Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Obit watch: September 11, 2014.

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Colonel Bernard F. Fisher (USAF – ret) passed away on August 16th, though his death does not appear to have been widely reported until today.

Col. Fisher (he was a major at the time) received the Medal of Honor for pulling off one of the greatest rescue missions in the history of the Vietnam War.

(I swear that I read this story in Reader’s Digest when I was a child, maybe as a “Drama In Real Life”.)

The paper of record does not seem to have deigned to note the passing of Richard “Jaws” Kiel, but the LATimes and the A/V Club have.

Edited to add: now the NYT gets around to it.

You want sad? I’ll give you sad.

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Very often the president would stride briskly out of the White House, with Tad at his side trying to keep up, and march four blocks down to 1207 New York Avenue, to Stuntz’s Fancy Store, a magical little toy shop. The owner, Joseph Stuntz, was a retired French soldier who carved wooden toy soldiers in a tiny back room. Sometimes Lincoln showed up alone at Stuntz’s and bought toy soldiers for Tad for Christmas. “I want to give him all the toys I did not have and all the toys I would have given the boy who went away,” Lincoln told the master toy maker.

The Last Lincolns, page 49 (paperback).

Inside the White House, workmen were making last minute repairs, preparing the executive mansion for the new president. In a second-floor bedroom they found something unexpected — the vast collection of Tad Lincoln’s toy soldiers. These were the beautiful, hand-carved figurines Abraham Lincoln had purchased for his son at Stuntz’s toy store. They were Tad’s favorite playthings, but he had left them behind, probably because he could not bear to see them again. He was no longer the president’s son. He was just Tad Lincoln.

–ibid., page 71

Quote of the day

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Lincoln, Robert Todd, xi, 3, 4, 22, 210.
See also Jinxy McDeath;
Presidential Angel of Death

—index entry in Charles Lachman’s The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family.

(Explained.)

(I just started reading Lachman’s book yesterday. For some reason, I found Chapter 2, about Willie, Tad, and the president’s relationship with the boys, really hard to get through. You want sad? That’s a sad sundae with sad sauce and chopped sad sprinkled over it.)

Musical interlude.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Because even old New York was once New Amsterdam.

Random notes: August 12, 2014.

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Garry Kasparov lost his bid to run the World Chess Federation. The incumbent president, Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov, was re-elected by a wide margin (110 to 61).

Mr. Ilyumzhinov, 52, a native of Kalmykia, a poor Russian republic on the Caspian Sea, has led the chess federation since 1995, but not without controversy. He cultivated friendships with Saddam Hussein, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and claims that he was abducted by space aliens one night in 1997. He also claims the game was invented by extraterrestrials.

(Previously.)

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright: or, Lawrence goes to the tank museum. Hilarity ensues.

Actual LAT headline: “Convicted smuggler of prized fish bladders gets 1-year prison term“.

It was 40 years ago today…

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

…Richard Nixon went away.

Classic Austin cliches.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Anyone who’s spent time in Austin is familiar with the complaint that too many Austin residents like to sit around and talk about how things were so much better when the Armadillo World Headquarters was in business, and how they saw Shiva’s Headband there, and rent was only $25 a month, and there was no traffic and abundant dope and and and…

The official name was Armadillo World Headquarters. But anyone who enjoyed live music just called it the ‘Dillo.

Yep. That’s your Statesman.

Obit (sort of) watch: August 1, 2014.

Friday, August 1st, 2014

There’s a nice story in today’s NYT. And I wonder why I’m reading it there, rather than in the Statesman.

Background: Gary Lavergne wrote what is widely considered the definitive book on Charles Whitman, A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders.

Claire Wilson was one of Whitman’s victims. She was walking with her boyfriend, Thomas Eckman, when Whitman shot her in the belly. He then shot and killed Eckman. Ms. Wilson survived, but she was eight months pregnant; Whitman’s bullet killed the baby.

Ms. Wilson (now Ms. Jones) got in touch with Mr. Lavergne after the book was published (he was unable to find her previously) and they became friends. Sometime later, Mr. Lavergne began researching a question, and found the answer last year.

In November 2013, he was preparing the materials from his most recent work, “Before Brown,” a history of Heman Marion Sweatt’s efforts to integrate the university beginning in the 1940s. Mr. Lavergne revisited a database of nearly 23,000 graves at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, where Theophilus S. Painter, the university president of that era, is buried.

The end result is that Ms. Jones now knows where her baby was buried. And the grave has a headstone, paid for by Mr. Lavergne.

Pretty much everyone has acknowledged this, but: Dick Smith. A/V Club.

Random notes: July 30, 2014.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Followup: longer, better NYT obit for Theodore Van Kirk.

One I should have noted yesterday: legendary University of Kentucky athlete Wah Wah Jones.

Jones is the only University of Kentucky athlete to have his number, 27, retired in two sports, football and basketball. He became known as Wah Wah because that was how his younger sister pronounced his given name, Wallace.

More:

Jones lettered in four sports at Kentucky — he high-jumped in track — and was drafted by the Chicago Bears football team, and offered a contract by the Boston Braves baseball team. He was drafted in the first round by the Washington Capitols — a member of the Basketball Association of America, a forerunner of the National Basketball Association — and traded to Indianapolis, where the nascent N.B.A. was helping the Kentucky players invest in and start a new franchise.

Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.

Obit watch: July 29, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

James Shigeta passed away yesterday. I wasn’t sure if I was going to note this, but the A/V Club ran an excellent obit for him that I believe deserves attention.

He was the lead in the film version of “Flower Drum Song”. If you look at his IMDB page, he had bit parts in basically everything during the 1970′s: the original “Mission: Impossible”, “Rockford”, “SWAT”, “Kung Fu”, “Emergency”, “Ironside”, the original “Hawaii 5-0″, etc.

He was perhaps best known (at least to my brother) as Joseph Takagi in the first “Die Hard”.

Also, the NYT is reporting the passing of Theodore VanKirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay.

Noted.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

The LA Weekly profiles Nick Ut, legendary AP photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner. He’s still working as an AP photographer in LA.

You may not recognize the name, but you’ll know the photo; it is one of the two most famous Vietnam War photos. I won’t embed it, but you can find all over the place, including here.

I’m not generally a big fan of the alternative papers, but this is a swell article. Some pull quotes:

Ut believes in skill, too. But on a deeper level, he trusts in luck and fate. Many photojournalists were killed in Vietnam — 135 total, according to Faas’ count. By Ut’s estimate, 90 percent of the AP photographers who covered the war got shot while there.

Pulled mostly so I can plug Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina; haunt your local used bookstore for a copy.

…three months after he took Kim Phuc’s picture, he was hit in the leg by mortar fire. He was on his way to visit her. Her house, unfortunately, was located near an entrance to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of supply routes used by the Viet Cong. After the mortar shell blew up, Ut noticed holes in his camera. Then his shirt. Then his thigh.

Young photographers today, who “shoot 15 frames a second,” exasperate him. “Too fast. Picture lousy. One frame. Show the best picture. That’s how I learned. Look for the picture first.”
Besides, “If you come back with 500 pictures from one assignment? Your boss will yell at you. Too many! Who wants to look at all those pictures?”

Today, the 35mm Leica M2 camera with which he shot Napalm Girl is in a museum — the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.

Gratuitous Leica for the win! (I do wish the Weekly had gone into more detail about what Ut uses today. But then again, this isn’t an article targeted at professional photographers.)

Random gun crankery.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Mike the Musicologist and I were talking about the moronic Rolling Stone list. So apparently “Derringers” are among the most dangerous guns in America? I can buy that; after all, no president has ever been shot with a machine gun, so clearly they are less dangerous than derringers.

(Would you trade a ban on derringers for legalized machine guns? I wouldn’t either, but I think it is an interesting question.)

Anyway, that, and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot about presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations recently, got me thinking. (As a side note, I owe my readers a longer discussion of the works of Candice Millard, but that’s for another time.)

So Oswald’s rifle may be the single best documented presidential assassination weapon we have. It is historically interesting, but we can set that to one side for the moment.

I am 99 44/100ths percent sure I have seen Booth’s derringer, but that was a long time ago in another country. I did briefly wonder how it was recovered: was it on Booth when he died? (No: Booth dropped it on the floor of Lincoln’s box when he pulled the knife and slashed Major Rathbone. Apparently, the New York Reload had not been invented in 1865.) And I was also not aware that there was a brief controversy about Booth’s derringer: there were claims that it was stolen and replaced with a replica. (I am also not sure that I trust the FBI’s police work 100% there, Lou, but that’s probably yet another discussion for another time.)

So that takes care of the two most famous assassinations. What of President McKinley, who, as you may recall, was shot by an anarchist with an unpronounceable name? Czolgsz’s weapon of choice was a .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver; according to this site, that gun resides in the Buffalo History Museum. (Their website supports this.)

And that brings us to Garfield (the president, not the cartoon cat), who you may recall was shot by a “disgruntled office seeker”, which is a polite way of saying “a f–king nut”. When the Oneida Community thinks you’re weird, maybe that’s your sign.

Anyway. Guiteau shot Garfield with a “.44 Webley British Bulldog revolver“, which he purchased using money bummed from a friend. (Bumming money from friends and skipping out on his boarding bills was typical of Guiteau.) Supposedly, he bought one with ivory grips instead of wood because “he thought it would look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination”. (I’ve seen this cited elsewhere. On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry on the Bulldog says Guiteau didn’t want to spring for the extra $1 for ivory.)

The punchline to this: “The revolver was recovered and displayed by the Smithsonian in the early 20th century, but has since been lost.

Seriously. They lost the gun used to kill a president. Granted, it appears to have been “lost” long after Guiteau was tried and executed. But still; how do you “lose” a presidential assassination weapon? And can you imagine the discussion at the Smithsonian when they found out Guiteau’s gun was “lost”?

(And I think I have to give Oswald a slight edge on taste, as he was the only one to use a Smith and Wesson revolver. Granted, it was a Victory model, so it wasn’t one of the better looking ones, but it was still a Smith. And if you were wondering, Jack Ruby used a Colt.)

(I say “slight edge” because, for all of Guiteau’s numerous faults, at least he picked ivory. As we all know, only a pimp in a cheap New Orleans whorehouse carries pearl handled revolvers.)