June 16, 1980 The Blues Brothers

Dan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Dan Aykroyd developed his musical talents during the late fifties and early sixties at an Ottowa club called Le Hibou, (French for ‘the owl’).  “I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters”, he once said.  “S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said ‘anybody out there play drums?  I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said ‘keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’

Eric Idle of Monty Python once guest hosted, for Saturday Night Live.  Idle paid the greatest tribute to Aykroyd’s comedic talent, saying he was “the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python”.

John Belushi joined The Second City comedy troupe in 1971, playing off-Broadway in “National Lampoon’s Lemmings”. He played The National Lampoon Radio Hour from 1973 to 1975, a half-hour comedy program syndicated on over 600 stations.

Belushi appeared from 1973 to 1975 on The National Lampoon Radio Hour, along with future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. A number of their radio segments went on to become SNL sketches in the show’s first couple seasons.SNL-original-castDan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Lead vocalist “Joliet Jake” Blues (John Belushi) and harmonica player/backing vocalist Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) had their musical debut on January 17, 1976 in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live. “The Blues Brothers” appeared twice more on SNL sketches, both in 1978, before releasing their first album that same year: Briefcase Full of Blues.the-blues-brothers-57e6837c76b1dThe Blues Brothers film premiered in Chicago on this day in 1980, four days before general release. Set in the windy city and sprawling across the Midwest, the musical/comedy film tells the story of a paroled convict and his brother, and their mission to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from foreclosure. The Blues Brothers’ “Mission from God” needs to raise $5,000 to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. To do so, the pair sets out to reignite their old R&B band, pursued by the police and wrecking 103 cars along the way, a world record for that time.

While filming one of the night scenes, Belushi disappeared and couldn’t be found. Looking around, Dan Ackroyd found a single house with the lights on and knocked on the door. Before he could ask, the homeowner smiled and said “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The man told his visitor that Belushi had entered the house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and crashed on their couch.

To some, John Belushi may have been a real-life Thing that Wouldn’t Leave. To Dan Ackroyd, the man would always be “America’s Guest”.

John Belushi died in his hotel room on March 5, 1982 of a “Speedball”, a combined injection of heroin and cocaine. The cause of death was originally ruled accidental overdose, but Catherine Evelyn Smith was extradited and tried on first degree murder charges after her National Enquirer interview, in which she admitted giving Belushi the shot. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter.  She served fifteen months in prison.

Belushi’s wife Judith arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral in which he was interred, twice. The first was in Abel’s Hill Cemetery in the Chilmark section of Martha’s Vineyard.  A classic New England slate tombstone complete with skull and crossbones, marks the location. The inscription reads, “I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on.”belushi-funeral-service“Fans” repeatedly felt the need to desecrate the grave.  The body was removed at Mrs. Belushi’s request and reburied in an undisclosed location.  An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location, where the man can at last rest in peace.

John Belushi is remembered on the family marker at his mother’s grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. The stone reads, “HE GAVE US LAUGHTER”.

May 18, 2011 No Ordinary Donkey

Marines took him in, this malnourished Iraqi donkey, and built him a stable, and corral. The donkey would stroll into offices where he learned to open desk drawers in search of a goody. An apple, a carrot or some other sweet treat, planted there by some Marine.  He loved to steal cigarettes whether lit or unlit and so it was, they called him “Smoke”.

The air strip lies in central Iraq 50 miles west of Baghdad, on the Habbaniya plateau. Originally built by the RAF in 1952, the base was home to several Iraqi Air force units following the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy and ascension of the Arab socialist ‘Baath” party, in 1958. The place was bombed during the Iran-Iraq war and destroyed by American Air forces, in 1991. Reoccupied by the US Army following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the abandoned base was briefly known as Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ridgeway.

In 2004 the name was changed to Taqaddum, Arabic for ‘progress”, to keep a more Iraqi face on the mission. In 2008, camp Taqaddum or “TQ” was home to several United States Marine Corps fixed- and rotary wing squadrons, plus ground support and combat operating units.

Taqaddum
U.S. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Ted Stevens of Alaska, and John Warner of Virginia visit Al Taqaddum, in 2005

Marine Colonel John Folsom was stationed at TQ in 2008, along with the rest of Marine 1st Combat Logistics Battalion, stationed at the base near Fallujah. That was the year the small animal first appeared, wandering the countryside. Starved, emaciated and alone it was a donkey, arrived in hopes of a morsel.marinedonkeyx-large1Marines took him in, this malnourished Iraqi donkey, and built him a stable, and corral. The donkey would stroll into offices where he learned to open desk drawers in search of a goody. An apple, a carrot or some other sweet treat, planted there by some Marine.  He loved to steal cigarettes whether lit or unlit and so it was, they called him “Smoke”.XC2LPNK7EFFE7AOKIME32BJAPISmoke had his very own blanket, bright red and emblazoned with unit insignia, for the camp’s September 11 parade. On the side were these words, “Kick Ass”.b0d27c9b662c9ca0a135af12049865ce--pet-services-marinesRegulations prohibited keeping the animal on base but Colonel Folsom found a Navy psychologist, willing to designate Smoke a therapy animal.  He was good for morale.

Dads would write letters home to their kids, telling stories about Smoke the donkey.

Folsom and his Marines left TQ in 2009. The army unit moving into the base, didn’t want a donkey. Marines found an Iraqi sheikh who said he’d look after the animal, and they said their reluctant goodbyes.smoke-the-donkey-matt20shelatoAfter half a life serving the United States Marine Corps, John Folsom returned home to Omaha.  He’d often think of his “battle buddy” and those long walks, around the base.

In 2010, Folsom learned that Smoke was out on his own again, wandering half starved and alone.  Home-Page-LowerSliderThus began “Operation Donkey Drop”, Folsom’s 18-month odyssey first to raise the funds and then to wrangle the red tape thrown in his way through multiple jurisdictions, on Smoke’s journey to his new home in Nebraska.

Turkey alone posed a titanic, 37-day ordeal to untie the bureaucratic Gordian knot, with help from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International.  Folsom himself grew a beard to help conceal his western identity and flew to Turkey to enlist the aid of the US Departments of State and Agriculture and the United States Marine Corps, with further aid from the German government.donkeykissTerri Crisp heads SPCAI’s “Baghdad pups”, reuniting US troops with dogs and cats they had once bonded with, while serving overseas.  This was her first donkey.

Reuters news service reports, ““He was a great traveler,” Crisp said, noting Smoke posed for hundreds of photos during a six-hour wait in the Istanbul airport parking lot. “Everywhere we went, he’d draw a crowd.””

Smoke was formally released  by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on May 18, 2011, arriving at JFK International Airport in New York for the long drive to his new home in Nebraska.

5818e46f9a03a.imageFor Colonel John Folsom, USMC (retired), “semper fidelis” (“always faithful”) had become “semper fi(nally).”

Smoke lived out the rest of his days at the Take Flight Farms in Omaha, helping therapists help children come to terms with deployed or war-wounded parents.

Smoke died of natural causes on August 14, 2012 and was cremated, along with that red blanket with the words, “Kick Ass”.

The daily Star Newspaper of Lincoln Nebraska interviewed Sharon Robino-West, a Marine veteran who once worked with the donkey and “still has to bite her lip when she talks about laying a shiny Marine challenge coin on Smoke’s red blanket”.

Today, the ashes of John Folsom’s old battle buddy are on his desk, in his own special urn.  As of October 2014 a little donkey filly peered out of the stall, where Smoke’s face could once be seen.

“She doesn’t have the story that Smoke did,” Folsom said, “but I needed to fill the void.”

 

April 6, 1933 New Beer’s Eve

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely that our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern suspects, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.beer-ingredients (1)Tacitus scorned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate.  Nevertheless, letters from Roman cavalry commanders of the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia“, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping not for the frozen, rocky soil of New England, but for rich farmland and a congenial climate in the New World.   Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 and may have kept going, had there been enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…download-67Prior to the drum roaster’s invention in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality which would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke“.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true beer aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop the stuff up in pots and pans.  Some lapped it right up off of the street, doggy-style.2926-london-beer-flood1 (1)1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a stampede for the suds, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.download-66The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead in time to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.williams-vs-byron-replacements100-2020-recap-upscaled-image-x4-1584470318Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.download-65Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never decreased by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

FDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.fd3cb0f1f05a3b17a69799cd32a01bcb (1)“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

Beer toastThe night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite watering holes, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.

A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed the following day, a date remembered to this day, as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, we celebrate April 6 as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

March 14, 1964 Skyline Lounge

Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar.  The Skyline Lounge.

Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a problem child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent in his adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.

As with Peanuts cartoonist Charles M Shulz, those who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”. Some say the nickname came from a resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip.4924951094_21a71fd652_bRubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that hot temper, that made the name stick.

Rubinstein spent the early 1940s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago before moving to Dallas, the following year.

Rubenstein managed a seedy collection of Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring such fine ladies as “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”.  Somewhere along the line, Rubinstein shortened his name to “Ruby”.g2011m11_26Ruby was a low-rent gangster, involved in typical underworld activities like gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.

Not-so-honest members of the Dallas police force knew that Ruby was always good for free booze, free prostitutes, and other favors.

This was not a good guy.7fdd7be055bca87dc57f10f527755c4eToday, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians who played with Bob Dylan in 1965, later going on the road as “The Band” and performing such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight”.

In the early days, these guys were playing with a Canadian/American rocker named Ronnie Hawkins.  The joints these guys played were so rough they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats.   Robertson writes in a new memoir:  “We bought small derringer pistols, switchblades, black-jacks, brass knuckles, even tear-gas pens – whatever could be easily concealed and quickly accessed”.

In 1963, the group played a week in one “burnt out, blown up” dump in Fort Worth.  It was an enormous venue with no one there that first night, save for two couples, a pair of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer.  The band had yet to finish the first set when a fight broke out.  Some sort of weapon came out and a man was tear-gassed at point blank range.   Coughing and choking the band played on for no one, with teargas wafting across the stage and faces wet with tears.r1274_fea_robbie_b-6159b441-955d-4f3a-bcef-1a4d8f090b35Part of the roof had blown off this joint.  Either that or it burned off, depending on which version you believed.  Jack, the club owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money, calling this fine establishment, the “Skyline Lounge”.

Jack felt no need to pay for security, not even with the roof gone.  Jaws grinding from a seemingly endless appetite for “uppers”, Jack said “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall to steal their equipment.

Problem solved.

That November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy came to Dallas.  The Presidential motorcade departing Love Field the morning of November 22.  The open car  with the President in the back with First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.  Texas Governor and First Lady John and Idanell “Nellie” Connally, in the jump seats.   At 12:29, the Presidential limousine executed a right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street and entered Dealey Plaza. Kennedy Assassination: Kennedy in CarA minute later, shots rang out.

The President of the United States was shot, the first bullet striking the upper back and exiting his throat.  With mouth open in anguish and clenched fists rising to his face and neck, the stricken man turned to his wife as his head exploded, the second shot tearing into the right side of his skull.  The First Lady, splattered with the blood and brains of her husband and now screaming, crawled onto the trunk as Secret Service Agent Clint Hill scrambled on board the car, now speeding away.  Somewhere along the line, Governor Connally was also shot.  A spectator was wounded by flying debris.

The nation was stunned.  It was the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5 at the time and remember that day, like it was just last week.

Abraham Zapruder Film, European/French Copy, HD, stabilized and slow Motioned

An hour after the shooting, a former marine and a rare defector to the Soviet Union named Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.

By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit.  He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters, where an armored car waited to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. The scene was crowded with press and police.

Half the country watched on live television as a figure came out of the crowd, firing a single bullet from a .38 revolver into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lee-Harvey-Oswald-Is-Shot-By-Jack-Ruby-November-24-1963Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar.  The Skyline Lounge.

Lee Harvey Oswald was taken unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital.  The same hospital in which the president had died, two days earlier.  Within two hours he too, was dead.

On March 14, 1964, Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Ruby’s conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county than that in which his high profile crime, had taken place.  Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial.ea92d9a35a5e2889c5114510117ed161The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President.  What became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s Skyline Lounge, is unknown to this writer.

March 12, 1894 A Marketing Blunder for the Ages

Early focus group results were favorable, but for a minority of 10 to 12 percent. Angry and alienated at the very thought of a “new Coke”, these people insisted they’d stop drinking Coke products, altogether.  The way things turned out, the company should’ve listened to this group a little more carefully.

By the Colonial era, Europeans had long believed that natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored the beverages over often polluted common drinking water.  British chemist Joseph Priestley invented a means of carbonating water in 1772.  Jacob Schweppe’s Geneva, Switzerland company was bottling the stuff by the 1780s. The first soda water manufacturer in the US was Yale University chemist Benjamin Silliman in 1807, though it was Joseph Hawkins of Baltimore who secured the first US patent in 1809.

PembertonAt first sold for their therapeutic value, consumers increasingly bought carbonated beverages for refreshment.

By the time of the Civil War, “soft drinks” were flavored with ginger, vanilla, fruits, roots, herbs, and countless other flavorings. The first cola drink appeared in 1881.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash across the chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him to control the pain.  Unlike many wounded veterans, he possessed the means to do something about it.

A chemist in civil life, Pemberton experimented with painkillers to take the place of opiates, landing in 1886 on a combination of the coca plant and kola nut. Vicksburg, Mississippi pharmacist Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling equipment in the back of his soda fountain, selling the first bottles of Coca Cola on March 12, 1894.

coca-cola-bottle-historyThe most famous rivalry in the soft drink business began in the 1930s, when Pepsi offered a 12oz bottle for the same 5¢ as Coca Cola’s six ounces.

The Coca Cola Company’s flagship brand had a 60% share by the end of WWII, but that declined to less than 24% by the early 1980s, most of the difference lost to Pepsi and their “Pepsi challenge” blind taste test promotions of the late ’70s.

1221499-coke_vs_pepsiBy the ’80s, market analysts believed that aging baby boomers were likely to switch to diet drinks and any growth in the full calorie segment was going to come from younger consumers, who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Roberto Goizueta came to Coca Cola Company as CEO in 1980, saying that there would be “no sacred cows” among their products.  He meant it. Before long, the company launched the top secret “Project Kansas”, to test and perfect the flavor for a new version of Coke. The company’s marketing department fanned out, holding taste tests, surveys, and focus groups.

Early results were favorable, the newer, sweeter mixture overwhelmingly beating both Pepsi and Coke itself. Most tasters said they would buy the product, but a minority of 10 to 12 percent were angry and alienated at the very thought of it. This small percentage was adamant. These people would stop drinking Coke products altogether.  So determined were they that this small splinter group often swayed other members of their focus groups.

The way things turned out, the company should have listened to this group a little more carefully.

Redhead woman holding soda refreshment with angry face, negative sign showing dislike with thumbs down, rejection conceptOn an April Friday in 1985, Coke let the media know that a major announcement was coming the following Tuesday. Coca Cola officials spent a busy weekend preparing for the re-launch, while Pepsi Executives announced a company-wide holiday, taking out a full page ad in the New York Times, crowing that “Pepsi had Won the Cola Wars”.

Skepticism was high on the day of the Big Announcement. Reporters were fed questions by Pepsi officials, and Goizueta fumbled the ball, refusing to state the reason for the change. He certainly wasn’t going to give Pepsi any credit for their performance in taste tests and his explanation hardly met the standards for “the Real Thing’.  “[It’s] smoother”, he said, “uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…a more harmonious flavor”.

Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

Goz, Keough
Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, left; New Coke, center; and President Don Keough, right. Source: Bettmann, via Getty Images, H/T Bloomberg News

The backlash was ferocious, closely tracking results from those earlier focus groups.  Atlanta based Coca Cola’s southern customers described the change as another surrender to the “Yankees”.  More than 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, including one addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company”.  Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history” would surely become a valuable collector’s item. One psychiatrist hired by Coke to listen in on phone calls, told executives some people sounded as if they were discussing the death of a family member.

Newcoke_maxheadroomNot even Max Headroom and his stuttering “C-c-c-catch the wave!” could save the company.

Ads for “New Coke” were booed at the Houston Astrodome while Pepsi ran ads in which a smiling first-time Pepsi drinker exclaimed “Now I know why Coke did it!”

Even Fidel Castro weighed in, calling the change a sign of capitalist decadence.

Company President Donald Keough realized it was over on a visit to the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco.   Coming to the diner’s table, the small restaurant owner proudly proclaimed that he had “the real thing, it’s a real Coke,” offering Keough’s party a bottle of the old stuff.

images (62)So it was that, in 1985, Coca Cola announced they’d bring back the 91-year old formula.  One reporter asked Keough if the whole thing had been a publicity stunt. Keough’s answer should be taught in business schools the world over, if it isn’t already. “We’re not that dumb,” he said, “and we’re not that smart”.

 

March 11, 1958 The Day the US, Nuked Itself

This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day.   The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings.  Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church.

If you’re ever in South Carolina, stop and enjoy the historical delights of the Pee Dee region. About a half-hour from Pedro’s “South of the Border”, there you will find the “All-American City” of Florence, according to the National Civic League of 1965. With a population of about 38,000, Florence describes itself as a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance.

Oh.  And the Federal Government dropped a Nuke on the place. Sixty-two years ago, today.

maxresdefault (29)To anyone under the age of 40, the Cold War must seem a strange and incomprehensible time.  Those of us who lived through it, feel the same way.

The Air Force Boeing Stratojet bomber left Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, on a routine flight to Africa via the United Kingdom.  Just in case thermonuclear war was to break out with the Soviet Union, the B47 carried a 10-foot 8-inch, 7,600-pound, Mark 4, atomic bomb.

The Atlantic Coastline Railroad conductor, WWII veteran & former paratrooper Walter Gregg Sr. was in the workshop next to his home in the Mars Bluff neighborhood of Florence, South Carolina while his wife, Ethel Mae “Effie” Gregg, was inside, sewing. The Gregg sisters Helen and Frances, ages 6 and 9, were playing in the woods with their nine-year-old cousin Ella Davies as the B47 Stratojet bomber lumbered overhead.b47-7aAt 15,000-feet, a warning light came on in the cockpit, indicating the load wasn’t properly secured.   Not wanting a thing like that rattling around in the back, Captain Earl E. Koehler sent navigator Bruce M. Kulka, to investigate.  Kulka slipped and grabbed out for something, to steady himself.  That “something” just happened to be, the emergency release.

Bomb bay doors alone are woefully inadequate to hold back a 4-ton bomb. The thing came free and began a 15,000-foot descent, straight into the Gregg’s back yard.

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This hole 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep was made after an Air Force nuclear weapon accidentally fell from a B-47 and exploded in Florence, South Carolina, March 12, 1958. The home of Walter Gregg (background) was almost destroyed. Several members of his family were treated for injuries. (AP Photo) H/T Military Times

The Mark 4 atom bomb employs an IFI (in-flight insertion) safety, whereby composite uranium and plutonium fissile pits are inserted into the bomb core, thus arming the weapon. When deployed, a 6,000-pound. conventional explosion super-compresses the fissile core, beginning a nuclear chain reaction. In the first millisecond, (one millionth of a second), plasma expands to a size of several meters as temperatures rise into the tens of millions of degrees, Celsius. Thermal electromagnetic “Black-body” radiation in the X-Ray spectrum is absorbed into the surrounding air, producing a fireball. The kinetic energy imparted by the reaction produces an initial explosive force of about 7,500 miles, per second.

This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day.   The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings.  Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church.  Effie gashed her head when the walls blew in but miraculously, no one was killed except for a couple chickens.  Not even the cat.

screen_shot_2016-05-11_at_60319_pmThree years later, a B-52 Stratofortress carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs broke up in the air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five crew members ejected from the aircraft at 9,000-feet and landed safely, another ejected but did not survive the landing. Two others died in the crash.

In this incident, both weapons were fully nuclear-enabled.  A single switch out of four, is all that prevented at least one of the things, from going off.

goldsboro_bomb_0
One Mk 39 nuclear weapon from the Goldsboro incident remained largely intact, with parachute still attached. The second plunged into a muddy field at about 700mph, and disintegrated.

Walter Gregg described the Mars Bluff incident in 2001, in director Peter Kuran’s documentary “Nuclear 911”. “It just came like a bolt of lightning”, he said. “Boom! And it was all over. The concussion …caved the roof in.” Left with little but the clothes on their backs, the Greggs eventually sued the Federal Government.

The family was awarded $36,000 by the United States Air force.  It wasn’t enough to rebuild the house let alone, replace their possessions.  Walter Gregg resented it, for the rest of his life.

download - 2020-03-11T083015.786Over the years, members of the flight crew stopped by to apologize for the episode.

The land remains in private hands but it’s federally protected, so it can’t be developed.   They even made a path back in 2008 and installed a few signs,  but those were mostly stolen by college kids.

You can check it out for yourself if you want to amuse the locals.  They’ll know what you’re doing as soon as you drive through the neighborhood, the second time.  Crater Rd/4776 Lucius Circle, Mars Bluff, SC (Hat tip roadsideamerica.com)

A month before the Mars Bluff incident, a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in the ocean, off Tybee Island, Georgia.  Incidents involving the loss or accidental detonation of nuclear weapons are called “Broken Arrows“.  There have been 32 such incidents, since 1950.  As of this date, six atomic weapons remain unaccounted for, including that one off the Georgia coast.

Feature image top of page;  “C. B. Gregg looks at the bomb damaged home of his brother Walter Gregg who was injured after an Air Force bomb hit about 100 yards away on March 12, 1958, in Florence, S.C. (AP Photo) H/T Military Times

March 3, 1817 Land of the Vine and Olive

Thus begins one of the more romanticized chapters in Alabama folklore.  The noble heroes of the Napoleonic wars, carving a new world of French language and culture from the wild frontier.

In the Treaty of Paris in 1783,  the British Crown formally recognized American Independence, ceding vast territories east of the Mississippi, effectively doubling the size of the fledgling United States and paving the way for westward expansion. north_america_1670Those first ten years of independence was a time of increasing unrest for the American’s French ally, of the late revolution.  The famous Storming of the Bastille of July 1789 led to the Women’s March and the abolition of the French monarchy the following year.  King Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine in January 1793 followed ten months later by the execution of the Queen Consort of France, Marie Antoinette.

The orgy of violence known as “The Reign of Terror” killed nearly twice as many Frenchmen over the next two years, as that of Americans killed during the entire seven years of the Revolution.

A certain Corsican corporal emerged from this mess, with designs on La Louisiane.  Napoleon envisioned a vast north American empire stretching from the gulf of Mexico to the modern state of Montana and east to the Great Lakes, all of it centered on a vast trade in Caribbean sugar.napoleon_bonaparte_promoIt wasn’t meant to be. The slave insurrection of Toussaint Louverture in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) put a strain on French finances, to say nothing of the never-ending series of wars on the European landmass.  By 1803, Bonaparte needed to cash his chips and move away from the American table.

Robert R. Livingston, one of the committee of five who drafted the Declaration of Independence, was minister to the French Republic.  President Thomas Jefferson instructed Livingstone to open the way for commerce on the western frontier, authorizing the diplomat to pay up to $2 million for the city of New Orleans and lands on the east bank of the Mississippi river.

French Foreign Minister Talleyrand surprised the American diplomat, asking how much the Americans would pay for the Entire Louisiana territory.  The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 added 828,000 square miles of new territory at a cost of fifteen million dollars.louisiana-purchaseNapoleon Bonaparte, crowned Emperor the following year, would fight (and win) more battles than Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Alexander the Great and Frederick the Great, combined.

It was all for nothing.  The first fall of the Napoleonic dynasty brought about the restoration of the Bourbon monarchs in 1814, leading to the “100 days” and Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, at a place called Waterloo.

Philadelphia and New Orleans both, would soon become sanctuaries for French refugees of the Napoleonic wars, and the Haitian Revolution.

download - 2020-03-04T061100.354 Jean-Simon Chaudron founded the Abeille Américaine in 1815 (The American Bee), Philadelphia’s leading French language newspaper.  Himself a refugee of Santo Domingo (Saint-Domingue), Chaudron catered to French merchants, emigres and former military figures of the Napoleonic era and the Haitian revolution.

The idea of a French agricultural colony in the old southwest (now the central southeastern states) first came about in 1816 and Chaudron used his newspaper to promote the project.

The Colonial Society came about that November (later renamed the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive), with General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, at its head.

Congress soon took an interest in the project as did important politicians of the era including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

The project made sense.  Many viewed these French refugees as fellow republicans, oppressed by a monarchy.  What better way to consolidate hold on western territories while at the same time building a domestic wine-making industry.  Furthermore, the work would prevent these people from forming yet another hotbed, of Napoleonic military insurrection.

m-5392In January 1817, the Society for the Vine and Olive selected a site near the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers in west-central Alabama, on former Choctaw lands.  On March 3, 1817, Congress passed an act “disposing of a tract of land to embrace four townships, on favorable terms to the emigrants, to enable them successfully to introduce the cultivation of the vine and olive.”

The act granted 92,000 acres, specifying a 14-year grace period in which to dedicate a ‘reasonable’ portion of the land to cultivation at a deferred cost of $2.00 per acre.

Thus began one of the more romanticized chapters in Alabama folklore.  The noble heroes of the Napoleonic wars, carving a new world of French language and culture from the wild frontier.

The reality wasn’t quite so romantic.  Grape vines and olive saplings were ordered from Europe but many of the plants, died en route.  The grape varieties selected were a poor match for the hot and humid climate of the region, the olive trees, a dismal failure.  Congressional stipulations were relaxed over time and farmlands converted, to cotton.

m-5391General Charles Lallemand, who joined the French army in 1791, replaced Lefebvre-Desnouettes as President of the Colonial Society. A man better suited to the life of an adventurer than that of the plow, Lallemand was more interested in the wars of Latin American independence, than grapes and olives.  By the fall of 1817, Lallemand and 69 loyalists had concocted a plan to sell the land they hadn’t yet paid for, to raise funds for the invasion of Texas.

In the end, only 150 of 347 original grantees ever came to Alabama. Some died, many fled.  Most were unwilling to trade comfortable lives in Philadelphia and New Orleans, for the hardship of life on the frontier. By the planting season of 1818, there were only 69 settlers in the colony.

583b24b42a4c7_115727bLittle is left of the Vine and Olive Colony but the French Emperor lives on, in western Alabama.  Marengo County commemorates Napoleon’s June 14, 1800 victory over Austrian forces at the Battle of Marengo.  The county seat, also known as Marengo, was later renamed Linden.  Shortened from the Napoleonic victory over Bavarian forces led by Archduke John of Austria, at the 1800 battle of Hohenlinden.

 

Hat tip Rafe Blaufarb of Florida State University, for a great write-up of this subject. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org

 

 

February 29, 1504 Leap Year

According to mathematicians, the method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?

From its earliest inception, the Roman calendar tracked the cycles of the moon.  At least it tried to. The method fell out of phase with the change of seasons and days were randomly added or subtracted in order to compensate. Political campaigns and military conflicts were won or lost, based on the confusion. Things had to change.

In 46BC, Julius Caesar hired Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated that a proper year was 365¼ days, more accurately tracking the solar and not the lunar year.  Ol’ Sosigenes was pretty close.  The actual time the earth takes to revolve around the sun is 365.242199 days.1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The second month had 30 days back then, when Caesar renamed his birth month from Quintilis to “Julius”, in honor of himself.  Rank hath its privileges.  To this day, it’s why we have “July”.  Not to be outdone, Caesar’s successor Caesar Augustus changed Sextilis to Augustus and, you got it, today we have August. The only thing was, that Augustus had only 29 days to Julius’ 31, and we can’t have that.

You see this coming, right?

Augustus swiped two days from the month of the Roman festival of purification.  Februarius mensis wouldn’t even miss them.

Adding a day to every fourth February solved the calendar problem, sort of, but not quite. Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers attempted to fine tune the situation in 1582. No year divisible by 100 would be a leap year, unless that year is also divisible by 400. Ergo, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900, were not. According to mathematicians, this method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.

Let me know how that works out, would you?Leap Year1There is an old legend that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick back in the 5th century, that women had to wait too long for beaus to “pop the question”. Other versions of the story date back before English Law recognized the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day had no legal status.  Be that as it may, it is customary in many places for a woman to propose marriage on the 29th of February.  According to legend, one old Scottish law of 1288 would fine the man who turned down such a proposal.

In June 1503, Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the west when his two caravels became stranded, in Jamaica.  Relations with the natives were cordial at first but, after six months, the newcomers had worn out their welcome.  Desperately needing food and provisions, Columbus consulted the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus, where he learned that a lunar eclipse was expected on February 29.

Gathering the native chiefs that evening, Columbus explained that God was about to punish the indigenous people by painting the moon red. The eclipse occurred on schedule to the dismay of the natives, who were eager to promise anything to get the moon back.5a83a64e-9525-4d8c-acab-e92e6a35ba8d-columus_eclipse“With great howling and lamentation” wrote Columbus’ son Ferdinand, “they came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them”.

The explorer retired to his cabin, to “pray”.  Timing the eclipse with his hourglass, Columbus emerged after 48 minutes to announce.  All was forgiven.  God had pardoned the People.

188 years later, to the day.  February 29, 1692.  The first witchcraft warrants went out from a place called Salem Village, calling for the arrest of two social outcasts named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and the West Indian slave woman, Tituba.

February 4, 2012 Have a Nice Day

From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad.

140px-Silver_Star_medalEstablished by act of Congress on July 9, 1918, the Silver Star is the third-highest decoration is the system of military honors, awarded to members of US armed services for valor in combat against an enemy of the United States.  A search of public records reveals a long list of recipients of the Silver Star including the name “Ball, Harvey A. HQ, 45th Infantry Division, G.O. No. 281”.

Harvey Ball earned the silver star medal “for Conspicuous Gallantry in Action” in 1945, during the battle for Okinawa. He went on to serve most of his life in the United States Army Reserve, retiring in 1979 with the rank of Colonel.

Harvey Ross Ball worked for a sign painter while attending Worcester South High School, and went on to study fine arts at the Worcester Art Museum School.2981c

After the war, Ball came home to Worcester and worked for a local advertising firm, later opening his own ad agency, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959.

In 1963, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester (now Hanover Insurance) bought out the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio.  Employee morale tanked with the new acquisition.  Director of Promotions Joy Young was tasked with solving the problem.  Young hired Harvey Ball as a freelance artist to create a visual icon. A pin to be worn as part of the company’s ‘friendship campaign’.

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Harvey Ball, surrounded by his own creation

First came the silly grin. That part was easy but the pair soon realized, the button could be inverted.  Now we’ve got a “frowny” face and we can’t have that. Ball added eyes, the left drawn just a little smaller than the right, to “humanize” the image.

The work took ten minutes and the artist was paid $45, equivalent to $330 today.  Neither Ball nor State Mutual Felt the need to copyright the graphic.

From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad. State Mutual ordered 100 buttons.  It wasn’t long before manufacturers were taking orders for thousands at a time.

Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain seized on the image seven years later and produced millions of coffee mugs, t-shirts, watches and bumper stickers, emblazoned with the happy face and the slogan “Have a happy day”.  It was later revised to the ever present, “Have a nice day”.

The image was everywhere, second only to the ubiquitous “Peace Sign”.

Frenchman Franklin Loufrani copyrighted the graphic in France in 1972, using the image in the “good news” section of the newspaper France Soir and developing a line of imprinted novelty items.  Loufrani’s son Nicolas took over the family business and launched the Smiley Company, in 1996.

Unsurprisingly, the younger Loufrani is skeptical of Harvey Ball’s claim to have created such a simple design, pointing to cave paintings found in France dated to 2500BC and a similar graphic used in radio ad campaigns, of the early 1960s.

Of course, that didn’t prevent the company from seeking US trademark rights to the image and kicking off a years-long legal battle with retail giant WalMart, which had been using the happy face in its “Rolling Back Prices” campaign.

The Smiley Company is one of the 100 largest licensing corporations in the world with revenues of $167 million in 2012, holding rights to the Smiley Face in over 100 countries. Notably, the United States is not one of them.

As for Harvey Ball, he didn’t seem to mind that he never copyrighted his Smiley Face.  The artist is gone now but Ball’s son Charles says his father never was a money driven kind of guy. “Hey”, he would say, “I can only eat one steak at a time. drive one car at a time”.

140226-space-galle_c65701ac3dd494b9ce91bd30c7bbb33b.fit-760w
The Galle Crater, on Mars

In the 2009 film “Watchmen” characters fly to Mars, landing in a crater that looks like a Smiley Face. The red planet really does have such a place.  It’s called the Galle crater.

In June of 2010, Wal-Mart and the Smiley Company settled their 10-year-old legal dispute in Chicago federal court. The terms of the settlement are confidential and the words of the judge as he lowered his gavel, are unknown to this scribe.

I so want to believe the man told all those lawyers, to “have a nice day”.

February 2, 1887 Groundhog Day

Midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and well before the first crocus of spring has peered out across the frozen tundra, there is a moment of insanity which helps those of us living in northern climes get through to that brief, blessed moment of warmth when the mosquitoes once again have their way with us.

Here on Sunny Cape Cod™, we have a joke about the four seasons.  There’s “Almost Winter”, “Winter”, “Still Winter” and “Bridge Construction”.

Midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and well before the first crocus of spring has peered out across the frozen tundra, there is a moment of insanity which helps those of us living in northern climes get through to that brief, blessed season of warmth when the mosquitoes once again have their way with us.

Groundhog Day.

The ancient Romans observed a mid-season festival on February 5, the pagan Irish on February 1. For Christians, it was February 2, Candlemas day, a Christian holiday celebrating the ritual purification of Mary.  For reasons not entirely clear, early Christians believed there would be six more weeks of winter if the sun came out on Candlemas Day.

Clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter, their length representing how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on the idea by selecting an animal, a hedgehog, as a means of predicting weather. Once a suitable number of Germans had come to America, they switched over to a more local rodent: Marmota monax. The common Groundhog.Groundhog Day In IllinoisGroundhogs hibernate for the winter, an ability some people of my acquaintance, would love to master. During that time, the animal’s heart rate drops from 80 beats per minute to 5 as the slumbering rodent lives off stored body fat.  Another ability some of us could learn to appreciate, very much.

The male couldn’t care less about the weather; he comes out of his burrow in February in search of a mate. If uninterrupted, he will fulfill his groundhog mission of love and return to earth, not coming out for good until sometime in March.new_groundhogday_163820174But then there is the amorous woodchuck’s worst nightmare in a top hat, the groundhog hunter.

Groundhogs are something of a regional delicacy, said to taste like a cross between pork, and chicken.  In the 1880s, groundhog hunters hosted annual Groundhog day festivals in addition to summer hunts, followed by picnics featuring steaming dishes like Country-Style Groundhog, Groundhog and Sweet Potatoes and Waco Groundhog in Sour Cream, all of it washed down with “groundhog punch” consisting of vodka, milk, eggs, orange juice “and other ingredients.”  Yumm.

One group of groundhog hunters in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, imaginatively called themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. One of them, a newspaper editor, declared on February 2, 1887, that their groundhog “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary“, was the only true weather forecasting rodent.5bb14c7a200000e800ff9957There are those who would dispute the Gobbler’s Knob crowd and their claims to Punxsutawney Phil’s weather forecasting prowess. Alabama has “Birmingham Bill”, and Canada has Shubenacadie Sam. New York can’t seem to decide between Staten Island Chuck and New York City’s very own official groundhog, “Pothole Pete”.

Today, Phil himself is no longer on the menu.  Groundhog punch has given way to a magic elixir said to give Punxatawney’s hundred-year-old rodent, seven more years of life.  Since 2010, Punxatawney Faithful can get text message alerts concerning the prognostications of their favorite rodent.  (Text “Groundhog” to 247365, if you’re interested).

There is no word for groundhog in Arabic.  Accounts of this day in the Arab press translate the word as جرذ الأرض or, “Ground Rat”.  If that’s not enough to make us all the life of the party, I don’t know what is.

If anyone were to bend down and ask Mr. Ground Rat his considered opinion on the matter, he would probably cast a pox on all our houses. It’s been a long winter. Mr. Ground Rat’s all dressed up for a date.  He has other things on his mind.groundhog-raising-paw-7195-21b14fc90e3aa60210825a1411bca610@1x