November 24, 1917 Milwaukee Police Station Bombing

The Milwaukee police station bombing accounted for the largest single-incident loss of life in the history of United States law enforcement, a record which would stand until September 11, 2001.

On the morning of November 24, 1917, 10-year-old Josie Spicciatti found a package in a narrow passage next to St. Anne’s Italian Evangelical Church in Milwaukee. She was the daughter of the cleaning lady, and apparently recognized it as a bomb.  She brought it into the church anyway, and went to work.

Only that afternoon did she go looking for Maude Richter, a social worker at the church. At about 4:00, Maude dragged the 20-pound bomb into the church basement, banging it on the steps all the way down. She later told a reporter, “I saw the vial, which contained a brown fluid” (it was sulfuric acid), “and took it out. In the hole, where it had been placed, was a yellow substance like powder.”

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She then decided that things should be left as they’d been found, so she carefully reassembled the device and called Sam Mazzone, the janitor, to take the bomb to the police station. Mazzone explained to Desk Sergeant Henry Deckert that the bomb may be linked to a near riot which had erupted several months earlier, killing two parishioners and wounding 5, including two police officers.

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Policemen on duty were told there was a bomb in the station, but it seems that few took it seriously. Captain of Detectives John Sullivan remarked “It looked like a big dinner pail and innocent enough.”

Sergeant Deckert took the bomb into the office of Lieutenant Robert Flood, saying, “Look at the new kind of bomb I’ve got.” “Get that thing out of here”, said Flood. “Don’t fool around with anything like that!” Deckert then brought the bomb into the squad assembly room, where a group of detectives gathered to examine the device.

That’s when the thing went off.

Eight officers were killed in a fraction of a second, as was Catherine Walker, who had come to the station to file a complaint against her boyfriend. Operator Edward Spindler was working the switchboard on the second floor. Schrapnel blasted through the floor, entering his body at the waist and exiting through his head, killing him instantly.

One detective’s wedding band was blown from his finger, another’s shoe hung from the ceiling. A hat hung on a shard of glass.  One detective’s watch was found, face up on a windowsill. The hands had stopped at 7:33PM. Sergeant Deckert’s body was never found. He was identified only by the stripe of his uniform trousers leg.

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Luigi Galleani

A group led by Italian Anarcho-Communist Luigi Galleani was suspected of placing the bomb, though no one was ever charged with the crime.

Many years later, interviews with surviving members of the anarchist organization indicated that Mario Buda, chief bomb maker for the Galleanists, may have constructed the Milwaukee device. The bomb had been intended for a small Italian church and its outspoken and patriotic pastor, Reverend August Giuliani.

The Milwaukee police station bombing accounted for the largest single-incident loss of life in the history of United States law enforcement, a record which would stand until September 11, 2001.

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 as well. 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.
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November 23, 1932 Holodomor

“I must have looked unbelieving at this, for a tall, gaunt woman started to take the children’s clothes off. She undressed them one by one, prodded their sagging bellies, pointed to their spindly legs, ran her hand up and down their tortured, mis-shapen, twisted little bodies to make me understand that this was real famine”.

In 1928, Josef Stalin introduced a program of agricultural collectivization in Ukraine, the “Bread Basket” of the Soviet Union, forcing family farmers off their land and into state-owned collective farms.

Ukrainian “kulaks”, peasant farmers successful enough to hire labor or own farm machinery, refused to join the collectives, regarding them as a return to the serfdom of earlier centuries. Stalin claimed that these factory collectives would not only feed industrial workers in the cities, but would also provide a surplus to be sold abroad, raising money to further his industrialization plans.

Armed dekulakization brigades confiscated land, livestock and other property by force, evicting entire families. Almost half a million individuals were dragged from their homes in 1930-’31, packed into freight trains and shipped off to remote areas like Siberia and often left without food or shelter. Many of them, especially children, died in transit or soon after arrival.

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Resistance continued, which the Soviet government could not abide. Ukraine’s production quotas were sharply increased in 1932-’33, making it impossible for farmers to meet assignments and feed themselves, at the same time. Starvation became widespread, as the Soviet government decreed that any person, even a child, would be arrested for taking as little as a few stalks of wheat from the fields in which they worked.

Military blockades were erected around villages preventing the transportation of food, while brigades of young activists from other regions were brought in to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain.

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Eventually all food was confiscated from farmers’ homes, as Stalin determined to “teach a lesson through famine” to the Ukrainian rural population.

At the height of the famine, Ukrainians starved to death at a rate of 22,000 per day, almost a third of those, children 10 and under.  How many died in total, is anyone’s guess.  Estimates range from two million Ukrainian citizens murdered by their own government, to well over ten million.

Millions of tons of grain were exported during this time, more than enough to save every man, woman and child.

2,500 people were arrested and convicted during this time, for eating the flesh of their neighbors. The problem was so widespread that the Soviet government put up signs reminding survivors: “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”

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Stalin denied to the world that there was any famine in Ukraine, a position supported by the likes of Louis Fischer reporting for “The Nation”, and Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his “coverage”, with comments like “any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda”.  Such stories were “mostly bunk,” according to the Times.  Duranty even commented that “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

To this day, the New York Times has failed to repudiate Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer.

Like many on the international Left, Canadian journalist Rhea Clyman had great expectations of the “worker’s paradise” built by the Communist state, where no one was unemployed, everyone was “equal”, and Everyman had what he needed. Unlike most, Clyman went to the Soviet Union, to see for herself.

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To do so at all was an act of courage: a single Jewish woman who’d lost part of a leg in a childhood streetcar accident, traveling to a place where the Russian empire and its successor state had a long and wretched history, when it came to the treatment of its own Jews.

Virtually all of the international press preferred the comfortable confines of Moscow, cosseted in the heart of the Soviet propaganda machine and ignorant of the world as it was.

In four years, Clyman not only learned the language, but set out on a 5,000-mile odyssey to discover the Soviet countryside. Duranty’s idea of “good-bye” was offering to write her obituary.

It is through this “Special Correspondent in Russia of The Toronto Evening Telegram, London Daily Express, and Other Newspapers“, that we know much about the government’s extermination of its own citizens, in Ukraine.

To read what she wrote about abandoned villages, is haunting.  And then the moment of discovery:

“They wanted something of me, but I could not make out what it was. At last someone went off for a little crippled lad of fourteen, and when he came hobbling up, the mystery was explained. This was the Village of Isoomka, the lad told me. I was from Moscow, yes; we were a delegation studying conditions in the Ukraine, yes. Well, they wanted me to take a petition back to the Kremlin, from this village and the one I had just been in. “Tell the Kremlin we are starving; we have no bread!”

18telegramA tall, bearded peasant was spokesman. His two sons and the rest of the men and women nodded approval at every word. The little crippled boy stood with his right hand on his crutch, translating everything he said into Russian for me, word by word.

“We are good, hard-working peasants, loyal Soviet citizens, but the village Soviet has taken our land from us. We are in the collective farm, but we do not get any grain. Everything, land, cows and horses, have been taken from us, and we have nothing to eat. Our children were eating grass in the spring….”

I must have looked unbelieving at this, for a tall, gaunt woman started to take the children’s clothes off. She undressed them one by one, prodded their sagging bellies, pointed to their spindly legs, ran her hand up and down their tortured, mis-shapen, twisted little bodies to make me understand that this was real famine. I shut my eyes, I could not bear to look at all this horror. “Yes,” the woman insisted, and the boy repeated, “they were down on all fours like animals, eating grass. There was nothing else for them.”

“What have you to eat now?” I asked them, still keeping my eyes averted from those tortured bodies. “Are all the villages round here the same? Who gets the grain?”” – Rhea Clyman, Toronto Telegram, 16 May 1933

22,000 of these poor people were starving to death every day, and they still thought the Kremlin was going to help them.

Today, the province of Alberta is home to about 300,000 Canadians of Ukrainian Heritage. About a week ago, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley explained “Holodomor is a combination of two Ukrainian words: Holod, meaning hunger, and moryty, meaning a slow, cruel death. That is exactly what Ukrainians suffered during this deliberate starvation of an entire people“.

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The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2015

Ukrainians around the world recognize November 23 as Holodomor Memorial Day, commemorated by a simple statue in Kiev.  A barefoot little girl, gaunt and hollow eyed, clutches a few stalks of wheat.

Here in the United States, you could line up 100 randomly selected individuals.  I don’t believe that five could tell you what Holodomor means.   We are a self-governing Republic.  All 100 should be well acquainted with the term.

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November 22, 1307 Friday the 13th

On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, King Philip IV of France sent out his arrest warrant, against the knights Templar.  Under pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

From the dawn of Christianity, faithful believers have traveled from the length and breadth of Europe to the Holy City of Jerusalem, to renew and affirm a lifelong faith in scripture.

The Rashidun Caliphate captured the Holy City in 637, following a long siege.  Except for an 88-year period following the first crusade in 1099, the Temple Mount in the old city has been under Islamic administration, from that day to this.

Nevertheless, the number of these pilgrims increased over time.  Many suffered robbery and even murder at the hands of Muslim fanatics, who considered it their Islamic duty to kill the “Infidel”.

47e7896055de65697d83aba928ae90ca--knights-templar-symbols-the-knightThe French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119, with a proposal.  He would create a monastic order of warrior knights to protect these pilgrims, to be headquartered in a wing of the recaptured Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.

They were monks and they were warriors, “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.   For 200 years, these “Knights Templar” provided for the safe passage of Christian pilgrims.

The original nine knights of the order lived up to the “poor knights” part of their name, relying on financial donations for their survival.  So destitute were they that their emblem showed two knights riding a single horse.

That would change.

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In time, the Templars gained favored charity status, their new-found wealth helping them to found an early banking system. Pilgrims to the holy land could deposit gold coins in Paris and take them out in Jerusalem, or vice-versa.  The knights Templar achieved vast wealth in this manner, at their height running over 800 castles, every one of which ran as a full service banking institution, financing military campaigns and shoring up the treasuries of Kings.

Following what must have seemed a never ending series of wars with the English King, Philip IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Templars.  In 1307, he needed to wriggle out of it.

It was Friday the 13th of October that year, when Philip sent out his arrest warrant.  Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars were simultaneously arrested. Charges included everything from obscene secret rituals to financial fraud. “Confessions” were extracted by torture.

Quema herejes Edad MediaUnder pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets.

Thousands of knights fled to areas outside Papal control.  Some were burned at the stake, or absorbed into the rival Knights Hospitaller. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

Some will tell you that’s where the Friday 13th superstition began.  Others say it goes back to the Friday when Eve offered Adam that forbidden apple, or the Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Ancient Egyptians and Chinese believed the number 13 brought good luck, but some actually fear Friday the 13th.  It’s called “Friggatriskaidekaphobia”.

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People in Spanish-speaking countries will tell you it’s the 13-part that brings bad luck, but for most, it’s Friday.  At least one psychotherapist asserts that 21 million Americans are afraid of Friday the 13th.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that fear of the number 13 costs the United States a Billion dollars a year in absenteeism, train and plane cancellations and related commerce on the 13th of the month.

FDR avoided dinner parties with 13 guests.  In France, there are professional 14th party guests called “quatorzieme“.  I wonder how you get that job.

Who knows, maybe thirteen really is bad luck.  There are 13 steps leading to the gallows, where the condemned meets the 13 knots of the hangman’s noose.  The guillotine’s blade falls 13 feet.  Diana hit the 13th pillar at Place d’Alma.  Tupac was shot on Friday the 13th, and Fidel Castro was born on one.

So knock on wood, and cross your fingers.  Watch out for black cats.  Don’t look at the full moon through a pane of glass, and be sure throw salt over your shoulder.  You’ll be fine.

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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 as well. 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.

November 21, 1916 Miss Unsinkable

Floating on the still, frigid waters of the north Atlantic, Violet Jessop must have wondered about Captain Smith.  This was not their first cruise together, nor even their first shipwreck.

The maiden voyage of the largest ship afloat left the port of Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, carrying 2,224 passengers and crew. An accident was narrowly averted only minutes later, as Titanic passed the moored liners SS City of New York and Oceanic.

Both smaller ships lifted in the bow wave formed by Titanic’s passing, then dropped into the trough. New York’s mooring cables snapped, swinging her about, stern-first. Collision was averted by a bare 4-feet as the panicked crew of the tugboat Vulcan struggled to bring New York under tow.

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Titanic Captain, Edward Smith

By the evening of the 14th, Titanic was 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, conditions clear, calm and cold. There were warnings of drifting ice from other ships in the area, but it was generally believed that ice posed little danger to large vessels at this time.  Captain Edward Smith opined that he “[couldn’t] imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

Lookout Frederick Fleet alerted the bridge of an iceberg dead ahead at 11:40pm. First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines put in reverse, veering the ship to the left. Lookouts were relieved, thinking that collision had been averted. Below the surface, the starboard side of Titanic ground into the iceberg, opening a gash the length of a football field.

Violet_jessop_titanicThe ship was built to survive flooding in four watertight compartments. The iceberg had opened five. As Titanic began to lower at the bow, it soon became clear that the ship was doomed.

Those aboard were poorly prepared for such an emergency. The ship was built for 64 wooden lifeboats, enough for 4,000, however the White Star Liner carried only 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsibles. Regulations then in effect required enough room for 990 people. Titanic carried enough to accommodate 1,178.

As it was, there was room for over half of those on board, provided that each boat was filled to capacity.  So strictly did Royal Navy officer Charles Lightoller  adhere to the “women and children first” directive, that many boats were launched, half-full.  The first lifeboat in the water, rated at 65 passengers, launched with only 28 aboard.

Lightoller himself survived, only by clinging to the bottom of an overturned raft.

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Violet Jessop was among those first to leave, clutching someone’s forgotten baby.  As ship’s nurse, she was there to look after the comfort of the White Star Line passengers.  Now, this small boat full of confused and disoriented women were being lowered into the cold and darkness of night, while all aboard the great ship was light, and warmth.

Denial is a funny thing, that psychological defense mechanism described by Sigmund Freud, in which a person rejects a plain fact too uncomfortable to contemplate.  There was denial aplenty that night, from the well dressed passengers filing onto the decks, and from Violet Jessop, counting the lighted portholes as the boat creaked ever downward.  One row, then two:  every abandoned stateroom a tableau.  Three, and four:  feathered hats on dressers, scattered jewels on table tops.  Five and then six:  each lighted circle revealing a snapshot, soon to slip out of sight.

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Floating on the still, frigid waters of the north Atlantic, Jessop must have wondered about Captain Smith.  This was not their first cruise together, nor even their first shipwreck.

The White Star Line’s RMS Olympic set sail for New York seven months earlier, with Captain Edward Smith, commanding. Violet Jessop was on duty as the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke performed mechanical tests, on a course parallel to the trans-Atlantic liner. Something went wrong and the tiller froze, swinging the bow of the Edgar-class cruiser, toward the liner. Hydrodynamic forces took over and the two ships collided, just after noon. The hull of the cruiser was smashed, two great gashes carved into the side of Olympic, one below the water line.

Two compartments flooded, but the watertight doors did their job. Olympic limped back to Southampton for repairs. Captain Smith and Violet Jessop moved on to the maiden voyage of her sister ship, the unsinkable RMS Titanic.

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Denial turned to horror that frigid April night in 1912, when six rows of lights became five and then four, and Titanic began to rise by the stern.  RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene around 4am in response to distress calls, and diverted to New York with survivors.  Four days later, a crowd of 40,000 awaited the arrival of 705 survivors , in spite of a cold, driving rain.  It would take four full days to compile and release the list of casualties.

Violet Jessop survived that night.  Captain Smith, did not.

Back in 1907, Director General of the White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay planned a series of three sister ships, to compete with the Cunard lines’ Mauritania, and Lusitania. What these lacked in speed would be made up in size, and luxurious comfort. The three vessels were to be named Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic.

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One of Britannic’s funnels, in transit to the ship

That last name was quietly changed following the Titanic disaster and, on December 12, 1915, the newly christened Britannic was ready for service.

Four years later, the world was at war. Nurse Jessop was working aboard HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic.  On November 21, 1916, HMHS Britannic was on station near Kea in the Aegean Sea, when she was struck by a German mine, or torpedo.  Violet Jessop calmly made her way to her cabin,  She’d been here, before.  There she collected a ring, a clock and a prayer book, and helped another nurse, collect her composure.

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After the Carpathia rescue, Jessop complained to friends and family that she missed her toothbrush. Her brother Patrick had jokingly told her, next time you wreck, “look after your toothbrush”.  This time, she didn’t forget it.

Britannic should have survived even with five watertight compartments filled, but nurses defied orders and opened the windows, to ventilate the wards.   In fifty-five minutes, HMHS Britannic replaced her sister ship Titanic, as the largest vessel on the bottom of the sea.

Fortunately, daytime hours combined with warmer weather and more numerous lifeboats, to lessen the cost in lives.  1,035 were safely evacuated from the sinking vessel, keeping the death toll in the Britannic wreck, to thirty.

Violet Jessop survived three of the most famous shipwrecks of her age, and never tired of working at sea. She returned to work as stewardess aboard RMS Olympic after the war, before retiring to private life and passing away, in 1971.

John Maxtone-Graham, editor of “Titanic Survivor”, the story of her life, remembers one last story about “Miss Unsinkable”. Fifty-nine years after the wreck, the phone rang late one night, during a violent thunderstorm. A woman’s voice at the other end asked “Is this the Violet Jessop who was a stewardess on the Titanic and rescued a baby?” “Yes” came the reply, “who is this?” The woman laughed, and responded “I was that baby.”

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 as well. 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.

 

 

November 20, 1984 The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

“The feeling is constantly growing on me, that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.” Nikola Tesla, 1901

In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosopher Democritus taught that the world was made of atoms. Physically indestructible and always in motion, these atoms are infinite in number, differing only in shape and size. Democritus taught that everything around us is the result of physical laws without reason or purpose, the only question to be answered, “What circumstances caused this event?

Philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates took a less mechanistic approach, asking “What purpose did this event serve?” Plato disliked Democritus so much that he wanted to burn all his books.

The prevailing view throughout antiquity was that our planet is special.  That we are alone in the cosmos. Democritus believed there were infinite numbers of worlds such as our own, with inhabitants like ourselves.

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The 13th-century Paisley Abbey in Scotland, had its deteriorating gargoyles refurbished in the 1990s. One of their stonemasons was clearly, an Alien fan

In the time of Copernicus, it was widely believed that there was life on other planets. Astronomers saw several features of the moon as evidence, if not of life, then at least that intelligent life had once paid a visit.

Interest in Mars began to develop in the 1870s, when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli described physical features of the red planet as “canali”. The word means “channels” in Italian, but it was mis-translated as “canals”. The English speaking world was off to the races.

Speculation and folklore about intelligent life on Mars was soon replaced by the popular near-certainty, that canals were excavated by Martians.

The idea was near-universal by the turn of the century.  In 1900, the French Academy of Science offered a prize of 100,000 francs to the first person to make contact with an alien civilization. Provided that it was anything but Martian. That would have been too easy.

In 1901, Nikola Tesla believed he had picked up electrical disturbances “with such a clear suggestion of number and order”, they could only be signals from Mars. “The feeling is constantly growing on me,” Tesla said, “that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. A purpose was behind these electrical signals.”

Guglielmo Marconi said essentially the same in 1919, commenting about “queer sounds and indications, which might come from somewhere outside the earth.”

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In 1924, the idea was put to the test. American astronomer David Peck Todd believed that martians might well attempt to communicate on the day the two bodies were in closest proximity on August 21, 1924.  The date became “National Radio Silence Day”. Americans were urged to observe “radio silence” for the first five minutes of every hour, while a radio receiver at the U.S. Naval Observatory, two miles aloft on board a dirigible, listened for the signal that never came.

The British author H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds in 1897, telling the story of an alien earth invasion by Martians fleeing the desiccation of their own planet. The story was adapted to a radio drama broadcast on Halloween, 1938, a production so realistic that many listeners sued the network for “mental anguish” and “personal injury”.

The idea of life on Mars persisted until the 1960s, when close observations of the Martian surface were made possible by the Mariner series of spacecraft.

SETI_Logotype_RGB_reduced_resWhile much of “mainstream” science seems to steer clear of the subject, the University of California at Berkeley jumped in with both feet on this day in 1984, founding the SETI Institute for the “sharing [of] knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government”.

The Berkeley SETI Research Center conducts a number of search operations at various wavelengths from radio through infrared spectrum and visible light, including:

SERENDIP: Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations
SEVENDIP: Search for Extraterrestrial Visible Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations
NIROSETI: Near-InfraRed Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Breakthrough Listen:  Launched with $100 million in funding in 2016, it is “the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.”
SETI@home:  A “scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”

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The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in Green Bank, West Virginia is only one such installation put to use for project Breakthrough Listen, begun in 2016 as “the most comprehensive search for alien communications to date.”

Launched on May 17, 1999 with a worldwide objective of 50,000-100,000 home computers, to date more than 5.2 million SETI@home users have logged over two million years of aggregate computing time. Since the introduction of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or “BOINC” (I didn’t make that up), SETI@home users can even compete with one another, to see who can process the most “work units”.

You, too can participate at http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/, on your Windows, Apple or Network PC, or your Sony PlayStation 3.  Don’t try it at work though, an act known as “Borging”.   You might not be “assimilated”, but you will get fired.

Let me know if you make contact.

SETI-at-HOME-SETI@HOME

November 19, 1864 Lincoln’s Avenger

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever clamored to hear the man speak, a second time.  

Thomas Corbett was born in London England in 1832, immigrating with his family to the United States at age 7, and settling in Troy, New York.  There he apprenticed to a hat maker, a profession he would hold off and on for the rest of his life.

19th century hat makers used an orange colored mercury solution to treat fur, and to make felt in a process called “carroting”.  Mercury attacks the nervous system, causing drooling, hair loss, a lurching gait, difficulty in speaking, “brain fog” and a convulsive shaking called “hatter’s shakes”.

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Felt hat

There were plenty of “Mad hatters,” in Lewis Carroll’s time, long before Alice’s Wonderland.  Danbury Connecticut was once the hat making capital of the world, with 56 factories producing five million hats a year.  By the time of the Civil War, mercury poisoning had reduced countless numbers of factory workers, to physical wrecks.  Everybody knew the “Danbury shakes”.

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease”, goes a long way to understanding Thomas Corbett.

As a young man, Corbett married.  It nearly broke him to lose his young wife in childbirth.  He moved to Boston and continued to work as a hatter, but heavy drinking left him unable to keep a job for long and eventually, homeless.  One night, Corbett was confronted by a street preacher, who changed his life.

He immediately quit drinking and became fanatically, religious.  He was “the Glory to God man,” growing his hair long to emulate Jesus.  The “local eccentric’ who took up his own street ministry and changed his name to “Boston” after the city of his re-birth.

“God has called on you to preach, my son, about four blocks, that way”.

Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes in 1858, while walking home from a church meeting. Deeply troubled by his own temptation, he returned to his boardinghouse room and took up the Gospel, according to Matthew: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.  He knew what he needed to do.  He castrated himself, with a pair of scissors.  Then he ate dinner and went to a prayer meeting before seeking medical attention.

boston-c-300x208In the first months of the Civil War, Boston Corbett enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York state militia. Eccentric behavior quickly got him into trouble. He would carry a bible with him at all times, reading passages aloud and holding unauthorized prayer meetings.  He would argue with superior officers, once reprimanding Colonel Daniel Butterfield for using profane language and using the Lord’s name, in vain. That got him a stay in the guardhouse, where he continued to argue.

Corbett decided an arbitrary date, on which his enlistment would end.  When that day arrived, he laid down his gun at midnight, and walked away.  That got him court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but the sentence was reduced. He was discharged in August, 1863, and re-enlisted the same month.

Harper’s Weekly of May 13, 1865 described the annoying habit of adding “er” to his words, as in “O Lord-er, hear-er our prayerer.” His shrill, sharp voice would shout out “Amen,” and “Glory to God,” whenever anything pleased him. He was often thrown in the guard-house, with a knapsack full of bricks as punishment. There he would be, Testament in hand, “preaching temperance, and calling upon his wild companions to “seek the Lord.””

Boston CorbettOn June 24, 1864, fifteen members of Corbett’s company were hemmed in and captured, by Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s men in Culpeper Virginia.

They were sent to the notorious prison camp in Andersonville Georgia, where he escaped once, but the bloodhounds put an end to that.  Only two, ever returned.  Starved and skeletal, his body wracked with scurvy, Boston Corbett was paroled on November 19, 1864.

Following the Lincoln assassination, a twelve-day manhunt led to the farm of Richard Henry Garrett near Port Royal, Virginia. The life of John Wilkes Booth came to an end in a burning tobacco barn in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, the bullet fired through a crack in the boards and entering his spine, just below the point where his own bullet had entered the President’s head.

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Thomas “Boston” Corbett

The paralyzed, dying man was dragged from the barn, and onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. In his dying moments he asked that his hands be lifted where he could see them.  John Wilkes Booth uttered his last words. “Useless. Useless”.

In his report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger recommended that Sergeant Boston Corbett be punished for disobeying orders that Booth be taken alive, stating that Corbett had fired “without order, pretext or excuse.”

Corbett was treated like a conquering hero, despite Conger’s recommendation.  He returned to making hats after the war, returning first to Boston and then to Danbury and finally, Camden New Jersey.  He could never hold a job for long.  Frequent pauses to pray for co-workers, did little to endear him to supervisors.

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever clamored to hear the man speak, a second time.

Corbett became increasingly paranoid over time, convinced that important men in Washington, were out to “get him”.  Hate mail directed to Wilkes Booth’s killer, didn’t help.  At a Blue & Gray reunion in 1878, Corbett pulled a gun on several former soldiers, during an argument over whether Booth still lived.  He was hustled off before he could fire, but this was only one of several such episodes.

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Example of a dugout house, this one in New Mexico

He moved to Kansas in 1878 and built a dugout home, and tried his hand at homesteading.  That didn’t work out, either.

Corbett received an invalid’s pension in 1880 and the Grand Army of the Republic made him a doorman to the Kansas state legislature, seven years later.  The man’s mental status was questionable before the war and put beyond dispute in 1887, when he entered the legislative chamber, with two loaded revolvers.  Lawmakers dove for the exits and hid behind garbage cans and doors, as Corbett shot up the Kansas House of Representatives.  Two guns, twelve bullets.  It was a miracle that no one was hit.

The following day, a judge declared Corbett to be out of his mind, and remanded him to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane.  On May 26, 1888, Corbett was marching along a road with other inmates, when he spotted a horse, tied to a post.  Corbett dashed from the line and jumped into the saddle, and rode off into history.

Boston Corbett is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894, a conflagration which killed more than 400 and destroyed over 200,000 acres of Minnesota pine forest, but there is no proof.  The fate of the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, remains unknown.

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November 18, 1944 The Cages of Münster

The European Reformation exploded with startling intensity, spawning a “peasant rebellion” in 1524 in which about a third of 300,000 poorly armed farmers, were slaughtered.  There were any number of reformers, few more radical than the baker turned Anabaptist prophet, Jan Matthias.

A popular legend depicts the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailing a parchment to the door of the Wittenberg Palace Church in 1517, his “ninety five theses” a direct challenge to the authority of the pope, and the Catholic church. It likely never happened that way. Luther had no intention of confronting the Church. This was a list of topics, an academic work.  Ninety-five propositions framed and submitted for scholarly debate.

Luther enclosed his “ninety five theses” in a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz on October 31, the date now considered to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Major Christian Denominations

H/T Wikipedia

To the modern reader, theological issues such as the “moral bank account” of saints or the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ, may seem mere doctrinal interpretations. In the late middle and early modern ages, such theological issues were matters of life and death.  The Czech theologian Jan Hus was burned at the stake for such heresy, in 1415. The English philosopher John Wycliffe, dead some forty-four years by this time, was dug up and burned, his ashes cast on the waters of the River Swift.

The European Reformation exploded with startling intensity, spawning a “peasant rebellion” in 1524 in which about a third of 300,000 poorly armed farmers, were slaughtered.  There were any number of reformers, few more radical than the baker turned Anabaptist prophet, Jan Matthias.

Münster was a divided city in 1530, made even more so when the evangelical Lutheran minister Bernard Rothmann, began preaching against Catholic doctrine.  Rothmann was tireless, vitriolic, a relentless stream of anti-Catholic invective both from the pulpit, and a series of pamphlets financed and printed by his ally, the wealthy wool merchant Bernard Knipperdolling.

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Alarmed at Rothmann’s growing influence, church authorities banned him from the pulpit.  A mob of supporters stormed St. Lambert’s church in February of 1532, and installed Rothmann as its preacher. Conflict escalated and took the form of armed rebellion that December, between nine-hundred armed townspeople and the highest ranking Church official in town, prince-bishop Franz von Waldeck. This time, the conflict was settled peaceably. Von Waldeck signed a treaty of religious toleration on February 14, 1533, allowing Protestant pastors to preach from the parish churches of Münster.

The next time, would be different.

Word got back to Matthias and his followers, who came to see Münster as the “New Jerusalem”.  Jan Matthias and his Anabaptist followers were radicals even among their fellow “protestants”, and Rothmann was happy to come along.  Theirs was an extreme, radical egalitarian ideology with no use for childhood baptism.  They believed that Jesus Christ would descend to earth that Easter and bring about the End of Time.  The Apocalypse was nigh. All good Christians needed to prepare, and only adult baptism held the key to salvation.

Four years earlier, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ordered that every Anabaptist he could get hold of “shall be brought from natural life to death with fire, sword, or the like.”  Now Anabaptists poured into Münster, baptizing some 1,400 adults in the first week after their arrival, about 20% of the adult population.

Equal numbers fled the city, and the “share-the-wealth” economic policies that would make the most fervent communist, blush.  Armed city employees warning those who refused adult baptism to flee:  “Get out of here, you godless. God will punish you!

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Matthias demanded the execution of all Catholics and Lutherans, warning that “Everywhere we are surrounded by dogs and sorcerers and whores and killers and the godless and all who love lies and commit them!”  That was a bit too much even for the crazies, so Catholics and moderate Protestants were expelled from the city.  About 2,000 of them, as equal numbers of Anabaptist radicals, poured in from the countryside.

Matthias ordered every contract, account and ledger in town destroyed, in an attempt to abolish all debt.  Rothmann preached from the pulpit of St. Lambert’s “Everything that Christian brothers and sisters have belongs to the one as well as to the other.”

Waldeck looked on with increasing alarm and before long, a mercenary army was assembled outside the city walls of Münster.  The place was now under siege.

Easter Sunday arrived, April 5, 1534, but Jesus, did not. With his apocalyptic prophesy shattered, Matthias claimed to have a new, divine vision. He would ride forth from the city walls, and personally break von Waldeck’s siege of the city. So it was that the Anabaptist prophet saddled up and rode forth with an entourage of twelve, only to be run through with a spear, his head mounted on a spike, for all the town to see.

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Up stepped the dead prophet’s right-hand man, the charismatic twenty-five year old tailor Jan van Leiden, who delivered a speech reinterpreting the day’s events, and postponing doomsday.

Münster became heavily militarized as Waldeck’s besieging force cut off all access to the city.  Jan van Leiden ruled over the city as the new King David, according to his own prophesy.  He seemed to think he had a direct line “upstairs” and could conjure up fresh prophesy at a moment’s notice.  The seventy-five hundred inhabitants of Münster, believed so as well.

The siege dragged on through 1534 and into the following year.  In May 1535, the Anabaptist carpenter Heinrich Gresbeck attempted to escape, only to be caught.  In exchange for his life, Gresbeck agreed to show Waldeck a lightly defended gate.

200px-MuensterHinrichtungTaeuferThe prince-bishop’s forces fought their way through the streets of Münster for hours, killing some 600 Anabaptists before the city surrendered.

Jan van Leiden, his “viceroy” Bernhard Knipperdolling and Anabaptist leader Bernhard Krechting were taken to the public square and physically torn to pieces, with white-hot pliers. Their corpses were placed in cages and hanged from the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church, as a warning to others.

The bones were removed some fifty years later, but not those cages.  The old steeple was torn down and a new one built around 1880, and those three cages, reinstalled.

British bombs hit St. Lambert’s church on November 18, 1944, knocking the highest, van Leiden’s, to the ground. Another fell into the organ loft, leaving the third, hanging only by a thread. The church rebuilt the tower, four years later.  Workers repaired and replaced the cages, commenting favorably on their sturdy construction.

Thirty years ago, St. Lambert’s church installed a small yellow bulb in each of those cages, a small concession “in memory of their departed souls.”  The cages of Münster remain there, to this day.