Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Friday, August 21st, 2015

By way of the invaluable NYT obits Twitter feed, I have learned that today is the 75th anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky. I don’t know what I would have done if this anniversary had gotten past me.

(Technically, I suppose it is the 75th anniversary of Trotsky’s death. Ramón Mercader, or whatever his name was – he seems to have had multitudes – attacked Trotsky on the 20th, but he lingered until the 21st.)

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so how about a little musical interlude?

This might push a few buttons.

Obit watch: August 21, 2015.

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Brigadier General Frederick Payne (USMC- ret.)

Gen. Payne was 104 when he died, and was the oldest surviving US fighter ace.

During two and a half weeks in 1942, from behind the guns of his Grumman F4F Wildcat flying over the Pacific near Guadalcanal, Mr. Payne, a major at the time, downed three Japanese bombers and two Zero fighters, having already shared credit with another pilot for bringing down an enemy bomber.

Gen. Payne received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.

With Mr. Payne’s death, there are 71 surviving aces, said Arthur Bednar, coordinator of the American Fighter Aces Association.
According to Mr. Bednar, only 1,450 American pilots qualified to be called ace, a distinction reserved for pilots who downed at least five enemy planes in aerial combat during World Wars I and II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam; in addition, six aces are recognized from the Russian Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War and the Arab-Israeli War. Mr. Payne was credited with five and a half kills.

Quickies: August 13, 2015.

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Hugo Pinell died yesterday.

On August 21, 1971, Pinell, George Jackson, and several other inmates attempted to escape from San Quentin. Three inmates and three guards were killed in the attempt.

Pinell received a third life sentence for attacking two officers, slitting their throats, in that escape attempt, and had spent the majority of his time since then in solitary confinement and had participated in a 2013 statewide hunger strike protesting those conditions.

Pinell was killed by another prisoner during a riot.

Noted: Warren G. Harding apparently did father a child with his mistress, Nan Britton.

Also noted: VonTrey Clark was allegedly offering $5,000 for the murder of Samantha Dean. (Previously.)

My great and good friend Joe D. and I have had past discussions about death at the Grand Canyon and at Yosemite (although I can’t find them now). In that light, this is interesting: “Forget bears: Here’s what really kills people at national parks”.

Short version: if you do die at a national park, it will probably be a drowning or a car crash. But statistically, the odds are low that you will die at a national park.

Obit watch: August 6, 2015.

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

I’ve seen some mentions of this elsewhere, but I wanted to go ahead and link to the NYT obit for John Leslie Munro, last of the Dambusters.

I also kind of want to see “The Dam Busters” now. I’m pretty sure it was on TV when I was a kid, but somehow I never caught it. And it doesn’t look like Amazon has it on instant video…

For hysterical raisins: reprinted LAT obit for Marilyn Monroe.

Paul Fussell’s “Thank God For the Atom Bomb”.

Obit watch: August 5, 2015.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Noted historian and author Robert Conquest has passed away at 98.

The scope of Stalin’s purges was laid out: seven million people arrested in the peak years, 1937 and 1938; one million executed; two million dead in the concentration camps. Mr. Conquest estimated the death toll for the Stalin era at no less than 20 million.
“His historical intuition was astonishing,” said Norman M. Naimark, a professor of Eastern European history at Stanford University. “He saw things clearly without having access to archives or internal information from the Soviet government. We had a whole industry of Soviet historians who were exposed to a lot of the same material but did not come up with the same conclusions. This was groundbreaking, pioneering work.”

I expect Lawrence will have more to say later, but I do want to tell my favorite Conquest story. When his publisher was going to issue a new edition of The Great Terror: A Reassessment, they asked Conquest if he wanted to change the title. Conquest supposedly suggested a new title of I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.

Edited to add: Lawrence’s obit is now up.