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.

 

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February 17, 1864 Hunley

Despite two disastrous test runs, there was no shortage of volunteers.  Once again, the Hunley was fished up from the bottom

In the 1850s, the economy of the southern United States was mostly agrarian.  When civil war broke out in 1861, the Confederacy depended to a greater degree on imported manufactured goods than the more industrialized states to the north.  For the Union, there was strategic advantage in cutting off this flow of manufactured goods, and so the “Anaconda Plan” was created, to choke off traffic to southern ports and harbors.
Few in the Confederacy understood the need to keep southern ports open as well as the planter, legislator, and southern Patriot Horace Lawson Hunley.
In 1861, Hunley joined forces with James McClintock and Baxter Watson to design and hunley-interiorbuild a secret Super Weapon for the Confederacy.  A submarine.  They completed construction on their first effort, the “Pioneer”, that same year in New Orleans.  The trio went on to build two more submarines in Mobile, Alabama, the “American Diver”, and their last and most successful creation, the “Fishboat”, later renamed HL Hunley.
After a short sea trial in Mobile, the Hunley was put on a train and shipped up to Charleston, South Carolina, to help break the blockade.  Arriving on August 12, 1863, she was 40′ long by 4′ wide, displacing about 7½ tons.  She was designed for a crew of 8, with 7 operating a hand crank and the 8th steering the boat.
A test run on August 29 ended in disaster, when Skipper John A. Payne accidentally stepped on the lever controlling the diving planes with the hatches open.  Payne and two others escaped, but the other five crew members went to the bottom.
A second crew tested the submarine on October 15, this one including Horace Hunley himself.  The submarine conducted a mock attack but failed to surface afterward, this time drowning all 8 crew members.
Despite those two disastrous test runs, there was no shortage of volunteers.  Once again, the Hunley was fished up from the bottom.
hunley-warheadThe original plan was to tow a floating mine called a “torpedo”, with a contact fuse.  They would dive beneath their victim and surface on the other side, pulling the torpedo into the side of the target.
Tide and current conditions in Charleston proved to be very different from those in Mobile.  On several test runs, they found the torpedo floating out ahead of the sub.  That wouldn’t do, so they fashioned a spar and mounted it to the bow.  At the end of the spar was a 137lb waterproof cask of powder, attached to a harpoon-like device with which Hunley would ram its target.hunley-housatonic
Hunley made her first live attack run four miles outside of Charleston Harbor, on the night of February 17, 1864. Lieutenant George Dixon and a crew of seven attacked USS Housatonic, a 1,240 ton steam powered sloop of war, embedding the spar torpedo into Housatonic’s hull.  It must have been a sight to see.  The torpedo ignited a 4,000 lb store of black powder in the hull of the ship, exploding with a deafening roar and a towering column of flame that lit up the night.
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Housatonic was gone in three minutes, killing five sailors.  What happened next, is a mystery.  The first successful attack sub in history showed the signal for success, a blue lantern, to their comrades on shore.  And then it vanished.
Hunley would not be seen again for 131 years.
Author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the sub in 1995, buried in silt under 32′ of water.  A painstaking, five year effort was launched to bring Hunley to the surface, and on August 8, 2000, HL Hunley returned to the light of day.  The sub was moved to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in thehunley-in-the-lab Charleston Navy Yard, and submerged in 55,000 gallons of chilled, fresh water, where scientists and historians worked on unlocking its secrets.
There was an old rumor that Lt. Dixon left a girlfriend in Mobile, Alabama, named Queenie Bennett.  She had given him a $20 gold piece, a good luck charm and token of her affection.  Dixon was shot in the hip at Shiloh, the story goes, a wound that should have killed him.  If the bullet hadn’t struck the gold piece in his pocket. dixon-gold-coin
No one knew if the story was true, until excavation started inside the sub.  Senior Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen found the coin, next to the remains of George E. Dixon.  “Some people may think this is a stroke of luck,” she said, “but perhaps it’s something else. They tell me that Lt. Dixon was a lady’s man, perhaps he winked at us yesterday to remind us that he still is”.
On the coin, clearly showing signs of having been struck by a bullet, are inscribed these words:

Shiloh
April 6, 1862
My life Preserver
G. E. D.

 

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Facial reconstruction techniques reveal the faces of the HL Hunley commander Lt. George Dixon and crewmembers Arnold Becker, Lumkin (first name unknown), Joseph Ridgaway, Frank Collins, Miller (first name unknown), Cpl. J.F. Carlsen and James A Wicks.

 

February 16, 1804  The Shores of Tripoli

Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

Historic accounts differ as to the early success of the Islamic conquests.  Contemporary Christian sources saw them as God’s punishment for the sins of fellow Christians.  Early Muslim sources describe them as evidence of divine favor, reflections of the religious zeal of the conquerors.  Be that is it may, Islamic expansion enveloped the Arabian Peninsula in the last ten years of the life of Muhammad (622-632), at the expense of the Roman Byzantines and the Sassanid Empire of the Persians.  Syria fell in 634, followed by Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  By 750 the Umayyad Caliphs had subjugated much of the Balkan states, part of the Indian sub-continent, all of North Africa, most of Spain, and parts of Southern France and Sicily.  By the age of Columbus, the Mediterranean was a place where you traveled at your own risk.

Those of us of European ancestry owe our heritage, if not our existence, to the warriors who defeated the Jihadist time after time. There was Pelagius, who stopped a military force of the Umayyad Caliphate at Covadonga in 722, without which there would be no Reconquista, no Ferdinand and Isabella, and we wouldn’t know the name of Christopher Columbus.

The father of Charlemagne, Charles “The Hammer” Martel, blocked the Muslim advanceislamic-conquest into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours, in 732.

If Marcantonio Bragadin is remembered at all, it is for being betrayed, tortured and skinned alive by Lala Mustafa Pasha. Yet, it is Bragadin’s stubborn defense of the eastern Mediterranean outpost of Famagusta in 1571, which gave European principalities time to assemble naval forces in numbers sufficient to defend the European coast, near a place called Lepanto.

The 1683 Battle of Vienna, at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, was a hard fought contest which could have gone either way, until the arrival of a Polish army under King Jan Sobieski. The Ottomans were defeated and turned back from the conquest of Eastern Europe on a date which grates the Jihadist memory to this day: September 11.

“Saracens” plundered everything that could be carried away: animals, provisions, fabrics, precious metals and money, especially men, women and children who could be sold for a good price at the slave markets.  Redemption of captives being among the corporal works of mercy, the “Mathurins” Order of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1198 for the purpose of paying the ransom of Christians held captive by non-Christians, as a consequence of crusading and pirating along the southern European coastline.

Even Ireland, with its northern latitude, wasn’t immune from these raids. Murat Reis attacked the village of Baltimore in County Cork in June 1631. With him were pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Ottoman Empire, who captured all the villagers they could find and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa. They lived out their lives chained to oars as galley slaves, or spent long years locked away in harems or inside the walls of the sultan’s palace. Only two of them ever saw Ireland again.barbary_coast

The fledgling United States found itself under attack by the “Barbary States” of North Africa almost immediately following the Revolution, and the subsequent lifting of France’s protection.  Spain, France and other European Powers advised the US to pay tribute.
Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco, added the United States of America to a list of countries for which his ports were open in December 1777, making Morocco the first country whose head of state publicly recognized the United States.  Abdallah saw the future for his country in foreign trade, and actively sought a treaty relationship with the US, well before war ended with Great Britain.  The treaty signed by Thomas Barclay and Sultan Muhammad III in 1786, and ratified by the Confederation Congress in July 1787, is still in effect today, the longest continuous treaty relationship in United States history.
Diplomacy had succeeded with Morocco, but not with Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli, each of which demanded $660,000 in tribute.

Algeria captured the schooners Maria and Dauphin in 1785, the captured crews held in conditions of slavery for over a decade. The sum negotiated for their release exceeded $1 million, more than 1/6th the entire budget of the United States.  Eleven American ships were captured in 1793 alone, their crews and stores held for ransom.

Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 in tribute on President Jefferson’s inauguration, in 1801.  At this time, Federal revenues were barely over $10 million.  Jefferson refused, resulting in the first Barbary War, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli”.

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The grounded USS Philadelphia is captured, October 31, 1803

 

Limited to small confrontations for the first two years, more sustained combat began in June 1803 when a small American force attacked Tripoli Harbor in modern Libya.

While giving chase and firing on a pirate vessel, USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted reef, two miles outside of Tripoli.  Fearing the 1,240 ton, 36-gun frigate would be captured and added to the Tripolitan navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured vessel.

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Burning of the USS Philadelphia

On the evening of February 16, 1804, Decatur entered Tripoli Harbor with a force of 74 Marines.  With them were five Sicilian volunteers, including pilot Salvador Catalano, who spoke fluent Arabic.  Disguised as Maltese sailors and careful not to draw fire from shore batteries, Decatur’s force boarded the frigate, killing or capturing most of its Tripolitan crew, before the remainder jumped overboard.  Decatur and his marines had hoped to sail Philadelphia out of harbor, but soon found she was in no condition to leave.  Setting combustibles about the deck, they set the frigate ablaze.  Ropes burned off, setting the Philadelphia adrift in the harbor.  Loaded cannon cooked off as the blaze spread, firing random balls into the town. It must have been a sight, when gunpowder stores ignited and the entire ship exploded.

By that time Decatur and his men had slipped away, without the loss of a single man.  Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

February 15, 2005 Arlington Lady

Their job is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way

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

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

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

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

Sixteen others were buried there that same Friday, most of them considerably older.  Some of them brought only a dozen or so mourners.  For others, no friends or family members were on-hand to say goodbye.

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Former Tuskegee Airman Benjamin O. Davis Jr. is laid to rest, Saturday, July 6, 2002

In 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, regularly attended funeral services at Arlington National cemetery.  Sometimes, a military chaplain was the only one present at these services.  Both felt that a member of the Air Force family should be present at these funerals, and Gladys began to invite other officer’s wives.  Over time, a group of women from the Officer’s Wives Club were formed for the purpose.  In 1973, General Creighton Abram’s wife Julia did the same for the Army, forming a group calling itself the “Arlington Ladies”.  Groups of Navy and Coast guard wives followed suit, in 1985 and 2006.  Traditionally, the Marine Corps Commandant sends an official representative of the Corps to all Marine funerals.  The Marine Corps Arlington Ladies were formed in 2016.

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Margaret Mensch, April 22, 2010

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

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

Traditionally, the organization was made up of current or former military wives.  Today their number includes daughters, and even one “Arlington Gentleman”.  Their motto, “No Soldier will ever be buried alone.”arlington-lady

44 years ago they came alone, or in pairs.  Today, the 145 or so volunteers from the four branches are a recognized part of funeral ceremonies, operating out of a joint office in the cemetery’s administration building.

The volunteer arrives with a military escort from the Navy or the United States Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard”.  The horse-drawn caisson arrives from the old post chapel, carrying the flag draped casket.  Joining the procession, she will quietly walk to the burial site, her arm inside that of her escort.  A few words are spoken over the deceased, followed by the three-volley salute.  Somewhere, a solitary bugler sounds Taps.  The folded flag is presented to the grieving widow, or next of kin.  Only then will she break her silence, stepping forward with a word of condolence and two cards:  one from the service branch Chief of Staff and his wife, and a second from herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 12,  1733  Our 13th Colony

Years later, Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England. It was a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our country had been associated with the American colonies.

General James Oglethorpe was a crusader, an idealist, a member of the British Parliament.  First elected in 1722, his anonymous 1728 pamphlet “The Sailor’s Advocate” advocated improvement in the terrible working conditions of the sailors of his day.  Oglethorpe chaired a committee on prison reform that same year, calling attention to the horrendous conditions in the nation’s debtors’ prisons, and to the hopeless plight of those released with no means of support.

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James Oglethorpe

Oglethorpe saw the greater problem as urbanization, stripping the countryside of the productively employed and depositing them in cities with no opportunity for productive employment.  To deal with the problem, Oglethorpe and others petitioned in 1730 to form a committee of trustees, to establish a new Colony in America. They would call their new colony “Georgia”, the petition approved in 1732.  Thousands applied to go, Trustees narrowing the number down to the first 114  colonists.  Those who couldn’t pay their own way would be subject to a period of indenture, typically 5-7 years.

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Tomochichi, Mico of the Yamacraw, and his Son

It was November that year, when Oglethorpe and his colonists left aboard the “Anne”,intending to found their new Colony.   The Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah were founded on that date, February 12, 1733.  A personal friendship developed between Oglethorpe and native Chieftan Tomochichi, Mico (Leader) of the Yamacraw, a formal treaty of friendship signed in May of that year.   Years later the pair would journey to England, where Tomochichi presented a symbol of power to the King of England.  It was a bald eagle feather, the first time this symbol of our nation had been associated with the American colonies.

The home town to Oglethorpe’s Utopian experiment, Savannah, was founded around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square. Established to help the poor and to produce materials like silk and olives for England, Georgia issued each colonist 50 acres of land, its motto “Non Sibi Sed Allis”.   “Not for Themselves But for Others”.

Oglethorpe outlined four prohibitions for his Utopian community, even before the first ships left England.

1: No rum, brandy or spirits were allowed in Georgia, though beer, wine and ale were OK.

2: No African slaves were allowed, though they were occasionally “borrowed” for construction projects.

3: No lawyers were allowed, since Oglethorpe felt that every man ought to be able to speak for himself.

4: No Catholics were allowed, as it was believed that they’d be too sympathetic to the Spanish, then in control of the Florida territory.

james-oglethorpe-with-yamacraw-chief-tomochichi-mary-appears-between-themReturning to England, Oglethorpe would continue to serve on the Board of Trustees, though he often found himself outvoted. Despite his opposition, the Board of Trustees gradually relaxed their restrictions on land ownership, on hard liquor, and on slavery. By 1750, Georgia’s founding father was no longer involved with the board that created it. His grand experiment was over when Trustees voted to return their governing charter, making Georgia the 13th of Britain’s American colonies.

Chief Tomochichi died in 1739 at age 97, requesting that he be buried among his English friends. The Mico of the Yamacraw was interred in Wright Square, saluted with cannon and musket fire.  James Oglethorpe himself was one of the pall bearers. If you ever go to Savannah, you can still see Wright Square, and the monument dedicated on April 21, 1899. A bronze tablet is engraved with Cherokee roses and arrowheads, and inscribed with these words”  “In memory of Tomochichi – the Mico of the Yamacraws – the companion of Oglethorpe – and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia”.

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Tomochichi’s Grave, Wright Square, Savannah

February 10, 1920 Play Ball!

In a world where classified information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known

Former Boston Braves pitcher Max Surkont once said “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously — if it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball”.

I’m not sure about javelins, but I know how much we all love to see home runs when we go see a ballgame.

That’s not always how the game was played. The “Hitless Wonders” of the Chicago White Sox won the 1906 World Series with a .230 club batting average. Manager Fielder Jones said “This should prove that leather is mightier than wood”.  Fielder Allison Jones, that’s the man’s real name.  Is that the greatest baseball name ever, or what?

deadballparksIt was the “dead-ball” era, when an “inside baseball” style of play relied on stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and, more than anything else, speed.

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

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

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

The first ever game to be played “under the lights” was forty years in the past in 1920, but it would be another 15 before the practice became widespread.

Late afternoon on August 16, the Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman took the plate in the top of the 5th, submarine-pitcherfacing “submarine” pitcher Carl Mays.  These are not to be confused with the windmill underhand pitches we see in softball.  Submarine pitchers throw side-arm to under-handed, their upper bodies so low that some of them scuff their hands on the ground, the ball rising as it approaches the strike zone.

Chapman never moved, he seems not to have seen it coming. The crack of the ball hitting his head was so loud that Mays thought he had hit the end of the bat, fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out. Wally Pipp, the first baseman better known for losing his starting position to Lou Gehrig because of a headache, immediately knew something was wrong. The batter made no effort to run, slowly collapsing to the ground with blood streaming out of his left ear.

ray_chapman_grave29-year-old Ray Chapman had said this was his last year playing ball.  He wanted to spend more time in the family business he had just married into. The man was right.  Raymond Johnson Chapman died 12 hours later, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.

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

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

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

rubbing-mudPhiladelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne took up the challenge in 1938, scouring the riverbanks of New Jersey for just the right mud. Blackburne found his mud hole, describing the stuff as “resembling a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream”. By his death in the late fifties, Blackburne was selling his “Baseball Rubbing Mud” to every major league ball club in the country, and most minor league teams.rubbing-mud-2

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

Nobody knows, but one thing is certain. The first pitchers will show up to the first spring training camp, a few short days short days from now. Every baseball thrown from pre-season to the 2017 World Series, will first have been de-glossed with Lena Blackburne’s famous, Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Go Sox.

February 8, 1960 Rin Tin Tin

There’s a Hollywood legend that may or may not be true, that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929

paris-gunAt 256 tons with a barrel of 111′ 7″, the “Paris Gun” hurled 38″ shells into the city from a range of 75 miles. If you were in Paris in 1918, you may never have heard of the German “super gun”. You’d have been well acquainted with the damage it caused. You never knew you were under attack until the explosion. The lucky ones were those who lived to see the 4’ deep, 10’-12’ wide crater.paris-gun-crater

Parisian children made little good luck charms, as “protection” from the Paris gun. They were tiny pairs of handmade dolls, joined together by scraps of yarn. They were said to provide protection for their owners, but only under certain circumstances. You couldn’t make or buy your own, they had to be presented to you. They also had to remain attached, or else the little dolls would lose their protective powers.

nenetteetrintintinThese little yarn dolls had names. They were Nénette and Rintintin.

Army Air Service Corporal Lee Duncan was in Paris at this time, with the 135th Aero Squadron. He was aware of the custom, possibly having been given such a talisman himself. In the wake of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Corporal Duncan was sent forward to the small village of Flirey, to check out it’s suitability for an airfield. The place was heavily damaged by shellfire, and Duncan came upon the shattered remains of a dog pound. Once, this kennel had provided Alsatians (German Shepherd Dogs) to the Imperial German Army. Now, the only dogs left alive were a starving mother and five nursing puppies, so young that their eyes were still closed.135th_aero_squadron_group

Corporal Duncan cared for them, selling several once the puppies were weaned. He sold the mother to an officer and three puppies to fellow soldiers, keeping two for himself. Like those little yarn dolls that French children gave to American soldiers, Duncan felt these two puppies were his good luck charms. He called them Nanette and Rin Tin Tin.

jane-murfin-with-strongheart
Playwright Jane Murfin with Strongheart

Returning home after the war, Duncan placed the dogs with a police dog breeder and trainer in Long Island. Nanette contracted pneumonia and died, the breeder giving Duncan a female puppy, “Nanette II”, to replace her.

Etzel von Oeringen was born on October 1, 1917 in Germany, coming to America after the Great War and becoming a movie star in the ‘20s. Better known as “Strongheart”, Etzel was a German Shepherd Dog, whose appearance in silent films enormously increased the popularity of the breed.

A friend of silent film actor Eugene Pallete, Duncan became convinced that Rin Tin Tin could become the next canine film star. He later wrote, “I was so excited over the motion-picture idea that I found myself thinking of it night and day.”

where-the-north-begins-rin-tin-tin-1923Walking the dog on “Poverty Row”, 1920s slang for B movie studios, did the trick. Rin Tin Tin got his first film break in 1922, replacing a camera shy wolf in “The Man from Hell’s River”. His first starring role in the 1923 “Where the North begins”, is credited with saving Warner Brothers Studios from bankruptcy.

Between-the-scenes silent film “intertitles” were easily changed from one language to another, and Rin Tin Tin films enjoyed international distribution. In 1927, Berlin movie audiences voted him Most Popular Actor.

There’s a Hollywood legend that may or may not be true, that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929. Wishing to appear oh-so serious and wanting a human actor, the Academy threw out the ballots. German actor Emil Jannings got Best Actor on the 2nd ballot.

rin-tin-tin-signed-photoRin Tin Tin appeared in 27 feature length silent films, 4 “talkies”, and countless commercials and short films. Regular programming was interrupted to announce his passing on August 10, 1932, at the age of 13. An hour-long program about his life was broadcast the following day.

Suffering from the Great Depression like so many others, Duncan couldn’t afford a fancy funeral. By this time he couldn’t afford the house he lived in. Duncan sold the house and returned the body of his beloved German Shepherd to the country of his birth, where Rin Tin Tin was buried in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine.

Duncan continued breeding the line, careful to preserve the physical qualities and intelligence of the original, avoiding the less desirable traits that crept into other GSD rin-tin-tinbloodlines. Rin Tin Tin and Nanette II produced at least 48 puppies. Duncan may have been obsessive about it, at least according to Mrs. Duncan. When she filed for divorce, she named Rin Tin Tin as co-respondent.

Rin Tin Tin was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. Lee Duncan passed away later that same year.  At some point, Duncan had written a poem, a tribute to the companion animal who was no more.  If you’ve ever loved a dog, I need not explain his final stanza.

“…A real unselfish love like yours, old pal,
Is something I shall never know again;
And I must always be a better man,
Because you loved me greatly, Rin Tin Tin”.