Tuesday, July 30, 2013

JULY 30 = Jimmy Hoffa Vanishes

NOTE = I posted this story in 2011 by mistake on July 31... it was actually July 30 not the 31'st on which Mr. Hoffa vanished.  And then when doing the posting on the Indianapolis, I didn't realize that the date for this posting was actually the same date. Nevermind that the History Channel website continues to say it happened on July 31; every other site I've checked says it happened on July 30, and it's a good story so here it is:

"I loved Jimmy.  He had a lot of good points, but he sure as hell had a lot of faults.  He had a tremendous Napoleonic complex.  He used to read everything there was on Napoleon.  He was always trying to get me to read books on Napoleon, like he got me to read "the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire", where you could find a lot of what Jimmy believed.  I never read any of those books, but I looked up the complex and there was Jimmy to a tee. He was out to conquer the world.  He liked to have big men around him and show he was the biggest of all.  He loved power. He didn't give a shit about money, only money that could buy him power and fear, which is what he wanted."

- Joseph Franco, longtime Hoffa "associate".

It was during my third or fourth year of employment on staff at the University of Texas at Austin School of Music that I mentioned the man’s name and everyone knew what I was saying.  It was late summer, much as it is now.  I was taking on new responsibilities and part of these were clearing lockers of a huge concentration of junk…. just plain junk which had been left by….. previous occupants.  In going through the massive concentration of useless brick-a-brack, I told my new supervisor, Dr. Scott Hanna, that I had even managed to run across the body of Jimmy Hoffa.  He laughed, and I am told that at a meeting of the faculty when he passed this little joke along to the assembled teachers, that they all laughed too.

Hoffa - the Man Who Ruled the Teamsters and Then Vanished!

James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa.  Ever since his mysterious disappearance on today’s date, July 30 in 1975, he has become the very symbol of the man who was “rubbed out” by shadowy rivals, and his body stashed in some unknown location, never to be found again.  The fact is that this image in the popular culture is not too far off from the truth.  Jimmy Hoffa was indeed the ultimate player of “hard ball”, a tough, very difficult man either to know, to work with, or to work for.  As the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union comprising primarily truckers and dock workers from 1958 until 1971 he brought that labor Union to heights of power and influence which it had never known before, but also brought himself to personal ruin and ultimately - oblivion.

The Rise of Jimmy Hoffa

Hoffa was born on Valentines Day - February 14 of 1913 in Brazil, Indiana to Pennzylavania Dutch and German parents.  His father was a coal miner whose early death left Hoffa having to work hard at manual labor to support his family. He married Josephine Pozywak in 1936, and set up house in Detroit, having two children, Barbara Ann
Crancer and James P. Jr. (pictured, left).   The Teamsters union, founded in 1899, had a small member- ship to start with - 75,000 in 1933. As a result of Hoffa's work with other union leaders to merge local union trucker groups into larger and more powerful groups and utimately into one gigantic national body, membership grew to 170,000 members by 1936. It kept on grwoing during World War II and through the post-war boom to over 2.25 million members by the time his influence reached its zenith in 1964.

Hoffa Brings the Teamsters to it's Greatest Heights

Hoffa saw the possibilities for the Teamsters to increase their power and influence with the interstate highway system - no longer were merchants dependant upon railways.  Goods could be
carried to market faster, and cheaper by truckers.  They could control the very lifeblood of the country. But there were consistent charges of corruption brought against Hoffa, as well as charges of mob influence in the Teamsters. In 1957, the Teamsters were expelled from the AFL/CIO (the largest labor union in the U.S.)after an emotional speech by AFL/CIO President George Meany. Far from hindering the Teamsters, this move increased their freedom to act independently and secure even better contracts for their members.

Hoffa and RFK - the Blood Feud

But this brought Hoffa under even more scrutiny. In 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected President and appointed his brother Robert F. Kennedy U.S. Attorney General. RFK was determined to catch Hoffa as a part of his war on organized crime. He was no stranger to Hoffa's brand of hardball, and conducted a tough, relentless prosecution
of the Teamsters head. The result of the blood feud between Hoffa and RFK was that Hoffa was convicted of Jury Tampering and also improper use of Teamsters Pension funds and was sentenced to eight years in jail. After exhausting his appeals, Hoffa began serving his sentence in 1967. During his jail time, Frank Fitzsimmons (pictured with Hoffa, below) took over as Teamsters President. Hoffa had expected Fitz to be a reliable rubber stamp man, but Fitzsimmons began to decentralize the operations of the Teamsters as opposed to Hoffa who had always kept the power tightly controlled in his own hands. Hoffa was furious.

Hoffa is Released, But With Strings Attached

Late in 1971, President Richard M. Nixon commuted Hoffa's sentence to time served, and he was released after serving less than five years of his sentence. But the pardon was granted with the condition that Hoffa
could not participate in Teamsters activities until 1980. Hoffa claimed that this was dirty double-dealing by Nixon and his men - that this clause was not made known to him at the time that he signed onto the pardon. Nevertheless, the conditions stuck and Hoffa was kept out. But his pull was irresistible. He began twisting arms and lining up his old supporters while appealing the conditions of his pardon. Clearly he was angling to regain control of the Teamsters at the earliest possible opportunity. And he was showing real strength. Teamsters leaders who feared being on Hoffa's bad side were beginning to waiver in their support of Fitzsimmons.

Hoffa Goes to Lunch and Never Returns

Hoffa disappeared at, or sometime after, 2:45 pm on today's date in 1975, from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit. According to what he had told others, he believed he was to meet there with two Mafia leaders—Anthony Giacolone from Detroit, and Anthony Provenzano from
Union City, New Jersey and New York City. Provenzano (left) was also a union leader with the Teamsters in New Jersey. When Hoffa didn't return home from the restaurant by late that evening, his wife called police to report him missing. When police arrived at the restaurant, they found Hoffa's car, but no sign of Hoffa himself, nor any indication of what had happened to him. Extensive investigations into the disappearance began immediately, and continued over the next several years by several law enforcement groups, including the FBI. However, the investigations failed to conclusively determine Hoffa's fate.

Since that day Hoffas' body has been reported to be in a wide variety of different locations.  One report had him under the cement in the goal post moorings at the Meadowlands football field. On May 17, 2006, acting on a tip, the FBI searched a farm in Milford Township, Michigan, for Hoffa's remains. But Jimmy wasn't there either. The implications over the years have been that Hoffa's threat to return to control of the Teamsters was considered enough of a threat to lead the mob elements involved in the Union to do the man in. Fat lot of good it did them. Today the President of the Teamsters Union is James R. Hoffa Jr. As to the elder Hoffa, he was declared legally dead on this date in 1982 - the seventh anniversary of his mysterious disappearance. His body has never been recovered... not even from the lockers of U.T. Austin.

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!)!!


by Joseph Franco with Richard Hammer, Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1987.


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JULY 30 = "USS Indianapolis" Sinks in Shark-Filled Waters

"Japanese sub- marine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We'd just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail..... And the thing about a shark is he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn't even seem to be livin'... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin' those sharks come in and... they rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men.....  At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he saw us,..... and a few hours later a big fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1,100 men went into the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

This is the most spellbinding moment in a movie that was full of them.  Robert Shaw's character of "Quint" tells the characters of "Hooper", played by Richard Dreyfus, and "Chief Brody", played by Roy Scheider about his World War II experience aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis (a "YouTube" video of that moment in the film can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted name "Robert Shaw's" above). This portion of the dialogue was based on survivors accounts so it is accurate save in one detail: the date. It was actually on today's date of July 30 in 1945 that the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine.

The U.S.S. Indianapolis is Sunk.  Period.

That really is the long and the short of it.  Or it ought to be.  The heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis (above) had been carrying a top-secret cargo of fissionable urnanium along with several other parts that were vital to the production of the atomic bomb which was several days later dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.  But that had only been the first part of the story.  When she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine a few days later, it was bad luck.  Period.  That the resulting explosions should cause the death of about 300 men was certainly tragic, but those are the fortunes or misfortunes of war. That the remaining survivors should go into the water, there to float in shark-filled territory could also be called one of the misfortunes of war.   BUT.. that they should be left floating there for FOUR DAYS because nobody noticed that they had not arrived was outrageous.  That the commanding officer of the Indianapolis, Captain Charles B. McVay should be court-martialed for having failed in his primary duty to protect his ship was inutterably criminal and something the for which the U.S. Navy should be ashamed.

The Sun, the Sharks, Exposure All Converge Upon the Crew...

Day 3 :The sun finally did rise and it got warmed up again. Some of the guys been drinkin salt water by now, and they were goin bezerk. They’d tell you big stories about the Indianapolis is not sunk, its’ just right there under the surface. I was just down there and had a drink of water out of the drinkin fountain and the Geedunk is still open. The geedunk bein the commissary where you buy ice cream, cigarettes, candy, what have you, “it’s still open” they’d tell ya. “Come on we’ll go get a drink of water”, and then 3 or 4 guys would believe this story and go with them.

The day wore on and the sharks were around, hundreds of them. You’d hear guys scream, especially late in the afternoon. Seemed like the sharks were the worst late in the afternoon than they were during the day. Then they fed at night too. Everything would be quiet and then you’d hear somebody scream and you knew a shark had got him.

This was the memory of Woodie E. James, a Coxswain aboard Indianapolis, and one of the lucky few who survived four hideous days of floating in the Pacific Ocean at the mercy of the unrelenting sun.  This caused sun burns and eventually the dehydration from lack of fresh water casued dementia. And the sharks which frequent these warm waters swarmed about and mercilessly tore at the men.  Most of the men had life-preservers, but these had become water-logged by the fourth day.  And some of the men had managed to find rafts to float in (above), but some did not.  And many of these men fell prey to these sharks. Of a crew of 1,196, about 900 men survived the sinking of the ship, which went down in twelve minutes.  But because of the sun, the sharks, and exposure, only 321 of those in the water survived to be rescued on August 2, when a navy PBY on a routine patrol happened to see the survivors.

Then the U.S. Navy Converges Upon Captain McVay

The reason for the delay of almost three full days in any rescue effort, and the fact that that had only come about by accident was that nobody had even noticed that the Indianapolis had failed to show up at Leyete in the Phillipines on time. To make a very detailed story short, there was a kind of gap in the system of whom the Indianapolis was supposed to report to upon her arrival in Leyete. As historian Richard F.  Newcomb wrote in his book "Abandon Ship!" : "Herein lay the seed of the Indianapolis tragedy.  There was no operational control procedure for reporting combatant vessels overdue.  The instructions were explicit on departures. And they were explicit on arrivals, but they said nothing about non-arrivals.  If a combatant vessel arrived it was to be reported.  But what if a combatant vessel did not arrive? Silence."  At first the publicity about the sinking of the Indianapolis was muted, as it competed with news of the wars ending (click on NY Times above). But in Indianapolis, the news got bigger play.  In the Indianapolis Star on Aug. 15, 1945, directly below the news of the war ending and in print almost as large went the headline:

"Nip Sub Sinks Cruiser Indianapolis Carrying Atom Bomb Load; 883 Killed

Announcing this today, the Navy said the famous vessel was lost shortly after completion of her last mission, sailing from San Francisco, Cal. on July 16 on a high-speed run to Guam to deliver essential atomic bomb material.  She was lost after delivering her cargo safely.
The Navy gave no details of her final, fatal action. "

On an inner page:

" 'By a turn of fate Indianapolis and Indinana suffered heavily tonight as we join the nation in observance of the victorious ending of the war with Japan.' Gov. Ralph F. Gates said last night.  'We are tremendously saddened by the belated news of the loss of the cruiser Indianapolis, flag ship of the hardest hitting fleet the world has ever known. , and her gallant crew.  It is a loss which comes close to us here in Indianapolis and throughout Indiana for we were proud of the wonderful ship and her crew'."

But as events came and went, eventually the questions being asked about the last major surface vessel to be lost in combat became more pressing, and over the privately expressed objections of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz the Navy conducted a Court Martial proceeding against the Captain of the Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay (left).  McVay was a fine officer who did everything that a Captain could have done to protect his men and his ship.  He had in fact been given instructions to "Zig-zag" his ship's course (an evasive maneuver), but this was to be done "at discretion", meaning if visibility was low, he was free to proceed on a straight course. Visibility that night was in fact low, so Captain McVay did order a straight course. There had been virtually no reliable reports of Japanese submarine activity in this area for many months...this should have been a routine order.  Unfortunately for the Indianapolis, the Japanese submarine I-59 commanded by Lt. Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto happened to be in that exact spot at that moment. It was just plain bad luck for the Indianapolis to have been there at that moment. Nevertheless, the Navy, seeking a scapegoat for the loss of life found Captain McVay responsible for the tragedy which was in fact caused by its own failure to notice that one of its capital ships had not shown up, and was in fact three days late! The Naval court even took the unprecedented step of calling upon the Japanese Commander, Hashimoto to testify.  And he in fact testified that given his position relative to the Indianapolis, it would have made no difference if the cruiser had been zig-zagging... he would have had a clear shot.  But McVay was convicted of hazarding his ship.  Admiral Nimitz vacated the sentence of the court, and restored McVay to active duty. He retired in 1949, but  the sense of guilt which he felt finally overcame him, and he committed suicide in 1968, using his navy service revolver. In October 2000, the United States Congress proposed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." The resolution was easily passed and signed into effect by President Bill Clinton.


by Richard F. Newcomb, Harper Collins, New York, 1958, 2001



The Indianapolis Star, August 15, 1945, Vol.43, No. 71

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

JULY 25 = "Mata Hari" is Convicted of Spying

“Mata Hari! / Mata Hari!/ Oh, what a wicked girl was she! / That’s the kind of girl I’ll never be! / Mata-hari! / Mata-hari! / That’s the kind of girl I’ll never be! / Like Mata!”
- the song “Mata-hari” from the musical “Little Mary Sunshine”, Book, Music & Lyrics by Rick Sesoyan.

The Third Permanent Council of War of the military government of Paris has rendered the following judgement:
Today on the twenty-fifth of July 1917, the Third Permanent Council of War, heard by the Commissioner of the Government in the requisitions and conclusion, has declared the named ZELLE, Marguerite, Gertrude, called Mata-Hari, divorcee of Mr. Mac Leod, guilty of espionage and intelligence with the enemy with the end of assisting his enterprises.
In consequence, the aforementioned Council condemns her to pain of death..., by application of articles 205 paragraph 2, 206 paragraphs 1 and 2,…..of the Code of Military Justice and 7 of the Criminal Code….the Council (also) condemns the the aforesaid ZELLE to reimburse, by gifts of her property and by sale to the Public Treasury, the costs of the trial.”

- the verdict of the Official Tribunal in the matter of Mata-hari.

These are the popular and the real-life verdicts on the legendary spy, courtesan, and temptress Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zelle Mac Leod, who early on had taken the stage name by which she came to be known to the world – “Mata Hari”. She claimed that she had been born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient Indian dances by a priestess who gave her the name which meant “eye of the dawn” She was a woman who packed dance and concert halls all over Europe in the years leading up to World War One, and the early part of that war. She was able to garner such audiences through her exotic moves in dance and not least of all through her willingness to dance in veils which left her all or nearly nude. Remember, this was a time before Madonna, Paris Hilton, or Miley Cyrus, and doing it all or mostly nude was still considered shocking and sensational.

Mata Hari Rises to Marry a Dutch Martinet

She was born on August 7, 1876 in Holland. When she was 18, she married a Dutch Colonial Army officer, Rudolf John Mac Leod (pictured right). The couple moved to Dutch Indonesia where they had two children. The marriage was not a happy one, as Mac Leod was a violent alcoholic who couldn’t get it up in….... the Dutch Colonial Army and blamed this lack of upward mobility on his young wife who was half his age. She escaped this lout by running away from him for a time and taking up with another Dutch officer. Also by studying the exotic culture of the local dancers intensively, even joining a local dance company. Eventually she returned to Rudolf, but ultimately the marriage failed and after returning to Holland they separated in 1902 (divorcing in 1906).

Mata Loses the Hubby and Most of Her Clothes

Now that she was happily rid of Rudolf, she went to Paris and rapidly became famous for her exotic dancing. Taking her famous stage name on whilst taking most of her clothes off, she had a sensational act that drew on the moves that she had learned in her days in Indonesia. Mata (pictured below, circa 1905) was a contemporary of Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis, who were leaders in early modern dance. Promiscuously and alluringly flaunting her body, she captivated her audience with her act at the Musée Guimet.
She became a mistress of the very rich Lyon indus- trialist Emile Etienne Guimet, who was the founder of the Musée. She posed as a Javanese princess of priestly Hindu birth, who had been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. That much of her story was an exaggeration, but she had immersed herself in the local culture of Indonesia. So, she was merely half-baked in that respect. Photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so, she may have worn a body-stocking for her shows, as navel and genitals cannot be seen. Nevertheless, the big deal in her act was a progressive shedding of her veils until she had nothing left but a jeweled bra, and some strategically placed other jewels.

World War One, and Mata Hari's Trips Across the Lines

During World War I, as a Dutch subject, Mata was able to cross international borders without any questions being asked, as Holland was neutral this time around. She travelled between France and the Netherlands by moving through an oddly circuitous route between Spain and Britain. This was largely to avoid the trench filled battlefields all over the place in France, but as a courtesan and a mistress to all manner of highly-placed luminaries on either side of the trenches her movements inevitably attracted attention. She conceded working as an agent for French military intelligence, a story which the French could or would not confirm. Whether she made it up to increase her intriguing image, or the dirty little French officers were embarrassed to be caught in her bed is unclear.

What is clear is that In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages which seemed to implicate her as having handed over to Berlin some classified information. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified Mata Hari as the source. The messages were in a code which the Krauts knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians to suspect that the messages were phony. But on February 13, 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée (pictured above, as it is today) in Paris. She was tried, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. She was found guilty on today’s date in 1917, and was executed by firing squad on October 15,1917, at the age of 41:

"As Father Arbaux spoke with the con- demned woman, a French officer approached, carrying a white cloth.
'The blindfold,' he whispered to the nuns who stood there and handed it to them.
'Must I wear that?' asked Mata Hari, turning to her lawyer, as her eyes glimpsed the blindfold.
Maitre Clunet turned interrogatively to the French officer.
'If Madame prefers not, it makes no difference,' replied the officer, hurriedly turning away. Mata Hari was not bound and she was not blindfolded. She stood gazing steadfastly at her executioners, when the priest, the nuns, and her lawyer stepped away from her. The officer in command of the firing squad, who had been watching his men like a hawk that none might examine his rifle and try to find out whether he was destined to fire the blank cartridge which was in the breech of one rifle, seemed relieved that the business would soon be over.

A sharp, crackling command and the file of twelve men assumed rigid positions at attention. Another command, and their rifles were at their shoulders; each man gazed down his barrel at the breast of the women which was the target
(pictured above, the execution of Mata Hari, from a 1920 film). She did not move a muscle. The under- officer in charge had moved to a position where from the corners of their eyes they could see him. His sword was extended in the air. It dropped. The sun - by this time up - flashed on the burnished blade as it described an arc in falling. Simultaneously the sound of the volley rang out. Flame and a tiny puff of greyish smoke issued from the muzzle of each rifle. Automatically the men dropped their arms.

At the report Mata Hari fell. She did not die as actors and moving picture stars would have us believe that people die when they are shot. She did not throw up her hands nor did she plunge straight forward or straight back. Instead she seemed to collapse. Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. She lay prone, motionless, with her face turned towards the sky."
- Henry Wales, Oct. 19, 1917

And to add a very petty emphasis to the sentence, the French sold her belongings to pay the court costs.

Mata Hari Becomes a Sexy Icon

It has since been argued that Mata was neither an agent nor even a double agent, but that the French, embarrassed by their miserable record in that war trumped up the charges to cover up their foolishness. But the image of a smooth operating and seductive babe sleeping her way to influence among these high-ranking boobs, and then being silenced by them to cover their boobery has fired the popular imagination ever since. She has in the popular culture become the ultimate femme fatale. A 1931 film starring the great Greta Garbo sent this image moving, and it has been going ever since. Mata Hari has since been featured in more films (including soft core porn with Sylvia Kristel), novels, video games,a Saturday morning chimp show in the 1970's, and at least one broadway musical. The subsequent portrayals bear little resemblance to the real woman, but one has to wonder if she would have objected at all.....

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!)!!




"Femme Fatale - A New Biography of Mata Hari" by Pat Shipman, Harper Collins, New York, 2007.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

JULY 24 = The S.S. Eastland Disaster

" We call her the Gray Lady.... she's a woman in a long flowing gown and ornate hat.  We've seen her on security monitors. At first we thought that it was someone lost in the building.  But a guard walked down the corridor to direct her and there was no one there. Other guards have seen the woman in the halls.  She floats rather than walks and is always a shadowy figure."

This is the report of a security guard at "Harpo Studios" wherein "the Oprah Winfrey Show" was produced during it's remarkable 25 year run from 1986 through 2011 with guests from all walks of life but it seems that she had some uninvited guests from the disaster which overtook the S.S. Eastland on today's date, July 25 in 1915 and which wound up on what would become Oprah's doorstep many years later.

The Topheavy S.S. Eastland Turns a Picnic Into a Tragedy

The packet boat S.S. Eastland had been launched in May of 1903 as an interlake steamer to be used for excursions on the Great Lakes.  She was a poorly constructed ship with several design flaws which made her susceptible to listing to one side.  Basically she was too top heavy with a center of gravity which was much too high off the waterline.  In 1913, the Harbormaster at the Eastland's home port of Chicago was sent a report from Naval Architect John Deveraux York warning of this problem: "You are aware of the conditions of the S.S. "Eastland", and unless the structural defects are remedied to prevent listing, there may be a serious accident." But Mr. Devereaux's warning went unheeded. Originally built to carry 650 passengers she was redesigned in that very year to carry 2500 passengers.  And on July 24, she was carrying more than that: about 2700 to 3500 people (depending on which account you read). Mostly from the Western Electric Company, they were on their way to the company picnic, and had begun assembling for their afternoon of fun early that morning at the dock on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets.  At about 6:53 a.m. Eastland's Chief Engineer, Joseph M. Erickson noticed she was leaning dangerously to port. To this day, it is not known what caused this to happen.  Erickson attempted to compensate by opening number two ballast tank on the starboard side  But it was too late.  As the ship began to list even further to the port side (away from the dock) some of the crew began jumping to the dock, and the Captain, Harry Pederson began vainly yelling "Open the inside doors and let the people off!!" At about 7:28 the Eastland lurched all the way to port coming to rest on the river's bottom.

"A Terrible Symphony"... Eastland Crashes and Fills With Water

A total of 844 pas- sengers and crew were killed in what was to become the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck in history on the Great Lakes. Although she was only a short distance from the dock, and the river at that point was only 20 feet deep, many of the passengers had gone below on this fairly chilly morning.  Thus, they were caught underneath not only water gushing in through open ports and down three gangways, but many were crushed beneath tons of furniture, bookcases, pianos and tables.  Nearby ships rushed in to aid the passengers (above), as workmen from a nearby warehouse threw lumber and crates, anything that would float into the water for passengers to grab onto.  "Above all the cataclysmic scene there was a great and dreadful wailing sound as the cries and pleas of the drowning blended in a terrible symphony with the moans and apprehensive shrieks of those who stood helplessly on the dock or watched in disbelief and torment from the other excursion vessels." wrote one reporter. Captain Pederson went so far as to interfere with workmen who were cutting holes in the ship to get people out from below.  "Stop cutting a hole in my ship!" he shouted. He had to be arrested to keep him from interfering.  During all of this the dead who had been pulled from the river were piled up like cordwood in a make-shift morgue which was set up in Chicago's Second Street Armory building.  The legal wrangling over who was responsible for this tragedy is a separate and a fascinating story in itself. For that part of the story I can strongly recommend Michael McCarthy's book "Ashes Under Water" which I review at:


The (Alleged?) Haunting of Oprah Winfrey's Studio....

Flash forward to the 1980's.  The building which once housed the Second Street Armory has since been converted into Harpo Studios the place wherein Oprah Winfrey's phenominally successful daytime talk show was produced (pictured, above).  A security guard that worked for Harpo for 3 years told a reporter: "I can say for sure that there are spirits walking the halls." The guard received a call from a woman that was working there late one night stating that "There are people outside my door, I can hear them laughing". She was extremely shaken. Once the guard arrived, the woman admitted to opening the door to see no one and yet the laughter and talking continued. Other reports have included hearing mournful sobbing, whispering, the sound of old time music and marching footsteps of a large crowd. Doors slam shut without anyone being around them. Mysterious orbs have appeared in photographs taken in or near the buillding. And of course there are reports of the mysterious "Gray Lady" mentioned at the top of this posting.  Ms. Winfrey is reported to have experienced some of these phenomenon, including some poltergeist activity in her own office, but this is unconfirmed, and as far as I have been able to find as of this writing, she has declined to comment on this situation in public.  Also I wish to point out that the description of the sighting given at the top of this posting DID in fact come from "the National Enquirer" so take that as you will.  But I did find essentially that same information in several different places and the source was quoted directly if anonymously as a security guard.  But IF you believe as I do that human spirits can be more or less trapped in between this world and the next at a place of great earthly stress, then  Oprah's studio certainly seems to be one such place.     

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!)!!


 by Jay Robert Nash, Wallaby Books, New York, 1977

"Oprah's Show is Haunted!" by John South & Denny Johnson, "The National Enquirer", June 29, 1993




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Monday, July 22, 2013

JULY 22 = John Dillinger is Killed

“It was observed that Dillinger looked around in different directions and seemed to realize that he was being closed in upon, at which time he made a motion with his hand indicating that he was reaching for his gun. It was then observed that Special Agent in Charge M.H. Purvis and Special Agents Rollins, Winstead and Hurt had drawn their guns and were approaching right up to Dillinger. At that time the writer drew his gun.

Dillinger, then realizing evidently that he was trapped and still trying to get his gun, seemed to take two quick steps toward the alley, and as soon as he did so, one or some of the Agents making the immediate approach on him fired three times and as a result of those shots Dillinger pitched forward on his face into the alley, at approximately four or five feet from the writer. Not knowing whether or not Dillinger would shoot after he hit the ground, the writer, along with the other Agents, covered him with guns, but it was observed he hit he ground he did not move again.”

- A.E. Lockerman, Special Agent. From the F.B.I. File on John Dillinger, July 22, 1934.

This was how the F.B.I. file on John Dillinger recorded the bank robber’s final violent moments which occurred on today’s date, July 22 in 1934. Dillinger had been tracked to the movies that hot night in Chicago, and when he came out with two ladies on his arms he found a posse of FBI agents waiting for him.

John Dillinger - A Life-long Outlaw

John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1903. A juvenile delinquent, he tried his hand at honest living; he was was in the U.S. navy for a time, and was even married, but such a settled existence was not a life he could live. He was arrested in 1924 after a botched mugging. He pleaded guilty, hoping for clemency, but was sentenced to 10 to 20 years at Pendleton Reformatory. While in prison, he made several failed escapes. He wound up throwing in with a band of experienced criminals; bank robbers who took him under their wing and taught him the tricks of their trade. This group was lead by Harry Pierpont.

Dillinger Cultivates a "Robin Hood" Image

In the years that followed, Dillinger cut a swath across the United States, putting together a succession of different gangs, and robbing banks, police arsenals and finding himself jailed only to escape, often right under the noses of his captors. In the course of this crime spree Dillinger managed to cultivate a kind of "Robin Hood" image, by being careful not to shoot indiscriminately, and thus limiting the number of civilian casualties. He also took money exclusively from banks which were often viewed as the villains in Depression-era America. He showed a weakness for dark-haired exotic women, hooking up with Billie Frichette (above), a hot-blooded woman of French and Native-American descent.

Dillinger Cooly and Calmly Escapes From Crown Point

But whatever his weakness for exotic women, Dillinger seems to have been remarkably cool-headed where his own safety was concerned. Time and again when his gang members were rushing to get away from robberies or jails, Dillinger would move coolly and as if he had all the time in the world. When in January of 1934 he was incarcerated in the jail at Crown Point, Indiana, he posed for pictures (above) with the Prosecuter, Robert Estill (above, center) with his arm around on the man’s shoulder, as if they were old friends instead of the criminal with the man who was seeking to send him to the chair. And then a few short weeks later Dillinger managed to escape that same jail using a wooden facsimile of a gun which he claimed to have carved from a washboard slat and painted black with shoe polish, but which in all likelihood had been smuggled in to him. He managed then to coolly and methodically lock up a number of hostages including the prison’s Warden, Lou Baker before hijacking the Ford automobile that belonged to the Sheriff, Lillian Holley (above, left), a rare woman sheriff, and calmly having it driven out of town and across state lines to Illinois.

The F.B.I. Closes In On Dillinger
But this last bit of bravado began Dillinger’s undoing as it brought the new Bureau of Investigation, BOI, the early forerunner of the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI into the investigation. J.Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Bureau was attempting to get congressional funding, as well as extended powers into the hunt for this man whom Hoover branded as "Public Enemy #1". Hoover had in fact not been anxious to join the hunt for Dillinger, which he considered to be a kind of quagmire. But the fame or rather the infamy of Dillinger was providing just the impetus that Hoover needed to get his FBI the funding and recognition that he wanted for his new Bureau. Ultimately, Dillinger's love, Frichette was arrested. In April of 1934 a shootout at the “Little Bohemia” Lodge in Wisconsin resulted in Dillinger’s gang being scattered but the cost of several FBI and civilian casualties resulted in a ton of bad publicity for the FBI and for the Special Agent in Charge, Melvin Purvis (above). Dillinger dropped out of sight entirely. But the FBI task force continued to follow him, and lead by Purvis tracked him to Chicago wherein he was holed up with a new girlfriend Polly
Hamilton (right)and Anna Sage, a brothel madam from Rumania who was facing possible deportation.

"The Lady in Red" (or was it Orange??)

And this was what led to Dillinger’s final night. Sage (below)contacted Melvin Purvis, and offered to serve up Dillinger in return for the $25,000.00 reward and a promise not to deport her back to Rumania. Purvis agreed to give her a share of the reward and to do what he could about her deportation. The scene was thus set. Dillinger would attend the movie that night with Sage and Polly Hamilton (above), a new girlfriend who bore a striking resemblance to Dillinger's beloved Billie Frichette. Sage would wear an orange skirt so the FBI would be able to see which one was Dillinger. The FBI men (who had kept the Chicago police out of the loop on this, wanting no slip-ups) were to be signaled by Purvis lighting his cigar that it was in fact Dillinger. The theater was the Biograph Theater which was that night showing “Manhattan Melodrama” starring Clark Gable and William Powell. It was the middle of a terrible heat wave, and the "Biograph" was air-conditioned, so there was a big crowd that night. Dillinger exited with the two ladies and looked directly at Purvis as he passed him. But he did not recognize his chief pursuer. And he subsequently walked into the ambush described by Agent Lockerman.

Dillinger was killed instantly. Anna Sage received $5,000.00 and a boat ticket back to Rumania. She became known as the “woman in red”, because in the light of the Biograph’s marquis, her orange skirt looked red. Prosecuter Estill who had his picture taken in such a buddy-buddy pose with Dillinger saw his political career ruined because of that photo feaux pau. Sheriff Holley in whose car Dillinger made his getaway stopped speaking of the incident a few weeks later, and never spoke of it again for the rest of her life. She lived until 1994, passing away at the age of 103. And John Dillinger was interred at the family plot in Chicago. His grave stone has had to be replaced several times after being picked apart by souvenir hunters.

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!)!!




"Public Enemies" by Bryan Burrough, Penguin Books, New York, 2004.

"John Dillinger - the Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal" by Dary Matera, Carrol & Graf Publishers, New York, 2004.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

JULY 19 = "The Rosetta Stone" is Found in Egypt

" In the reign of the young one—who has received the royalty from his father—lord of crowns, glorious, who has established Egypt, and is pious towards the gods, superior to his foes, who has restored the civilized life of men, lord of the Thirty Years' Feasts, even as Hephaistos the Great; a king, like the Sun, the great king of the upper and lower regions; offspring of the Gods Philopatores, one whom Hephaistos has approved, to whom the Sun has given the victory, the living image of Zeus, son of the Sun, Ptolemy living-for‑ever beloved of Ptah; in the ninth year, when Aëtus, son of Aëtus, was priest of Alexander ..."

And so goes the glorification of King Ptolemy of Egypt in "the Rosetta Stone", a large hunk of granite (sort of) found on today's date in 1799 by one of Bonaparte's soldiers in Egypt. "The Rosetta Stone" is very important because it holds the key to translating "Hieroglyphics," the written language of Ancient Egypt, and thus enabled scholars to read about the first several thousand years of recorded human history. 

Bonaparte in Egypt, and the Scholars he Brought With Him

First of all by way of a quick background, what the bloody hell was Napoleon Bonaparte (pictured at elft, circa 1799), the great conqueror of Europe doing in Egypt?  At this point in time Napoleon was not the great conqueror of Europe.  He was merely a successful General looking for a battlefield that would bring him glory.  The Revolutinary government of France, the Directory, was willing to back  his scheme for getting at British interests by striking at their life line to India, the Crown Jewel of British dominion, by striking in Egypt.  Sounds far-fetched?  Well it is actually.  But the Directory looked upon the young general as a threat to their government, so they were more than happy to send him to this far-off land. So Naploeon took an armada of ships and soldiers to Egypt wherein he fought any number of battles that would suit his sense of his glorious destiny, such as the Battle of the Pyramids in which his modern army slaughtered the magnificently robed, but mid-evily armed Mameluke tribesmen of Egypt on July 21 of 1798.  Happily for civilization's sake, Napoleon also brought with him to Egypt any number of scientists, and technical experts to survey the country, log it's natural wonders, its plant and animal life, and archaeologists to survey, map and draw images of the ruins of Egypts past civilization. And it was in this area wherein the French presence in Egypt made it's most important contribution to the world today.

 The Rosetta Stone is Found 

The stone was found under circumstances which are a little unclear.  The French forces in the area, which was a few miles from the sea in the western Nile delta were working on extending the wall of Fort Julien. It was said by some to have just been found lying on the ground.  But more than likely the stone was unearthed as a part of the wall to the fort which was being demolished.  Whatever the case, the stone was found by a Lieutenant of Engineers, Pierre François Xavier Bouchard (above), who was in charge of the demolition team. Bouchard, being one of the scientifically trained officers whom Napoleon had brought on this expedition immediately recognized the potential importance of the find, and informed general Jacques-François Menou, who happened to be present. The stone which was named for the village in which it was found, Rosetta (Rashid to the Egyptians), was shipped to Cairo for further study.

The Stone is a block of granodiorite (a kind of stone similar to granite) with engravings made on its polished surface.  It measures 3'9" (114 cm) in height, 2'4-1/2" (72cm) in width and 11" (28cm) in thickness. It weighs just under a ton (762kg). It is somewhat damaged, missing a large part of the upper left-hand corner, and a smaller part of its lower right corner. At left is a possible reconstruction of the original stone.  The chiseled inscriptions are a royal decree inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The truly important feature is that the three lauguages all present essentially the same inscription. This provided scholars with a key to the meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphics which they had previously lacked.  Not long after the fourth century AD passed into history, the hieroglyphs had fallen into disuse, and eventually the knowledge of how to read and write them vanished as well.  But scholars did in fact know the use of the ancient greek language.  Thus with the advent of the Rosetta Stone, they were able with some difficulty, but with clear accuracy to determine the meaning of the Hieroglyphic text which accompanied the ancient greek inscription.  And thus, the whole world of Egyptian history was opened to scholars some 1400 years after the last gasps of it's language had died out.  The importance of this knowledge to the study of ancient history is beyond calculation.

 The Little Corporal Books!!

As for Napoleon, he did in fact recognize the likely impor- tance of this find, and did in fact inspect it... that is before he decided to leave Egypt and his army behind.  You see, the little Corsican realized that he had taken his Egyptian adventure as far as it could be taken, at least as far as his own glory was concerned.  And the information which he was getting from Paris made it clear that the government of the Directory was weakening, and was ripe for replacement by a military leader who had covered himself in the exotic "glories" of Egypt.  SO he booked!  That's right.... he decided he had bigger fish to fry back in Paris, so he got on a ship, slipped past the British blockade, and left his army, his scientists, and his Rosetta Stone behind.  The Army and it's leaders lingered on for awhile before eventually surrendering to the British and the Turks.  Oh, and the Rosetta Stone. Yes, well THAT little item, which was one of only two or three items of lasting value to emerge from Napoleon's Egyptian foray, was taken by the English authorities, and shipped to the British Museum in 1802, wherein it resides to this day, as pictured above, for all to see.

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!)!!


"The Age of Napoleon"  by Christopher Herold, American Heritage Publ. Co., New York 1963.




A full translation of the Rosetta Stone can be found at:


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

JULY 18 - The 54'th Mass. Attacks Fort Wagner

“In this formation, as the dusk of evening came on, the regiment advanced at quick time, leading the column. The enemy opened on us a brisk fire, our pace now gradually increasing until it became a run. Soon canister and musketry began to tell on us. With Colonel Shaw leading, the assault was commenced. Exposed to the direct fire of cannon and musketry, and, as the ramparts were mounted, to a like fire on our flanks, the havoc made in our flanks was very great. “

- Brig. Gen. T. Seymour, Commanding U.S. Forces, Morris Island, S.C., Nov. 7, 1863.

This is from the official report of the Union Army’s assault upon Battery, or Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The assault was made on today’s date, July 18 in 1863. It was very much like all too many assaults made during that long and terrible war; a frontal assault made against a well-fortified position. The attacking troops were cut to pieces. But this attack was different: it was made by the 54’th Massachusetts Regiment. The 54’th was what was then called an “All Colored Unit”. This means that all of it’s enlisted members, all volunteers, were African Americans, some of them free men, some of them recently escaped or freed slaves. But all of them were determined to take weapons in hands, and fight for their own freedom.

Grant Lends His Support to the Arming of African Americans

“I have given the subject of arming the negro my hearty support, This, with the emancipation of the negro, is the heaviest blow yet given the Confederacy.”
- This was from a letter written by General Ulysses Grant to president Lincoln in the summer of 1863, supporting the freeing of slaves wherever they were found in the south, and arming them for use in the Union Army. The General continued:

“By arming the negro we have added a powerful ally, They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weaken him in the same proportion they strengthen us. I am therefore most decidedly in favor of pushing this policy to the enlistment of a force sufficient to hold all the South falling into our hands and to aid in capturing more.”

There had in fact been considerable opposition to the idea of arming black men to fight in the Civil War. Strange as it may now seem, the policy was strongly opposed in most of the north – early in the war. But, in the words of Bruce Catton (right) : “A singular fact about modern war is that it takes charge. Once begun it has to be carried to it’s conclusion, and carrying it there sets in motion events that may be beyond men’s control.” And so it was with the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln maintained throughout that his primary aim was to preserve the Union. And this was indeed what most of those who fought in it had as their cause. Nevertheless, the primary cause of the strife which had been the cause of the succession of the southern states had been the existence of human slavery. Once the war began, as Catton goes on to describe, it became a drive to destroy everything that kept the Confederacy alive; to wreck all that was of value to it’s continued existence. And that meant the permanent confiscation of all southern property – and that meant the freeing of the slaves. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, and it meant effectively the permanent abolition of slavery in the United States for all time to come. This meant that African Americans could and would be employed as armed combatants wherever the Union Army may go.

African American Units Are Formed in the Union Army

And this lead to the formation of black regiments throughout the Union Army. But conditions were not quite the same. Most of the time, such regiments were used for guard duty, and for labor in building roads and camps. And the pay, which for white men at the time was thirteen dollars a month, was for black men only ten dollars. This was an indignity which many of the African American troops refused to accept, and they chose to serve their country and fight for their freedom without any pay at all. And while there was Congressional authorization for the arming of black men to fight, it was allowed only under the leadership of white officers. Many of these officers, seeing the devotion to duty shown by the troops under their command chose to join their men in refusing to accept pay under such degradation. All of this was in spite of the fact that such officers and men faced increased danger from a Declaration by the Confederate government that any officers captured while commanding black soldiers were subject to execution, and any such troops captured would be returned to a state of slavery, even if they had been free men prior to their enlistment. And more often than not, black troops were not permitted to take part in actual combat situations.

The 54'th Massachusetts Regiment, and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
Such was not to be the case with the 54’th Massachusetts Regiment which was lead by the son of a prominent Boston Abolitionist, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Lead and trained by Shaw, who fought tirelessly to gain opportunities for his men to prove themselves in combat, the 54’th was given the lead in the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, The fort sat on an island guarding the approaches to Charleston Harbor, and was deemed vital to any Union attempt to capture that key Southern port. Unfortunately, the naval bombardment upon the strong fortifications had done little to soften up the strong southern defenses that had been built there. And the only approach to the fort was through a narrow channel of solid ground separated by the sea on one side and swampy marsh land on the other, Thus when the 54’th lead the assault upon the fort late on this date in 1863, the unit was decimated. The official report by General Seymour continues:

“Upon leaving the ditch for the parapet, they obstinately contested with the bayonet our advance. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the men succeeded in driving the enemy from most of their guns, many following the enemy into the fort. It was here upon the crest of the parapet that Colonel Shaw fell; here fell Captains Russell and Simpkins; here were also most of the officers wounded. The colors of the regiment reached the crest, and were fought for by the enemy; the State flag there torn form it’s staff, but the staff remains with us. Hand grenades were now added to the missiles directed against the men. The fight raged here for about an hour, when compelled to abandon the fort, the men formed a line about seven hundred yards from the fort, under the command of Capt. Luis F. Emilio, --- the ninth captain in the line; other captains were either killed or wounded. The regiment then held the front until relieved by the Tenth Connecticut at about two o’clock A.M. of the 19’th. “

The son of the great abolit- ionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, who was a Sergeant in the 54’th described the Unit’s action that day in a letter to his wife:

“This regiment has established its reputation as a fighting regiment not a man flinched, though it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking. How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here. My Dear girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war. Good Bye to all Write soon Your own loving LEWIS”

The Fame of the 54'th Massachusetts Spreads

Sergeant Douglass was quite correct in his belief that his unit had established it’s reputation, as news of the 54’th’s bravery began to spread, in spite of the fact that immediate public interest was for a time taken up by news of Confederate defeats at the recently concluded Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. As the New York Tribune said to it’s readers:

“If this Massachusetts Fifty-fourth had faltered when its trial came, two hundred thousand colored troops for whom it was a pioneer would never have been put into the field... But it did not falter. It made Fort Wagner such a name to the colored race as Bunker Hill has been for ninety years to the white Yankees... To this Massachusetts 54th was set the stupendous task to convince the white race that colored troops would fight, – and not only that they would fight, but that they could be made, in every sense of the word, soldiers.”

Thanks in part to the bravery and devotion displayed by the Massa- chusetts 54th, by the end of 1863 the Union army had recruited some 50,000 African-Americans – both free blacks and former slaves – into its ranks. By the war’s conclusion in April of 1865 this number had risen to around 186,000, of which 134,111 were recruited in the slave states. African-American troops made up about 10 per cent of the total Union fighting force, and some 3,000 of them died on the battlefield plus many more in the prisoner of war camps, if they made it that far. Overall, one-third of all African-Americans who fought were casualties of the Civil War.

Sergeant Carney, and the Burial of Colonel Shaw.

Decades later, Sergeant William Harvey Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for grabbing the U.S. flag as the flag bearer fell, carrying the flag to the enemy ramparts and back, and saying "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!" While other African-Americans had since been granted the award by the time it was presented to Carney, Carney's is the earliest action for which the Medal of Honor was awarded to an African-American. Although it was not until a very long time after his heroic action that Sgt. Carney was actually awarded his decoration. And also, it should be noted that these "noble sons of the south" had nothing but anger and disdain for the African American troops who had taken up arms against them in this battle, and they had double that contempt for white officers who had lead them. Thus when the battle was over, all of the bodies of the African Americans who had fallen during the assault on Fort Wagner were thrown together into a common grave. As a sign of their contempt, the Confederates who buried these men threw the body of Colonel Shaw in with his men, instead of burying him separately as would normally have been done with a commissioned officer such as Shaw was. Later, when it came time to rebury the remains of these men in a more permanent place, Col. Shaw’s father asked that no effort be made to distinguish the remains of his son from those of his soldiers. He was proud, and he was certain that his son would have been proud to be buried along with his men.  The actions of the 54'th Massachusetts regiment were later dramatized in the movie "Glory" with Matthew Broderick as Col. Shaw, and including Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.  The movie,
made in 1989 goes a  considerable way in showing the courage of the men of the 54'th Massachusetts Regiment, and towards making "..Fort Wagner such a name to the colored race as Bunker Hill has been... to the white Yankees..."  I urge you all to go and watch this film, and to remember always the name of Fort Wagner, and the 54'th Massachusetts Regiment!

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!)!!


"Glory" - Directed by Edward Zwick, Freddie Fields Productions/Tri-Star Pictures, 1989.

"The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War"- by Bruce Catton, American Heritage Publ. Co. Inc., New York, 1960.

"The Civil War", Episode 5, "The Universe of Battle; 1863" Prod. by Ken Burns, PBS Home Video, 1990








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Monday, July 15, 2013

JULY 15 = Nixon Opens Up to China

“There is an old Vulcan saying: ‘Only Nixon could go to China.’”

- Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” in “Star Trek VI – the Undiscovered Country.”

“China fascinated Nixon then because of its mystery, its seeming impenetrability, and the political-diplomatic vistas it opened to him. As the man in the early fifties who condemned “appeasers” in the state department who “lost” China, and who called upon President Truman to ban all free world trade with the communists there, Nixon saw himself as uniquely qualified to re-establish relations with that isolated corner of the world. The irony of his political flip-flop did not escape him, but his own changed view was natural and realistic after a generation of Communist legitimacy, and Nixon knew that he was the political figure best able to hold the conservatives in the United States in line in an opening to the east.”
- William Safire in “Before the Fall”.

On this date, July 15 in 1971 President Richard M. Nixon announced to the world what was effectively a political-diplomatic revolution: he would be making an official state visit to the People’s Republic of China. This was truly remarkable state craft on the part of our nation’s 37’th president, and it was indeed as Mssrs. Spock and Safire state above, something that “only Nixon” could have done. At that point in time, the Communist government on Mainland China remained diplomatically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. For reasons that Mr. Safire states – that Nixon was the old fire-breathing anti-communist lion, only he could make the opening to the populous rising power that China was. That is why when "Star Trek VI" was made in 1991, the line about Nixon was inserted as the perfect metaphor for that film's story about an unlikely diplomatic opening being made to an ancient enemy. But it was Nixon's desire for secrecy in making this opening that gave fertile soil to what Safire would call the “Seeds of Destruction” to Nixon’s own presidency.

Nixon and Kissinger Work on Nixon's Idea

Nixon had for a long time before being elected president in November of 1968 been interested in the possibility of a rapprochement with what was then commonly called “Red China”. His national Security Adviser, and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (below) shared his
fascination with the idea. But contrary to what some revisionist historians would assert, it was Nixon’s idea to make the move, not an idea that Kissinger sprung on him. In an article in “Foreign Affairs”, a diplomatic periodical, written in 1967, Nixon wrote:

“Taking the long view, we simply cannot forever afford to leave China outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.”
But before he could go ahead and make the trip, before the Chinese government of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung would even invite him for such a visit, a great deal of ground work and very delicate diplomatic negotiations had to be conducted. As President Nixon himself said in his autobiography, behind his surprise announcement “…lay two years of complex, subtle and determined signals and negotiations. Despite the almost miraculous secrecy we had been able to maintain, the China initiative was one of the most publicly prepared surprises in history.”

A Breakthrough On.... "Ping-Pong"!!

The President then goes on to explain in considerable detail the delicate diplomatic dance via intermediaries, and odd sports teams that characterized the lead-up to his July 15 announcement. First he sent a Foreign Policy Report to Congress that used new language referring to the Chinese as “a great and vital people who not should remain isolated from the international community….” This was noticed by the Chinese who reciprocated by having their ambassador to Poland in Warsaw tell the American Ambassador to Poland, Walter Stoessel that they would like to have talks with a high level American official take place in Peking. This went on through contacts via President Yahya of Pakistan and even further contacts made via Nicolai Ceaucescu, the dictator of Rumania, both of these nations having diplomatic relations with China and thus being able to pass messages quietly to and from them. There followed the relaxation of various trade and economic restrictions. And then an odd turn occurred with an invitation to the American Table Tennis Team which was then playing in Japan to play some exhibition matches in China. Nixon wrote:

“I was as surprised as pleased by this news. I had never expected the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a Ping-Pong team. We immediately approved the acceptance of the invitation, and the Chinese responded by granting visas to several Western newspapermen to cover the team’s tour.”

Nixon Grows to be Obsessed With Secrecy

All of this diplomatic wrangling was coming to fruition about the same time that the explosive story of “the Pentagon Papers” was splashing onto Americas front pages. These documents were an exhaustive look into the origins of American policy in Indochina. The secret papers mostly covered the deliberations of Johnson administration officials, but they were a very public revelation of American secrets at a time when in the estimation of Nixon, secrecy was of the utmost importance. In his negotiations with the Chinese, he was convinced that their desire for secrecy was such that one slip could blow the entire process out of the water. His desire to route out and find whoever might have been behind the leak of “the Pentagon Papers” lead to an obsession with secrecy. As Safire (below) observed:

“Nixon was beside himself at the press’s arrogance at deciding for itself what was secret and what was not; worried that if the press got away with this, they would feel free to reveal any secret at all; and convinced that a supine acceptance of this stripping away of the U.S. government’s ability to deal confidentially was harmful to his summit negotiations.”

The future of a peaceful world was at stake in Nixon’s view, and he simply could not sit by and allow it to be put at risk by a press with an agenda of it’s own being abetted by unnamed individuals within his own administration who wanted to show how important they were by leaking classified information to reporters. As Safire concluded:

“Nixon was faced with the real opposition of powerful groups and voices, and he joined the battle with them emotionally, culturally, politically, and intellectually. Fighting that “good fight,” he made a couple of bad mistakes. First, he placed the need for secrecy far ahead of the need to protect civil liberty, and second, the President – in the most powerful position in the world – allowed himself the luxury of wanting to beat “them" as much as they wanted to beat him.

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by Richard Nixon, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1978.

by William Safire, Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York, 1975.

- Paramount Pictures, Directed by Nicholas Meyer, 1991.

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