Dec 8, 2017

December 8: When it comes to sexy, look no further than the toilet

On December 8th, 1857, in New York City, Joseph Gayetty introduced the first commercially marketed toilet paper. Each Manila hemp sheet was watermarked with his name and contained an aloe lubricant. Members of the public could purchase 1,000 sheets for one dollar at his shop at 41 Ann Street, in New York (in 2017 the average price for 1,000 sheets of Quilted Northern was just about $3).
Some called him a hack,  but his product was a top seller for several decades until the invention of splinter-free toilet paper by the Northern Tissue Company  in 1935.

Toilet paper had been around for at least 1,500 years, invented by the Chinese circa 589 AD.
By the early 14th century, it was recorded that in modern-day Zhejiang province alone there was an annual manufacturing of toilet paper amounting in ten million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper each, and were even individually perfumed.

In 2005, Renova, a Portuguese paper company founded in 1818, introduced the first ever black toilet paper to world wide success, opening the door to a new market of 'sex appeal toilet paper'; Renova now carries a wide variety of colored toilet paper and is known as “the sexiest toilet paper on earth.”

Oct 1, 2017

October Spotlight: History Of Zombies

On October 1st, 1968, George A. Romero's Night Of The Living Dead hit the  silver screen. In terms of zombie culture George A. Romero (1940-2017) is the father of the modern Zombie; the zombie that comes to mind when we think of Flesh eating rotten corpses mindlessly roaming the streets to devour human victims.

 Before 1968 when Romero's Night Of the Living Dead was released the idea of zombies were derived from Haitian folklore of people being dosed with a poison that renders them mindless and completely at the mercy of others, as depicted in the 1932 film 'White Zombie' staring Béla Lugosi.

The poison is made from a Datura flower that is quite beautiful, but strips it's victims of reality, those who survive have described the processes as horrifying.

 Further reading on this can be found in the book The Serpent and the Rainbow, written by Harvard Scientist Wade Davis. But Romero's zombies had no puppet masters, just hordes of living dead that can only be killed by piercing the brain. A fun fact being that Romero didn't set out to make a new 'zombie' creature; in Night Of The Living Dead they are called 'Ghouls' and Romero mentioned later that zombies hadn't entered into the equation at the time, stating "I never thought of my guys as zombies when I made the first film...To me, zombies were still those boys in the Caribbean doing the wetwork for Lugosi." This may account for the running theme in his films to never use the "Z" word.

 Romero would spend nearly half a century cultivating this species of zombie; especially memorable for the "Dead Series" beginning in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead and ending in 2009 with Survivial of the Dead. But Romero also ventured into other other types of zombies; most notably the 1973 film The Crazies. in this is a form of Zombie created by a biological agent that effects people and turns them into blood thirsty killers. The difference between this and Romero's 'traditional' zombie is that the infected still retain brain function, so they can think up the brutal ways to kill loved ones and neighbors while evading law enforcement and pretending to not be infected.

 Romero's reanimated flesh eating corpse has truly become the archetype zombie, emulated shamelessly in popular culture from hit American television shows like The Walking Dead, blockbuster films such as Will Smith's I Am Legend, to annual 'zombie walks' carried out around the world, and has inspired zombie variations such as the 'fast zombie' made famous in the 2002 British film 28 Days Later and the 'brain eaters' from the Return of the Living Dead film series.

 Aside from the prospect of thrilling entertainment, zombies have also been cultural vehicles that helped shape modern society. It is true that Romero's flesh eating zombie was the lasting influence of 1968's Night of the Living Dead; but at the time of its release it received recognition for something else entirely. Romero was praised for casting a black man (Duane Jones as Ben) in the role of the Hero, and the film is noted for being the first film with a black protagonist in a movie that was not about race relations. In 1999 the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, and deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

 But zombie culture has influenced society in other ways as well. Many milatary and government organizations have used zombie outbreak scenarios as a way to plan for large scale viral outbreaks and systemic losses of law and order. The United States Department of Defense Strategic Command has a contingency plan for a zombie outbreak called CONOP 888 also known as Counter-Zombie Dominance. The Center for Disease Control has also discovered that a great way to engage new audiences with preparedness messages is to disseminate health and safety information using zombie outbreaks as way to keep the message fun and entertaining.

 For well over a century the Western world has been intrigued by zombies, first as it roots in African, Caribbean, and South American folklore, through the Imagination of science fiction writers like Mary Shelly and H.P. Lovecraft, to the many variations on the silver screen. Zombies have been depicted in countless ways, as slave victims and brutal assailants, to heroes and lovers. In Romero's 2005 Land of the Dead the protagonist, Big Daddy, is himself a zombie, who is desperately trying to save his fellow ghouls from being slaughtered. In the 1999 Japanese film Wild Zero we find a separated zombie couple desperately searching for one another.

In whatever form or media, it is a fair bet that zombies will continue to occupy a place in popular culture, in an ever expanding plethora of circumstances and viewpoints.

Sep 11, 2017

September 11: All The Drama Of High School

Torrence High School, in Torrence California, first opened it's doors on September 11th, 1917, in Los Angeles County California, and is one of the oldest high schools in continuous use in California.

Torrence High School was used as the location of "West Beverly Hills High School" in the hit 1990s television show Beverly Hills 90210, as well as "Sunnydale High School" in the cult favorite Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series, before it was epically destroyed in Season 3 in a battle on graduation day between Buffy and her friends (known as the Scooby Gang) and the mayor of Sunnydale.
Sunnydale High Class of '99 Graduation 

Jul 24, 2017

July 24: Son of the Boston Strangler dies; Declared a brilliant artist

On July 24th, 1989, Mark Morrisroe died at the age of 30 in a hospital in Jersey City due to complications of AIDS.

Morrisroe was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1959, his mother was a drug addict and a tenant of Albert DeSalvo, also known as "the Boston Strangler", and it was believed that DeSalvo was Morrisroe's father.

At 15 Morrisroe left home and became a prostitute under the name Mark Dirt and began chronicling the queer punk and male hustler scenes in Boston and New York.
At 17 he was shot by a John which left a bullet lodged in his back for the rest of his life.

Morrisroe attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, where he graduated from the Museum School with honors. His friends included artists Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, and Tabboo!, with whom he founded the drag duo "Clam Twins" at the Pyramid Club in NYC's East Village.

After his death in 1989 his work became highly regarded. His work, which includes over 2,000 photographs, continue to be shown in galleries and museums all over the world.

Jul 10, 2017

July 10: From Feces to Fortune - The birth of Cat Litter

On July 10th, 1920, Ed Lowe was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

In 1947, while living in Cassopolis, Michigan, Lowe's neighbor asked him for some sand to use in her cat's litter box. Lowe gave her some clay called Fuller's Earth (capable of absorbing their weight in water) and to her delight it worked better than sand.
That same year Lowe began packaging it in 5 lb bags and called it "Kitty Litter." At first he gave it away to local pet stores until demand set in, afterwards it sold for 69 cents.
He founded Tidy Cat cat box filler in 1964, and by the time of his death,  in 1995, his company was worth half a billion dollars.

Jun 16, 2017

June 16: Psycho Births A Cigarette That Never Existed

On June 16th, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho hit the silver screen. Shot for under $1 million dollars, the film was a box office success bringing in over $50 million in sales.

It is also the debut of Morley Cigarettes, a fictional brand of tobacco cigarettes (and sometimes candy cigarettes) that has remained a popular nonexistent product of film and television.

The brand's first television appearance was on April 5th, 1961, on an episode of Naked City when a pack of Morley's was left at a murder scene.

On December 19th, 1961, in the episode 'Sally Is A Girl' of the Dick Van Dyke Show, Morley Candy Cigarettes makes it's debut when Richie, the TV son of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, receives a pack of Morley Chocolate Cigarettes.

For over a half century Morley brand cigarettes has remained as a popular fictional brand cigarette appearing in everything from The Twilight Zone, Seinfeld, and even the sitcom Friends.

Morley was the brand of choice for The Smoking Man on The X-Files as well as Spike from Buffy The vampire Slayer.

The fictional brand continues to be the cigarette of choice for Television and film, making appearances on The Walking Dead and the 2015 Robert De Niro film Heist, amongst others.

May 31, 2017

May 31: The 24 Hours That Destroyed Tulsa

On this day, May 31 (and continuing to June 1) in 1921, One of the largest American race riots took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma that destroyed an entire neighborhood, leaving 300 black residents dead and thousands of white residents arrested. The attack, carried out on the ground and by air, destroyed more than 35 blocks of the district, then the wealthiest black community in the nation. More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals and more than 6,000 residents were arrested and detained, some for as many as eight days.

O n May 30th, Memorial Day, a 19 year old black shoeshiner that worked on Main street named 'Diamond' Dick Rowland entered an elevator of the Drexel Building (319 South Main Street), apparently to use the only 'colored' restroom in the building which was on the top floor. According to witnesses some sort of confrontation ensued  between Rowland and the 17-year-old white elevator operator Sarah Page. Page screamed and Rowland ran off; witnesses called the police believing she had been sexually assaulted (although a recent investigation suggests the two merely had a 'Lover's Quarrel').

Rowland was arrested but a routine investigation by the Tulsa police department concluded an actual 'assault' did not take place. Page did not want to press charges, and many of the city's attorneys (who frequented Rowland's shine shop) spoke highly of him and doubted the rumors circulating of an assault. None the less newspapers in Tulsa ran stories such as 'Nab Negro For Attacking Girl' and 'To Lynch Negro Tonight.'

Crowds of up to 1,000 white residents gathered at the courthouse demanding that Rowland be handed over to them. The previous year an 18 year old white man was removed from the courthouse and lynched for shooting a cab driver. The sheriff was fired for handing over a suspect to the lynch mob, and the new sheriff, Willard M. McCullough, was not about to let the same thing happen again, and had moved Rowland to a safer location on the top floor. McCullough also positioned six of his riflemen on the roof of the courthouse, disabled the building's elevator, and had his remaining men barricade themselves at the top of the stairs with orders to shoot any intruders on sight.

News of the lynch mob reached the black neighborhood of Greenwood and armed black men rushed to the courthouse to aide in Rowland's safety. The group of white residents doubled to 2,000 armed residents (there were even reports of white residents attempting to rob the armory of its weaponry) and soon an all-out war erupted between the two groups. Snipers on both sides took out mobsters on the streets, and more than 20 airplanes where spotted dropping bombs onto the black neighborhood of Greenwood. The resulting fire raged destroying the entire neighborhood but not a single alarm was sounded at any fire station. Reports of 2 dozen caskets filled with weapons and ammunition were delivered to white churches, white mobs attacked white households that employed black servants, and  reinforcements for both sides came in by train.

On Wednesday July 1st, the Oklahoma National Guard arrived with 109 troops to stop the riots. Reports suggest that martial law was enacted at 11:49 am and amazingly by noon the National Guard had the town under control.

Reports varied, but estimates of up to 6,000 people on each side of the race riot were arrested and up to 300 residents on either side were killed. The black neighborhood of Greenwood was destroyed including 191 businesses, a school, several churches and the hospital. 1,500 houses were destroyed.
 Sheriff McCullough, in keeping his word, kept Rowland safe through the entire race war. All charges were dropped and the Sheriff secretly transported Rowland safely out of town. Rowland settled in Kansas City and never set foot in Tulsa again.

Photo: Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa after one day of the race war. (public domain).

May 14, 2017

May 14th: Fast Food Fantasy = What Mom Really Wants for Mother's Day

The fast food giant, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), headquartered in Louisville Kentucky, reports that Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year, with sales jumping 40% on average.

In 2016 the company served approximately 370,000 families on Mother's Day, selling about 6.5 million pieces of chicken (about 1.5 million pounds), 815,000 servings of mashed potatoes and gravy, and 470,000 servings of cole slaw.
This may account for KFC's release of a free romance novel, called 'Tender Wings of Desire' just before Mother's Day 2017, with founder Harland Sanders as the love interest.

"The only thing better than being swept away by the deliciousness of our Extra Crispy Chicken is being swept away by Harland Sanders himself," KFC's U.S. director of advertising George Felix said in a press release,  "So this Mother's Day, the bucket of chicken I get for my wife will come with a side of steamy romance novella." Patrons to KFC restaurants in New Zealand can pick up chicken flavored chocolates on Mother's Day as well.

KFC is no stranger to absurd marketing stunts;  in December of 2016 KFC sent 125 copies of a free limited pressing 12" record to U.S. record stores to hide for a scavenger hunt in a Guerrilla-Marketing stunt before rolling out their 'Nashville Hot Chicken' line. The album featured Fred Armisen as Harland Sanders singing about how wearing the same suit everyday drove him insane.

Actor Rob Lowe as Colonel Sanders the Cosmonaut enjoying a KFC sandwich

May 12, 2017

May 12: When The Disease Is Love, Why Take the Cure?

On May 12, 1821, Florence Nightingale was born into a rich upper-class British family in Florence, Italy, the city in which she was named after. Just about every privilege afforded a woman of that time  was at her disposal, and yet she dedicated her life to care taking of the sick and educating nurses.
At 16 Nightingale had several experiences that she was sure were calls from God prompting her to devote her life to the service of others. Nightingale wrote of one such encounter "God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation."  As a prodigious writer, much of her studies and accounts in nursing were recorded, as well has her studies of Mysticism. Much of her published work is on Nursing education and statistical studies, in which she was a pioneer, but her work on mysticism was also published (albeit after her death).

Her work in the Crimean war was well recorded by the media at the time and her fame helped open  the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital on 9 July 1860 (Now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, the school is part of King's College London). The first trained Nightingale nurses began work on 16 May 1865 at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary.

Nightingale died on August 13th, 1910, at the age of 90, leaving behind a large body of work on Nursing education. Although she never married, her memory lives on as the name for a syndrome when a caretaker falls in love with a patient (or visa versa). There is no evidence that Nightingale ever suffered from this syndrome, but more than a half century after her death the term Florence Nightingale Syndrome entered the western pop culture lexicon, having been mentioned by actor Albert Finney in a 1982 interview in People Magazine.

In medical jargon the Florence Nightingale Syndrome is often referred to as the Florence Nightingale effect as a way to distinguish that the term was born in general society, and not recognized as a proper medical term; in which 'Transference' is preferable, as it was coined by Sigmund  Freud.

The term 'Florence Nightingale Effect' was used correctly by the character Doc Brown in the 1985 blockbuster hit Back To The Future, stating "It happens in hospitals when nurses fall in love with their patients." while explaining explaining to Marty why his mother fell in love with him when she took care of him after he traveled back in time to 1955 and was hit by a car driven by his grandfather.

May 3, 2017

May 3: Sammy Davis Jr Drives A Race Car Dressed As A Priest (And Everybody Wins)

Car and Driver Map
On May 3rd, 1971, the now infamous cross country race, known as The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash  (or simply Cannonball Run), began in New York City and ended at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California and was repeated four more times in the 1970s.

   The Cannonball Run was an unsanctioned automobile race conceived by race car driver Brock Yates and Car and Driver Magazine editor Steve Smith as a protest against proposed strict U.S. traffic laws known as the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act (that went into act in 1974).

Each race was chronicled in Car and Driver Magazine, detailing the races and strategies of each team, including one team disguised as priests who drove a Mercedes 280 SEL sedan, which they claimed to be "the Monsignor's car" as a way to evade long delays and speeding tickets by highway patrolmen.
The fastest time recorded during the 5 races was 32 hours and 51 minutes and the worst recorded accident reported in Car and Driver was a spilled lasagna dinner, but later in his memoir Yates  mentions several incidents including a totaled Cadillac stretch limousine resulting in a broken arm suffered by famed female racer Donna Mae "Pink Lady" Mims.

One of the most important discoveries in the cannonball Run races was that the highest speeds did not  necessarily give drivers an advantage.

  The Cannonball Run races inspired several movies including Cannonball, The Gumball Rally, and Cannonball Run starring Burt Reynolds with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin as the Flying Fathers, the team that raced in priest outfits. Cannonball Run was one of the highest grossing films of 1980 and two sequels, Cannonball Run II and Speed Zone, followed.

Apr 6, 2017

April 6: Three Nations Get Together And Have A Baby (Mexico, U.S.A, And Jordan)

On April 6, 2016, Ibrahim Hassan was born in Mexico,  aided by a team of American Scientists, to three biological parents from Jordan, making Ibrahim the first known person in history to have DNA from 3 individual donors.

Apr 1, 2017

April 1: George Washington's victory at Valley Forge (thanks to instant coffee)

Painting by G. C. Louis of General George Washington
snorting instant coffee mixed with tobacco snuff
On April 1st, 1778, General George Washington lead his troops into victorious battle in Valley Forge, PA, against the British in the Revolutionary War. This was a major turning point for the Continental Army, whom, until this point were feared to loose due to the dismal living conditions Washington's troops had been subjected to.

Over a six month period, the deaths in the Valley Forge camp numbered in the thousands, the majority being from disease, compounded by lack of food and proper clothing, poor shelter, and the extreme cold. By contrast, the British were comfortably quartered in Philadelphia and paid for their supplies in sterling. Washington, on the other hand, had difficulty procuring supplies from the few farmers in the area who would not accept rapidly depreciating American paper currency. As conditions worsened, Washington was faced with the task of maintaining morale and discouraging desertion, which had become common by February.

Washington had repeatedly petitioned the Continental Congress for badly needed provisions but with no success. He expressed the urgency of the situation, exclaiming, "Something must be done. Important alterations must be made!"

Finally, on January 24, 1778, remembering an old family recipe of dehydrating brewed coffee for easy transport, Washington began making instant coffee at the camp for the troops to carry in their snuff tins on the front lines, in which they mixed with water or snorted with tobacco snuff.

By late March a revitalized army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part by General Washington's instant coffee, ready to take on the red coats. The British evacuated Philadelphia for New York on April 1st, 1778.

After the War Washington marketed and sold his instant coffee as Washington's Prepared Coffee; by the time of his death on March 4th, 1799, he was the richest man in the United States.

Editor's Note: On April 1st, 2007, Wikipedia published an article about George Washington's Instant Coffee invention in which the information about George Washington the president (1732-1799) and George Washington the inventor (1871-1946) had been merged.

Mar 21, 2017

March 21: The Short Beautiful Life of Candy

On March 21st, 1974, the actress Candy Darling died of cancer in New York City at the age of 29.

Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery, in 1944, in Queens and raised by her mother, Theresa Phelan, in Long Island. Known as 'Jimmy' during the day, Darling would escape as 'Candy' at nights to nite clubs in Manhattan before moving to Manhattan to live as Candy Darling full time.

Despite dying at a young age, Darling had an accomplished acting career on stage and in film that included roles in Klute with Jane Fonda, Glamour, Glory and Gold opposite Robert De Niro, Women In Revolt directed by Andy Warhol, and the Tennessee Williams' play Small Craft Warnings, at the invitation of Williams himself.

At Darling's funeral her birth name was never mentioned by the minister or by eulogizers and was heavily attended. Her brother Warren also attended but was  shaken at the sight of Darling as a woman and unaware of her acting accomplishments. Darling's mother later recalled,  "I knew that I couldn't stop Jimmy. Candy was just too beautiful and talented."

Photo: "Candy Darling on her Deathbed" by Peter Hujar

Mar 17, 2017

March 17: A Girl Named Frank

On March 17th, 1908 Frances 'Frank' Hook died at age 60 or 61. Her exact birthdate is unknown, except that it was sometime in 1847 in Illinois. When she was three years old both of her parents died, leaving her older brother to raise her. At the time the Civil War began Hook and her brother were living in Chicago, Illinois when her brother decided to enlist the Union Army. Frances, only 14, and not wanting to be parted, enlisted as well, disguised as a man and claimed to be 22.

The brother and sister served with the blue coats for 3 years, Frances reenlisting under various versions of a male personality named Frank every time she was discovered as a female disguised as a man.  After her brother was killed she was taken prisoner by the Confederate army and her true identity was discovered. The grey coats were so impressed by her courage that Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered to make her a lieutenant if she joined his army. In true Yankee form, Hook declared she'd rather be a private in the Union Army than a lieutenant for the Rebels. The press found out about the bravery of a young female soldier and interviewed her.  Her heroics were written about in periodicals but the Union Army refused to reinstate her. She promised reporters she would head home, but with no home to return to, many speculated that she again reenlisted under a new name. 

Later in life she married and had a child, Maggie, who wrote to the War Department after her mother's death seeking confirmation of her mother's military service. The letter was forwarded to the Adjutant General's Office, who was able to confirm Hook's service in the Union Army. 

Photo: Frances 'Frank' Hook (Public Domain)

Mar 9, 2017

March 9: A Grandmother Predicts The Future And A Nursing Home Rock Band Is Declared 'Better Than The Beatles'

On March 9th, 1969, The Shaggs, an all girl rock group of sisters Helen, Betty, and Dot Wiggin, recorded the album Philosophy Of The World at the insistence of their father Austin Wiggin. The significance of this recording would not become apparent for many years as The Shaggs spent their entire musical career (1968-1973) playing in either the Town Hall or the local nursing home in their home town of Fremont, New Hampshire. The three sisters never even considered playing music, but their father Austin took them out of school and spent his life savings so they could learn how to play music and be in a band, convinced their stardom was fate assured.

    As it happened, Austin's mother (the three sisters grandmother) had predicted (when he was still a child) 3 events in his future: That he would marry a strawberry blonde girl, that she (the Grandmother) would die before his strawberry blonde wife would give birth to 2 sons, and that his daughters would be in a popular rock group.  Austin married a strawberry blonde girl, his mother died and his wife gave birth to two sons, making all her other predictions correct, so Austin pulled his girls out of school and spent his savings believing the last prediction would come true as well.

   The girls had no inclination to learn to play music before, much less be in a rock group, but Austin wouldn't take no for an answer, having them practice for hours at a time. After the girls wrote several songs Austin drove them to Massachusetts and paid for a studio to record them "while they were still hot." He then paid a local record label, Third World records, to print up 1,000 copies, which they did. In a bizarre twist, the owner of the label stole 900 of the 1,000 copies and vanished. With only 10% of the records ordered to work with Austin shipped the rest to local radio stations, which were almost completely ignored as the girls music was barely structured and didn't resemble standard pop music (some might say any music) at all, and sounded to most as "nonsensical" gibberish.

   After playing for a few more years, at the nursing home and Town Hall, The Shaggs disbanded when Austin, the driving force behind the band, died.

A decade after the release of their album famed musician Frank Zappa was a guest on the popular Dr. Demento radio show in Los Angeles and played some tracks from one of the 100 known copies of Philosophy Of The World, and declared The Shaggs "Better than the Beatles" and by doing so bringing the third prediction to fruition.
    In 1980 Philosophy Of The World  was reissued by Rounder Records. In 1983 a previously unreleased 2nd album, titled The Shaggs' Own Thing, was also released and Rolling Stone magazine declared The Shaggs the "Comeback of the Year." Since then The Shaggs have been the lauded by many famed musicians and the focus of documentaries and tribute albums. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain ranked "Philosophy of the World" as No. 5 on his 50 best albums list.
   Austin Wiggin did not live to see his mother's final prediction come true.

Mar 8, 2017

March 8: Goodbye To Bill The Butcher And Hello To Big Money Politics

On March 8th in 1855 Bill "The Butcher" Poole died in New York after being shot 12 days prior at a bar on Broadway in Manhattan.

Poole, a butcher, was the leader of the Bowery Boys Gang, made up exclusively of native born volunteer firemen. He was also a leader in the Know Nothing political organization, a movement of native born Americans who felt immigrants (mostly Irish) were gaining too much political and social power; Mostly due to the power of Tammany Hall, an organization that helped push Irish immigrants into local political seats of power.

   Bill the Butcher's archenemy was Irish immigrant John "Old Smoke" Morrissey, leader of the Irish gang Dead Rabbits, and an integral member of Tammany Hall.

The two gangs, The Bowery Boys  and The Dead Rabbits, being on opposite sides politically were mortal enemies and fought over 200 gang battles in under 10 years, and the rival between Poole and Morrissey was well documented in newspapers at the time.

   On February 24th 1855 at Stanwix Hall two members of the Dead Rabbits, Lew Baker and Jim Turner, shot Poole as he stood at the bar. He was taken to his home on Christopher St and died on March 8th.

Morrissey went on to become a Democratic State Senator and U.S. Congressman and died a millionaire.

   Bill the Butcher's last words were "Good-bye boys; I die a true American." and was the inspiration for Daniel Day-Lewis' character in Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York (2002).

Photo: Bill The Butcher wearing the Bowery Boys uniform of stovepipe hat, red shirt, and dark trousers tucked into boots. (public domain photo).

Mar 5, 2017

March 5: When looking for American heroes, look no further than America's First Hero Crispus Attucks

On March 5th, 1770, a man named Crispus Attucks was shot and killed by British soldiers in Boston Massachusetts, becoming the first person killed in the Boston massacre, as well as the first American casualty in the American Revolutionary War.

On the day of the Boston massacre, a boy was berated by British soldiers when he claimed that one soldier had not paid his barber bill. A group of colonists led by Attucks were outraged by the treatment of the boy and approached the Old State House armed with clubs and confronted the soldiers. Some threw snowballs at the soldiers, others threw debris. Some claimed Attucks struck a soldier with his club, others claimed Attucks had only been leaning against his club. Either way the soldiers opened fire and Attucks was shot twice in the chest becoming the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Along side his distinction as the first casualty of the Revolution,  he is also recognized as the first black, and first American Indian hero of the Revolution.
Verifiable evidence shows that Attucks was of both African and Wampanoag descent. Historians believe that his father was an African-born slave and his mother a Native American from the Natick tribe of the Wampanoag People. The two married and Attucks was born in Framingham, Massachusetts around 1723.

Attucks spent his life as a sailor, spending most of his time abroad, and only being in Boston in 1770 briefly, as he had just returned from a voyage to the Bahamas and planned on boarding a ship for North Carolina.

 Of the eyewitness testimony about the Boston Massacre, none referred to Attucks as "black" or as "Negro"; as it appears that Bostonians viewed persons of mixed ethnicity as a class of their own. What is known is that Attucks was instantly recognized a hero; His body was carried to Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state until March 8, when he and the 4 other victims were buried together in the same grave site in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.

Of the British soldiers who carried out the massacre, John Adams successfully defended the accused against a charge of murder, Adams calling Attucks and the others "Irish teagues and outlandish Jack Tarrs" which was not necessarily a derogatory term for Irish immigrants (teagues) and sailors (Jack Tarrs) but was enough to save the soldiers necks from the noose.

Feb 22, 2017

February 22: Rise of Red Bird And Native American Rights

On February  22nd in 1876 native American writer, activist, educator, and musician Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird) was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

At a young age Quaker missionaries came to the Yankton Reservation and took several children to the White's Manual Labor Institute, a boarding school in Wabash, Indiana including Zitkala-Sa.
After graduation she attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana before becoming a teacher herself. Though she valued education she felt isolated in a white/european culture, and felt her identity was stripped away by the Quaker missionaries. She was further dismayed when returning to Yankton Reservation to find many of native Sioux traditions had fallen away and the reservation conforming to the dominant white culture.

Zitkala-Sa began archiving Native American customs and legends and was first published in 1900 when she published legends collected from Native American culture, as well as autobiographical narratives. She also wrote columns for the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, as well as writing the first Native American Opera.

in 1926 she and her husband founded the National Council of American Indians, dedicated to the cause of uniting the tribes throughout the U.S. in the cause of gaining full citizenship rights and served as it's president until her death in 1938.

Photo: Zitkala-Sa (1901) Public Domain photograph by Joseph Keiley

Jan 15, 2017

January 15: The Day Molasses Attacked Boston

On January 15, 1919, in Boston, Massachusetts, a large storage tank 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter burst, and a 25 ft tall wave (40 feet at its peak) of more than 2 million gallons of molasses rushed through the streets at 35 miles per hour killing 21 people and injuring 150 (as well as killing several horses). The force of the molasses bent train tresses and leveled buildings in its wake.
Families of the victims filed a successful class-action lawsuit against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company which had to pay a $600,000 settlement (approximately $7,000 to each family who suffered a fatal loss).

Aftermath of the Great Molasses Flood. Public Domain Photo.

Jan 12, 2017

January 12 - From Slave To Lawman: The Story Of Bass Reeves

   On January 12, 1910, one of the most prolific and successful  U.S. Marshals, Bass Reeves, died at the age of 71 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Reeves served as a U.S. Marshal for more than 30 years and arrested over 3,000 wanted men, and was respected for his superior marksmanship and tracking  capabilities, despite being born (in 1838, exact date unknown) a slave in Crawford County, Arkansas.

   He was owned by Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves and was the servant for Williams' son, George R. Reeves. George was a Colonel in the Confederate army during the Civil War. It was during the war that Bass "parted ways" with his owner after he beat up George during a dispute over a card game. George went on to become Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives until his death in 1882 from rabies. Bass hid out until 1865 when slavery was abolished. During that time he lived with Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians, learning their culture and languages. Bass Reeves then moved to Arkansas to be a farmer with wife Nellie Jennie and their eleven children.

   Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when famed federal judge Isaac Parker directed U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan sought out and recruited Bass Reeves (for Reeves' knowledge of Indian Territory and Indian languages) making Reeves the first black deputy west of the Mississippi River.

    For over thirty years as a U.S. Marshal, Reeves captured over 3,000 felons, and killed fourteen outlaws in self defense, amazingly he was never wounded despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions. After 32 years as a Marshal, Reeves retired at 68, and became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department until his death on this date in 1910.

Image: Bass Reeves (public domain photo)

Jan 4, 2017

January 4: Topsy the Elephant is Executed for Amusement (But No One Was Amused)

On January 4th, in 1903, Topsy the Elephant was executed at Luna Park in Coney Island New York, by a combination of poison, electrocution, and strangulation.

After an incident involving Topsy's handler William "Whitey" Alt with police officers for public intoxication, Alt rode Topsy into the police station in an angry rage. The Station was severely damaged and officers lives were put at risk so Alt was arrested. As Topsy was following her handler's instruction and not in a rage herself, she was returned to the park. But left with no handler, the owners of Topsy tried to sell her but couldn't find anyone to even take her for free. They decided to execute her at the end of the year and sell tickets for the public spectacle. Gallows were built and covered in advertisements. The event was eventually made private due to do protests by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) but was filmed by the Edison Manufacturing Movie Company and released in coin-operated kinetoscopes under the title 'Electrocuting an Elephant'. The film proved to be one of the company's least popular releases.

A renewed interest in Topsy more than 100 years later is due in part by the animated Television show Bob's Burgers, which had an episode (Season 3, Episode 16) entitled 'Topsy' and featured a song with the line "they'll be saying 'ahh Topsy' at my autopsy". For the Centennial of Topsy's Execution  the Coney Island USA museum unveiled a memorial sculpture created by New Orleans artist Lee Deigaard as well as a screening of the Edison film 'Executing an Elephant.'

Editor's Note: It is interesting to note the similarities of Topsy's execution to that of Mary the Elephant's execution in Erwin Tennessee 13 years later. Both were scheduled as public spectacles; although Topsy's was made private due to public outrage, Mary's drew a crowd of over 2,500. But while Mary's was due to her trampling her handler to death, Topsy's was merely for profit and entertainment.  But both were later reviled, and both had centennial celebrations. It is also a coincidence that both elephant handlers had nicknames relating to color (Whitey and Red). Read more about Mary's execution here

Photo Credit: Public Domain photo of Topsy's Execution

Jan 1, 2017

January Spotlight - Black Mariah: From Vehicle to Villain

 In 1973, the female villain Black Mariah first appeared in the January issue of Luke Cage Hero For Hire by Marvel Comics. Black Mariah was an early enemy of Luke Cage (sometimes known as Power man) in the Blaxploitation comic book genre. Black Mariah, a large black woman, is also known as Mariah Dillard and is the leader of a NYC gang called the Rat Pack. In Marvel universe variations Mariah is also depicted as an elected councilperson in New York's Harlem neighborhood. But Black Mariah's character is inspired by a real life woman who, as it turns out, was not a villain but more of a hero.

     The term Black Mariah dates back to England in the 1800s as colloquial term for a police transport vehicle. In the U.S. the common term is Paddy Wagon, which also dates back to the 1800s as a racist term for the Irish; suggesting Police Transport Vehicles are filled with unruly Irish lawbreakers. But in England the prevailing term was Black Mariah, and although it is also referencing a racial type, refers to a single person: Mariah Lee. Lee, also sometimes spelled Maria Lee, affectionately called Black Mariah, was a large and fearsome black female boarding house keeper who was known to strike fear in drunken sailors and riff raff alike. Respected by the police, they would often call on her for help when they were unable to control a difficult situation involving more than one lawbreaker. Soon, 'calling for Black Mariah' signaled the need for a transport vehicle able to handle several occupants.

      The first police transport vehicles were cages affixed to horse carriages, and by the 1900s were motor vehicles equipped with stronger built prison cells on the rear.  The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first printed reference to a Black Mariah vehicle in 1847. The term is still used in England today (as well as the use of 'Paddy Wagon' in the U.S.) to describe a police transport vehicle, and sometimes the term 'Mother's Heart' is also used, as their is always room for one more.

Dec 24, 2016

December 24: From Killer Mob Boss To Champion Of Civil Liberties

Stephanie 'Queenie' St. Clair
    On December 24th, 1886, Stephanie "Queenie" St. Clair, the 'Madame of Harlem' mob boss, was born on the french Caribbean island of  Martinique. St. Clair was born poor and of French and African descent. She did not know her father and her mother died when she was a teenager. After being repeatedly raped working as a maid St. Clair immigrated to France. Finding no better luck there she immigrated to New York at 23, using the long voyage to teach herself english.
       New York City proved to be no better for her, she met a man named Duke who tried to pimp her out. She plucked out his eye with a fork and once again decided to move on. That night she took a bus out of New York but members of the KKK pulled her from the bus and rapped her (as well as killing other passengers).
    Deciding not to run this time she returned to Harlem determined. With the help of a boyfriend, Ed, she began selling drugs, quickly carving out a substantial market for herself. Within a matter of months she amassed a small fortune and decided to leave Ed and work solely for herself. He tried to strangle her and in the ensuing scuffle Ed laid dead and St. Clair became her own boss.
     In a short amount of time St. Clair created a highly successful gambling ring and numbers racket, employing dirty cops and men from around the neighborhood to now work for her, including Bumpy Johnson, who became her chief enforcer. Due to her success other crime families tried to move in on her turf, including Bronx-based mob boss Dutch Schultz. St. Clair wouldn't back down from Schultz's intimidation and a gang war ensued. Other crime families were worried the extra attention would be bad for business so Bumpy negotiated a deal with the Italian crime family giving them word that they could take over Schultz's business (as long as a percentage was given to him) once Schultz was killed. They killed Schultz.
   By this time Bumpy was running most of the business and St. Clair met a man, Sufi Abdul Hamid, known as "Black Hitler" for his militant activism as well as being the leader of an Islamic Buddhist cult. St. Clair retired and married Hamid. St. Clair became highly involved in social activism, often placing ads in the local papers informing black residents of their rights, making aware of discrimination, police brutality, illegal search raids, and other issues facing the black community as well as publicly outing abusive cops. This made her a target, but in Harlem she was highly admired. She employed members of the community, became a vocal member of local activist movements, and started a policy banking group for black residents who were turned away from white owned investment firms.
       In the late 1930s St. Clair began having an affair with a fortune teller named Fu Futtam.  Futtam and St. Clair's husband Hamid hatched a plan to use her money for their own ventures but ended when the affair came to light. In the aftermath Hamid laid dead of a bullet wound, details vary as to the identity of the shooter, but after waging a personal war against the NYC police department St. Clair spent 10 years in a New York State Prison for his murder.
     After Saint-Clair was released from prison she continued her community work in civil liberties as well as writing columns in the local newspaper about discrimination and other issues facing the black community. Bumpy Johnson came to live with her and they spent their elder years writing poetry together.

Editor's Note: Posted for Spooky; Merry Xmas my girl. 

Dec 8, 2016

December 8: Birth of Modern Wrestling & History of the Luchador Mask

The Masked Marvel
On December 8th, 1915, a wrestling promoter at the International Wrestling Tournament at the Manhattan Opera House in New York stopped the match demanding that his wrestler was wrongly left off of the fight card, calling attention to a man nonchalantly sitting in the audience wearing a mask. The man's name was The Masked Marvel, who rushed the mat and entered the fight. The whole ordeal was a planned set up, birthing the modern era of American Wrestling. The audience was instantly hooked, and an article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 27th of that year called The Masked Marvel "the life-saver of the International wrestling show."
   Within weeks of the Masked Marvel's mysterious entrance speculations were made and newspapers rushed to find the identity of the masked man, and ultimately outed as wrestler Mort Henderson (which also may be an alias).

The first appearance of a wrestler wearing a mask, called a Luchador Mask (or Máscara), was french wrestler Theobaud Bauer (as The Masked Wrestler) who debuted the mask at the 1865 World's Fair in the Portuguese city of Porto. Bauer introduced the wrestling mask to the United States in the early 1870s. Although masked entertainers where not uncommon, including exotic dancer La Belle Dazle (also known as Bho la Dazlo) who wore a red domino mask, Bauer was the first wrestler to do so.
The Luchador mask is particularly popular in Mexico, where it was first introduced by Mexican Salvador Lutteroth in 1934, who witnessed professional wrestling in Texas along with American Masked wrestler "Cyclone" McKey and began promoting matches (as well as McKey) in Mexico under his organization Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling Enterprise).

Mort Henderson

Dec 6, 2016

December 6: When A Gunshot Kills A Legend In The Woods, The Whole World Can Hear It

On December 6th, 2012, a grey wolf was hunted and killed in Wyoming. Hunting and trapping wolves is legal in Wyoming ever since the wolves lost their protective status in 2011, and is not unusual.

This wolf, named 06 Female (born in 2006), was in fact unusual and was mourned around the world, as she was a well researched natural anomaly. As most wolves hunt deer and elk in packs of six, 06 Female hunted alone. Instead of chasing prey, 06 faced her prey head on and was highly successful.

Due to her hunting skills that produced an abundance of food she was able to birth and rear 13 pups.   She was the alpha female of her pack (the Lamar Canyon Pack) and instead of taking an alpha male as a mate, she chose two young brothers.

In the 6 years of her life she evaded rival packs as well as hunters until late 2012 when the Lamar Canyon Pack unknowingly crossed out of the Yellowstone park boarder where she was legally shot by a Wyoming hunter. 8 wolves a year are allowed to be hunted, and at the end of 2012 the 06 Female was the 8th and final kill of the season.

On December 6 a memorial is held annually for 06 Female at Lamar Canyon in Wyoming (06 for 06 Day). The name of the hunter has never been released.

Photo Credit: A Grey Wolf near Lamar River by Jim Peaco of the National Park Service. public domain.

Dec 1, 2016

December Spotlight: Fairies Are Real And Prefer The Mild Climate Of The English Countryside

In 1920 the December edition of The Strand Magazine published photographic proof of the existence of fairies, living in Cottingley England,  accompanied by an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle (famed writer of the Sherlock Holmes series) called 'Fairies Photographed.' In the article Doyle writes that the photographs "remove the last faint shadow of doubt" of the existence of fairies.

     The December edition of The Strand sold out in days and England became enamored due to the apparent validity of the photographs, having been examined by experts including scientists at the Kodak photographic company. All examinations concluded that the photographs and negatives had not been tampered with, although experts were careful to acknowledge that although the photographs "showed no signs of being faked", they "could not be taken as conclusive evidence that they were authentic photographs of fairies." Investigations by Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Edward Gardner of the Theosophical Society concluded there was no evidence proving That fairies didn't exist.

     The strongest proof to the existence of these fairies was the fact that the photographs were not taken by professional photographers or Theosophical enthusiasts, but by 2 young girls, ages 9 and 16, too inexperienced in the photographic arts to pull off a skilled and sophisticated stunt.
 In 1917 the 2 girls, cousins, Elsie Wright (16 at the time) and Frances Griffiths (9 at the time), played in the stream in the back yard of the Wright home and would tell the adults they were visiting the fairies who lived there. Annoyed by their mothers who did not believe them, the girls took Elsie's father's camera to the stream to prove they do indeed see fairies.

      Much to the surprise of their mothers, a few moments later the girls returned with the camera claiming the glass plate negative would prove their claims. Elsie's father printed the photograph showing Francis sitting with 4 fairies but dismissed the photograph as somehow faked, yet couldn't figure out how. The girls, unhappy that he did not believe them, took the camera 2 months later returning with yet a second photograph, this time showing Elsie talking with a gnome.   To this evidence Elsie's father became fed up believing the girls must be tampering with his camera and refused to let them borrow it again.

    Elsie's mother Polly however believed the photos to be real and in 1919 took them to the Theosophical Society in Bradford England during a lecture on "fairy life". Believing the photographs to be true Edward Gardner conducted an investigation of the area as well as of the Wright home. The girls were given 2 cameras that were secretly marked and instructed to walk out to the stream and photograph the fairies again in a controlled setting. The girls did as instructed and returned the cameras to Gardner which contained 3 photographs, in one Francis is talking to a fairy and another shows a fairy offering Elsie some flowers. The marked cameras showed no signs of tampering and Elsie's father had searched the girls room looking for cardboard cut-outs or art supplies that could prove the girls manufactured the photographs. But he found nothing so he allowed the photos to be published in The Strand in 1920.

         The ensuing fervor began to annoy the girls. Gardner returned with a clairvoyant named Geoffrey Hodson, but in an effort to cull unwanted attention the girls claimed the fairies no longer visit.  Hodson however claimed during the visit he witnessed seeing fairies "everywhere". At this point the girls were "fed up with fairies" and called Hodson a "fake". Eventually the girls married and left England although the interest in the 'Cottingley Fairies' remained. Gardner published a book on the subject in 1945 titled 'Fairies: A Book of Real Fairies' and other articles, television programs, and films were also made on the 'Cottingley Fairies' up until the very end of the girls lives (Frances died in 1986, and Elsie in 1988). Shortly before her death Elsie admitted that four of the photographs were faked but the one was real and that she and Frances were too embarrassed to admit the truth after fooling Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes.

      Correspondence from Francis to a friend in South Africa (where she was originally from) emerged where Francis casually mentions run-ins with fairies. In one letter Francis writes "I am learning French, Geometry, Cookery and Algebra at school now. Dad came home from France the other week after being there ten months, and we all think the war will be over in a few days... I am sending two photos, both of me, one of me in a bathing costume in our back yard, while the other is me with some fairies. Elsie took that one." On the back of the photo she wrote "It is funny, I never used to see them in Africa. It must be too hot for them there."
     In 1998 the photographs and other related materials sold at auction for £21,620 and is now on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford England.
Page 465 from The Strand December 1920 Issue
(Francis' name changed to Alice to protect her identity) 

Nov 30, 2016

November 30: Tupac Shakur Survives A Murder Attempt, Goes To Prison, And Becomes A Megastar

On this day in 1994 rap artist Tupac Shakur survived a murder attempt when he was robbed and shot five times by three men in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. This attack occurred the night before his verdict was read in a sexual assault case. Shakur checked out of Bellevue Hospital just three hours after surgery and entered the courthouse in a wheelchair. Shakur was found guilty of three counts of sexual-assault and served 9 months in the Clinton Correctional Facility.
    While incarcerated he released his multi-platinum album Me Against the World. Shakur became the first artist to have an album at number one on the Billboard 200 while serving a prison sentence.
   Shakur was later killed on September 13th, 1996, when he was shot 6 times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, 6 days prior.

Nov 20, 2016

Thanksgiving Spotlight: Tonight We Take Alcatraz, Un-thank You Very Much!

Alcatraz Island

November 20, 1969, eighty nine American Indians (who called themselves Indians of All Tribes or IOAT) landed on and claimed Alcatraz Island for themselves in what is now called The Occupation of Alcatraz.

According to the IOAT, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Lakota, states all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land was to be returned to the Native people from whom it was stolen (The treaty and it's implications has been speculated on and argued over from both sides). Since Alcatraz penitentiary had been closed since March 21, 1963, and the island had been declared surplus federal property in 1964, a number of Red Power activists felt the island qualified for a reclamation. The Alcatraz Occupation lasted for a total of nineteen months, until June 11, 1971, before the occupants were forcibly removed by the U.S. government.

The Occupation began strong with sympathy for the IOAT from the general public, with sporadic cameos by celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, and Jonathan Winters. Creedence Clearwater Revival even donated a $15,000 boat for use of bringing supplies to the Occupants.

Initially the Occupants offered to pay the federal government $9.40 for the entire island (roughly the same amount per acre that the government had initially offered at the Treaty of Fort Laramie), but over the course of a year negotiations had crumbled. Rumors of drug use helped deteriorate national sympathy, and morale had been all but crushed when a13 year old daughter of two occupants was killed in an accident.

Nearly 10 years after the Occupation of Alcatraz (On June 30, 1980) the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government had illegally taken the land covered by the Treaty of Fort Laramie and awarded the Lakota $15.5 million for the market value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years of a 5% interest, for a total of  $120 million. The Lakota Sioux refused to accept payment on the grounds that it would constitute a sales transaction, when in fact the land was taken from them.
The money was put in a trust for the Lakota but they have never taken a dime. The trust has now grown past $1.5 Billion.

The Occupation of Alcatraz is still recognized as a pivoting moment for Native American rights, and on Thanksgiving Day every year a public sunrise ceremony called Un-Thanksgiving is celebrated on Alcatraz Island.


Nov 11, 2016

November 11: A Medal Of Honor Recipient By Any Other Name

On November 11, 1865, Mary Edwards Walker became the first woman to receive the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, The United States of America's highest military honor. 

Mary Edwards Walker was born in the Town of Oswego, New York on November 26, 1832. Raised by progressive christians that nurtured her defiant spirit, They let her wear traditionally male clothes; she refused to wear dresses and corsets even in school.

Mary first attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York before receiving her medical doctorate at Syracuse Medical College, even though women at the time were discouraged from pursuing medical degrees.  While at Syracuse she met and married another doctor, Albert Miller. At the wedding Walker wore trousers, refused to include "obey" in her vows, and retained her last name. All of which Albert seemed fine with, but he was unfaithful so the marriage ended. 

When the American Civil War began, she volunteered for the Union Army. At the time the U.S. Army had no female surgeons, and at first she was allowed to practice only as a nurse before her skills and demand superseded social restrictions.

In September 1863, she was employed as a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon" becoming the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army. During her time as a surgeon in the Civil War she came across female soldiers dressed as men. There are 400 documented cases from both sides of the conflict with evidence supporting that up to an additional 1,000 other cases of female soldiers that were either not discovered, or were to some degree but were kept secret by fellow soldiers due to skill and camaraderie.  

One such soldier was Frances Hook, whom served with the blue coats for 3 years (reenlisting every time she was discovered, under various versions of a male personality named Frank). Hook and her brother enlisted together, she was only 14 at the time of enlistment but claimed to be 22. After her brother was killed she was taken prisoner by the Confederate army and her true identity was discovered. The grey coats were so impressed by her courage that Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered to make her a lieutenant if she joined his army. In true Yankee form, Hook declared she'd rather be a private in the Union Army than a lieutenant for the Rebels. When Mary Walker found out about it she campaigned for the Union to reinstate her as lieutenant.  When they declined Walker alerted the press about the bravery and heroics of a young female soldier. Hook gave interviews and was written about extensively but the army again refused to reinstate her. She promised reporters she would head home, but with no home to return to, many speculated that she again reenlisted under a new name.  

Walker continued as a surgeon for the union, inspired by female Union spies (such as Sarah Emma Edmonds, a white Canadian woman who spied on the rebels disguised as a black man) Walker requested the War Department employ her as a spy. Records show she was denied but In 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops, and arrested as a spy, just after she finished helping a Confederate doctor perform an amputation. It wasn't uncommon for Walker to cross enemy lines to tend to the wounded no matter who they fought for. Regardless, she was imprisoned at Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, until she was released in a prisoner exchange.

After the war Walker was recommended for the Medal of Honor for bravery 'above and beyond the call of duty', by Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Henry Thomas.  
On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill to award her the medal, becoming the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor.  
In 1917, her name was dropped from the official Medal of Honor Roll (along with over 900 others) when the U.S. Congress created a pension act for Medal of Honor recipients. Walker still proudly wore her medal on the lapel of her 'masculine' suits. 

On February 21, 1919, Walker died at the age of eighty-six. She was buried wearing one of her trademark black suits (see photo). 

In 1977 her medal was restored posthumously by President Jimmy Carter.

Mary Edwards Walker is still the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.  

Mary Edmunds Walker in her trademark black suit
with her Medal of Honor on the lapel (Public Domain Photo)

Nov 10, 2016

November 10: A Life Filled With Guns And Poetry But The Heartache Is Still Unbearable

On November 10th, 1919, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in Russia.
The military general and inventor is most famous for developing the AK-47 assault rifle.
The AK-47, known in Russia as the Kalashnikov or simply the Kalash) is a selective-fire (semi-automatic or automatic) gas-operated assault rifle, was designed by Kalashnikov at 27 years old while conscripted in the military for service in WWII.

After completing the 7th grade Kalashnikov hitchhiked 1000 kilometers from home and began working for machine repair shops. With a natural talent for engineering, Kalashnikov worked as an engineer for the military during WWII.

Kalashnikov received a Doctorate (of Technical Sciences) in 1971 and designed over 150 successful weapons although the AK-47 was his most famous invention.

In later life Kalashnikov became an avid writer of books and poetry, but the weight of designing weapons hung deeply on him. Shortly before his death he wrote "My heartache unbearable same insoluble question: if my rifle deprive people of life, and therefore I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, ninety-three years old, the son of a peasant, and Orthodox Christian according to his faith, responsible for the death of people, let even an enemy?"

In an interview with the Guardian Kalashnikov said "I'm proud of my invention, but I'm sad that it is used by terrorists ... I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawn mower."

More than 100 million AK-47 assault rifles had been produced by his death in 2013.

The Kalashnikov (AK-47) Rifle

Oct 29, 2016

October 29: Grave Robbing & The Death Of Misfits

On this day in 1983 the horror punk band The Misfits played their final show at Greystone Hall in Detroit. It was during their annual Halloween show that lead singer Glenn Danzig unexpectedly announced to the audience that it would be the band's final show.

After drummer Brian Damage, who had just replaced another drummer, got too drunk and had to be escorted off stage in the middle of the performance lead singer Danzig abruptly announced the end of the band. Tensions between Danzig and the rest of the band had been rising after several incidents on tour, including the entire band being arrested in New Orleans on charges of grave robbing (The band claims only an attempt to locate the grave of voodoo queen Marie Laveau), as well as drummer Robo, a Colombian army defector and illegal alien, having to leave the band.  Upon returning from tour the band members went their separate ways (only reuniting after more than 30 years). The Misfits are recognized as early developers of the horror punk genre; blending punk rock with camp horror themes and imagery. They are also recognized as the originators of the Devilock hairstyle (see photo).
Doyle performing with the Misfits
at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. in 1983.

Oct 21, 2016

October 21: Pimping Ain't Easy.. But Publishing Is (and The Harshest Critic Is The One You Create)

On October 21st, 1975, Donald Goines and his wife, Shirley Sailor, were found dead in their Detroit Apartment with multiple gunshots to the head and chest.

Goines was born in Detroit in 1936 to a middle class black family. His mother claimed to be a descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. At 15 Goines lied about his age in order to join the Air Force to fight in the Korean war.

Goines was honorably discharged but returned home with a severe heroin addiction. To support his habit he turned to a life of crime, trying his hand at theft and pimping. Proving not a good career choice Goines decided to began writing while serving a sentence in Michigan's Jackson Penitentiary. Initially he thought he would write westerns, but was inspired to write Urban Fiction after reading famed Pimp Iceberg Slim's autobiography 'Pimp: The Story of My Life.'

At fiction Goines was a natural, writing and publishing an astonishing 16 novels between 1971 and 1975 (including the highly popular Kenyatta series under the pseudonym Al C. Clark) by the time he was murdered. An out of control heroin addiction has been cited for Goines accelerated writing pace; with Goines sister, Joan, pointing out that constantly writing kept him from committing crimes. She also noted that many of the characters in his books were inspired by real people.

The killer (or killers) of Goines and Sailor have never been identified, but it has long believed that the killer must be someone Goines fictionalized in one of his many books, unhappy about his or her portrayal.

Oct 15, 2016

October 15: Death Of An Exotic Dancer And The Mystery Of A Missing Head

On October 15th 1917 wold famous exotic dancer Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in Paris France. Born Margaretha Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1876 to a Dutch father of means and Javanese mother (making her Eurasian, a fact she built upon for her act) Zelle worked under the name Mata Hari quickly becoming a world traveling exotic dancer, mesmerizing society's elite with her famous fan dance. Starting relatively late, at about 29, Mata Hari debuted her unique style of exotic dancing in Paris in 1905 (so carefree she would finish her shows completely naked save for a bra as she was self conscious about her small breast size) and by 1910 worked her way into the highest social circles as a courtesan to royalty and military elite. Her work allowed her to travel freely between borders during World War I. The French government offered Mata Hari a million francs (about $170,000) to seduce the Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Senior German General on the Western Front, and provide France with secret German intelligence.
         In 1916 the French intercepted a German transmission involving an agent (Agent H-21) that attempted to set up a meeting with the Crown Prince Wilhelm to give him information about French secrets. Realizing that Agent H-21 was Mata Hari she was arrested and charged with being a double agent. Mata Hari argued that this was only a way for her to get close enough to the Prince to collect the type of secrets they asked for.
       The trial was a sham, her lawyer was not allowed to cross examine witnesses or present his own, and despite having no evidence that Mata Hari was a double agent she was convicted and sentenced to death. For Mata Hari, the worst part was when her lover,  Russian pilot Captain Vadim Maslov, who had fallen into deep depression after being blinded in battle, declined to testify on her behalf saying he couldn't care less if she was convicted or not. She reportedly fainted at hearing this news.
          On October 15, 1917, at the age of 41, Mata Hari declined a blindfold, blew a kiss to the firing squad, and stared blankly at the executioners as she was shot, not flinching or breaking her stare as she fell to her knees and died. She was shot once more in the head at close range for good measure, and having no one to claim her body, she was donated to science. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, but almost one hundred years later it was discovered that the head (as well as the rest of her body) had disappeared, no one quite sure when either went missing.
Mata Hari's arrest photo. Public Domain. 

Oct 12, 2016

October 12: Christopher Columbus: Not the first European to reach America (but instead the first mass murderer)

On October 12th, 1492, 3 ships (Nina, Pinta, & Santa Maria) led by Christopher Columbus pulled ashore on the Caribbean island of what is now called Santo Domingo. Not the first European explorer to reach the Americas, but Columbus' voyages were the first lasting European influence with the Americas, leading to an extended period of European conquest, colonization, terror and genocide that has had a lasting impact for centuries.
      The first recorded European explorer (whose name know) to reach the Americas was Viking explorer Leif  'The Lucky' Erikson 500 years before Columbus. Referenced in the Icelandic historical book Íslendingabók (c. 1122 A.D.) Eirkson reached the northern tip of Vinland (what he named the land now called Newfoundland in Canada, due to all the grapevines there) and was surprised to find 2 shipwrecked European sailors standing ashore (making these two men, whose names were not recorded, the first known Europeans to discover America).
      Half a millennia later Spain funded a voyage led by Columbus to find a new route to Asia.
On the early morning of the 12th of October one of Columbus' sailor's (a man named Rodrigo) cried out that he could see land by the moon's reflection. The first crewmen to spot land would be rewarded 100,000 Maravedís (about $15,000) a year for life. But Rodrigo never saw the money, as Columbus later claimed to see the coastline the day before and took the prize money for himself. In Columbus' logbook he remarked on the first natives he met, the Arawaks, speaking to their generosity and hospitality. And then he took them as slaves.  Columbus surveyed the Caribbean islands, collecting gold and slaves, killing anyone in his way, and headed back to Spain to report his findings.
      The timber from the Santa Maria was used to make the first European military fort in the Americas, which he named Navidad (Christmas), and in his absence he left a brigade of men to find more gold until his return.  In his logbook Columbus wrote about the natives "With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." But Columbus did not take his own advice and only left 39 men at the Christmas fort. Upon his return Columbus found all his men dead; after the men began taking native women and children for sex slaves the Arawaks killed them all.
     But this time Columbus was prepared. On the promise of "As much gold as they want" and "as many slaves as they need" Columbus was given 17 ships and over 1200 men to enslave the Arawaks and strip their lands of resources. The only issue was that Columbus knowingly over exaggerated the amount of gold he figured was there. The solution to fulfilling his promise would become a living nightmare of unending horrors for the native people of the Caribbean. Columbus first sent hundreds of slaves back to Europe, noting "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold." but too many died en route so the name of the game now was to enslave them all and force them to collect gold from their native lands. Columbus told his benefactors of fields of gold, but the natives knew the only gold to be found was dust in streams.  Any native who could not produce a certain quantity every 3 months was killed by hanging, set on fire, or had their hands chopped off causing death by exsanguination. In a desperate situation, the Arawaks fled but were chased down by dogs and killed. What followed next were mass suicides by the natives in a desperate attempt to escape the brutality. Children and babies were killed as a compassionate measure to spare them the torture handed down by Columbus' men.
In just two years, of the original 250,000 natives, half of were dead. The rest were forced to work on estates in horrific conditions, and by 1515 there were only 50,000 left. A report from 1650 showed no natives left, the entire Arawak race erased by brutal genocide.
 Columbus' voyage to the Americas is still recognized as an official holiday, on October 12th,  by the U.S. and Spanish governments.
Columbus Day, 1892, Salem Massachusetts 

Editor's Note: Unlike Columbus' actions of enslaving, raping, and killing the first people he met standing on the shoreline, The Viking Lief Erikson (who was also a Christian) rescued the men he met on the American shoreline; as well as rescuing a crew of castaways on the return voyage back to Iceland. Which is the reason he was given the nickname "Leif the Lucky".  I propose we replace Columbus Day with Lucky Leif Day, or even Shipwrecked Castaway Day would be a fine replacement.