January 21, 1824 Stonewall

Today we remember Stonewall Jackson as a brilliant military tactician and Confederate commander, second only to Robert E. Lee.  Who knew that the man was also a civil rights leader.  Real history is so much more interesting than the political and pop culture varieties.

Cheers rang out in the streets of Washington DC, as General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Potomac marched out to meet the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, led by Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard.  The first major battle of the Civil War was joined on July 21, in what Confederates called the Battle of 1st Manassas, and the Federals called 1st Bull Run.

First Manassas July 21, 1861 SquareOn that July morning, no one had any idea of the years-long bloodbath that lay ahead.  35,000 Federal troops, 90-day recruits all, had arrived to crush a trifling force of rebels.  Then on to Richmond, the Confederate capitol, and the end of the uprising.

The atmosphere was festive, like a football game.  The upper crust of Washington society had turned out in their carriages.  There was wine and picnic baskets, society ladies and their beaus, congressmen and their families, all arrived to watch the show.

Green and inexperienced as they were, the fighting was at times confused, and could have gone either way.  The tide of the battle turned at 4pm, with the capture of Artillery Captain James Ricketts’ guns. An hour later the Union position began to disintegrate.  Soon, a disorderly retreat turned into a rout, a blue-clad stampede back to Washington, on roads clogged with panicked civilians, attempting to flee in their carriages.

The battle could have ended differently, when Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman struck the right flank of the Confederate defenders near Henry House Hill, collapsing the Rebel line and sending it into disorderly retreat.  The Virginia Brigade of General Thomas Jonathan Jackson came up at this point, taking a defensive position on Henry House Hill.  Brigadier General Barnard Bee exhorted his troops to reform, shouting “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians.”

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Confederate General and VMI Professor Thomas Jonathan Jackson wore a blue uniform, at the Battle of 1st Manassas.  Note the 1st (of three) Confederate national flags, the “Stars and Bars”.

Some will tell you that Bee’s comment was meant to be pejorative, as in “Look at Jackson standing there like a stone wall!”  We’ll never know. General Bee was shot in the abdomen and died the next day.  The legend of “Stonewall Jackson”, was here to stay.

Born in Clarksburg Virginia on January 21, 1824, the boy lost his father at age two and his mother, five years later.  Largely self-educated, the future Civil War General went to live with an uncle.  As a boy, Jackson made a deal with one of his uncle’s slaves, to teach the man to read.  It was illegal at this time, to teach blacks to read, but Jackson was as good as his word, receiving pine knots in exchange for lessons.

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Stonewall Jackson pictured astride his favorite mount, “Little Sorrel”

Thomas Jonathan Jackson was a devoutly religious man, said to fear only God.  “My religious belief teaches me” he said, “to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”

Jackson was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point New York, graduating in 1846 and serving in the Mexican-American war.  Returning to civil life in 1851, Jackson moved to Lexington Virginia, where he worked as a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (Physics), and instructor of artillery at the Virginia Military Institute.

Though himself an owner of African slaves from a family of slave owners, Thomas Jackson was well regarded among the free and enslaved blacks of Lexington.  This may sound paradoxical to the modern reader, but the players in this story were products of their time.  Not ours.

sjchurJackson believed that slavery existed because the Creator willed it.  His mission was to save their souls, by teaching them the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed.

So it was that Jackson and his wife established the Lexington Presbyterian Church Sunday School. There, contrary to state law. the pair taught African-American children to read and write, continuing to do so until Jackson went to war, in 1861.  The next time he would visit was to be buried there, in 1863.

Jackson’s military career reads like a timeline of his era.  The Great Train Raid of 1861.  Falling Waters. Bull Run (Manassas), 1st and 2nd. The Romney Expedition.  The Valley Campaign. The Seven Days’ Battles. The Northern Virginia Campaign. The Maryland Campaign, Harpers Ferry, Antietam and Fredericksburg.  And the last.  Chancellorsville.  The Virginia town where the story of Stonewall Jackson comes to an end.

Returning to camp on May 2, 1863, Jackson and his staff were mistaken in the rain and darkness for a Union cavalry force.   A nervous sentry from the 18th North Carolina shouted, “Halt, who goes there?”, and fired before things sorted out.  Frantic shouts from Jackson’s party trying to identify themselves were met by Major John Barry, who shouted, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!”  Several of Jackson’s men were killed on the spot, along with a number of horses.  Jackson himself was shot twice in the left arm, and once in the right hand.

Robert E. Lee wrote to the General, on learning of his injuries:  “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”

There was no saving Jackson’s arm.  The limb was amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire, the following day  Jackson was moved to the office building at the Chandler plantation in Guinea Station.  General Lee complained, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”

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By that time, Jackson was already developing a tightness in his chest, an early sign of pneumonia.

Before antibiotics, doctors could predict the hour of death, of pneumonia patients.  On May 10, eight days after being shot, Jackson was breathing his last.  “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

Dr. McGuire wrote the following account of Stonewall Jackson’s last words:  “A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, ‘Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks —’ then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

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“Last Tribute of Respect”, by Mort Künstler

In 1906, Reverend LL Downing raised money to install a memorial window in the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, dedicated to Stonewall Jackson.  And to Reverend Dowling’s own parents, who as slave children had been educated in Jackson’s Sunday school.  It may be the only “black” church in the country, with a stain-glass window dedicated to a Confederate General.

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CBS Sunday Morning did an interesting segment on the church and its window, amidst the current hysteria involving Confederate monuments.  Their article and the video, are linked here.

Today we remember Stonewall Jackson as a brilliant military tactician and Confederate commander, second only to Robert E. Lee.  Who knew that the man was also a civil rights leader.  Real history is so much more interesting than the political and pop culture varieties.

Feature Image, top, by 20th century artist and illustrator, N. C. Wyeth

January 20, 1940  A People, an Empire, a Drink

Coca-Cola GmbH had concocted a sweet, slightly cheesy tasting soft drink, and the German market responded. Sales rose steadily throughout the war, particularly as alternatives became increasingly scarce. People didn’t just drink the stuff, either.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him to help ease the pain. Unlike most, “Dr.” Pemberton possessed the wherewithal to do something about it.

In civil life, Pemberton was a chemist.  After the war, the former cavalry officer experimented with non-opiate pain-killers, landing on a combination of the coca leaf and kola nut.  By 1886, he was bottling his concoction and selling it for 5¢ a bottle out of an Atlanta pharmacy.  Ten years later, Coca-Cola was available in every American state and territory.

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Europeans had long believed that natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored such beverages over often-polluted common drinking water.  In 1920, the company opened its first European bottling plant, in France. By the time of Hitler’s annexation of Austria, the “Anschluss” of 1938, Coca-Cola had been in Germany for ten years.

Around the time that Hitler and the Nazi party were coming to power in 1933, German-born Max Keith (pronounced “Kite”) took over Coca-Cola’s German subsidiary, Coca-Cola Deutschland, GmbH.  Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, writes that Keith “valued his allegiance to the drink and to the company more than his allegiance to his own country”.  He had no qualms about doing business with every aspect of German society, including Nazi party members.

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Bizarre though it may sound to the modern ear, a number of famous Americans and companies were involved with the European fascist regimes of the 1930s, including William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Kennedy (JFK’s father), Charles Lindbergh, John Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon (banker, head of Alcoa, and Secretary of the Treasury), DuPont, General Motors, Standard Oil (now Exxon), Ford, ITT, Allen Dulles (later head of the CIA), Prescott Bush, National City Bank, General Electric, and many in Hollywood.

In Atlanta, Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff was no exception.  Woodruff himself attended the 1936 Berlin Olympics, alongside banners depicting the company logo, with the slogan  “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Getrank – A People, an Empire, a Drink”.

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Woodruff used a 10th anniversary party for Coca-Cola GmbH to organize a mass Nazi salute in honor of Hitler’s 50th birthday, declaring that it was “to commemorate our deepest admiration for our Fuhrer.”

On January 20, 1940, Winston Churchill urged neutral nations to oppose the Nazi war machine, warning that, “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.”  Meanwhile in Germany, Coca Cola was the undisputed king of the domestic soft drink market.

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That changed a year later, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the German declaration of war on the United States.

American entry into WW2 meant that American companies ceased business with axis powers, while the German government threatened to seize “enemy owned” businesses.  Max Keith was cut off from all communications with Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, and in danger of the Nazi party nationalizing his beloved company.  As shipments of Coca-Cola’s mythical “7X’ syrup, dried up, Keith had to come up with a substitute for the domestic soft drink market.  Schnell.

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Coca-Cola worked with the U.S. government to ensure troops, including these men in Italy, had access to Coke throughout WW2. Bettmann/Getty Images

With wartime rationing already in effect, Keith and his chemists worked with what was available.  Leftovers from other food industries, apple fibers, fruit peelings, beet sugar  and whey, the liquid left over when milk was curdled and strained off to make cheese.

The result was “Fantasievoll”, “Fantastiche” (“Imaginative”, “Fantastic”).  So it is that the soft drink “Fanta”, was borne of the wartime necessities of Nazi Germany.

Coca-Cola GmbH had concocted a sweet, slightly cheesy tasting soft drink, and the German market responded. Sales rose steadily throughout the war, particularly as alternatives became increasingly scarce. People didn’t just drink the stuff, either. With sweeteners of all kinds strictly rationed, Fanta made its way into baked goods, soups and a variety of foodstuffs. By 1943, Fanta sales reached almost three million cases.

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Tristan Donovan, author of the book Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World, writes “It was Fanta or nothing”. Pendergrast writes that there’s little doubt that Keith did business with Nazis, but he was more company guy than idealogue. “You could not do business inside of Nazi Germany unless you collaborated with them,” wrote Pendergrast. “There’s no question he was a Nazi collaborator. [But] he was not a member of the Nazi party. His allegiance was to Coca-Cola, not to Hitler.”

When American troops liberated Germany in the summer of 1945, legend has it that they found Keith in a half-bombed out factory, still bottling the stuff.

Fun fact: Hitler and his henchmen didn’t call themselves “Nazis”, in fact the term was frowned upon. They were the “NSDAP”, the Nazionale Socialistiche Deutsche Arbaits Partai, (National Socialist German Workers Party), the original abbreviation forwhich, was “Nasos”. The word “Nazi” derives from a Bavarian term meaning “simple minded” and was first used as a term of derision by journalist Konrad Heiden. The term was adopted by Anti-NSDAP’ers and Allied troops after war broke out, and the name stuck.

Despite being on the losing side, Keith was hailed as a hero back in Atlanta. The man who kept the company alive, in Germany. Vice President of Sales Harrison Jones called Keith a “great man”.  He was given control of Coca-Cola, in all of Europe.

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In April 1955, Coca-Cola reintroduced Fanta as an orange drink. Starting in Italy, the product made its way to the United States, in 1958. The name stuck, and why not. The company already owned the copyright.

In 2012, Fanta saw the strongest sales growth of the top 10 brands, the third Coke branded product to surpass 2 billion in case sales. Today, more than 100 flavors of Fanta are sold around the world, where customers from Latin America to Africa, to Europe, Brazil and China can say,  “Es ist die Reale Sache”.  It’s the Real Thing.

 

January 19, 1977 Tokyo Rose

FBI.gov states on its “Famous Cases” website that, “As far as its propaganda value, Army analysis suggested that the program had no negative effect on troop morale and that it might even have raised it a bit. The Army’s sole concern about the broadcasts was that “Annie” appeared to have good intelligence on U.S. ship and troop movements”.

There’s an old cliché that, if you speak with those who are convicted of a crime, all of them will say they are innocent.  It’s an untrue statement on its face, but only two possible conclusions are possible, in the alternative.  Either all convicts are guilty as charged, or someone, at some time, has been wrongly convicted.

To agree with the former is to accept the premise that what government does is 100% right, 100% of the time.

Tokyo-Rose-310x165Iva Ikuko Toguri was born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, the daughter of Japanese immigrants.  She attended schools in Calexico and San Diego, returning to Los Angeles where she enrolled at UCLA, graduating in January, 1940 with a degree in zoology.

In July of the following year, Iva sailed to Japan without an American passport.  She variously described the purpose of the trip as the study of medicine, and going to see a sick aunt.

In September, Toguri appeared before the US Vice Consul in Japan to obtain a passport, explaining that she wished to return to permanent residence in the United States.  Because she had left without a passport, her application was forwarded to the State Department for consideration.  It was still on someone’s desk when Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, fewer than three months later.

Iva later withdrew the application, saying that she’d remain in Japan voluntarily for the duration of the war.  She enrolled in a Japanese language and culture school to improve her language skills, taking a typist job for the Domei News Agency.  In August 1943, she began a second job as a typist for Radio Tokyo.

In November of that year, Toguri was asked to become a broadcaster for Radio Tokyo on the “Zero Hour” program, part of a Japanese psychological warfare campaign designed to lower the morale of US Armed Forces.  The name “Tokyo Rose” was in common use by this time, applied to as many as 12 different women broadcasting Japanese propaganda in English.

Toguri DJ’d a program with American music punctuated by Japanese slanted news articles for 1¼ hours, six days a week, starting at 6:00pm Tokyo time.  Altogether, her on-air speaking time averaged 15-20 minutes for most broadcasts.

tokyo-roseShe called herself “Orphan Annie,” earning 150 yen per month (about $7.00 US).  She wasn’t a professional radio personality, but many of those who recalled hearing her enjoyed the program, especially the music.

Shortly before the end of the war, Toguri married Felipe d’Aquino, a Portuguese citizen of Japanese-Portuguese ancestry. The marriage was registered with the Portuguese Consulate, though she didn’t renounce her US citizenship, continuing her Zero Hour broadcast until after the war was over.

After the war, a number of reporters were looking for the mythical “Tokyo Rose”.  Two of them found Iva d’Aquino.

Henry Brundidge, reporting for Cosmopolitan magazine and Clark Lee, reporter for the International News Service,  must have thought they found themselves a real “dragon lady”.  The pair hid d’Aquino and her husband away in the Imperial Hotel, offering $2,000 for exclusive rights to her story.

$2,000 was not an insignificant sum in 1945, equivalent to $23,000 today.  Toguri lied, “confessing” that she was the “one and only” Tokyo Rose.  The money never materialized, but she had signed a contract giving the two rights to her story, and identifying herself as Tokyo Rose.

FBI.gov states on its “Famous Cases” website that, “As far as its propaganda value, Army analysis suggested that the program had no negative effect on troop morale and that it might even have raised it a bit. The Army’s sole concern about the broadcasts was that “Annie” appeared to have good intelligence on U.S. ship and troop movements”.

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Henry Brundidge, Clark Lee

 

US Army authorities arrested her in September, while the FBI and Army Counterintelligence investigated her case.  By the following October, authorities decided that the evidence did not merit prosecution, and she was released.

Department of Justice likewise determined that prosecution was not warranted and matters may have ended there, except for the public outcry that accompanied d’Aquino’s return to the US.  Several groups, along with the noted broadcaster Walter Winchell, were outraged that the woman they knew as “Tokyo Rose” wanted to return to this country, instead demanding her arrest on treason charges.

The US Attorney in San Francisco convened a grand jury, and d’Aquino was indicted in September, 1948.  Once again quoting fbi.gov, “Problematically, Brundidge enticed a former contact of his to perjure himself in the matter”.

Tokyo Rose Conviction

The trial began on July 5, 1949, lasting just short of three months.  The jury found d’Aquino guilty on one of fifteen treason charges, ruling that “[O]n a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown, said defendant, at Tokyo, Japan, in a broadcasting studio of the Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.”

Tokyo Rose Pardond’Aquino was sentenced to ten years and fined $10,000 for the crime of treason, only the seventh person in US history to be so convicted.  She was released from the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia in 1956, having served six years and two months of her sentence.

President Gerald Ford pardoned her on January 19, 1977, 21 years almost to the day after her release from prison. Iva Toguri d’Aquino passed away in 2006, at the age of 90.  Neither perjury nor suborning charges were ever brought against Brundidge, or his witness.

January 18, 1943 Greatest Thing since Sliced Bread

The United States had been in World War II for two years in 1943, when Claude Wickard, head of the War Foods Administration as well as Secretary of Agriculture, had the hare brained idea of banning sliced bread.

The first automatic bread slicer was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, in 1912. The idea was not at all popular among bakers, who feared that pre-sliced bread would go stale faster, leading to spoiled inventory and customer complaints.

A fire almost ended the project in 1917, when the prototype was destroyed along with the blueprints. Rohwedder soldiered on.  By 1927, he had scraped up enough financing to rebuild his bread slicer.

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Frank Bench, a personal friend of the inventor, was the first to install the machine. The first pre-sliced loaf was sold in July of the following year. Customers loved the convenience and Bench’s bread sales shot through the roof.

Sliced bread became a national hit when the Continental Baking Company, then owner of the “Wonder Bread” brand, began using a modified version of Rowhedder’s machine in 1930. Sliced bread was here to stay. Sort of.

1101410721_400The United States had been in World War II for two years in 1943, when Claude Wickard, head of the War Foods Administration as well as Secretary of Agriculture, had the hare brained idea of banning sliced bread.

Mr. Wickard was no stranger to hare brained ideas; it is he who lends his name to the landmark Supreme Court case, Wickard v. Filburne.

Talk about hare brained ideas. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the area that farmers could devote to wheat production, in an effort to stabilize the price of wheat on the national market.

An Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburne was producing more than his allotment. The federal government ordered him to destroy the surplus and pay a fine, even though his “surplus” was being consumed on the farm by the Filburne family and their chickens.

download (6)Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution includes the “Commerce Clause”, permitting the Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”.  That’s it and, not surprisingly, the Federal District Court sided with the farmer.

The Federal government appealed to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that, by withholding his surplus from the interstate wheat market, Filburne was effecting that market, thereby falling under federal government jurisdiction under the Commerce Clause.

USArooseveltF3The Supreme Court, apparently afraid of President Roosevelt and his aggressive and illegal “court packing” scheme, ruled against the farmer. Ever since, what you don’t do can be argued in a court of law to effect interstate conditions, putting what you didn’t do under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Get it? Neither do I, but I digress.

Back to Mr. Wickard, who enacted his ban against sliced bread and put it into effect on January 18, 1943.

The push-back, as you might guess, was immediate and vehement. One woman wrote to the New York Times: “I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!

slicedbreadban-january18.1943The stated reasons for the ban never did make sense. At various times, Wickard claimed that it was to conserve wax paper, wheat and steel, but one reason was goofier than the one before.

According to the War Production Board, most bakeries had plenty of wax paper supplies on hand, even if they didn’t buy any. Furthermore, the federal government had a billion bushels of wheat stockpiled at the time, about two years’ supply, and the amount of steel saved by not making bread slicers has got to be marginal, at best.

The ban was rescinded on March 8, 1943.  Pre-sliced bread was once again available to the federal government and its grateful subjects. There’s no telling who first used the expression, “The greatest thing since sliced bread”.  A reasonable guess may be made, as to why.

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January 17, 1994  Death of a Troop Ship

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans reports on its website that the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now passing at a rate of 550 per day.  How many, I wonder, might think back and remember passage on the most successful troop transport of their day.

The Federal Government passed the Merchant Marine Act in 1936, “to further the development and maintenance of an adequate and well-balanced American merchant marine”.

Ss_america_under_constructionThe act served multiple purposes, among them the modernization of what was then a largely WWI vintage merchant marine fleet, serving as the basis for a naval auxiliary that could be activated in time of war or national emergency.

Two years later, the first keel laid under the Merchant Marine act was the SS America, built by the United States Line and operated as a passenger liner until the United States entered WWII in 1941.

Naval interiors of the age tended to be stodgy and overwrought.  SS America has the almost unique distinction of having its interiors designed entirely by women, as naval architect William Francis Gibbs turned to the all-female team of Miriam Smyth, Ann Urquhart & Dorothy Marckwald.   “It is not without reason”, according to team leader “Dot” Marckwald, “the majority of the passengers are women, and no man could ever know as much about their comfort problems and taste reactions as another woman”.

SS America was christened by Eleanor Roosevelt and launched on August 31, 1939.  The next day, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

America would serve as a passenger liner for the two years remaining to American neutrality.  American flags were painted on both sides of her hull, and at night she sailed while fully illuminated.

SS America, FlaggedWhere there are government subsidies, there are strings.  For SS America, those strings were pulled on May 28, 1941, while the ship was at port in Saint Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands.  The ship had been called into service by the United States Navy, and ordered to return to Newport News.

Re-christened the USS West Point, she served as a transport for the remainder of the war, carrying in excess of 350,000 troops and other passengers by 1946.  It was the largest total of any Navy troop ship in service during WWII, and included USO entertainers, Red Cross workers, and prisoners of war.  As SS America, she had even carried two Nazi spies as part of her crew, until their discharge on the vessel’s return to Virginia.  The two spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilheim Siegler, were members of the Duquesne spy ring, reporting allied movements in the Panama Canal Zone until they and 31 of their cohorts were found out late in 1941.

During her service to the United States Navy, West Point was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.

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Returned to civilian service in 1946 and re-christened SS America, the ship remained a favorite for cruise ship vacationers through most of the fifties.  By 1964, the competition from larger, faster ships and the airlines had put the best years behind the aging liner.

Sold and then sold again, she had come full circle by 1978, when new owners tried to capitalize on the old ship’s mystique.  She was in terrible condition and her refit nowhere near complete when SS America set sail on her first cruise on June 30, 1978.  There was rusted metal, oil soaked rags and backed up sewage.  There were filthy mattresses and soiled linens, and so many complaints that the ship turned back after barely clearing the Statue of Liberty.

Impounded for non-payment of debts and receiving an inspection score of 6 out of a possible 100 points by the Public Health Service, the US District Court ordered SS America to be sold at auction.

SS America, Interiors

She was sold to a Syrian shipowner in 1984, who renamed her “Alferdoss”, to be converted into a hotel ship, off the coast of Libya.  The name means “paradise” in Arabic. At this point, she was anything but.  There was one offer to use Alferdoss as an offshore prison ship in Texas which the owner rejected, asking “What kind of a fate for a once-proud ship would that be?”

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The hulk of the SS America seemed destined for the scrap heap in 1992, when a surprising offer came in from the Chao Phraya Developement Transport Company of Thailand. This outfit valued the art deco style of the 1930s interior, so evocative of the Big band era.  Sold in 1993 and renamed the American Star, the new owners planned to convert her to a five-star hotel ship off Phuket, in Thailand.

A planned 100-day tow began on New Year’s Eve 1993, but the lines broke.  On January 17, 1994, the former SS America was adrift in foul seas, running aground in the Canary Islands the following day.   Discussions of salvage operations were soon quashed, as the ship broke in two in the pounding surf.

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The National WWII Museum in New Orleans reports on its website that the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now passing at a rate of 550 per day.  How many, I wonder, might think back and remember passage on the most successful troop transport of its day.

By the spring of 2013, the only time you could tell there was a wreck on the beach, was at low tide.

January 16, 2003 Columbia

Flight Director Jon Harpold stated the problem, succinctly. “If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”

Discussions of a reusable Space Transportation System (STS) began as early as the 1960s, as a way to cut down on the cost of space travel. The final design was a reusable, winged “spaceplane”, with disposable external tank and reusable solid fuel rocket boosters.

The ‘Space Truck’ program was approved in 1972, the prime contract awarded to North American Aviation (later Rockwell International), with the first orbiter completed in 1976.

Early Approach and Landing Tests were conducted with the first prototype, dubbed “Enterprise”, in 1977. A total of 16 tests, all within the confines of the atmosphere, were conducted from February to October of that year, the lessons learned applied to the first spaceworthy vehicle in NASA’s orbital fleet.

columbia_sts1STS-1, the first mission of the “Space Shuttle” program launched aboard “Columbia” from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. It was April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, aboard the Russian Vostok 1. This was the first and, to-date only, manned maiden test flight of a new spacecraft system, in the US space program.

This first flight of Columbia would be commanded by Gemini and Apollo veteran John Young, and piloted by Robert Crippen. It was the first of 135 missions in the Space Shuttle program, the first of only two to take off with its external hydrogen fuel tank painted white. From STS-3 on, the external tank would be left unpainted to save weight.

There were initially four fully functional orbiters in the STS program: Columbia was joined after her first five missions by “Challenger”, “Discovery”, and finally “Atlantis”. A fifth orbiter, “Endeavor”, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger, which broke apart 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986, killing all seven of its crew.

All told, Columbia flew 28 missions with 160 crew members, traveling 125,204,911 miles in 4,808 orbits around the planet.

Columbia-Space-Shuttle-DisasterSTS-107 launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on January 16, 2003.  Eighty seconds after launch, a piece of insulating foam the size of a briefcase broke away from the external fuel tank, striking the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing and leaving a hole in the carbon composite tiles.

These carbon tiles are all that stands between the orbiter and the searing heat of re-entry.  On the ground, mission management teams discussed the problem, without being certain of its extent.  Even if there was major damage, little could be done about it.  So, what to tell the crew?

Flight Director Jon Harpold stated the problem, succinctly. “If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”

So it was that Columbia’s 300 days, 17 hours, forty minutes and 22 seconds in space came to an end on the morning of February 1, 2003.

231,000 feet over the California coast and traveling 23 times the speed of sound, external temperatures surrounding the craft rose to 3,000°F when hot gases penetrated the interior of the left wing.  Abnormal readings began to show up at Mission Control, first temperature readings, and then tire pressures.

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The first debris began falling to the ground near Lubbock, Texas, at 8:58am. “Capcom”, the spacecraft communicator, called to discuss the tire pressure readings. At 8:59:32 a.m., Commander Husband called back from Columbia: “Roger,” he said, followed by another word.  It was cut off in mid-sentence.

After sixteen days in space, the ST-107 crew — Rick Husband, commander; Michael Anderson, payload commander; David Brown, mission specialist; Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist from the Israeli Space Agency, probably survived the initial breakup, losing consciousness in the seconds following.

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Vehicle debris and crew remains were found in over 2,000 locations across Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. The only survivors of the disaster was a canister full of worms, brought into space for study.

Petr-Ginz-drawing-lPayload Specialist Colonel Ilan Ramon, born Ilan Wolferman, was an Israeli fighter pilot, the first Israeli astronaut to join the NASA space program.

Colonel Ramon’s mother survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.  His grandfather and several family members, did not.  In their memory, Ramon carried a copy of “Moon Landscape”, a drawing by 14-year-old holocaust victim Petr Ginz, depicting what he thought earth might look like, from the moon.

Today, there are close to 84,000 pieces of Columbia and assorted debris, stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. To the best of my knowledge, that drawing by a boy who never made it out of Auschwitz, was never found.

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Left to right: David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and Ilan Ramon

Feature Image credit, top:  Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster, Chris Butler

January 15, 1919 Slower than Cold Molasses

The Boston Post reported “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”.

Roger Bannister became the first human to run a sub-four minute mile on May 6, 1954, with an official time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is recorded as the fastest man who ever lived. At the 2009 World Track and Field Championships, Bolt ran 100 meters at an average 23.35 mph from a standing start, and the 20 meters between the 60 & 80 markers, at an average 27.79 mph.

I suppose it would come as a rude shock to both of those guys, that they are literally slower than cold molasses, in January.

File photo of Bolt of Jamaica competing in the men's 100 metres semi-final heat event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow

In 1919, the Purity Distilling Company operated a large molasses storage tank at 529 Commercial Street, in the North End of Boston. Fifty feet tall and ninety feet wide, the tank held 2.32 million gallons, about 14,000 tons of the sweet stuff, awaiting transfer to the Purity plant in Cambridge.

It had been cold earlier in the month, but on January 15, it was a balmy 46°, up from the bitter low of 2° of the day before.

If you’d been there at about 12:30, the first sound you might have heard was a rumble, like the sound of a distant train. The next sound was like that of a machine gun, as rivets popped and the two sides of the metal tower split apart.

The collapse hurled a wall of molasses 40′ high down the street at 35 miles per hour, smashing the elevated train tracks on Atlantic Ave and hurling entire buildings from their foundations. Horses, wagons, and dogs were caught up with broken buildings and scores of people as the brown flood sped across the North End. Twenty municipal workers were eating lunch in a nearby city building when they were swept away, parts of the building thrown fifty yards. Part of the tank wall fell on a nearby fire house, crushing the building and burying three firemen alive.

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In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton described the physical properties of fluids. Water, a “Newtonian” fluid, retains a constant viscosity (flow) between 32° and 212°, Fahrenheit. We all know what it is to swim in water, but a “non-Newtonian” fluid such as molasses, acts very differently. Non Newtonian fluids change viscosity and “shear”, in response to pressure. You do not propel yourself through non-Newtonian fluid, the stuff will swallow you, whole. Not even Michael Phelps is swimming out of that gunk.

The Boston Post reported “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”.

In 1983, a Smithsonian Magazine article described the experience of one child: “Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him”.

All told, the molasses flood of 1919 killed 21 people, and injured another 150. 116 cadets from the Massachusetts Nautical School, now Mass Maritime Academy, were the first rescuers on-scene. They were soon followed by Boston Police, Red Cross, Army and Navy personnel. Some Red Cross nurses literally dove into the mess to rescue victims, while doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital and worked around the clock.

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It was four days before the search was called off for additional victims. The total cleanup was estimated at 87,000 man-hours.

It was probably a combination of factors that caused the tank to rupture. Construction was poor from the beginning. Locals knew they could come down and collect household molasses from the drippings down the outside of the thing, which was leaking so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks.

This was only the 6th or 7th time the tank had been filled to capacity, and the rising temperatures almost surely helped to build up gas pressure inside the structure. The Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, was being passed in Washington the following day, to take effect the following year. I’m sure that distillers were producing as much hooch as they could while it was still legal.

With temperatures being so cold, the rapid spread of all that molasses made no sense.  The proverbial “cold molasses” had exploded it seemed, in January.  Newspapers speculated that there must be something more.  A bomb, perhaps.

Newspapers would more profitably have resorted to their physics books.  In fluid dynamics, a “gravity current” describes the horizontal flow in a gravitational field, of a dense fluid into a fluid of lesser density. Think about the way that cold air rushes through an open doorway into a warm room, even with no wind to drive it.

Molly Molasses

Today, the site of the Great Molasses Flood is occupied by a recreational complex called Langone Park, featuring a Little League ball field, a playground, and bocce courts. The Boston Duck Tours DUKW’s regularly visit the place with their amphibious vehicles, especially the dark brown one. The one with the name “Molly Molasses”, painted on its side.

January 13, 1997 Buffalo Soldier

After the war, the town of Sommocolonia erected a Memorial, to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live.  Eight Italians, and one American.

In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G, United States 10th Cavalry Regiment, was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on the trio. The two civilians were killed in the initial attack and Randall’s horse shot out from under him.

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Private John Randall

Cornered in a washout under some railroad tracks, Randall single handedly held off the attack with his revolver, despite a gunshot wound to his shoulder and no fewer than 11 lance wounds.

By the time help arrived, 13 Cheyenne warriors lay dead.  Private Randall was still standing. Word spread among the Cheyenne about a new kind of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”

167090-049-69103B80On July 28, 1866, the Army Reorganization Act authorized the formation of 30 new units, including two cavalry and four infantry regiments “which shall be composed of colored men.”

The 10th US Cavalry, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was the first unit of “Negro Cavalry”.  The 10th would soon be joined by the 9th, 24th and 25th Cavalry, all-black units which would come to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers”.

While several all-black regiments were formed during the Civil War, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry depicted in the movie “Glory”, these were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular Army.

ww1buffsoldThe original units fought in the American Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Border War and two World Wars, amassing 22 Medals of Honor by the end of WW1.

The old met the new during WWII, when 1st Sergeant Mark Matthews, veteran of the Pancho Villa Expedition, WW1, WW2 and the Battle of Saipan, was sent to train with the Tuskeegee Airmen.

In the end, Matthews would prove too old to fly.  A member of the Buffalo Soldiers Drum & Bugle Corps, Matthews would play taps at Arlington National Cemetery, always from the woods. Blacks of the era were not allowed at “white” funerals.

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Mark Matthews

Matthews retired shortly before the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded, part of President Truman’s effort to integrate United States’ armed forces.

In December 1944, the segregated 366th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division (colored), the Buffalo Soldiers, were fighting in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, in northern Italy.

On Christmas day, German soldiers began to infiltrate the town, disguised as civilians.  A heavy artillery barrage began in the early morning hours of the 26th, followed by an overwhelming attack of enemy ground forces.  Vastly outnumbered, American infantry were forced to conduct a fighting retreat.

1st Lieutenant John R. Fox, forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, volunteered to stay behind with a small Italian force, to help slow the enemy advance.

From the second floor of a house, Lieutenant Fox directed American defensive fire by radio, adjusting each salvo closer to his own position.  Warned that his final adjustment would bring artillery fire down on his head, the soldier who received the message was stunned at the response. 1st Lt. John Fox’ last known words, were “Fire it.”

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1st Lieutenant John Robert Fox deliberately called down American artillery on his own position

When American forces retook the town, Lieutenant Fox’ body was found with those of about 100 German soldiers.

Sandra Fox of Boston, his only daughter, was two-years old when her father went to war.

The King James Bible translates John 15:13, as “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.  After the war, the town of Sommocolonia erected a Memorial, to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live.  Eight Italians, and one American.

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Sommocolonia Memorial

In a January 13, 1997 ceremony at the White House, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to the family of 1st Lt. John Robert Fox.

1st Sergeant Mark Matthews died of pneumonia on September 6, 2005, at the age of 111.  The last of the Buffalo Soldiers was buried with honors, at Arlington National Cemetery, section 69, grave #4215.

The rank of General of the Armies is equivalent to that of a six-star general, the highest possible operational rank in the United States Armed Forces.  The rank has been held only twice in all American history, once awarded posthumously to George Washington, and once to an active-duty officer, John J. Pershing.

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1st Sgt. Mark Matthews, the last of the Buffalo Soldiers

Then-1st Lieutenant Pershing served with the Buffalo Soldiers from October 1895 to May 1897 plus another six months in Cuba, and came to respect soldiers of African ancestry as “real soldiers” in every way.

As West Point instructor beginning in 1897, Pershing was looked down upon and insulted by white cadets and officers, aggrieved over Pershing’s strict and unyielding disciplinary policies.  The press sanitized the favorite insult to “Black Jack”. The name they called the man, was uglier still.

During WW1, General Pershing bowed to the segregationist policies of President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker.

It seems that John Joseph Pershing understood what the northeast academic and the Ohio politician had yet to learn, a principle that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would spell out, some fifty years later

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”. 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it too. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 12, 1967 Frozen

“I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country”. – Benjamin Franklin

The human brain is an awesome thing. Weighing in at about 3lbs, the organ is comprised of something like 86 billion neurons, each made up of a stoma or cell body, an axon to take information away from the cell, and anywhere between a handful and a hundred thousand dendrites bringing information in. Chemical signals transmit information over minute gaps between neurons called synapses, about 1/25,000th to 1/50,000th of the thickness of a sheet of paper.

Signal+Transmission+Dendrites+Cell+body+Nucleus+SynapseThere are roughly a quadrillion such synapses, meaning that any given thought could wend its way through more pathways than there are molecules in the known universe. This is roughly the case, whether you are Stephen J. Hawking, or Forrest Gump.

For all of this, the brain cannot store either oxygen or glucose (blood sugar), meaning that there’s about 6 minutes after the heart stops, before the brain itself begins to die.

Legally, brain death occurs at “that time when a physician(s) has determined that the brain and the brain stem have irreversibly lost all neurological function”. Brain death defines the legal end of life in every state except New York and New Jersey, where the law requires that a person’s lungs and heart must also have stopped, before that person is declared legally dead.

Clearly there is a gap, a small span of time, between the moment of legal death and a person’s permanent and irreversible passing. So, what if it were possible to get down to the molecular level and repair damaged brain tissue.  For that matter, when exactly does such damage become “irreversible”?

“Information-theoretic death” is defined as death which is final and irreversible by any technology, apart from what is currently possible given contemporary medical methodologies.  For some, the gap between current legal and clinical definitions of death and the truly irretrievable, is a source of hope for some future cure.

cryonicsThe Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the self-described “world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology” explains “Cryonics is an effort to save lives by using temperatures so cold that a person beyond help by today’s medicine can be preserved for decades or centuries until a future medical technology can restore that person to full health”.

The practice is highly controversial, and not to be confused with Cryogenics, the study of extremely low temperatures, approaching the still-theoretical cessation of all molecular activity.  Absolute zero.

The Cryogenic Society of America, Inc. includes this statement on its home page: “We wish to clarify that cryogenics, which deals with extremely low temperatures, has no connection with cryonics, the belief that a person’s body or body parts can be frozen at death, stored in a cryogenic vessel, and later brought back to life. We do NOT endorse this belief, and indeed find it untenable”.

The modern era of cryonics began in 1962, when Michigan College physics professor Robert Ettinger proposed that freezing people may be a way to reach out to some future medical technology.

The Life Extension Society, founded by Evan Cooper in 1964 to promote cryonic suspension, offered to preserve one person free of charge in 1965. Dr. James Hiram Bedford was suffering from untreatable kidney cancer at that time, which had metastasized to his lungs.

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Dr. James Hiram Bedford

Bedford became the first person to be cryonically preserved on January 12, 1967, frozen at the boiling point of liquid nitrogen, −321° Fahrenheit, and sealed up in a double-walled, vacuum cylinder called a “dewar”, named after Sir James Dewar, the 19th century Scottish chemist and physicist best known for inventing the vacuum flask, and for  research into the liquefaction of gases.

Fifty-one years later, cryonics societies around the world celebrate January 12 as “Bedford Day”.  Dr. Bedford has since received two new “suits”, and remains in cryonic suspension, to this day.

Advocates experienced a major breakthrough in the 1980s, when MIT engineer Eric Drexler began to publish on the subject of nanotechnology. Drexler’s work offered the hope that, theoretically, one day injured tissue may be repaired at the molecular level.

Cryonics1-640x353In 1988, television writer Dick Clair, best known for television sitcoms “It’s a Living”, “The Facts of Life”, and “Mama’s Family”, was dying of AIDS related complications. In his successful suit against the state of California, “Roe v. Mitchell” (Dick Clair was John Roe), Judge Aurelio Munoz “upheld the constitutional right to be cryonically suspended”, winning the “right” for everyone in California.

The decision failed to make clear who was going to pay for it.

As to cost, the Cryonics Institute (CI) website explains, “A person who wishes to become a Lifetime CI Member can make a single membership payment of $1,250 with no further payment required. If a new member would rather pay a smaller amount up front, in exchange for funding a slightly higher cryopreservation fee later on ($35,000), he or she can join with a $75 initiation fee, and pay annual dues of only $120, which are also payable in quarterly installments of $35”.

Ted Williams went into cryonic preservation in 2002, despite the bitter controversy that split the Williams first-born daughter Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, from her two half-siblings John-Henry and Claudia. The pair were adamant that the greatest hitter in baseball history wanted to be preserved to be brought back in the future, while Ferrell pointed out the will, which specified that Williams be cremated, his ashes scattered off the Florida coast.

teds_new_will_072502The court battle produced a “family pact” written on a cocktail napkin, which was ruled authentic and allowed into evidence. So it is that Ted Williams’ head went into cryonic preservation in one container, his body in another.

The younger Williams died of Leukemia two years later, despite a bone marrow donation from his sister. John-Henry joined his father, in 2004.

Walt Disney has long been rumored to be in frozen suspension, but the story isn’t true. After his death in 1966, Walt Disney was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

FranklinIn April 1773, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to Jacques Dubourg. “I wish it were possible”, Franklin wrote, “to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But…in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection”.

Maybe so but, for the several hundred individuals who have plunked down $25,000 to upwards of $200,000 to follow Dr. Bedford into cryonic suspension, hope springs eternal.

January 11, 1935 Earhart

A specially trained team of four border collies was brought to the atoll to search for bones in June 2017, but the answers remain elusive.

Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, the first surviving child of Samuel “Edwin” and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart. Amy didn’t believe in raising “nice little girls”, she allowed “Meeley” and her younger sister “Pidge” to live an outdoor, rough and tumble “tomboy” kind of childhood.

AmeliachildEdwin seems to have had life-long problems with alcohol, often resulting in an inability to provide for his family. Amelia must have been a disciplined student despite it all, as she graduated with her high school class, on time, notwithstanding having attended six different schools.

Earhart was certainly independent, saying later in life that “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune”.

Amelia and her sister saw their first airplane in 1908, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. It was a rickety old biplane in which Edwin was trying to interest them in a ride.   Earhart later described the biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”  At the time, the girls preferred the merry-go-round.

Meeley and Pidge worked as nurse’s aids in Toronto in 1919.  There she met several wounded aviators, developing a strong admiration for these people and spending much of her free time watching the Royal Flying Corps practice at a nearby airfield.

Around that time, Earhart and a friend were visiting an air show in Toronto, when one of the pilots thought it would be funny to dive at the two women. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,'” she said, but Earhart held her ground.  “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

A ten-minute ride at a Long Beach California air show in 1920 changed her life.  From that time on, Amelia Earhart knew she wanted to fly.

Earhart worked at a variety of jobs from photographer to truck driver, earning money to take flying lessons from pioneer female aviator Anita “Neta” Snook.

She bought a second-hand Kinner Airster in 1921, a bright yellow biplane she called “The Canary”, flying it to 14,000’ the following year, a world altitude record for female pilots.

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Neta Snook, Amelia Earhart, 1921

Short funds grounded her for a time, by 1927 she was flying out of the Dennison Airport in Quincy, Massachusetts.  Earhart invested in the airport and worked as a salesman for Kinner airplanes in the Boston area while writing about flying in the local newspaper.

Charles Lindbergh’s New York to Paris Flight on May 20-21 of that year was the first solo, non-stop transatlantic crossing by airplane. Aviatrix Amy Phipps Guest wanted to be the first woman to make the flight, but later decided it was too dangerous. Instead she would sponsor the trip, provided that “another girl with the right image” was found.

“Lady Lindy”, Earhart became that first woman on May 21, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh.

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On this day in 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person of either sex to fly solo from Hawaii to California.

Two years later, Earhart and copilot/navigator Frederick J. Noonan attempted to fly around the world. The US Coast Guard cutter Itasca picked up radio messages that the aircraft was lost and low on fuel on July 2, 1937, and then it vanished.

The $4 million search and rescue effort covered 150,000 square miles and lasted for sixteen days, but to no avail.

amelialostphotosFollowing the end of the official search, Earhart’s husband and promoter George Palmer Putnam financed private searches of the Phoenix Islands, Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, Fanning (Tabuaeran) Island, the Gilbert and the Marshall Islands, but no trace of the aircraft or its occupants was ever found.

Earhart was declared dead in absentia on January 5, 1939 at the age of 41, Noonan on June 20, 1938.  He was 44.

For years, the prevailing theory was that Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra ran out of gas and plunged into the ocean.

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“Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E. During its modification, the aircraft had most of the cabin windows blanked out and had specially fitted fuselage fuel tanks. The round RDF loop antenna can be seen above the cockpit. This image was taken at Luke Field on March 20, 1937; the plane would crash later that morning”.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been exploring a 1½ mile long, uninhabited tropical atoll once called Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, in the southwestern Pacific Republic of Kiribati. After eleven visits to the atoll, TIGHAR sonar images revealed a straight, unbroken anomaly under the sand, remarkably consistent with the fuselage of a Lockheed Electra.

The traces of a long-dead campfire were discovered in 1940, along with animal bones, a box from a sextant, and thirteen human bones.  A doctor judged them to have belonged to a male and American authorities were never notified.

Those bones were subsequently lost, but computerized re-evaluation of their measurements suggest that the skeleton was probably that of a white female of European ethnicity, standing roughly the same 5’8″ as Amelia Earhart.

A specially trained team of four border collies was brought to Nikumaroro to search for bones in June 2017.  Thus far, the answer to one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, remains elusive.

Nikumaroro is no tropical island paradise.  There is no fresh water and daytime temperatures exceed 100°F in July. The island’s only inhabitants are Birgus latro, commonly known as the coconut crab, The largest land-dwelling arthropod in the world, specimens weigh up to 9lbs and measure over 3′ from leg tip to leg tip.

Coconut crab

Gifted with a keen sense of smell, the adult coconut crab feeds on fruits, nuts, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees, but will eat carrion or just about anything else if given the chance.  Virtually any food source left unattended will be investigated and carried away, giving rise to the alternative name “Robber crab.”

It’s anyone’s guess how the two aviators spent the last hours of their lives, or who it was who lit that fire or left those bones. Looking at the size of the island’s only inhabitants, it’s not difficult to imagine why there were only 13.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it too. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.