February 25, 1921 Red Scare

In the 1930s, many believed that International Communism was “winning”. That the Soviet Union was deliberately starving millions of its own citizens to death during this period, seemed to trouble relatively few.

In the wake of WWI and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, American authorities became increasingly alarmed at the rise of foreign and leftist radicalism.  Most especially the militant followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani.

This was not meaningless political posturing.  Anarchists mailed no fewer than 36 dynamite bombs to prominent political and business leaders in April 1919, alone. In June, another nine far more powerful bombs destroyed churches, police stations and businesses. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had one hand delivered to his home by anarchist Carlo Valdinoci, who did something wrong and somehow managed to blow himself to bits on the AG’s doorstep.

Palmer attempted to suppress these radical organizations in 1919-20, but his searches and seizures were frequently illegal, his arrests and detentions without warrant, his deportations questionable.
Lookinganarchism over the international tableau of the time, there appeared great cause for concern.  The largest nation on the planet had just fallen to communism, in 1917.
The Red Army offensive of 1920 drove into Poland, almost as far as Warsaw. The “Peace of Riga”, signed in 1921, split off parts of Belarus and Ukraine, making them both parts of Soviet Russia. On this day in 1921, Bolshevist Russian forces occupied Tbilisi, capital of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
In the 1930s, many believed that International Communism was “winning”. The capitalist west was plunged into a Great Depression that it couldn’t seem to control, while the carefully staged propaganda of Stalin’s Soviet Union did everything it could to portray itself as a “workers’ paradise”.
That the Soviet Union was deliberately  starving millions of its own citizens to death during this period, seemed to trouble relatively few.
Whittaker Chambers was one who saw communism as winning, and joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) in 1925. For a time he worked as a writer at the Party’s newspaper “Daily Worker”, before becoming editor of “New Masses”, the Party’s literary magazine.
Through the early to mid-thirties, Chambers delivered messages and received documents from Soviet spies in the government, photographing them himself or delivering them to Soviet intelligence agents to be photographed.
By the late 30s, Chambers’ idealism was replaced by the growing realization that he was supporting a murderous regime. By 1939, he joined the staff of Time Magazine, where he pushed a strong anti-communist line.
A series of legislative committees were formed between 1918 and the outbreak of WWII to investigate this series of threats.  It was in this context that HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed in 1938, becoming a “standing” (permanent) committee in 1945.img_0416
Chambers warned about communist sympathizers in the Roosevelt administration, as early as 1939.  Government priorities changed during the course of WWII.  Chambers was summoned to testify on August 3, 1945.
In his testimony, Chambers named Alger Hiss and others, as communists.  A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law School who had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Alger Hiss seemed an unlikely communist. He went on to practice law in Boston and New York before returning to Washington to work on President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, winding up at the State Department as an aide to Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre, former President Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law.
alger-hiss-public-servant-i-am-amazed-until-the-day-i-die-i-shallHiss flatly denied Chambers’ charges, filing suit that December for defamation of character.  Chambers doubled down in his 1948 deposition, claiming that Hiss was not only a communist sympathizer, he was also a spy.
Before his defection, Chambers had secreted documents and microfilms, some of which he hid inside a pumpkin at his Maryland farm. The entire collection became known as the “Pumpkin Papers”, consisting of incriminating documents, written in what appeared to Hiss’ own hand, or typed on his Woodstock no. 230099 typewriter.
Hiss claimed to have given the typewriter to his maid, Claudia Catlettimg_0415. When the idiosyncrasies of his machine were demonstrated to be consistent with the documents, he then claimed that Chambers’ team, including freshman member of Congress Richard M Nixon, must have modified the typeface on a second typewriter to mimic his own.
Hiss’ theory never explained why Chambers side needed another typewriter, if they’d had the original long enough to mimic it with the second.
Alger Hiss’ first trial for lying to a Grand Jury ended with a hung jury, 8-4.  A second trial began on November 17. He was found guilty on January 21, 1950, still proclaiming his innocence. He appealed his conviction but lost, and served 44 months in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary before being released in 1954.
Hiss would go to his grave protesting his innocence, though Soviet era cables, decrypted through the now-declassified “Venona Project”, seem to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt of being a soviet agent. Venona transcript #1822, sent in March 1945, from the Soviets’ Washington station chief to Moscow, describes subject codenamed ALES as having attended the February 4–11, 1945 Yalta conference, before traveling to Moscow. Hiss did attend Yalta on those dates, before going to Moscow with Secretary of State Edward Stettinius.
41facggulzl-_sx306_bo1204203200_Historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr report that the Venona transcripts tied 349 Americans to Soviet intelligence, though fewer than half have ever been identified.  The Office of Strategic Services alone, precursor to the CIA, housed between fifteen and twenty Soviet spies.
In 1992, former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to Great Britain, taking with him 30 years of handwritten notes. The Mitrokhin Archive revealed that Soviet moles went as high as President  Roosevelt’s most trusted aid, Harry Hopkins. Equivalent to finding that, at any point during the last three administrations, Karl Rove, Valerie Jarrett or Steve Bannon was an agent for the other side.
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February 24, 1980 The Impossible Dream

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as heavy favorites, having built a 27-1-1 record since that 1960 upset, outscoring their opponents by a combined 175 to 44

In the world of sports, there may be nothing more boring than the “dream team” sent to represent the US in the 1992 Olympics.  NBA professionals all, these guys are paid in the tens of millions to play their game.  To the surprise of precisely no one, they swept their series with an average of 44 points, against opponents like Angola, Lithuania and Croatia.  Yawn.

We didn’t always send professional athletes to the Olympics.  There was a time when athletes’ amateur status was tightly controlled.  Jim Thorpe, possibly the finest all-round athlete in American history, was stripped of his 1912 gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, because he had once accepted small sums to play baseball during college summers.  It could not have given him much comfort that those medals were reinstated, in 1983.  By that time, the man had been dead for thirty years.

In 1980, the US hockey team defeated Finland on February 24 to win the gold medal, at the winter Olympics in Lake Placid.  It was almost anti-climactic.  The real drama played out two days earlier, when a collection of American amateurs defeated the mighty Soviet Union.

Canadians dominated Olympic ice hockey in the early days of the event, winning six out of seven gold medals between 1920 and 1952.  Team USA scored a surprise gold at Squaw Valley in 1960, after which the Soviet Union seemed unstoppable, winning gold in 1964, ’68, ’72 &’76.

My fellow children of the cold war will attest, a favorite complaint of the era was the semi-professional status of the former Soviet bloc athletes, particularly those from East Germany and the Soviet Union itself.  Between its first appearance in the 1952 Olympic games and its final appearance in 1988, the Soviet Union was at the top of the combined medal count with 1,204.  Even now they’re second only to that of the United States, a country that’s been participating over twice as long.

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as heavy favorites, having built a 27-1-1 record since that 1960 upset, outscoring their opponents by a combined 175 to 44.  The 1980 team had world class training facilities, having played together for years in a well-developed league.  Vladislav Tretiak was widely believed to be the best goaltender in the world at that time.  He, defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forward Valeri Kharlamov, would all go on to be enshrined in the International Hockey Hall of Fame.

In exhibition games that year, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL teams.  A year earlier, the Soviet national team routed an NHL All-Star team 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup.

University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks had assembled the youngest team in U.S. history to play in the Olympics, with an average age of only 21.  Left wing Buzz Schneider was the only veteran, returning from the 1976 Olympic squad.  Nine players had played under Coach Brooks.  Another four came from archrival Boston University, including goalie Jim Craig, and team captain Mike Eruzione.  For some players, the hostility of that college rivalry carried over to their Olympic teammates.

The Soviet team had demolished earlier opponents by a combined score of 50-11.  The US squad had squeaked out a series of upsets, 23-8. The day before, New York times sports reporter Dave Anderson wrote, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”

Team USSR took an early lead of 2-1 in the first period.  Mark Johnson tied the score with one second left, leading Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov to make the goofiest decision, ever.  He pulled the best goalie in the world, replacing him with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin.  The move shocked players on both teams.  Years later, Johnson and Fetisov were NHL teammates, and Johnson asked him about the decision.  “Coach Crazy”, was all he said.

Aleksandr Maltsev scored an unanswered goal on a power play, 2:18 into the second period.  At the end of the second, the Soviet Union led, 3-2.

Mark Johnson scored his second goal of the game at 8:39 in the third, in the last seconds of another power play.  For the American team, it was only the third shot on net, in the last 27 minutes. Vasili Pervukhin got in his goalie’s way with ten minutes to play, as Mike Eruzione fired one past Myshkin to put the Americans ahead, 4-3.

miracle-on-iceThe Soviets attacked ferociously, but Craig let nothing past.  Altogether the Soviet team made 39 shots on goal to the Americans’ 16, but the score held.

In the final moments of the game, the crowd began to count down the seconds.  ABC Sportscaster Al Michaels calling the game in a rising crescendo:  “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles!? YES!!”

David had slain Goliath.  Rocky Balboa had defeated Captain Ivan Drago.  A bunch of college kids had just beaten the Soviet Union.  Coach Brooks sprinted back to the locker room, and cried.  Pandemonium reigned supreme, as  Jim Craig circled the ice, wrapped in a flag.  ABC sportscaster Jim McKay compared the victory to a Canadian college football team defeating the Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  Afterward, players spontaneously broke into a chorus of “God Bless America” in the locker room.

sports_illustrated_miracle_on_ice_cover
The March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated needed no captions. Everyone knew what happened.

In the gold medal round on the 24th, the Americans were behind at the end of the 2nd period, 2-1.  The American team was in the locker room during the second intermission, when coach Brooks said “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f***ing graves”.  Team USA defeated Finland for the gold medal, 4-2.

IOC President Avery Brundage (1952-1972), was adamant about preserving the amateur status of the Olympics. Once he was gone, the floodgates began to open.  Years later, sportswriter Ron Rapoport said “The pros are there for a reason… The pro athletes are pre-sold to the public, which means increased viewership.”

Nineteen years later, Sports Illustrated called the Miracle on Ice “the top sports moment of the entire 20th century”.

The “Dream Team” of 1992 crossed a line that can never be retaken, but that can’t change the finest moments in sporting history.  For those of us who follow Boston sports, that means the 2004 World Series, the last 2:17 of Superbowl LI, and the Miracle on Ice, of 1980.

February 23, 1862 Floating Cathouse of the Cumberland

Certain that Nashville’s prostitutes were the source of the venereal plague, Union officials decided it was easier to get rid of them, than it was to keep their men from paying for sex

The Federal invasion of Tennessee began in early 1862, when Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant moved against Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland.  Both fortifications fell in February.  Another Federal army under Don Carlos Buell captured Nashville on the 25th.
Confederate presence in Tennessee essentially ceased to exist by June.  West Tennessee would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the war.
Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife on February 23, “The news from Tennessee and North Carolina is not cheering and disasters seem to be thickening around us”.
Union commanders declared martial law, posting garrisons in major towns including Chattanooga, Memphis, and Murfreesboro. Nashville in particular became a major military center, permanently occupied by thousands of Federal troops and support personnel.
According to the 1860 Census, Nashville had 198 white prostitutes and 9 described as “mulatto”, plying their trade in the two block red-light district known as “Smoky Row”. By 1862, the number of these “public women” had grown to 1,500.  It was barely enough to go around.

Major General William Rosecrans saw this sex trade as an issue and ordered Georgesyphilis_slogan Spalding, Provost Marshal of Nashville, to get rid of them. Though a Catholic, “Old Rosy’s” objection wasn’t based on moral grounds.  He was afraid of disease. 8.2% of all Union soldiers were afflicted with syphilis or gonorrhea in 1862, over half the battle casualty rate of 17.5%  Venereal disease was a major problem, and the only available treatments at the time involved mercury.  Without getting into details, that could take a man out for weeks.  Advanced cases were nothing short of grotesque.

tertiary-syphilis
Tertiary Syphilis Victim
Certain that Nashville’s prostitutes were the source of the plague, Union officials decided it was easier to get rid of them, than it was to keep their men from paying for sex.  Spalding had all the prostitutes in Nashville gathered up by July, (I wonder what that sounded like).    The Nashville Daily Press reported  “A variety of ruses were adopted to avoid being exiled; among them, the marriage of one of the most notorious of the cyprians to some scamp. The artful daughter of sin was still compelled to take a berth with her suffering companions, and she is on her way to banishment”.
John Newcomb was the owner of a brand new steam powered riverboat, the “Idahoe”. (I swear I didn’t make that up). To Newcomb’s horror, Spalding ordered him to take 111 of Nashville’s most infamous hookers out of town, on Idahoe’s maiden voyage. Giving him three days’ rations, authorities didn’t care where he took them, so long as he got them out of Nashville.
It took a week for Idahoe to reach Louisville, by which time news of the unusual passenger list had already reached that city’s law enforcement. Newcomb was forbidden from docking there, and ordered to continue on to Cincinnati. Ohio didn’t want Nashville’s hookers any more than Louisville, so the steamboat was ordered to dock across the river in Kentucky.
Some of the women swam ashore but nobody was permitted to leave. Holcomb was desperate, finally returning to Louisville once more, only to be turned away again. Defeated, John Newcomb returned to Nashville 28 days later, with 98 of his original passengers and six children.
With Idahoe’s owner demanding to be compensated, a staffer inspected the vessel on August 8, finding the ship’s staterooms “badly damaged, the mattresses badly soiled,” and recommending that Newcomb be paid $1,000 in damages + $4,300 for food and for the “medicine peculiar to the diseased of women in this class”.
hospital_nashville
Civil War Nashville Hospital

In the end, it proved easier to manage the world’s oldest profession, than it was to eliminate it. A scheme was devised, by which each prostitute in Nashville would register and pay a $5 license fee, entitling her to ply her trade. A doctor would examine these women once a week, a service for which she would pay another 50¢. Women found to have venereal diseases were sent to a hospital, paid for in part by the weekly fees. The result of the program, according to one doctor, was a “marked improvement” in licensed prostitutes’ physical and mental health.

Altogether, the program cost about $6,000, on revenues of $5,900. Venereal disease was cut to one or two cases among the soldiers, compared to 3,000 or more without it. Today, the system practiced in Lyon County Nevada, closely resembles this system established in 1863.
As for John Newcomb, he waited almost two years for his money, finally writing directly to Secretary of War Edward Stanton before receiving any reimbursement. The Idahoe never again cruised in Southern rivers. “I told them it would forever ruin her reputation as a passenger boat”, he said. “It was done, so she is now & since known as the floating whore house.”

February 22, 2005 Little Pink House

For newly divorced paramedic Susette Kelo, the house overlooking the Fort Trumbull waterfront was the home of her dreams

In 1775, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull proposed a fortification at the port of New London, situated on the Thames River and overlooking Long Island Sound. The fort was completed two years later and named for Governor Trumbull. During the Revolution, Fort Trumbull was attacked and occupied by British forces, for a time commanded by the turncoat American General, Benedict Arnold.

By the early 20th century, the Fort Trumbull neighborhood consisted of 90 or so single and multi-family working class homes, situated on a peninsula along the fringes of a mostly industrialized city center.

In 1996, chemists working at Pfizer Corporation’s research facility in England were studying compound UK-92, 480 or “Sildenafil Citrate”, synthesized for the treatment of hypertension and heart disease resulting from a restriction in blood supply to heart tissues. Study subjects were expected to return unused medication at the end of the trial. Women showed no objection in doing so but a significant number of male subjects refused to give it back. It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening.  The chemical compound which would one day bear the name “Viagra”, was going to be put to a very different use.

little-pink-houseFor newly divorced paramedic Susette Kelo, the house overlooking the Fort Trumbull waterfront was the home of her dreams. Long abandoned and overgrown with vines, the little Victorian cottage needed a lot of work, but where else would she ever find a waterfront view at this asking price?  It was 1997, about the same time that Connecticut and New London politicians resurrected the long-dormant New London Development Corporation (NLDC), charging it with developing a plan to revitalize the New London waterfront.

Susette Kelo sanded her floors on hands and knees, as Pfizer Corporation was looking at a cataract of business based on their newest chemical compound. The company was recruited to become the principal tenant in a “World Class” multi-use waterfront campus, including high-income housing, hotels, shopping and restaurants, all centered around a 750,000 sq. ft. corporate research facility.  Connecticut College professor and NLDC President Dr. Claire Gaudiani liked to talk about her “hip” new development project.  Fort Trumbull residents were convinced that stood for “High Income People”. With an average income of $22,500, that didn’t include themselves.

Most property owners agreed to sell, though not exactly “voluntarily”.  There was considerable cap_nfs_keloharassment of the reluctant ones, including late-night phone calls, waste dumped on property, and tenants locked out of apartments during cold winter weather.

Seven homeowners holding fifteen properties refused to sell, at any price. Wilhelmina Dery was in her eighties. She was born in her house and she wanted to die there. The Cristofaro family had lost another New London home in the ’70s, taken by eminent domain during yet another “urban renewal” program. They didn’t want to lose this one, too.

Susette Kelo came home from work the day before Thanksgiving 2000, to find an eviction notice taped to her door.

Letters were written to editors and rallies held, as NLDC and state officials literally began to bulldoze homes. Holdout property owners were left trying to prevent property damage from flying demolition debris.

KELO BULLOCK

Facing a prolonged legal battle which none of the homeowners could afford, the group got a boost when the Libertarian law firm Institute for Justice took their case pro bono. There was cause for hope. Retired homeowner Vera Coking had faced a similar fight against Now-President Donald Trump in 1993, when the developer and Atlantic City New Jersey authorities attempted to get her house condemned to build a limo lot.

Eminent domain exists for a purpose, but the most extreme care should be taken in its use. Plaintiffs argued that this was not a “public use”, but rather a private corporation using the power of government to take their homes for economic development, a violation of both the takings clause of the 5th amendment and the due process clause of the 14th.

Vera Coking won her case against Trump, the casino later failing and closing its doors. New Londonkelo-decision District Court, with Susette Kelo lead plaintiff, “split the baby”, ruling that 11 out of 15 takings were illegal and unconstitutional. At that point it wasn’t good enough for the seven homeowners. They had been through too much.  All of them would stay, or they would all go.

Connecticut’s highest court reversed the decision, throwing out the baby AND the bathwater in a 3-4 decision. The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, argued before the seven justices then in attendance on February 22, 2005.

SCOTUS ruled in favor of New London in a 5-4 decision, Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer concurring. Seeing the decision as a reverse Robin Hood scheme that would steal from the poor to give to the rich, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms”.  Clarence Thomas took an originalist view, stating that the majority opinion had confused “Public Use” with “Public Purpose”. “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution”, Thomas wrote. “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not”.  Antonin Scalia concurred, seeing any tax advantage to the municipality as secondary to the taking itself.

kelo-2014In the end, most of the homes were destroyed or relocated. State and city governments spent $78 million and bulldozed 70 acres.  The 3,169 new jobs and the $1.2 million in new tax revenue anticipated from the waterfront project, never materialized.  Pfizer backed out of the project and moved away, taking 1,500 existing jobs with them.  Just about the time when existing tax breaks were set to expire, raising the company’s tax bill by 400%.

The now-closed redevelopment area became a dumping ground for debris left by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  Its only residents were feral cats.

In reaction to the Kelo v. City of New London decision, a group of New Hampshire residents proposed a hotel to be built on the site of Justice David Souter’s home in Weare, New Hampshire.  Calling it the “Lost Liberty Motel”, an on-line petition was created to quantify the public benefit of the taking, generating at least 1,418 signatories committing to stay there at least a week. Supporters claimed to be serious, but the measure was defeated three to one in a ballot referendum. The two candidates for Selectman backing the measure, were both defeated.

To this day, New Hampshire license plates bear the slogan “Live Free or Die”.  Those in Connecticut say “Constitution State”.  In neither case is it at all clear, why.

February 21, 1431 Joan of Arc

History has repeatedly demonstrated the truth of Taylor Owen’s comment on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.” So it was in the days after Jeanne’s arrival at Orléans

The Hundred Years’ War began as a succession dispute over the French throne, with an alliance of Burgundians and English on one side, against a coalition of Royalists led by the Armagnacs on the other.

Europe was not far removed from the latest outbreak of the Black Death at this time, as the scorched earth tactics employed by the English army laid waste to the countryside and devastated the French economy.

Charles, Dauphin and heir apparent to the French throne was up against a wall, when a teenage peasant girl approached him in 1429.

joan_of_arcFor the 14-year-old boy-king, even listening to her was an act of desperation, borne of years of humiliating defeats at the hands of the English army. Yet this illiterate peasant girl had made some uncanny predictions concerning battlefield successes.  Now she claimed to have had visions from God and the Saints, commanding her to help him gain the throne. Her name was Jeanne d’Arc.

The siege of Orléans was six months old at this time, when the Dauphin decided it couldn’t hurt to let her take part. She dressed herself in borrowed armor and set out, arriving on the 29th of April, 1429.

History has repeatedly demonstrated the truth of Taylor Owen’s comment on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.” So it was in the days after Jeanne’s arrival at Orléans.

Though repeatedly excluded from war councils, Jeanne managed to insert herself anyway, putting the French back on the offensive and handing them one victory after another.

Nine days after her arrival, Orléans turned into an unexpected victory for the French, despite Jeanne’s being shot through the neck and left shoulder by an English longbow, while holding a ladder at the siege of Tourelles.  The Dauphin granted her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon. The French army enjoyed a string of successes, recovering Jargeau on June 12, Meung-sur-Loire on the 15th, and Beaugency two days later, leading to a humiliating English defeat at the battle at Patay on the 18th.

Several more Armagnac victories followed.  On July 17, 1429, Charles was consecrated King Charles VII of France, fifth King of the House of Valois, with Jeanne at his side.  Despite her loyalty, Charles’ support began to waver.  Court favorite Georges de La Trémoille had convinced the king that she was becoming too powerful.  An archer pulled Jeanne from her horse during the siege of joan_of_arc_interrogationCompiègne in May, 1430, and her allies failed to come to her aid.  Left outside the town’s gates when they closed, she was captured and taken to the castle of Bouvreuil.

Some 70 charges were made against her by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man.

Representatives of the judge were dispatched  to Jeanne’s home village of Domremy, to ascertain the prisoner’s virginity, character, habits and associations.  Nicolas Bailly, the man responsible for collecting testimony, reported that he “had found nothing concerning Joan that he would not have liked to find about his own sister”. This Bishop Cauchon must have been some piece of work.  The report so angered the man, that he called Bailly “a traitor and a bad man” and refused to pay him for his work.

Jean Le Maistre, whose presence as Vice-Inquisitor for Rouen was required by canon law, objected to the proceedings and refused to appear, until the English threatened his life.

Interrogation of the prisoner began on February 21, 1431. The outcome was never in doubt. Transcripts were falsified and witnesses intimidated.  Even then, trial records reveal this illiterate peasant girl to be brighter than all her inquisitors, combined.

One example from her third interrogation, was the Question: “Do you know whether or not you are in God’s grace?”. The question was a trap.  Church doctrine stated that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace, yet a “no” answer would have been held against her.  “If I am not”, she said, “may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.”

After fifteen such interrogations her inquisitors still had nothing on her, save for the wearing of soldier’s garb, and her visions. Yet, the outcome of her “trial” was already determined.  She was found guilty of heresy, and sentenced to be burned at the stake.  On May 24, Jeanne was taken to a scaffold.  Threatened that she would be immediately burned alive if she didn’t disavow her visions and abjure the wearing of soldier’s clothing, Jeanne agreed to sign such an abjuration, but recanted four days later.

jean-darc-executionThe death sentence was carried out on May 30, 1431, in the old marketplace at Rouen. She was 19.  After she died, the coals were raked back to expose her charred body.  No one would be able to claim she’d escaped alive. Her body was then burned twice more, so no one could collect the relics.  Her ashes were then cast into a river.

Guillaume Manchon, one of the court scribes, later recalled: “And she was then dressed in male clothing, and was complaining that she could not give it up, fearing lest in the night her guards would inflict some act of [sexual] outrage upon her; and she had complained once or twice to the Bishop of Beauvais, the Vice-Inquisitor, and Master Nicholas Loiseleur that one of the aforesaid guards had tried to rape her.”

Her executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later said that he “Greatly feared to be damned”.

An inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Calixtus III re-examined the evidence, 25 years later. The court exonerated her of all charges, pronouncing her innocent on July 7, 1456, and later declaring her a martyr.

A National Heroine to the French, Joan of Arc was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, in 1920.  It was small consolation for this child who had been set up for a fall by her enemies, and abandoned to be incinerated alive, by her friends.

February 20, 1942 Ace

O’Hare’s Medal of Honor citation calls it “…one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation…”

We’ve all read the story of “Easy Eddie” O’Hare, the mob lawyer who had everything but a good name, who gave it all up to show his son that personal integrity was more important than all the riches of the underworld. Easy Eddie went on to testify against Al Capone and lost his life for it, Eddie’s son “Butch” going on to become a WWII flying Ace.

The story is true, kind of, but it lays the morality play on a little thick.

Edward Joseph O’Hare, “EJ” to friends and family, passed the Missouri bar exam in 1923easy-eddie and joined a law firm.  Operating dog tracks in Chicago, Boston and Miami, O’Hare made a considerable fortune working for Owen Smith, the high commissioner for the International Greyhound Racing Association, who patented the mechanical rabbit used in dog racing.  EJ and Selma Anna (Lauth) O’Hare had three children between 1914 and 1924, – Edward (“Butch”), Patricia, and Marilyn.

EJ developed an interest in flying in the 1920s, once even hitching a ride on Charles Lindbergh’s mail plane.  For a time he worked as pilot for Robertson Aircraft, occasionally giving his teenage son a turn at the controls.

One day EJ came home to find 13 year old Butch sprawled on the couch, munching on donuts and banana layer cake.  He enrolled the boy in the Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois.  The kid was getting way too lazy.

easy_eddie_with_caponeEJ and Selma divorced in 1927.  He left St. Louis for good, moving to Chicago while Butch attended WMA.  It was there that the elder O’Hare met Al Capone, later earning his second fortune working as the gangster’s business manager and lawyer.

In 1930, O’Hare approached John Rogers, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, asking that he arrange a meeting with the Internal Revenue Service, which was then after Capone on grounds of tax evasion.  It may have been to restore his good name, or maybe he saw the writing on the wall.  Possibly both.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Whatever the motivation, an Agent Wilson of the IRS later said “On the inside of the gang I had one of the best undercover men I have ever known: Eddie O’Hare.”

Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to Alcatraz, becoming easyeddieohare02eligible for early release in 1939 due to syphilitic dementia. On November 8 of that year, EJ left his office at Sportsman’s Park racetrack in Cicero in his black ’39 Lincoln Zephyr. Two shotgun wielding gunmen pulled alongside, firing a volley of big game slugs and killing O’Hare, instantly. No arrest was ever made.

Butch had graduated from WMA and the Naval Academy at Annapolis by this time, receiving his duty assignment aboard the USS New Mexico.  Shortly after his father’s assassination, the younger O’Hare began flight training at Naval Air Station in Pensacola.
Assigned to the USS Saratoga’s Fighting Squadron, Butch O’Hare made his first carrier landing in 1940, describing it as “just about the most exciting thing a pilot can do in peacetime.”

butch-ohareIt was February 20, 1942, when Butch O’Hare became the first American flying Ace of WWII. The carrier Lexington was discovered by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, 450 miles outside of Rabaul.  Six Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters and Lexington’s anti-aircraft guns were engaged with an incoming formation of nine Japanese bombers, when nine more bombers were reported incoming.

Six more Wildcats roared off the flight deck of the Lexington, one piloted by Butch O’Hare.  He and his wingman Marion William “Duff” Dufilho were the first to spot the V formation, diving to intercept them and leaving the other four fighters too far away to change the outcome.  Dufilho’s guns jammed and were unable to fire, leaving Butch O’Hare alone on the unprotected side of his flotilla.  One fighter against nine enemy bombers flying in tight V formation, mutually protecting one another with their rear-facing machine guns.

O’Hare’s Wildcat had four 50-caliber guns with 450 rounds apiece, enough to fire for abouthagel-butchohare 34 seconds.  What followed was so close to the Lexington, that pilots could hear the carrier’s AA guns.  Full throttle and diving from the high side, O’Hare fired short, accurate bursts, the outermost bomber’s right-hand engine literally jumping from its mount.  Ducking to the other side and smashing the port engine on another “Betty”, O’Hare’s Wildcat attacked one bomber after another, single handedly taking out five bombers with an average of only 60 rounds apiece.

O’Hare’s Medal of Honor citation calls it “…one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation…”

Butch O’Hare disappeared in a confused night action on November 26, 1943.  Some say he was cut down by friendly fire, mistakenly shot down by TBF Avenger gunner Alvin B. Kernan.  Others say it was a lucky shot by a gunner aboard his old adversary, a Rikko (Betty) bomber.  A third theory is that his Hellcat caught a wingtip on a wave, and cartwheeled into the ocean.

The Orchard Depot Airport in Chicago was renamed O’Hare International Airport in tribute to the fallen Ace, on September 19, 1949.   Neither the body, nor the aircraft, were ever recovered.  butch-ohare

February 19, 1807 Founding Scoundrels

What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew had been party to a duel, and that he was near death after being shot by Vice President Mike Pence.

What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew had been party to a duel, and that he was near death after being shot by Vice President Mike Pence.

The year was 1804, and President Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr, had a long standing personal conflict with one of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, the only signer of the Constitution from the state of New York, had been the first Secretary of the Treasury serving under President George Washington.

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Aaron Burr(R), Alexander Hamilton (L)

The animosity between Hamilton and Burr probably began in 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler in a US Senate election. The conflict escalated during the 1800 Presidential election, one of the ugliest election seasons in our nation’s history.  Called the “Revolution of 1800”, the contest pitted Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans, against former Vice President John Adams and his Federalist party.

Both sides were convinced as an article of faith, that the other side would destroy the young nation.  Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, whose sympathies with the French Revolution would bring about a similar cataclysm in the young American Republic.  Democratic-Republicans criticized the alien and sedition acts, and the deficit spending the Adams administration used to support Federal policy.

“The father of modern political campaigning”, Burr enlisted the help of New York’s Tammany Hall in his pursuit of election, transforming what was then a social club into a political machine.

The election was a decisive victory for the Democratic-Republicans, not so much for the selection of President and Vice President.  At the time, electors cast two votes, the first and second vote-getters becoming President and Vice President.   The electoral vote tied at 73 between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, moving the selection to the House of Representatives.

Hamilton exerted his influence on behalf of Thomas Jefferson, who was elected on the 36th ballot, making Burr his VP.

Today we’re accustomed to the idea of “Judicial Review”, the idea that Supreme Court decisions are final and inviolate, but that wasn’t always the case.  The Landmark Supreme Court case Marbury v Madison established the principle in 1803, a usurpation of power so egregious to Democratic-Republicans that it led to the impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  As VP, Aaron Burr presided over Chase’ impeachment.

Relations became toxic between Jefferson and his VP.  Burr knew that he wouldn’t be kept on for the 1804 re-election campaign, and so he ran for Governor of New York, losing the election by a decisive margin to a virtual unknown, Morgan Lewis.  It was a humiliating defeat, the largest in New York electoral politics up to that time.

weehawken-duelBurr blamed Hamilton for his defeat, challenging him to a duel over comments made during the election.  Dueling was illegal at this time but enforcement was comparatively lax in New Jersey.  The pair rowed across the Hudson River with their “seconds”, meeting at the waterfront town of Weehawken, New Jersey.  It was July 11, 1804.  Hamilton “threw away” his shot, firing into the air.  Aaron Burr shot to kill.

Murder charges were filed in both New York and New Jersey, but neither ever went to trial.

Aaron Burr went on to preside over Justice Chase’ impeachment trial, later that year.  It had to have been the high point of the Vice President’s political career, a career that otherwise ended the day he met Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken.

Burr headed for New Orleans, where he got mixed up with one General James Wilkinson, possibly the sleaziest character of the founding generation.  At that time, Wilkinson was a paid agent for Spanish King Charles IV. 100 years later Theodore Roosevelt would say of Wilkinson, “In all our history, there is no more despicable character.”

Wilkinson would take his payments in silver dollars, hidden in rum, sugar and coffee casks.  All those clinking coins almost undid him, when a messenger was caught and killed with 3,000 of them.  The messenger’s five murderers were themselves Spaniards, who testified at trial that the money belonged to the spy Wilkinson.  Payment for services rendered to their King.  Wilkinson’s luck held out, as the killers spoke no English.  Thomas Power, interpreter for the Magistrate, was another Spanish spy.  He translated:  ‘They just say they’re wicked murderers motivated by greed.’

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General James Wilkinson

The nature of Burr’s discussions with Wilkinson is unknown, but in 1806, Burr led a group of armed colonists toward New Orleans, with the apparent intention of snatching the territory and turning it into an independent Republic.  It’s probably safe to assume that Aaron Burr saw himself at the head of such a Republic.

Seeing no future in it and wanting to save his own hide, General Wilkinson turned on his former ally, sending dispatches to Washington accusing the former Vice President of treason. Burr was tracked down in Alabama on February 19, 1807, arrested for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, for trial.

Burr was acquitted on September 1 of that year, on grounds that he had not committed an “overt act” as specified in the Constitution.  He was not guilty in the eyes of the law, but the court of public opinion would forever regard him as traitor.  Aaron Burr spent the next several years in Europe before returning to New York, and resuming his law practice.

The Vice President who killed the man on our $10 bill, died in obscurity on September 14, 1836, at the age of 80.