February 28, 1944 Test Pilot

The Arado Ar 96 left the improvised airstrip on the evening of April 28, under small arms fire from Soviet troops.  It was the last plane to leave Berlin.  Two days later, Hitler was dead.

Hannah Reitsch earned her wings in the 1930s, as a flying missionary.  The Encyclopedia Britannica describes her as the first female test pilot in Germany.  If she wasn’t the first female test pilot in history, I’d be interested to know who that might be.
Reitsch began flying gliders in 1932, as the treaty of Versailles prohibited anyone flying “war planes” in Germany. In 1934, she broke the world’s altitude record for women (9,184 feet).  Hannah Reitsch was a German Nationalist, and her work brought her into contact with the highest levels of Nazi party officialdom.
hannah-reitschAs a test pilot, Reitsch won an Iron Cross, Second Class, for risking her life trying to cut British barrage-balloon cables. On one test flight of the rocket powered Messerschmitt 163 Komet in 1942, she flew the thing at speeds of 500 mph, a speed nearly unheard of at the time. She spun out of control and crash-landed on her 5th flight, leaving her with severe injuries.  Her nose was all but torn off, her skull fractured in four places.  Two facial bones were broken, and her upper and lower jaws out of alignment.  Even then, she managed to write down what had happened before passing out.
Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring awarded her a special diamond-encrusted version of thehitler_goering_und_hanna_reitsch Gold Medal for Military Flying on this day in 1944. Adolf Hitler personally awarded her an Iron Cross, First Class.
It was while receiving this second Iron Cross in Berchtesgaden, that she suggested the creation of a Luftwaffe suicide squad, “Operation Self Sacrifice”.
Hitler was initially put off by the idea, though she finally persuaded him to look into modifying a Messerschmitt Me-328B fighter for the purpose. Reitsch put together a suicide group, becoming the first to take the pledge, though the idea would never take shape. The pledge read, in part: “I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as a pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death.”
The plan came to an abrupt halt when an Allied bombing raid wiped out the factory in which the prototype Me-328s were being built.
In the last days of the war, Hitler dismissed his designated successor Hermann Göring, over a telegram in which the Luftwaffe head requested permission to take control of the crumbling third Reich.  Hitler appointed Generaloberst Robert Ritter von Greim, ordering Hannah to take him out of Berlin and giving each a vial of cyanide, to be used in the event of capture.   The Arado Ar 96 left the improvised airstrip on the evening of April 28, under small arms fire from Soviet troops.  It was the last plane to leave Berlin.  Two days later, Hitler was dead.berlin-wwii
Taken into American custody on May 9, Reitsch and von Greim repeated the same statement to American interrogators: “It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer’s side.” She spent 15 months in prison, giving detailed testimony as to the “complete disintegration’ of Hitler’s personality, during the last months of his life.  She was found not guilty of war crimes, and released in 1946. Von Greim committed suicide, in prison.
In her 1951 memoir “Fliegen – Mein Leben”, (Flying is my life), Reitsch offers no moral judgement on Hitler or the Third Reich.
She resumed flying competitions in 1954, opening a gliding school in Ghana in 1962.  She later traveled to the United States, where she met Igor Sikorsky and Neil Armstrong, and even John F. Kennedy.Hanna Reitsch, Fliegen Mein Leben
Reitsch remained a controversial figure, due to her ties with the Third Reich.  Shortly before her death in 1979, she responded to a description someone had written of her, as `Hitler’s girlfriend’.  “I had been picked for this mission” she wrote, “because I was a pilot…I can only assume that the inventor of these accounts did not realize what the consequences would be for my life.  Ever since then I have been accused of many things in connection with the Third Reich”.
Toward the end of her life, she was interviewed by the Jewish-American photo-journalist, Ron Laytner. Even then she was defiant:  “And what have we now in Germany? A land of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all Germany you can’t find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power … Many Germans feel guilty about the war. But they don’t explain the real guilt we share – that we lost”.
Hannah Reitsch died in Frankfurt on August 24, 1979, of an apparent heart attack.  Former British test pilot and Royal Navy officer Eric Brown received a letter from her earlier that month, in which she wrote, “It began in the bunker, there it shall end.”  There was no autopsy, or at least there is no report of one.  Brown, for one, believes that, after all those years, she had finally used that cyanide capsule.

February 27, 1992 Founding Father and Son, of Golf

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months

On this day in 1992, 16 year old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the PGA Tour.

He certainly wasn’t the youngest.  Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012, at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris  Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Robert E. Lee was meeting General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greenkeeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.IMG_0427.JPG

Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more, in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

Young Tom would win three more Opens before dying on Christmas day, at the age of 24. The first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors.

In April 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father, at the King James VI Golf Club.  With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections.  Local organizers organized a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion.  A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match.  Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, by a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.

In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, on June 15, based on one of Sports Illustrated 2007 “Books of the Year”, “Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son”, by Kevin Cook.  The film will be broadcast on the Golf Channel, in spring 2017.

February 26, 1993 World Trade Center

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so

Ramzi Yousef arrived at JFK International Airport on September 1, 1992, traveling under a false Iraqi passport. His companion Ahmed Ajaj tried to enter with a forged Swedish passport, and was arrested. Though his entry was illegal, Yousef was claiming political asylum. He was given a hearing date before an INS magistrate, and admitted.

After setting up residence in Jersey City, Yousef connected with the blind Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman at the Al-Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn. There he was introduced to his co-conspirators, immediately beginning the assembly of a 1,310 lb urea-nitrogen hydrogen gas enhanced explosive device.

Yousef was injured in a car crash in late 1992, and ordered many of the chemicals for this device from his hospital bed. It’s surprising how easy it was for these guys.

img_0422The plan was to attack the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, toppling it into the south tower and taking them both down.

The conspirators believed they’d kill 250,000.

The yellow Ryder van entered lower Manhattan on the morning of Friday, February 26, 1993, driven by Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil. The pair pulled into the B-2 underground parking level under the north tower, lit the 20′ fuse, and fled.img_0423

As with the device used in the Beirut barracks bombing of 1983, this was a fuel-air explosive (FAE), designed to magnify and sustain the blast effect by mixing fuel with atmospheric oxygen. The main charge was surrounded by aluminum, magnesium and ferric oxide particles and surrounded by three hydrogen gas cylinders, to intensify the fireball and afterburn of those solid metal particles.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency conducted a study of fuel-air explosives, reporting: “What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents”.

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so.

img_0424The terrorist device exploded at 12:17:37, hurling super-heated gasses from the blast center at thirteen times the speed of sound. Estimated pressure reached 150,000 psi, equivalent to the weight of 10 bull elephants.

The bomb ripped a 98-foot wide hole through four sub-levels of concrete, killing five Port Authority employees and A dental products salesman, who was parking at the time. The real death toll was seven, if you’re inclined to include secretary Monica Rodriguez Smith’s seven-month pregnancy. She was killed with her unborn baby, while checking timesheets.

Another 15 were left with with traumatic blast injuries. 1,042 more were injured, many inhaling the thick, acrid smoke filling stairwells and elevator shafts.

Power went out instantly trapping hundreds in elevators, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the south tower observation deck.

Engineers believe that the terrorists would have accomplished their purpose of toppling the building, had they placed their explosive device  closer to the building’s concrete foundations.

300 FBI agents combed through the rubble of the underground parking garage, finding an axle fragment containing the Ryder van’s VIN. Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the vehicle, reported the van stolen and was arrested on March 4, when he came to get his deposit back.

Mahmud Aboulhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Ahmed Ajaj and Nidal Ayyad were convicted of carrying out the bombing, in March 1994. Mastermind Ramzi Yousef and van driver Eyad Ismoil, were convicted in November, 1997. Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was deported to Jordan.

Abdul Rahman Yasmin, the only person associated with the bombing who was never prosecuted in the United States, was interviewed for a 60 minutes segment in 2002. He was being held prisoner in Baghdad at that time. He has not been seen or heard of, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdul Rahman, was convicted in October 1995 of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to life +15 years. He died in prison last week, at the age of 78.img_0426

A granite memorial fountain was erected above the site of the explosion and dedicated in 1995, bearing the names of the six adult victims of the attack. Under the names appear this inscription. “On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by terrorists exploded below this site. This horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.”

The fountain was destroyed with the rest of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.img_0425

February 25, 1921 Red Scare

In the 1930s, many believed that International Communism was “winning”. That the Soviet Union was deliberately starving millions of its own citizens to death during this period, seemed to trouble relatively few.

In the wake of WWI and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, American authorities became increasingly alarmed at the rise of foreign and leftist radicalism.  Most especially the militant followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani.

This was not meaningless political posturing.  Anarchists mailed no fewer than 36 dynamite bombs to prominent political and business leaders in April 1919, alone. In June, another nine far more powerful bombs destroyed churches, police stations and businesses. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had one hand delivered to his home by anarchist Carlo Valdinoci, who did something wrong and somehow managed to blow himself to bits on the AG’s doorstep.

Palmer attempted to suppress these radical organizations in 1919-20, but his searches and seizures were frequently illegal, his arrests and detentions without warrant, his deportations questionable.
Lookinganarchism over the international tableau of the time, there appeared great cause for concern.  The largest nation on the planet had just fallen to communism, in 1917.
The Red Army offensive of 1920 drove into Poland, almost as far as Warsaw. The “Peace of Riga”, signed in 1921, split off parts of Belarus and Ukraine, making them both parts of Soviet Russia. On this day in 1921, Bolshevist Russian forces occupied Tbilisi, capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
In the 1930s, many believed that International Communism was “winning”. The capitalist west was plunged into a Great Depression that it couldn’t seem to control, while the carefully staged propaganda of Stalin’s Soviet Union did everything it could to portray itself as a “workers’ paradise”.
That the Soviet Union was deliberately  starving millions of its own citizens to death during this period, seemed to trouble relatively few.
Whittaker Chambers was one who saw communism as winning, and joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) in 1925. For a time he worked as a writer at the Party’s newspaper “Daily Worker”, before becoming editor of “New Masses”, the Party’s literary magazine.
Through the early to mid-thirties, Chambers delivered messages and received documents from Soviet spies in the government, photographing them himself or delivering them to Soviet intelligence agents to be photographed.
By the late 30s, Chambers’ idealism was replaced by the growing realization that he was supporting a murderous regime. By 1939, he joined the staff of Time Magazine, where he pushed a strong anti-communist line.
A series of legislative committees were formed between 1918 and the outbreak of WWII to investigate this series of threats.  It was in this context that HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed in 1938, becoming a “standing” (permanent) committee in 1945.img_0416
Chambers warned about communist sympathizers in the Roosevelt administration, as early as 1939.  Government priorities changed during the course of WWII.  Chambers was summoned to testify on August 3, 1945.
In his testimony, Chambers named Alger Hiss and others, as communists.  A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law School who had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Alger Hiss seemed an unlikely communist. He went on to practice law in Boston and New York before returning to Washington to work on President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, winding up at the State Department as an aide to Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre, former President Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law.
alger-hiss-public-servant-i-am-amazed-until-the-day-i-die-i-shallHiss flatly denied Chambers’ charges, filing suit that December for defamation of character.  Chambers doubled down in his 1948 deposition, claiming that Hiss was not only a communist sympathizer, he was also a spy.
Before his defection, Chambers had secreted documents and microfilms, some of which he hid inside a pumpkin at his Maryland farm. The entire collection became known as the “Pumpkin Papers”, consisting of incriminating documents, written in what appeared to Hiss’ own hand, or typed on his Woodstock no. 230099 typewriter.
Hiss claimed to have given the typewriter to his maid, Claudia Catlettimg_0415. When the idiosyncrasies of his machine were demonstrated to be consistent with the documents, he then claimed that Chambers’ team, including freshman member of Congress Richard M Nixon, must have modified the typeface on a second typewriter to mimic his own.
Hiss’ theory never explained why Chambers side needed another typewriter, if they’d had the original long enough to mimic it with the second.
Alger Hiss’ first trial for lying to a Grand Jury ended with a hung jury, 8-4.  A second trial began on November 17. He was found guilty on January 21, 1950, still proclaiming his innocence. He appealed his conviction but lost, and served 44 months in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary before being released in 1954.
Hiss would go to his grave protesting his innocence, though Soviet era cables, decrypted through the now-declassified “Venona Project”, seem to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt of being a soviet agent. Venona transcript #1822, sent in March 1945, from the Soviets’ Washington station chief to Moscow, describes subject codenamed ALES as having attended the February 4–11, 1945 Yalta conference, before traveling to Moscow. Hiss did attend Yalta on those dates, before going to Moscow with Secretary of State Edward Stettinius.
41facggulzl-_sx306_bo1204203200_Historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr report that the Venona transcripts tied 349 Americans to Soviet intelligence, though fewer than half have ever been identified.  The Office of Strategic Services alone, precursor to the CIA, housed between fifteen and twenty Soviet spies.
In 1992, former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to Great Britain, taking with him 30 years of handwritten notes. The Mitrokhin Archive revealed that Soviet moles went as high as President  Roosevelt’s most trusted aid, Harry Hopkins. Equivalent to finding that, at any point during the last three administrations, Karl Rove, Valerie Jarrett or Steve Bannon was an agent for the other side.

February 24, 1980 The Impossible Dream

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as heavy favorites, having built a 27-1-1 record since that 1960 upset, outscoring their opponents by a combined 175 to 44

In the world of sports, there may be nothing more boring than the “dream team” sent to represent the US in the 1992 Olympics.  NBA professionals all, these guys are paid in the tens of millions to play their game.  To the surprise of precisely no one, they swept their series with an average of 44 points, against opponents like Angola, Lithuania and Croatia.  Yawn.

We didn’t always send professional athletes to the Olympics.  There was a time when athletes’ amateur status was tightly controlled.  Jim Thorpe, possibly the finest all-round athlete in American history, was stripped of his 1912 gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, because he had once accepted small sums to play baseball during college summers.  It could not have given him much comfort that those medals were reinstated, in 1983.  By that time, the man had been dead for thirty years.

In 1980, the US hockey team defeated Finland on February 24 to win the gold medal, at the winter Olympics in Lake Placid.  It was almost anti-climactic.  The real drama played out two days earlier, when a collection of American amateurs defeated the mighty Soviet Union.

Canadians dominated Olympic ice hockey in the early days of the event, winning six out of seven gold medals between 1920 and 1952.  Team USA scored a surprise gold at Squaw Valley in 1960, after which the Soviet Union seemed unstoppable, winning gold in 1964, ’68, ’72 &’76.

My fellow children of the cold war will attest, a favorite complaint of the era was the semi-professional status of the former Soviet bloc athletes, particularly those from East Germany and the Soviet Union itself.  Between its first appearance in the 1952 Olympic games and its final appearance in 1988, the Soviet Union was at the top of the combined medal count with 1,204.  Even now they’re second only to that of the United States, a country that’s been participating over twice as long.

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as heavy favorites, having built a 27-1-1 record since that 1960 upset, outscoring their opponents by a combined 175 to 44.  The 1980 team had world class training facilities, having played together for years in a well-developed league.  Vladislav Tretiak was widely believed to be the best goaltender in the world at that time.  He, defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forward Valeri Kharlamov, would all go on to be enshrined in the International Hockey Hall of Fame.

In exhibition games that year, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL teams.  A year earlier, the Soviet national team routed an NHL All-Star team 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup.

University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks had assembled the youngest team in U.S. history to play in the Olympics, with an average age of only 21.  Left wing Buzz Schneider was the only veteran, returning from the 1976 Olympic squad.  Nine players had played under Coach Brooks.  Another four came from archrival Boston University, including goalie Jim Craig, and team captain Mike Eruzione.  For some players, the hostility of that college rivalry carried over to their Olympic teammates.

The Soviet team had demolished earlier opponents by a combined score of 50-11.  The US squad had squeaked out a series of upsets, 23-8. The day before, New York times sports reporter Dave Anderson wrote, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”

Team USSR took an early lead of 2-1 in the first period.  Mark Johnson tied the score with one second left, leading Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov to make the goofiest decision, ever.  He pulled the best goalie in the world, replacing him with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin.  The move shocked players on both teams.  Years later, Johnson and Fetisov were NHL teammates, and Johnson asked him about the decision.  “Coach Crazy”, was all he said.

Aleksandr Maltsev scored an unanswered goal on a power play, 2:18 into the second period.  At the end of the second, the Soviet Union led, 3-2.

Mark Johnson scored his second goal of the game at 8:39 in the third, in the last seconds of another power play.  For the American team, it was only the third shot on net, in the last 27 minutes. Vasili Pervukhin got in his goalie’s way with ten minutes to play, as Mike Eruzione fired one past Myshkin to put the Americans ahead, 4-3.

miracle-on-iceThe Soviets attacked ferociously, but Craig let nothing past.  Altogether the Soviet team made 39 shots on goal to the Americans’ 16, but the score held.

In the final moments of the game, the crowd began to count down the seconds.  ABC Sportscaster Al Michaels calling the game in a rising crescendo:  “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles!? YES!!”

David had slain Goliath.  Rocky Balboa had defeated Captain Ivan Drago.  A bunch of college kids had just beaten the Soviet Union.  Coach Brooks sprinted back to the locker room, and cried.  Pandemonium reigned supreme, as  Jim Craig circled the ice, wrapped in a flag.  ABC sportscaster Jim McKay compared the victory to a Canadian college football team defeating the Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  Afterward, players spontaneously broke into a chorus of “God Bless America” in the locker room.

sports_illustrated_miracle_on_ice_cover
The March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated needed no captions. Everyone knew what happened.

In the gold medal round on the 24th, the Americans were behind at the end of the 2nd period, 2-1.  The American team was in the locker room during the second intermission, when coach Brooks said “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f***ing graves”.  Team USA defeated Finland for the gold medal, 4-2.

IOC President Avery Brundage (1952-1972), was adamant about preserving the amateur status of the Olympics. Once he was gone, the floodgates began to open.  Years later, sportswriter Ron Rapoport said “The pros are there for a reason… The pro athletes are pre-sold to the public, which means increased viewership.”

Nineteen years later, Sports Illustrated called the Miracle on Ice “the top sports moment of the entire 20th century”.

The “Dream Team” of 1992 crossed a line that can never be retaken, but that can’t change the finest moments in sporting history.  For those of us who follow Boston sports, that means the 2004 World Series, the last 2:17 of Superbowl LI, and the Miracle on Ice, of 1980.

February 23, 1862 Floating Cathouse of the Cumberland

Certain that Nashville’s prostitutes were the source of the venereal plague, Union officials decided it was easier to get rid of them, than it was to keep their men from paying for sex

The Federal invasion of Tennessee began in early 1862, when Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant moved against Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland.  Both fortifications fell in February.  Another Federal army under Don Carlos Buell captured Nashville on the 25th.
Confederate presence in Tennessee essentially ceased to exist by June.  West Tennessee would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the war.
Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife on February 23, “The news from Tennessee and North Carolina is not cheering and disasters seem to be thickening around us”.
Union commanders declared martial law, posting garrisons in major towns including Chattanooga, Memphis, and Murfreesboro. Nashville in particular became a major military center, permanently occupied by thousands of Federal troops and support personnel.
According to the 1860 Census, Nashville had 198 white prostitutes and 9 described as “mulatto”, plying their trade in the two block red-light district known as “Smoky Row”. By 1862, the number of these “public women” had grown to 1,500.  It was barely enough to go around.

Major General William Rosecrans saw this sex trade as an issue and ordered Georgesyphilis_slogan Spalding, Provost Marshal of Nashville, to get rid of them. Though a Catholic, “Old Rosy’s” objection wasn’t based on moral grounds.  He was afraid of disease. 8.2% of all Union soldiers were afflicted with syphilis or gonorrhea in 1862, over half the battle casualty rate of 17.5%  Venereal disease was a major problem, and the only available treatments at the time involved mercury.  Without getting into details, that could take a man out for weeks.  Advanced cases were nothing short of grotesque.

tertiary-syphilis
Tertiary Syphilis Victim
Certain that Nashville’s prostitutes were the source of the plague, Union officials decided it was easier to get rid of them, than it was to keep their men from paying for sex.  Spalding had all the prostitutes in Nashville gathered up by July, (I wonder what that sounded like).    The Nashville Daily Press reported  “A variety of ruses were adopted to avoid being exiled; among them, the marriage of one of the most notorious of the cyprians to some scamp. The artful daughter of sin was still compelled to take a berth with her suffering companions, and she is on her way to banishment”.
John Newcomb was the owner of a brand new steam powered riverboat, the “Idahoe”. (I swear I didn’t make that up). To Newcomb’s horror, Spalding ordered him to take 111 of Nashville’s most infamous hookers out of town, on Idahoe’s maiden voyage. Giving him three days’ rations, authorities didn’t care where he took them, so long as he got them out of Nashville.
It took a week for Idahoe to reach Louisville, by which time news of the unusual passenger list had already reached that city’s law enforcement. Newcomb was forbidden from docking there, and ordered to continue on to Cincinnati. Ohio didn’t want Nashville’s hookers any more than Louisville, so the steamboat was ordered to dock across the river in Kentucky.
Some of the women swam ashore but nobody was permitted to leave. Holcomb was desperate, finally returning to Louisville once more, only to be turned away again. Defeated, John Newcomb returned to Nashville 28 days later, with 98 of his original passengers and six children.
With Idahoe’s owner demanding to be compensated, a staffer inspected the vessel on August 8, finding the ship’s staterooms “badly damaged, the mattresses badly soiled,” and recommending that Newcomb be paid $1,000 in damages + $4,300 for food and for the “medicine peculiar to the diseased of women in this class”.
hospital_nashville
Civil War Nashville Hospital

In the end, it proved easier to manage the world’s oldest profession, than it was to eliminate it. A scheme was devised, by which each prostitute in Nashville would register and pay a $5 license fee, entitling her to ply her trade. A doctor would examine these women once a week, a service for which she would pay another 50¢. Women found to have venereal diseases were sent to a hospital, paid for in part by the weekly fees. The result of the program, according to one doctor, was a “marked improvement” in licensed prostitutes’ physical and mental health.

Altogether, the program cost about $6,000, on revenues of $5,900. Venereal disease was cut to one or two cases among the soldiers, compared to 3,000 or more without it. Today, the system practiced in Lyon County Nevada, closely resembles this system established in 1863.
As for John Newcomb, he waited almost two years for his money, finally writing directly to Secretary of War Edward Stanton before receiving any reimbursement. The Idahoe never again cruised in Southern rivers. “I told them it would forever ruin her reputation as a passenger boat”, he said. “It was done, so she is now & since known as the floating whore house.”

February 22, 2005 Little Pink House

For newly divorced paramedic Susette Kelo, the house overlooking the Fort Trumbull waterfront was the home of her dreams

In 1775, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull proposed a fortification at the port of New London, situated on the Thames River and overlooking Long Island Sound. The fort was completed two years later and named for Governor Trumbull. During the Revolution, Fort Trumbull was attacked and occupied by British forces, for a time commanded by the turncoat American General, Benedict Arnold.

By the early 20th century, the Fort Trumbull neighborhood consisted of 90 or so single and multi-family working class homes, situated on a peninsula along the fringes of a mostly industrialized city center.

In 1996, chemists working at Pfizer Corporation’s research facility in England were studying compound UK-92, 480 or “Sildenafil Citrate”, synthesized for the treatment of hypertension and heart disease resulting from a restriction in blood supply to heart tissues. Study subjects were expected to return unused medication at the end of the trial. Women showed no objection in doing so but a significant number of male subjects refused to give it back. It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening.  The chemical compound which would one day bear the name “Viagra”, was going to be put to a very different use.

little-pink-houseFor newly divorced paramedic Susette Kelo, the house overlooking the Fort Trumbull waterfront was the home of her dreams. Long abandoned and overgrown with vines, the little Victorian cottage needed a lot of work, but where else would she ever find a waterfront view at this asking price?  It was 1997, about the same time that Connecticut and New London politicians resurrected the long-dormant New London Development Corporation (NLDC), charging it with developing a plan to revitalize the New London waterfront.

Susette Kelo sanded her floors on hands and knees, as Pfizer Corporation was looking at a cataract of business based on their newest chemical compound. The company was recruited to become the principal tenant in a “World Class” multi-use waterfront campus, including high-income housing, hotels, shopping and restaurants, all centered around a 750,000 sq. ft. corporate research facility.  Connecticut College professor and NLDC President Dr. Claire Gaudiani liked to talk about her “hip” new development project.  Fort Trumbull residents were convinced that stood for “High Income People”. With an average income of $22,500, that didn’t include themselves.

Most property owners agreed to sell, though not exactly “voluntarily”.  There was considerable cap_nfs_keloharassment of the reluctant ones, including late-night phone calls, waste dumped on property, and tenants locked out of apartments during cold winter weather.

Seven homeowners holding fifteen properties refused to sell, at any price. Wilhelmina Dery was in her eighties. She was born in her house and she wanted to die there. The Cristofaro family had lost another New London home in the ’70s, taken by eminent domain during yet another “urban renewal” program. They didn’t want to lose this one, too.

Susette Kelo came home from work the day before Thanksgiving 2000, to find an eviction notice taped to her door.

Letters were written to editors and rallies held, as NLDC and state officials literally began to bulldoze homes. Holdout property owners were left trying to prevent property damage from flying demolition debris.

KELO BULLOCK

Facing a prolonged legal battle which none of the homeowners could afford, the group got a boost when the Libertarian law firm Institute for Justice took their case pro bono. There was cause for hope. Retired homeowner Vera Coking had faced a similar fight against Now-President Donald Trump in 1993, when the developer and Atlantic City New Jersey authorities attempted to get her house condemned to build a limo lot.

Eminent domain exists for a purpose, but the most extreme care should be taken in its use. Plaintiffs argued that this was not a “public use”, but rather a private corporation using the power of government to take their homes for economic development, a violation of both the takings clause of the 5th amendment and the due process clause of the 14th.

Vera Coking won her case against Trump, the casino later failing and closing its doors. New Londonkelo-decision District Court, with Susette Kelo lead plaintiff, “split the baby”, ruling that 11 out of 15 takings were illegal and unconstitutional. At that point it wasn’t good enough for the seven homeowners. They had been through too much.  All of them would stay, or they would all go.

Connecticut’s highest court reversed the decision, throwing out the baby AND the bathwater in a 3-4 decision. The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, argued before the seven justices then in attendance on February 22, 2005.

SCOTUS ruled in favor of New London in a 5-4 decision, Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer concurring. Seeing the decision as a reverse Robin Hood scheme that would steal from the poor to give to the rich, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms”.  Clarence Thomas took an originalist view, stating that the majority opinion had confused “Public Use” with “Public Purpose”. “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution”, Thomas wrote. “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not”.  Antonin Scalia concurred, seeing any tax advantage to the municipality as secondary to the taking itself.

kelo-2014In the end, most of the homes were destroyed or relocated. State and city governments spent $78 million and bulldozed 70 acres.  The 3,169 new jobs and the $1.2 million in new tax revenue anticipated from the waterfront project, never materialized.  Pfizer backed out of the project and moved away, taking 1,500 existing jobs with them.  Just about the time when existing tax breaks were set to expire, raising the company’s tax bill by 400%.

The now-closed redevelopment area became a dumping ground for debris left by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  Its only residents were feral cats.

In reaction to the Kelo v. City of New London decision, a group of New Hampshire residents proposed a hotel to be built on the site of Justice David Souter’s home in Weare, New Hampshire.  Calling it the “Lost Liberty Motel”, an on-line petition was created to quantify the public benefit of the taking, generating at least 1,418 signatories committing to stay there at least a week. Supporters claimed to be serious, but the measure was defeated three to one in a ballot referendum. The two candidates for Selectman backing the measure, were both defeated.

To this day, New Hampshire license plates bear the slogan “Live Free or Die”.  Those in Connecticut say “Constitution State”.  In neither case is it at all clear, why.