July 16, 1963 A Happy Little Tree

On this day in 1963 and, for that matter, every day between April 22 and August 20, the sun never seems to set in that part of Alaska. A personal friend jokes about a family trip from Fairbanks to Florida in which he learned his kids associate warmth and cold not with the change of season, but the presence or absence of light.

Anyone who served at Eielson Air Force Base in the early 1960s remembers Sergeant Ross. A man with a voice like a jackhammer, striding into the early morning stillness. The sleeping recruits. The voice let loose like the roar of a shotgun, fired over their heads.

RISE AND SHINE DIRTBAGS! EVRYBODY UP! EVERYBODY OUT! LET’S MOVE IT!

For 20 years Ross served as a training instructor, ordering this man to drop and give him fifty, and that one to scrub the latrines.

And yet, here in the last frontier Sgt. Ross grew and nurtured a secret, softer side of himself, one that wasn’t so secret, at all. This was the land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska style, just outside of Fairbanks. Here the Orlando Florida-born 1st Sergeant learned to appreciate the beauty of a fresh fall of snow. The majesty of the Aurora Borealis and the magnificent mountains and tall trees.

Image of the Aurora Borealis from the official website, of Eielson Air Base

First came the art classes, to fill the quiet hours, off-duty. The large brush, wet-on-wet painting techniques that allowed Sgt. Ross to wolf down a sandwich and complete an entire canvas, all in a half-hour lunch. Painting gave the man a moment of joy and then it was…back to work.

COME ON LADIES, WE’RE NOT ON VACATION. LET’S GET THE LEAD…OUT!

On this day in 1963 and, for that matter, every day between April 22 and August 20, the sun never seems to set in that part of Alaska. A personal friend jokes about a family trip from Fairbanks to Florida in which he learned his kids associate warmth and cold not with the change of season, but the presence or absence of light.

So it was this human bullhorn of a man had an abundance of daylight in which to appreciate the beauty of Alaska and to hone and practice, his art. He produced hundreds of paintings during this period perhaps thousands and sold them, for a few extra dollars spending money.

”I developed ways of painting extremely fast. I used to go home at lunch and do a couple while I had my sandwich. I’d take them back that afternoon and sell them.”

Sgt. Robert Norman Ross

All things, must come to an end. Today, Eielson Air Base hosts the 354th Fighter Wing with a mission statement, “[T]o provide USINDOPACOM combat-ready fifth-generation airpower, advanced integration training, and strategic arctic airpower basing”.

Robert Norman Ross left the military after twenty years to pursue different interests and died too soon at the age of 52, of lymphoma. The New York times obituary said simply that the man “Was A Painter On TV.” There was no picture, nor any mention of the ugly battle that was about to break out, over his fifteen million dollar estate.

U-2 Spy Plane, Eielson AFB, Alaska

But, imagine if you will the surprise of any of those Air Force recruits from the height of the Cold War, on turning on the TV. To their favorite PBS channel to see their former drill sergeant. The man with a voice that could crack rocks sporting not the crew cut and close-shaved face of the early 1960s but a beard and an afro, the size of a basketball.

And there it was again, that oversized brush and that voice, now speaking in the soporific tones of Mr. Rogers. The cerulean reds and the burnt umbers, the tranquil almost somnolent words painting a picture, of the Joy of Painting. The happy little tree I think we’ll put…right…Here.

Hat tip to Mike Rowe and a fun podcast he calls “The Way I Heard It”, without which I would remain entirely ignorant, of this tale.

May 26, 1907 Little Duke

The Wedge is a spot at the end of Balboa Peninsula in southern California. Located at the east end of Newport beach the place is a surfer’s paradise and a spot anyone with any sense, would stay out of the water.

The Wedge is a spot at the end of Balboa Peninsula in southern California. Located at the east end of Newport beach the place is a surfer’s paradise and a spot anyone with any sense, would stay out of. When conditions are right, a steeply rising sandy bottom causes waves to rise to 30-feet and more. Great, curling monsters breaking onto the shore with such force the outgoing water alone creates a surf and a backwash so powerful as be a danger, to the strongest of swimmers.

Wally O’Connor was a four-time Olympiad, a competition swimmer and water polo player inducted in 1976, into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame. Long before that, he stood at the entrance of Newport Harbor admiring The Wedge, and what may have been some of the biggest waves he had ever seen.

O’Connor turned to his friend Marion and said I’ll take the first pass. “Watch and learn”.

O’Connor stood at the crest of a wave of his own at this time, a craze that was sweeping the west coast surfing crowd. Body surfing. The man didn’t invent the sport but his strength and skill was capable of drawing crowds on the beach.

Marion hated that name. As a boy, he was rarely seen outside the company of his best buddy, a large Airedale terrier, named Duke. Local firefighters took to calling him “Little Duke” and the name stuck.

Now years later on that day at Newport Beach, Marion Mitchell lit another Camel, and watched. It was easy to see why Wally had won Olympic gold in Paris, back in 1924. Powerful strokes brought his friend out to 100 yards where, diving into the face of an oncoming wave, he sprang from the bottom to emerge at the curl of a giant breaker, not on the crest but in it, speeding to the shore like Superman with one arm out straight and the other, tucked behind.

Wally was flying, not on but of the water, his body staying just ahead of the thunderous crash that hurled him forward like a spear where he glided, grinning, onto the sand. Like a seal.

For Duke, that ride was heart pounding. Electric. An upper Midwest kid who had moved with his family to southern California where he now played football, on a scholarship to the University of Southern California. Duke was well accustomed to the adrenaline, the bone crunching action of college football but this, was something different. This looked like human flight itself and no power on earth was going to keep him from it.

Though himself powerfully built, Duke wasn’t the swimmer that Wally was. The water wasn’t his home but, there he was, strong if ungraceful strokes bringing him out to where Wally had launched that virtuoso performance.

Waiting for a wave as big as Wally’s he too dove into its towering base, springing from the bottom to emerge from the crest and, for a moment, to fly.

And that is where the similarity, ends. One must have exquisite timing to do this at this level, to be at just the right place where the thundering crash of the water hurls you forward and not down, toward the bottom.

Duke hit solid ground with the force of a car wreck. He could literally hear his collarbone break, feel the shoulder dislocate with the terrific force, of that impact.

The other thing he could almost hear was the sound of a football scholarship, crashing to an end. Of the end of USC and the promising law career that would never be.

Duke emerged alive from the water that day but not so, his future plans. With the end of that scholarship he was left no choice but to drop out. Duke left USC never to return and took a job. A prop man, at 20th Century Fox.

There, Director Raoul Walsh saw Marion moving studio furniture and thought, this guy would be better in front of the camera, than behind it.

So it is, one of the great leading male actors of the age of film, met with reporters some 35 years later, in the living room of his Encino home. He spoke with them of his lung cancer, only four days out of major surgery, though he didn’t call it that. With four ribs and a lung removed and stitches pulling loose even now he called it “The Big C”, assuring reporters it was no big deal. Soon, he’d be back in the saddle.

That he did, going on to appear in 24 feature films over the next 12 years until finally, the Big C returned. This time there would be no encore. The man who shot Liberty Valance born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907, died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72.

So it is we remember his name, the man the LA Times once called a “$35-a-week prop department flunky” who performed in over 200 feature films, all because of a body surfing accident, in 1926.

Happy birthday, John Wayne.

Los Angeles, USA – September 8, 2012: John Wayne memorial on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Hat tip Mike Rowe for this story and his excellent podcast, The Way I Heard It.

May 17, 1781 Windows on their Souls

“A daguerreotype is a unique image — it isn’t a print, it isn’t a reproduction of any kind. When you have a camera set up to take a daguerreotype and the sitter is in front of you, for example, one of these old men who actually looked and knew and talked to leaders of the Revolution … the light is coming from the sun, hitting his face, and bouncing off of his face through the camera and onto that very same plate.”- Joseph Bauman

FOTR, Dr Eneas Munson

Imagine seeing the faces of the men who fought the American Revolution.  Not the paintings. There’s nothing extraordinary about that, except for the talent of the artist.  I mean their photographs – images that make it possible for you to look into their eyes. The windows, of their souls.

In a letter dated May 17, 1781 and addressed to Alexander Scammell, General George Washington outlined his intention to form a light infantry unit, under Scammell’s leadership.

Dr. Eneas Munson

Comprised of Continental Line units from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the Milford, Massachusetts-born Colonel’s unit was among defensive forces keeping Sir Henry Clinton penned up in New York City, as the Continental army made its way south to a place called Yorktown.

FOTR, Rev Levi Hayes

Among the men under Scammell’s command was Henry Dearborn, future Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson. A teenage medic was also present.  His name was Eneas Munson.

One day, the medic would go on to become Doctor Eneas Munson, professor of the Yale Medical School in New Haven Connecticut,  President of the Medical Society of that same state.  And a man who would live well into the age of photography.

Reverend Levi Hayes

The American Revolution ended in 1783.  By the first full year of the Civil War, only 12 Revolutionary War veterans remained on the pension rolls of a grateful nation.

Two years later, Reverend EB Hillard brought two photographers through New York and New England to visit, and to photograph what were believed to be the last six.  Each man was 100 years or older, at the time of the interview.

FOTR, Peter Mackintosh

William Hutchings of York County Maine, still part of Massachusetts at the time, was captured at the siege of Castine at the age of fifteen.  British authorities said it was a shame to hold one so young a prisoner, and he was released.

Reverend Daniel Waldo of Syracuse, New York fought under General Israel Putnam, becoming a POW at Horse Neck.

Adam Link of Maryland enlisted at 16 in the frontier service.

Peter Mackintosh

Alexander Millener of Quebec was a drummer boy in George Washington’s Life Guard.

Clarendon, New York native Lemuel Cook would live to be one of the oldest surviving veterans of the Revolution, surviving to the age of 107.  He and Alexander Millener witnessed the British surrender, at Yorktown.

FOTR, Jonathan Smith

Samuel Downing from Newburyport, Massachusetts, enlisted at the age of 16 and served in the Mohawk Valley under General Benedict Arnold.  “Arnold was our fighting general”, he’d say, “and a bloody fellow he was. He didn’t care for nothing, he’d ride right in. It was ‘Come on, boys!’ ’twasn’t ‘Go, boys!’ He was as brave a man as ever lived…He was a stern looking man, but kind to his soldiers. They didn’t treat him right: he ought to have had Burgoyne’s sword. But he ought to have been true. We had true men then, twasn’t as it is now”.

Jonathan Smith

Hillard seems to have missed Daniel F. Bakeman, but with good reason.  Bakeman had been unable to prove his service with his New York regiment.  It wasn’t until 1867 that he finally received his veteran’s pension by special act of Congress.

FOTR, James Head

Daniel Frederick Bakeman would become the Frank Buckles of his generation, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution. The 1874 Commissioner of Pensions report said that “With the death of Daniel Bakeman…April 5, 1869, the last of the pensioned soldiers of the Revolution passed away.  He was 109.

Most historians agree on 1839 as the year in which the earliest daguerreotypes became practically accessible.

James W. Head

When Utah based investigative reporter Joe Bauman came across Hillard’s photos in 1976, he believed that there must be others.  Photography had been in existence for 35 years by Reverend Hillard’s time.  What followed was 30 years’ work, first finding and identifying photographs of the right vintage, and then digging through muster rolls, pension files, genealogical records and a score of other source documents, to see if each had played a role in the Revolution.

FOTR, George Fishley

There were some, but it turned out to be a small group. 

Peter Mackintosh for one, was a 16-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice, from Boston.  He was working the night of December 16, 1773, when a group of men ran into the shop scooping up ashes from the hearth and rubbing them on their faces.  Turns out hey were going to a Tea Party.

George Fishley

James Head was a thirteen year-old Continental Naval recruit from a remote part of what was then Massachusetts.  Head would be taken prisoner but later released, walking the 224 miles home from Providence to the future town of Warren, Maine.

Head was elected a Massachusetts delegate to the convention called in Boston, to ratify the Constitution.   He would die the wealthiest man in Warren, stone deaf from service in the Continental Navy.

FOTR, Simeon Hicks

George Fishley served in the Continental army and fought in the Battle of Monmouth, and in General John Sullivan’s campaign against British-allied Indians in New York and Pennsylvania.

Fishley would spend the rest of his days in Portsmouth New Hampshire, where he was known as ‘the last of our cocked hats.”

Simeon Hicks

Daniel Spencer fought with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, an elite 120-man unit also known as Sheldon’s Horse after Colonel Elisha Sheldon.  First mustered at Wethersfield, Connecticut, the regiment consisted of four troops from Connecticut, one troop each from Massachusetts and New Jersey, and two companies of light infantry. On August 13, 1777, Sheldon’s horse put a unit of Loyalists to flight in the little-known Battle of the Flocky, the first cavalry charge in history, performed on American soil

FOTR, Daniel Spencer

Bauman’s research uncovered another eight in addition to Hillard’s record including a shoemaker, two ministers, a tavern-keeper, a settler on the Ohio frontier, a blacksmith and the captain of a coastal vessel, in addition to Dr. Munson.

The experiences of these eight span the distance from the Boston Tea Party to the battles at Monmouth, Quaker Hill, Charleston and Bennington.  Their eyes looked upon the likes of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox, the battles of the Revolution and the final surrender, at Yorktown.

Daniel Spencer

Bauman collected the glass plate photos of eight and paper prints of another five along with each man’s story and published them, in an ebook entitled “DON’T TREAD ON ME: Photographs and Life Stories of American Revolutionaries”.

To look into the eyes of such men is to compress time. To reach back over the generations before the age of photography, and look into eyes that saw the birth of a nation.

February 23, 1908 Whatever it Takes, to Sell a Paper

“The September 1906 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine recounts a story once told of an old Native American chieftain. The chieftain was given a tour of the modern city of New York. On this excursion, he saw the soaring heights of the grand skyscrapers and the majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge. He observed the comfortable masses gathered in amusement at the circus and the poor huddled in tenements. Upon the completion of the chieftain’s journey, several Christian men asked him, “What is the most surprising thing you have seen?” The chieftain replied slowly with three words: “little children working.” – H/T BLS.gov

During the early colonial period, American newspapers were “wretched little” sheets in the words of America’s “1st newsboy”, Benjamin Franklin.  Scarcely more than sidelines to keep presses occupied.

Newspapers were distributed by mail in the early years, thanks to generous subsidies from the Postal Act of 1792. In 1800, the United States could boast somewhere between 150 – 200 newspapers.  Thirty-five years later, some 1,200 were competing for readership.

We hear a lot today about “fake news”, but that’s nothing new.  In 1835, the New York Sun published a six-part series, about civilization on the moon. 

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 The “Great Moon Hoax”, ostensibly reprinted from the Edinburgh Courant, was falsely attributed to the work of Sir John Herschel, one of the best known astronomers of the time.

Whatever it took, to sell newspapers.

Two years earlier, Sun publisher Benjamin Day ran a Help-Wanted advertisement, looking for adults to help expand circulation. “To the unemployed — A number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper. A liberal discount is allowed to those who buy and sell again“. To Day’s surprise, his ad didn’t produce adult applicants as expected.  Instead, the notice attracted children.

Today, kids make up a minimal part of the American workforce, but that wasn’t always so. Child labor played an integral part in the agricultural and handicraft economy, working on family farms or hiring out to other farmers.  Boys customarily apprenticed to the trades, at 10 – 14. Girls went into domestic work. As late as 1900, fully 18% of the American workforce was under the age of sixteen.

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Brooklyn newsboy, ca. 1910 Photo by Lewis Hine (Library of Congress)

Benjamin Day’s first newspaper “hawker” was Bernard Flaherty, a ten-year-old Irish immigrant. The kid was good at it too, crying out lurid headlines, to passers-by: “Double Distilled Villainy!” “Cursed Effects of Drunkenness!” “Awful Occurrence!” “Infamous Affair!” “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”

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Hordes of street urchins swarmed the tenements and alleyways of American cities. During the 1870s, homeless children were estimated at 20,000 – 30,000 in New York alone, as much as 12% of school-age children in the city.

Lewis Hine - Indianapolis Newsboys waiting for the Base Ball edition, in a Newspaper office. Bad environment. Tough negroes etc., 1908
Indianapolis newsies, waiting for baseball edition

For thousands of them, newspapers were all that stood in the way of an empty belly.

article-2467498-18D8276800000578-777_964x699Adults had no interest in the minuscule income, and left the newsboys (and girls) to their own devices.  “Newsies” bought papers at discounted prices and peddled them on the street.    Others worked saloons and houses of prostitution.  They weren’t allowed to return any left unsold, and worked well into the night to sell every paper.

article-2467498-18D8273A00000578-282_964x688For all that, newsies earned about 30¢ a day.  Enough for a bite to eat, to afford enough papers to do it again the following day, and maybe a 5¢ bed in the newsboy’s home.

Lewis Hine - Have been selling 2 years. Youngest, Yedda Welled, is 11 years old. Next, Rebecca Cohen, is 12. Next, Rebecca Kirwin, is 14. Hartford, Connecticut, 1909
“Newsies” were not always, boys. These are Yedda Welled, 11 years old. Rebecca Cohen, 12. and, Rebecca Kirwin, 14. Hartford, Connecticut, 1909. H/T historyinphotos.blogspot.com

Competition was ferocious among hundreds of papers, and business practices were lamentable.  In 1886, the Brooklyn Times tried a new idea. The city was expanding rapidly, swallowing up previously independent townships along the Long Island shore. The Times charged Western District newsboys a penny a paper, while Eastern District kids paid 1 1/5¢.

The plan was expected to “push sales vigorously in new directions.” It took about a hot minute for newsies to get wise, when hundreds descended on the Times’ offices with sticks and rocks. On March 29, several police officers and a driver’s bullwhip were needed to get the wagons out of the South 8th Street distribution offices. One of the trucks was overturned, later that day.

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That time, the newsboy strike lasted a couple of days, enforced by roving gangs of street kids and “backed by a number of roughs”. In the end, the Times agreed to lower its price to a penny apiece, in all districts. Other such strikes would not be ended so quickly, or so easily.

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New York, 1896 Alice Austen newsboys

In those days, the Caribbean island of Cuba was ruled from Spain. After decades spent in the struggle for independence, many saw parallels between the “Cuba Libre” movement, and America’s own Revolution of the previous century.  In 1897-’98, few wanted war with Spain over Cuban interests more than Assistant Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, and New York publishers Joseph Pulitzer & William Randolph Hearst.

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This was the height of the Yellow Journalism period, and newspapers clamored for war. Hearst illustrator Frederic Remington was sent to Cuba, to document “atrocities”.  On finding none, Remington wired: “There will be no war. I wish to return”.  Hearst wired back: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” President McKinley urged calm, but agreed to send the armored cruiser USS Maine, to protect US “interests”.

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The explosion that sank the Maine on February 15 killing 268 Americans was almost certainly accidental, but that wouldn’t be known for decades. Events quickly spun out of control and, on April 21, 1898, the US blockaded the Caribbean island. Spain gave notice two days later, that it would declare war if US forces invaded its territory. Congress declared on April 25 that a state of war had existed between Spain and the United States, since the 21st.  Soon, newsboys were shouting the headline:  “How do you like the Journal’s war?

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The Spanish-American War was over in 3 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, but circulation was great while it lasted.  Publishers cashed in, raising the cost of newsboy bundles from 50¢ to 60¢ – the increase temporarily offset by higher sales. Publishers reverted to 50¢ per 100 after the war, with the notable exceptions of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.

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Newsboys of the era weren’t the ambitious kids of a later age, hustling to make a buck after school.  These were orphans and runaways, with little to count on but themselves.  The half-cent profit on each paper was all these kids had to get through the day, with a little held back to buy more papers.

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Newsboys selling papers by the Brooklyn Bridge, February 23, 1908 H/T UK Guardian

50¢ to 60¢ for the same bundle was an insurmountable increase.   On July 18, 1899, a group of Long Island newsboys overturned a distribution wagon, refusing to sell Hearst or Pulitzer newspapers until prices were returned to 50¢.  Newsboys from Manhattan and Brooklyn joined the strike, the following day.

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Boys and men who tried to break the strike were mobbed and beaten, their papers destroyed.

Competing publishers such as the New York Tribune couldn’t get enough of the likes of strike “President” Dave Simmons, the boy “prize-fighter”, Barney “Peanuts”, “Crutch” Morris, and others.

The charismatic, one-eyed strike leader “Kid Blink”, was a favorite:

“Friens and feller workers. This is a time which tries de hearts of men. Dis is de time when we’se got to stick together like glue…. We know wot we wants and we’ll git it even if we is blind”.

The newsboy strike of 1899 lasted two weeks, in which Pulitzer’s New York World plummeted from 360,000 papers a day, to 125,000.  Women and girls had more success as strike breakers than boys and men.  As Kid Blink put it, “A feller can’t soak a lady.”  In the end, it didn’t matter.  Most news readers took the side of the strikers.  Neither Hearst nor Pulitzer ever dropped their price, but both agreed to buy back unsold papers.

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Some worked well after midnight, to sell every paper

The New York newsboys’ strike of 1899 inspired later strikes including Butte, Montana in 1914, and a 1920s strike in Louisville, Kentucky.  In time, changing notions of urban child-welfare led to improvements in the newsboys’ quality of life.  For now, street kids had precious few to look out for them, beyond themselves.

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Brooklyn’s “Racetrack Newsie” “Dutch” Johnson caught cold, in 1905.  The illness soon turned more serious.  He was found unconscious on a pile of catalogs.  Brought to Bellevue Hospital by the East River,  the 16-year-old was informed it was pneumonia.  This was before the age of antibiotics.  There was no hope.

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“It goes”, Dutch said, in a voice so soft as to be barely audible.  “Only I ain’t got no money and I’d like to be put away decent”.

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Bookmaker “Con” Shannon offered to take up a collection for the burial.  He could’ve easily produced hundreds from bookies and gamblers, but Dutch’s diminutive successor “Boston”, spoke up.  “Naw”, he said “we’re on de job and nobody else”.

So it was that “Gimpy”, “Dusty”, and the other urchins of Sheepshead Bay pitched in with their pennies, their nickels and dimes.  $53.40 bought a plot in the Linden Hill Cemetery, with a little stone marker.  Dutch Johnson would be spared the plain black wagon and the nameless grave, in some anonymous Potter’s Field.

January 13, 1920 Fake News

In the English Standard Version of the Bible, proverbs 12:15 translates: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice”. Socrates famously observed “I know one thing, that I know nothing. The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

It was a fine day in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. A good day to rob a bank. So thought 44-year-old McArthur Wheeler, but Mr. Wheeler was no ordinary crook. As they might say in the Shiddy o’ Bwahshtun, McArthur Wheeler was schmaht. Wikid schmaht.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”. – Charles Darwin

As any 10-year-old will tell you, lemon juice makes a great, invisible ink. What better way to make Yourself invisible to bank cameras, (thought McArthur Wheeler), than to smear your face with lemon juice. The man even ran an experiment. A Polaroid selfie. The experiment was a success, notwithstanding the polaroid’s tendency to “wash out” subjects photographed, too close-up. No matter. The photo showed an over-illuminated blob where the face was supposed to be. Hypothesis: correct. Lemon juice Did make your face invisible, to cameras.

With his face slathered in lemon juice, McArthur Wheeler robbed not one bank on that day in 1995, but two. Law enforcement released surveillance video. By the end of the day, Pittsburg police had their man, incredulous though he was, that such a well-laid plan could have somehow, come off the rails.

That video must have been faked.

Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger got wind of the caper and thought they’d study the episode, a little more closely. PsychologyToday.com tells us: “The pair tested participants on their logic, grammar, and sense of humor, and found that those who performed in the bottom quartile rated their skills far above average. For example, those in the 12th percentile self-rated their expertise to be, on average, in the 62nd percentile”.

The article continues: “The Dunning-Kruger effect results in what’s known as a “double curse:” Not only do people perform poorly, but they are not self-aware enough to judge themselves accurately—and are thus unlikely to learn and grow”.

If you’re thinking that explains a lot about certain politicians, you’re probably not alone. And what of the ‘News’? The one thing we all expect whether Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, is accurate information. From our politicians and from our “News” media.

Are we then to believe an industry, merely because it buys ink by the proverbial barrel? After the last few years, I certainly hope not. From the Russia “Collusion” hoax to Fox News’ reporting that President Obama…”at the end of his rope…sent [a] rambling, 75,000-word email to the entire nation” (it was an Onion story), our news and information media have worked overtime to earn the epithet, “Fake News”.

In October 2019, ABC “News” broadcast man-on-the-street video from Syria, depicting an attack by the Turkish military, on Kurdish civilians. ABC later apologized that the video was shot…at a gun range in Kentucky.

In April 2020, CBS did its part to add to the national COVID-19 hysteria, using Italian footage as a stand-in for a story about the failure, of New York hospitals. A month later the company staged lines and faked “patients” at the Cherry Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But hey, it all made for some swell footage, right?

And who can forget NBC’s exploding truck video, concocted at the expense of General Motors. Worried that the crash test might not show the desired result, NBC rigged an incendiary device, just to be sure. The test worked swell and the sight of flaming pickup trucks, sure does make for some great “News”. But rest assured, Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips apologized, concluding that “unscientific demonstrations should have no place in hard news stories at NBC. That’s our new policy.”

There’s a knee slapper for you. “Unscientific demonstrations”.

Back to Dunning and Kruger. On this day in 1920, an unsigned editorial in the New York Times, made mockery of none other than Robert Hutchings Goddard. Yeah. THAT Robert Goddard. The guy with the space center, named after him.

Robert Goddard, a man who all but invented the space age, has 214 patents to his name. Two of them, a multi-stage rocket and a liquid-fuel rocket were patented as early as 1914.

On January 13, 1920, the New York Times opined that space flight was an impossibility, because propulsion systems had nothing to push against. Such a position seems defensible in 1920, but the Times just couldn’t resist that snotty, mean-girl touch, replete with sneer quotes: “That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”

“The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills”. – PsychologyToday.com

“The knowledge ladled out in high schools”. Good one.

In 1932, that same New York Times won a Pulitzer prize for Lying, about the systematic extermination by starvation of as many as ten million Ukrainians, by the Soviet government of Josef Stalin. To this day the “Grey Lady” has failed to repudiate that Pulitzer.

The “Newspaper of Record” printed 24,000 front page articles over the course of the second world war but oddly seemed oblivious to the Nazi holocaust, front page articles about which numbered precisely, twenty-six.

Front page, above-the-fold stories ran 44 days in a row about that mess at Abu Ghraib, just in case anyone missed the point. And the Times was certainly quick to defend that Dan Rather memo as Fake but Accurate. Never mind that the font didn’t exist, when the thing was supposed to have been written.

But fear not, the New York Times retracted that 1920 editorial. In July 1969. The day after the Apollo 11 launch. At that rate we can expect those East Anglia stories to come in, around 2050.

December 27, 1897 Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus

History fails to record the conversation nor the exact time, or place. Perhaps the little girl went for a walk with her father, on the streets of Manhattan’s upper west side. Maybe it was over dinner or perhaps tucked into bed after a goodnight story and a kiss on the forehead. Papa, is there a Santa Claus? My little friends say he isn’t real.

In the summer of 1897, the 25th President of the United States William McKinley, had barely moved into the White House. The nation’s first subway opened in the city of Boston while, in Seattle, the Klondike gold rush was just getting underway. Thomas Edison was granted a patent for an early projector called a Kinetoscope. Mark Twain penned a rebuttal as only Mark Twain could, to his own obituary in the pages of the New York Journal: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

(Left: Laura Virginia O’Hanlon. around 1895)

One day there came the Dread Question asked by eight-year-olds the world over and answered by fathers since the dawn of time: “Go ask your mother”.

Just kidding. This was the Other dread question. The Santa Claus question.

History fails to record the conversation nor the exact time, or place. Perhaps the little girl went for a walk with her father, on the streets of Manhattan’s upper west side. Maybe it was over dinner or perhaps tucked into bed after a goodnight story and a kiss on the forehead. Papa, is there a Santa Claus? My little friends say he isn’t real.

He was coroner’s assistant, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon. She was 8-year-old Laura Virginia O’Hanlon.

Dr. O’Hanlon neither sent his little girl to ask her mother nor did he try to answer, himself. He suggested she write the New York Sun newspaper. “If you see it in The Sun”, he said, “it’s so.”

So it is a little girl’s note made its way across the city to the New York Sun, to the desk of Edward Page Mitchell. The hard core science fiction buff will remember Mitchell for tales about time travel, invisibility and man-computing-machine cyborgs long before the likes of H.G. Wells ever thought about such things but on this day, the editor and sometimes author had a job to do.

Mitchell believed the letter was worthy of reply and brought the assignment to copy writer Francis “Frank” Pharcellus Church.

It was a curious choice.

Church was not the dilettante, partisan idler who’d style himself today, as “journalist”. This was a hard-bitten News Man of the old school, a cynic, street reporter, atheist and former Civil War correspondent who’d seen it all and didn’t believe the half of it.

Picture Perry White, the irascible editor-in-chief of the fictional Daily Planet newspaper in the old Superman series, and you’ve got a pretty good picture of Frank Church. You can almost hear the walrus-mustachioed old curmudgeon grumbling across the ages on the way back to his desk, a little girl’s note in his hand. “Why me”?

The old grump didn’t even want his name associated with the reply.

The New York Sun published Church’s reply on September 21, 1897.

Dear Editor, I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
115 W. 95th St.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge. You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10 thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood”.

Church’s friends, family and colleagues scarcely knew the man had it in him. You can almost imagine the excitement of a little girl, scouring the pages of The Sun for two months to find nothing and then…THAT. Through the rest of that Christmas season to this day and on for the rest of her 81 years she would never forget, that reply.

Frank Church’s letter would become the most widely reprinted editorial in the history of the English language albeit anonymously until the year of his death, in 1906. According to New York Sun internal policies, that’s when Church was finally revealed as responding editor and author of that timeless response.

Virginia went on to marry one Edward Douglas in 1910, a man who stuck around just long enough to abandon her with the couple’s first child, as yet unborn. Not exactly a credit to his sex, that one.

Perhaps the childlike sense of delight in that newspaper column is what helped the young mother through her darkest hours. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas went on to devote her life’s work to children.   Following Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctorate degrees at Hunter, Columbia and Fordham University, O’Hanlon went on to become a lifelong teacher, assistant principal and finally principal.

Virginia’s childhood home is now a school called The Studio School offering an academic scholarship, called the Virginia O’Hanlon.

In 1932, The Sun’s response was adapted to a cantata, the only known newspaper editorial ever set to classical music.  The 1989 film Prancer contained a fictional editorial entitled “Yes, Santa, there is a Virginia“.
Every year at Christmas, Virginia’s letter and Frank’s response are read aloud at a Yule log ceremony at Church’s alma mater, Columbia College.

In a 1960 appearance on the Perry Como Show, Virginia told the host her letter has been “answered for me thousands of times.”

Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas kept the name of her long-since absconded husband for the rest of her life, according to the custom of the day. She passed away on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81.

She received a steady stream of mail about her letter throughout her long life and never failed to pen a personal reply, including a copy of Church’s column. She was quite sickly toward the end but, throughout countless interviews over the course of her 81 years she’d always credit the Sun’s editorial with changing her life, for the better.

Perhaps it was that Christmas Spirit or whatever you’d like to call it, which most of us have learned to experience, but one time a year. For Virginia O’Hanlon that sense of warmth, of generosity and kindness to be found at the bottom of all human hearts but one time a year, never really seems to have gone away.

So, may all the cynics come to understand, at this Christmas season and beyond. Yes, Virginia, there really IS a Santa Claus.

October 14, 1987 Well of Darkness

3309 Tanner Drive quickly became, a circus.  Television trucks arrived, to cover the ordeal.   Baby Jessica’s rescue was carried from the Netherlands to Brazil, from Germany to Hong Kong and mainland China. Well wishers called in to local television stations, from the Soviet Union. Telephone linemen installed extra lines, to handle the traffic. 

baby-jessica-11.jpgJessica McClure Morales is 33-years old.  A typical West Texas Mom, with two kids and a dog.  Her life is normal in every way.  She’s a teacher’s aide.  Her husband Danny, works for a piping supply outfit.

Thirty-two years ago, Jessica McClure’s day was anything but normal.

October 14, 1987 began like any other, just an eighteen-month-old baby girl, playing in the back yard of an Aunt.  That old well pipe shouldn’t have been left open, but what harm could it do. Standing there only three inches above the grass, the thing was only eight inches wide.

And then the baby disappeared.  Down the well.

My command of the language fails to produce a word, adequate to describe the horror that young mother must have felt, looking down that pipe.

wellMidland, Texas first responders quickly devised a plan. A second shaft would be dug, parallel to the well.  Then it was left only to bore a tunnel, until rescuers reached the baby.  The operation would be over, by dinnertime.

Except, the rescue proved far more difficult than first imagined. The tools first brought on-scene, were inadequate to get through the hard rock surrounding the well.  What should have taken minutes, was turning to hours.

3309 Tanner Drive quickly became, a circus.  Television trucks arrived, to cover the ordeal.   Baby Jessica’s rescue was carried from the Netherlands to Brazil, from Germany to Hong Kong and mainland China. Well wishers called in to local television stations, from the Soviet Union. Telephone linemen installed extra lines, to handle the traffic.

"Baby Jessica" McClure Rescue
Local and national news reporters watch from ladders overlooking a fenceline as rescue crews attempt to free Jessica McClure. (October 1987)

The whole world it seemed, held its breath.

Midland police officer Andy Glasscock spent much of those fifty-eight hours on his belly next to that hole, concentrating on every sound to come up from the well.   Hard-eyed veteran though he was, the man could be brought to tears at the sound of that little voice, drifting up from deep in that hole in the ground…”Mama“.  “How does a kitten go?” Officer Glasscock would ask, into the darkness.  The little voice would respond…”Meow“.

'Baby Jessica' McClure Rescue
Supporters wait outside the barricade line as workers attempt to rescue Jessica from the well. (October 1987)

Watching the evening news, it’s sometimes easy to believe the world is going to hell.  It’s not.  What we saw for those fifty-eight hours was the True heroism and fundamental decency of every-day women and men.  Fathers, sons and brothers, straining each fiber and sinew, inching closer to the bottom of that well.  Mothers sisters and wives, pitching in and doing whatever it was, that needed to be done.  We’d see it again in a New York Minute, should circumstances require it.

"Baby Jessica" McClure Rescue
Rescue crews worked through the night to pump warm air into the well where Jessica had become trapped (October 1987)

You could watch it happen, around the clock. Many of us did. I remember it.  Each man would dig until he’d drop, and then another guy would take his place. These were out-of-work oil field workers and everyday guys. Mining engineers and paramedics. The work was frenetic, desperate, and at the same time, agonizingly slow.

Anyone who’s used a jackhammer, knows it’s not a tool designed to be used, sideways. Even so, these guys tried.  A waterjet became a vital part of the rescue, a new and unproven technology, in 1987.

"Baby Jessica" McClure Rescue
Jessica’s father Chip McClure speaks to a cadre of reporters. (October 1987)

The sun went down that Wednesday and rose the following day and then set again.  Still, the nightmare dragged on.

A microphone was lowered down, so doctors could hear that baby girl breathe. She would cry.  Sometimes she would sing. A small voice drifting up from that hole in the ground.  The words of “Winnie the Pooh”.

billresclThese were good signs. A baby could neither sing nor cry, if she could not breathe.

The final tunneling phase of the operation could only be described, as a claustrophobic nightmare. An unimaginable ordeal. Midland Fire Department paramedic Robert O’Donnell was chosen because of his tall, wiry frame. Slathered all over with K-Y jelly and stuffed into a space so tight it was hard to breathe, O’Donnell inched his way through that black hole that Thursday night and into the small hours of Friday morning until finally, he touched her leg.

The agony of those minutes dragging on to hours, can only be imagined. What O’Donnell was trying to do, could not be done.  In the end, the paramedic was forced to back out of the hole, one agonizing inch at a time, defeated. Empty handed.  As men went back to work enlarging the tunnel, the paramedic sat on a curb, and wept.

On the second attempt, O’Donnell was able wrestle the baby out of that tiny space, handing her to fellow paramedic Steve Forbes, who carried her to safety.

Jessica McClure rescueBaby Jessica came out of that well with her face deeply scarred and toes black with gangrene, for lack of blood flow.  She required fifteen surgeries before her ordeal was over, but she was alive.

nintchdbpict000307656606 (1)The story has a happy ending for baby Jessica.  Not so, for many others.  The New York Times wrote:

“The little girl’s parents moved her out of town, to a three-bedroom house that they never could have afforded before she was rescued, to hide from the world that embraced them so hard they couldn’t breathe. Eventually, they were divorced. Others who helped to save the child — O’Donnell was just the most visible of hundreds — found themselves drinking, or in marriage counseling, or in legal tangles, all because of the fickle, seductive, burning spotlight”.

baby-jessica-17175736-1-402President Ronald Reagan quipped, “Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on.” Baby Jessica appeared with her teenage parents Reba and Chip on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, to talk about the incident. Scott Shaw of the Odessa American won the Pulitzer prize for The photograph. ABC made a television movie:  Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure. USA Today ranked her 22nd on a list of “25 lives of indelible impact.”  Everyone in the story became famous. Until they weren’t.

For paramedic Robert O’Donnell, the nightmare never ended.  Already claustrophobic, those hours spent alone in a black hole so tight as to all but prevent breath, were pure agony.   The failure and that agonizing inchworm’s crawl out of that hole, empty handed.  The ultimate success.   The fame and celebrity.  The Oprah show.  The relentless pursuit, of media.  “For a year afterward everyone wanted a piece of him” said his older brother, Ricky. “Then all of a sudden one day it seemed like everyone dropped him.”

"Baby Jessica" McClure Rescue
Lee High Rebelettes hold up a sign during halftime of the Lee-Odessa Permian football game showing their support for Jessica. (October 1987)

The Paramedic had rescued lots of people but, somehow, his life stopped in 1987. Transfixed in the bright lights and the fame of those last fifteen minutes of The Rescue.  Everywhere he went, he was “The man who Saved Baby Jessica™”.

Post-traumatic stress is a strange and incomprehensible thing.  The next seven years were a downward spiral.  There were marital problems.  That humiliating episode with that made-for-TV movie.  The whole family watching to see his part, but no one bothered to tell them.  The scene had been cut.  The 11-year career with the Midland Fire Department, collapsing amidst allegations of prescription drug abuse.  Divorce.

22272348_124421455985In April 1995, O’Donnell’s mother noticed the missing shotgun at the family ranch, in Stanton Texas.  The 410 buckshot, loaded with larger pellets intended for bigger game, or self defense.  They found the body some 20-miles away, slumped over the wheel of the new Ford pickup.  This was no accident.  You don’t put a barrel that long into your mouth, without meaning to.

Those of us of a certain age remember the baby Jessica episode, well.  I suspect Robert O’Donnell’s story is less well known, and that’s a shame.  The man is an American hero.  He has earned the right to be remembered.

 

November 5, 2004 I Did not Die

For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

In the early 1930s, Mary Elizabeth Frye was a Baltimore housewife and amateur florist, the wife of clothing merchant, Claud Frye.

A young Jewish girl was living with the couple at this time, unable to visit her sick mother in Germany, due to the growing anti-Semitic violence of the period.  Her name was Margaret Schwarzkopf.

Margaret was bereft when her mother died, heartbroken that she could never “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Mrs Frye took up a brown paper shopping bag, and wrote out this twelve line verse.

She didn’t title the poem, nor did she ever publish it, nor copyright the work.  People heard about it and liked it so Frye would make copies, but that’s about it.

mary-elizabeth-frye-4-728

For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

Over the years, there have been many claims to authorship, including attributions to traditional and Native American origins.

The unknown poem has been translated into Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Ilocano, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and other languages, appearing on countless bereavement cards and read over untold funeral services.

The English translation of one Swedish version reads: “Do not weep at my grave – I am not there / I am in the sun’s reflection in the sea / I am in the wind’s play above the grain fields / I am in the autumn’s gentle rain / I am in the Milky Way’s string of stars / And when on an early morning you are awaked by bird’s song / It is my voice that you are hearing / So do not weep at my grave – we shall meet again.

Many in the United Kingdom heard the poem for the first time in 1995, when a grieving father read it over BBC radio in honor of his son, a soldier slain by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The son had left the poem with a few personal effects, and marked the envelope ‘To all my loved ones’.

For National Poetry Day that year, the British television program The Bookworm conducted a poll to learn the nation’s favorite poems, subsequently publishing the winners, in book form. The book’s preface describes “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” as “the unexpected poetry success of the year from Bookworm’s point of view… the requests started coming in almost immediately and over the following weeks the demand rose to a total of some thirty thousand. In some respects it became the nation’s favourite poem by proxy… despite it being outside the competition.”

All this at a time when the name and even the nationality of the author, was unknown.

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Abigail Van Buren, better known as “Dear Abby”, researched the history of the poem in 1998, and determined that Mrs. Frye was, after all, the author.

Mary Elizabeth Frye passed away in Baltimore Maryland on September 4, 2004. She was ninety-eight.

The Times of Great Britain published her untitled work on November 5, as part of her obituary. ‘The verse demonstrated a remarkable power to soothe loss”, wrote the Times. “It became popular, crossing national boundaries for use on bereavement cards and at funerals regardless of race, religion or social status”.

I Did Not Die”
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

November 3, 1954 Godzilla

He was a Kaiju, a Japanese word meaning “strange creature”, more specifically a “daikaiju”, meaning a really, really big one.

In 1954, the fishing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru (“Lucky Dragon No.5”) was working the grounds near the Marshall Islands, in the equatorial Pacific. At 6:45am local time, March 1, 23 fishermen were witness to “Castle Bravo”,  a thermonuclear test explosion that lit up the western sky “like a sunrise”.  Then came the sound the explosion.  The TX-21 device with a predicted yield of 6 megatons, and code named “Shrimp”.

For eight minutes, these twenty-three men watched the mushroom cloud rise into the sky.  An hour and one-half later came the fallout, the fine white dust, calcinated coral of the Bikini atoll, falling like snow from the sky.

None of the twenty-three crew members of the Lucky Dragon recognized the material as hazardous, and made no effort to avoid exposure.  Some even tasted the stuff.

Operation_Crossroads_Test_Baker_In_Colour

A few fishermen developed acute radiation sickness, over the next three days.   By the time of their return to Yaizu on the 14th, all 23 were suffering from nausea, headaches, bleeding from the gums, and other symptoms.  One was destined to die of a liver disorder on September 23,  a complication of radiation sickness.  They had entered the ranks of the “hibakusha”.  The “explosion-effected people”.

The atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only nine years in the past at this time, and a fierce anti-nuclear sentiment was building in Japan. In this context, there arose a metaphor for all that destruction. Literally rising from the sea, this product of the Japanese entertainment industry took the form of a monster. “Godzilla”, Ishirō Honda’s first film released by Toho Studios, this day in 1954.

The name is a portmanteau, two words combined to form a third, of the Japanese word “gorira”, (gorilla), and “kujira”, meaning whale.  Godzilla was the Gorilla Whale, with the head of a Tyrannosaur, Stegasaur-like plates on his back and skin modeled after the keloid scarring of the hibakusha.

The original Godzilla (“ɡodʑiɽa”) was awakened by atomic testing and impervious to any but a nuclear weapon. Emerging from the depths with his atomic breath, havoc and destruction was always accompanied by the distinctive roar, a sound effect made by rubbing a resin glove down the strings of a bass violin, then changing the speed at playback.

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The actor who played Godzilla in the original films, Haruo Nakajima, was a black belt in Judo. His expertise was used to choreograph the monster’s movements, defining the standard for most of the Godzilla films, to follow.

Originally an “it”, Godzilla was usually depicted as a “he”, although that became a little complicated with the 1998 American remake “Zilla”, when he started laying eggs.

He was a Kaiju, a Japanese word meaning “strange creature”, more specifically a “daikaiju”, meaning a really, really big one. Godzilla is the best known, but certainly not the only such creature. You may remember other kaiju, including Gamera, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla and Rodan.

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Godzilla has appeared in 28 original films, with more in the works. Over the course of his existence he has been a hero, a villain, and a destructive but values-neutral force of nature.

Godzilla got his own star on the Hollywood “Walk of Fame” in 2004, timed to coincide with the release of the 29th movie, “Godzilla: Final Wars.” Instead of nuclear weapons testing, this version was spawned by “environmental pollution”. It takes the superheroes of the “Earth Defense Organization” (but, of course) to freeze him back into the ice of the South Pole. The film was a flop, grossing less than $12 million after a production budget of $19 million.

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The franchise came roaring back ten years later, when Godzilla was released in 2014, grossing $200 million domestically and $529.1 million on worldwide sales.

A film franchise 64 years in the making is still going strong, and will continue to do so, for the foreseeable future. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is set to be released in 2019 and Godzilla vs. Kong, in 2020.

Tip of the hat to http://www.mykaiju.com, for most of the images used in this story.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 14, 1972 Fake but Accurate

The political process fails us when those we trust to provide the “news” act as advocates, instead of honest conduits of information.

On September 8, 2004, CBS News aired a 60 Minutes™ program hosted by News Anchor Dan Rather, centered on four documents critical of President George W. Bush’s National Guard service in 1972-‘73.  It was less than two months before the 2004 Presidential election.

The documents were supposed to have been written by Bush’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who was unavailable for comment.  Lt. Col. Killian passed away, in 1984.

GW-Bush-in-uniformThe documents came from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former Texas Army National Guard officer who had received publicity back in 2000, when he claimed to have been transferred to Panama after refusing to falsify then-Governor Bush’s personnel records. Burkett later retracted the claim, but popped up again during the 2004 election cycle. Many considered the man to be an “anti-Bush zealot”.

Within hours of the broadcast, the documents were criticized as forgeries. Internet fora and blogs challenged the terminology and typography of the memos. Within days it came out that the font used in the memos didn’t even exist, at the time the documents were supposed to have been written.

That didn’t stop the Boston Globe from running a story entitled “Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents”, a story it was later forced to retract.

Criticism of the 60 Minutes’ piece intensified, as CBS News and Dan Rather dug in and defended their story. Within the week, Rather was talking to a Daily Kos contributor and former typewriter repairman who claimed that the documents could have been written in the 70s.

danratMeanwhile, the four “experts” used in the original story were publicly repudiating the 60 Minutes piece.

Other aspects of the documents were difficult to authenticate without the originals. CBS had nothing but faxes and photocopies.  Burkett claimed to have burned the originals after faxing them to the network.

The New York Times interviewed Marian Carr Knox, then-secretary to the squadron in 1972, running a story dated September 14 under the bylines of Maureen Balleza and Kate Zernike. The headline read “Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says“.

The story went on to describe the 86 year-old Carr’s recollections that she never typed the memos, but they accurately reflected Lt. Col. Killian’s sentiments. “I think he was writing the memos”, she said, “so there would be some record that he was aware of what was going on and what he (Bush) had done.”

ratherYet Killian’s wife and son had cleared out his office after his death, and neither found anything so much as hinting at the existence of such documents. Others who claimed to know Carr well described her as a “sweet old lady”, but said they had “no idea” where those comments had come from.

CBS News would ultimately retract the story, as it came out that Producer Mary Mapes collaborated on it with the Kerry campaign. Several network news people lost their jobs, including Dan Rather himself, and Mapes.

1101880208_400Public confidence in the “Mainstream Media” plummeted. Many saw the episode as a news network lying, and the “Newspaper of Record” swearing by it.

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose from the ashes of the scandal, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies”, had uncovered in a matter of hours, what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

That the mainstream media “filters” the news, is neither a revelation, nor is it new. In 1932-’33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported on Josef Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, known as “Holodomor”. “Extermination by hunger”. With 25,000 starving to death every day, Duranty won a Pulitzer with such gems as: “There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” – (Nov. 15, 1931), and, “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” – (Aug. 23, 1933).

The 1993 NBC Dateline “Exploding Truck” edition didn’t get the desired effect when it crash tested General motor’s pickup truck, so the network rigged another with a pyrotechnic device. Sure enough, that one exploded, right on cue. The “Exposé” was pure BS masquerading as “News”, but hey. The explosion made for good television.

In a transparent attack on an administration with which it had political disagreements, the New York Times ran the Abu Ghraib story on the front page, above the fold, for 32 days straight. Just in case anyone might have missed the first 31.

And who can forget that racially incendiary, edited audio from George Zimmermann’s 911 call, or those photoshopped images, of the man’s head. Thank you, NBC.

If the point requires further proof, watch ABC News Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interview with Sarah Palin, then read the transcript. Whether you like or don’t like Ms. Palin is irrelevant to the point. The transcript and the interview as broadcast, are two different things.

Fact or Fake concept, Hand flip wood cube change the word, April fools day

As I write, Hurricane Florence makes landfall, on the North Carolina coast.  A storm in which, three days ago, the Washington Post declared President Trump, to be “complicit”.

The political process fails us when those we trust to provide the “news” act as advocates, instead of honest conduits of information. The American system of self-government operates within a marketplace of ideas.  Such a system cannot properly function when those who would be its “watchdogs”, must themselves, be watched.  That may be the worst part of this whole sorry story.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.