Saturday, December 20, 2014

DECEMBER 20 = Death Bookends the Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam (left) has been called "the American Pyramid".  It is a huge colossus of concrete and steel built in the middle of what was once arid desert country, every bit as rough and unforgiving as that which hosted the great Pyramids thousands of years ago. It was built by men who were as rough hewn as the desert in which they worked for a few dollars a day, in a great depression which was changing the face of America, just as they were changing the face of the west.  Anywhere between 96 and 112 men died during the construction of the Hoover Dam, depending on whose figures you go with.  And depending on whose account you go with, two of these deaths provided a pair of strange bookends to this remarkable piece of American Engineering.

Surveyor Fatalities on the Hoover Dam

The mighty Colorado River curled it's way through canyons it had etched in the desert over millions of years.  But as magnificent as these canyons were, they brought little use to the arid desert lands around them.  If only this wild, muddy river could be used to irrigate the lands around it, or if it could be dammed in order to bring power to these areas, real economic development could occur in Nevada and in
California nearby. So with this idea in mind survey teams arrived to find a site that was suitable for such work (right). It was on just such a survey expedition on today's date December 20, 1922, that J.G. Tierney, a Bureau of Reclamation employee engaged in a geological survey fell off of a barge in the Colorado River river and was drowned. Another man, Harold Connely, had also drowned in the same way on May 15 of the same year.  But Connely was surveying an area up river from that in which the Dam  was eventually built, whereas Mr. Tierney did die near the actual site, so strictly speaking, Tierney could indeed be called the first death during the construction of the Dam, although actual construction would not commence until 1931.

Construction of the Mighty Hoover Dam

This was truly a mammoth achievement for the time in which it occurred. Out of a workforce of down and out men, a crew had to be assembled from thousands of applicants, all of whom had risked everything to come to this hot, miserable, sun-baked location just for the steady work in those hard times in the middle of the Great Depression.  First, the muddy, silt filled Colorado River had to be diverted around the construction site at bleak Black Canyon. Under the
commanding presence of 6 ft. 3 inch tall Frank Crowe (left), the master Dam Builder who had left the Bureau of Reclamation to take on this job, that work begun.  There were four such tunnels needed, two on either side of the river, and work crews had to dig and blast three quarters of a mile through the canyon wall to manage this.  The tunnels were 53 ft. in diameter and were lined with three feet of concrete. Crowe's leadership lead the way through this hot, carbon monoxide-choked job, working in three shifts.  When a strike broke out over unsafe working conditions in August of 1931, he took it as a personal betrayal, and authoritarian that he was,  he broke the strike and banished the leaders.  But ultimately the tunnels were finished ahead of schedule, and the Colorado was diverted on November 13, 1932.

The Huge Concrete Face

"High Scalers" worked hanging from ropes hundreds of feet in the air armed with dynamite and jack hammers blasted and cleaned the canyon walls to take the concrete in what was clearly the most dangerous job on the site. And on June 6, 1933, workers poured the first bucket of concrete. With 5,000 men working on the face of the Dam, Crowe designed an elaborate network of arial cable ways that delivered a 20 ton concrete bucket every 78 seconds.  These formed
blocks that were 5 feet deep which were then stacked into inter-locking columns.  If they had tried to pour one continuous concrete wall, it would have required 125 years to cool. By February 6, 1935, when the last bucket of concrete was poured, the face of the damn was over 726 feet high. Then with the steel doors closed on the diversion tunnels, the river began to fill up the reservoir, Lake Meade, 115 miles long, and 500 feet deep.  On September 30, 1935, a crowd of 20,000 people came to watch President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicate this Dam which would eventually, by an act of Congress in 1947 be officially called "The Hoover Dam" , which had been completed two years ahead of schedule.

And on December 20, 1935, a Bureau of Reclamation employee named Patrick Tierney fell from one of the intake towers at the back of the Dam into Lake Meade, and drowned.  Patrick Tierney was the son of J.G. Tierney, who had been "the first" person killed (strictly speaking) in the construction of the Dam on that exact date, December 20, thirteen years earlier, in 1922.  Between them, these two dates provide a pair of very strange bookends to the construction of this magnificent work of engineering.

Sources :

"The Hoover Dam" from "the American Experience" on PBS, dir. by John Heuss, 2005.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DECEMBER 18 = "The Grinch" Debuts on TV.

"Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos,"

These are the opening lines of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", which made it's debut on this evening's date, December 18, in 1966.  This truly delightful animated cartoon version of Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's 1957 story about the nasty old Grinch trying to put the Kibosh on the Christmas holiday has since become a classic; a true part of every Christmas season.

Dr. Seuss Didn't want to....

Geisel at first didn't want to put "the Grinch' on the screen.  But Chuck Jones (below), the brilliant animator for "Bugs Bunny" with whom he had worked during WWII on "Private Snafu" and on the animated
version of "Horton Hears a Who" said "Oh yes you do!!" But as the project moved along, Geisel began to warm up to the idea. Reading the original story takes about 12 minutes, so the animators had to pad it up a bit in order to get it to the right length for a 30 minute TV film. For example, the sequence with the Grinch's dog "Max" going down the mountain, and getting all tangled up in the reins wad not in the story, but it proved to be good comic source material. In fact, as the project progressed, at one point, Geisel said to his animator:  "They don't look like the Grinch, they look like you!" To which Jones replied "Well it happens you know..."

The Voices..

Of course the voices are a key to making such a cartoon work.  Happily the perfect voice was available to add not only the right touch of menace to the character of "the Grinch", but which could also add the sweetness of spirit to the quirky rhymes of Dr. Seuss.  This was of course the voice of the actor Boris Karloff (below). Karloff was 79 years
old at the time, and nearing the end of a long life in which he had become the "King of Horror" movies, with his menacing work as the "Frankenstein" monster and "the Mummy" just to name two of his credits. "He had the power of the voice." said Dr. Seuss's widow, Audrey. "He could be malignant in what he said, and the way he could say it." There are only two other voices heard in "the Grinch".  One of those is "Little Cindy Lou Who" who was voiced by the actress June Foray whom you all heard as "Rocky the Squirrel" in the cartoon, "Bullwinkle".  And to complete this trio of voice-over royalty, the voice who sung the famous song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was the actor, Thurl Ravenscroft. better known as "Tony the Tiger" with his famous "They're Grrrrrrrreat" voice for "Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes."

The Music...

And the Music in "the Grinch" makes the cartoon compete. And this was written by Albert Hague (below), a Tony Award winning composer who is most likely best known for portraying the character of
"Professor Shirofsky" in the film and TV series "Fame". Hague recalled that Geisel wanted to explain to him what this story was about, so he drew him pictures of the characters. And then when he told Hague about the song "You're A Mean One" he said that the Dr. Seuss analogies such as "You have termites in your hair.." really jumped out of the page at him in a way that was "irresistible." The similarity between the voice of Karloff and Ravenscroft made some people think that Karloff had sung "You're A Mean One".  And unfortunately Ravenscroft did not receive screen credit for his work, but this was purely an oversight for which Geisel was deeply embarrassed.  In fact once the film came out, Geisel wrote a letter to TV critics pointing out the work of Ravenscroft, and asking them to print his letter giving proper credit to the actor.

"The Grinch" Earns Classic Status

The cartoon was premiered on the evening of this date in 1966 on the CBS TV network, and received mixed reviews at the time, with critic Rick DuBrow saying that it was "probably as good as most of the other 
holiday cartoons." But this story of the mean and lonely old Grinch finding the true meaning of Christmas, and finding his heart in the process has since gone on to be rightly recognized as a Christmas holiday classic.  It was broadcast annually by CBS until 1987.  Since then it has come out in home video release, and has inspired a very popular live action film starring Jim Carrey.  And thus, this wonderful story has continued in its cartoon form to lighten the Christmas season every year with its wonderful characters, it's odd rhymes, its memorable tunes, and it's superb voices...

"Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,  

Cheer to all Whos, far and near.

"Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.

"Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.

"Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand."

Sources :

"Behind the Scenes of 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas'", Produced by Kay Zusman, 1997!_(TV_special)/

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SPECIAL = Time Capsule Found in Boston

The following story is taken from the Fox News website at:

BOSTON –  Crews removed a time capsule dating back to 1795 on Thursday from the granite cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse, where historians believe it was originally placed by Revolutionary War luminaries Samuel Adams and Paul Revere (below, 1735-1818) among others.

The time capsule is believed to contain items such as old coins and newspapers, but the condition of the contents is not known and Secretary of State William Galvin speculated that some could have deteriorated over time.

Officials won't open the capsule until after it is X-rayed at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to determine its contents. The X-ray is scheduled for Sunday.

Originally made of cowhide, the time capsule was believed to have been embedded in the cornerstone when construction on the state Capitol began in 1795. Adams (below, 1771-1803) was governor of Massachusetts at the time.

The time capsule was removed in the mid-19th century and its contents transferred to a copper box, Galvin said. Its removal Thursday was due to an ongoing water filtration project at the building.

Pamela Hatchfield, a conservator at the museum, slowly chiseled away at the cornerstone on Thursday to reach the box, a process that took several hours to complete. Galvin said the plan is to return it to the site sometime next year.

The excavation came just months after another time capsule was uncovered from the Old State House, which served as the state's first seat of government. That long-forgotten time capsule, dating to 1901, turned up in a lion statue atop the building and, when opened, was found to contain a potpourri of well-preserved items including newspaper clippings, a book on foreign policy and a letter from journalists of the period.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DECEMBER 10 = H.M.S. Prince of Wales is Sunk

On today's date, December 10, in 1941 the battleship HMS Prince of Wales (above) was sunk in the Gulf of Siam after a severe mauling by Japanese land-based aircraft flying from Indochina to intercept her. The cruiser HMS Repulse, which was with her at the time was also lost that day. The loss of two such important capitol ships, coming as it did just days after the attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, dealt a second consecutive hammer blow to Allied morale right at the beginning of the long and bloody struggle to defeat Imperial Japan. Moreover, it ended the long rule of big-gun line of battle ships over the seas.  That reign which had begun with the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, was shattered in just a few short hours. Air power - naval air power - the kind that could project a nation's power into distant places.. such as Osama Bin Laden's Hideout in Pakistan - was the way of the future.

The Big Gun Ships Slug it Out....

For over a century, it had been a pillar of Naval thought that the biggest ships with the biggest guns would rule the waves. And since the days of sail this thought had dominated the defensive plans of sea faring nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, and also Germany.  The Battle of Tsushima in which Japan smashed a Russian fleet in 1905, and the Battle of Jutland in 1915 in which Britain out-dueled Germany seemed to bear this out.  But the advent of Naval air power with which squadrons of small planes could swarm all over these big ships like a cloud of angry bees and bring them to heel was close at hand in 1941.  The action between this very ship, the new and very powerful HMS Prince of Wales and the mighty German Battleship Bismarck in May of 1941 had made that clear enough: the big ships slugged it out for hours, but in the end it was British torpedo planes launched from an aircraft carrier that finished Bismarck by destroying
her rudder.  And then at Pearl Harbor, American battleships had all been vanquished by carrier-based Japanese aircraft.      

But Aircraft Wins in the End

So it was that the British admiralty ordered a flotilla consisting of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales (35,000 tons), the heavy cruiser HMS Repulse (32,000 tons) and four destroyers to intercept and destroy Japanese troop transports ferrying troops into Malaya and towards Singapore.  Admiral Sir Thomas Phillips, commanding this group did not appear to realize how vulnerable his big ships were to land-based Japanese aircraft flying out of bases in Japanese-occupied French Indochina.  But on December 10 his mighty big gun, heavily armored ships came under attack by Japanese bombers from the land-based 22nd Air Flotilla (The Map above can be enlarged by clicking on it twice).  The result was the death of both ships from waves of bombs and torpedoes from more modern versions of the very same low flying torpedo planes which had bombed the Bismarck and the American battleships at Pearl Harbor. These attacks were from land-based bombers, but they made it clear that the big battle ships were hopeless sitting ducks unless they were protected by naval air cover, the very type whose absence had doomed the Bismarck, the American fleet at Pearl Harbor just three days earlier, and now the Brits.

And This Affects Even Today...

The ability of aircraft to project a nation's power into far distant places - such as the killing of Osama Bib Laden in Pakistan - had just been demonstrated to the Allies. This is something which affects us down to the present day, with drone attacks upon the leaders of Al Qaeda and raids such as the Osama raid happening so often now. These raids of today had their genesis partly in this attack, but more fully in the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which the Japanese would get a bitter taste of their own medicine.

"Gracefully, but tragically..." 

One account of the last moments of this mighty battlewagon was given by a survivor, R.V. Ward:

"Now the ship was sinking lower and the list increasing, so the Commander ordered us to get out on deck — he stayed behind and was lost. We left through the escape ‘tube’, inside which were small footholds, but the tube was too narrow for us to enter it without first removing our life jackets — obviously an unwise, though inevitable thing to do, considering our prospects for the next few minutes. A young sub-lieutenant was ahead of me and part way up the tube he declared he could go no further, at which I gave his bottom a huge shove so that he struggled to the hatch at the top (fortunately it was not clipped shut) and we were out on deck seeing the damage for the first time. HMS Express was alongside; men boarding her along ropes, jumping from P.O.W. Some missing the deck and being caught between the two ships. Some wounded were successfully transferred  to safety. Because the rising keel of the P.O.W. was threatening the 
stability of Express, she withdrew to a safer position. 

"I slid down the starboard side of the ship as far as the armoured layer and then jumped clear into the oily sea and put a fair distance — say 5 yards between me and the fated ship. Non swimmers were going under and I could hear the crashing of heavy items below decks, falling from deck to deck head (floor to ceiling). In the water there were several large baulks of timber, which had been stored on deck, presumably for emergency repair work during the voyage. I swam to one of these and helped about ten men to join me, showing them how to do a clumsy breast stroke to keep afloat. There were some carley floats around but they were all more than full. We swam for a total of one and a half hours and then Express returned, P.O.W. having gone under — gracefully but tragically — so we swam towards her and safety"

Prime Minister Churchill remembered his feelings after being told:

"In all the war, I never received a more direct shock... As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked."


"The American Heritage History of World War II" by C.L. Sulzberger, American Heritage Publ. Co., New York, 1966.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SPECIAL : Race Riots in East St. Louis, 1917

Note: I had originally planned to post something else today.  But the events in Ferguson, Missouri made me  decide to post this - a very brief account of the race riots which occurred in nearby East St. Louis, right across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, in the state of Illinois. I feel that history is a living, breathing light into the past which can shine a light back on us in the present, and possibly inform us to do better this time.  So even though these events happened in the summer of 1917, not November, I am posting this now to show that history is relevant to the present.

The Influx of a New Labor Force Causes Friction

In the Spring of 1917, the United States had entered into World War I. Much of the available man power had gone into the armed forces to, as President Woodrow Wilson put it "make the world safe for democracy". This left a lot of  jobs available and in part brought about the Great Migration out of the south towards the industrial centers of the north. Many of those migrating were black men with their families who were looking for a better life.  Blacks were arriving in St. Louis at a rate of 2,000 per week.  This caused friction with the mostly white labor unions which were seeking to protect their jobs against this encroachment by new workers.  Marcus Garvey, a civil rights leader became aware of this, that Louisiana farmers were losing much of their labor force and sought the help of East St. Louis Mayor Mollman in discouraging this migration during the later weeks of May, 1917. Nevertheless, with many African Americans getting jobs at the Aluminum Ore Company and the American Steel Company in East St. Louis, many white workers feared for their job and wage security versus this new and culturally rural and thus very different labor force.

Tensions Boil Over During the Summer

It was in this charged and tense atmosphere that things boiled over.  In May, three thousand white men assembled in downtown East St. Louis and as a mob began attacking blacks beating them and destroying
buildings. The Illinois governor called in the National Guard to stop the riots. There were rumors of organized retribution by black men, but the tensions eased for a few weeks. Then on July 2, a car occupied by white males drove through a black area of the city and fired several shots into a standing group. An hour later, a car with four white people in it including a journalist and a pair of police detectives was passing through the same section.  Some of the black residents, apparently assuming that this was a car with the original shooters, opened fire on the car instantly killing one of the officers and fatally wounding another.

Later in that day, some thousands of white spectators who had assembled viewing the car as it had wound up, bloodied from the wounds of the policemen, went berserk and marched into black sections of town, conducting what amounted to an open season on
black citizens and all kinds of property. Rioters cut the water hoses of the Fire Department, and burnt entire sections of the town, in some cases, shooting inhabitants as they ran out of the buildings.  Crying that "Southern negros deserved a genuine lynching!" the violent mob did indeed lynch several black men.  National Guardsmen were called to the scene, but there are some accounts saying that some of these Guardsmen joined in the riots rather than stopping them.  One account in the New York Times said that: "Ten or fifteen young girls about 18 years old, chased a negro woman at the Relay Depot at about 5 o'clock. The girls were brandishing clubs and calling upon the men to kill the woman."

The Aftermath: Further Anger and Radicalization

The riots went on for nearly a week, causing property damage estimated at close to $400,000. Over 6,000 black citizens, left East St. Louis altogether in fear for their lives. The city's death toll estimates varied quite a lot, with the city estimating about 100 black men had been killed, and the NAACP putting the total at 200.  A congressional investigating committee would later conclude that 9 white and 39  
black men had been killed. The number of black dead can only be guessed at as many of the black corpses were never recovered. But due to the property damage, over 6,000 black citizens were left homeless. The deadly viciousness of the attacks during these riots lead to the radicalization of many blacks throughout the country. Marcus Garvey voiced this sentiment saying that this riot was "one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind" and a "wholesale massacre of our people." Garvey went on to say that "This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one's voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy." The cartoon above summed up the feelings of many. The caption, echoing the rousing war-time slogan of President Wilson, had the woman saying: "Mr. President, why not make America safe for Democracy?"

What if anything does this account tell us about the events of today in Ferguson, Missouri? That is something that you - my readers - will have to draw what lessons you can yourselves.  But here we have a number of similar elements... the actions of the Governor and the Mayor, the presence of outside influences (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, & Marcus Garvey), and the use of National Guard troops. Those events - the rioting and looting of Summer, 1917 - were clearly a case of angry
white men attacking black citizens.  The current events - the riots and looting of last night - are angry black citizens attacking a power structure which too many of them see as being biased against them. They may very well be right about that.  But the rioting can only hurt their city and themselves.  I have a friend, an older black woman who said to me: "This isn't the fault of the police.. you can have all the police out there, and all of those people marching for good reasons, but it only takes one man, or a few men to mess it all up for everyone... then one thing just leads to the other."


"Race Rioters Fire East St. Louis and Shoot or Hang Many Negroes"New York Times, July 3, 1917.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NOVEMBER 20 = Sniper Attack on Tarawa


"Another young Marine walked briskly along the beach. He grinned at a pal who was sitting next to me. Again there was a shot. The Marine spun all the way around and fell to the ground, dead. "

This was the recollection of Robert Sherrod (left), an American journalist, editor and author. Sherrod covered the war in the Pacific as a war correspondent for Time and Life magazines. He was embedded with  United States Marine Corps units during combat on  Attu, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Sherrod wrote  five books on World War II, one of which was "Tarawa - the Story of a Battle" (1944)  In the following short excerpt written on today's date of  November 20, in 1943, he gives a slice of what life could be like in a Marine Amphibious operation, and how the dividing line between life and death in such a setting could be so very thin both for the hunter and for the hunted and how the end for each could be not only macabre but terrible.

"Somebody go get the son-of-a-bitch!"

"From where he lay, a few feet away, he looked up at us. Because he had been shot squarely through the temple his eyes bulged out wide, as in horrible surprise at what had happened to him, though it was impossible that he could ever have known what hit him.

'Somebody go get the son-of-a-bitch,' yelled Major Crowe. 'He's right back of us here, just waiting for somebody to pass by.' That Jap sniper, we knew from the crack of his rifle, was very close.

A Marine jumped over the sea wall and began throwing blocks of fused TNT into a coconut-log pillbox about fifteen feet back of the sea wall against which we sat. Two more Marines scaled the sea wall, one of them carrying a twin-cylindered tank strapped to his shoulders, the other holding the nozzle of the flame-thrower. As another charge of TNT boomed inside the pillbox, causing smoke and dust to billow out, a khaki-clad figure ran out of the side entrance. The flame-thrower, waiting for him, caught him in its withering stream of intense fire. As soon as it touched him, the Jap flared up like a piece of celluloid. He was dead instantly but the bullets in his cartridge belt exploded for a full sixty seconds after had been charred almost to nothingness."

Tarawa, the largest of the Gilbert Islands was eventually taken by the United States Marine Corps by November 23, 1943.  But the price had been terrible.  Nobody had expected the Japanese to put up such resistance for Tarawa.  But the landing craft were caught on the coral reef surrounding the island, and the defenders had managed to withstand a full week of bombing, and several hours of naval bombardment in their sand-covered concrete bunkers.  The result was 911 Marines were killed and over 2300 were wounded.  But vital lessons had been learned in the taking of Tarawa. The length of bombardment was increased to two MONTHS, for example, and the right type of landing craft were used. Thus, when the Marines invaded Kwajalein, northwest of Tarawa in February, the casualties among Marines were 1/3 of what they had been on Tarawa.

Out of more than 3500 Japanese defending Tarawa, one officer and 16 soldiers survived.


"Eyewitness to History"  Edited by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NOVEMBER 8 = Lincoln is Re-Elected

"The Momentous Day

The day has come--the day of fate. Before this morning's sun sets, the destinies of this republic, so far as depends on human agency, are to be settled for weal or for woe. An inevitable choice is this day to be made by the American people, between a policy carrying salvation or a policy carrying ruin to the nation. On the one hand is war, tremendous and terrible, yet ushering in at the end every national security and glory. On the other is the mocking shadow of a peace, tempting us to quit these sacrifices, and sink again into indulgence, and yet sure to rob us of our birthright, and to entail upon our children a dissevered Union and ceaseless strife. "

So wrote the New York Times on today's date, November 8, 1864 about the stark choices facing the voters that day. It was not only the personal choice facing the voters about which the Times spoke.  That was between President Abraham Lincoln for the Republicans and George McClellan for the Democrats.  It was between continued vigorous prosecution of the war against the Confederate States of America, including the ultimate goal of an end to slavery on the one hand, and on the other hand, a quick pursuit of peace negotiations to end that war as proposed by the Democratic platform written for and endorsed by McClellan.  It was quite literally between one or two countries.

Lincoln's Chances Looked Bleak

As late as the Summer of 1864, things did not look good at all for Lincoln. 1863 had the twin triumphs of Gettysburg, and Vicksburg.  But with U.S. Grant now in charge of the Army of the Potomac and bogged down in a seemingly endless siege of Petersburg, he looked like a
butcher.  And William T. Sherman had attacked boldly, but was now also bogged down in protracted fighting near Atlanta, unable to break through.  During the first week in August, Thurlow Weed (left), a leading Republican politician, traveled to Washington and told Lincoln "that his re-election was an impossibility." There were reports of peace feelers being sent by Jefferson Davis, and  of these being rebuffed by Lincoln, because he insisted on abolition of slavery. "It seems entirely probable that this Administration will not be re-elected.."  he admitted in a private memo. Nevertheless he insisted that the election be held, and not cancelled because of the war, as many counseled him to do.

Then the News From the Battle Front Improves...

But in late August, the picture on the battle field began to improve.  First, there was the victory of Admiral Farragut in shutting down Mobile Bay, Alabama news of which hit northern newspapers
 on August 15.  Then, on August 31 the armies of Gen. William Tecumseh
Sherman (right) attacked the Confederate army under General John Bell Hood south of Atlanta, and finally were able to break through.  "Atlanta is our's and fairly won!" Sherman crowed in a telegram to Secretary of War Stanton.  On that very day of August 31, the Democratic Party, meeting in Chicago nominated the strutting boob George McClellan as its candidate for President.  The party's platform said that "After four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment off war... (it was time to) demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities."

Lincoln Goes on to WIIIIIIN!!

After Farragut's victory in Mobile Bay, and Sherman's taking of Atlanta, northern defeatism which  had been so prevalent up to that time was wiped out. But the news from the battle front only got better.  General Philip Sheridan, who had been assigned the task of bringing General Jubal Early's army to heel, and to shut down the Confederate "bread basket" that had been the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia was attacked by Early on the morning of October 18 at Cedar Creek.
Sheridan had been some miles from the battlefield, Upon hearing the gunfire, Sheridan mounted his horse and arrived at the battle in time to rally his troops and win the battle.  He then began burning every farm, and slaughtering every farm animal they could lay their hands on, thus shutting down this source of supply to the South for good.  After that the Union and its victory at the polls seemed assured. And sure enough, on November 8, the voters gave Lincoln a resounding vote of confidence.  55% to 45% of the popular vote, with Lincoln carrying all but three states, Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey for an electoral landslide of 212 to 21.  Most gratifying of all to Lincoln was the fact that the soldiers voting absentee wnt for him, and against their old commander by a margin of 80% to 20%.

"I give thanks to the almighty for this evidence off the people's resolution.  This contest has demonstrated to the world that a people's government can sustain a national election in the midst of a great Civil War." - Abraham Lincoln.


"A Team of Rivals - The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2005.

"The Civil War". Episode 7, "Most Hallowed Ground", Dir. by Ken Burns, PBS, 1990

Friday, November 7, 2014

NOVEMBER 7 = 100 Years Ago - The Bolsheviks Take Over in Russia

On today's date, November 7 in 1917 - 100 Years Ago - the Bolshevik Party of Vladimir Lenin (left) took over power in Russia by means of a nearly bloodless coup d'etat in the Russian city of Petrograd (St. Petersburg).  The coup was against the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky, which had been set up when the government of the Czar, Nicholas II had been deposed in March of 1917.  Kerensky's government had been able to garner only limited support to begin with, and his insistence on keeping Russia involved in World War I had doomed his regime from the start.  The Bolsheviks had promised "Peace, land and Bread" to a peasant population who were war-weary, starving, and wanted their own land to work.  Here are a few different view points of that momentous day when Russia was taken into the iron grip of the Communists.

November 7, 1917 - John Reed (below)

Wednesday 7 November, I rose very late.  The noon cannon boomed from Peter-Paul (Fortress) as I went down the Nevsky. It was a raw, chill day.  In front of the State Bank some soldiers with fixed bayonets were standing at the closed gates.  

'What side do you belong to?' I asked.  'The Government?'
'No more government,' one answered with a grin.  'Slava Bogu! Glory to God!' That was all I could get out of him.  The street cars were running on the Nevsky, men, women, and small boys hanging on every projection.  Shops were open, and there seemed to be less uneasiness among the street crowds than there had been the day before..."

The "relative bloodlessness..." - W.H. Chamberlin  

The Bolsheviks had placed armed detachments at all of the major pulse points of Petrograd: The Power stations, the Train Stations, the State Bank and the Central Telephone Exchange. Thus with only a few thousand dedicated followers in arms, they were able to take over the government of Russia from a weak Provisional Government with ease.

"The most striking thing about the Bolshevik overturn in Petrograd was it relative bloodlessness.  Both the March Revolution and the July disturbances cost far more lives.  At first sight it seems amazing that the decisive act, the seizure of power in the capital... should have been accomplished with so little resistance.  There was a noteworthy absence of rioting and looting; theaters and moving picture houses remained open as usual."

Not much looting, but at the Winter Palace...

John Reed was with a crowd of soldiers later that day, when they surged into the Winter Palace wherein the Provisional Government had been seated. All of it's members were arrested.  Kerensky himself had escaped in an unsuccessful attempt to rouse support among the troops for his regime. He found none.  Meanwhile in Petrograd Reed found himself in the middle of a riotous scene:
"Carried along by the eager wave of men we were swept into... a great bare vaulted room. A number of huge packing cases stood about, and upon these the Red Guard and the soldiers fell furiously, battering them open with the butts of their rifles, and pulling out carpets, curtains, linen, porcelain, plates, glassware... one man went strutting around with a brass clock perched on his shoulder. Another found a plume of Ostrich feathers, which he stuck in his hat."

Meanwhile, Lenin....

According to Chamberlin, Lenin himself remained in the background...

"While Congress rolled on its course, the master strategist of the victorious uprising, Lenin remained in the background, saving his strength for the next night, when the decisive decrees on land and peace would be promulgated, perhaps resting from the 'giddiness,' which, as he once told Trotsky (left), the sudden leap to power inspired in him.  For a short time Lenin and Trotsky lay side by side on covers and cushions in a little room..."


"Ten Days That Shook the World" by John Reed, Penguin Books, New York, 1977

"The Russian Revolution" by William Henry Chamberlin, Vol. 1, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1965

"Eyewitness to History" Ed. by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987

Monday, October 27, 2014

SPECIAL: "Ashes Under Water"

The scene is the Chicago office of Clarence Darrow, a lawyer who was well-known for taking the side of the underdog, the under-privileged, the labor union against the bosses.  He would shortly become nationally famous for his work on defense in the Leopold and Loeb case, and later for his defense in the Scopes Monkey Trial.  But at this point, the summer of 1915, he was at a low ebb in his career, having just escaped charges of bribery and jury tampering in Los Angeles. Darrow had many clients from the humble worker up to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He never knew who would come to his door.

"One day, the figure in Darrow's doorway was slight, gaunt.  The short man looked frightening.  He wasn't world-weary, like Darrow's other supplicants; he was traumatized. His cheeks were sunken. His eyes, dark sockets.  He was sickly, skeletal. He introduced himself as Joseph Erickson.  He was the chief engineer of the "Eastland", and he was in trouble."

The above excerpt is taken from the recently published book "Ashes Under Water: the S.S. Eastland and the Shipwreck that Shook America" by Michael McCarthy, historian and a former Feature Editor of the Wall Street Journal.  Mr. McCarthy's book is about the fate of the S.S. Eastland when she capsized literally feet from her dock on the Chicago River on July 24, 1915, resulting in the death of 855 passengers.  I would like to fully recommend this book to my readers, not only as a good read.  But it is history written the way I love to read it: not just a dry collection of names and dates, but a living, breathing story of people with aspirations and motivations, some of them good and some of them bad, but all of them fascinating. And McCarthy has given us the full range of such characters.  In his pages we find heroes, villains, and everything in between: lawyers, bystanders, and first responders.  Most poignantly of all we find victims, including 22 whole families, who boarded the Eastland that morning expecting a day of pleasure at a company picnic, but who instead met their deaths.

The Eastland, the Lawyer, and the Engineer

The S.S.  Eastland  (right) began her life in 1903 as a steamer built to take advantage of the rapidly expanding economic base of the Great Lakes region. In the first part of his book, McCarthy details the need for a ship to carry the tons of fruit being produced to the many summer resorts in the area along with passengers to these places. But as she was being constructed, her owners wanted her designed for speed and large passenger capacity. Hence she was designed with a length of 275 feet and a beam of 38 feet. "Fast ship, or no ship," versus the fact that the rivers she would be traveling were just too small for such a leviathan sized craft. "In other words, too much ship, too little water." We then see the accidents that followed the Eastland from one set of owners to the next each one overlooking the difficulties in handling a ship that was clearly top heavy and which acquired a reputation as a "cranky" sailor.  Along side of this we see the rise of young Joseph Erickson from a young Norwegian immigrant into an excellent engineer, the downturns in the career of Clarence Darrow, and the blossoming of the families who would all be brought together by a terrible tragedy.

July 24, 1915: 855 People Drown

In Part Two, McCarthy takes us through the story of the disaster itself.  We see how the Captain Harry Pederson a man with little experience and his chief engineer, Joseph Erickson, an honest, hard working man, each go through their paces on the morning of July 24, 1915 taking on over 2500 passengers of the Western Electric Company bound for a company holiday picnic. These were hard working people who were dressed in their best holiday attire: "Most of the women, in their twenties and their thirties, crowded near the dock with long-
sleeve embroidered linen dresses.  Their hats brimmed with apples, sprays of lilac. shirrings of striped taffeta silk, poppies wound in wreathes, and black velvet bows." And we see how the ship slowly lists to port, taking all of these and hundreds of others to their doom. Most of the passengers had gone below decks to avoid the cold drizzle and thus were smashed beneath tons of furniture as it came crashing down on them while the ship rolled on its side in a mere 20 feet of water, just a few feet from the dock and as water rushed in though doors and hatches.  In vivid detail McCarthy tells the story of families wiped out, and first responders driven to despair by the horrors they encountered (above).    

"Owners knew"

"At the bottom of page 14, the police chief asked Erickson precisely who within the company knew what would stop any stability issues on the Eastland. He replied, 'Why the general manager and the secretary, they all knew.' Next to that passage, in the pitiful penmanship that was signature-Darrow, were two words: Owners knew."

With those two words McCarthy, with the skill of a master story-teller, takes us into Part Three: the twisted world of the courtroom. With richly detailed portraits of the men involved, McCarthy shows us a veritable rogues gallery of characters: Darrow, the sloppy and unkempt man who was a brilliant lawyer, who agreed to take on the case of the gaunt man who appeared in his doorway. We are  shown the owners
of the ship who lied and dissembled repeatedly all throughout the trial. We see how the judge, Clarence Sessions slowly began to favor the defense against the prosecutors who called a dizzying array of marine experts.  Darrow realized that he would have to save all of these men from the charge of conspiracy in order to keep his client, Joseph Erickson from being made into a scapegoat.  So he attempts all kinds of fancy legal footwork to discredit the experts until he can bring the focus around to the simple honesty of his client. The six pages wherein
McCarthy takes the reader through Joseph Erickson's account of his experience in the Eastland disaster are frankly riveting.

All of this is drawn against the background of a nation dealing with the unsettling changes brought about by the industrial revolution to American society. This was a new and strange world brought about by telephones, automobiles, and the changing roles of women and men and who would be he source of income within these new family structures.  And this is all brought tragically to life in McCarthy's pages with the Red Cross Tolls, wherein we see the bulletins of the Red Cross giving details of the unidentified among the dead pulled from the hull of the Eastland.  And this went on while a shocked nation hung on every detail of the trial in the newspapers from all over the country (above). Drawing on court documents, and previously unpublished letters, Mike McCarthy has written for the first time the complete story of a tragedy which would shortly be forgotten as our country was swallowed up into the even greater tragedy of the Great War.  More than that, it is a fascinating character study of a slice of our country and our people just at our entrance onto the world stage.


 "Ashes Under Water: the S.S. Eastland and the Shipwreck that Shook America" by Michael McCarthy, Lyons Press, Helena Montana, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

OCTOBER 6 = Bootlegger George Remus Kills His Wife

"About one hundred feet north of the reservoir in the center of the vast park, now bright with autumn foliage, Remus' powerful limousine gradually moved ahead of the taxi and began crowding it to the curb.  To avoid a collision, the cab driver pulled to a stop,  When Ruth began opening the cab door on the right side as if to get out, her mother pushed her back into the seat and opened the door on the left side.  Her husband, directing a stream of epithets against her, reached the door just as Imogene opened it.  Grabbing her by the wrist and shouting 'I'll fix you! I'll fix you!' he pulled her down from the running board.  As he drew her close to him, she noticed that he held in his left hand a small, pearl handled revolver which he had once given her for protection .
'Oh, Daddy, you know I love you!' she cried. 'You know I love you! Daddy, don't do it! Don't do it!'
Pressing the revolver against her belly, Remus pointed it upward and fired one bullet. His screaming wife fell to the pavement.  His stepdaughter, Ruth, having emerged from the car, ran up to him, grabbed him by the coat lapels, and cried, 'Do you realize what you're doing?'  Looking at Ruth but speaking almost to himself, he said of his wife, 'She can't get away with that.'" 1.

So it went in Cincinnati's Eden Park right near the Gazebo that autumn day on today's date, October 6 in 1927, when the Bootlegger George Remus (above) killed his wife in the presence of her daughter, Ruth. Some accounts have Remus calling Imogene a "Decomposed mass of clay", but the basic fact of his having murdered his wife was never disputed by anyone. What was in dispute in court was Remus' state of mind at the time of the killing.  Was this man, dubbed "the King of the Bootleggers" by some, who was nevertheless a lifelong teetotaler, a sane man at the moment he committed murder or not? This was the central question at his trial which lasted for just over a month, and held the whole country in thrall, as the son of the former President of the United States, and this paunchy bald little man battled over what was then a new idea in American courtrooms: the insanity defense.  

The Rise of George Remus

One could hardly conjure up a more quintessentially American "rags to riches" story than that of George Remus. Born on November 14, 1874 in Berlin, Germany, his family immigrated to America in 1879, settling in Chicago.  George did well in school, but he had to drop out at the age of 14 to support his family when his father became disabled. He worked at his Uncle's drug store and soon
learned the pharmacy business.  He got a Pharmacology degree at age 19 by lying that he was 21. He soon owned the store, and did well enough that he was able to buy another store.  But the drug business bored him so he took night classes in law, finished a three year course in eighteen months, and became a lawyer in 1900.  In that same year, he married his first wife Lillian with whom he had his only child, a daughter, Ramola (right, circa 1927). Remus had a flourishing practice in criminal law, becoming quite well-known for his flamboyant style in the courtroom. This earned him about $50,000 a year, a tidy sum, but nothing compared to what his clients were making by their violations of the Volstead Act: the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - the national prohibition law which went into effect in January, 1920.

George Remus Turns to Bootlegging

He had his sights on something bigger in life than merely security. "Remus liked being a lawyer;  he enjoyed the prestige and the public notoriety.  But deep inside himself, George Remus was a material man, and he saw that a few of his clients were getting very rich from bootlegging... (and) they were of marginal intelligence. It led him to consider what the monetary possibilities in the liquor trade were for someone with a high degree of demonstrated intellect, someone such as himself.  Later in his life Remus would say about his bootlegging clients, 'I was impressed by the rapidity with which these men without any brains at all, piled up fortunes in the liquor business.  I saw a chance to clean up.'" 2.

So George Remus read the Volstead Act very carefully - from a lawyer's perspective. And he found that it did not touch any of the millions of gallons of liquor already produced before the Act went into effect. Further, this liquor could legally be used for "medicinal purposes".  And he found that 80% of such liquor was located within a 300 mile radius of Cincinnati.  The key was to buy up as many of these
distilleries as he could. So in 1920, Remus set up shop in Cincin- nati. He had by this time divorced his first wife and married a pretty young secretary named Imogene Holmes, who had a daughter, Ruth from a previous marriage.  He set up a distilling operation on the west side of town on the Dater farm which covered about 100 acres to Queen City and La Feuille Ave. This became known as "Death Valley Farm" because there were hired guns covering every foot of the road into it (above). It was used to distill liquor and also to gather in the liquor which Remus had bought from other distilleries using government permits and phony authorizations from his own drug companies. He would buy the booze, have his convoys hijacked by his own men, who would then bring it to Death Valley for "redistribution".  He was in effect both the buyer and the seller.

Remus Finds Success, Fortune... and Jail

"Remus was to bootlegging what Rockefeller was to oil." - St Louis Post-Dispatch 3.

Of course all of this required help from above. Remus began paying huge bribes to Federal officials for access to the necessary permits to buy his liquor. And he even went to Washington D.C. to buy the cooperation of the U.S. Justice Department in the form of bribes totaling over $250,000 to one Jess Smith who was a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General. Smith assured Remus that no matter what happened neither he nor his men would ever go to jail.  With millions in cash pouring into his coffers Remus became "The Man".  He began to speak of himself in the third person; "Remus was in the whiskey 
business, and Remus was the biggest man in the business." 4.

And he began living large. He bought a home in the Price Hill section of the city on Hermosa Ave. (above) and filled it with the finest furniture, carpets, paintings, and books that he could find. Gold door knobs, a huge swimming pool with Rookwood Pottery linings, and the finest plants and landscaping. At that time, it was the largest private home in the U.S. that was not located on either the East or the West Coast. And he and his wife had only the finest clothes. Remus had always longed to be in a higher social bracket, so he had many a lavish party at his Price Hill Mansion. One such soiree' was the legendary New Years Eve gathering on Dec. 31, 1921 in which every guest was given diamond stickpins and (allegedly) crisp new thousand dollar bills for party favors.  And for the ladies: a brand new Pontiac automobile for each one of them. Such was his repute for ostentatious living, that he is said to have been the inspiration for the title character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, "The Great Gatsby".  But Remus also made himself very popular with the common folks by hiring the men for his trucks, allowing the neighborhood boys to swim in his grand pool, and handing out lavish tips for any service done him.

"... he was a teetotaler, his perspective on liquor unaffected by personal tastes or unclouded by personal habit.  He cared only about the money, and his care was rewarded. In one year Remus deposited $2.8 million into one of his many bank accounts -- the equivalent, in 2009, of more than $32 million." - Daniel Okrent 5.

But this could only go on for so long. Remus had bought out distilleries throughout the Midwest, and also had bought off cooperation from federal officials.  Eventually he ran into a couple of solid, staid officials who were not available at any price. A shipment coming from the Squibb Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana brought him under the eyes of Burt G. Morgan.  Morgan found so much of the booze going to
Remus' Death Valley Farm that he raided the place, and found thousands of gallons of liquor, as well as business records and lots of Remus employees.  With this evidence and with the vigorous prosecution brought by Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, Remus and his confederates were convicted of 3,000 violations of the Volstead Act. And Remus found that his ace in the hole, Jess Smith was useless.  Smith, who was facing corruption charges himself committed suicide on May 30, 1923.  So on January 24, 1924 George Remus went into the Federal Prison in for 2 years in Atlanta Georgia after giving his beloved wife, Imogene power of attorney over all of his business and legal affairs.  This proved to be a huge mistake.

Imogene Remus and Franklin Dodge

As his days in prison wore on, Remus got antsy.  His conditions there had gone from Hotel-like from bribes he paid to prison officials to regular prison conditions after the corrupt warden was sacked by Mrs. Willebrandt.  Remus put Imogene in touch with a man whom he had heard could be dealt with: Franklin Dodge, the Justice Department's "Ace of Investigators".  But instead of helping Imogene (below) clear
the way for her husband's release, this "Ace" began having a torrid romance with her.  And the two of them managed to liquidate all of Remus' empire, selling off the distilleries, the Government permits, everything.  They used the cash for themselves, and sent Remus divorce papers shortly before his release, sending him into a huge spiral downward of anger and depression. When he was finally released on April 26, 1927, and he returned to his Price Hill Estate, he found that it had been stripped of everything... every stick of furniture, every painting, every plant.  Only the books were left piled on the floor, and a cot, a table and chair. He was of course, stunned.  He became obsessive about stopping Imogene and Dodge. And this of course led to the scene in broad daylight wherein as detailed above, he shot her dead. She was 38 years old.

Remus Goes on Trial for Murder

"She who dances down the primrose path must die on the primrose path.  I'm happy.  This is the first peace of mind I've had in two years." - George Remus on killing his wife, Oct. 6, 1927. 6.

This hardly sounds like a man who was insane. But in the trial that began on November 14, 1927, that was exactly what Remus sought to do: prove that he was insane at the time he shot his wife, and might possibly still be insane. Remus, conducted his own defense with assistance from the former D.A. Charles Elston. Opposite them were prosecutors led by Charles P. Taft II, scion of political royalty in the U.S.; his father was former U.S. President, and sitting Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William Howard Taft.  "Remus," he said, "has committed a cold blooded murder, and I have no doubt that he will be executed for it." 7.  But no amount of maneuvering, or witness
badgering could keep the trial from a parade of witnesses who either did not remember anything useful towards Taft's contention of an organized conspiracy, and thus sanity, or did recall only helpful details for the defense.  Remus' driver that morning, George Klug could remember nothing useful. Nor could the waiter who served Remus the night before. And Harry Truesdale even reported that Imogene had tried to  hire him to kill Remus for $15,000. The defense presented character witnesses among whom one was the legendary Clarence Darrow who knew Remus from his days as a lawyer in Chicago. Darrow testified that while Remus was an emotional fellow - somewhat unstable - his reputation had been good. Pressing him further, Taft got an unequivocal endorsement of Remus' reputation from Darrow: "In my opinion it was good. I never heard it questioned so I'll say it was good."8.  And Remus himself several times went into convulsions and had to be removed from the courtroom.  As newspapers from all over the country, and a packed courtroom looked on the jury on Dec. 20 took less than 30 minutes to acquit Remus on the grounds of temporary insanity, the first successful use of that defense in American courtrooms. "He had such a rotten Christmas last year, lets make him happy this year." 9. said one of the jurors.  Clearly, Remus' popularity with the common folk of Cincinnati had payed off.


This writer believes that given his obsessive-compulsive behavior from the very moment that he first heard rumors that his wife was having an affair with Franklin Dodge, a very creditable case could be made that George Remus was in the grip of what would today be called an irresistible impulse to kill his wife and end his mental torture. But clearly, the forgetful witnesses, and Remus' own histrionics in the courtroom helped him in being acquitted by a jury that was obviously very sympathetic to him to begin with.  Whatever the case, Remus kept the loyalty of his own daughter Ramola who stood by him throughout the trial and of the average citizen who viewed him as a generous (if not totally law-abiding) man who had been done wrong by a greedy wife and her lover. George Remus tried to get back into bootlegging but found that the Al Capone-type violence of the business had long passed him by.  He went into Real Estate, before re-marrying and dying in relative obscurity in a Covington, Kentucky home on January 20, 1952.  His fabulous estate in Price Hill was demolished in 1934.  The one portion of it which survives is  the wrought iron gates to the Mansion property which now serve as the back gates to nearby Elder High School on Panther Court. 10. Below is pictured his grave in Falmouth, Kentucky, minus the wings on the angelic figures which somebody knocked off a long time ago....


1. - Coffey, pp. 216-217.
2. - Cook, pp. 24-25
3. - Burns
4. - Ibid
5. - Okrent p. 198
6. - Cook, p. 120
7. - Rosenberg, cover
8. - Cook, p. 155
9. - Ibid, p. 168
10. - Hotchkiss, pp. 10-11


"King of the Bootleggers - A Biography of George Remus" by William A Cook, McFarland and Co. Inc., North Carolina, 2008

"The Long Thirst - Prohibition in America: 1920-1933" by Thomas A. Coffey, W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., New york, 1975

"The Cincinnati Crime Book" by George Stimson,  the Peasonhall Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998

"Remembering Remus in Price Hill" by Julie Hotchkiss, and Joyce Meyer, Edgecliff Press with the Price Hill Historical Society and Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2011

"The American Gladiators: Taft -vs- Remus" by Albert Rosenberg and Cindy Armstrong, Aimwell Press, Hemet, California, 1995.

"Prohibition" a film by Ken Burns an Lynn Novak, Episode Two, PBS, 2011

"Last Call - The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent, Scribner, New York, 2010

Thursday, September 25, 2014

SEPTEMBER 25 = The Bricca Murders 51 Years Later

Saito calls for a jeep with a machine-gun in the back, pulling it up in front of the British commander and his officers. From the hospital hut, Shears tells the doctor, Major Clipton that he fears the worst about Saito's threat: "He's going to do it. Believe me. He's really going to do it." Before Saito reaches the count of three, Clipton runs out, interrupting the stand-off:

"Colonel Saito! I've seen and heard everything. So has every man in the hospital. There are too many witnesses. You'll never get away with calling it a mass escape! Most of those men can't walk...Is this your soldier's code? Murdering unarmed men?"

This is a quote from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" which was playing on ABC TV that night.  It was the first time that this film, the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture of 1957, had ever shown on network TV. Back in 1966, long before DVDs, a network showing was the only way a major movie like this could be seen outside of the Big Screen.  I recall my parents letting me stay up and watch it.  Major Clipton warns Colonel Saito that he'll never get away with this massacre.  "There are too many witnesses." he says.  Little did anyone near Greenway Ave. that night realize how ironic those words would prove to be in retrospect.  Little did any of us realize as we sat in our homes so safe and cozy - that night, September 25 in 1966, - 51 Years Ago - I with my parents just a short distance from there - that a truly unspeakable massacre was taking place.  And that the only witness - a beautiful little four year old girl -  was being murdered along with her parents.

Jerry, Linda, and Little Debbie Bricca

Jerry Bricca, 28,  seemed to have the perfect American life.  He had come from an upbringing in San Francisco, wherein by hard work, he had risen rapidly in the Monsanto Chemical Co. which had transferred him to its Addyston, Ohio plant near Cincinnati.  He brought with him his wife, Linda. She has been described everywhere as being beautiful, with large brown eyes which in the words of one writer "...possess even in photos, an alluring intensity." And even in the old photos of her, one
would have to agree with this description.  Linda, 23, had been an airline stewardess, who had a passion for animals.  The couple had a pair of dogs, and Linda had some rabbits whom she loved, keeping them in back of their home.  And they had a beautiful sweet little girl, Deborah who loved to play on the brand new swing set which they had in back of the house, and who liked for her own little reasons to be called "Carole" on occasion.  And they had a nice, tri-level home in a quite suburban area of Cincinnati called Bridgetown, which was just a short five minute ride from where this writer lived at the time.  They fit in well with the neighbors, of whom they were the youngest.  "The Kids" as they were dubbed were always at barbeques, and block parties.  They were friendly and well liked, although Linda was described by some as being a bit aloof.

But Something Was Wrong

Yet in spite of this picture of the blissful american couple in their suburban home, something was wrong.  Jerry worked very hard... some would say too hard.  He would work long hours into the night, often staying at work all night. In fact it was not at all unusual, neighbors would say for him to be home only a few hours a week. His beautiful wife had a daughter to look after, but something seemed to be missing for her.  She filled this void by indulging her passion for animals.  Apart from her dogs and her rabbits, she took on part-time work at one of the Veterinary Hospitals on nearby Glenway Avenue.  And there was where she apparently attracted some special attention.  But for the moment
life seemed to go on as usual.

That evening, was a rather cool night for early autumn... the temperatures were in the low fifties, and it had rained that day.  Jerry had been working as usual, so he stopped at the local store and picked up some milk.  At around 8:45 pm, Jerry Bricca who was taking out the garbage cans, encountered his neighbor, Joan Janzen as she walked her dog. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather and went on their ways.  She was certain of the time because she wanted to get home in time to watch "Bridge on the River Kwai"; she was one of an estimated 60 million viewers who tuned into ABC to watch the movie that night.  She was also the last person outside that house (above) to see any of the Briccas alive.  While Sessue Hayakawa had his test of wills with Sir Alec Guiness, the Bricca's lives were being brutally brought to an end.

The Murders Are Discovered

Monday, September 26, people dressed for work and got the kids off to school. They brought in the garbage cans from the front and picked up the morning paper.  Only, oddly enough, the garbage cans were still in front of the Bricca home. The morning paper had been collected, but the lights were on in the house including the back yard floodlights.  And the dogs were not barking as usual. The evening paper was not picked up.  And, strangest of all, Linda's pet rabbits had been left out in the rain since Sunday night. When it got to be Tuesday, the 27th and that morning's paper was still on the lawn, and another evening paper was left, the neighbors knew that something was terribly amiss. Joan Janzen's husband Richard had called the Bricca's phone repeatedly with no answer.  So at about 10:00 pm he and the Bricca's next-door neighbor, Richard Meyer went over to 3381 Greenway to investigate.  They knocked at the front door and found it unlocked. Peaking their heads in and calling for Linda, they were immediately hit with a horrible foul smell which Meyer, a World War Two veteran recognized as the smell of death. "I knew it what it was as soon as I opened the 
front door." said Meyer. "Nothing else smells like that." The police were called.

Hamilton County police arrived at 10:40 p.m. to a horrific scene.  In the Master bedroom Jerry Bricca and his wife were both found dead from multiple stab wounds.  Jerry was face down on the bed with stab wounds to his back, his neck and his head.  Linda was sprawled across her husband with her negligee and housecoat open to reveal stab wound to her breasts as well as to her neck and head.  And worst of all in this scene dripping with blood, the body of little Debbie (above) was found in her room against the wall, where she apparently had been deposited.  She had been stabbed so viciously in the back that several of the wounds had gone clear through her body.  They had been bound and gagged with rope and tape, as some residue of tape was found on Jerry's mouth, which also had a sock in it. But the restraints had been removed. The dogs were found in the basement, where they were now barking lustily. The TV set was still on, tuned to Channel 12, WKRC TV, the local affiliate to ABC which had broadcast "Bridge on the River Kwai" on Sunday night. There was a six-inch knife missing from a collection kept in the Dining Room. And there was laundry, some still wet, and some folded in the basement.

The Investigation

This, the mid-sixties was a tough time for our country.  We had just buried a martyred president, and his successor was teetering on the edge of the abyss Vietnam.  The year of 1968 with its riots and assassinations was still in the future.  But that future seemed all the more precarious to us, as if things were slipping out of control, and no less so in Cincinnati where we were already being terrorized by a serial killer/rapist known as the Cincinnati Strangler. And now here in the very heart of the seemingly secure suburbs came this brutal annihilation of an entire young family. People were petrified.  The sales of door locks and big guard type dogs went up.  People started locking those doors and bolting those windows.  Halloween was moved to Sunday afternoon.   All of this in large part due to what seemed like the motiveless act of a bloodthirsty killer. But was he really motiveless? The motive which originally seemed to be rape was eventually discounted. There had been no robbery, so that was out.  Eventually a report on the evidence sent to the FBI crime lab in Washington D.C. ruled on the basis of hair samples that the killer was not a Black man, which apparently the Cincinnati Strangler was.  So that wasn't it.  So who then, and why?

The investigation eventually lead to the conclusion that the Briccas likely knew their killer.  There had been no forced entry.  There had been no screams and no barking dogs heard in the homes of neighbors which were a mere fifteen feet away. There was no sign of struggle inside the home. The murder weapon (which was missing) seemed indeed to have been taken from a set inside the home. And it also seemed very likely that little Debbie had been killed because she knew the killer too.  And while the coroner had originally said that Linda had been raped, this had been softened to the conclusion that she had had "recent intercourse" at the time of her death.  This really set the rumor mill going in a way that hasn't stopped since 1966. It could have been anyone in the neighborhood! Police questioned everyone whom the Briccas knew and who had had any dealings with them, right down to Linda's beautician.  And after weeks of questioning suspects, friends and mere acquaintances an interesting picture began to emerge.

Linda's "Male Friend"

It seemed that Linda Bricca had a male friend whom she had been secretly seeing since not too long after her arrival in Cincinnati in 1963.  Witnesses saw them in secluded spots, and "lovers' lanes" any number of times. Where exactly these "lover's lanes" are I cannot say, but apparently they are there or were there in 1966.  This with the fact that Jerry had been a workaholic husband did certainly fit the pattern of a wayward relationship. The police had conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and gradually eliminated all but one suspect.  This man, Veterinary Doctor Fred Leininger, had at first been questioned for 10 minutes by officers and later for over 45 minutes by Lieutenant Herbert Vogel of  the Cincinnati Police Department.  Vogel taped the interview which had been held at the suspect's place of business, and had problems with some of his replies, so he called Dr. Leiniger's wife to clear up some of these problems and she told him that her husband had been so upset with the taped interview that he had hired a lawyer to protect him.  This was in the days when the Supreme Courts Miranda ruling was still fairly new, so it was easy for police to commit a
technical violation of them which would enable a suspect to hide behind them and simply refuse to answer questions,

One theory of the case has the killer making love with Linda when Jerry (left) came home and walked in on them.  But the fact that her father called Linda at 9:30 that night and heard nothing wrong in her voice, and the fact that they were evidently watching the movie while Linda folded laundry makes the following more likely: Linda met the man at her part time job at Leininger's Veterinary business.  The affair flourished for a time, but Jerry found out and told Linda that she would have to end it or else their marriage was through.  She had one last time in bed with him but this was not enough.  He HAD to have her. He stalked her through the back door while they watched the movie in the basement TV room.  Jerry took Debbie up stairs to put her to bed, and then the killer moved in while Linda was in the basement by herself.  He tried to make her continue the affair, but she was unwilling.  She tried to make him go, but once she had gotten him upstairs he went for the knife in the dining room, and started threatening her. When Jerry came down and saw the threat to his wife he tried to quietly talk him out of it.  But instead he tied them up, gave the dogs a sedative to keep them quiet, (as he was a Veterinary Doctor, this would be no difficulty at all) and then closed them in the basement. Then he went back to his victims, ultimately killing them in a fit of a spurned lover's rage.  Then in the same fit killed little Debbie because she knew him and could identify him. He then calmed down, and cleaned the home of any evidence of their affair, wrapped the knife in the morning paper when it came at @5:30 am, threw it in the garbage and left. The fact of the suspects invoking of his Miranda rights made it impossible to push the investigation any further.


And that is where it has been ever since.  Lt. Vogel has long since conceded that their investigation has centered on this one man, but that he has hidden successfully behind his lawyer, Richard Morr. Morr has been able on his client's behalf to refuse to answer any further questions about the case, and has been able to reject all requests for blood, hair or fingerprints for crime scene comparisons. And as a result of this the case has remained officially unsolved. Why have I been so careful not to use the name of Fred Leininger until now?  Leininger's place of business is now owned and run by a couple whom I happen to know; the wife is an old High School friend. I want to talk with her before I go naming her and her husband's business in connection with this whole miserable affair.  As to Leininger himself, well his name is well known to the police and others familiar with this case.  But it was in the absolutely superb and utterly fascinating book, "Queen City Gothic" that I gained most of my familiarity with this case. In this fine book, author J.T. Townsend named Leininger, so I felt that bit of information should remain his "scoop" until I became more familiar with the case myself. However, the physical description of this suspect which I have differs somewhat from that in Mr. Townsend's book.  I have a friend whose pets were in the man's care for quite a few years.  My friend describes the man as being about 5 ft. 10 inches tall, and maybe 190 lbs., but as Mr. Townsend reports, a man with large powerful hands.  Also, interestingly enough, my source describes him as being "a kindly man, with kindly eyes..." So take from that what you will.  If you really want a full reading of this mysterious case buy "Queen City Gothic" and therein you will find all of the details for which I hadn't the space. You could also log onto the "Historical True Crime Cincinnati" site on Facebook wherein this crime is a frequent subject of discussion  =

As to the fate of the suspect, Dr. Leininger retired in 1995 and then moved to
Florida where he died in 2004.  The case was never solved.  The main suspect got away with it... in this life anyway.  Jerry, Linda, and Deborah Bricca were buried in Winfield Memorial and Nature Sanctuary in Illinois, near the Chicago area town of Barrington where Linda grew up.  The last scene of the film "Bridge on the River Kwai" has the only final word which I feel is truly appropriate in this case.  As Major Clipton (played by the actor James Donald) surveys the wreckage all around him; the bridge destroyed, the Japanese Colonel, Saito, and his own commander, Colonel Nicholson dead, he is stunned. "Madness!" he says.  "MADNESS!!"


"Queen City Gothic - Cincinnati's Most Infamous Murder Mysteries" by J.T. Townsend, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2009, 2012.

"The Cincinnati Crime Book" by George Stimson, The Peasenhall Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998.

"Death On a Quiet Street" by Jack Heffron and John Boertlein, Cincinnati Magazine, April, 2008.