Tuesday, August 25, 2015

AUGUST 25 = The Great Moon Hoax of 1835!!

"Tuesday, August 25, 1835
At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]"

"The next animal perceived would be classed on earth as a monster. It was of a bluish lead color, about the size of a goat, with a head and beard like him, and a single horn, slightly inclined forward from the perpendicular. The female was destitute of horn and beard, but had a much longer tail. It was gregarious, and chiefly abounded on the acclivitous glades of the woods. In elegance of symmetry it rivalled the antelope, and like him it seemed an agile sprightly creature, running with great speed, and springing from the green turf with all the unaccountable antics of a young lamb or kitten. This beautiful creature afforded us the most exquisite amusement."

This is just one of the fanciful creatures which the New York Sun claimed to have found on the surface of the moon with the help of a telescope in Capetown.  In a series of six articles, the paper committed a huge hoax upon its readers, beginning on today's date, August 25, in 1835.  

"The Great Moon Hoax" Begins

Called “The Great Moon Hoax,” the series of articles claimed to be reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. They were said to be written by one Dr. Andrew Grant, said to be a colleague of Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer of the day. Dr. Herschel had indeed   
traveled to Capetown, South Africa, in January 1834 and using a powerful new telescope, he had constructed a powerful observatory there.  As Grant described it, Dr. Herschel had seen all manner of fantastic life forms on the moon, including the giant blue goat described above, as well as some furry winged humanoids which flew about as bats (above), unicorns, and two legged beavers. It also drew a vivid picture of the moon's geographical features which included lush vegetation, roaring rivers, and huge amethyst crystals.

"Dr. Grant" Turns Out to be Fictional

Of course the problem was that Herschel, a very real scientist (below), had never seen anything of the sort; wasn't even aware that such claims had been made. There was no Dr. Grant, and the The Edinburgh Journal of Science had ceased publication some years earlier, The 
articles had in fact been satire, meant to poke fun at the fanciful claims being published in the speculative books by such writers as Reverend Thomas Dick, a popular science writer who claimed that there were 4 billion inhabitants on the moon. But the articles had not been recognized as satirical by the readers if the Sun, but instead were widely read by the public. In fact, the Sun's circulation is said to have shot up considerably as a result of these articles. And this sort of amazing science definitely took hold with the public, which hung on every word. 

"The Great Moon Hoax" Finally Collapses

But real scientists had taken an interest in the articles; a group from Yale University arrived in New York, looking for the articles which had been cited in the Edinburgh Journal. But after being directed and re-directed by employees off the Sun between various printing and editorial offices, the men realized that they had been taken in. Here, the historical record available on-line becomes a bit sketchy. "The History Channel" website says that on September 16, 1835, the Sun announced that the whole thing had been a hoax.  But "Wikipedia" says "It was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication and, even then, the newspaper did not issue a retraction."  And the public did not seem to be too angered by the whole affair, according to "the History Channel."  In fact the Sun claimed that their circulation had risen considerably as a result of "the Great Moon Hoax" and that indeed, it had wound up staying with increased readership. The validity of this claim is said to have been greatly exaggerated by several sources. No doubt it was overplayed, but the Sun did nevertheless stick around until the 1950's.  So this whole crazy affair couldn't have hurt them too much.


Monday, August 10, 2015

AUGUST 10 = The Smithsonian Institution is Founded

James Smithson (left).  The name probably means very little to most Americans.  In fact he was barely known to the people of his own country - England.  Yes, Mr. Smithson was a life-long Englishman. He never even visited the United States during his life time.  And yet, his gift to the United States of America - an odd addendum to his will - resulted in the building of one of the foremost research institutions and museums in the entire world - the Smithsonian Institution. For on today's date, August 10, in 1846, President James K. Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act into law.

Smithson's Strange Bequest

All of his life, James Smithson was a hardworking man who had a problem with legitimacy.  He was the "illegitimate" son of the Duke of Northumberland and Elizabeth Katie Macie, a descendant of King Henry VII.  Smithson inherited a considerable estate from his mother, and studied hard in his chosen field of science, becoming a fellow of the prestigious  Royal Society of London at the age of 22. He published many scientific papers on chemistry and mineral composition.  In geology,  he changed scientific wisdom in proving that zinc carbonates
were true carbonate minerals - one type of zinc carbonate was named "smithsonite" in his honor (right).  Still. there was this problem with his sketchy parentage.  "On my father's side I am a Northumberland, on my mother's I am related to kings, but this avails me not." he once said.  So he wrote out a will in which he left all of his estate to his nephew. And this contained an odd provision: that if his nephew was to die without an heir (legitimate or otherwise), it was to go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Smithson's Bequest Sets Off Much Discussion

Smithson's motives are unknown.  Me may very well have turned against the mores of his own country which put such a stigma upon "illegitimacy." It may very well be that with the French Revolutions and Napoleonic Wars still being a recent memory, Smithson thought that his bequest was better off being placed in a country that was far away from all of this warfare, and thus would be a more suitable place for scientific research. Whatever the case, when Mr. Smithson died in 1829 the press in America was quite taken aback by this odd provision. In fact it was given play in the New York American which on Jan. 26,
 1830 published the relevant portion of the will with the headline: "We Find the Following Statement Respecting a Will." Well six years after the death of Smithson, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford did indeed die, heirless as they say. So, on July 1, 1836, the U.S. Congress approved the acceptance of Smithson’s bequest. President Andrew Jackson dispatched Richard Rush (above), former Treasury Secretary and diplomat to England to arrange the whole thing. And two years later Rush returned with the gold that Smithson had left, as well as all of Smithson's papers, The gold when melted down came out to be worth an astronomical $500,000. After much debate,  Congress agreed that the bequest would support the creation of a museum, a library, and a program of research, publication, and collection in the sciences, arts, and history.

The Smithsonian Institution Today....

Today, the Smithsonian stays true to the original ideal set by Joseph Smithson, stating as their mission: "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." From those beginnings the Smithsonian has grown into a true museum of America, comprised of 19 museums and galleries. The
Smith- sonian also includes nine research facilities throughout the world, stating as its vision: "Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world." And towards that end it is always expanding with new branches such as the recently announced National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Still standing is the original Smithsonian Institution Building the “Castle,” as it has come to be called (above).  Also included is the National Museum of Natural History, which holds the natural science collections, and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Museum of American History contains the original Star-Spangled Banner and hundreds of other artifacts of U.S. history. The National Air and Space Museum has such pieces of aviation history as the Wright brothers’ plane and goes all the way to space exploration with Freedom 7, the space capsule that took the first American into space.

And as said, James Smithson, the Smithsonian Institution’s great benefactor, never made it to America in his lifetime. But after his lifetime he finally made it "across the pond."
He was buried in Genoa Italy upon his death in 1829. But his mortal remains were brought to the United States in 1903, and since that time they have been interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building (left).

Sources =

Thursday, August 6, 2015

AUGUST 6 = The Bombing of Hiroshima - 70 Years Ago

"The revelation of the secrets of nature, long mercifully with-held from man, should arouse the most solemn reflections in their minds and consciences of every human being capable of comprehension. We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce to peace among nations, and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe, they may become a perennial fountain of  world prosperity."

These were the reflections of Sir Winston Churchill on being told about the Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in Japan, on today's date, August 5, 1945 - 70 years ago.

A uranium gun-type atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, exploding 2,000 feet above the city in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombing, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima. About half of these fatalities occurred on the first day. In the months that followed, a large number of people died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and this was compounded by illness and malnutrition. Although Hiroshima did in fact have a large military garrison, most of those killed were civilians.

The Meaning of the Atomic Bomb...

Those are the basic facts.  What can one say about this event? I admit that I have a very personal bias in this: my father was a Marine serving in the South Pacific.  He would have been but one of the thousands of U.S. military personnel who would have invaded the home islands of Japan. This was indisputably what would have had to happen; the Japanese had no intention of surrendering.  My father and many others might well have been killed and neither myself, nor any member of my family would ever have existed.  If one mourns the loss of civilian life and the destruction that occurred in Hiroshima - as I do - then imagine something very much like that occurring over the whole of Japan, and you have the likely result if the bombs - the one dropped on Nagasaki came three days later - had not been dropped.  So I for one am completely supportive of  President Truman's decision to go ahead with it.  But that does not beget any gladness on my part about the hideous deaths that occurred, nor of the nuclear age that opened on this day when we took this step. War is a tragedy, and this day was perhaps the most tragic of all. This debate will continue - and I urge you, my readers to take part in it by writing in your reaction to my words.

What I shall do now is let a few of the participants speak....

Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Pilot of the "Enola Gay" the plane that dropped the bomb:

"...we made our turn, and as we leveled out our turn the flash occurred.  The man in the tail gunner's position said, 'I can see it coming,' meaning the shock wave. It was a real wallop -- a real bang. It made a lot of noise, and it really shook the airplane....  There was the mushroom cloud growing up, and we watched it blossom... the thing reminded me more of a boiling pot of tar than any other description I can give it.  It was black and boiling underneath with a steam haze on top of it. And of course we had seen the city when we went in, and there was nothing to see when we came back.  It was covered by this boiling, black looking mess."

A Japanese Journalist:

"Suddenly a glaring whitish-pink light appeared in the sky, accompanied by an unnatural tremor that was followed almost immediately by a wave of suffocating heat and a wind that swept away everything in its path. Within a few seconds the thousands of 
people in the streets and the gardens in the center of the town were scorched by a wave of searing heat. Many were killed instantly, others lay writhing on the ground, screaming in agony from the intolerable pain of their burns. Everything standing upright in the way of the blast was annihilated.... Trams were picked up and tossed aside as though they had neither weight nor solidity. Trains were flung off the rails as though they were toys. Horses, dogs, and cattle suffered the same fate as human beings. Every living thing was petrified in an 
attitude of suffering....   Up to about three miles from the center of the explosion, lightly built houses were flattened as though they had been built of cardboard. Those who were inside were either killed or wounded. Those who managed to extricate themselves by some miracle found themselves surrounded by a ring of fire."

United States President Harry Truman:

"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be  dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost.

"Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.

"We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us."

- From Truman's Public Statement of August 9, 1945

Hiroshi Sawachika, Japanese Army Doctor:

"When I felt someone touch my leg, it was a pregnant woman. She said that she was about to die in a few hours. She said, 'I know that I am going to die. But I can feel that my baby is moving inside. It wants to get out of the room. I don't mind if I had died. But if the baby is delivered now, it does not have to die with me. Please help my baby live.' There were no obstetricians there. There was no delivery room. There was no time to take care of her baby. All I could do was to tell 
her that I would come back later when everything was ready for her and her baby. Thus I cheered her up and she looks so happy. But I have to return to the treatment work. There were so many patients. I felt as if I was fighting against the limited time.  Later, I went to the place where I had found her before, she was still there lying in the same place. I patted her on the shoulder, but she said nothing. The person lying next to her said that a short while ago, she had become silent. I still recalled this incident partly because I was not able to fulfill the last wish of this dying young woman. I also remember her because I had a chance to talk with her however short it was."

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first, and so far the only time such weapons have been used other than testing.  Whatever one's view on this event, I think that we can ALL agree in hoping devoutly, that Hiroshima and Nagasaki will remain the only time such weapons have ever been used.

Sources =

"How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History" by Erik Durschmied, MJF Books,
New York, 2012

"The American Heritage Picture History of World War II" by C.L. Sulzberger, American Heritage Publishing Co. Inc. , 1966




Sunday, August 2, 2015

AUGUST 2 = "Wild Bill" Hickok is Killed

"He was a Plainsman in every sense of the word, yet unlike any other of his class. In person he was about six feet one in height, straight as the straightest of the warriors whose implacable foe he was; broad shoulders, well-formed chest and limbs, and a face strikingly handsome; a sharp, clear, blue eye, which stared you straight in the face when in conversation; a finely-shaped nose, inclined to be aquiline; a well-turned mouth, with lips only partially concealed by a handsome moustache. His hair and complexion were those of the perfect blond. The former was worn in uncut ringlets falling carelessly over his powerfully formed shoulders. Add to this figure a costume blending the immaculate neatness of the dandy with the extravagant taste and style of the frontiersman, and you have Wild Bill, then as now the most famous scout on the Plains. Whether on foot or on horseback, he was one of the most perfect types of physical manhood I ever saw."

This was the way that George Armstrong Custer described the appearance of James Butler Hickok, more famously known as "Wild Bill Hickok",  one of the most celebrated gunfighters of America's Old West.  Hickok was one of the most colorful figures in a tapestry which came to be filled with such characters. With the passage of time and the contributions of the popular dime novels, Hickok's exploits were considerably embellished, sometimes by Hickok himself. But he was killed on today's date, August 2 in 1876, while playing poker. The hand he was holding at the time has ever after become known as the "Dead Man's Hand".

William Hickok's Early Life

Born in Troy Grove, Illinois on May 27, 1837 to William Alonzo Hickok and Polly Butler Hickok, his correct name was James Butler Hickok.  His parents were God-fearing Baptists who operated a "station" on the "Underground Railroad", smuggling escaped slaves into freedom. It was when his father was being pursued with escaped slaves that Bill first experienced hostile gunfire. After this the young man became fascinated with guns and gunfire, and began practicing on small animals around his parent's farm.  He developed into an excellent marksman.  His father was killed because of his abolitionist views when Bill was 14.  At 17, Bill went away to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Eventually he wound up as a stagecoach driver. Bill developed a reputation for belligerence in putting his marksmanship to work fighting off bandits who were always trying to rob the stagecoach. This was burnished by a deadly encounter with a bear with Bill killing the bear with his six-inch knife. Such a man was obviously not to be messed with! 

"Wild Bill" Gets Into Gunfights

In July of 1861 while working for the Pony Express station in Nebraska 
he got into a fight with David McCanles, who was always teasing Bill about his girlish appearance. Bill might have dallied with a girl that McCanles fancied. Whatever the case, when McCanles and two of his fellow gunmen came to the station to collect a debt, profanities were exchanged, and gunfire erupted. Hickok who was initially behind a curtain opened fire and killed McCanles, and fatally wounded the  
other two men. No charges were filed and Bill got off on self-defense. Later this would become told again and embellished as the "McCanles Massacre" in which Bill quickly and easily knocked off a dozen outlaws.  Bill went on to serve during the Civil War as a scout. By some accounts it was during this period that he acquired his nick-name.  In  Independence, Missouri, Bill ran into a mob which was bent on (above, Hickok, circa 1860's) hanging a bartender who had shot a man during a brawl. Hickok put a stop to this by firing two shots over their heads. He then stared down the rest of the mob until it broke up.  A woman onlooker who was grateful shouted from the side "Good for you Wild Bill!" She may have mistaken Hickok for another man, but the moniker caught on, and stuck ever after.

The Tutt Gunfight

By this time of post-Civil War America, Bill was becoming well known as a gunfighter and a gambler.  Bill soon found himself in a dispute where he was tested as both. In early 1865, Bill met and befriended Davis Tutt, a former soldier in the Confederate Army.  But the two men had a falling out, and by July of that year they were playing in a poker game. Hickok was on a winning streak when Tutt demanded payment
on a debt from a previous game.Bill didn't have the cash on hand. Tutt then saw Bill's pocket watch on the table and snapped it up as collateral for the "loan". Bill angrily warned Tutt that if he wore the watch he would kill him.  But Tutt appeared in the town square the next day, July 21, proudly sporting the watch. Bill warned him not to approach while wearing the watch.  Tutt began to move toward Bill, and the two men faced each other and fired simultaneously, in true dueling style (above). Tutt's shot missed, but Bill's did not piercing Tutt's heart.  Bill was arrested for murder, but acquitted - a very unpopular result at the time. But this was the first of what became known as the classic western gunfight; an important part of Old West folklore.

Bill Falls on Hard Times

Bill for the next several years held several different jobs, including scouting for George Armstrong Custer.  He also held several jobs as town marshal in places throughout the west.  And he became known as an expert gambler.  By 1871, he was the town marshal in Abilene, Kansas. Samuel Henry who knew Bill described his gambling posture: "His whole bearing was like that of a hunted tiger---restless eyes, which nervously looked about him in all directions closely scrutinizing every stranger. When he played cards, which he did most of the time in the saloons, he sat in the corner of the room to prevent an enemy from stealing up behind him"  In October of 1871 a bunch of rowdies led by Phil Coe started shooting up the town. Coe shot at a wild dog which had tried to bite him. Bill came out of the Alamo Saloon and tried to disarm Coe.  Shots were fired and Bill manged to wound Coe. But a few minutes later, Bill heard someone's footsteps approaching him, and he turned and fired, assuming it to be one of Coe's friends. But it was actually Hickok's Deputy Marshal, Mike Williams, who was
killed.  Coe died three days later. Hickok was dismissed as town Marshal. and William's death haunted Bill for the rest of his life.  Over the next few years, Bill lived off of his reputation as the subject of countless dime novels, and even took part in Buffalo Bill Cody's play "Scouts of the Prairies", a forerunner to Cody's "Wild West Show" (above). But he was slowing down; his eyesight began to suffer and he began wearing glasses. And he continued to brood over his accidental killing of his Deputy in Abilene.

Hickok Meets His End in Deadwood

In the summer of 1876, Bill joined Charlie Utter's wagon train to South Dakota, seeking his fortune in the goldfields.  Along the way, his train picked up "Calamity Jane" (below), another of those amazingly
colorful characters of the Old West - a tough woman and an excellent shot - and she immediately became fast friends with Bill who shared with her a love of drinking and telling tall tales. Jane later claimed that she and Bill were "a couple", but that part of the story remains in doubt. The wagon train arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota in July of 1876.  Bill attempted to live a quiet respectable life, but he fell into drinking too much.  And he tried to live off of his reputation as a gambler, but he no longer had the skills for that - his eyesight was getting worse, and his drinking was taking a toll on his health overall. His winnings dwindled, and he was several times arrested for vagrancy.

On August 1, 1876 Bill was playing poker with several men, one of whom was one Jack McCall (below) who lost badly.  McCall ran out of
money, so Bill gave him enough money to get something to eat, but told him not to play again until he had the money to cover his losses. The following day Hickok came to Nuttall & Mann's Saloon. There he was invited to join in a poker game, but someone was sitting in his preferred seat, facing the door. He hesitated but went ahead and took a seat with his back to the door, and the rest of the saloon.  This would prove to be a fatal misstep.  Jack McCall who had been drinking heavily saw Bill enter the saloon.  He slowly moved over to the corner where Hickok's game was being played, until he was within a few feet of him. He then pulled a double action .45 pistol from under his coat, shouted "Damn you! Take that!" and fired into the back of Hickok's head, killing him instantly. McCall's motive has never been firmly established.  But he likely resented what he saw as Bill's condescending attitude towards him the day before. At the time of his death, the hand that Bill was holding consisted of a pair of black aces, and black eights.  This has since come down through legend as the "Dead Man's Hand".

"Wild Bill" in Death

McCall was charged with murder, but an ad-hoc miner's jury in Deadwood which was still a lawless place acquitted him.  He shortly fled to Colorado wherein he was arrested. The verdict of Deadwood was not legally binding in the eyes of the authorities of Colorado.  So he went before a properly constituted court in the Colorado Territorial
capitol of Yankton. This time he was convicted and hung on March 2, 1877.  As to "Wild Bill" Hickok, he was to become one of the iconic figures of America's storybook - "The Old West".  In death he was already afforded legendary status in the following very reverent account of his appearance in his casket, by St. Louis reporter J.W. Buell:

"His long chestnut hair, evenly parted over his marble brow, hung in waving ringlets over the broad shoulders ; his face was cleanly 
shaved excepting the drooping moustache, which shaded a mouth that in death almost seemed to smile, but in life was unusually grave ; the arms were folded over the stilled breast, which enclosed a heart that had beat with regular pulsation the most startling scenes of blood and violence. The corpse was clad in complete dress-suit of 'black broadcloth, new underclothing and white linen shirt ; beside him in the coffin lay his trusty rifle, which the deceased prized above all other things, and which was to be buried with him in compliance with an often expressed desire."

Sources =

"The Great West"  Edited by Charles Neider, Bonanza Books, New York, 1958




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

JUNE 17 = The Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York

 "If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations."

French President Edouard de Laboulaye

These were the words of the French President on thee idea of a monument to American Liberty in 1865 while the American Civil War was still going on.  But the inspiration lasted and eventually came to life in that very symbol of American freedom, the Statue of Liberty which arrived in her eventual home in New York harbor in some 350 individual pieces packed in 200 cases on today's date in 1885.

A Celebration of Franco-American Friendship

Lady Liberty was designed by the French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.  In fact Bartholdi used his own mother as a model for his design (the Patent is pictured below). With help from Gustave Eiffel (who would later achieve fame with his Eiffel Tower), the great statue was originally intended to be completed in time for America's
Centennial in 1876. But the raising of funds to pay for the project got to be a difficult matter on both sides of the Atlantic. In France there were Lotteries and various entertainment events held.  In the U.S. wherein the pedestal on which the Statue would stand was being designed, there were boxing matches, as well as theatrical events and art exhibitions. Also, a drive was announced by the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer to raise $100,000 (2.3 million in today's dollars) for the statue.  Pulitzer pledged that he was going to print the name of every single contributor, no matter how small their contribution. This really caught on in our country.  At one point point Pulitzer started publishing little notes that came with the donations, including one from "A young girl alone in the world" donating "60 cents, the result of self denial." The Statue wound up costing France $250,000 (5.5 million in today's dollars).

Lady Liberty Arrives

On this date - June 17, 1885 - the French steamer Isère, docked in New Harbor to an enthusiastic welcome from the residents of NYC, some 200,000 of whom lined the docks in welcome along with hundreds of small boats who formed a very public welcoming committee. As said above Lady Liberty arrived here in some 200 crates (pictured below is the face).  The pedestal on Bedloe's Island was not completed until
April of 1886.  The construction, or the re-assembly of the 350 pieces took until October. Gustave Eiffel's iron frame was anchored to steel I-beams which were set in the concrete pedestal, and the statue was assembled. The sections of skin were attached by workers dangling from ropes, but in spite of this danger nobody was killed during the construction phase. Lady Liberty stands 151 feet tall from her base to her out-stretched torch.  From the ground, she stands 350 feet. At that point in time, she was the tallest structure ever constructed in New York City.

Lady Liberty is Dedicated

The 450,000-pound statue was officially dedicated in a ceremony before thousands of spectators on October 28, 1886. President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, said on that day: “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” Perhaps the most famous words associated with the Statue of Liberty are the stirring words of a sonnet written by the American poet, Emma Lazarus for the fund drive in 1883. Entitled "The Colossus of Liberty" the sonnet was inscribed on a plaque which was mounted on an interior wall of the Statue's base in 1903. The full sonnet rings with a welcome to immigrants (such as my grandfather) which is still inspiring today, no matter what controversies may rage today over immigration policies:

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
'Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'"

Sources =





Thursday, June 11, 2015

JUNE 11 = Escape From Alcatraz?

"I'll never believe they're dead; I don't believe they're dead. I was listening to the radio when (they) told about it... I cut my iron off and I run to my neighbors house and said, 'Did you hear what was on the radio? My brothers escaped from Alcatraz.' " 

- Marie Widner, younger sister of Clarence and John Anglin

Inmate Frank Morris along with fellow inmates, brothers Clarence and John Anglin left Alcatraz Island in a makeshift raft with makeshift life preservers late on the evening of today's date, June 11 in 1962.  It was the final leg of their planned escape from the allegedly escape-proof prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay (above).  None of the men has been seen since, and their bodies have never been found.

Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers

Frank Morris (right) was born on September 1, 1926,  By the time he arrived at Alcatraz on Jan. 18, 1960, he had spent most of his life being moved from one set of foster parents to another, and had as a result spent most of his life as a career criminal.  His offenses ran the gamut from narcotics possession to armed robbery.  So he was placed in Alcatraz because he was always attempting to escape.  Such was also the case with John and Clarence Anglin, who along with their brother Alfred were serving time for bank robbery.  They had met Morris at the Atlanta State Penitentiary in Georgia.  Like Morris, the Anglins had made repeated attempts to escape over the years. The three men were not violent offenders - they had never injured anyone in the commission of their crimes; but their repeated escape attempts had landed them in Alcatraz.  The prison's position - on a rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay, surrounded by fast running currents and cold water - had indeed gotten it the moniker of "escape - proof".  Many had tried but had either been recaptured, killed or drowned. Inmate Allen West was also brought in on the escape plan. Although Morris, a very intelligent man was the one who actually masterminded the plan, West would later take credit for its conception.

The Alcatraz Escape and it's Tools

The scheme began being planned in December of 1961, when West collected several old saw blades from a utility corridor he had been cleaning. Every inmate at Alcatraz had his own cell, and the idea was to dig through their cell's six by nine inch vent holes, get on top of the cell block, break through a vent, move outside to the prison roof, and from there down to the ground, into the Bay, and using their makeshift life raft to paddle to nearby Angel Island, and from there to freedom.  Guards paced the cell blocks of Alcatraz regularly checking on every cell, so during the interval wherein they would be away from their cells,
they would make it appear as though they were there sleeping by placing life-like paper mache dummy heads (left) at the head of their beds.  These were fashioned using plaster and cement left over from their digging in the vent holes, and water.  Hair was taken from the barbershop by one of the men who worked there, and paint was used from a paint set that one of the inmates had ordered. Crude tools for digging had been made from utensils pilfered from the cafeteria. The men's cells were next to each other; Morris with West, and the Anglin brothers.  They would start at 5:30 and work until lights out at 9:00.  While one would work the other would keep lookout for the guards.

 By May of 1962, Morris and the Anglins had made it to the top of the cell block, and were working on breaking through that. They needed to loosen the grate over the vent shaft which would lead them to the roof of the prison.  West was able to acquire the motor from a vacuum cleaner and drill bits in order to make a crude power tool for this.  It was noisy and not very effective but they kept working at it. Using rain coats, some of which were stolen and some of which were donated by
other inmates, and contact cement, West had made life preservers, and John Anglin had pieced together a six by fourteen foot raft.  Morris had fashioned a device to inflate the raft using an accordion-like musical instrument called a Concertina. (Above, Clarence Anglin's cell) But West had fallen behind on clearing away the vent in his cell.  So when the other three had loosened the top ventilator grate and were ready to go on the evening of June 11, West was unable to get out of his cell, so the others had to leave him behind.  At 9:30, the three men climbed the cell house plumbing to the roof, and pushing aside the grating at the top got onto the roof, dodged spotlights in moving 100 feet, and stealthily moved down fifty feet of outdoor pipes down to the ground near the entrance to the shower area.  None of them was ever seen again.

Did Morris and the Anglin's Make It... Alive?

So that leads us to the big question: did Frank Morris, and John and Clarence Anglin really escape from Alcatraz... alive? Certainly the sister of the Anglin brothers hopes so, as quoted at the top of this posting.  But the consensus of informed opinion is no, they did not.  The waters around Alcatraz were 54 degrees that night.  not cold enough to kill the men immediately, but soon after they would have hit the water.  And
the currents in the Bay were certainly strong enough to pull them way off their course. (Above - John Anglin) But the fact remains that while no trace of them was found, other than some personal photos that one of the Anglins had brought with them, no bodies were ever found. And no confirmed contact with anyone on the outside was ever made. It would not be at all unusual for a body to be carried out of the Bay into the ocean, and not be found.  And a Norwegian vessel saw a body dressed as one of the inmates would have been, not long after this date.  But the body was not recovered.  So even though the FBI has closed this case, we'll never really know for sure if Morris and the Anglins - - who would be in their eighties and nineties by now - actually made it off the rock of Alcatraz. (Below - one of the knives used to dig out of the vents in the cells.)

Sources =


"Escape From Alcatraz"  1979, Directed by Don Siegel; based on the book by J. Campbell Bruce, screenplay by Richard Tuggle.




Sunday, May 31, 2015

MAY 31 = The Johnstown Flood of 1889

"The morning was delightful, the city was in its gayest mood with flags, banners and flowers everywhere... we could see almost everything of interest from our porch.  The streets were crowded with more people than we had ever seen before."  - Reverend H.L. Chapman on Memorial Day

As the city of Johnstown celebrated Memorial Day that year, everything seemed to be looking up. The city was prospering on a wave of economic production brought about by the iron works and the steel mills of the nearby plants at Cambria and Pittsburgh.  Life was good, but little did they know that their entire world would soon come crashing down around them. On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam high above them in the mountains burst open under unusually heavy rainfall.  The waters of beautiful, serene Lake Conemaugh (above), playground  the rich, then came rushing down the Conemaugh Valley and wrecked everything in its path, killing 2,209 people, leaving thousands more injured, and wiping out every town in its path, particularly the city of Johnstown 14 miles downstream. It was a weekend of death that none would ever forget.

The Lake, the Dam and the Club

The Southfork Dam had been constructed between 1838 and 1853 to
service the Erie canal. But soon  the railroads came through the area, putting the canal out of business.  So the whole dam was sold in 1879 to the Pennsylvania Railroad which was represented by Henry Clay Frick (below) and Benjamin Ruff, businessmen who sought to turn the whole reservoir and the dam into a weekend retreat for the rich men of the Pittsburgh steel industry.  It was called the Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club, and a very exclusive club
it was, with members such as Andrew Carnegie and Andrew W. Melon. But the dam which held all of this opulence in place was not a very secure one. The dam was 722 feet high and 931 feet long.  It was an earthenware dam which frequently sprung leaks which were poorly patched. Worst of all, there had been three cast iron discharge pipes at the bottom-center of the dam which had been sold for scrap in previous years.  So when the rain came with such vigor that May 31, there had long since ceased to be any way to lower the water level in the lake.  The spillways had been fitted with iron gratings to keep game fish from escaping, so they became clogged with debris. So frantic efforts by the resident engineer, John G. Parke to raise the top of the dam were not good enough in the huge thunderstorm, and at 3:10 the dam gave way, dumping the 20 million cubic tons of the lake down the valley.

Lake Conemaugh Destroys Everything in Its Path

John C. Parke mounted a horse and road ahead to the town of South Fork just ahead of the collapse to warn people there and to send telegraph messages to Conemaugh, and to Johnstown.  But the messages didn't get to Johnstown due to telegraph line which had gone down in the rain storm, and those that got to Conemaugh were not believed... the idea of the dam bursting just seemed too wild to be true. On its way down the Valley, the raging torrent smashed whole towns and picked up a huge amount of debris as it rushed on with a flow rate that temporarily equaled that of the Mississippi River. The raging torrent wiped out the town of Mineral Point before hitting Conemaugh. Just before it got there, an alert engineer named John Hess who was
out repair- ing damaged tracks heard the tidal wave coming, and swung into action:
"It was like a hurri- cane through a wooded country. It was a roar and a crash and a smash... the first thing I heard was a terrible roar in the hollow and the next thing was a crash something like a big building going to pieces... I couldn't see it, but there was people told me afterwards that that house crushed together just about the time we left. We saw no flood; we saw a drift of large logs in the river, but the river was no higher than it was twenty minutes before that. I pulled the whistle wide open, and went into Conemaugh that way.." Hess said "The lake's broke!" and putting on his whistle - continuously -  took his train flying into East Conemaugh just ahead of the killer wave and thus gave that town tell-tale warning that something was terribly wrong. This was just enough time to warn some of the residents to flee to higher ground, which Hess and his crew did as soon as they could go nor further (click on the map above for an enlarged view of the flood's path). Hess, who would become legendary because of his warning whistle, said later: "I didn't know what else to do.  I couldn't see what else I could do."

Johnstown is Hit Without Warning

Unfortunately, for the people in Johnstown there was no warning whistle. They had flood waters before but nobody truly believed that the Dam would ever burst.  So the torrent that came smashing into their town was a deadly surprise to everyone; most residents never even saw the water. They heard the sound of the debris tumbling towards them... a kind of low steady sound that grew until it became overpowering,  It hit the town at around 4:07.  George Heiser whose
store on Washing- ton St. was getting flooded sent his son Victor to the barn to look after the horses. When (above is a depiction of the flood in Harper's Weekly) Victor stepped outside the barn he was frozen in his steps by the loud sound coming towards him. He then looked over to his house and saw his father motioning for him to go to the roof of the barn. When he did he saw no water, just a huge wall of debris, dark and pulsing with rooftops, boards, and trees uprooted. He then looked over and saw his own family home crushed like a wooden crate and swept away. The barn roof then tore away and took Victor on a wild ride on the flood water wherein he saw people he knew drowning, and in which he was nearly crushed by floating railroad freight cars until he came to rest in the nearby town of Kernville.

The Methodist preacher who was quoted at the top of this posting, H.L. Chapman had gone to the front door of his strongly-built stone parsonage in his bedroom slippers at about 4:00 just in time to see a boxcar thrown by in front of his house.  He quickly gathered up his family and they ran to the attic of their home where they and whomever the storm threw their way were trapped for hours by the flood waters. But unlike so many other buildings, the parsonage held in place.  When Chapman looked out at the scene around him through a
window, he was dumb- founded:

"…I went to the window and looked out on a scene of utter desolation. The water, from eighteen to thirty feet deep, had spread like a lake all over the better part of town in the direction of the railroad bridge. Only one dwelling house, that of Dr. Lowman, on the corner of the park remained. On the left several large buildings, which stood on Main Street, had escaped being protected by our large stone church, which had resisted the force of the flood...  But in the direct course of the flood, the large market house, the Episcopal Church, the large brick residence of Dr. L. T. Beam, and hundreds of others, showed no signs of ever having existed. The very trees in the park had been swept away, and an indescribable scene of desolation spread in every direction.... the mass of debris, accumulated at the railroad bridge, had caught fire, and cast a lurid light over the devastated city, otherwise shrouded in gloom…."

The Fire At the Bridge

A particularly horrific event was the flaming pile of debris which was caught at the railroad bridge. Nobody knows for sure what caused the fire, it may have been oil from a railroad tank car dumped into the pile
which was then set off by burning coal from one of the countless homes that had been thrown onto the mass.  But whatever it was it made the carnage even worse.  The railroad bridge had been shielded from the full force of the wave by the mountain, so it stood.  But all of the accumulated debris, from railroad cars to barbed wire from the Cambria iron works plant which had been wiped out, to people swept up in the current were trapped up in a tall, tight pile at the bridge which burnt all night, slowly incinerating those people who had been caught there, perhaps eighty in all. According to one account, it burned "...with all the fury of hell that you read about -- cremation alive in your own home." Once the flood had receded the pile was measured to 70 feet high.

The Aftermath

The total death toll in the Johnstown Flood of 1889 came to 2,209 people, many of whom were never identified.  This made it one of the worst losses of civilian life in U.S. history up until the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the World Trade Center Terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  A huge amount of food and supplies came from all over the country to help and donations from all over the world totaled $3,742,818.18.  Clara Barton showed up with her National Red Cross
organization on its first emergency, and performed wonderfully.  But 99 entire families had been wiped out, and 396 children had been killed.  1600 homes had been destroyed, with 17 million dollars in property damage. And what of the Southfork Fishing and Hunting Club, whose poorly constructed and badly maintained dam had released all of this carnage on the communities below?  They were successfully defended in court by Philander Knox (above), and James Hay Reed who were both club members.  Although legal definitions of responsibility would change if future years, the dam break was ruled to have come about as a result of the rainstorm - an act of God - and the courts granted the survivors no legal compensation at all.

Sources =

"The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968





"Darkest Hours" by Jay Robert Nash, Wallaby Books, New York, 1977