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The First Prime Minister

It is largely accepted that Great Britain’s first Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole, a Whig who was initially elected to Parliament in 1701.  Seen as a political moderate and efficient administrator, his skill in retaining his political office was noteworthy.

When the Tory government took control of Parliament in 1710, they targeted him and stripped him of his powers; even drummed up corruption charges of which he was (falsely) convicted. He was then briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London.  However, when George I ascended the throne, the Whigs regained control of the government and Walpole assumed his mantle as the defacto party leader, being appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. His dominance strengthened in 1720 following his handling of the scandal of the South Sea Bubble. The Whigs, under the steady hand of Walpole, were to remain in power for the next few decades.

In 1732, George II offered 10 Downing Street to Walpole as a personal gift. He accepted it only as the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. While his successors did not always live at Number 10, preferring instead to remain in their private homes, it has become known as the official residence of the prime minister.

His father, Colonel Robert Walpole, has the dubious distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person having the oldest overdue library book. He borrowed the book from Trinity College in 1667 when he was an undergraduate. It was eventually found at his family estate, Houghton Hall, and returned… some 288 years later.

Sir Robert Walpole is the 6th great-granduncle of my daughter-in-law’s great-grandaunt.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories by the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

There are 56 signatures on America’s Declaration of Independence. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I managed to link one of them back to my family.

Col. George V Ross of Pennsylvania was the brother-in-law of my 6th great-granduncle. Born in Delaware to a large family, he started reading law in his brother’s office. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 20. Politically, he began, as many gentlemen did in that day, with Tory sympathies, even serving as Crown Prosecutor for twelve years. But his allegiances began to change and he started siding with the colonists in their disputes with British rule.

He was elected to represent Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress (along with Benjamin Franklin). At the same time, he served as a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia. In 1776, he signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. In 1777, he was again appointed to represent his state at the second Continental Congress but had to resign his position due to ill health. He died from complications of gout a few years later at the young age of 49.

Before he died, he did make one more contribution to the cause. When George Washington and Robert Morris were looking for someone to fashion a symbol to represent the new nation, he took them to see his niece, a talented seamstress from Philadelphia. Her name was Betsy Ross.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Feats of Clay

There are many great people whose lives and accomplishments continue to have impact upon our lives today. And yet, they stand on the precipice of being forgotten by a fast-paced, self-absorbed world. One of them, I just discovered, sits upon a branch of my family tree.

Henry Clay was a Kentucky politician and statesman who was once named as one of the five greatest senators of all time. Here’s a little taste of what he did:

  1. Called “The Great Compromiser,” he skillfully navigated around the opposing and heated viewpoints of the 1800s. His compromises quelled regionalism and balanced states rights and national interests. His arguments managed to hold the union together until a Civil War could no longer be avoided. But by his delaying the inevitable, the union was able to gain enough strength to survive that terrible war.
  2. Not only did he actively participate in the War of 1812, he served on the committee that drafted the Treaty of Ghent which effectively ended it.
  3. He served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and in many ways defined the role, shaping it into the powerful position it is today. He served in this capacity longer than any other (with the exception of Sam Rayburn.)
  4. He supported the emerging South American republics, helping many to find their way to becoming independent nations.  As a result, he became as beloved a figure there as Simon Bolivar.
  5. He argued many times in front of the Supreme Court. He was the first to introduce the concept of the Amicus Brief. His arguments continue to be cited to this day.
  6. As a farmer, he was respected as a breeder and one who utilized scientific data. He introduced Hereford Cattle to the United States and was a prominent provider of mules to the South.
  7. He influenced many politicians who came after him, including Abraham Lincoln who described him as being his “ideal beau of a statesman.”
  8. He left a family legacy of which we are a part. Henry Clay was the 8th great grandfather of the man who married my niece.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

His Excellency’s Guard

On March 11, 1776, George Washington issued a General Order directing his Commanding Officers to select four men from each regiment. These men would be used to form his personal guard. He was very specific in his request:

“His Excellency depends upon the Colonels for good Men, such as they can recommend for their sobriety, honesty and good behavior; he wishes them to be from five feet eight inches high, to five feet ten inches; handsomely and well made, and as there is nothing in his eyes more desirable than Cleanliness in a Soldier, he desires that particular attention be made in the choice of such men as are clean and spruce.”

The official designation of this new unit was “His Excellency’s Guard,” or the “General’s Guard.” However, enlisted soldiers would refer to the unit as “The Life Guards” or “Body Guards.”

Two months after its formation, they were at the center of what came to be known as the Hickey mutiny. This attempt to infiltrate Washington’s inner circle in order to assassinate him was eventually uncovered and resulted in the arrest of a number of “Life Guards,” including Sergeant Thomas Hickey, an Irish migrant who deserted from the British army and reenlisted in the Continental Army. He was court martialed, found guilty and became the first member of the Continental Army to be executed. Following this incident, Washington ordered that no foreign born soldier could be assigned as a guardsman.

Captain Stephen Jackson who, at the young age of 17, fought and was wounded at the battle of Yorktown, was chosen to become one of Washington’s “Life Guards.” In fact, Washington is known to have once stopped at Jackson’s home in Rockaway NJ in 1780 to partake of refreshments. Jackson was the 4th great grandfather of my sister-in-law.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialized in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

A Papal Connection

During my quest into our past, I have discovered a vast number of different occupations held by my ancestors. Farmers, physicians, artists, musicians, politicians, businessmen and the list continues on. But never did I expect to find that we came very close to adding a pope to the family tree.

In the conclave of 1903, it was widely expected that Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro would be elected pope following the death of Leo XIII. Apparently, it was common knowledge that he had enough votes. However, while the conclave met, Austrian Emperor Frances Joseph I exercised his right of jus exclusivae, familiarly known as the papal veto, sending a messenger to the Vatican to express his disapproval of the choice.

There is no evidence of why the Austrian Emperor objected to Rampolla. It is possible that the latter’s pro-French positions were not looked upon favorably. Others believe it was retribution for the denial Rampolla had issued, blocking a church funeral for the Austrian Crown Prince Rudolph because he committed suicide.

Whatever the reason, even though it was never formally accepted by the Catholic Church, the veto, which had been used in the past by the French monarchy, the Spanish monarchy and the Austrian empire, was successful in influencing the votes away from Rampolla. Cardinal Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto of Italy thus became Pope Pius X. One of his first actions was to forbid the use of the jus exclusivae in the future. To date, it has never been overtly attempted since.

Mariano Rampolla, the last papal candidate to be removed from consideration due to a regal objection, remained Arch-Priest of St. Peters following the 1903 conclave and served as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is related to our family through the husband of my niece.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website

Hostess With The Mostest

It is a pity that we in America will sometimes remember people by how they’ve been branded by our commercial institutions. For instance, when hearing the name Dolley Madison, the first thing that may come to some minds is “snack cakes.”

But there is a reason the Dolly Madison bakery co-opted the name (misspelled as it is) of the wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Dolley Madison was known far and wide for her social graces and hospitality. She did much to help define the role of the First Lady during her husband’s two terms and even before as a sometimes surrogate hostess for White House events during the widowed Thomas Jefferson’s term. Her husband served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State before becoming president himself.

Long before “bipartisan” became a concept in people’s minds, Dolley Madison put it into practice by inviting members of both political parties to the popular weekly social gatherings she would host. Prior administrations would only meet with the often dueling parties independently, (first one side, then the other), to avoid contention and open hostility. Dolley helped usher in the idea that people of opposing parties could amicably socialize, network, and negotiate with each other without resulting in violence. She accomplished this through her undeniable skills as a hostess and conversationalist. As one guest reflected, “We have not forgotten how admirably the air of authority was softened by the smile of gayety: and it is pleasing to recall a certain expression that must have been created by the happiest of all dispositions,—a wish to please, and a willingness to be pleased. This, indeed, is to be truly good and really great.”

Dolley finds a place upon our family tree by being the 3rd great-grandmother of John Payne who was the father in law of my nephew’s 4th great grand uncle.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Safer at Home

April 2, 2020 – the eve
Our statewide initiative of “safer at home” because of the COVID-19 virus begins at midnight tonight and ends April 30 so I thought I would document our activities for the next 30 days.  We’ll see how long I can keep it up without getting a little buggy. 
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This morning, I “met” with my BNI (Business Networking International) chapter using a Zoom account. It feels good to still be connected to others even while we are preparing to disconnect and operate from home during this time. I have a feeling we will all become teleconferencing experts before this is all over. But meeting with them did give me some ideas as they all began to explain how they were adapting their varied business models during this pandemic.
Kate and I took what might be our last trip (for a while) to the studio today to determine what we might bring back with us that would be helpful.  Other than cleaning supplies, some coffee pods, and an extra roll of toilet paper, we figured that our two stand-alone devices would be the easiest to relocate.  Moving forward, we will have the ability to scan, crop and color correct 35mm slides and be able to capture and transfer 8mm and Super 8 film all from the safety of our home. Those captured files can be converted to a digital format (mp4) that can be stored on a usb drive. So we will obviously be marketing those services during the next month.
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We can accept new orders by mail or overnight carrier to our home address. We will process those jobs at our home and ship them directly back to our clients. Call for more information.
Our videotape and audio tape transfer service requires multiple machines that are interconnected therefore we did not opt to bring those home with us. However, if I read the governor’s instructions properly, there is nothing to prevent me from leaving my home, traveling alone in my car to my empty studio that is five minutes away to process videotape/audiotape orders as long as I do not come into contact with anyone else. We are working up a no-contact dropoff/pickup protocol. Call us at 352-735-8550 for more information.
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On a personal note, while we are in self-isolation, we’ll be looking for TV watching opportunities. We’ve already blown through Picard season one; discovered and finished the third season of Designated Survivor; finished all episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and there’s no more Downton Abbey on the horizon. I’ll let you know what our next TV guilty pleasure is going to be.
Stay safe. I’ll touch in tomorrow.

Playing Through Adversity

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I am constantly amazed at how frequently history comes walking through our doors. Today a client brought us some films that were part of his dad’s collection. He then began to tell his story.

His dad was Paulino Caron, a Cuban musician turned dissident during the height of the Castro regime. He was an active participant in the disastrous Bay of Pigs “invasion” and as a result was captured and imprisoned by the Castro forces along with nearly 1200 other members of Brigade 2506. While in the prison camp, he was shot twice – once in the chest and once in the arm for being “uncooperative.”

What he was doing was trying to build morale among the other prisoners. He fashioned and led a prison camp band. They had no traditional instruments so they improvised. Broken bottles became horns, trash cans became drums. And they played music. It became so popular amongst the other prisoners they performed weekly shows. They took to calling it “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

After JFK finally arranged for their release in late 1962, the real Ed Sullivan, who had heard of their inspirational story, invited them to appear on his actual show with their makeshift instruments to play to his national audience. The video clip survives and can be found below. Paulino Caron is the one leading the band.

As the son was telling his father’s story, the pride in his voice and the glow in his eyes told me all – this was a story I needed to retell. I am thankful that he allowed me to do so.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Hail to the Chief

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One of the pleasures of life in a small town is that it doesn’t take much to rub elbows with the  movers and shakers of the community.  I recently spent a pleasant hour with the mayor of our fair city: Nick Girone.  He came into my studio, not to discuss affairs of the city or to canvas for votes. He was simply a client who needed to preserve a memory. And who knew he had such memories to preserve?

Long before he was an elected official, Nick was once part of a family business. One that brought great joy and excitement to thousands of people each year. Nick ran a fireworks production company for ten years. The VHS he brought me to preserve to a DVD format was a production that was held in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Veterans stadium on July 3rd in the 1980s. That show broke the MLB record for paid attendance up to that time.  It was an incredible show with pyrotechnics timed to an orchestrated soundtrack… made even more incredible with the knowledge that this was done before the ability to digitally preprogram the explosions.

I unfortunately didn’t ask for permission to upload a clip so I certainly won’t presume to do so now but I’m sure if you run into Mayor Girone and ask him to play it for you, something tells me you won’t have to twist his arm too much. He has a right to be proud of the work that he did so long ago.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

I Like Mike

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If you’re experiencing what I am, you are now being inundated with electioneering stuff… phone calls, flyers, door to door canvassers… all of which are signs that it’s time to prepare to cast our votes. While I do appreciate the freedom we have to elect our political leaders I must admit that I, along with what I suspect is most of America, really have grown to hate the process. Not the voting… I’m referring to the campaigning. I’ve always hated it… even when I fell into the middle of it.

When I was in ninth grade and my best friend decided to run for student council president, I figured I would toss my hat in the ring and run for vice-president. Unfortunately, my opponent was one of the cool kids – Mr. Popularity. I had to figure out a way to elevate myself above Joe Cool so, after much deliberation, I settled on a variation of a popular campaign slogan. “I Like Ike” worked for Eisenhower… how could “I Like Mike” possibly fail?

I made buttons, printed posters, passed out flyers – all with the clever “I Like Mike” slogan. And how did it go you might ask? Not well. Not well at all. How was I supposed to know that ninth graders in 1970 didn’t know all that much about Eisenhower and to them “I Like Mike” was an inappropriate admission of affection? None of the guys would wear the button and the girls were afraid it would be misunderstood. 

I lost in a landslide. My first humiliating defeat. Turns out few people would publicly confess to liking Mike.

Fortunately, my best friend won and, as president, selected me to be his sergeant-at-arms – a position I was woefully ill-equipped to serve. I was given a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order. Can’t say that I ever bothered to read it. But at least I got to hold and bang the gavel during council meetings. That was cool. So, all in all, everything turned out ok.

Speaking of voting, the Best of Mount Dora survey is currently running and while Home Video Studio is strangely missing from the candidates printed on the ballots, there are some categories where a write-in vote for us would be fitting.  Best place to buy a gift because the memories we bring to life make the best gifts ever. Best vintage find because we constantly discover and resurrect images and sounds of yesteryear that have long been forgotten. And best kept secret because people constantly come in with questions and eventually get around to saying, “I didn’t even know you could do all that.”

If you are so inclined to take a minute to write in a vote or two for our studio, here’s the link: http://www.mountdorabuzz.com/2018bestofmountdora.html

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.