July 24, 1915 Shipwreck in Chicago

Woodrow Wilson’s administration passed strict lifeboat legislation in the wake of the RMS Titanic disaster. Ironically, that weight is probably what doomed the already top-heavy Eastland, to disaster.

The SS Eastland was a passenger steamship based in Chicago, used for tours of the inland waterways and Great Lakes areas around the city.  Eastland’s design was top heavy and made her subject to listing, a problem that plagued the ship from her christening in 1903. Embarking passengers would crowd along the rail to wave goodbye, several times having to be herded across the decks to reduce the list. Once, she even started to take on water at the main gangplank.SS_Eastland

Special passenger restrictions were imposed on Eastland, which seemed to help until 1914, when Woodrow Wilson’s administration passed strict lifeboat legislation in the wake of the RMS Titanic disaster.

The ironic part is that the weight of additional lifeboats is probably what doomed the already top-heavy Eastland to disaster.

It was July 24, 1915, when Eastland and two other Great Lakes passenger steamers, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey, were chartered to take Western Electric employees to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Eastland was docked on the south bank of the Chicago River, between Clark and LaSalle, near the site of the present day Merchandise Mart. Passengers began boarding around 6:30am.  By 7:10 the ship had reached its full capacity of 2,572 passengers.


A number of passengers went below decks to get out of the chill, but hundreds stayed out on the upper decks, excited about the day ahead. The port side list away from the dock, had set in early in the boarding process, and crew members began to pump water into the starboard ballast tanks to stabilize the ship.  Something interesting must have happened on the river at 7:28, causing a number of passengers to rush to the port side rail.

Novelist Jack Woodford witnessed what happened next, describing it in his autobiography: “And then movement caught my eye. I looked across the river. As I watched in disoriented stupefaction a steamer large as an ocean liner slowly turned over on its side as though it were a whale going to take a nap. I didn’t believe a huge steamer had done this before my eyes, lashed to a dock, in perfectly calm water, in excellent weather, with no explosion, no fire, nothing. I thought I had gone crazy”.  Hundreds were trapped below decks, others were crushed under heavy bookcases, pianos and tables.

Another vessel, the Kenosha, pulled alongside almost immediately.  Several passengers were able to jump directly onto her decks, others were rescued at the wharf, only 20′ away.  Hundreds were beyond saving.

Eastland_PostcardTemporary morgues were set up in area buildings for the identification of the dead; including what is now the sound stage for The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Studios, and the location of the Chicago Hard Rock Cafe.

Then-20-year-old George Halas was scheduled to be on the Eastland, but he was late and showed up after the capsize. 844 passengers and four crew members lost their lives in the disaster, but Eastland herself would have a second life. She was raised from the bottom, converted to a gun boat, and stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Reserve, re-christened USS Wilmette.

Wilmette saw no combat service in WWI, though she was given the task of sinking UC-97, a German U-Boat surrendered to the US after WWI. Wilmette’s guns were manned by Gunner’s Mate J.O. Sabin, who had fired the first American shell in WWI, and Gunner’s Mate A.F. Anderson, the man who fired the first American torpedo of the war.

Wilmette would serve once again as a training ship in WWII, and sold for scrap on Halloween day, 1946.

July 23, 1796 Royal Gift

Today, we think of George Washington as the father of the country.  Revolutionary era General. first President of the United States.  It may surprise some to learn, that he’d have described himself as a farmer.

Today, we think of George Washington as the father of the country.  Revolution-era General, first President of the United States.  It may surprise some to learn, that he’d have described himself as a farmer.

The Pioneer Farm and 16-Sided Barn at Mount Vernon

Washington’s early work in agriculture was driven by the need to make a living.  He would constantly study and experiment, always on the lookout for new and innovative methods and materials.  From his 16-sided treading barn at Dogue run to innovations in crop rotation, fertilization methods and animal husbandry, Washington’s innovations benefited not only the five farms of Mount Vernon, but much of American agriculture.

132 horses worked the Mount Vernon estate in 1785, when Washington became interested in mules.  A working mule has a productive life expectancy of 30 years, while a horse is generally played out in 20.  A mule is capable of more work with less feed than either horses or donkeys, and more intelligent than a horse.  A mule is capable of seeing its own back feet, making it less likely to “spook” at unseen hazards, and far more sure footed than a horse.

During the age of westward expansion, mules would stop along wagon trails, pointing their ears toward an approaching buffalo herd or Indian band, long before humans or other animals were aware of the threat.  This tendency to stop and assess leads to the perception that mules are stubborn, but the experienced mule handler understands.  There is a cognitive process at work in these animals.  It’s best to work with it.

Mules vs Donkeys vs HorsesMules are hybrid animals, the offspring of a male Equus Africanus Asinus, and a female Equus Caballus.  A jackass and a mare.  From the sire, the mule inherits intelligence, toughness and endurance, while the dam passes down her speed, conformation and agility.

Charles Darwin once wrote: “The mule always appears to me a most surprising animal. That a hybrid should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, powers of muscular endurance, and length of life, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.”

A “Hinny” results from crossing a female donkey and a male horse.  The result is a far less desirable animal, possessed of the lesser traits of both parent species.

Mules and hinnies have 63 chromosomes, resulting from the horse’s 64 and the donkey’s 62.  For this reason, there is no historical record of even a single fertile mule stallion.  Only a miniscule number of mule mares have bred successfully with purebred horses or donkeys.

Such an event is so rare that it was considered an ill omen in ancient days.  Herodotus describes such an event as an ill omen during Xerxes’ invasion of Greece in 480 BC, culminating in the Battle at Thermopylae.  “There happened also a portent of another kind while he (Xerxes the Great, 4th “King of Kings” of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia), was still at Sardis, a mule brought forth young and gave birth to a mule”.Royal Gift

The English isles are for the most part blessed with flat farmlands, rarely having need of mules.  France and Spain possessed some of the finest breeding stock in the world in the Andalusian and Catalonian Jacks, though it was illegal to export them to the new world for fear of advantaging historic rivals.

Desiring a breeding Jack of his own, Washington reached out to Spanish King Charles III in 1780, through the Cuban merchant Don Juan de Miralles.  Miralles died unexpectedly and the transaction never took place, and Washington tried again in 1784. This time, American chargé d’affaires at the Spanish court William Carmichael reached out to the Spanish King, who was more than happy to provide two Spanish Jacks.  One died in transit, while the other arrived with its handler in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on October 7, 1785.  He was gray in color with a strong, stocky, build, standing just short of fifteen hands.

This original donkey stallion would come to be called “Royal Gift”.

John Fairfax, Washington’s overseer at Mount Vernon, was dispatched to Boston to meet Royal Gift and his handler, and escort them back to Virginia.  So solicitous was he of the animal’s health, that the donkey was provided with blankets, and never required to walk more than 15 miles in a day.  Royal Gift arrived at Mount Vernon on the evening of December 5.

The Marquis de Lafayette sent Washington a black Maltese Jack called “Knight of Malta” the following year, probably illegally, along with several “Jennies”. An ad ran in the Maryland Journal in March 23, 1787, advertising Mount Vernon’s Jacks for stud at five Guineas for the season.

Royal Gift came up lame in 1793, after being driven far too hard by an ignorant handler.  He would live another three years, but his stud career was all but over.  On July 23, 1796, William Washington wrote to the President informing him of the passing of his prized Spanish Jackass.  Royal Gift had succumbed to “farcy”, a form of Cutaneous Glanders nearly always fatal in horses, donkeys and mules.


By the time of George Washington’s death in 1799, there were 63 working mules at Mount Vernon, and an untold number working the farms of the young nation.  By 1808, there were 855,000 mules throughout the south, west of the Appalachian frontier, and at work in countless American farms.  Even today, many American donkeys and mules can trace their lineage back to Royal Gift.  And to George Washington.  The Father of the American Mule.

July 22, 1937 Packing the Court

Article III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution creates the highest court in the land. The relevant clause states that “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”. Nowhere does the document specify the number of justices.

Article III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution creates the highest court in the land. The relevant clause states that “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”. Nowhere does the document specify the number of justices.Constitution

The United States was in the midst of the “Great Depression” when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office in 1932. He had promised a “New Deal” for America, immediately beginning a series of sweeping legislative reforms designed to counter the devastating effects of the Depression. His initiatives faced many challenges in the courts, with the Supreme Court striking down as unconstitutional several New Deal provisions in his first term.

The Supreme Court was divided along ideological lines in 1937, as it is today. “Judicial Court Packing Scheme,1Realist” or “Liberal” legal scholars and judges argued that the constitution was a “living document”, allowing for judicial flexibility and legislative experimentation. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a leading proponent of the Realist philosophy, said of Missouri v. Holland that the “case before us must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago”.

“Judicial Formalists”, today we call them “Conservatives” or “Originalists”, seek to discover the original meaning or intent of the constitution. Formalist legal scholars and judges argue that the judiciary is not supposed to create, amend or repeal law; that is for the legislative branch. The role of the court is to interpret and uphold law, or strike them down in light of the original intent of the framers, and the ratifiers, of the constitution.

In 1937, SCOTUS was divided along ideological lines, with three Liberals, four Conservatives, and two swing votes.

President Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, James Clark McReynolds, made a proposal in 1914 that: “(When) any judge of a federal court below the Supreme Court fails to avail himself of the privilege of retiring now granted by law (at age 70), that the President be required, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint another judge, who would preside over the affairs of the court and have precedence over the older one. This will insure at all times the presence of a judge sufficiently active to discharge promptly and adequately the duties of the court”.

Court Packing SchemeTo Roosevelt, that was the answer. The age 70 provision allowed him 6 more handpicked justices, effectively ending Supreme Court opposition to his policies.

Roosevelt’s “Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937” immediately came under sharp criticism from legislators, bar associations, and the public. The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill on March 10, 1937, reporting it “adversely” by a committee vote of 10 to 8. The full senate took up the matter on July 2, with the Roosevelt administration suffering a disastrous setback when Senate Majority Leader Joseph T. Robinson, a powerful supporter of the legislation, died of a heart attack.

The full Senate voted on July 22, 1937, to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, where provisions for additional justices were stripped from the bill. A modified version passed in August, but Roosevelt’s “court packing” scheme was dead.

In the end, the President had the last word. After an unprecedented four terms, Roosevelt would eventually appoint eight of nine justices to the Court.

July 21, 1925 Monkey Trial

H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Sun, mocked the prosecution and the jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” He called the town’s inhabitants “yokels” and “morons”, Bryan was a “buffoon” and his speeches “theologic bilge”.  It was Mencken who dubbed the proceedings, “Monkey Trial”.  The defense, on the other hand, was “eloquent” and “magnificent”.  Or so he claimed.  No media bias there.

State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”, began when State Representative John W. Butler passed the “Butler Act”, prohibiting teaching of the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools, colleges and universities.

The ACLU immediately announced its intention to sue, offering to defend anyone accused of violating the act. Local businessman George Rappleyea arranged a meeting with the county superintendent of schools and local attorney Sue Kerr Hicks, a man who may have been the inspiration for Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” which everyone knows from the Johnny Cash song of 1969.

Read your bibleThe three met at Robinson’s Drug Store, and agreed that their little town of Dayton, Tennessee could use the publicity. The trio summoned 24-year-old High School football coach and part time substitute teacher John T. Scopes, asking him to plead guilty to teaching the theory of evolution. Scopes replied that he could not recall if he had taught evolution, but he would be more than happy to be the defendant if anyone could prove that he had.

Scopes was charged on May 5, barely two months after the law’s enactment, with teaching evolution from “Civic Biology”, a textbook describing the theory of evolution, race and eugenics. The Prosecution brought in William Jennings Bryan to try the case and the defense hired Clarence Darrow. Two of the heaviest of jurisprudential heavy hitters of the day, were now lined up in the “Trial of the Century”.

Bryan complained that evolution taught children that humans were no more than one of 35,000 mammals. He rejected the idea that humans were descended from apes. “Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys”. The ACLU wanted to oppose the Butler Act on grounds that it violated teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, but it was Darrow who shaped the case, taking the position that the theistic and the evolutionary view were not mutually exclusive. Chimpanzee

What had begun as a publicity stunt soon became an overwhelming media event. 200 newspaper reporters from all over the country were in Dayton, along with two from London. Twenty-two telegraphers sent out 165,000 words a day over thousands of miles of telegraph wires, hung specifically for the purpose.

Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn.  Chicago’s WGN radio personality Quin Ryan broadcast the nation’s first on-the-scene coverage of a criminal trial. A specially constructed airstrip was prepared, from which two movie cameramen had their newsreel footage flown out, daily.

H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Sun, mocked the prosecution and the jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” He called the town’s inhabitants “yokels” and “morons”. Bryan was a “buffoon” and his speeches “theologic bilge”.  It was Mencken who dubbed the proceedings, “Monkey Trial”.  The defense, on the other hand, was “eloquent” and “magnificent”.  Or so he claimed.  No media bias there.

Scopes TrialAfter eight days of trial, it took the jury only nine minutes to deliberate, finding Scopes guilty on July 21. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine, equivalent to about $1,300 today. The conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, on the basis that state law required fines over $50 to be decided by jury, and not by the judge presiding.

American creationists believe to this day, that media reports turned public opinion against the creationist view. Evolution vs Creation debates can be reasonably expected to continue.  Neither view seems supportable, by much more than the faith of its adherents.

July 20, 1914 The Coming Crisis

There would be no “Phoney War”, no “Sitzkreig”, as some wags were wont to call the early days of WWII. This would be a cataclysm that would change a century.  Few realized it on this date, 103 years ago today. The collision was only days away.

On the eve of 1870, the German nation existed only as an agglomeration of 22 independent German states. On the eve of WWI, Germany was one of the five Great Powers of Europe.

Alarmed by the aggressive growth of its historic adversary, France had by that time increased its period of compulsory military service from two years to three, in an effort to offset the advantage which a population of 70 million conferred on Germany, compared with a French population of 40 million.

Joseph Caillaux was a left-wing politician, once Prime Minister of France and, by 1913, a cabinet minister under the more conservative administration of French President Raymond Poincare.

Never too discreet with his personal conduct, Caillaux paraded through his public life with a succession of mistresses. One of them was Henriette Raynouard.  By 1911, both were divorced and Madame Raynouard had become Henriette Caillaux.

A relative pacifist, many on the French right considered Caillaux to be too “soft” on Germany. One of them was Gaston Calmette, editor of the leading right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, who regularly excoriated the politician.

affairecaillaux_thumbOn March 16, 1914, the now-second Mrs Caillaux took a taxi to the offices of Le Figaro. She waited for a full hour to see the newspaper’s editor, before walking into his office and shooting him at his desk. Four out of six rounds hit their mark. Gaston Calmette would be dead before the night was through.

It was the crime of the century.  The OJ trial version 1.0.  The French public was captivated as the trial began, 102 years ago, today.

The British public was similarly distracted, by the latest in a series of Irish Home Rule crises.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, a sprawling amalgamation of 17 nations, 20 Parliamentary groups and 27 political parties, desperately needed to bring the Balkan peninsula into line after the June 28 assassination of the heir-apparent to the dual monarchy.

That individual Serbians were complicit in the assassination is beyond doubt, but so many government records of the era have disappeared that it’s impossible to determine official Serbian complicity. Nevertheless, Serbia had to be brought into line.

Having given Austria his assurance of support in the event of war with Serbia, even if Russia entered in support of its Slavic ally, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany left on a summer cruise in the Norwegian fjords. The Kaiser’s being out of touch for those critical days in July, has been called the most expensive maritime disaster, in naval history.


The Austro-Hungarian Empire delivered a deliberately unacceptable ultimatum to Serbia on the 23rd, a bald pretext for the war it declared on the 28th. The same day, Madame Caillaux was acquitted on the grounds that hers was a “crime passionnel”.  A crime of passion.

In the days that followed, entangling alliances and mutual distrust reigned over the European continent. As expected, Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, as Germany began implementation of its long-standing strategy of a lightning defeat of France, before wheeling to face the much larger “Russian steamroller”.

Pre-planned timetables took over.  France alone would have 3,781,000 military men under orders before the middle of August, arriving at the western front on 7,000 trains, arriving as often as one every eight minutes.

There would be no “Phoney War”, no “Sitzkreig”, as some wags were wont to call the early days of WWII. The coming storm would resemble the near-simultaneous detonation of a continent.  A cataclysm which would destroy everything in its path and irrevocably alter the following century.  Few realized it, as this warm summer day came and went, 103 years ago today.   The four horsemen of the apocalypse, cometh.  The collision was only days away.

July 19, 1916 Iron Harvest

Ernest Shackleton asked how the war had ended.  The response left him without words.  “The war isn’t over.  Millions are dead.  Europe is mad.  The world is mad”.

In an alternate history, the June 1914 assassination of the heir-apparent to the Habsburg Empire could have led to nothing more than a regional squabble.  Little more than a policing action in the Balkans.  As it was, mutual distrust and entangling alliances drew the Great Powers of Europe into the vortex.  On August 3, the “War to End Wars” broke out across the European continent.

The early 20th century has been called the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”, and for good reason.   As the diplomatic wranglings, the mobilizations and counter-mobilizations of the “period preparatory to war” unfolded, Sir Ernest Shackleton made the final arrangements for his third expedition into the Antarctic.   Despite the outbreak of war, first Lord of the Admiralty  Sir Winston Churchill ordered Shackleton to Proceed.  The “Endurance” expedition” departed British waters on August 8.

The German invasion of France ground to a halt that September.  The first entrenchments were being dug as Shackleton remained in England, departing on September 27 to meet up with the Endurance expedition in Buenos Aires.

As the unofficial Christmas Truce descended over the trenches of Europe, Shackleton’s expedition slowly picked their way through the ice floes of the Weddell Sea.


The disaster of WWI became “Total War” with the zeppelin raids of January, as Endurance met with disaster of its own.  The ship was frozen fast, with no hope of escape.  As the nine-month battle unfolded across the Gallipoli Peninsula, Shackleton’s men abandoned ship’s routine and converted to winter station.  Finally, camps were set up across the drifting ice.  On November 21, the wreck of the Endurance slipped below the surface.

In December, Allies began preparations for a summer offensive along the upper reaches of the river Somme.  In February, Erich von Falkenhayn began the Verdun offensive that would “bleed France white”, as the Shackleton party camped on an ice pack, adrift in open ocean.  The ice was breaking up in April, forcing Shackleton and his party into three small lifeboats.  Five brutal days would come and go in open boats, the last of 457 days before reaching land at the desolate shores of Elephant Island.

The whaling stations at South Georgia Island, some 720 miles distant, were their only hope for survival. Shackleton and a party of five set out on April 24 in a 20′ lifeboat.  They shouldn’t have made it, but somehow did.  In hurricane-force winds, the cliffs of South Georgia Island came into view four weeks later.

They must have been a sight, with thick ice encrusted on long, filthy beards, saltwater-soaked sealskin clothing rotting from their bodies.  The first people they came across were children, who ran in fright at the sight of them.  At last, on May 20, 1916, the Shackleton expedition was saved.

Ernest Shackleton asked how the war had ended.  The response left him without words.  “The war isn’t over.  Millions are dead.  Europe is mad.  The world is mad”.

Preparatory bombardment for the Somme offensive began in June, 1,500 guns firing 1.7 million shells into a twelve-mile front.  27 shells for every foot of the front.  Allies went “over the top” on July 1, the single worst day in British military history.  19,240 British soldiers were killed in that single day, along with 1,590 French.  German losses numbered 10,000–12,000.  By July 19 the Somme offensive was just getting started.  The battle would last another 122 days.

The toll exacted by the 1st World War was cataclysmic, in human, economic and environmental terms.  After the war, hundreds of square miles along the north of France were identified as “Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible”.

Vast quantities of human and animal remains permeate this “Zone Rouge”, an area saturated with unexploded shells and munitions of all sizes and types:  gas, high explosive, anti-personnel.  There are hand grenades and bombs, small arms and rusted ammunition, by the truckload.

Lochnagar Crater
Lochnagar bomb crater in the Somme Photo Credit Telegraph Newspaper: HENRY SAMUEL

Lead, mercury, chlorine, arsenic and other toxins permeate the soil.  In two areas near Ypres and Woëvre, arsenic constitutes up to 17% of some soil samples.  To this day, 99% of all plants still die in these places.

Eighty-seven years after the cessation of hostilities, one “Red Zone” survey uncovered up to 150 shells per 5,000 square meters in the top six inches of soil, alone.  An area smaller than an American football field.

The rotor blades from farmers’ tractors often set them off.  76-year-old Claude Samain farms land near Serre, land that was once part of the British front line.  As a farm kid in the 1930s, Samain still remembers turning up bodies in his fields.  To this day, he is still finding unexploded ordnance. ‘We find shells every time we turn the earth over for potatoes or sugar beet.’

By derivative work: Tinodela (talk)Zone_rougeRed_Zone_Map.jpg: Lamiot – Zone_rougeRed_Zone_Map.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4798391

In June 2016, head of the bomb disposal unit at Amiens Michel Colling, said: “Since the start of the year we’ve been called out 300 times to dispose of 25 tons of bombs.  As soon as you start turning the earth up”, Colling said, “you find them. At this rate, we have another 500 years to clear the area, so the work is far from over.”

July 18, 1812  Slow-Motion Race for Survival

During the late Revolution, some five times the number of Americans died in the dreadful prison ships and camps of the British, than were killed in combat.  There was little reason to believe that the prisoners of this war would fare any better.  Constitution faced a race for survival and the stakes were life and death.

Launched in 1794 and named by George Washington, USS Constitution was one of 6 three masted, heavy frigates built for the United States Navy. Her hull was made of the wood from 2,000 Georgia live oak trees, and built in the Edmund Hartt shipyard of Boston, Massachusetts.

Constitution’s August 1812 gun battle with HMS Guerriere has been well documented. Watching Guerriere’s shots bounce off Constitution’s hull, an American sailor exclaimed “Huzzah! her sides are made of iron!” The “Old Ironsides” nickname was born.

[http://www.stuartswanfurniture.com/ironsides.htm#Guerriere Stuart Swan] USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere 19 August 1812 This painting by Anton Otto Fischer depicts the first victory at sea by the fledgling US Navy over the mighty Royal Navy.
Less well known is Constitution’s slow-motion race with death, which had taken place a month earlier.

The War of 1812 was declared on the 18th of June.   Constitution put to sea on July 12 under the command of Captain Isaac Hull. She was looking to join a five-ship squadron under Captain John Rodgers, when five sails were spotted off Egg Harbor, New Jersey.  It was July 17.  Hull first believed them to be Rodgers’ squadron, but he was mistaken.  Lookouts reported on the morning of the 18th that they were 5 British warships, and they were giving chase.

That soon to be famous “iron” hull would have been useless in a five-to-one fight. A common naval tactic of the day was to close to short range and fire at the masts and rigging of opposing vessels, thus shutting down the ship’s “power plant”.  A disabled vessel could then be boarded and a bloody fight would ensue with cutlass and pistol. There was no question, whatever.  For those 5 British captains, Constitution would have been a great prize.

In the late Revolution, some five times the number of Americans died in the dreadful prison ships and camps of the British, than those killed in combat.  There was little reason to believe that the prisoners of this war would fare any better.  Constitution faced a race for survival and the stakes were life and death.

Conditions were near dead calm and all six vessels were wetting sail, trying to get the most out of light winds. In a process called “kedging”, Hull ordered ship’s boats to row out ahead, carrying small “kedge anchors” to the end of their chains and dropping them overboard. Sailors would then haul the great ship up the chain, hand over hand, and the process would be repeated. The British ships soon imitated the tactic, in a slow-motion chase lasting 57 hours in the July heat.


Constitution’s crew dumped everything they could find overboard to lessen the weight, including 2,300 gallons of drinking water. Cannon fire was exchanged several times, though the shots fell short of their mark.  On July 19, Constitution pulled far enough ahead that the British broke off their pursuit.

Old Ironsides was brought into drydock in May 2015, beginning 26 months’ restoration.   The highest tide of the summer will occur this Sunday, when the dry dock will be flooded and the ship will be towed out into Boston harbor.

There the restoration will continue, including the installation of  standing and running rigging.  President Washington’s three-masted, heavy frigate may be boarded peacefully this September, when the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, is once again opened to the public.

I wonder what George Washington would say, if he heard she has her own Facebook page.

Old Ironsides, Drydock

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