"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." – Steve Sabol, NFL Films
Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon
I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m closing in on a thousand.
I do it because I want to & I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anybody else.
I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”
Future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this. For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.
The American Revolution was barely 15 years in the rear-view mirror, when the new State House opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. The building has expanded a couple of times since then and remains the home of Massachusetts’ state government, to this day.
On January 11, 1798, a procession of legislators and other dignitaries worked its way from the old statehouse at the intersection of Washington and State Streets to the new location on Beacon Hill, a symbolic transfer of the seat of government. The procession carried with it, a bundle. Measuring 4-feet eleven-inches and wrapped in an American flag, it was a life-size wooden carving. Of a codfish.
For the former Massachusetts colony, the lowly cod was once a key to survival. Now, this “Sacred Cod” was destined for a new home in the legislative chamber of the House of Representatives.
Mark Kurlansky, author of “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, laments the 1990s collapse of the Cod fishery, saying the species finds itself “at the wrong end of a 1,000-year fishing spree.”
Records date back as early as AD985 when Eirik the Red, Leif Eirikson’s father, preserved Codfish by hanging them in the cold winter air. Medieval Spaniards of the Basque region improved on the process, by the use of salt. By A.D. 1,000, Basque traders were supplying a vast international market, in codfish.
By 1550, Cod accounted for half the fish consumed in all Europe. When the Puritans set sail for the new world it was to Cape Cod, to pursue the wealth of the New England fishery.
Without codfish, Plymouth Rock would likely have remained just another boulder. William Bradford, first signer of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and 5-term governor of the Plymouth Colony (he called it “Plimoth”), reported that, but for the Cod fishery, there was talk of going to Manhattan or even Guiana: “[T]he major part inclined to go to Plymouth, chiefly for the hope of present profit to be made by the fish that was found in that country“.
There are tales of sailors scooping codfish out of the water, in baskets. So important was the cod to the regional economy that a carved likeness of the creature hung in the old State House, fifty years or more before the Revolution.
The old State House burned in 1747, leaving nothing but the brick exterior you see today, not far from Faneuil Hall. It took a year to rebuild the place, including a brand new wooden Codfish. This one lasted until the British occupation of Boston, disappearing sometime between April 1775 and March 1776.
The fish which accompanied that procession in 1798 was the third, and so far the last such carving to hang in the Massachusetts State House where it’s remains, to this day. Sort of.
It was April 16, 1933 with the country mired in the Great Depression, when someone looked up in Massachusetts’ legislative chamber, and spied – to his dismay – nothing but bare wires. The Commonwealth had suffered “The Great Cod-napping”, of 1933.
Newspapers went wild with speculation. What had happened to The Sacred Cod.
Suspects were questioned and police chased down one lead after another, but they all turned out to be red herring (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). State police dredged the Charles River, (Love that dirty water). Lawmakers refused to d’bait (pardon), preferring instead to discuss what they would do with those dastardly Cod-napper(s), if and when the evildoers were apprehended.
Soon, an anonymous tip revealed the culprits to be college pranksters. Three editors of the Harvard Lampoon newspaper, pretending to be tourists. It was a two-part plan, the trio entering the building with wire cutters and a flower box, as other Lampoon members created a diversion by kidnapping an editor from the arch-rival newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. The caper worked, flawlessly. Everyone was busy looking for the missing victim, as two snips from a wire cutter brought down the Sacred Cod.
On April 28, a tip led University Police to a car with no license plate, cruising the West Roxbury Parkway. After a 20-minute low speed chase, (I wonder if it was a white Bronco), the sedan pulled over. Two men Carp’d the Diem (or something like that) and handed over the Sacred Cod, before driving away.
Once again the Sacred Cod ascended to its rightful place, and there was happiness upon the Land. The Cod was stolen one more time in 1968, this time by UMASS hippies protesting some fool thing, but the fish never made it out of the State House.
Years later, future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this. For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.
Not to be outdone, the State Senate has its own fish, hanging in its legislative chambers. There in the chandelier, above the round table where sits the Massachusetts upper house, is the copper likeness of the “Holy Mackerel”. No kidding. I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.
Legend has it that, when you see those highway signs saying X miles to Boston, they’re really giving you the distance to the Holy Mackerel.
A tip of my hat to my friend and Representative to the Great & General Court David T. Vieira, without whom I’d have remained entirely ignorant of this fishy tale.
“I would not be cured if the price of the cure was that I must leave the island and give up my work I am perfectly resigned to my lot”. Saint Damien of Molokai
It’s one of the oldest diseases in recorded history, the first written reference coming down to us, from 600BC. Ancient Greeks, Chinese, Indians and Middle Eastern sources wrote about the condition as did the Roman naturalist Pliny the elder, in the first century.
Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. Left untreated the condition produces skin ulcers, damage to peripheral nerves & upper respiratory tract, and muscular weakness. Everyday injuries go unnoticed due to numbness and lead to infection. Advanced cases result in severe disfigurement, crippling and/or the physical loss of hands, feet & facial features, and, finally, blindness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a death rate among leprosy sufferers four times that of the general population.
First discovered by Norwegian physician G.H. Armauer Hansen in 1873, M. leprae is the first bacterium identified as the causative agent of disease, in humans. Today, Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT). The world saw 208,619 new cases in 2018, 185 of which occurred, in the United States.
The horrors of the condition and resulting social stigmas, are plain for anyone to see. Today, sufferers fear loss of jobs, separation of familial and other connections and social isolation. Though not as widespread as commonly believed, victims of “Hansen’s disease” were historically sent off to quarantine in asylums and “leper colonies” from which few, ever returned.
In the 19th century, Mycobacterium leprae came to the Hawaiian islands.
According to research, long-distance explorers first came to the Hawaiian islands around the year 300. For the next 500 years, settlers arrived from French Polynesia, Tahiti, Tuamotus and the Samoan Islands. Other research indicates a shorter timeframe, settlement occurring between 1219 and 1266. Be that as it may the Hawaiian islands were first unified in 1810 to become the Kingdom of Hawai’i, under King Kamehameha the Great. Captain James Cook made the first known European contact in 1778 followed by waves of others both European, and American.
According to archaeological evidence, indigenous peoples occupied the Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, for more than 900 years. Before first contact with Europeans their numbers are estimated, between 1,000 and 2,700, . Following the arrival of Captain Cook and others, Eurasian diseases decimated native populations. By 1853 only were 140 natives were left on the Kalaupapa peninsula.
Leprosy first arrived on the Hawaiian islands around 1830, believed to be carried by Chinese laborers. The disease was incurable at that time, the first effective treatment didn’t come around, until the1940s.
By 1865, sugar planters were concerned about the labor supply. The Kingdom passed a measure to remove the Kānaka Maoli, Native Hawaiian inhabitants occupying the peninsula, in preparation for a leper colony.
The first such isolation settlement was established at Kalawao on the windward side of the peninsula and then on Kalaupapa, itself.
Even after a year of family disruption brought about by government response to Covid-19 the catastrophe of such a policy, is hard to process. In native Hawaiian tradition, Aloha ʻĀina means not only “Love of the Land” but a deep sense of connection, to all living things. For the descendants of those forcibly removed from the ʻĀina as well as those “lost” to Kalaupapa the wounds remain open, to this day.
By 1890, 1,100 ‘lepers’ lived in this remote, inhospitable place, prisoners of their own deteriorating bodies and a greater culture who loathed, and feared them.
Over the years some 8,500 unfortunates would come to live in this place, the last one, in 1969.
Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer set out from his native Germany in search of the California gold rush. He made it as far as Molokaʻi. By 1866, Meyer was a father and husband to Kalama Waha, settled on the steep cliffs above Kalaupapa. As the peninsula became a leper colony, Meyer became supply agent to the colony and liaison to those few healthy individuals, willing to work there.
Mostly, those were Belgian missionary priests from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the first of whom was Father Damien, who served there from 1873 until his death, in 1889.
Father Damien arrived at the isolated settlement at Kalaupapa on May 10, 1873. At that time there were 600 lepers. He spoke to the assembled unfortunates as “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you.”
After the Fr. Damien’s death of leprosy, commentators complained of contemporary accounts diminishing the work of native Hawaiians, some of whom served prominent roles on the island. While such are accounts are likely true enough there is no diminishing what the man did there.
For 16 years, father Damien lived and worked among the lepers of Molokaʻi. He ate with them, from the same bowls. He smoked with them, from the same pipe.
While the government had no desire to make this place a penal colony, outside support was slim to none. And this was no isolated population of yeoman farmers, these people were sickened and made weak by this most dreadful of medical conditions, many barely able to care for themselves.
Damien was not only a priest and teacher, he pitched in painting houses, organizing farms and building roads, hospitals and churches. He dressed the wounds of the stricken, built their coffins, dug graves and lived with the lepers, as equals. Six months after his arrival at Kalawao he wrote to his brother, Pamphile, in Europe: “…I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
One day, it happened. In December 1884, he accidentally put his foot in scalding water. It was so hot that his skin blistered and peeled but he didn’t feel a thing. Father Damien was now himself, a leper.
Despite the illness destroying his body, Damien worked even harder in the last years of his life. He completed several building projects and improved orphanages, all while aiding his fellow lepers in their treatments and medical baths and spreading the Catholic faith. King David Kalākaua bestowed on the priest the honor of “Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua.” When Crown Princess Lydia Liliʻuokalani arrived to present the medal she was said to be too distraught and heartbroken at the sight of those poor people, to even speak.
Princess Liliʻuokalani spoke of her experience bringing the plight of Father Damien and his flock, to the eyes of the world. European and American protestants sent money to help with the work. The Church of England sent food, medicine and supplies. It is believed that Fr. Damien never wore his medal but he went to his grave, with it by his side.
Japanese leprologist Masanao Goto arrived to treat the lepers of Molokaʻi with medical baths, moderate exercise and friction applied to parts, benumbed by disease. Goto’s treatments were popular with his patients but, in the end, there was little hope. Four volunteers arrived in the end to aid the ailing missionary including sister Marianne Cope, a woman who would one day join Father Damien, in Roman Catholic sainthood.
By February 1889, the end was near. With his foot in bandages and an arm in a sling, his other leg dragging uselessly behind, Damien went to his death bed on March 23. Father Damien died of leprosy at 8:00am on April 15, 1889. He was 49. The entire colony turned out the following day as the Belgian missionary was laid to rest beside the same pandamus tree under which he had slept those sixteen years earlier, on his first night in Molokaʻi.
In John 15:13, the King James Bible teaches that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Today, I wonder how many know the name of Father Damien, of Molokaʻi . Or the faith which would bring a person to willingly submit to the literal rot, of such a hideous condition.
Let Mahatma Ghandi, himself no stranger to the horrors of leprosy, have the last word on that subject: “The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who, after the example of Fr. Damien, have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism“.
Feature image, top of page: Kalaupapa leper colony in 1905
The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took the small dog home to play with his kids. “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”
At the dawn of the space age, no one knew whether the human body could survive conditions of rocket launch and space flight. The US Space program experimented with a variety of primate species between 1948 and 1961, including rhesus monkeys, crab-eating macaques, squirrel monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, and chimpanzees.
On May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey named “Miss Baker” became the first of the US space program, to survive the stresses of spaceflight and related medical procedures. A rhesus monkey called “Miss Able” survived the mission as well, but died four days later as the result of a reaction to anesthesia.
Soviet engineers experimented with dogs on a number of orbital and sub-orbital flights, to determine the feasibility of human space flight. The Soviet Union launched missions with positions for at least 57 dogs in the fifties and early sixties, though the actual number is smaller. Some flew more than once.
Most survived. As with the early US program, those who did not often died as the result of equipment malfunction. The first animal to be sent into orbit, was a different story.
Three dogs were plucked from the streets of Moscow and trained for the purpose. “Laika” was an 11-pound mutt, possibly a terrier-husky cross. In Russian, the word means “Barker”. Laika was chosen due to her small size and calm disposition. One scientist wrote, “Laika was quiet and charming.”
First, were the long periods of close confinement, meant to replicate the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2. Then came the centrifuge, the highly nutritional but thoroughly unappetizing gel she was meant to eat in space, and then the probes and electrodes that monitored her vital signs.
The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took her home to play with his kids. “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”
Laika was placed inside the capsule for three days, tightly harnessed in a way that only allowed her to stand, sit and lie down. Finally, it was November 3, 1957. Launch day. One of the technicians “kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight”.
Sensors showed her heart rate to be 103 beats/minute at time of launch, spiking to 240 during acceleration. She ate some of her food in the early stages, but remained stressed and agitated. The thermal control system malfunctioned shortly into the flight, the temperature inside the capsule rising to 104°, Fahrenheit. Five to seven hours into the flight, there were no further signs of life.
There were official hints about Laika parachuting safely to earth, and then tales of a painless and humane, euthanasia. Soviet propaganda portrayed “the first traveler in the cosmos”, heroic images printed on posters, stamps and matchbook covers. Soviet authorities concealed Laika’s true cause of death and how long it took her to die. That information would not be divulged , until 2002.
In the beginning, the US News media focused on the politics of the launch. It was all about the “Space Race”, and the Soviet Union running up the score. First had been the unoccupied Sputnik 1, now Sputnik 2 had put the first living creature into space. The more smartass specimens among the American media, called the launch “Muttnik”.
Sputnik 2 became controversial, as animal lovers began to question the ethics of sending a dog to certain death in space. In the UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received protests before Radio Moscow was finished with their launch broadcast. The National Canine Defense League called on dog owners to observe a minute’s silence.
Protesters gathered with their dogs in front of the UN building, to express their outrage. In the Soviet Union, political dissent was squelched, as always. Of all Soviet bloc nations, it was probably Poland who went farthest out on that limb, when the scientific periodical Kto, Kiedy, Dlaczego (“Who, When, Why”), reported Laika’s death as “regrettable”. “Undoubtedly a great loss for science”.
Sputnik 2 and its passenger left the vacuum of space on April 14, 1958, burning up in the outer atmosphere.
It was not until 1998 and the collapse of the Soviet tower of lies, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists who had trained the dog, was free to speak his mind. “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us”, he said, “We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it…We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog”.
As a lifelong dog lover, I feel the need to add a more upbeat postscript to this thoroughly depressing tale.
“Belka” and “Strelka” spent a day in space aboard Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960 and returned safely, to Earth. The first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.
Strelka later gave birth to six puppies fathered by “Pushok”, a dog who’d participated in ground-based space experiments, but never flew. In 1961, Nikita Khrushchev gave one of them, a puppy called “Pushinka,” to President John F. Kennedy.
Pushinka and a Kennedy dog named “Charlie” conducted their own Cold War rapprochement, resulting in four puppies. JFK called them his “pupniks”. Rumor has it their descendants are still around, to this day.
Tip of the hat to the 2019 Vienna Film Award winning “Space dogs” for the artwork at the top of this page.
Robert Rhett, the rabble rousing editor of the Charleston Mercury Newspaper, offered to personally eat the bodies of all those slain in the coming conflict. Never one to be outdone, former Senator James Chesnut, Jr. said “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed,” promising to personally drink any that might be spilled.
South Carolina seceded from the United States on December 20, 1860, leaving state government officials to consider themselves, a sovereign nation. Six days later, United States Army Major Robert Anderson quietly moved his small garrison from the Revolution-era Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to the yet to be completed Fort Sumter, a brick fortification at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.
President James Buchanan attempted to reinforce and resupply Anderson via the unarmed merchant vessel, “Star of the West”. Shore batteries opened up on the effort on January 9, effectively trapping Anderson and his garrison inside the only federal property in the vicinity.
For the newly founded Confederate States of America, the presence of an armed federal force at the mouth of Charleston harbor could not be tolerated. Secessionists debated whether the problem was that of South Carolina or the national government, in Mobile.
Meanwhile, the Federal government refused to recognize the Confederacy, as independent states. It was a standoff. Both sides needed the support of border states, and neither wanted to be seen as the aggressor.
Political opinion was so sharply divided at that time, that brothers literally wound up fighting against brothers. By the time the war got going, every seceding state but South Carolina sent regiments to fight for the Union and even that state, contributed troops to the Union war effort. A surprising number of northern soldiers resigned commissions and fought for the south including Barre, Massachusetts native Daniel Ruggles, Ohio Quaker Bushrod Johnson and New York native Samuel Cooper, to name a few.
Fun fact: When South Carolina seceded that December the world waited to see, who would be next. With her January 9th departure from the federal union Mississippi was the next state to actually leave, though not the next to talk about it. That honor went not to a southern state but a northern city called New York on January 7, 1861. Mayor Fernando Wood addressed the Common Council, requesting New York assert its independence as a “free city” by “disrupt[ing] the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master” (the federal government).
Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (I love that name) was placed in charge of Charleston in March and immediately began to strengthen the batteries surrounding the harbor.
Fort Sumter was designed for a garrison of 650 in service to 130 guns, most of them pointed outward, positioned to defend the harbor against threats from the sea. In April 1861 there were only 60 guns, too much for Major Anderson’s 85-man garrison, nearly half of whom were non-combatants, mostly workmen and musicians.
When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, the resupply of Fort Sumter became the first crisis for the new administration. Lincoln notified South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens he was sending supply ships, resulting in Beauregard’s ultimatum: the Federal garrison was to evacuate immediately, or Confederate batteries would open fire.
Major Anderson lacking the appropriate response, shore batteries opened fire at 4:30 am on April 12, 4003 guns firing in counter-clockwise rotation. Abner Doubleday, Federal 2nd in command and the man erroneously credited with the invention of baseball, later wrote “The crashing of the shot, the bursting of the shells, the falling of the walls, and the roar of the flames, made a pandemonium of the fort.”
Two years later at Gettysburg, Norman Jonathan Hall would lose over 200 men in furious fighting at a critical breach near the ”copse of trees”. One day, a brass plaque would mark the spot as the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy. On this day, Lieutenant Hall raced through flames to rescue the colors, after a direct hit on the main flagpole knocked the flag to the ground. His eyebrows were permanently burned off of his face, but Hall and two artillerymen were able to jury-rig the pole so, once again, Old Glory flew over Fort Sumter.
Over 34 hours, thousands of shells were fired at Fort Sumter. Though vastly outgunned federal forces, fired back. For all that, the only casualty was a Confederate mule.
The only fatalities in the whole mess occurred after the federal surrender, on April 13. One gun misfired performing a 100-gun salute while lowering the flag, mortally wounding privates Daniel Hough and Edward Galloway.
The following day, Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army.
The Civil War had begun but few understood the kind of demons, now unleashed. Robert Rhett, the rabble rousing editor of the Charleston Mercury Newspaper, offered to personally eat the bodies of all those slain in the coming conflict. Never one to be outdone, former Senator James Chesnut, Jr. said “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed,” promising to personally drink any that might be spilled.
The war between the states would lay waste to a generation and end the lives of more Americans than the Revolution, World War 1, World War 2 and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Combined.
“All creative people want to do the unexpected” – Hedy Lamarr
According to Greek mythology, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world. The wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, Helen either eloped or was kidnapped, (the sources are elliptical on the point), with (or by) the Trojan prince, Paris. The Achaeans (Greeks) set sail for Troy to bring her back. The resulting war with Troy lasted ten years, culminating in the Trojan Horse episode and the eventual fall, of the city of Troy.
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.
In the 17th century, English playwright Christopher Marlowe referred to Helen of Troy as having “…the face that launched a thousand ships”.
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Illium Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss…”
The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
The Austrian-born American actress and film producer Hedy Lamarr had such a face, and more. A movie star once described as “the world’s most beautiful woman”, she possessed an intellect in the very top percentile and the curiosity, of an inventor.
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Emil Keisler and Gertrud (Lichtwitz) Kiesler. Emil, a bank director with the gift of curiosity and the mind of an engineer, would take his daughter for long walks. He would point out various machines like printing presses and streetcars and explain, their inner workings. From the age of five little Hedy could be found, taking apart and reassembling her music box and other household gadgets.
Gertrud “Trude” was a concert pianist who introduced Hedy to the arts, enrolling her daughter in ballet and piano lessons, from an early age.
Blessed or perhaps cursed with exceptional beauty, the rest of the world ignored the brilliance of her mind. That face was what mattered. At 16, Hedy was “discovered” by theater and film producer, Max Reinhardt. She was soon studying acting and appeared in her first film role in 1930, a German film called Geld auf der Straβe (“Money on the Street”).
Hedy Keisler first gained public notice in the 1932 movie “ecstasy”, a controversial film censored in some nations and banned outright in others, for sexual content.
Austrian munitions dealer Fritz Mandl became one of Hedy’s biggest fans when he saw her in the play, Sissy. The two met and, in 1933, they married.
She was miserable.
“I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife … He was the absolute monarch in his marriage … I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own.”
The trophy wife expected to be seen and not heard, Hedy detested her husband’s associates, many of them, Nazi party members.
Always the gracious hostess, dinner guests never suspected how much she overheard – and understood – about the German arms industry.
In 1937 she fled, to London.
She would remain a “stateless person for sixteen years, becoming a naturalized US Citizen on this day in 1953.
In London, Hedy got her first big break in the motion picture industry when she met Louis B. Mayer. It was Mayer who persuaded her to change her last name. To distance herself, from “the ecstasy lady”. Hedy chose “Lamarr” in honor of the beautiful silent film actress, Barbara La Marr. There she met and dated for a time the American business magnate, Howard Hughes. Hughes, himself an engineer and born tinkerer, was as stricken as anyone else, by her physical beauty. Unlike the sewer that is Hollywood, Hughes understood the power of the mind, behind the pretty face.
Hughes encouraged her scientific curiosity. He brought her to his aircraft factories and showed her how his aircraft were built. He introduced her to scientists and engineers who explained to her, how things work. He bought her equipment, to work with. On movie sets, Hedy could be found in her trailer, tinkering between takes.
“Improving things comes naturally to me.”
As a pilot and a businessman, Howard Hughes was interested in faster airplanes, to sell to the military. With an intuitive grasp of fluid dynamics and dissatisfied with the blocky appearance of Hughes’ aircraft, Lamarr bought books about birds, and fish. She studied the fastest among fish and the speediest of birds, combining aspects of the two for a new and streamlined, wing design. Hughes took a look at Lamarr’s sketches and said “Hedy, you’re a genius”.
Americans couldn’t get enough of the Austrian-born actress. On screen she radiated all the “old world” exoticism of a Dietrich or a Garbo but managed a magnetism and personal warmth unique, among the three.
Offscreen she was always exploring. Learning. Experimenting. Lamarr went on to invent a stop light upgrade and a tablet capable of transforming into a soft drink, much like Alka-Seltzer, but it took WW2 to bring about her most significant contribution.
In 1940, Hedy met the pianist and avant-garde composer, George Antheil. Every bit the polymath as Lamarr herself, the two had long conversations about – of all things – guided torpedoes. The actress had unique and personal insights into the darkness, of the Nazi war machine. Wasn’t such a guidance system susceptible to jamming, sending the projectile off-course?
The pair set about designing a frequency-hopping system to defeat such measures. The obstacles were considerable. To create such a system, both sender and receiver needed to switch frequencies, not only at the same time, but to the same setting. Lamarr’s “Secret Communications System” was patented in 1942 under her then-married name, Hedy Keisler Markey.
While classified as “Red hot”, Hedy’s “thing” proved technically difficult to implement in the field. In 1957, the system was adapted for use in a secret naval sonobouy. An updated version was installed on Navy ships during the Cuban missile crisis but, by this time the patent had run out. Hedy Lamarr never was compensated for her invention.
Today, “spread spectrum” technologies you’re probably using at this very moment, modern wonders such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, are borne of the “Mother of Wi-Fi”. The Hollywood actress with a face that could launch a thousand ships and the mind, of an engineer.
On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge. Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Croton oil as a “poisonous viscous liquid obtained from the seeds of a small Asiatic tree…” Highly toxic and a violent irritant, the substance was once used as a drastic purgative and counter-irritant in human and veterinary medicine, but is now considered too dangerous for medicinal use. Applied externally, Croton oil is capable of peeling your skin off. Taken internally, the stuff may be described as the atomic bomb, of laxatives.
The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or subject to Nazi occupation. France fell to the Nazi war machine in six weeks, in 1940. The armed forces of the island nation of Great Britain were left shattered and defenseless, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.
On the Scandinavian Peninsula, longstanding policies of disarmament in the wake of WW1 left the Nordic states of Denmark and Norway severely under-strength, able to offer little resistance to the Nazi invaders.
On this day in 1940, German warships entered Norwegian harbors from Narvik to Oslo, as German troops occupied Copenhagen and other Danish cities. King Christian X of Denmark surrendered almost immediately. To the northwest, Norwegian commanders loyal to former foreign minister Vidkun Quisling ordered coastal defenders to stand down, permitting the German landing to take place, unopposed. Norwegian forces refused surrender demands from the German Minister in Oslo, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Nazi Germany responded with an airborne invasion by parachute. Within weeks, Adolf Hitler could add a second and third scalp to his belt, following the invasion of Poland, six months earlier. The Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, were out of the war.
Norway was out of the war, but not out of the fight. One Nazi officer passed an elderly woman on the street, who complained at the officer’s rudeness and knocked his hat off, with her cane. The officer apologized, and scurried away. The gray-haired old matron snickered, to herself: “Well, we’ll each have to fight this war as best we can. That’s the fourth hat I’ve knocked into the mud this morning.”
Norwegian Resistance was quick to form, as patriotic locals united against the Nazi occupier and the collaborationist policies of the Quisling government.
The Norwegian secret army known as Milorg and led by General Otto Ruge, was at first loath to engage in outright sabotage, for fear of German reprisals against innocent civilians. Later in the war, Milorg commandos attacked the heavy water factory at Rjukan and sank a ferry carrying 1,300 lbs of heavy water, inflicting severe damage to the Nazi nuclear research program.
In the beginning, Resistance activities centered more around covert sabotage and the gathering of intelligence. One of the great but little-known dramas of WW2 unfolded across the snow covered mountains of the Scandinavian peninsula, as the civilian-turned-spy Sven Somme fled 200 miles on foot to neutral Sweden, pursued by 900 Wehrmacht soldiers and a pack of bloodhounds.
Operations of all kinds were undertaken, to stymie the Nazi war effort. Some actions seem like frat-boy pranks, such as coating condoms destined for German units, with itching powder. Hundreds of Wehrmacht soldiers (and presumably Norwegian women) showed up at Trondheim hospitals, believing they had contracted Lord-knows-what kind of plague.
Other operations demonstrate a kind of evil genius. This is where Croton oil comes in.
As dedicated as they were, Norwegian resistance fighters still had to feed themselves and their families. Many of them were subsistence fishermen, and that meant sardines. For centuries, the small fish had been a staple food item across the Norwegian countryside. It was a near-catastrophic blow to civilian and Resistance fighters alike, when the Quisling government requisitioned the entire sardine crop.
The Battle of the Atlantic was in full-swing by this time, as wolf packs of German submarines roamed the north Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping. Thousands of tons of sardines would be sent to the French port of Saint-Nazaire, to feed U-Boat crews on their long voyages at sea.
Norwegian vengeance began with a request to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Great Britain, for the largest shipment of Croton oil, possible. The “atomic laxative” was smuggled into canneries across Norway, and used to replace vegetable oil in sardine tins. The plan worked nicely and no one suspected a thing, the pungent taste of the fish covering the strange flavor of the oil.
From midget submarines such as the Biber, Hai, Molch, and Seehund models to the behemoth 1,800-ton “Type X“, the Kriegsmarine employed no fewer than fifteen distinct submarine types in WW2, including the workhorse “Type VII”, of which some 700 saw service in the German war effort.
On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge. Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.
Revenge, it is said, is a dish, best served cold. Excepting the participants in this tale, no one knows what it looks like when ten thousand submariners simultaneously lose control of their bowels. It could not have been a pretty sight.
Rodman was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed his life, forever.
Military forces of Imperial Japan appeared unstoppable during the years leading to World War 2, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. The US military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines all fell, in quick succession.
On January 7, 1942 Japanese forces attacked the Bataan peninsula in the central Luzon region, of the Philippines. The prize was nothing short of the finest natural harbor in the Asian Pacific, Manila Bay, the Bataan Peninsula forming the lee shore and the heavily fortified island of Corregidor, the “Gibraltar of the East”, standing at the mouth. Before the Japanese invasion was to succeed, Bataan and Corregidor must be destroyed.
In early December, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) outside Luzon possessed more aircraft than the Hawaiian Department, defending Pearl Harbor. In the event of hostilities with Japan, “War Plan Orange” (WPO-3) called for superior air power, covering the strategic retreat across Manila Bay to the Bataan peninsula, buying time for US Naval assets to sail for the Philippines.
In reality, the flower of American naval power in the pacific, lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Eight hours after the attack on Oahu, a devastating raid on Clark Field outside of Luzon left 102 aircraft damaged, or destroyed. Army chief of staff general George C. Marshall later remarked to a reporter: “I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground.”
General Douglas MacArthur abandoned Corregidor on March 12, departing the “Alamo of the Pacific” with trademark dramatic flair: “I shall return”. Some 90,000 American and Filipino troops were on their own, left without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the onslaught of the Japanese 14th Army.
Starving, battered by wounds and decimated by all manner of tropical disease and parasite, the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” fought on until they could do no more.
War correspondent Frank Hewlett was the last reporter to leave Corregidor, before it all collapsed. It was he who coined the phrase “Angels of Bataan“, to describe the women who stayed behind to be taken into captivity, to care for the sick and wounded. Hewlett wrote this tribute to the doomed defenders of that place:
Battling Bastards of Bataan
We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces And nobody gives a damn Nobody gives a damn.
by Frank Hewlett 1942
Allied war planners turned their attention to defeating Adolf Hitler.
In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the river gunboat USS Mindanao earned the distinction of taking prisoner the sole survivor of the midget submarine attacks carried out that day, Kazuo Sakamaki. Now short on fuel, Mindanao was reduced to harassing shore artillery and covering small boats evacuating soldiers, from the beaches. On April 8, 1942, Mindanao Executive Officer David Nash confided to his diary: “This has been a hectic day. It looks like the beginning of the end. The planes get nearer each day and this evening the word was received to get up steam and standby to get underway. Meanwhile Ft. Mills started shooting across our heads toward the Bataan lines. All night long our forces were obviously destroying equipment. It looks like evacuation from the Peninsula”.
Bataan fell the following day, some 75,000 American and Filipino fighters beginning a 65-mile, five-day trek into captivity known as the Bataan Death March. Lieutenant Nash was taken prisoner, surviving a captivity many did not to pass the remainder of the war at Bilibid, Davao, Dapecol and the infamous Cabanatuan prison camps.
With a commanding position over Pacific shipping routes, holding the Philippine archipelago was critical for Japanese war strategy. Capturing the islands was important to the US by the same logic with the added reason, this was a personal point of pride for General Douglas MacArthur. Two years almost to the day from that ignominious departure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered MacArthur to come up with a plan to take the place back. Luzon would come first with the invasion of Leyte in the north, slated for early 1945.
That summer, US 3rd fleet operations revealed Japanese defenses were weaker than expected. The invasion was moved forward to October. Before it was over, the Battle of Leyte would trigger the greatest naval battle, of World War 2.
With deep-water approaches and sandy beaches, Leyte Island is tailor-made for amphibious assault. Preliminary operations for the invasion began on October 17. MacArthur made his grand entrance on the 20th announcing to the 900,000 residents of the island: “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”
The fighting for Leyte was long and bloody involving 323,000 American troops and Filipino guerrillas. Day and night through mountains, swamps and jungles, by the time it was over some 50,000 Japanese combat troops were destroyed. Organized resistance ended on Christmas day. By the New Year there was little left, but isolated stragglers.
Not many can find humor in such a place as that. Private Melvin Levy was one who could. A member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, that November, Levy and his comrades were fighting as infantry. He was part of the 511th‘s demolition platoon, nicknamed the “Death Squad” for its high casualty rate.
The C-47 came in low that day, but this wasn’t your normal bombing run. The plane was armed with “biscuit bombs”, crates of food and provisions intended to resupply the 511th regiment. With a comedian’s sense of timing, Levy was holding court before an enthralled group of soldiers, resting under a palm tree. Laughter filled the air as Private Levy delivered the punchline and asked his best friend Rodman, for a cigarette. Rodman took the one out of his mouth and handed it over before turning, for the pack. The biscuit bomb came in at 200 miles per hour, tearing Levy’s head from his shoulders, where he stood.
As the only other Jewish guy in the unit, Rodman presided over Levy’s funeral, the following day. He spoke a few words and placed a star of David, on Levy’s grave.
Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. Rodman himself was wounded twice and finished the war, in occupied Japan. He was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed him, forever. The human wreckage wrought by the atomic bomb, the fire bombing, the results of the aerial mining of Japanese harbors literally code-named, “Operation Starvation”.
Rodman Edward Serling had opened a door, never to be closed. A door unlocked, with the key of imagination. Beyond that door is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into, the Twilight Zone.
“Sometime [the train] stop[ped], you know, fifteen to twenty minutes to take fresh air-suppertime and in the desert, in middle of state. Already before we get out of train, army machine guns lined up towards us-not toward other side to protect us, but like enemy, pointed machine guns toward us”. – -Henry Sugimoto, artist
In January 1848, carpenter and sawmill operator James W. Marshall discovered gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in California. Prospectors flocked to the Golden State from across the United States, and abroad. The California Gold Rush had begun.
While not exactly welcoming, prospectors tolerated Chinese immigrants in the early period. Surface gold was plentiful in those days. Some even found the chopsticks and the broad conical hats of the Chinese mining camps, amusing. As competition increased, resentment began to build. Meanwhile in southern China, crop failures and rumors of the Golden Mountain, the Gam Saan, brought with it a tide of Chinese immigration. San Francisco saw a tenfold increase in 1852, alone. Now anything but amused, California lawmakers imposed a $3 per month tax on foreigners, explicitly aimed at Chinese miners.
Large labor projects like the trans-continental railroad and Canadian Pacific Railway fed the influx of Chinese “coolie” labor, eager to work for wages too small to be of interest to American laborers.
By 1870, a full 25% of the California state budget came from that single tax on Chinese miners. In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the further immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the first and remains to this day the only law specifically targeted at one ethnic group.
Meanwhile, the “gunboat diplomacy” of President Millard Fillmore determined to open Japanese ports to trade, with the west. By force, if necessary. By 1868, internal Japanese issues and the growing pressure of western encroachment had brought about the end of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and restoration of the Meiji Emperor.
The social changes wrought by the “Meiji Restoration” combined with abrupt opening to world trade plunged the Japanese economy, into recession. Japanese emigrants had left the home islands since the 15th century, in pursuit of new opportunities. That was nothing compared with the new “Japanese diaspora” begun in 1868. 3.8 million “Nikkei” emigrated between 1868 and 1912, bound for destinations from Brazil to mainland China, the United States, Australia, Peru, Germany and others. Even Finland.
These were the Issei, first generation immigrants, ineligible for citizenship under US law. The immigrant generation kept to the ways of the land they had left behind forming kenjin-kai, social and aid organizations built around the prefecture, from which they had come. Not so, the second generation. These were the Nisei, American-born US citizens, thoroughly assimilated to the culture to which their parents had arrived.
As with the earlier wave of Chinese immigrants, west coast European Americans became alarmed at the tide of Japanese immigration. Laws were passed and treaties signed, attempting to slow their number.
In 1908, an informal “Gentleman’s agreement” between the US and Japan prohibited further immigration of unskilled migrants. A loophole allowed wives to join their husbands already in the United States leading to an influx of “picture brides” – marriages arranged by friends and families and executed by proxy – many happy couples meeting for the first time, upon the arrival of the blushing bride. The immigration act of 1924 followed the example of the Chinese exclusion act of 1882, outright banning further immigration from “undesirable” Asian countries.
By this time 200,000 ethnic Japanese lived in Hawaii, mostly laborers looking for work on the island’s sugar plantations. A nearly equal number settled on the west coast building farms, and small businesses.
From 1937, the rapid conquests of the Asian Pacific raised fears that the Imperial Japanese military, was unstoppable. As relations soured between Japan and America, the Roosevelt administration took to surveillance of Japanese Americans, compiling lists.
Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, public sentiment came down largely on the side of Japanese Americans. The Los Angeles Times characterized them as “good Americans, born and educated as such,” but that would soon change. A member of the second attack wave on December 7, “Zero” pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi downed his crippled fighter on Ni’ihau, the westernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago. Ignorant at first of what had taken place, Ni’hauans showed the downed pilot, hospitality. By the time it was over the whole thing turned violent, pitting the pilot and a small number of Issei and Nissei, in a deadly struggle against native Hawaiians.
The “Ni’hau incident” combined with fears of 5th column activity to turn the tide, of public opinion.
General John Dewitt, a vocal proponent of what was about to happen, opined: “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less . . . ominous, in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage that there is a control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis”.
On January 2, a Joint Immigration Committee of the California legislature attacked “ethnic Japanese” citizen and non-citizen alike, as “totally unassimilable”. The presidentially appointed Roberts Committee assigned to investigate the attack on Pearl Harbor accused persons of Japanese ancestry of espionage, leading up to the attack. By February, California Attorney General and future Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren was doing everything he could to persuade the federal government, to remove all people of Japanese ancestry from the west coast.
On January 14, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Proclamation 2537 requiring “enemy aliens” to procure identification and carry it with them, “at all times”. The War Department, and Department of Justice were sharply divided but, no matter. Executive order 9066 signed February 19 directed the establishment of exclusion zones.
Secret Presidential commissions were appointed in early 1941 and again in 1942, to determine the liklihood of an armed uprising among Japanese Americans. Both reported no evidence of such a thing, one reporting: “the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.”
That didn’t matter, either. The Senate discussed Roosevelt’s directive for an hour and the House, for thirty minutes. The President signed Public Law 77-503 on March 21 providing for enforcement, of his earlier directive.
Roosevelt’s measure made no specific reference to ethnicity. Some 11,000 ethnic Germans and 3,000 ethnic Italians were sent away to internment camps but the vast preponderance, were of Japanese descent. Throughout the west coast some 112,000 ethnic Japanese were rounded up and held in relocation camps and other confinement areas, throughout the country. Surprisingly, only a “few thousand” were detained in Hawaii itself despite a population of nearly 40% ethnic Japanese.
Below: “A moving van being loaded with the possessions of a Japanese family on Bush Street in San Francisco’s Japantown, April 7, 1942. At right are the offices of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the United States. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) took over the JACL building and repurposed it as a Civil Control Station for the collection and processing of “people of Japanese descent” prior to their transport to detention camps”.
H/T Encyclopedia Britannica
Following the events at Peal harbor, Oakland California-born Fred Korematsu attempted to enlist, in the Navy. Ostensibly rejected due to stomach ulcers, Korematsu believed the real reason was his Japanese ancestry. Korematsu refused deportation orders and went into hiding. The ACLU’s northern California director Ernest Besig brought Korematsu’s case before the courts despite opposition from Roosevelt allies in the national ACLU. Korematsu lost in federal court and the US court of appeals, becoming a pariah even among fellow detainees who felt he was nothing but a troublemaker. The US Supreme Court agreed to take the case and, on December 18, 1944, upheld the lower court verdict. A 6-3 opinion penned by Justice Hugo Black opined that, though suspect, internment was justified due to national circumstances of “emergency and peril”.
“Fourteen Days to Flatten the Curve, “right?
A second decision released that same day in the case, Ex Parte Endo, unanimously declared it illegal to detain Americans, regardless of ethnicity. In effect the two rulings established that, while eviction was legal in the name of military necessity internment was not, thus paving the way to their release.
“There is but one way in which to regard the Presidential order empowering the Army to establish “military areas” from which citizens or aliens may be excluded. That is to accept the order as a necessary accompaniment of total defense”.
Washington Post, February 22, 1942
The Japs in these centers in the United States have been afforded the very best of treatment, together with food and living quarters far better than many of them ever knew before, and a minimum amount of restraint. They have been as well fed as the Army and as well as or better housed. . . . The American people can go without milk and butter, but the Japs will be supplied.
Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1942
Among internment camps many were eager to prove themselves, loyal Americans. Some were recruited for service in the armed forces. Many, volunteered. In April 1943 some 2,686 Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and 1,500 incarcerated in mainland camps, reported for duty at camp Shelby, in Mississippi. While many still had families in internment facilities, graduates were assigned to the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat team and sent off to fight the war, in Europe.
With something to prove every one of these guys, fought like tigers. From Naples to Rome to the south of France, to central Europe and the Po Valley, the all-Nisei 442nd infantry lived up to its own motto’ “Go for Broke”. 14,000 men served in the 442nd earning over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Medals and 21 Medals of Honor.
With 275 Texas National Guardsmen hopelessly cut off by German forces in the Vosges Mountains of France, ‘The Lost Battalion”, the 442nd infantry was sent in to get them out. In five days of savage combat, 211 of the Texas men were rescued. The Nisei of the 442nd suffered 800 casualties. Of 185 men who entered the fray from I Company only 8 emerged, unhurt. Company K sent 186 men against the Germans 169 of whom were either killed, or wounded.
For its size and length of service the 442nd became the most highly decorated unit, in US military history.
Fun fact: Ralph Lazo was so angry at the forcible relocation of his friends he voluntarily joined them, on the train. Deported to the Manzanar concentration camp in the foot of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he stayed there, for two years. The only non-spouse, non-Japanese-American, so detained. Nobody ever asked the man about his ethnicity (half Mexican, half Irish). Lazo was inducted into the US Army in 1944 and served as a Staff Sergeant in the South Pacific where he earned a Bronze Star for valor, in combat.
By this time, many younger Nisei had left to pursue new lives, east of the Rockies. Seven others were shot and killed, by sentries. Older internees had little to return to with former homes and business, gone. Many were repatriated to Japan, at least some, against their will. By the end of 1945, nine of the top ten War Relocation Authority ( WRA) camps were shut down. Congress passed the Japanese-American claims Act in 1948 but, with the IRS having destroyed most of the detainees 1939-’42 tax records, only a fraction of claims were ever paid out.
By the late 1980s, powerful Japanese-American members of the United States Congress such as Bob Matsui, Norm Mineta and Spark Matsunaga spearheaded a measure, for reparations. $20,000 paid to every surviving internee. President Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law on August 10, 1988. Over 81,800 qualified, receiving a total of $1.6 Billion.
“Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the government take care of him; better take a closer look at the American Indian”. – Henry Ford
In the motion picture business, the term “silent film” is a retronym, a description coined after the fact to distinguish the genre from “talkies”. The Jazz Singer produced in 1927 was the first feature length picture featuring synchronous recorded music and lip-synchronized singing and speech. Within a decade, widespread production of silent films, had ceased. The era of the modern motion picture, was born.
For Iron Eyes Cody, a career spent in motion pictures reads like a history of the industry itself. This self-described son of a Cherokee father and Cree mother and born with the name “Little Eagle” began a long acting career, in the early 1930s.
To read the man’s Wikipedia page is to learn “He appeared in more than 200 films, including The Big Trail (1930), with John Wayne; The Scarlet Letter (1934), with Colleen Moore; Sitting Bull (1954), as Crazy Horse; The Light in the Forest (1958) as Cuyloga; The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), with Joseph Cotten; Nevada Smith (1966), with Steve McQueen; A Man Called Horse (1970), with Richard Harris; and Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) as Chief St. Cloud, with Jim Varney”.
“Iron Eyes learned much of his Indian lore in the days when, as a youth, he toured the country with his father, Thomas Long Plume, in a wild west show. During his travels, he taught himself the sign language of other tribes of Indians.”
Glendale Special Collections library
From future President Ronald Reagan to Bob Hope, there is scarcely anyone prominent in the first half-century of the entertainment industry who didn’t work with “Hollywood’s favorite Native American”. A close personal friend of Walt Disney, Cody appeared in over 100 television programs including many Disney productions. In 1974, Cody appeared on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, featuring native American dancers. That’s him chanting in the background, on Joni Mitchell’s 1988 song “Lakota” from the album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm.
Jay Silverheels, the native American actor who portrayed Tonto in the Lone ranger, used to question Cody’s story. Native American stunt man Running Deer pointed out that something seemed off, Cody’s background didn’t make sense but, no matter. No use getting in the way of a good story.
The period beginning with the Cold War and ending with Woodstock was a time of sea change in American life. Babies weren’t the only thing that “boomed”. The economy exploded and with it, disposable income. Families bought cars and televisions, bought TV dinners and went on road trips. Sperry & Hutchinson company “Green Stamps” were handed out at department stores, grocery stores and gasoline stations, redeemable for Fabulous Gifts and Prizes. During the 1960s, S&H boasted about producing three times the number of stamps, as the United States Post Office.
Along with all this conspicuous consumption came conspicuous amounts, of litter. Engine oil and other solvents were drained directly into sewer drains to become part, of inland waterways. Garbage was everywhere. The situation became so bad in 1969, Cleveland’s Cayuhoga River, caught fire.
The Santa Barbara oil spill of January and February 1969 killed aquatic wildlife by the tens of thousands and remained for years the largest such spill in American history, eclipsed only by the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster and the Deepwater Horizon spill, of 2010.
For Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson, the time was right to bring a lifelong passion for environmental conservation, to center stage. Joined by Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, the campaigns of 1969 culminated in the first “Earth Day” on April 22, 1970. President Richard Nixon and 1st Lady Pat Nixon planted a tree on the White House lawn, in celebration.
For Earth Day 1971, the nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful launched the Public Service Announcement the Ad Council later called one of the “50 greatest commercials of all time.”
There he was, Iron Eyes Cody, paddling his canoe down that garbage infested river surrounded by smog, pollution and trash. Stepping onto the junk strewn shore, a bag of rubbish explodes at his feet, carelessly tossed from a passing car. Not a word was spoken, excepting the narrator’s voiceover. Just the actor, turning to the camera, a single tear coursing down his weathered cheek.
The “Crying Indian” ad incited a frenzy of neighborhood action. Cleanup brigades fanned out across the nation, reducing litter by an estimated 88% across 38 states. Iron Eyes Cody was rewarded with two Clio awards and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of fame. The “Face of Native Americans” was plastered across billboards, posters and magazine spots. Advertisers estimate his image was viewed no fewer, than 14 Billion times.
It’s hard to say that anything bad came of the story. The garbage was cleaned up, Hollywood raked in the cash, but Iron Eyes Cody had a secret.
In 1996, a reporter from the New Orleans Times-Picayune took a trip to Gueydan Louisiana and stumbled into that secret. “He just left” recalled Mae Abshire Duhon, Iron Eyes Cody’s sister, “and the next thing we heard was that he had turned Indian.”
Iron Eyes Cody was in fact Espera Oscar de Corti, born April 3, 1904 in rural southwest Louisiana, the second of four children born to Sicilian immigrants Antonio de Corti and Francesca Salpietra. Six years later, Antonio took his three boys and left for Texas, abandoning his wife and daughter. It was there that Cody (Corti) developed an affinity for the windswept deserts and for Native American culture.
In 1919, film producers came to the area to shoot a silent film, “Back to God’s Country”. Oscar was cast as an Indian child.
Following his father’s death five years later, Oscar traveled to California to pursue a career as an actor.
A cynic would call the man’s story a fraud and a fake, and maybe they’re right. Or maybe the transformation was as personal, as real to this Italian American, as it is possible to get. Off camera and on, De Corti portrayed a life borne of the First Nations. “Nearly all my life” he once told reporters, “it has been my policy to help those less fortunate than myself. My foremost endeavors have been with the help of the Great Spirit to dignify my People’s image through humility and love of my country. If I have done that, then I have done all I need to do“.
Iron Eyes Cody died peacefully in 1999 at the age of 94, leaving this poetic tip of the hat to the culture he had adopted, as his own. “Make me ready to stand before you with clean and straight eyes,” he wrote. “When Life fades, as the fading sunset, may our spirits stand before you without shame.”
“They have Easter egg hunts in Philadelphia, and if the kids don’t find the eggs, they get booed.” – Bob Uecker
According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on Good Friday and later arose from the dead, revealing himself to his disciples before finally, ascending to heaven. The holiest day in the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday marks the resurrection as described in the New Testament.
Many of the secular symbols associated with Easter trace back to the pagan Goddess of spring and the dawn, Ēostre or Ostara, from the Old English Ēastre.
History fades into mythology in the pre-Christian past and accounts differ, but this Teutonic deity was frequently depicted with eggs symbolizing the rebirth of Spring and rabbits, symbolizing fertility.
An egg laying Easter Hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” first arrived with the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, German immigrants who came to America in the 1700s. Children would make nests of clothing and blankets in which the creature could “lay” her colored eggs.
The eggs themselves go back before anyone thought to write it all down. Cultures as widespread as ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians and Hindus all believed the world began with an enormous egg, symbolizing the rebirth of new life. The practice of coloring eggs is believed to go back thousands of years. Except then, it was ostrich eggs.
In Mesopotamia, early orthodox Christians colored them red, in memory of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Household accounts of King Edward I “Longshanks”, King of England from 1272 to 1307, note the expenditure of eighteen pence for 450 eggs, gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.
The origins of confectionary bunnies is hazy. Chocolate molds may be found in Munich dating back to the 1890s, around the same time Robert Strohecker first placed a five-foot chocolate rabbit in front of his Pennsylvania drugstore, as an Easter promotion.
Overlapping as it does with pagan celebrations of Spring, some seasonal traditions are enough to make even 5-foot chocolate rabbits seem, positively normal.
In France, the Netherlands and Belgium, it is said that church bells literally depart and fly to Rome, returning Santa Claus-like on Easter morning bearing colored eggs and chocolate rabbits.
Across Scandinavia and northern Europe, April 30 – May 1 celebrates Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht), a festival dedicated to the 8th century nun-turned saint Saint Walpurga, with roots in pagan era rites of fertility. Little girls dress as witches as children “trick or treat” for eggs while bonfires are lit, to chase away Judas.
In the Czech Republic, young men fashion Easter “whips” called pomlázka, with which spank the behinds of wives and girlfriends.
As bad as that sounds it seems the only pain, comes when nobody comes to milady’s door. Kind of like being left out from Valentine’s cards. More symbolic these days than real, it’s still best to do your “whipping” in the morning. To do so after noon is to invite a bucket of ice water, to be poured over your head.
In Russia, Poland and Slovenia, no Easter dinner is complete without a heart attack on a plate known as the baranek wielcanocny. A butter lamb.
The lamb is made entirely of butter, and consumed from the tail to the head. Presumably, in one day.
Believed to go back to the middle ages, today the butter lamb may be found in Milwaukee, New York and other cities with large numbers of Polish Catholics. The Broadway market in Buffalo New York sells nearly 100,000, every year.
Across the Caribbean and Bermuda, Easter kite festivals combine windblown fun with colorful symbols of the ascension, spiraling up toward the heavens. In Grenada, Easter weekend kite festival is held at the narrow isthmus, at Fort Jeudy. The location is not for the faint of heart. With that steep drop over on the leeward side, one false move and all that work will end up in the ocean.
How to make an Easter kite, with “Rasta Man Joe”
On Trinidad & Tobago, behemoth kites called “Mad Bulls” measure twelve to sixteen feet and more requiring four to ten people, to launch. Haiti runs their kite festival in January, based on prevailing winds. Competitors are allowed to put “zwill” on their kite’s tails, razor-sharp bits intended to take competitors, out of the running. Yikes.
In Finland, the Easter pulse races with the excitement, of watching the grass grow. Literally. And when that’s done, children decorate it with painted eggs and paper bunnies.
In a nation one-third of which rests above the arctic circle, may it IS that exciting to watch the grass grow. For those accustomed to a bit more stimulation, you can always try Florence, Italy, where the Scoppio del Carro, (“Explosion of the Cart”) goes back almost 400 years.
As the story goes, a young knight of the noble Pazzi family took part in the first Crusade, in 1099. Young Pazzino was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem to raise the Christian banner for which he was awarded, with three flints from the Holy Sepulcher.
Fast forward to 1622 when Florentine officials built a cart, not quite three stories tall. Festivities begin at 10:00am when a priest rubs the flints together, to produce a flame. With the Easter candle thus lit, coals are kindled and the whole cart laden with fireworks, a team of two oxen leading the whole procession as the Holy Fire is transported to the Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo. There, the Archbishop of Florence lights a dove-shaped rocket called a “Columbina“, signifying the Holy Spirit.
If the whole Rube Goldberg contraption actually works, the dove will “fly” down a wire to the Holy Fire and spectators will be treated to the “explosion of the cart”, one heck of a fireworks display ensuring good luck and bountiful harvests, throughout the year.
And if one rocket isn’t enough for you, (even if it is shaped like a dove), how about a War of rockets?
The Greek archipelago comprises some 1,200 to 6,000 islands, depending on how you count them. The fifth largest by landmass is Chios, said to be the birthplace of the blind bard of antiquity himself, Homer.
There on Chios in the coastal town of Vrontados you will find the Rouketopolemos. (Greek Рουκετοπόλεμος: literally “rocket war”).
There are two major parishes in Vrontanos: St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani. The two are located some 400 meters from each other, about 1,300 feet. Every year at Easter, rival congregants hold a rocket war. It used to be cannon but, on or about this day in 1889, Chios’ Ottoman overlords forbade it. So it goes, the Easter Rocket War, with gunpowder rockets launched by the tens of thousands at each other’s bell tower.
The winner is the one with the most hits, except the two sides can never agree, and so it is…NEXT year…we’ll REALLY settle some scores.
And the best part? These guys celebrate Orthodox Easter, which doesn’t come around until May 2. You still have plenty of time to get there.
Feature image, top of page: The annual Easter bunny dog chase, St Agnes, Cornwall.