February 17, 1895 Yellow Journalism

Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing papers using anything possible to get an edge. Real-life street urchins hawked lurid headlines, heavy on scandal-mongering and light on verifiable fact. Whatever it took, to increase circulation.

YellowKidMickey Dugan was “born” on February 17, 1895, a wise-cracking street urchin from the wrong side of the tracks.  “Generous to a fault” with a “sunny disposition” Mickey was the kind of street kid you’d find in New York’s turn-of-the-century slums, maybe hawking newspapers. “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”

With his head shaved as if recently ridden of lice, Mickey was one of thousands of homeless urchins roaming the back lots and tenements of the city, not so much an individual as an archetype. Mickey Dugan was a cartoon character, the child of artist and “Buster Brown” creator, Richard Outcault.

Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley” strip, one of the first regular Sunday newspaper cartoons in the country, became colorized by May of 1895. For the first time Mickey Dugan’s oversize, hand-me-down nightshirt was depicted in yellow.  Readers soon forgot his name.  He was simply “the Yellow kid”.

000789.1LOutcault worked for Joseph Pulitzer in those days, owner of the New York World Newspaper. Arch rival William Randolph Hearst hired the cartoonist away to work for Pulitzer’s cross-town competitor Journal American, but the pair soon learned that there was no copyright protection on the Yellow Kid. Soon the character was simultaneously appearing in both competing newspaper strips, where he would remain for over a year.

Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing papers using anything possible to get an edge.  Real-life street urchins hawked lurid headlines, heavy on scandal-mongering and light on verifiable fact. Whatever it took, to increase circulation.

The Yellow Kid ceased to be of interest by 1898, but he lived on in a way, in the style of newspaper reporting which came to be known as “yellow journalism”.

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After two wars for independence from Spain, the Caribbean island of Cuba found its economy increasingly intertwined with that of the United States. From the Spanish perspective, Cuba was more of a province than a colony, they were not about to relinquish a foot of territory. When the Cuban Rebellion of 1895 broke out, don Valeriano Weyler’s brutal repressions killed hundreds of thousands in Cuban concentration camps.

In America, some saw parallels between the “Cuba Libre” movement, in their own revolution of a hundred-odd years earlier. Fearing the economic repercussions of a drawn out conflict, shipping and other business interests put pressure on President McKinley to intervene. Meanwhile, the yellow papers kept the issue front page, whipping up popular fury with tales of the noble Cuban revolutionary and the barbaric Spaniard. There were even tales of American women being publicly strip searched by Spanish authorities.

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USS Maine

The armored cruiser USS Maine left Key West headed for Cuba in January 1898, to protect US interests and to emphasize the need for a quick resolution to the conflict. Anchored in Havana Harbor on February 15, a massive explosion of unknown origin rocked the Maine, sinking the cruiser within minutes and killing 266 of the 355 Americans on board.

The McKinley administration urged calm. Conditions in Cuba were bad enough, but front page headlines like “Spanish Murderers” and “Remember the Maine” accompanied sensationalized accounts of Spanish brutality. War became all but inevitable when US Navy findings were released that March, stating that an external explosion had doomed the Maine.

MaineThe Spanish-American War began the following month, directly resulting in the Philippine-American war.

There is a story, that illustrator Frederic Remington said there was no war brewing in Cuba. Hearst is supposed to have replied. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” The story may be apocryphal. The media can’t tell us what to think, but they can certainly control what we think ABOUT. Hearst and Pulitzer had clamored for two years for war with Spain, and they were happy to take credit when it came. Besides, it was good for circulation. A week after the Spanish-American War began in April, Hearst’s American Journal ran the headline “How do you like the Journal’s war?” Front page, above the fold.

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War Propaganda

It’s been said that you should never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel. I disagree. I have broken that dictum myself and recommend the practice to anyone so inclined. For all the Wizard of Oz antics of the print and electronic media, there remains only the one man behind the curtain. President Reagan once said of the Soviet Union, “doveryai no proveryai” (trust, but verify). He might have said the same of an information industry whose business model it is, to rent an audience to a sponsor.

In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire which ignited its ammunition stocks, not by Spanish mine or act of sabotage.

Small consolation it was to 3,289 Americans and an estimated 90,000 Spaniards, killed in “the Journal’s war”. Nor to the loved ones, they left behind.

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February 16, 1973 Cherry

“I spent 702 days in solitary confinement…At one time I was either tortured or in punishment for 93 straight days.” Fred Vann Cherry, Sr.

Fred Vann Cherry was born March 24, 1928, the child of poor Virginia dirt farmers.  Cherry had all the disadvantages of a black child growing up in the Jim Crow-era, but he stuck to his studies.  As a boy, Cherry attended racially segregated public schools in Suffolk Virginia, later attending the historically all-black Virginia Union University, and the United States Air Force Aviation Cadet Training Program.

An Air Force fighter pilot, Cherry flew 52 combat missions over North Korea, before going on to serve during the Cold War period, and the American war in Vietnam.

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Fred Vann Cherry, Sr.

On October 22, 1965, then-Major Cherry’s F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire, fifteen miles north of Hanoi.  “The plane exploded and I ejected at about 400 feet at over 600 miles an hourIn the process of ejection, I broke my left ankle, my left wrist, and crushed my left shoulder. I was captured immediately upon landing by Vietnamese militia and civilians.”

Any fool can judge a man by the color of his skin.  Most fools, do.  Fred Cherry’s North Vietnamese captors were no exception.  The first American of African ancestry to fall into the hands of these people, Cherry was told things could go easier.  If only he spoke out about racial discrimination, in the United States.

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Porter Halyburton

When that failed to produce the propaganda victory they wanted, jailers assigned Cherry a cellmate, the self-described “southern white boy”, Naval aviator Porter Halyburton.

I guess they thought if they had a Southern white boy taking care of a black man, it would be the worst place for both of us,” Halyburton told the Washington Post. “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Halyburton looked after his injured cellmate, changing the dressings on his infected wounds, feeding him, bathing him and watching over him. “He said I saved his life, and he saved my life. . . . Taking care of my friend gave my life some meaning that it had not had before.

For eight months, the two men lived in a series of putrid, stinking cells, 10-by-10-foot compartments with nothing to sleep on but filthy straw mats, or the floor.

I was so inspired by Fred’s toughness,” Halyburton said. “He had grown up in the racial South [and] undergone a lot of discrimination and hardship. But he was such an ardent patriot. He loved this country. It inspired me, and it inspired a lot of others.”

The two cellmates were separated in 1966, in what Halyburton remembers as “one of the saddest days of my life.”   Cherry recalled “I spent 702 days in solitary confinementAt one time I was either tortured or in punishment for 93 straight days.”

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Fred Cherry speaks to the press on February 16, 1973, following 2,671 days in captivity

The pair didn’t see each other again until 1973, when the two met at the military hospital at Clark Air Base in the Philippines following release from captivity.

Colonel Cherry and Commander Halyburton gave a number of joint talks at military institutions and colleges, and toured in 2004 to promote a book about their story, “Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam,” by James S. Hirsch.

Fred Cherry died on this day in 2016 at the age of 87, forty-three years to the day, from the news conference photographed above.  The Washington Post remembered in his obituary, what Colonel Cherry wrote in a 1999 collection of POW stories:

 “I was always taught to love and respect others and forgive those who mistreat, scorn or persecute me. . . . [This] allowed me overcome the damages of discrimination, Jim Crow, and the social and economic barriers associated with growing up a poor dirt farmer. . . . My standard for making decisions is based on doing what is right.”

It’s an inspiring message.  One worth remembering.

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Former POW and U.S. Air Force Colonel Fred Vann Cherry waves to the public and press there to greet the plane load of former POWs flown in from Clark Air Base. Colonel Cherry was released by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi February 12, 1973.
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February 15, 2005 Arlington Ladies

The organization was traditionally formed of current or former military wives. Today their number includes daughters and even one “Arlington Gentleman”. 46 years ago they came alone, or in pairs. Today, 145 or so volunteers from four military branches are a recognized part of all funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, their motto:  “No Soldier will ever be buried alone.”

The first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery was that of Private William Henry Christman, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred on May 13, 1864. Two more joined Christman that day, the trickle soon turning into a flood. By the end of the war between the states, that number was 17,000 and rising.

In modern times, an average week will see 80 to 100 burials in the 612 acres of Arlington.

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Fourteen years ago, a news release from the Department of Defense reported “Private First Class Michael A. Arciola, 20, of Elmsford, New York, died February 15, 2005, in Al Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire. Arciola was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Casey, Korea”.

Private Arciola joined a quarter-million buried in our nation’s most hallowed ground on March 31. Two hundred or more mourners attended his funeral, a tribute befitting the tragedy of the loss of one so young.

Sixteen others were buried that same Friday.  Most were considerably older. Some brought only a dozen or so mourners.  Others had no friends or family members whatsoever, on-hand to say goodbye.

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In 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg and the general’s wife Gladys, regularly attended funeral services at Arlington National cemetery.

Sometimes, a military chaplain was the only one present at these services. Both felt that a member of the Air Force family should be present at these funerals, and Gladys began to invite other officer’s wives. Over time, a group of women from the Officer’s Wives Club were formed for the purpose.

In 1973, General Creighton Abram’s wife Julia did the same for the Army, forming a group calling themselves “Arlington Ladies”. Groups of Navy and Coast guard wives followed suit, in 1985 and 2006. Traditionally, the Marine Corps Commandant sends an official representative of the Corps to all Marine funerals.

The Marine Corps Arlington Ladies were formed in 2016.

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Arlington Ladies’ Chairman Margaret Mensch explained “We’ve been accused of being professional mourners, but that isn’t true. I fight that perception all the time. What we’re doing is paying homage to Soldiers who have given their lives for our country.”

The casual visitor can’t help but be struck with the respect, of such an occasion.  Air Force Ladies’ Chairman Sue Ellen Lansell spoke of one service where the only other guest was “one elderly gentlemen who stood at the curb and would not come to the grave site. He was from the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D. C. One soldier walked up to invite him closer, but he said no, he was not family”.

The organization was traditionally formed of current or former military wives. Today their number includes daughters and even one “Arlington Gentleman”. 46 years ago they came alone, or in pairs. Today, 145 or so volunteers from four military branches are a recognized part of all funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, their motto:  “No Soldier will ever be buried alone.”

The volunteer arrives with a military escort from the Navy or the United States Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard”. The horse-drawn caisson arrives from the old post chapel, carrying the flag draped casket. Joining the procession, she will quietly walk to the burial site, her arm inside that of her escort. A few words are spoken over the deceased, followed by the three-volley salute. Somewhere, a solitary bugler sounds Taps.

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The folded flag is presented to the grieving widow, or next of kin. Only then will she break her silence, stepping forward with a word of condolence and two cards: one from the service branch Chief of Staff and his wife, and a second from herself.

Joyce Johnson buried her husband Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Johnson in 2001, a victim of the Islamist terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Johnson remembers the Arlington Ladies’ volunteer as “a touchingly, human presence in a sea of starched uniforms and salutes”. Three years later, Joyce Johnson paid it forward, and became one herself.

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Any given funeral may be that of a young military service member killed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a veteran of Korea or WWII, who spent his last days in the old soldier’s home. It could be a four-star General or a Private. It doesn’t matter.

Individual volunteers attend about five funerals a day, sometimes as many as eight. As with the Tomb of the Unknown sentinels who keep their guard heedless of weather, funeral services disregard weather conditions. The funeral will proceed on the date and time scheduled regardless of rain, snow or heat. Regardless of weather, an Arlington Lady Will be in attendance.

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Their job is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Linda Willey of the Air Force ladies describes the difficulty of burying Pentagon friends after 9/11, while pieces of debris still littered the cemetery. Paula McKinley of the Navy Ladies still chokes up, over the hug of a ten-year old who had just lost both her parents. Margaret Mensch speaks of the heartbreak of burying one of her own young escorts, after he was killed in Afghanistan, in 2009.

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Army Arlington Lady Anne Lennox with letters of condolence for the widow of Brigadier General Henry G. Watson.

Barbara Benson was herself a soldier, an Army flight nurse during WWII. She is the longest serving Arlington Lady. “I always try to add something personal”, Benson said, “especially for a much older woman. I always ask how long they were married. They like to tell you they were married 50 or 60 years…I don’t know how to say it really, I guess because I identify with Soldiers. That was my life for 31 years, so it just seems like the natural thing to do.”

Elinore Riedel was chairman of the Air Force Ladies during the War in Vietnam, when none of the other military branches had women representatives. “Most of the funerals were for young men,” she said. “I saw little boys running little airplanes over their father’s coffins. It is a gripping thing, and it makes you realize the awful sacrifices people made. Not only those who died, but those left behind.”

Mrs. Reidel is a minister’s daughter, who grew up watching her father serve those in need. “It doesn’t matter whether you know a person or not”, she said, “whether you will ever see them again. It calls upon the best in all of us to respond to someone in deep despair. I call it grace…I honestly feel we all need more grace in our lives.”

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They are so few and so young, who pick up the tab on behalf of the rest of us.

Feature image, top of page: Sandra Griffin, Ladies of Arlington

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February 14, 1945 Firestorm

Tens of thousands of fires enveloped the city, growing into a great, howling firestorm.  A shrieking, all-but living demon beast from the blackest pits of hell, devouring all in its path. 

The most destructive war in history entered its final, apocalyptic phase in January 1945, with another four months of hard fighting yet remaining before Allied forces could declare victory in Europe. In the west, the “Battle of the Bulge” was ended, the last great effort of German armed forces spent and driven back beyond original lines. In the east, the once mighty German military contracted in on itself, in the face of a massive Soviet advance.

Dozens of German divisions hurried east to meet the threat. Allied intelligence believed the war could be over in April, if the major cities to the east were destroyed. Dresden. Leipzig. Chemnitz. Letting these places stand to serve as bases for retreating German forces, could drag the war out until November.

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German military equipment lies broken in Czechoslovakia, 1945

Sir Charles Portal, British Chief of the Air Staff, put the problem succinctly: “We should use available effort in one big attack on Berlin and attacks on Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz, or any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East, but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West.”

With its baroque and rococo city center, the capital city of Dresden was long described as the “Jewel Box” of the Free State of Saxony, family seat to the Polish monarchs and royal residence to the Electors and Kings of Saxony. Dresden was the seventh-largest city in Germany in 1945, home to 127 medium-to-large sized factories supplying the German war machine, and the largest built-up area in the “thousand-year Reich”, yet to be bombed.

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Long described as “Florence on the Elbe” Dresden was considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities, a treasure of art and architecture.

For Victor Klemperer, the 13th of February, 1945, was the most terrifying and depressing experience, of a lifetime. Once home to well over 6,000 Jews, Dresden now contained but forty-one. Klemperer’s marriage to an “Aryan” wife had thus far protected him from the “final solution”, despite the yellow Juden star, he was forced to wear on his coat. It was now Victor’s task to hand out official letters, ordering those who remained to report for “deportation”. There wasn’t one among them, who didn’t understand what that meant.

Three hundred miles away, bad weather hampered operations for the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).  The first wave in the fire bombing of Dresden, would be a Royal Air Force (RAF) operation.

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The first group of Lancaster bombers arrived in the skies over Dresden two hours before midnight, February 13. These were the pathfinders, their job to find the place and drop magnesium parachute flares, to light up the target. Then came the marker planes, Mosquito bombers whose job it was to drop 1,000-pound target indicators, their red glare providing something to aim at. Then came the first wave, 254 Lancaster bombers dropping 500 tons of high explosive ranging from 500-pounders to massive, 4,000-pound “blockbusters”. Next came 200,000 incendiary or “fire bombs”.

This thing was just getting started.

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The second wave came in the small hours of February 14, just as rescue operations, were getting underway.  By now thousands of fires were burning, with smoke rising 15,000 feet into the air.  You could see it from the air, for five hundred miles.

That’s when another 529 Lancasters, dropped another 1,800 tons of bombs.

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Lancaster bomber

The USAAF arrived over the target on the afternoon of February 14, the 317 B-17 “Flying Fortresses” of the “Mighty 8th” delivering another 771 tons, of bombs.

Tens of thousands of fires enveloped the city, growing into a great, howling firestorm.  A shrieking, all-but living demon beast from the blackest pits of hell, devouring all in its path.  A firestorm of this size develops its own weather, fire tornadoes reaching into the sky as pyrocumulonimbus clouds hurl lightning bolts back to earth, starting new fires.  Gale force winds scream into the vortex from all points of the compass, powerful enough to hurl grown adults opening doors in an effort to flee, off their feet and back into the flames.

Lothar Metzger was ten at the time.  He brings us one of the few eyewitness accounts of the fire bombing of Dresden, as seen from the ground:

“It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother’s hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them”.

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For Victor Klemperer, the fire bombing of Dresden was a last minute reprieve. He would survive the attack, and live to see the end of the war.

Official death tolls from the burned out city are estimated at 18,500 to 25,000. The real number will never be known.  Refugees and military forces in the tens of thousands were streaming through the area at this point in the war.  Estimates range as high as 200,000.  The number if true, is more than death tolls resulting from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined.

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360° panoramic view of Dresden, following allied firebombing.  H/T International Business Times
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February 13, 1961 A Prehistoric Spark Plug

Winston Churchill once quipped “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.  Guess he got that right.

Sometime around Easter Sunday, 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kondos set sail from the island of Symi. Kondos and a team of Greek sponge divers worked their way through the Peloponnese, across the Aegean en route to the rich fishing grounds off the coast of North Africa. The team was stopped and waiting for favorable winds off the Greek Island of Antikythera, when some of the divers thought they’d have a look around.

Elias Stadiatis descended some 150-feet, and quickly signaled that he wanted to come back up.  Stadiatis told a wild tale about a rocky bottom, strewn with the rotting corpses and men and horses. Dozens of them.

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Greek sponge divers

The effects of nitrogen narcosis were well understood by this time, that lethally narcotic-like state of drunkenness where deep divers have been known to hand regulators, to fish. Captain Kondos was convinced that Stadiatis was drunk on nitrogen. He donned the canvas suit and brass helmet, and went down to look for himself.

The divers had discovered a 1st-century (BC) shipwreck, a treasure trove of statuary: four marble horses, and thirty-six stone statues including Hercules, Ulysses, Diomedes, Hermes and Apollo.

The most astonishing find from the wreck was a complex clock-like mechanism, believed to be built around 100-200BC and vastly more sophisticated than anything known to have come from antiquity. In more recent years, computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning have revealed the enormous sophistication of the “Antikythera mechanism“, an analog computer comprising some 37 exquisitely precise gear wheels, enabling the device to follow the moon and sun through the full cycle of the zodiac.

The thing can even recreate the variable velocity of the moon, as the body speeds up through its perigee, and slows through the apogee.

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Antikythera mechanism, recreation

What those Greek sponge divers had discovered was an Out-of-Place Artifact, (OOPArt), an object which called into question, our understanding of what has come before.  OOPArts are artifacts of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest, evincing a more advanced technology than known to have existed at the time, or even a human (or at least intelligent) hand at a time and place, where none are known to exist.

OOPArts run the gamut from the genuinely surprising to risible hoaxes to the favorites of cryptozoologists, UFOologists, paranormal enthusiasts and proponents of ancient astronaut theories.  Some turn out to be objects of mistaken interpretation, based on little more than wishful thinking.

The Iron Pillar outside the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in Delhi is believed to date from the fifth century Gupta monarchs of India.  Standing 23-feet, 8-inches and weighing in at 13,000-pounds, the thing is almost entirely free of rust, demonstrating a level of metallurgical proficiency, surprising for the time.

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The “London Hammer” was found in June 1934 near London Texas. It’s a common enough object, except is seems to be embedded, in 400 million year-old rock. Geologist J.R. Cole explains the conundrum:

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London Hammer

“The stone is real, and it looks impressive to someone unfamiliar with geological processes. How could a modern artifact be stuck in Ordovician rock? The answer is that the concretion itself is not Ordovician. Minerals in solution can harden around an intrusive object dropped in a crack or simply left on the ground if the source rock (in this case, reportedly Ordovician) is chemically soluble”.

“Young Earth Creationist” Carl Baugh has other ideas, claiming the object to be a “monumental pre-flood discovery”. You can see the London Hammer and decide for yourself, at the Creation Evidence Museum, in Glen Rose Texas.

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USNS Eltanin photo, 1964

The “Eltanin Antennae” was photographed by the cargo-carrying icebreaker and oceanographic research vessel USNS Eltanin in 1964.  Located on the sea floor off the Antarctic coast, the object lies under 12,808 feet of water.

To many, the object is clearly the result of intelligent life, even extra-terrestrials.  Author Brad Steiger has called it“an astonishing piece of machinery… very much like the cross between a TV antenna and a telemetry antenna“.

Other authorities have identified the object as Chondrocladia concrescens, an unusual carnivorous sponge.

Artist Karl Weingärtner created a mobile phone-style clay tablet for a museum display in 2012, complete with cuneiform script, keypad. Weingärtner posted a photo to his Facebook account, to help sell his art. Some wag dubbed the thing “BabyloNokia”, and it was off to the races. The “Conspiracy Club” website ran the image with the caption: “800-Year-Old Mobile Phone Found In Austria? Check This Out.”

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For the editors at UFO Sighting Daily, the BabyloNokia was proof positive that ancient astronauts had been here. Not to be outdone, the British tabloid Daily Express ran with Weingärtner’s image, claiming the object dated to the 13th century, BC.

Winston Churchill once quipped “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on“.  Guess he got that right.

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A large geode, lined with Amethyst crystals

Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell liked to prospect for geodes, near the California town of Olancha.

A geode is a hollow stone formation,  containing a secondary lining of crystals or mineral matter.  Geodes form slowly, over geologic time.  There’s no way of knowing what’s inside, until it’s broken or cut, apart.

On this day in 1961, the trio discovered the “Coso Artifact”, a geode containing an unusual object.  A Champion spark plug.

A reader wrote to Desert Magazine, claiming a trained geologist had dated the thing, at 500,000 years old.  The identity of the “trained geologist”, went unsaid.

A number of Pseudoscientific theories arose, to explain the object:

• The spark plug was evidence of an ancient, advanced civilization, possibly proof of the long lost city of Atlantis, itself.
• Prehistoric extraterrestrial visitors came to Earth. How such creatures came to possess a “Champion” spark plug, went unanswered.
• Human time-travelers from the future had left or lost the spark plug, thus proving their visit to the past.

The answer it seems, was more prosaic.  Researchers determined with help from the Spark Plug Collectors of America (who knew?), that this was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug, widely used in the engines of Model T and Model A Fords. The “geode” wasn’t that at all, but the accretion of iron and other minerals, produced as the object rusted in the ground.

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Geologists from the University of Washington Earth and Space Science department were invited to inspect the thing again, just last year. Scientists confirmed the opinion that this was a 1920s-vintage plug but, I don’t know.

Sounds to me like someone’s still betting on the 500,000-year version of the story.

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February 12, 1355 Of Towns and Gowns

2,000 men flooded in from the countryside, howling as they advanced “Slea, Slea…. Havock, Havock…. Smyte fast, give gode knocks.”

If you’re ever in Oxford, England, stop and see the four-way road junction called  “Carfax”.  The name derives from the Latin “quadrifurcus” via the French “carrefour”, meaning, “crossroads”.  Here at the center of the oldest college town in the English-speaking world, you’ll find a branch of the Santander Bank. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect a bar fight, leading to a riot.

Except, yeah. It is. Or at least it was.

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Oxford Carfax, NW

In the year 1355, the future bank branch was home to the Swindlestock Tavern, built in 1250. Tuesday, February 10 was a day of celebration, a remembrance of Saint Scholastica, the Roman Catholic Saint and twin sister to Saint Benedict, leader of monks.

A group of priests and students were drinking that night, when someone complained about the wine. Two students, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield had words with the tavern keeper, John Croidon.  John responded to their complaints with “stubborn and saucy language” (I love that), whereupon someone hurled a quart pot of the stuff, at his head.  Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield then proceeded to beat up the bartender.

To talk to the locals in any modern college town, is to hear the story of a mixed blessing. Sure there are jobs, and the business is good, just as sure as there is traffic, congestion and the annual invasion, of the Other. The once quiet town becomes the over-crowded scene of rowdy weekends, beer cans and thumping bass. Plato probably experienced the same adversarial relationship or something like it (presumably minus the bass) in 387BC, with the first Academy outside the walls of Athens.

Seems like some things don’t change, all that much.

Back to the Swindlestock Tavern. The riot about to happen, was far from the first.  The thirteenth century had seen a number contretemps between “Towns and Gowns”, in which ninety people were killed.

townandgown

The landlord at the Swindlestock was John de Bereford, who just happened to be the Mayor of Oxford.  On the following day, Mayor de Bereford asked University Chancellor Humphrey de Cherlton, to arrest the two students.   Some two hundred undergraduates rushed to Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield’s defense, allegedly assaulting the Mayor, and several others.

The Church bells rang out at St Martin’s, calling the townspeople to arms. The University Church bells at rang in response at St. Mary’s, summoning hordes of students.  What started out with a bar fight the night before, was about to become an all-out riot.

2,000 men flooded in from the countryside, howling as they advanced “Slea, Slea…. Havock, Havock…. Smyte fast, give gode knocks.”

Swindlestock_tavern_plaque.jpegThe Mayor rode to Woodstock to enlist the help of the King.  Back in Oxford, the violence went on for two days, coming to an end on Thursday, February 12.

Townspeople broke into academic halls, beating students and faculty, alike.  By the time it was over, Sixty-three academics and thirty locals, were dead.

The dispute leading to the St. Scholasta’s day riot of 1355 was eventually settled in favor of the University.  The Mayor and the Bailiffs of Oxford were ordered to do penance along with a number of townsfolk, one for each of the slain.  The procession would march bare-headed through the streets of Oxford before attending Mass in memory of the slain.  Then on to the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, where the Vice-Chancellor awaited with the Vicar, University Proctors, and the Registrar.  The University delegation was then paid a fine of 5 shillings, three-pence, usually in small coin. A penny for every scholar killed.

This act of contrition continued every February 10 for 470 years until 1825, when the mayor refused to participate.

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Carfax, as seen from St. Martin’s tower

The proverbial hatchet was finally buried on February 10, 1955. A ceremony was held in which the Mayor received an honorary degree, in exchange for which the Vice-Chancellor was made an Honorary Freeman.

It was six-hundred years, to the day. Talk about remembering your history.

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.

February 11, 1462 Son of the Dragon

When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

Count Dracula, favorite of Halloween costume shoppers from time out of mind, has been around since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, of the same name.  Stoker’s working titles for the manuscript included “The Un-dead”, and “Count Wampyr”. He nearly kept one of them too, until stumbling into the real-life story of Vlad Țepeș (TSE·pesh), a Wallachian Prince and front-line warrior, against the Jihad of his day.

bram-stoker-draculaIn modern Romanian, “Dracul” means “The Devil”. In the old language, it meant “the Dragon”, the word “Dracula” (Drăculea) translating as “Son of the Dragon”.

Stoker wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL“. In a time and place remembered for brutality, Vlad “the Impaler” Țepeș stands out for extraordinary cruelty. There are tales that Țepeș disemboweled his own mistress. That he collected the noses of vanquished adversaries. Some 24,000 of them. That he dined among forests of victims, spitted on poles. That he even impaled the donkeys they rode in on.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul became Voivode (prince) of Wallachia, a region in modern-day Romania situated between the Lower Danube river and the Carpathian Mountains. The sobriquet “Dracul” came from membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (literally “Society of the Dragonists“), a monarchical chivalric order founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1408, dedicated to stopping the Ottoman advance into Europe.

order-of-the-dragonA crossroads between East and West, the region was scene to frequent bloodshed, as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe and Christian forces pushed back..
A weakened political position left Vlad II no choice but to pay homage to Ottoman Sultan Murad II, in the form of an annual Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and a contribution of 500 Wallachian boys to serve as Janissaries, the elite slave army at the center of Ottoman power.

Vlad was taken hostage by the Sultan in 1442 along with his two younger sons, Vlad III and Radu. The terms of the boys’ captivity were relatively mild by the standards of the time and the boys became skilled horsemen and warriors.  While Radu went over to the Turkish side, Vlad hated captivity and developed an incandescent hate for his captors. It would last him all of his days.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II set his sights on the invasion of all Europe.

Vlad III gained the Wallachian throne three years later and immediately stopped all tribute to Sultan Mehmed II, by now risen to 10,000 ducats a year and 1,000 boys. When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

Vlad, Ottoman EnvoysVlad now consolidated power as his reputation for savagery, grew. According to stories circulated after his death, hundreds of disloyal Boyars (nobles) and their allies met their end, impaled on spikes.

The conqueror of Constantinople now amassed power of his own, setting his sights on campaigns against Anatolia, the Greek Empire of Trebizond and the White Sheep Turkomans of Uzun Hasan. Throughout this period, Romanian control of the Danube remained a thorn in his side.

Pope Pius II declared a new Crusade against the Ottoman in 1460, but Vlad Țepeș was the only European leader to show any enthusiasm. The Hungarian General and Ţepeş’ only ally Mihály Szilágyi was captured by the Turks, his men were tortured to death and Szilágyi himself sawed in half.

vlad-tepes--i101077Țepeș invaded the Ottoman Empire the following year. In a letter to Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus dated February 11, 1462, Țepeș wrote: “I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him (Sultan Mehmet II)”.

The Sultan invaded Wallachia at the head of a massive army, only to find a “forest of the impaled”. The Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes: “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen long and seven stades wide“.

To give a sense of scale to such a horror, a “stade” derives from the Greek “stadeon” – the dimensions of an ancient sports arena.

Vlad DraculaOutnumbered five-to-one, Ţepeş carried out a scorched earth policy, poisoning the waters, diverting small rivers to create marshes and digging traps covered with timber and leaves. He would send sick people among the Turks, suffering lethal diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and bubonic plague.

From his years in captivity, Ţepeş understood Ottoman language and customs as well as the Turks themselves. Absolutely fearless, he would disguise himself as a Turk and freely walk about their encampments.

On June 17, 1462, the Son of the Dragon launched a night attack on the Ottoman camp near the capital city of Târgoviște, in an effort to assassinate Mehmed himself. Knowing that the Sultan forbade his men from leaving their tents at night, a force of some 7,000 to 10,000 horsemen fell on Mehmed’s camp three hours after sunset. The skirmish lasted all night until 4 the next morning, killing untold numbers of Turks, their horses and camels. Ţepeş himself aimed for the Sultan’s tent, but mistook it for that of two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha.

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The Battle With Torches by Romanian painter Theodor Aman, depicting the The Night Attack of Târgovişte,

Mehmed II “The Conqueror” survived the Night Attack at Târgovişte. In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would twice be deposed only to regain the throne but never able to defeat his vastly more powerful adversary.

In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would be twice deposed only to regain power. Unable to defeat his more powerful adversary, Vlad was exiled for several years in Hungary, spending much of that time in prison.

Heaven help the unsuspecting rodent who fell into his hands, in that wretched cell.

Vlad

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.

February 10, 1920  The Dirt on Baseball

“Part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field… They smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred… and as it came over the plate, [the ball] was very hard to see.” – Ken Burns, Baseball

Pitcher Max Surkont once said “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously — if it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball”.  I’m not sure about javelins, but this much I know.  It’s a lot of fun to watch a home run, hit out of the park.

The New York Yankees hit 267 home runs last year, breaking the single-season record held for twenty-one years, by the Seattle Mariners.  But that’s not always how the game was played. The “Hitless Wonders” of the 1906 Chicago White Sox won the World Series with a .230 club batting average. Manager Fielder Jones said “This should prove that leather is mightier than wood”.  Fielder Allison Jones.  That’s the man’s real name.  If that’s not the greatest baseball name ever, it’s gotta be one of the top ten.

1994UpperDeckAllStar44This was the “dead-ball” era of the Major Leagues, an “inside baseball” style relying on stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and, more than anything, speed.

That’s not to say there were no power hitters. In some ways, a triple may be more difficult than a home run, requiring a runner to cover three bases in the face of a defense, still in possession of the ball. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Owen “Chief” Wilson set a record  36 triples in 1912. “Wahoo” Sam Crawford hit a career record 309 triples in 18 years in Major League Baseball, playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit tigers from 1899 to 1917. 100 years later, it’s unlikely that either record will ever be broken.

In his 1994 television miniseries “Baseball”, Ken Burns explained that “Part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field… They smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred… and as it came over the plate, [the ball] was very hard to see.”

5565612_origSpitballs lessened the natural friction with a pitcher’s fingers, reducing backspin and causing the ball to drop. Sandpapered, cut or scarred balls tended to “break” to the side of the scuff mark. Balls were rarely replaced in those days.  By the end of a game, the ball was scarred, misshapen and entirely unpredictable.  Major League Baseball outlawed “doctored” pitches on February 10, 1920, though it remained customary to play an entire game with the same ball.

The first ever game to be played “under the lights” was forty years in the past in 1920, but the practice would not be widespread, for another fifteen years.

Late afternoon on August 16, the Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman took the plate in the top of the 5th, facing “submarine” pitcher Carl Mays.

submarine-425thA submarine pitch is not to be confused with the windmill underhand pitch we see in softball.  Submarine pitchers throw side-arm to under-handed, with upper bodies so low that some scuff their hands on the ground, the ball rising as it approaches the strike zone.

Submarine pitch

It seems Chapman didn’t see it coming. He never moved.  The crack of the ball hitting Ray Chapman’s head was so loud that Mays thought he had hit the end of the bat, fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out. Wally Pipp, the first baseman best known for losing his starting position to Lou Gehrig because of a headache, knew something was wrong. The batter made no effort to run but simply collapsed, slowly dropping to the ground with blood streaming out of his left ear.

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Ray Chapman

29-year-old Ray Chapman had said this was his last year playing ball.  He wanted to spend more time in the family business he had just married into. The man was right.  Raymond Johnson Chapman died 12 hours later, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.

The age of one-ball-per-game died with Ray Chapman, and with it the era of the dead ball. The lively ball era, had begun. Batters loved it, but pitchers struggled to come to grips, with all those shiny new balls.

MLB rule #3.01(c) states that “Before the game begins the umpire shall…Receive from the home club a supply of regulation baseballs, the number and make to be certified to the home club by the league president. The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed. The umpire shall be the sole judge of the fitness of the balls to be used in the game”.

Umpires would “prep” the ball using a mixture of water and dirt from the field, but this resulted in too-soft covers, vulnerable to tampering. Something had to take the shine off the ball without softening the cover.

Philadelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne took up the challenge in 1938, scouring the riverbanks of New Jersey for just the right mud. Blackburne found his mud hole, describing the stuff as “resembling a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream”. By his death in the late fifties, Blackburne was selling his “Baseball Rubbing Mud” to every major league ball club in the country, and most minor league teams.

Philadelphia_Athletics_coach_Lena_Blackbourne_and_manager_Connie_Mack_in_the_dugout_at_Fenway_Park2
Philadelphia Athletics coach Lena Blackburne with team owner Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as “Connie Mack”, Fenway Park

In a world where classified information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known. Among them Facebook “Community Standards” algorithms, the formula for Coca Cola, and the Secret Swamp™, home of Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud.

gettyimages-482263221-594x594

There’s an old joke here on Sunny Cape Cod™, that we have four seasons:  Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Bridge Construction.  As we gaze out on the frozen tundra longing for that first crocus of Spring, one thing is sure. The first pitchers will show up to the first spring training camp, a few short days from now. Every baseball thrown from pre-season to the 2019 World Series, will first be de-glossed with Lena Blackburne’s famous, Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Play Ball!

Go Sox.

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.

February 9, 1942 Of Hoodlums and Heroes

It didn’t last forever but, for one golden moment in history, the goons and the government were playing for the same side.

As the Great War gave way to the Roaring Twenties, operators of the great ocean-going liners began to look at a new class of vessels.

The White Star Lines’ Britannic, Olympic and the doomed Titanic. Cunard’s Carpathia, Mauretania and the ill-fated Lusitania. The Red Star Line’s Finland, Kroonland, and Lapland. These were the veterans of the trans-Atlantic trade, built around enormous numbers of immigrants and the one-way steerage class voyage from Europe, to the United States.

Normandie_poster
Normandie poster

As the US all but shut down immigration in the early 1920s, the shipping industry looked to a new class of super liner to serve an upper-crust tourist trade, particularly Americans traveling to Europe, to escape Prohibition.

The German-built Norddeutscher Lloyd company was first off the line with the SS Bremen and Europa. The British-made RMS Queen Mary was not far behind, but the Queen of this new class of super-liner, was the French-built Normandie.

SS Normandie was one-of-a-kind.  The first vessel laid in compliance with the 1929 SOLAS Convention (Safety of Life at Sea), she was enormous.  1,029-feet long and 119-feet wide and displacing 85,000 tons, she was the largest liner in the world. 1,975 berths offering seven classes of service, served by a crew of 1,300.

Despite worldwide depression, Normandie was launched in 1932, making her first Atlantic crossing, in 1935.

Normandie-under-construction
Normandie under construction

War broke out in Europe in 1939.  When France surrendered to Nazi Germany in June 1940, Normandie was tied to a dock, in New York.  Under no circumstance would such a vessel be allowed to fall into Nazi hands.  SS Normandie was immediately placed under “protective custody” by the US Navy.

There was speculation in the press, that the liner would be converted to an aircraft carrier in the event of American entry into the war.  The Navy seized the liner in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but not for a carrier.  The most luxurious liner in the world would be converted, to a troop ship.

Work began within weeks on the renamed USS Lafayette.

normandie-6-3176-default-largeThe afternoon of February 9, 1942 was cold and clear, over the West 49th Street pier. Welder Clement Derrick was removing the last of four stanchions in the Grand Salon when sparks ignited bales of burlap, covering highly flammable life vests.

Within a half-hour, much of the great liner was engulfed in flames. Black, oily smoke filled the City skyline as spectators crowded Pier 88.

Squadrons of fire boats poured a deluge of water, more than the great liner could bear. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Rear Admiral Adolphus Andrews attempted to board when she suddenly lurched several feet, to port. USS Lafayette was drowning in the water, meant to save her life.

The scene was a carnival, with food vendors and  hawkers. Skycraper windows were opened, to watch the grim spectacle.

USS Lafayette continued her slow roll as, unseen within her holds, shifting water picked up speed. In twelve hours, it was over. At 2:35am on February 10, she rolled over and died.

Miki Rosen was five at the time, coming by in the family car, to gawk at the scene: “My father wanted us to see it because it was an historical event. I was terribly frightened by this enormous thing that I knew was supposed to be upright and bobbing up and down. It didn’t even look like a ship. It was a mass of iron floating in the water.”

USS_Lafayette_1942
USS Lafeyette, 1942

It wasn’t long before speculation turned to certainty. Sabotage. German spies were all over the waterfront, taking jobs as bartenders, stevedores and factory workers. Only a month earlier, 33 German agents were sentenced in a Brooklyn courtroom, to 300 years.  German U-Boats sank 20 allied vessels in January alone, a mere sixty miles off the New Jersey and Long Island shore.

main-qimg-5b28658362e63dfcf2abdc5a8709522fBBC broadcaster Alistaire Cooke, “the Twentieth Century’s de Tocqueville”, spoke of American seamen, torpedoed and picked up by a German submarine. The U-Boat commander came in and asked, in a perfect Brooklyn accent, if any were from the borough. “Maybe I worked with some o’ youse guys.  I was twelve years in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The FBI recreated Clement Derrick’s accident with the same dreadful result but, no matter.  By then, speculation had turned to “fact”.

Naval intelligence distrusted the official FBI version.  Hordes of uniformed personnel descended on the waterfront from Connecticut to New Jersey, to be met with a glowering brick wall of silence.  This was a rough and unaccustomed place, an underworld of sailors and gangsters,  fishermen and longshoremen.  A world of street toughs who’d long since lost any trust in uniforms, from meter maids to police officers.  Ivy-league Naval intelligence types got no information whatsoever.  Many were lucky, to escape without a beating.

The only authority in this world, was the Mob.

Naval Intelligence Director Rear Admiral Carl Espe remembered:  “The outcome of the war appeared extremely grave. In addition, there was the most serious concern over possible sabotage in the ports. It was necessary to use every possible means to prevent and forestall sabotage….” Someone on the docks was feeding the Nazis information, and only the mob had the power to hunt down the guilty party.  Policy makers fretted about doing business with the Mafia, while the Kriegsmarine U-Boats enjoyed the “Happy Time”.  

Could the Mafia even be trusted?  Vito Genovese fled New York to Italy back in 1937 to avoid a murder prosecution, where he became close friends with Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. So tight were the pair that the cagey gangster dispatched hit men to New York to murder newspaperman Carlo Tresca, a vocal critic of the fascist regime.

JosephLanza
Joseph “Socks” Lanza

Closer examination told a different story. Genovese was an opportunist, a double-crosser with no loyalty.  Most Sicilian gangsters were different, most of them refugees from savage Italian purges where Mafiosi were machine gunned, bombed and arrested, in droves. Thugs and gangsters yes, but almost to a man they hated the fascists with the white heat, of a thousand suns.

So it was, the United States Navy entered into one of the strangest relationships of WW2, an operation which would remain secret, until 1977. “Operation Underworld“.

The first mob boss to come on board was Joseph “Socks” Lanza, a hulking bulldozer of a man and undisputed lord of the Fulton fish market. Socks got his name because he’d “sock” anyone in the jaw, who disagreed with his pronouncements. A man with a criminal history going back to 1917, Joe Socks could order the fishing fleet from Maine to Florida to dump an entire catch to inflate prices, with a nod of his head. Fishermen failing to bribe the racketeer found their fish left rotting, on the docks. Continued disobedience resulted in arson, beatings, and death.

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If anyone could ferret out a Judas passing information to German intelligence it was Joe Socks, but how to contact a gangster, sworn to the code of Omerta?

Head of the New York Rackets Bureau, Murray Gurfein and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden met with Lanza in the office of the gangster’s attorney. Gurfein explained “It’s a matter of great urgency. Many of our ships are being sunk along the Atlantic coast. We suspect German U-boats are being refueled and getting fresh supplies off our coast …You can find out how and where the submarines are being refueled.”  Surprisingly, the Gangster jumped at the opportunity.

Socks provided union cards held for no-show jobs. Soon, naval intelligence agents were sailing aboard mackerel fleets from Newfoundland to Florida, ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications forming a valuable first-line of defense, against the Nazi submarine menace.

Important as it was, Lanza’s fishing fleet wasn’t enough, and Socks himself was disliked by the other four New York crime families.

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Charles “Lucky” Luciano

The never-ending scrum of troop ships and merchant vessels crowding the New York waterfront was of life-and-death importance to the allied war effort. The only man who controlled it all, was in prison. Lucky Luciano.  The only man Luciano trusted, was the Jewish gangster, Meyer Lansky.

Unlike the Italians, no one questioned Lansky’s patriotism.  He and his Jewish mob had attacked Nazi meetings all over the city, throwing some of them out of the windows.

The meeting was arranged and, on May 12, 1942, Luciano was quietly transferred from Dannemora prison to a country club by comparison, and promised parole at the war’s end. This in exchange for the mobster’s cooperation in defeating Nazi Germany.

Cooperate, he did. The word went out from Luciano’s prison cell, from the docks to the heart of the city. Soon, every hat check girl and bartender, every longshoreman and numbers runner and the guys who serviced the vending machines, became the eyes and ears of the United States Navy. From bathroom attendants to elevator operators, the American Nazi organization known as German American Bund couldn’t so much as think out loud, without someone listening in.

It didn’t last forever but, for one golden moment in history, the goons and the government were playing for the same side.

In the end, USS Lafayette would never sail under a US Flag.  She was a total loss, sold for scrap in 1946.  The government was as good as its word. On January 3, 1946, Governor Thomas E. Dewey commuted Luciano’s sentence, on condition that he did not resist deportation. The most powerful mob boss in New York, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, was deported to Naples.  Four years to the day from the death of the USS Lafayette.

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.

February 8, 1943 The Gift of Valor

The Swedish-American poet Carl Sandburg once wrote “Valor is a gift.  Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.” 

e4fe77529e36fb9999c1c4e195929129For six hundred years, the Balkan states of Southeastern and Central Europe were conquered and unwilling subjects of foreign powers. First the Ottoman, and then the Austro-Hungarian Empires.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the dream of a single state for ethnic Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had been around for some two hundred years.

The spark that started WW1 and literally changed the world was struck by the “Black Hand”, a secret society dedicated to Serbian liberation, no matter what.

The dream of sovereignty took form and shape in the wake of WW1, the six constituent republics of the Socialist Republic (SR) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SR Croatia, SR Macedonia, SR Montenegro, SR Serbia, and SR Slovenia merging to form the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”.  A creation of the treaty ending the Great War, the place was referred to as the “Versailles State“, for the first ten years. The name was officially changed to Yugoslavia in 1929, literally translating as the “Land of all South Slavic peoples“.

tumblr_mzl45prz011stxu8xo2_500Lepa Svetozara Radić was born into this world on December 19, 1925.

From her earliest student days, Lepa Radić was known for dedication and hard work, a smart and serious girl, dedicated and reading well above grade level.

Radić developed strong left-of-center political views, taking influence from uncle Vladeta Radić, a strong proponent of the labor movement.

By that age when young teenage girls are thinking of other things, Radić had joined the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ). By the time she turned fifteen in 1941, she was a member of the Yugoslavian Communist Party.

As World War 2 enveloped the continent, a group of disaffected Yugoslav Army Air Force officers plotted to overthrow the government in Belgrade. The Cvetković government signed the Vienna protocol on March 25, 1941, signalling its intention to join the Tri-Partite pact of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. The bloodless coup d’état of two days later overthrew the Prince Regency of Paul Karađorđević, installing the pro-western, seventeen-year-old King Peter II, with encouragement and support from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Adolf Hitler was apoplectic, taking personal offense at the coup d’état.  Der Fuhrer had no interest in waiting to see if the new government would declare loyalty.  Hitler summoned his military advisers the same day, determined “to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a state” and to do so “with pitiless harshness.

The Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia was overwhelming, simultaneously launched from bases in Germany, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.  The Yugoslav state never had a chance.  It was all over, in eleven days.

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The invasion was over in April, but not the Resistance.

With the German stranglehold in tight control of the towns and roadways, a Serbian resistance was quick to form in the wild mountains of the war torn nation.  Two of them really:  the Chetniks, dedicated to support of the Royal government in exile and the ferociously pro-Communist Partisans, under the leadership of Josip Broz “Tito.”

For the Radić family, there was no question of loyalty.  Lepa’s father Svetor and uncles Voja and Vladeta joined the Partisans in July, leading to the arrest of the entire family by the Ustashe, the fascist Nazi-puppet government of Yugoslavia.

lepa_radic_i_nemci__1502623485_44934-e1502623544936-780x300Resistance fighters freed the Radić family in weeks. That December, Lepa and her sister Dara officially joined the Partisans.

Though only fifteen, Lepa Radić was as fierce in her opposition to the Nazis, as any Partisan. She volunteered for the front lines, joining the 7th Partisan company of the 2nd Krajiski Detachment, transporting wounded and defenseless from the battlefield. Did I mention, she was fifteen years old.

1190617_lepa-radic_ls-sLepa was found out in February 1943, coordinating the rescue of 150 women and children attempting to flee the Nazis. She fired everything she had at attacking SS forces, but never had a chance. Lepa Radić was captured and sentenced to death by hanging, tortured for three days to extract information on Yugoslavian Resistance.

She gave up the cube root of zero.

She was brought to a hastily constructed gallows on February 8, 1943, and hanged in full view of the public.

Lepa_Radić_hangedMoments before her execution with the rope around her neck, Radić was offered a pardon. All she had to do, was give up the names of her Partisan comrades.

“I am not a traitor of my people”, she said. “Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all you evildoers, to the last man.”

Those were her last words.

The Swedish-American poet Carl Sandburg once wrote “Valor is a gift.  Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.”

Were I ever to be half so egregiously tested, I hope I would prove myself half the man, as that seventeen-year-old girl.

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