Thursday, October 31, 2013

OCTOBER 31 = Harry Houdini Dies


"Don't insult me by calling me a magician, I'm an escape artist!"
- Harry Houdini

How very appropriate for Halloween that it should have been the day on which the world lost one of the most extraordinary escape artists, magicians, and debunkers of fake mediums of all time - the incredible Harry Houdini. For it was on this date in 1926 that this remarkable man left us. Born Erich Weiss in 1874 in Budapest Hungary, Houdini was the son of a rabbi who failed to get tenure, and an adoring mother, whom he adored in return. His family emigrated to the United States in 1878, and took up residence in Appleton, Wisconsin. He was called "Harry" by his friends and family, and later took the show name of "Houdini" from Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, a magician whom he greatly admired.

Houdini's Early Career

Houdini was a man of many psychological anxieties and conflicts - these were reflected in his work which had elements of exhibitionism, entrapment, and a bizarre courting of death. First focusing on ordinary card tricks, Houdini started out by performing at dime museums and side shows. In 1893, he met Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner whom he married and with whom he shared a devoted love for the rest of his life. Indeed, she would serve as his onstage assistant throughout his career. He soon began experimenting with escape acts, and in 1899, he met Martin Beck who, upon seeing Houdini's handcuff act was sufficently impressed that he told Houdini that he should concentrate on his escape tricks. Beck became Houdini's manager and booked him on Vaudeville's "Orpheum Circuit". Soon Houdini was performing at the biggest shows in the country. His acts were amazing feats of escape skill. in 1906 or example, he went to the Boston Police Department,
took off all of his clothes, and demanded a full body search to make it clear that he wasn't hiding any keys on his person. Then with his clothes in a locked cell on another tier, he was shackled, handcuffed and locked in another cell. His only condition was that he be left unobserved. In a mere sixteen minutes, he escaped his irons, recovered his clothes, climbed the prison wall, and drove in a waiting automobile to a theatre from which he telephoned an astonished prison superintendant who thought that Houdini was still very much in his cell.

Houdini's Death Defying Escapes

This use of the sensational idea of being stripped naked was just one of the ways in which this man used all of his skills to provoke and amaze audiences. Using his strong and atheletic physique to its full advantage, he worked his way out of canvas straight jackets, untying knots opening buckles with his teeth, and conserving his breath by never giving way to fear. His bold and audacious aeriel escapes were the stuff of legend. Having himself suspended from newspaper buildings many stories in the air he would be bound in a thick leather and canvas straight jacket. Then while unbelieving crowds of many thousands of spectators watched from the streets below he would violently twist and jerk himself around emerging free of his constraints in a few minutes with his arms outstretched in a victory salute to the cheering crowd to whom he would toss the jacket. A mainstay of his act was introduced in 1912 - his "Chinese Water Torture Cell". The cell was a metal lined
mahogany cabinet, six feet high, and three feet square at its base. The front of the cell was an inch thick plate glass window. He would appear only in a bathing suit, have himself hung upside down and locked inside with his ankles shackled and the cell filled with water. With anxious assistants standing by with axes ready to break the locks in case of an accident, he would be lowered in and a curtain drawn. One, two sometimes three minutes would pass before Houdini would then thrust the curtain aside and stride forward, dripping wet, but quite alive with the empty cell behind him locked as securely as it had been at the start.

Houdini's Life as a Spiritualist and a Spiritualist Debunker

It was with his mother's death in 1913 that he became interested in spiritualism. He was deeply saddened, some would say shattered by the loss of this woman who had been his number one fan and supporter along with his wife throughout his career. He was fascinated by the possibility of immortality that spiritualism seemed to offer, and he craved some proof of it. He spent the rest of his life seeking some spiritual contact with his dear, departed mother. But he was relentless in his drive to disprove and uncover the many fake mediums and spiritualists with which the world abounded. He would wear disguises and attend seances and catch the mediums red-handed, exposing them to public ridicule. His training as a magician afforded him considerable expertise in the art of illusion, and he used this to debunk seances wherein tables would seem to rise, and ghostly voices seem to sound. This lead hin to a very public falling out with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the author of the "Sherlock Homes" mysteries and an ardent believer in spiritualism.

Houdini's Death in 1926

Houdini was very proud of his athletic build, and was ready to take on nearly any challenge that was presented to him. This, unfortunately lead to his untimely death on today's date in 1926. While on tour with his show in the city of Montreal, some students challenged him to prove his strong build by taking a forceful punch in his abdomen. Houdini was of course more than willing and able to withstand such a blow. However, the student landed the punch before Houdini was quite ready, and he had not been able to flex his abdominal muscles to readiness. This caused him to suffer a ruptured appendix. He was obviously hurt, but Houdini, ever the showman refused to admit to any illness, and insisted on continuing his show tour. He died of peretonitis in a Detroit hospital. Houdini had previously made plans with his beloved wife that if he died, he would deliver some sign to her if his spirit was successfully raised in a seance. For ten years, on Halloween, she would dutifully hold seances on hoping that she could raise his spirit. It never happened, and the sign never came. In 1936, saying ten years was long enough to wait for any man she held one last try, and then gave up. She went to join him, dying in 1943.



READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: krustybassist@gmail.com I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Sources =

Gen. Ed., Mark C. Carnes "Houdini" - John F. Kasson, pp. 212 - 215. Henry Holt Inc., New York, 1995.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houdini

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OCTOBER 31 = HALLOWEEN !!


OK.... well I guess that I have managed to more or less "dance" around the periphery of this rather goofy, yet very fun day for long enough. I've done many postings about Halloween-related things, even as you have seen, or you will see, the fact of Houdini's untimely death on this date. But now I shall at long last give you all some background on the day itself and how it came to be, as well as some bits about related icons. But I wish to point out to you at the very beginning of this posting instead of (just) at the end when I usually do it that the source for all of my info. on this subject is a fine and fascinating book which I have used many times before for this Blog, and that is "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" by Charles Panati. It is a superb resource for any and
everything trivial (or less so) that you may have ever wondered about!! I first heard of it on John Ailee's radio program "Ekletikos" on radio station KUT-FM in Austin, TX., and have been mining it for info. ever since. I was able to find a copy at a Used Book Store, and I know for certain that it can be found at many such stores, as well as ordered on Amazon.com and other resources. I strongly recommend it!!

"All Hallows Eve"; 5'th Century BC, Ireland.
Way back during the misty days of Celtic Ireland, this day was indeed a festival for ghosts, witches and the like, but far from being the fun-for-the-kiddies type of thing that it has long since become, in the olllld days it was a deadly serious business for grown-ups. It was called "All Hallows Eve" back then and it was always held on the night of October 31, which was the official end of summer by the Celtic calendar. All throughout good Celtic homes, fires and hearths were extinguished in order to make the places cold and less inviting to the various dis-embodied spirits which were quite seriously believed to be lurking about. And then all of these earnest Celtic homefolks would gather outside the village around a large bonfire which had been kindled by a Druid Priest as a way of thanking the Sun God for the previous season's harvest as well as to frighten away the ill-spirits.

These Ill Spirits, and the Reason for Dressing Up...

It was a Celtic belief that persons who had died during the previous year would gather up and choose the body of some living being to inhabit for
the coming year before they could pass peacefully into the next life. To frighten away these would-be body snatchers, the good Celts would dress themselves up as Witches, Demons and Hobgoblins, and go dancing 'round their villages and through their empty, fireless homes making as much noise as they could, leading to the bonfire outside. ANNND (this is the deadly serious part) any villager who was deemed either by dress or behavior to be already possessed by these spirits and thus could be bundled up and dispatched to the flames as a human sacrifice and as a warning to other spirits who were thinking of taking up residence in a human body.

Romans, Immigrants, and the Conversion 

The Romans adopted many of the Celtic practices during their long occupation of the British Ilses, but in 61 AD human sacrifice was outlawed, so they took up the Egyptian practice of consigning effigies to the flames (various statuette representations of persons who were important in the lives of Pharaohs). In time, as belief in evil spirits waned, many of these various Halloween practices lightened up into ritualized amusements (FUN STUFF!!). The Irish potato famine of the 1840's brought many new Irish immigrants to the United States, and they in turn brought many of their customs with them, including their old custom of Halloween dress-ups and mischief-making.

The "Jack O'- Lantern"

One of these customs became one which New England agricultural practices obliged them to modify into an old tradition of Halloween which is now quite familiar. The ancient Celts had followed a practice of carving out the insides of a large turnip and carving a demons face on it and then lighting the inside with a candle as a part of their spirit scaring ritual. These Irish immigrants found not so many turnips around in New England, but whole fields filled with pumpkins which were more than suitable substitutes.  The term "Jack O'- Lantern"
comes from Irish folk lore. The bit goes that a man named Jack, a notorious lush and a tight-wad to boot, tricked the devil into climbing up a tree, and then carved a cross on the tree's trunk to trap 'ol Satan in the tree wherein presumably he would cease to tempt Jack any more. But upon death Jack, who because of his drinking couldn't get into heaven also found his entrance to hell blocked by an angry Satan begged the old devil for something to light his way through the darkness he was condemned to wonder about in until judgement day. The Devil gave him one little burning ember which Jack put inside one of those hollowed out turnips we mentioned before, in order to keep it going for awhile. Hence the term "Jack 'O-Lantern". This comes rather close to Linus's "Great Pumpkin" bit in my humble opinion, but alas, poor Linus's idea never really caught on. Too bad, that!

"Trick or Treat"

According to Mr. Panati, the most accepted theory for the origin of this most fun part of the Halloween tradition has its roots in the mid-ninth century European custom of "souling". On "All Souls Day", went from one village to the other begging for square-shaped biscuits with currants called "soul-cakes". The beggars would promise to offer up prayers for the donors generosity, the bigger the cake, the bigger the prayers. This was important, because the amount of prayers a person amassed during his life would shorten his stay in limbo before entering heaven. So give me a big prayer cake it's a treat for you, but a small one made it a trick for me to play on you, I believe. So "Trick or Treat" in return for a nice "Snickers" bar is a small price to pay for your immortal soul, yes??FUN!!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

OCTOBER 30 = MARS ATTACKS EARTH!!


From Today In History: More tales of mystery and intrigue for…. HALLOWEEN!

"We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's, and yet as mortal as his own...."  *

Thus spoke actor/director Orson Welles (above) at the start of the Halloween broadcast of the Mercury Theater of the air on today’s date October 30, in 1938. The radio drama group was producing a radio version of the H.G. Welles story "War of the Worlds". Adapted into a radio screenplay by writer Howard Koch, this tale of earth being invaded and it's inhabitants exterminated by creatures from the planet Mars was done as a series radio news reports from the scene of bizarre events, starting with the arrival of a strange craft in the town of Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Local inhabitants, authorities, and reporters who ventured too close were subsequently massacred. Similar such events were dramatized as having happened all over the world. Unfortunately, many listeners in America tuned in to the program after the beginning the broadcast, and were unaware that it was a mere play. Instead they thought that they were listening to actual events. All across the country, people panicked in the firm belief that the end of the world had arrived. Said television personality Steve Allen, who was a child at the time, "My mother packed us up, and took us to church...I don't know why,....I guess she figured it was better to get slaughtered there."

Did Folks REALLY Flip Their Corks??

There have since been studies suggesting that the “panic” may not have been so widespread as reported in the newspapers of the period, which afterall viewed radio as a competitor in the news market and therefore had good reason to paint the new medium as untrustworthy. According to some studies, the reaction was limited almost entirely to people calling the police, etc. to find out what was really happening. And of course at the heart of it all was the always crafty and mercurial Orson Welles. According to Wikipedia:

"Later studies indicate that many missed the repeated notices that the broadcast was fictional, partly because the Mercury Theatre (an uncensored cultural program with a relatively small audience) ran opposite the popular Chase and Sanborn Hour over the Red Network of NBC, hosted by Don Ameche and featuring comic ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and singer Nelson Eddy, three of the most popular figures in broadcasting. About 15 minutes into the Chase and Sanborn program the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began, and many listeners began tuning around the dial at that point. According to the American Experience program The Battle Over Citizen Kane, Welles knew the schedule of the Chase and Sanborn show, and scheduled the first report from Grover's Mill at the 12-minute mark to heighten the audience's confusion. As a result, some listeners happened upon the CBS broadcast at the point the Martians emerge from their spacecraft."

Eventually everything was sorted out, and calm restored. Orson Welles went on to direct the classic films "Citizen Kane", "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "A Touch of Evil" among others. But he would be remembered as much for the night he panicked America as for his film career.

* = Click on these words colored in burnt orange and hear a "YouTube" recording of the entire broadcast (if you want to)... it's pretty wild!!!

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: krustybassist@gmail.com I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Sources:

The author’s twisted memory.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio)

"Orson Welles - the Road to Xanadu" by Simon Callow, Penguin Books, New York, 1995.

"The War of the Worlds - the Original Broadcast That Panicked the Nation" Audio CD or MP3 file

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Special : Boris Karloff's "Frankenstein"

For Halloween we continue our look back at some frightful
but classic Halloween movies of the past. Yesterday it was Lon Chaney and "Phantom of the Opera".  Today it is another classic: Boris Karloff' and "Frankenstein"!

In 1931, British stage producer and one-time cartoonist James Whale was engaged by Universal Studios in Hollywood to produce a movie about a monster, loosely based on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel "Frankenstein". As he ate his lunch in the studio commissary one afternoon, Whale considered the question of whom to cast for the role of the monster. He looked around himself at the crowds of actors eating their lunch. One man's face stood out to him among all the others, with a lean and hungry look even after he finished his meal - that of a then unknown character actor named Boris Karloff.

"Boris Karloff's face fascinated me. I made drawings of his head, added sharp bony ridges where I imagined the skull might have joined. His physique was weaker than I could wish, but that queer, penetrating personality of his, I felt, was more important than his shape, which easily could be altered."

Karloff was brought on board for the project, and for two weeks sat in the make-up chair of Universal's artist Jack P. Pierce (pictured below, with a friend), who later described how he arrived at the now famous look of the Frankenstein monster:

"I did some research in anatomy, surgery, criminology, ancient and modern burial customs, and electrody- namics. I discovered there are six ways a surgeon can cut the skull, and I figured Dr. Frankenstein, who was not a practicing surgeon would take the easiest. That is, he would cut the top of the skull off, straight across like a pot lid, hinge it, pop the brain in, and clamp it tight. That's the reason I decided to make the monster's head square and flat like a box, and dig that big scar across his forehead, and have metal clamps hold it together. The two metal studs that stick out the sides of his neck are inlets for electricity-plugs. The monster is an electrical gadget and lightning is his life force."

The final version make-up took three-and-a-half hours to put on in the morning, and an hour-and-a-half to remove at night. With a steel spine, and boots designed for use by asphalt spreaders, the total weight was forty-eight pounds Add that the entire movie was shot in an enclosed studio under lights in the heat of the summer, Universal Studio executive Carl Laemmle said "Karloff's eyes mirrored the suffering we needed."

It is a remarkable fact of Hollywood history that this essentially sweet, self-effacing man, who started off his career by frightening everyone would in 1966 finish it by warming the hearts of children and grownups everywhere by becoming the voice of  "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"! BUT..... that is a special posting that will come at Christmas Time....


READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: krustybassist@gmail.com.   I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Sources:

 by Dennis Gifford, Hamlyn Publ. Group Ltd. London, 1973


"Frankenstein" Universal Pictures, 1931, directed by James Whale













Image of J.P. Pierce: http://whatculture.com/film/history-of-the-universal-monsters.php

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Special = Lon Chaney's "Phantom of the Opera"

"He was great, not only because of his God-given talent, but because he used that talent to illuminate certain dark corners of the human spirit.  He showed the world the souls of people born different from the rest, because he himself was born of parents who were different."

- Irving Thalberg on Lon Chaney.

This was the reaction of  MGM's brilliant young Executive to the death on August 26, of 1930 of Lon Chaney, "The Man of A Thousand Faces" as he was dubbed by that time. Mr. Thalberg was certainly right - Chaney did indeed come from people who were different. For that reason he was able to imbue his characters with life and a certain sympathetic pathos which always enabled audiences to see the sadness beneath the monstrous exterior.  And thus their fate was not just the killing of a monster, but a tragedy which at once pulled at his audience's heart strings, while relieving their tension.  And he managed to accomplish this to a very high degree with his masterful performance in "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925, pictured above).

"They'll take notice of you.."

Lon Chaney was born on April Fools Day (the 1st) in 1883 in Colorado.  His father, Frank H. Chaney, and his mother, Emma Alice were both deaf/mutes.  As the child of deaf/mute parents, Chaney became skilled in the use of pantomime at an early age.  He would use this ability to amuse his mother who was frequently bed-ridden.  He worked at Universal Pictures from 1912 - 1917, playing small bit parts and character roles. He got very good at applying make-up - disguising his appearance to get parts which he wouldn't otherwise have gotten.  As he would years later advise a young Boris Karloff, this had been the secret of his success: "Find something no one else can or will do and they'll begin to take notice of you."

Chaney Makes Them Scream with "The Phantom of the Opera" 

By 1925, Chaney had long since found that "something", establishing himself as a man who would endure any physical hardship in search of his character, regardless of the demands of the makeup.  He had shown in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"(1923 - right) that he could wear pounds of make up and physically disfiguring shoulder pads to completely assume his character's appearance. And as his Producer for that venture, Carl Laemmle was very happy with the critical and financial success of that venture, he was anxious to repeat it with another story set in Paris, featuring a monstrous antagonist.

Laemmle found what he was looking for in Gaston Leroux's eerie 1910 mystery - "Le Fantome de l'Opera"about a disfigured man lurking beneath the Paris Opera House.  For this role and this man, this tortured soul living in the catacombs beneath the Opera House, Chaney wanted the man beneath the mask to resemble a human skull.
He came up with a device which drew his mouth back at its corners, which also had prongs attached to a very unsightly set of jagged teeth (pictured above, Chaney tries them on for size).  Added to that, he had another implement which pushed up the tip of his nose, and inserted into his nostrils to pull them apart.  He had circles of celluloid in his mouth to emphasize high cheek bones.  And to top this all off, Chaney placed a domed wig of skin with stringy black hair parted n the middle and hanging lifelessly down each side of his face.  The resulting scene, which comes late in the film wherein the Phantom's would-be protege', Christine, played by Mary Philbin,  pulls back his mask, thus revealing his hideous visage caused women to scream, and men to faint.  It also caused a huge sensation and must certainly rank along with the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) as one of the two most classic moments in all of horror movie history. It can be seen on a YouTube video clip by clicking on the highlighted words "The resulting scene" above. You have almost certainly seen it yourself. If not, you should certainly rent it, watch it and.... SCREEEEEEAM!!  Not a bad way to spend Halloween night, eh??




Images :

Chaney as "The Phantom of the Opera" =
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ChaneyPhantomoftheOpera.jpg

Chaney =  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lon_Chaney,_Sr._The_Miracle_Man.jpg

Chaney as "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" =
http://www.goldensilents.com/stars/lonchaney.html

Chaney applying makeup =
http://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/22550/100-years-in-horror-the-greatest-special-effects-makeup-artists-ever/

The Unmasking =
http://cinemagumbo.squarespace.com/journal/2013/8/1/50-unforgettable-movie-images-part-one.html

Sources:

"A Pictorial History of Horror Movies" by Denis Gifford, Hamlyn Publ. Group Ltd., London, 1973

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lon_Chaney_(Sr.)

http://universalmonstersblog.tumblr.com/post/18991374185/fact-99-lon-chaney-knew-boris-karloff-when-he-was

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaston_Leroux




Saturday, October 26, 2013

OCTOBER 26 = Gunfight at the "OK Corral"

 "I had my pistol in my overcoat pocket....when I saw Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury draw their pistols, I drew my pistol. Billy Clanton leveled his pistol at me, but I did not aim at him. I knew that Frank McLaury had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLaury. The first two shots were fired by Billy Clanton and myself, he shooting at me, and I shooting at Frank McLaury. I don't know which was fired first. We almost fired together. The fight then became general."

- Wyatt Earp in his testimony at the inquest into the gunfight at the "OK Corral".

"I heard Virgil Earp say: "Give up your arms or throw up your arms!" There was some reply made by Frank Mc Laury, but at the same moment there were two shots fired simultaneously by Doc Holliday and Frank Mc Laury, when the firing became general, almost thirty shots being fired. Tom Mc Laury fell first, but raised and fired again before he died...... Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession as cool as a cucumber."

- R.F. Coleman in the Tombstone Daily Epitaph, Oct. 27, 1881.

The gunfight at the "OK Corral" which took place on today's date in 1881 has become perhaps the most legendary of all the gunfights that took place in the lawless days of America's old west. It has been the subject of countless books and essays, and the subject of at least seven Hollywood feature films. In the films, the gunfight tends to go on for several minutes or more. In truth however, the actual event was over in less than one minute. And the poetic beauty as well as the fine performances of the best of the films - John Ford's "My Darling Clementine"
(1946) notwithstanding, the father of the Clantons was not present, "Doc" Holliday was not really a doctor, and Wyatt Earp never danced at the Church social with Doc's fiancee' - although he did mix it up with one of the enemy's girls.

The Towns of the Old West - A None Too Comfortable Melting Pot

The towns of America's old western frontier were gathering places for all kinds of people - miners, cowboys, prospectors, railroad men, soldiers and a host of others all could be found there. Whether there on business - banks, merchants, blacksmiths, all had their place, or on pleasure - saloons, dance halls, bordellos, and gambling establishments all had their place too, they all brought their troubles and resentments with them. One of the key conflicts that developed was that which arose between those who lived in towns and those who lived out in the country. To those who lived and worked on ranches - and many of them had been there for two generations or more - the townspeople were squatters, and their towns were a blight upon what had once been a vast and wide open landscape. To the citizens of the towns, these cowboys who frequently showed up were nothing but lawless trouble makers, there to stir-up whatever hell they felt like at the expense of their property, their businesses, and their peace. The recklessness, the violence, the gun play would all too frequently get out of hand, and the townspeople were none-too-picky about whom they hired to keep these rowdies under control.

The Earps and the Clantons - A Lethal Combination in Tombstone

Such was the cauldron of potential for lethal violence which greeted the Earp brothers when they arrived at Tombstone, Arizona in December of 1879. Hopes for financial gain had brought Wyatt, 31, Virgil, 36 and James 38 to the fledgling western boom town. James hoped to be not only a bartender as he had been, but a saloon owner. Virgil prospected for silver, but he had recently been a deputy-sheriff in Kansas and had been sworn in as a deputy U.S. Marshal. The youngest of the trio, Wyatt had the most colorful background. An accused horse thief, Wichita policeman, and Assistant Marshal from Dodge, he had added to his marshal's pay as a card dealer - dealing faro and Monti at the Long Branch Saloon. In Tombstone, he hoped to cash in as he had in Dodge - taking a cut of the gambling profits as a dealer, and expediting the departure from town of any angry losers in his role as a lawman. The fourth of the brothers, Morgan, 28 arrived in town in early 1880, and Wyatt secured for him employment to ride shotgun on the stage ride to Tuscon. Shortly after Morgan, a friend of Wyatt's from his Dodge City days, John "Doc" Holliday, 28 years old arrived.
Holliday (pictured, left) was called "Doc" not because he had a medical degree, but because he occasionally took on the duties of a dentist. Alcoholic, and suffering from Tuberculosis - a deadly infection of the lungs which caused bloody coughing from its sufferers, Holliday had a reputation as a quick tempered, cold-blooded killer. A similar reputation attached to the Earp brothers. This was a common situation in the old west - wherein "lawmen" frequently had pasts on both sides of the badge.

Already in Tombstone and operating within and sometimes around the law when the Earps arrived were two sets of brothers from that rough-hewn ranchers breed. The Clantons and the Mc Laurys had been friends since the 1870's and as with many of these men of the country, had been there working long before Tombstone had even been built. Ike, 34 and Billy Clanton were of different types. Ike was one of the hell-raisers the townspeople so hated. But Billy, at a mere 19 in 1881 was more mature. He took a paternal role, looking after his older brother, and did not have a reputation as a gunfighter. The father of the Clantons, played with such sinister elan in the movie by Walter Brennan was in fact killed in an ambush by Mexican outlaws in August of 1881. Frank Mc Laury, 33 and his brother Tom, 28 had like the Clantons been in the cattle trading business, and were cut from essentially the same cloth. The Clantons and the Mc Laurys had an ally in the sheriff of the newly formed Cochise County, John Behan. Behan had to rely on votes from all over the county to remain in his post whereas Virgil Earp, as city marshal of Tombstone itself did not. So Behan already naturally favored the cowboys.
And as if this was not enough, Behan's mistress, the beautiful young actress Josephine Marcus (Pictured, right!) had been courted and won over by Wyatt Earp.

Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan, and Ike, Billy, and Frank Mix it Up!!

So these two factions quickly clashed. There were reports that the Clantons and the Mc Laurys had been saying that the town would be better with the Earps out of the way. In September Virgil as marshal arrested one of Behans deputies and a Clanton friend for a stage robbery. Ike Clanton posted bail for them, and while in town saw Morgan Earp on the street. "If you ever come after me,” he growled, “you'll never take me." The gauntlet having thus been flung down in public, a bloody confrontation was certain. On October 25, Frank Mc Laury and Ike Clanton arrived in town to collect payment on some of their cattle. Ike spent the night drinking and playing poker which left him tired and ready for a fight. Wyatt was awakened at 11:30 on the morning of the 26'th and told by bartender Ned Boyle that Ike had declared that "As soon as those damned Earps make their appearance on the street today, the ball will open!" Never one to decline such a challenge Wyatt rushed out and found Virgil. They went searching for Ike, whom Virgil saw in an alley carrying a rifle and his six shooter. Approaching him from behind, Virgil quickly disarmed him of the rifle and pistol-whipped him when he attempted to draw his six shooter. Arresting Ike for carrying a gun within city limits, Virgil, with Morgan who had just arrived, marched him to the Justice of the Peace. Wyatt arrived at the court and after a verbal exchange with Ike, stalked off, running into Tom Mc Laury, who had come to look after Ike. "If you want to make a fight, I'll make a fight with you anywhere!" Billy Clanton, who was plainly determined to get Ike out of this trouble saw him and said "Get your horse and go home!" Ike agreed and together the men headed for Fremont Street to get their horses and go. Sheriff Behan who had been nearby saw the Earps and Doc Holliday gathering, all of them armed. He tried to intervene but to no avail. The four men - the three Earps with Doc Holliday, were headed down the street to "disarm" the cowboys.

The Legendary (But VERY Quick) Gunfight (Near) the O.K. Corral

They found them down Fremont Street in a lot which was directly next to, but not IN the "OK" Corral. The cowboys literally had their backs to the walls of the Harwood home in a lot some twenty feet wide. No more than six feet away from the cowboys stood from left to right, Virgil and Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Morgan Earp. Facing them from left to right were Billy and Ike Clanton, and Frank Mc Laury. Down the street a short distance with his brother's horse was Tom Mc Laury. Sheriff Behan had ducked into Fly's Photo Studio which was across from the cowboy's position. "Hold! I want your guns!" Virgil yelled to the cowboys. Somebody shouted "Son of a bitch!" and the shots rang out. As he said in his testimony at the inquest quoted above, Wyatt fired not at Billy Clanton who had aimed at him, but at Frank Mc Laury and felled him. Billy's shot at Wyatt missed. Tom Mc Laury, seeing his brother hit called out "I have nothing", but tried to grab the rifle from his brother's horse, as he moved to take cover behind it. Frank's horse suddenly bolted down the street towards the Earps. Exposed, Tom was felled by Doc Holliday's shotgun blast. He fell to the street and died soon after. Billy was hit in the chest and wrist by shots from Morgan and fell back against the Harwood House, still firing.

At this point, Ike - the cause of the immediate confrontation lunged towards Wyatt - whether to try and give up, or to grab Wyatt's guns is not known. Seeing that Ike had no gun, Wyatt pushed him aside saying "Go to fighting or get away!" Ike promptly took the latter part of Wyatt's advice and fled the scene. Virgil stepped forward and was shot through his calf by Billy, who was still firing. Frank, fired at Doc and the two men got off shots almost simultaneously, but it was Holliday who went down with Frank's bullet to his hip. But almost at that moment, Frank himself was hit for the last time by a shot from Morgan, who was then shot by Billy as he faded. Morgan, hit in the shoulder turned and fired at Billy along with Wyatt, their two shots finally finishing off the young man, whose primary purpose that night had been to avoid the fight. His brother on whose behalf he had sought to intercede, had safely run to a dance hall on Allen Street, a full block away.

Epilogue: Ike Gets His, Wyatt Does Not
(Pictured, right - Wyatt Earp, circa 1923) In approximately 36 seconds or so, this most famous of all gunfights in the history of the West had run its course. The cowboys had been annihilated. The "lawmen" had been wounded, but prevailed for that evening anyway. In the inquest which followed, the actions of the Earp brothers were declared to have been "injudicious", but justified. Two months later, Virgil was shot and badly wounded in his left arm as he crossed the street. The assailant got away, unseen. Virgil survived. Three months after that, Morgan was shot in the back and killed by blasts fired through the window of the billiard parlor on Allen Street where he and Wyatt were having a game. "Doc" Holliday died in Colorado on November 8 of 1887 at age 36, of tuberculosis. His last words were said to have been: "I'll be damned. This is funny." Charged with cattle rustling, Ike Clanton was felled in a shoot-out on June 1, 1887. Wyatt Earp later moved to California with Josephine Marcus with whom he lived until his death in 1929. And in all of his years as a gunfighter/lawman, he was never once wounded.




READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: krustybassist@gmail.com.  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Sources:

The O.K. Corral Inquest (Early West) edited by Alford E. Turner._Creative West Publishing, Jan., 1981

- By the editors of Time Life Books, with text by Paul Trachtman. Time Life Books, 1974, pp. 15 - 33.












http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ike_Clanton

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Holliday

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis
+  958.
+  690.

Friday, October 25, 2013

OCTOBER 25 = Henry V and St. Crispian's Day


"Agincourt is one of the most instantly and vividly visualized of all epic passages in English history, and one of the most satisfactory to contemplate. It is a victory of the weak over the strong, of the common soldier over the mounted knight, of resolution over bombast, of the desperate, cornered and far from home over the proprietorial and cocksure.....It is a school outing to the Old Vic, Shakespeare is fun..... Laurence Olivier in armour battle; it is an episode to quicken the interest of any schoolboy ever bored by a history lesson, a set-piece demonstration of English moral superiority and a cherished ingredient of a fading national myth. It is also a story of slaughter-yard behavior, and of outright atrocity."
- John Keegan.

With this flowery, but ultimately realistic language, historian John Keegan begins his chapter on Henry V (pictured above) and the Battle of Agincourt in his book "the Face of Battle". Keegan's words are well chosen. For while this battle, which took place on this date in the year 1415 has taken its place in the pantheon of English literature, it was in reality a very brutal and bloody affair. The battle was reported by chroniclers: eye-witnesses to, or reporters of events as gathered in the first hand accounts of participants. And in this case, not only did the victors write the history, but they had the very great fortune of having it immortalized into verse by the greatest dramatist ever to write in their (or any) language.  And it was then turned into a couple of movies.... immortality, here we come!!

Why Was Henry V in France?

This battle (Pictured, below in a 15'th Century French miniature), named "Agincourt" after the nearest castle to the battlefield, took place at the end of a long and difficult march for the English army
which had sailed from England on Aug. 11 with eight thousand archers (soldiers who special- ized in the use of the bow and arrow) and two thousand foot soldiers. They had come to retake lands which their King, the young Henry V claimed as belonging to England, but which the French had taken in recent years. They had taken the town of Harfleur at the mouth of the Seine River, near present day Le Havre. But the main body of the French Army was further inland, and waiting for Henry when he tried to march his army through the wet and increasingly cold weather of the autumn season in order to reach the comparative safety of Calais. Henry had to leave a portion of his men behind to hold the captured town. Thus when the English arrived at the site of the battle, their numbers had been reduced to about nine hundred foot soldiers and five thousand archers who had been ravaged by Dysentery (a rabid form of diarrhea), beaten by the cold wind and rain, and were nearly out of food.

Henry's Bedraggled Army Faces France's Magnificent Knights

Facing them across a field of some one thousand yards between two wooded areas was a French Army which was likely five or six times their number, about thirty thousand men. And these were made up mostly of "men at arms"- French cavalry,  resplendently
arrayed in full medieval style battle armor, some seventy pounds of steel. These were the cream of France's landed gentry, gentlemen who were high born, and bent upon fighting other gentlemen. They considered the English archers to be a mass of bedraggled peasants who were unworthy of their attention. Also present with the French forces were a smaller, but significant number of foot soldiers who were also armored, though less heavily than the cavalry. This was certainly an impressive force. But the English had a number of key factors in their favor. First, the French forces had been hastily gathered from all around the French lands, and had little or no unified command structure. The English on the other hand were under the command of, indeed were literally fighting alongside of their King, who was able to exercise some overall command through his Lords. In addition, the field across which the armies surveyed each other was newly plowed, and the wet weather of the previous evening had made it a morass of mud. Thus, the very rain which had made the lives of the English army so miserable the preceding night was about to make the lives of the French Army a lot more miserable, and a good deal shorter. And the wooded areas on either side of the field of battle would soon produce a lethal bottle-neck from which there was no escape.

The Battlefield of Agincourt

Beginning at day break, the armies surveyed each other for some four hours. Henry likely was hoping that the French would attack first. But when they didn't, Henry sent his army forward, to about
 300 yards from the French, with archers mixed in with his foot soldiers, as well as in the woods which (click on the above map to enlarge) bounded the battlefield on each side. The archers in the main line planted their sticks - literally thick wooden posts with sharpened ends into the ground, and pointing forward. Exactly in what configuration and how far apart is not made clear by the chroniclers, but apparently it was in a manner that enabled the archers to stand in front of them, fire several volleys, and then quickly step behind them, thus revealing their presence at a moment too late for the charging horses to be stopped. Exactly how the signal for the archers to commence firing was given is not precisely known. Nevertheless, they fired a volley into the air, all at once - and apparently on command.

The French Knights Charge!!

Just as Henry hoped, this goaded the French into sending their first line forward in a ferocious cavalry charge straight for the English noblemen, disregarding the low-life archers amongst them. The English archers each carried a sheaf or two which had about twenty four arrows, of which they were able to launch one every ten seconds. The French knights in their armor were well
protected from the arrows. But these same chisel-pointed cloth yard arrows, fired one hundred feet into the air returned to earth with sufficient speed to easily pierce the padding on the backs of their horses which were only armored from the front. In addition, these arrows while failing to pierce the armor must have made upon striking their targets a cacophonous noise to the knights who wore it. Coming down as these volleys did literally in clouds this was likely huge factor in confusing the focus of the knights. For, once the archers stepped behind their wooden posts, those horses who had survived the arrows were quickly impaled, and their riders thrown to the ground, from which position their splendid armor became a hindrance making it nearly impossible for them to rise and fight. The English footmen, their nobles, and their archers then moved in and fell upon them, slaying them in great numbers.

The English Make Short Work of the French

Upon seeing this slaughter taking place in front of them, subsequent waves of cavalrymen turned to retreat which sent them straight into waves of foot soldiers trudging forward across the muddy fields to follow up the cavalry. Confusion and panic set in. The Frenchmen and horses at the rear could not see what was happening at the front as they flailed about in the mud. Keegan paints a picture of a three pronged, trident-like formation of attack in which those at the fore of the assault had little room to maneuver on the narrow front, but were being pushed forward into the English foot soldiers by the press of all the confusion
in the rear. And the narrow space of the field with woods on either side left no room to flee to the flanks. The French found themselves bunched in with little or no room to effectively wield their weapons, while being pushed forward into their foes. Those who fell, either wounded or dead, piled upon one another in stacks described by one of the chroniclers as being "as high as a man." This is probably a poetic exaggeration, but the piles of the fallen definitely posed yet another lethal obstruction in a field that was rapidly becoming clogged with them. The resultant butchery left the French with wildly disproportionate casualties - about ten thousand to only one hundred Englishmen killed or wounded.

Shakespeare Makes the Battle Into a Legend

These facts of smashing a large French force by a much smaller English army would seem to guarantee immortality for the struggle. And indeed it was well remembered by a nation who would continue to see and fight the French as their natural enemies for nearly five centuries after. But Henry V himself would die of a sudden illness merely seven years later at the young age of 35. His successors, who possessed none of his strength either of character or conviction, would lose his hard-won gains in France. Nevertheless in the hands of William Shakespeare, writing over 180 years later, the battle achieved mythic status. And this has been imprinted into the memories of countless theater goers, as well as cinema fans in film versions of Shakespeare's play by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1944, and by Kenneth Brannagh in 1989.
One of the chron- iclers writes that upon seeing the huge French force arrayed against them, one of Henry's lords, Sir Arthur Hungerford said: "I would that we had ten thousand more good English archers who would gladly be with us here today!" To which King Henry is recorded as replying: "Thou speakest as a fool! By the God of Heaven, on whose grace I lean, I would not have one more even if I could... He can bring down the pride of these Frenchmen who so boast of their numbers and their strength." Under the brilliant pen of Skakespeare, these fairly straightforward remarks became one of the most stirring speeches ever written:
(Click on the highlighted words to see a video of the speech)

"This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.*
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."


- "Henry V", Act 4, Scene 3.

* = Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, tanners, and leather workers. Born to a noble Roman family in the 3rd century AD, Saints Crispin and Crispinian, twin brothers, were executed by Rictus Varus, the governor of Belgic Gaul, in 286. The feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian is celebrated on October 25. In Shakespeare, Crispinian's name is spelled Crispian, which likely conformed to Elizabethan pronunciation, and also fit Shakespeares'
Iambic pentameter form.


READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: krustybassist@gmail.com.  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


Sources:

- John Keegan
Barnes & Noble Inc. / Viking Penguin Inc., 1993, pp. 79 - 115.

Edited by Mark C. Carnes
Henry Holt & Co., Inc., New York, 1995, pp. 48 - 53.

http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=St.+Crispin%27s+Day&fr=ush-mail&ygmabtsrchbtn=Web+Search

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Agincourt


+ 268.

+ 168.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

OCTOBER 22 = The Missiles of October


On the evening of today's date, Monday, October 22 in 1962 our President, John F. Kennedy made this startling announcement to the world:

"Good evening, my fellow citizens:
This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."

The gravity of the situation must seem difficult to grasp today when "the Cold War" seems like a relic of the distant past. But back when I was just a baby boy, the world came closer to nuclear holocaust than it ever had before, or has ever since. It was discovered that the Soviet Union had placed medium range offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. The idea of getting into a shooting war over this, when not too long after we both had enough missiles to vaporize each other many times over - from our own soil - seems odd to say the least.  Afterall, we had grown up with thousands of these things... "ICBM"s,  Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles pointed at each other. Nevertheless it really did happen... almost, a mere 55 ago.

JFK, Kruschev, Cuba and the Balance of Power 

The Kennedy admini- stration was in a peculiar position.  Cuba, a newly dedicated Commu- nist country was now established just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  JFK had reluctantly backed an invasion of that country by exiled Cuban forces at the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961, just three months after taking office. But the Bay of Pigs wound up being a colossal failure. Many believe that it was JFK's unwillingness to back the invasion more fully that had lead to its disastrous result.  The presence on that island of offensive Soviet weapons was a new and highly dangerous development at that time.  Clearly the reason that the Soviets under their leader, Nikita Krushchev had taken the provocative step of placing missiles so close to the U.S. was that he figured the U.S. President could be bluffed into accepting the missiles once they were already there:

"I came to the conclusion that if we did everything secretly, and the Americans found out about it only after the missiles were in place and ready to be launched, they would have to stop and think before making the risky decision to wipe out our missiles by military force."

Krushchev would write many years later. He  figured that the young U.S. President who had been unwilling to fully back the Cuban rebels at the Bay of  Pigs could be forced to accept a fait accompli.  JFK and his advisers were keenly aware that any concessions on this issue would likely be seen as the type of appeasement that had lead to World War II.  So not only the standing of the U.S. President visa-vie the Soviet leader was at stake in JFK's response, so was J.F.K.'s political standing in the U.S. and around the world.  And so, not incidentally, was the safety of the American people whom JFK was sworn to protect. 

JFK : the Missiles Will HAVE to GO!!

Just as clear as Krushchev's attempted bluff of JFK, was the fact that JFK realized that he could NOT accept the presence of such a threat to the U.S. so close to her shores. JFK was prepared to call Krushchev's bluff and to go the whole nine yards to force the missiles removal:

"The 1930's taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemisphere.

"I have directed that the following initial steps be taken immediately:
First: To halt this offensive buildup a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.

"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." 

"Eyeball to eyeball..."

Krushchev was shocked and furious with Kennedy's unexpectedly strong stance.  There would be nearly two weeks of tense negotiations between the White House and Moscow, as well as between the White House and the Pentagon.  Not only was Krushchev unwilling to give up
his missiles in Cuba, but JFK's military advisers were pushing for air strikes to take out the missiles followed by an invasion of Cuba.  But just as JFK was convinced that the missiles would have to go, he was equally convinced that an invasion of Cuba would force the Soviets to war touching off a nuclear exchange which would ravage the entire planet.   To impose a "Blockade" of Cuba would normally have been considered an at of war.  Defense Secretary Robert McNamara came up with the idea of skirting this little..... technicality by calling it a "Quarantine". As the Soviet vessels approached the "Quarantine Line" everyone held their breath wondering whether they would hold up, or they would have to be fired upon.  Would this be the  beginning of World War Three?  Happily on Wednesday, October 24, 1962, the Russian freighters slowed when they approached the Quarantine line, and eventually turned around. In the words of Secretary of State Dean Rusk: "We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked!"

Kruschev and JFK Find a Way Out

 This event was not the end of the brink- manship by any means.  A U-2 spy plane and it's pilot would be shot down. The two leaders found that going through the normal diplomatic channels was making the negotiations more difficult.  So a significant "back channel" was found when newspaper journalist John Sculley was approached in a coffee shop by an old friend of Krushchev's to pursue a deal that would provide assurance that the U.S. would neither invade Cuba, nor support anyone else who would.  Further, the U.S. agreed via Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy personally meeting with Anotoly Dobrynin - the Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. - that the U.S. would agree to the quiet removal - at a much later date - of some older U.S. missiles from their installations in Turkey.  Neither JFK, who was a W.W.II veteran, nor Krushchev, a brutal man who had nevertheless witnessed the destruction of war on his own homeland had any stomach for nuclear war. In fact Krushchev wrote of war that "...it has rolled through cities and villages everywhere sowing death and destruction." President Kennedy made his feelings on the crisis in his speech that night, fifty years ago:

"Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved."


Sources:



by Robert F. Kennedy, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1968




by Bill O'Reilly, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2012










New Line Cinema, Dir. by Roger Donaldson, 2001.

+ 84.










Sunday, October 20, 2013

OCTOBER 20 = Louisiana Purchase Ratified



"The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic for ever and in full Sovereignty the said territory with all its rights and appurtenances as fully and in the Same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic..."


- from the text of the treaty between the United States and France ceding sovereignty of the Louisiana territory to the United States.

On today's date, October 20, in 1803, the United States Senate formally ratified the above quoted treaty between the new American republic, and the French Republic signed on April 30 of that year.  In the treaty, France ceded control of the vast Louisiana Territory to America.

Who Would Control Louisiana?

At the close of the 18th century, Louisiana techni- cally was in the control of Spain.  But Spain realized she would be unable to control the region, and turned it over to France in 1801.  By 1803, France's leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who at that time held the title of "First Consul of the Republic" was facing war with Britain, and no longer could consider any possibility of sending troops to North America in any great numbers.  The greater likelihood was that Britain, with troops right next door in Canada would take it by force of arms and leave France empty-handed.  But Britain was already fighting on other colonial fronts as well as in Europe.  So there was Spain, too old and decrepit, France already fighting for control of Europe, and England, over-extended around the world.  Whereas, the United States was young, vigorous, and.. here.

Would France Entertain an Offer?

Earlier that year, the American President, Thomas Jefferson, realizing the importance of the territory to America, especially the Mississippi River Delta, had sent James Monroe to see if  Napoleon might be willing to sell portions of the land, such as New Orleans and West Florida to the United States. When the French Foreign Minister, Charles M. de Talleyrand made the offer to the American Minister in France, Robert Livingston, the American was clearly surprised:

"M. de Talleyrand asked me this day... whether we wished to have the whole of Louisiana.  I told him no, that our wishes only extended to New Orleans and the Floridas... he said that if they gave New Orleans, the rest would be of little value, and that he would wish to know 'what we would give for the whole'.  I told him it was a subject I had not thought of..."

But Livingston (pictured above) quickly recovered, and with the arrival of Monroe, an agreement to purchase the whole territory for the sum of 15 million dollars was arranged.  The agreement was bitterly attacked by Jefferson's critics as being unconstitutional and too expensive.  But Napoleon was certain that he had made a  made a shrewd deal, declaring: "The sale assures forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride."

An Extremely Valuable Chunk of Real Estate

Historian Henry Adams rated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory to be of incalculable value:

"The annexation of Louisiana was an event so portentous as to defy measurement. it gave a new face to politics, and ranked in historical importance next to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution -- events of which it was the logical outcome; but as a matter of diplomacy, it was unparalleled, because it cost almost nothing."

The total purchase price came out to about three cents per acre!! Even in 2012 dollars that still comes to a lousy 42 cents per acre!! Now THAT'S a deal.  Below, the official transfer of New Orleans to American control.




Sources:

"History of the United States During the Jefferson Administration" by Henry Adams, Penguin Books USA Ltd., New York, 1986.

"Undaunted Courage" by Stephan E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase



    













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