscious about (don't we all)  one of which was his webbed feet. He covered the rest of his body including his face if his feet were ever examined by doctors. 

Do you know any odd facts about dictators? Leave them in the comments below!

Further Reading: 
Robert Himmer, On the Origin and Significance of the Name "Stalin", The Russian Review
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin
Oleg V. Khlevniuk, Stalin: A New Biography of a Dictator
R.C. Tucker, The Decisive Trifle in The Stalinist Dictatorship by Chris Ward 
I. Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography
S. Alliluyeva, 20 Letters to a Friend
Erik Van Ree, The Political Though of Joseph Stalin
Terry Martin, An Affirmative Action Empire: the Soviet Union as the Highest form of Imperialism, In A State of Nations: Empire and Nation Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin 
Rieber, Stalin as a Georgian: The Formative Years
R.C. Tucker, Stalin as a Revolutionary 1879-1929
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle


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