Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Obit watch: February 6, 2016.

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

I thought I’d do this one separately, since it didn’t fit in tone with the previous entry:

Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut and the sixth man to walk on the moon.


Obit watch: January 13, 2016.

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

William Del Monte passed away on Monday at the age of 109.

Mr. Del Monte was the last known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Obit watch: January 8, 2016.

Friday, January 8th, 2016

I’m still kind of hoping for an obituary from a more mainstream news source, but Florence King, writer and National Review columnist, has died. Tributes from Tam and Lawrence.

This was a little surprising:

I’m not going to say she was as influential on my writing as P.J.: I came to her relatively late in life. But she was a damn funny writer (even if I can’t quote some of my favorite lines here), and the world is a lesser place for her passing. Frankly, we could do a lot worse than a monarchy. Especially one run by Florence King.

Pat Harrington Jr. A/V Club.

Interesting career. He started out on “The Jack Paar Show” (or “The Steve Allen Show”, depending on which obit you read).

His film credits include “The Wheeler Dealers” (1963) and “Move Over, Darling” (1963), both starring James Garner; “The President’s Analyst” (1967), starring James Coburn; and “Easy Come, Easy Go” (1967), starring Elvis Presley.

Of course, he was most famous as Schneider on “One Day at a Time”.

Ashraf Pahlavi, sister of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

According to an internal secret history of the C.I.A., she also played a crucial role in the British- and American-inspired military coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and restored her brother to the throne.

Really? I wonder where the NYT got access to this “internal secret history”.

You know what the problem with fiction is?

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

A few nights ago, I had an excellent dinner with a bunch of my friends.

Recent events resulted in the dinner conversation going off on a tangent about Quaaludes and “roofies”, which prompted me to look up Wikipedia’s entry on Quaaludes.

…the massive cache of powder and tabletted methaqualone produced under the aegis of the apartheid-era South African government’s Project Coast in a segment thereof directed by Dr Wouter Basson (whose “Brownies” are capsules of pure MDMA in doses of up to 135 mg), who at one point was held by police in Croatia carrying $40m in Vatican bearer bonds when attempting to purchase 500 kilos of methaqualone.

I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing as “Vatican bearer bonds”.

Dr. Wouter Basson is a cardiologist who somehow managed to become head of the South African government’s chemical and biological warfare projects (the “Project Coast” mentioned above).

The entire drug cache disappeared into the underground in the final days of the National Party’s tenure in office. The total methaqualone cache may have approached a metric ton.

A metric ton of Quaaludes. Jordan Belfort, call your office, please.

Fiction has to be believable. You can’t put something like a government produced cache containing a metric ton of quaaludes, or a guy walking around with $40 million in bearer bonds from the Vatican, into a novel and expect people to believe you.

110 years ago today…

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

…early in the evening on December 30, 1905, Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho, returned to his home in Caldwell after a busy day downtown. (Among other tasks, Steunenberg renewed his life insurance policy.) He opened the side gate to his home…

…and set off a massive explosion that gravely wounded him. He was carried into his home by family and neighbors, and lingered for a short period of time before succumbing to his injuries around 7:10 PM.

For days thereafter, passerby were picking “little bits” of the governor out of the debris.


A small dose of the unusual for Black Friday.

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Just in case you’re stuck at work, or have decided to stay home and avoid the rush, here’s a couple of things you might find interesting:

1) Lawrence sent me this link the other day: Showmen’s Rest: Chicago’s Clown Graveyard.

The story behind this is that Showman’s Rest is where many of the dead from the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train disaster were buried.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train disaster? Yes: on June 22, 1918, the train carrying the members of the circus was rammed by another train whose engineer had fallen asleep. 86 members of the circus were either killed outright or burned to death in the fire that resulted.

2) A retweet from Popehat led me to look up Count Dante, who I was previously unaware of. Count Dante was “The Deadliest Man Alive!” and the founder of the Black Dragon Fighting Society; he advertised heavily in comic books during the 1960s and 1970s.

Count Dante (really John Keehan; he changed his name in 1967 to “Count Jerjer Raphael Danté, explaining the name change by stating that his parents fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, changed their names, and obscured their noble heritage in order to effectively hide in America.“) was one of Chicago’s leading martial artists during the 1960s.

He and a buddy were arrested in 1965 for trying to blow up a competing dojo. In 1970, he and some friends went to another competing dojo to “settle a beef with a member”: in the process, one man died.

In 1971 the judge in the case dismissed all charges but not before upbraiding both sides: “You’re each as guilty as the other,” Cooley recalls him bellowing.

Count Dante may also have been involved in a 1974 robbery of $4 million. He died in May of 1975 at the age of 36.

Chicago Reader article, “The Life and Death of the Deadliest Man Alive”. The article is tied to a documentary in progress, “The Search for Count Dante”: film website here.

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

40 years ago today, 29 sailors died when their freighter sank during a storm on Lake Superior.

By late in the afternoon of November 10, sustained winds of over 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph) were recorded by ships and observation points across eastern Lake Superior. [Arthur M.] Anderson logged sustained winds as high as 58 knots (107 km/h; 67 mph) at 4:52 p.m., while waves increased to as high as 25 feet (7.6 m) by 6:00 p.m. Anderson was also struck by 70-to-75-knot (130 to 139 km/h; 81 to 86 mph) gusts and rogue waves as high as 35 feet (11 m).

I refer, of course, to the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online.

Coverage from MLive.

Mariners’ Church of Detroit.

Almost missed it…

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

…I suppose technically I did, since it is past midnight in England.

But I hope all of my loyal readers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had a happy Guy Fawkes Day, that all your body parts remained attached, and that you don’t have any more holes in your body than you started the day with.

Obit watch: October 16, 2015.

Friday, October 16th, 2015

There’s a really nice obituary in today’s NYT (written by Bruce Weber, one of the paper’s best obit writers) for Sybil Stockdale.

Mrs. Stockdale was the wife of James B. Stockdale. You may remember him as Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate in 1992. But before that:

A captain when he was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 9, 1965, Admiral Stockdale was listed for several months as missing in action before the Pentagon learned he was being held in Hanoi at Hoa Lo prison (the so-called Hanoi Hilton). He survived seven and a half years there, subject to torture and held in leg irons and solitary confinement for long periods, before he was released, returning home in February 1973.

During his captivity, Mrs. Stockdale became a leading advocate for the POW/MIA cause. She also worked with the CIA to gather information. This story brings a smile to my face:

In one [letter -DB], she sent a cheery note about his mother along with a picture of a woman bathing in the Pacific Ocean. Admiral Stockdale’s mother loathed swimming, however, and the picture was not of her; the note said she had come to visit because she wanted to have a good “soak,” a code word that instructed him to soak the photograph in urine. When he did so, he discovered, hidden behind the backing of the photograph, a small swath of special carbon paper that could be used to press messages in invisible ink into his own letters home.

Speaking of the CIA and other bits of history, Ken Taylor has also passed away. Mr. Taylor was the Canadian ambassador to Iran during the hostage crisis:

When the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed by Islamist students and militants, six American diplomats escaped and found sanctuary in the homes of Taylor and his first secretary John Sheardown. In addition to shielding the Americans from Iranian capture, Taylor also played a crucial role in plotting their escape.
Working with CIA officials and Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, Taylor obtained for the Americans six Canadian passports containing forged Iranian visas that ultimately allowed them to board a flight to Switzerland. He undertook all these covert actions at a high personal risk, as he and his team would have been taken hostage themselves in the case of discovery by the Islamist militants.

Last, but by no means least: “fresh-faced ingénue” of the 1940s, Joan Leslie.

At 9, touring with her sisters, she played Toronto. Their act included her impression of Durante.
One night after the show, her dressing room door opened to reveal a man armed with nothing but criticism. Her Durante was all wrong, he told her. Unbidden, he showed her the right way to do it.

Read the obit for the punchline, if you haven’t already guessed it.

Quotes of the day.

Friday, October 9th, 2015

There’s not a theme here or anything, just two quotes that tickled me.

Number One:

Number Two:

I deem it important to direct your attention to Article 2 of the Constitutional Amendments of the United States — “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This you should comply with immediately. Every union should have a rifle club. I strongly advise you to provide every member with the latest improved rifle, which can be obtained from the factory at a nominal price. I entreat you to take action on this important question, so that in two years we can hear the inspiring music of the martial tread of 25,000 armed men in the ranks of labor.

Ed Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners, addressing the 1897 WFM convention.

105 years ago today.

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

At 1:07 AM on October 1, 1910, a bomb went off at the Los Angeles Times.

The bomb was planted in an area full of volatile chemicals and near natural gas lines. The explosion and fire killed 21 people, most of whom burned to death.

At the time, there was a massive struggle between “labor” and “capital”; Bill James, in his book Popular Crime, suggests that we came close to a second Civil War during this period. The bombing of the Times was only one part of a great war, which included the assassination of Frank Steunenberg (more about that in the future), the Haymarket riot, and the Wall Street bombing.

The Times of the time was strongly pro-capital and anti-union, which made it a target. Three men – Ortie McManigal and the brothers J.B. McNamara and J.J. McNamara – were charged with the bombing. McManigal rolled on the McNamara brothers, who were members of the iron workers union.

The labor movement engaged Clarance Darrow to defend the McNamara brothers. He agreed to do so, but warned them that he would need a boatload of money ($350,000 in 1910 dollars) to a proper job. The unions painfully raised the money.

The problem was that the McNamara brothers were pretty much guilty. Darrow is supposed to have told them, “My God! You left a trail of evidence a mile wide!” Ultimately, Darrow pled both brothers out in order to avoid the death penalty.

This case came pretty close to destroying Darrow. The plea bargain alienated him from labor, cutting off a large source of his income. In addition, Darrow was charged with two counts of jury tampering for actions during the case: I’ve written about that before. It took a while for Darrow’s reputation to recover.

Historical article with photos from the LAT.

Wikipedia on the bombing.

Howard Blum’s American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century is a very good book on the bombing and the aftermath.

Obit watch: September 3, 2015.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

I was thinking this morning: the first movie I have any recollection of seeing was the original The Love Bug at a drive-in somewhere in Virginia. NYT. Nice article in the WP.

Also among the dead: Ruth Newman, who passed away at the age of 113. Ms. Newman was a survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

“She would tell us she remembered my grandmother being upset because they had just milked the cow earlier, and she had separated the cream and all and put it in containers that got thrown to the floor,” Ms. Dobbs said.

There is one known survivor still alive.

Ms. Newman attended a few of the annual earthquake commemorations in San Francisco. However, her daughter said that on some occasions, Ms. Newman preferred to sleep in rather than rise before dawn to attend.

Smart woman.