September 30, 1946 Goobers

The British taxpayer still held a ration card a year after the war while his government owed a crushing 270% of the entire economy to its former colony, across the Atlantic. The answer to both problems became one of the greatest government boondoggles, of the colonial era.

Emerging from the door of the aircraft, the Prime minister began to speak. The piece of paper Neville Chamberlain held in his hand annexed that bit of the Czechoslovak Republic known as the “Sudetenland”, to Nazi Germany. Germany’s territorial ambitions to the east, had been sated.

The cataclysm of the War to end all Wars was as recent on September 30, 1938 as the horrors of 9/11 is, to our own time. Now, a world could breathe a little easier. It was “Peace in our Time”.

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Unlike the participants in this tale we know, how the story ends. World War 2 was all but foreordained. The world was an altogether different place on this day in 1946, a burned and broken thing struggling to emerge from the greatest catastrophe, in human history.

European GDP would triple between the end of the war and the turn of the century but, on September 30, 1946, a continent lay on its back.

At one point during the war, every major power on the European continent was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation. The island nation of Great Britain stood alone against the onslaught, aided by heroic contributions by individuals from Poland to Jamaica and massive economic support, from the United States.

A study by the World Bank once reported, national debt exceeding 77% to have a deleterious effect, on a nation’s economy. For every percentage point over that number, the situation gets worse. On this day in 1946, Britain owed fully 270% of its GDP, to the US.

Still a colonial power in 1946, Great Britain looked to her assets overseas to help settle those debts and hit upon one of the great hare-brained ideas, of the modern era.

During the late 1940s the British government tried to create vast plantations in Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania) for growing groundnuts (peanuts).; (add.info.: East African Groundnuts Scheme. .

They would grow goobers, in Africa.

Goober peas, monkeynuts, groundnuts or ground peas. Whatever you call Arachis hypogaea, microfossil and starch grain analysis dates the peanut back some 8,500 years to the Zaña mountains, of Peru. The Incas used peanuts as sacrificial offerings as early as 1500BC and entombed them, with their dead.

Today, worldwide peanut consumption amounts to some 42,600,000 tons making goobers the most popular nut on the planet by a factor of ten compared with the next nine nuts, combined.

East Africa was a German colony in 1914 under the military command of one Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, der Löwe von Afrika. The Lion of Africa, a German patriot who detested the upstart führer so much he once told Adolf Hitler to perform an anatomically improbable act. Only he wasn’t that polite.

Vorbeck returned to Deutschland a hero, the only German commander during all world war one, to be undefeated in the field. So it was that Britain took control of Tanganyika, as a League of Nations mandate.

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Which brings us back, to goobers. Peanuts and peanut butter were important parts of Armed Forces rations, during both world wars. Following WW2 the Labor party of Prime minister Clement Atlee faced what economist John Maynard Keynes called “financial Dunkirk”.

With the British population still on food rations in 1946, Frank Samuel, head of the United Africa Company, came up with a scheme to produce food and cooking oils, in Tanganyika.

Warnings of too much clay in the soil and too little rain fell on deaf ears as did 5,000 years of African experience, in farming their own soil. John Wakefield, former director of agriculture in Tanganyika led the delegation, that April. Three months work produced a favorable report. It didn’t hurt that the area contemplated was largely unpopulated solving the problems up front, of relocation.

There might be a reason nobody lived there but none of them noticed that.

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Some 3¼ million acres were designated for peanuts, an area the size, of Connecticut. European “Experts” soon discovered they had underestimated what the legendary British explorer Henry Morton called “an interminable jungle of thorn bushes…mile after mile of damn-all“. Former Labor politician Allen Wood wrote, “In patches the thickets of scrub are impenetrable. A rhinoceros can force a way through, a snake can wiggle through but no size or shape of animal in between, except a bulldozer“.

Early land clearing met with a maze of rubbery tree roots so thick as to defeat the efforts of all but bulldozers and even those broke down, within days. Towering baobab trees of a kind known to live 6,000 years and more were impervious, even to that. Even if you did knock one down you still had to deal with Volkswagen-sized hives, of African honey bees. Ever hear of “Killer bees”? Yeah. Those are what results when you “Africanize”, the North American variety.

With farm equipment in short supply in post-war Europe, Sherman tanks were retrofitted by the score at the Vickers corporation and converted to monstrosities known as “Shervicks”.

Even today you can ask someone, what animal kills more humans than any other, in Africa. It’s a great trivia question the answer to which, is the mosquito. Malaria, Dengue fever, sleeping sickness…entire textbooks have been written of mosquito borne diseases in this region to say nothing, of poisonous snakes.

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At the end of two years land clearing was 90 percent short, of projections. Peanut production was less than half of what was purchased as seed, in the first place.

And here’s where that clay comes in. During the dry season the soil becomes as hard as asphalt. Regular plows had a life expectancy of five hours in that stuff. With a miniscule percentage actually planted one worker claimed “Nothing but pneumatic drills and dynamite could get the nuts out“.

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Devices were attached to engines and operators were paid according to the time the engine was running. It wasn’t long before tractors were found running in ditches while their operators were off, drinking.

During the four year life of the Great Tanganyika Groundnut Boondoggle only one year brought enough rain, to sustain a peanut crop. Those groundnuts actually produced cost six times to grow, what they were worth. Making matters worse, many men abandoned family farms to the lure of high wages contributing to severe famines in 1947, 1949 and 1950.

A last ditch effort was made to save the whole trainwreck planting sunflowers, instead of goobers. At least those could be harvested above ground but even that failed, due to lack of rain. The plug was pulled after four years, about the time it took conservative politicians to quit hollering out “Groundnuts“! every time a Liberal rose up, to speak.

The whole boondoggle cost 36 million pounds equivalent to a Billion, today. Not a single British taxpayer ever received so much as an increase, in margarine rations.

September 13, 1860 A Harmless old Crank

From the casual keyword search to bumper stickers the world over the message is, Come to Key West, Where the Weird, Go Pro. And yet, history gives us such a collection of cranks and oddballs as to make even a land where Ernest Hemingway’s urinal became a lawn ornament seem tame, by comparison.

Plato called him, “Socrates gone mad”. 21st century historians have likened his life to a never-ending Monty Python sketch. He’s one of the founders of the ancient philosophy of Cynicism, who lived with a pack of stray dogs in a barrel outside the Temple of Cybele and famously wandered the land with a lantern, searching “for an honest man”.

Diogenes of Sinope lived in the 4th century BC, haranguing shoppers in the marketplace and tormenting the upper crust, of Greek society. The philosopher renounced all physical possessions and delighted in performing in public, that which should be performed in private. And I do mean, everything.

It was taboo to eat in the marketplace but not for Diogenes who explained, “I did, for it was in the market-place that I was hungry.” Plato once referred to a human being as “a featherless biped animal“. Diogenes showed up at Plato’s academy with a plucked chicken, declaring, “Behold! I have brought you a man.” On one occasion a group of wealthy Athenians emerged from a banquet calling Diogenes a dog, and throwing him bones. Diogenes lifted his leg, and peed on them.

Alexander III of Macedon succeeded his father King Philip II to the throne at the age of 20 and spent most of his reign, on military campaign. Undefeated in battle by the age of thirty, “Alexander the Great” amassed one of the largest empires in history, extending from Greece, to the northwest of India.

Alexander visits Diogenes at Corinth, by Louis Loeb (1898)

The most feared and powerful man on the planet, Alexander wanted to know who was this man who clearly cared not a wit, about his Royal Presence.

According to legend Alexander visited Diogenes while the man was sunning himself in Athens and asked, if there was anything he needed. Famously honest up to and well beyond the point of rudeness Diogenes responded, “Stand out of my light“.

Alexander’s followers dissolved into raucous laughter but the emperor himself was struck by Diogenes’ haughty and uncaring manner. Alexander commented, “Truly, if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.” The philosopher replied, If I were not Diogenes, I would wish to be Diogenes.”

Diogenes of Sinop (then known as Sinope) statue by Turan Baş, erected in 2006.

You can still visit him even today at the isthmus of Sinop, in modern day Turkey. There his 18-foot likeness depicts the Cynic, standing with his dog on the barrel in which he lived, lamp outstretched. 25 centuries later Diogenes searches still, for an honest man.

For a nation the size of Michigan the UK has produced more than its share of eccentrics and cranks. John Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland, was a member of the House of Lords by virtue of his title. It took the man three years, to take his seat. Such a recluse was he, Portland built a vast underground complex under his estate at Welbeck Abbey in North Nottinghamshire. So he didn’t have to see anyone. “The workman’s friend” was well liked by the thousands of laborers required to construct such an edifice but business was always conducted, by mail. Vast underground pool halls, horse stables and roller skating rinks were constructed and connected, by a maze of tunnels. Workmen themselves were encouraged to enjoy the facilities but heaven help the man who addressed the Duke, in person. One poor slob was summarily fired, for tipping his hat.

Baron de Rothschild was a great animal lover who drove about in a carriage, pulled by zebras. A tame bear lived in Rothschild’s superb chateau in Buckinghamshire, trained to slap his female guests, on the behind. At one political dinner for Lord Salisbury, twelve puzzled guests were seated for dinner, each beside an empty chair. The mystery was solved shortly before the first course, when twelve immaculately dressed monkeys trooped in, and took their seats.

Lord North married an American woman in September and honeymooned, in the Caribbean. On returning home, the new bride was rather surprised when the man went to bed…and stayed there. An enormous table was moved into the bedchambers so North could entertain, in bed. The explanation? According to this guy no Lord North ever got out of bed between October 9 and March 22 since his famous ancestor, lost the American colonies.

Speaking of Americans. We’ve had our share of cranks but none so memorable, as Emperor Norton.

Born in England sometime around 1818, Joshua Abraham Norton arrived in San Francisco in 1849, by way of South Africa.

For a time a successful businessman, Norton lost a considerable fortune trying to corner the rice market. He seems to have lost his mind, with it.

Norton disappeared for a time and returned on September 17, 1859, proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States. The Royal Ascension was published in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin:

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“At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens”, it read, “I, Joshua Norton…declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States.” The letter went on to command representatives from all the states to convene in San Francisco, “to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring.”

The edict was signed  NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.”

To many of his “subjects”, “Emperor Norton” was an amusing eccentric. A harmless old kook.  Most were pleased to go along with the gag.

An earthquake was felt on this day in 1860 described as “very severe” in the East Bay area. It didn’t slow him down. Emperor Norton abolished the United States Congress, declaring “fraud and corruption prevent a fair and proper expression of the public voice…in consequence of which, we do hereby abolish Congress.

We could use a guy like that, today.

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A portrait of Emperor Norton in the Society of California Pioneers is the only portrait he’s believed to have posed for. Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

When Congress failed to disperse, Norton issued a second edict, ordering General Winfield Scott to Washington to rout the rascals. “WHEREAS, a body of men calling themselves the National Congress are now in session in Washington City, in violation of our Imperial edict of the 12th of October last, declaring the said Congress abolished; WHEREAS, it is necessary for the repose of our Empire that the said decree should be strictly complied with; NOW, THEREFORE, we do hereby Order and Direct Major-General Scott, the Command-in-Chief of our Armies, immediately upon receipt of this, our Decree, to proceed with a suitable force and clear the Halls of Congress”.

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In December 1859, Norton fired Virginia Governor Henry Wise for hanging abolitionist John Brown, appointing then-vice President John C. Breckinridge in his stead.

The United States teetered on the brink of disunion in 1861, as Norton abolished the Union altogether and established an absolute monarchy. With Norton himself at the helm, naturally.

Emperor Napoleon III invaded Mexico that year resulting in French victory, Mexican independence (figure that out) and a peculiarly American event we call, “Cinco de Mayo”. How differently might things have worked out had Emperor Norton not added to his already considerable titles, “Protector of Mexico”.

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Norton wore an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulettes, and carried a cane or saber and topped it off with a beaver hat with peacock feather. By day, Emperor Norton “inspected” the streets and public works of San Francisco.  By night he would dine in the finest establishments in the city. No play or musical performance would dare open in San Francisco, without reserved balcony seats for Emperor Norton.

Mark Twain, who lived for a time in Emperor Norton’s San Francisco, patterned the King in Huckleberry Finn, on Joshua Norton. Among his many proposals, Norton envisioned flying machines, the League of Nations, and the construction of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Though he was penniless, the “Official Norton Seal of Approval” was good for business. Some restaurants even put them out on brass plaques, declaring the prestigious “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States”.

Most of the time, Norton was accompanied by two stray dogs. “Bummer” and “Lazarus”, who usually dined for free along with the Emperor.

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In 1867, police officer Armand Barbier arrested Norton, attempting to have the man involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. The public backlash was so vehement that Police Chief Patrick Crowley was forced to order Norton’s release, with profuse apologies.  The episode ended well, when Emperor Norton magnanimously pardoned the police department. After that, San Francisco cops saluted Emperor Norton whenever meeting him in the street.

The 1870 California census records one Joshua Norton, age 50, occupation, Emperor, along with a note, declaring the man to be insane.

Admiring supporters gave Norton financial aid, in the guise of “paying taxes”. A local printer even printed “Imperial bonds”, emblazoned with Norton’s likeness and official seal. To this day, Norton banknotes are highly prized collector’s items.

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors once bought Norton a new uniform, when the old one became shabby and threadbare. Norton responded with a very nice thank you note, issuing each of them a “Patent of Nobility in Perpetuity”.

On the evening of January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed on a sidewalk and died before help could arrive. The San Francisco Chronicle published his obituary on the front page, under the headline “Le Roi est Mort” (“The King is Dead”). “On the reeking pavement”, began another obituary, “in the darkness of a moon-less night under the dripping rain…, Norton I, by the grace of God, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, departed this life.”

10,000 loyal “subjects” attended Emperor Norton’s funeral, roughly 5 percent of the entire city. The 21-year reign of Emperor Norton I, had come to an end.

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In a city that’s nothing if not idiosyncratic, Norton remains the Patron Saint of eccentrics, to this day.  The Bay area kicked off a month-long celebration of Norton’s bicentennial birthday on February 4, 2018, with walking tours, exhibitions and period nostalgia.

On its website, the Mechanic’s Institute Library and Chess Room proclaims “Emperor Norton at 200, a series of exhibits, talks, toasts and other special events organized by The Emperor’s Bridge Campaign, in partnership with Bay Area institutions, to mark the bicentennial of Emperor Norton’s birth“.

A February 7 lecture invited participants to arrive in their best 1860s – ’70s attire, and “party like it’s 1859! Join us at the Mechanics’ Institute on February 7th for cake and bubbly to celebrate the 200th birthday of Joshua Abraham Norton, the businessman who one day in 1859 declared himself Emperor of the United States and (in 1862) Protector of Mexico”.

The event sold out, in hours.

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Joseph Amster in character as Emperor Joshua Norton for walking tours in San Francisco. Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr. H/T NBC Bay Area

September 19, 1862 Old Douglas, the Confederate Camel

The horse lobby did a lot to kill the camel project. The animal’s unpleasant personality traits didn’t help.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery, established by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, contains the final resting place of some 5,000 Confederate Soldiers who died in the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Each one stands in memory of a soldier killed in the line of duty.

Even the one with the camel on it.

The story begins with Jefferson Davis, in the 1840s. We remember him today as the President of the Confederate States of America. Then, he was a United States Senator from Mississippi, with a pet project of introducing camels into the United States.

Re-introducing them might be more like it.  Today, the distribution of these animals is almost the inverse of their area of origin.  According to the fossil record, the earliest camelids first appeared on the North American continent, these even-toed ungulates ancestor to the Alpaca, Llama, Guanaco and Vicuña of today.

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Jefferson Davis’ experiment was to be the first large-scale re-introduction of these animals on the North American continent, in geologic history.

Davis envisioned the day when every southern planter would have a stable full of camels. In the kind of pork barrel tit-for-tat spending deal beloved of Congressmen to this day, the senator bslid $30,000 into a highway appropriations bill, to get the support of a fellow senator from Illinois.

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The measure failed, but in the 1850s, then-Secretary of War Davis persuaded President Franklin Pierce that camels were the military super weapons of the future. Able to carry greater loads over longer distances than any other pack animal, Davis saw camels as the high tech weapon of the age. Horses and mules were dying by the hundreds in the hot, dry conditions of Southwestern Cavalry outposts when the government purchased 75 camels from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Several camel handlers came along in the bargain, one of them a Syrian named Haji Ali, who successfully implemented a camel breeding program. Haji Ali was a character and became quite the celebrity in the West Texas outpost. The soldiers called the man “Hi Jolly”.

When the Civil War broke out, Camp Verde, Texas had about 60 camels. The King of Siam, (now Thailand), saw the military advantage to the Confederacy and wrote to President Abraham Lincoln. “Here”, he wrote, “we use elephants”. The King went on to propose bringing elephants into the Northwest, to help the Union war effort. This “animal arms race” appears to have gotten no further than that one letter to the President, but the imagination does run wild, doesn’t it. The idea of War Elephants, at Gettysburg….

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The horse lobby did a lot to kill the camel project. The animal’s unpleasant personality traits didn’t help. A camel will not passively accept a riding crop or a whip. They are vengeful, and can spit stinking wads of phlegm with great accuracy over considerable distances. If they’re close enough, they will rake the skin off your face with their front teeth. Camels have even been known to trample people to death.

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Douglas, the Confederate Camel

Cut loose, one of those Texas camels somehow made its way to Mississippi, where he was taken into service with the 43rd Infantry Regiment, who named him “Douglas”.

Douglas wouldn’t permit himself to be tethered, but he always stuck around so he was allowed to graze on his own. Southern soldiers became accustomed to the sight of “Old Douglas”. The 43rd Mississippi became known as the “Camel Regiment,” but the horses never did get used to their new companion. On this day in 1862, Major General Sterling Price was preparing to face two Union armies at Iuka, when the sight of Old Douglas spooked the regimental horses. One horse’s panic turned into a stampede, injuring several and possibly killing one or two.

The 43rd Infantry was ordered to Vicksburg during General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of the city, when Douglas was shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Enraged by the murder of their prized camel, the 5th Missouri’s commander Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, who stalked the killer until one of them had his revenge. Bevier later said of Douglas’ killer, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”

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So it is that there is a camel at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  He is not forgotten. Douglas and other camels of the era are remembered by the Texas Camel Corps, a cross between a zoo and a living history exhibit.

The organizations website begins with: “Texas Camel Corps was established to educate the public about the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century”. I might just have to check those guys out.

Tip of the hat to www.texascamelcorps.com for the sunset image, above.

September 16, 1906 One of a Kind

From the Catania (Sicily) to the Salerno landings of 1943, Mad Jack could be seen stepping onto the beach, trademark broadsword at his belt, bagpipes under an arm and an English longbow and arrows, around his neck.

On this day in 1906 a child was born .  John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, the first son and grandson of British civil servants in the Ceylon Civil Service.  The family lived in Hong Kong at the time, returning to England in 1917.  “Jack” graduated from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, serving with the Manchester Regiment in Burma where he rode the length and breadth of the nation, on a motorcycle.

It was around this time Churchill learned to play bagpipes, a bit of an eccentricity for an Englishman of his era. Mad Jack was nothing if not eccentric.

He taught himself to shoot a bow and arrow, and became quite good at it. Good enough to represent his nation in the 1939 world archery championship in Oslo scoring #26, in the men’s recurve. A remarkable feat considering his weapon of choice, was the longbow.

Churchill left the military ten years later and worked as a newspaper editor for a time in Nairobi Kenya, along with the occasional stint as male model and even appeared in two motion pictures, The Thief of Bagdad and A Yank At Oxford. From there he may have faded into obscurity unlike his fellow Englishman of no relation, with the same last name. Except, then came World War II and that transformation into the truly one-of-a-kind, “Mad Jack”.

Churchill resumed his military commission and rejoined the Manchester Regiment later that year, when Germany invaded Poland. Part of the British Expeditionary force to France in 1940, Churchill signaled an ambush on a German unit, by taking out the Feldwebel (staff sergeant) with a broadhead arrow. No one could have been more surprised than that German NCO who surely died wondering, “How the hell did I get an arrow in my chest?”

That one unfortunate German is, to my knowledge, the only combatant in all WWII to be felled by an English longbow.

Not long after, allied military forces were hurled from the beaches of Europe. The only way back in, was via those same beaches. We’ve all seen the D-Day style waterborne assault: invading forces pouring out of Higgins Boats and charging up the beaches. Amphibious landings were carried out from the earliest days of WWII, from Norway to North Africa, from the Indian Ocean to Italy. In all those landings, there’s likely no other soldier who stepped off a Higgins Boat, with a bow and arrows.

On December 27, 1941, #3 Commando raided the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway. As the ramp dropped on the first landing craft, out jumped Mad Jack Churchill playing “March of the Cameron Men” on the bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and charging into battle.  Mad Jack made several such landings, usually while playing his bagpipes, a Scottish broadsword at his belt.

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“Mad Jack” Churchill, speaking at a landing exercise

Churchill was attached to that sword, a basket hilted “Claybeg”, a slightly smaller version of the Scottish Claymore. He said “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” From the Catania (Sicily) to the Salerno landings of 1943, Mad Jack could be seen stepping onto the beach, trademark broadsword at his belt, bagpipes under an arm and an English longbow and arrows, around his neck.

Churchill lost his sword in confused, hand to hand fighting around the town of Piegoletti, for which he received the Distinguished Service Order. Almost single-handed but for a corporal named Ruffell, Churchill captured 42 Germans including a mortar squad. “I always bring my prisoners back with their weapons”, he explained. “It weighs them down. I just took their rifle bolts out and put them in a sack, which one of the prisoners carried. [They] also carried the mortar and all the bombs they could carry and also pulled a farm cart with five wounded in it….I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry ‘Jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the … situation. That’s why they make such marvelous soldiers…” It looked, he said, like “an image from the Napoleonic Wars.

Churchill later trudged back to town, to collect his sword. He encountered an American squad along the way, who seemed to have lost themselves and were headed toward German lines. When the NCO refused to turn around, Churchill informed him he was going to be on his way, and he “wouldn’t come back for a bloody third time”.

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Archery historian Hugh Soar, pictured with four of “Mad Jack’s” English longbows

Mad Jack’s luck ran out in 1944 on the German-held, Yugoslavian island of Brac. He was leading a Commando raid at the time, in coordination with the partisans of Josip Broz Tito. Only Churchill and six others managed to reach the top of hill 622, when a mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill himself. He was knocked unconscious by a grenade and captured.

He’d been playing “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his pipes.

Hitler’s infamous ‘Commando Order” had long since taken effect, and Churchill and his surviving men escaped immediate execution at the hands of the Gestapo, thanks to the decency of one Wehrmacht Captain Thuener. “You are a soldier“, he said, “as I am. I refuse to allow these civilian butchers to deal with you. I shall say nothing of having received this order.” Churchill was able to pay Thuener back for his kindness after the war, keeping the man out of the merciless hands of the Red Army.

Churchill was flown to Berlin and interrogated on suspicion that he might be related to the more famous Churchill, before being sent off to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. There, Mad Jack and Royal Air Force officer Bertram James escaped that September, slipping under the wire and crawling through an abandoned drain and walking all the way to the Baltic coast. They almost made it, too, but the pair was captured near the coastal city of Rostock, just a few miles from the coast.

Mad Jack was sent off to Burma, following the defeat of Nazi Germany. He was disappointed by the swift end to the war brought about by the American bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks” he’d say, “we could have kept the war going another 10 years!”

As a Seaforth Highlander, Mad Jack was posted to the British Mandate in Palestine, in 1948. He was one of the first to the scene of the ambush and massacre of the Haddassah medical convoy that April, banging on a bus and offering evacuation in an armored personnel carrier. His offer was refused in the mistaken belief that Hadassah was mounting an organized rescue.

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No such rescue ever arrived. Churchill and a team of 12 British Light Infantry were left to shoot it out with some 250 Arab insurgents, armed with everything from blunderbusses and old flintlocks, to Sten and Bren guns. Seventy-eight Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters were killed along with one British soldier. Dozens were burned beyond recognition and buried in mass graves. Churchill later coordinated the evacuation of some 700 Jewish patients and medical personnel from the Hadassah hospital at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem.

Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became passionately devoted to surfing. Returning to England upon his retirement, he became the first to surf the 5-foot tidal surge up the River Severn, on a board of his own design.

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Surfing the Tidal Bore, up the Severn River

Once and always the eccentric, Mad Jack Churchill loved sailing radio-controlled model warships on the Thames. Little seemed to bring him more joy than the horror on the face of fellow train passengers, when he opened the window and hurled his briefcase into the darkness.

Not one of them suspected he was throwing the thing into his own back yard. It saved him the trouble of carrying it home from the station.

He scribbled a couplet once on a postcard, and mailed it to a friend.  The face of the card bore the regimental colors.

On the back, Mad Jack Churchill had written these words.

“No Prince or Lord has tomb so proud / As he whose flag becomes his shroud.”

He may have been talking about himself.

August 24, 1855 An Ungainly Old Chimney

193 engraved stones arrived from around the world but none met with half the fuss of that brought forth from the ancient Roman temple of Concordia and engraved with the words, ROME TO AMERICA. The gift of Pope Pius IX. The Catholic haters were aghast.

With a second Catholic president in the White House, it may surprise some to learn. This nation once harbored considerable anti-Catholic bias. Candidate John F. Kennedy tackled the issue head-on, addressing a Houston meeting of 300 Protestant ministers in an effort to separate the “honestly fearful”, from genuine bigots.

The strategy worked. Today, Catholic-issues voters have more in common with evangelical voters, than what separates them. Americans have come a long way but it wasn’t always, thus.

The Popes of the early middle ages were heavily involved in secular affairs. Chosen by predecessors, popular acclaim, family connection or simony (the purchase of ecclesiastical office), many were less than pious men. At one time the papacy itself was as political, as any public office..

The Protestant Reformation began with a series of events in the 16th century, aimed at correcting what were seen as errors and excesses of the Catholic Church.

Proponents of the Reformation strongly opposed the clerical hierarchy and particularly, the papacy. The Church of England broke with Catholicism under Henry VIII but, even then, groups such as Puritans and Congregationalists saw much to dislike in Church of England doctrine, based as it was on Catholic teachings.

So it was some of the earliest emigrants to the New World, harbored deep anti-Catholic bias.

George Washington was a passionate believer in religious tolerance and the importance of Christian virtue, in civil society. As General, Washington banned anti-Catholic celebrations such as Guy Fawkes day. Sensible of the indispensable contributions to independence made by Catholic France and Spain, many abandoned such prejudice for a deep and personal dislike, for British King George III.

Even so, some ideas die hard.

The Native American political party founded in 1844 had nothing to do with first nations. Originally begun as a secret society, the party was anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, anti-immigration, xenophobic and populist. The party held many views considered “progressive” in modern parlance, including opposition to slavery, support for an expansion of the rights of women, regulation of industry and a need for increased government spending. An early forerunner in the American temperance movement, the group’s strong anti-Catholic stance would later form the basis of the American Protective Association, and the Ku Klux Klan.

“The Subtle Conspirator,” a 1926 anti-Catholic political cartoon by former Ku Klux Klan preacher Branford Clarke in the newsletter “Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty.” (Public Domain)

Immigration soared during the first half of the 1850s, to levels five times more than the previous decade. Most were poor Catholic peasants and laborers from Ireland and Germany, spawning conspiracy theories that the Pope was personally selecting these people, in order to exert influence.

Adherents to the self-described “American” party would claim ignorance when asked for specifics, by outsiders. Opponents derided them as “Know Nothings”.

Pierre L’Enfant was a French engineer who served with the Continental army, during the Revolution. In 1791, President George Washington appointed L’Enfant to design a home for the federal government, on the banks of the Potomac. George Washington personally laid the cornerstone, of the new Capitol building.

L’Enfant envisioned a large equestrian statue of the President, but Congress did nothing about it. Private enterprise stepped up to do the job in 1833 with the formation of the Washington National Monument Society founded by Chief Justice John Marshall, Librarian of Congress George Watterston and former President, James Madison.

Fundraising began in 1835 with donations limited to $1 per person, per year.

Architect Robert Mills’ plan was approved in 1845 for a 200-foot flat-topped obelisk, crowned with a statue of Washington in a chariot and surrounded by the 12-foot diameter columns of a “National Parthenon”, dedicated to heroes of the Revolution and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The original vision of the Washington Monument looks quite different, from what we have today.

On July 4, 1848, the 24,500 pound cornerstone was laid for the now-familiar Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. Inside a carved niche was placed a zinc capsule containing mementoes of the day including copies of the founding documents, currency, newspaper clippings and a long list of donated items.

Know-Nothings briefly emerged around this time, as a major political party. Future President Abraham Lincoln denounced the lot of them on August 24, 1855 in a letter to his close friend, Joshua Speed:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy”.

A. Lincoln

Peak year for the Know-Nothings came in 1856 with candidates elected to local office, and to the United States Congress. Meanwhile, fundraising continued for President Washington’s monument. It wasn’t just money, either. Engraved tablets came in from around the world, from individuals, Sunday school classes and Indian tribes. Organizations from the Masons to the Sons of Temperance, military units and the Odd Fellows all sent stones. At the 220-foot landing there’s a tablet from a group of Chinese Christians, all the way from Ningo, Chekiang Province, China.

193 engraved stones arrived from around the world but none met with half the fuss of that brought forth from the ancient Roman temple of Concordia and engraved with the words, ROME TO AMERICA. The gift of Pope Pius IX was announced on February 7, 1852 in the Daily National Intelligencer of Washington, D.C., page 4.

The Catholic haters were aghast.

Speeches were made and petitions went around. “This gift of a despot“, read one New Jersey petition, “if placed within those walls, can never be looked upon by true Americans but with feelings of mortification and disgust.

The Pope’s stone arrived in early 1854: 3-feet in length, 18-inches in height and 10-inches thick. It was placed in a shed on monument grounds called a lapidarium, there joining several other gift stones awaiting installation.

In a stunt familiar to anyone ever “fact checked’ on Facebook, Know-Nothings now changed tactics, demanding a “protest stone” be installed directly above the Pope’s tablet, and inscribed with some suitable refutation.

Then came the night of March 5-6. The heist. With night watchman George Hilton inside his guard shack, a group of men tied ropes around the hut, trapping Hilton inside. Newspapers were posted to cover the windows nearest the obelisk as the pope’s stone was wrestled, onto a hand cart.

The Potomac river was much closer in those days, before the land reclamation of the 1870s and ’80s. The stone was rowed out to the middle and splashed, to the muddy bottom.

The Monument Society put up a reward of $500, equivalent to ten times that amount today, but the bad guys were never caught. Hilton was suspected to be in cahoots with the thieves and fired, as he couldn’t explain why he couldn’t have opened the window or why that double barreled shotgun, remained by his side.

Know-Nothings not only destroyed the pope’s stone but now, members insinuated themselves into the Monument Society, itself. Contributions all but dried up particularly from Catholic donors and work ground to a halt, in 1858. For twenty years the thing sat. Incomplete. Mark Twain called the 153-foot stump of Washington’s monument, “An Ungainly Old chimney”.

Work resumed in 1878 but now stone was cut, from a different quarry. If you look closely you can see to this day the slight variation, in color.

It’s tough to get anything out of a bunch of guys, called Know-Nothings. Not until 1883 when an anonymous saloon keeper, probably one of the thieves, talked to the Washington Post. “If the dredges at work in the Potomac strike the right spot, they will fish up something that will create a sensation.” That’s just what happened in 1892 when a diver found a beautifully polished slab of pink marble on the muddy bottom engraved with the words, “Rome to America”. A few souvenir chunks were crudely chopped, out of the side.

Inscribed on the aluminum cap placed at the apex of the largest obelisk in the world are inscribed the words “Laus Deo”. Latin for “Praise be to God.”

Only two days later the stone was stolen once again, from a construction shack.

Nearly 100 years later a priest from the Other Washington – Washington state, commissioned a second stone.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II sent a white marble tablet bearing the Latin inscription, “A ROMA AMERICAE” – “Rome to America.”

That first stone, was never found. The second was installed at the 340-foot level where it remains, to this day.

August 9, 1173 Leaning Tower of Pisa

Italy has no fewer than ten towers with an other than perpendicular relationship to the ground. Three in Venice, one each in Bologna, Caorle, Burano and Rome and two others, in Pisa.

In the world of architecture, a campanile [kampəˈnēlē] is a tower, usually built beside or appended to a larger structure and most often associated with Italian architecture. Since the 19th century, such structures have served as clock or bell towers for factories, colleges and apartments. Earlier examples are mostly associated, with churches.

The earliest Campaniles date to the 5th and 6th centuries, such as those in Classe (c. 532–49) and Ravenna (c. 490). The most famous is the leaning tower of Pisa, construction for which began on this day, in 1173.

Standing 55.86 metres (183.27 feet) on the low side and 56.67 metres (185.93 feet) on the high side and weighing in at 16,000 tons, early planning began on January 5, 1172 when the widow Donna Berta di Bernardo bequeathed 60 Soldi for the purchase of stones, to form the foundation.

Footings were laid on August 9 of the following year, the distinctive white marble of the ground floor begun, five days later. The lean set in in 1178 with the construction of the second floor due to shallow foundations, and unstable subsoil.

Italy didn’t become a nation in the modern sense, until 1861.  In the 12th century, Pisa was an independent city-state, often at war with other such polities, on the Italian peninsula.  Construction halted for nearly a century while Pisa made war on Genoa, Lucca and Florence allowing the soft soil, to stabilize. Otherwise, the thing would surely have toppled.

Interior view of the leaning tower of Pisa

Construction unfolded in three major stages over 199 years. Engineers built the upper floors taller on one side than the other, to compensate, for the tilt. It’s why the thing appears curved, at certain angles. The last of seven bells representing the seven notes of the major musical scale was installed, in 1655.

Surprisingly, the Campanile in Pisa is not the only leaning tower in Italy. It isn’t even the only one, in Pisa. Italy has no fewer than ten towers with an other than perpendicular relationship, to the ground. Three are in Venice, one each in Bologna, Caorle, Burano and Rome and two others, in Pisa.

The Italian polymath Galileo Galilei was from Pisa and famously dropped two cannonballs of different sizes from the tower, to illustrate the Law of Free Fall. Galileo ended his life under house arrest for the heretical notion that the earth, revolved around the sun. The cannonball story was published long after his death, told in a biography written by Galileo’s student and personal secretary, Vincenzo Viviani. To have published such a work earlier would have significantly increased the chances, of the author’s burning at the stake.

Plaque memorializing the experiments, of Galileo

Four severe earthquakes have stricken the region since 1280 but the leaning tower, stands secure. Ironically, the soft soil which produced the lean in the first place has dampened the vibration so the tower, remains still.

The leaning tower was suspected of harboring German observers during World War 2 and US Army Sergeant Leon Weckstein was sent, to investigate. Weckstein was so impressed with the beauty of the cathedral and its campanile he refrained from calling, an artillery strike.

In 1989, the abrupt collapse of the civic tower in Pavia resulted in 280,000 cubic feet of brick and granite rubble leading to the closure to visitors, of the leaning tower of Pisa.

Civic tower of Pavia

Over the centuries, efforts to compensate for the lean have accomplished little. Some even made the problem, worse. More recent innovations have reduced the lean by some 17½-inches including counterweights, excavations and cables. These and the removal of bells to reduce weight have returned the tower to its 1838 position. In 2008, engineers declared the tower stable, for 200 years. In the end, the Italian government has no desire to straighten the thing, all the way. The leaning Tower of Pisa is far to great a draw, for the tourist dollar.

Lead counterweights, installed in 1998.

August 8, 1969 Echo Chamber

No sooner did the Abbey Road album hit the streets, than the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, couldn’t anybody see that? Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black. He was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a work shirt. Anyone could see, he was the gravedigger.

In January 1967, an automobile belonging to singer/songwriter and Beatles’ band member Paul McCartney, was involved in an accident. He wasn’t driving it at the time, but no matter.

Paul is dead

The rumor shifted into gear and the story was told, and retold. Before long, not only had McCartney himself been involved in a violent crash. Now the story was, he’d been killed in it.

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.

The February issue of “The Beatles Book” fanzine tried to put the issue to rest, but some stories die hard. A cottage industry grew up around finding “clues” to McCartney’s “death”. Hundreds were reported by fans and followers of the legend. John Lennon’s final line in the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounded like “I buried Paul”. (McCartney later said the words were “cranberry sauce”). When “Revolution 9” from the White Album is played backwards, some claimed to hear “turn me on, dead man”.

On this day in 1969, photographer Iain MacMillan shot the cover photo for the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road. The ten-minute photo shoot produced six images, from which McCartney himself picked the cover photo. The image shows the band crossing the street, walking away from the studio.

No sooner did the album hit the streets, than the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, anybody see that. Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black. Clearly, he was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a work shirt. Anyone could see, he was the gravedigger.

Then there was McCartney himself, barefoot and out of step with the other members of the band. Clearly, this was the corpse.

He later explained he’d been barefoot that day, because it was hot. No one ever satisfactorily explained, nor did anyone ask, to my knowledge, how the man got to march in his own funeral procession. No matter, the Abby Road cover put the rumor mill over the top.

On October 12, one caller to Detroit radio station WKNR-FM told DJ Russ Gibb about the rumor and its clues. Gibb and his callers then discussed the rumor on the air for the next hour. Roby Yonge did the early AM shift at the powerhouse WABC out of New York. Yonge spent a full hour discussing the rumor, before he was pulled off-air for breaking format. WABC’s signal could be heard in 38 states at that time of night, and at times, other countries. The Beatles’ press office issued a statement denying the rumor, but it had already been reported by national and international media.

Paul is still with us-Life_magazine_nov_69

The November 7, 1969, Life magazine interview with Paul and Linda McCartney finally put the story to rest. “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately“, he said. “I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days“.

If they had Photoshop in those days, we’d still be hearing the rumors, today.

July 26, 1887 A Tower of Babel

Today, Google Translate supports 108 languages serving over 200 million users, daily. Esperanto became number 64 on February 22, 2012.

In the first book of the Hebrew Bible known to Christians as the Old Testament, Genesis 11:1-9 explains the origin story, of the world’s many languages. A veritable Tower of Babel.

In the late 19th century Russian town of Białystok, in what is now Poland, a Yiddish speaking majority lived side-by-side with Poles, Belarusians, Russians, Germans, Lipka Tatars and others.  Relations were anything but harmonious between groups. Leyzer Leyvi Zamenhov was part of that Yiddish speaking majority and believed many of the differences, were linguistic.

Primera_edición_de_esperanto

As the son of a German language teacher, Zamenhof was fluent in many languages including Russian, German, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish and English.  He was reasonably proficient in Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian, as well. Zamenhof came to believe that poor relations between Białystok’s many minorities stemmed from the lack of a common language, so it was he set out to create an “auxiliary language”. An international second language to foster communications, between people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

Writing under the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto”, Zamenhov published the “Unua Libro” (First Book) on July 26, 1887, setting forth the rules for the new tongue.

The goal was to create an easily learned, politically neutral language transcending nationality, fostering peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages.

Esperanto alphabet

The Esperanto alphabet includes 28 letters. There are 23 consonants, 5 cardinal vowels, and 2 semivowels which combine with vowels to form 6 diphthongs. Esperanto words are derived by stringing together prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The process is regular, so that people may create new words as they speak and still be understood.

The original core vocabulary included 900 such roots, which are combined in a regular manner so that they might be better used by international speakers.

For example, the adjective “BONA” means “GOOD”. The suffix “UL” indicates a person having a given trait, and “O” designates the ending of a noun. Therefore, the Esperanto word “BONULO” translates as “A good person”.  The title of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 movie “The Godfather”, translates as “La Baptopatro”.  “Esperanto” itself translates as “one who hopes”.

Some useful English words and phrases include the following, along with Esperanto translation and International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions:

 ○ Do you speak Esperanto? Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? [ˈtʃu vi pa.ˈro.las ˌes.pe.ˈran.ton]
 ○ Thank you. Dankon [ˈdan.kon]
 ○ You’re welcome. Ne dankinde [ˌne.dan.ˈkin.de]
 ○ One beer, please. Unu bieron, mi petas [ˈu.nu bi.ˈe.ron, mi ˈpe.tas]
 ○ Where is the toilet? Kie estas la necesejo? [ˈki.e ˈes.tas ˈla ˌne.tse.ˈse.jo]

Today, Google Translate supports 108 languages serving over 200 million users, daily.    Esperanto became number 64 on February 22, 2012.

July 17, 2004 Christ of the Abyss

Gonzatti’s fellow diver Duilio Marcante conceived an idea to honor his friend. A monument to the world beneath the waves and dedicated to those who had lost their lives at sea.

Man’s desire to enter the underwater world goes back to antiquity. Aristotle tells of Alexander the Great descending into the waters of the Mediterranean in something called a “diving bell”, as early as 332BC. The Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci designed a similar apparatus, adding a face mask and reinforced supply hoses, to withstand the pressure of the depths.

Diving bell, 1691

The first on-demand underwater breathing valve came about in 1860s France, thanks to the work of inventors Benoît Rouquayrol, and Auguste Denayrouze. British diving engineer Henry Albert Fleuss developed the first commercially viable “rebreather” in 1878, using an air bag and rope fiber soaked in potash to “scrub” carbon dioxide from exhaled air.

The 20th century brought with it new and improved methods of pumping, and storing, compressed gas. By the 1930s every major belligerent of the coming war, had developed its own underwater breathing apparatus.

Dario Gonzatti was the first Italian to use SCUBA gear and paid for it with his life in 1947, near the village of San Fruttuoso, on the Italian Riviera.

Gonzatti’s fellow diver Duilio Marcante conceived an idea to honor his friend. A monument to a world beneath the waves and dedicated to those who had lost their lives at sea. A 2½ meter tall bronze sculpture, Il Cristo degli Abissi. Christ of the Abyss.

There followed a period of collecting the metal. Cannon and other brass objects, retrieved from wrecks. Mothers and sweethearts sent coins and medals given to sailors, who never returned.

Sculptor Guido Galletti created the clay positive from which the mold was cast. A 2.5 meter (8.2 feet) likeness of Jesus Christ weighing in at 260 kg (573 pounds) without the foundation, eyes raised to the heavens and arms outstretched, in supplication. A benediction for untold numbers, lost at sea.

That first “Christ of the Abyss” was lowered in 57-feet of water on August 22, 1954, near the spot where Dario Gonzatti, lost his life.

The Cove of San Fruttuoso

Over the years, crustaceans and corrosion took their toll. A hand was broken off, by an anchor line. The statue was removed after a half-century and repaired, and re-lowered on July 17, 2004 to a newly-built foundation.

Since that first installation in 1954 two other Christ of the Abyss statues have descended into the depths, both cast from the same clay original. The first was a gift of gratitude given by the navy of Genoa, for assistance from the people of Granada in rescuing the crew of the Italian vessel MV Bianca, destroyed by fire in the port of St. George. That one was placed seven years after the original on October 22, 1961.

Italian dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi donated a third to the Underwater Society of America, in 1962. This one was installed after much debate on August 25, 1965 in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo, Florida, the first underwater park in the United States.

Located in only 25-feet of water with hands but 8 to ten feet below the surface, the site remains a popular destination for underwater selfies, from that day to this.

June 12, 1970 No-Hitter

“I really didn’t see the hitters, all I could tell is if they were on the right side or the left side. The catcher had tape on his fingers to help me see signals. But I was high as a Georgia pine.”

In the sport of baseball, a “no-hitter“ is a game in which nobatter is able to get on base, in the usual manner. Players may still get on base through a walk, an error or being hit by a pitch, but not by hitting the ball.

The talent to pitch 27 or more outs without surrendering a single hit is nearly as scarce, as hen’s teeth. Nearly a quarter-million Major League games have been played in this country between 1876 and 2021. Only 311 have ended, with no-hitters.

No fewer than six Major League ball clubs have recorded but a single no-hitter, in their entire existence. The number of pitchers to throw more than one, are precious few. Those who did it while tripping on acid number…precisely…one.

This is dated. Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove threw San Diego’s first no-hitter in April, this year

At his best, Pittsburg Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis was one of the best there was. Former ESPN announcer and San Diego Padres infielder, Dave “Soup” Campbell once said “I’ve always been asked who the toughest guy I ever faced was, and I always say Dock. His fastball had such great late movement, always seemed to be in one place when I’d start my swing and then move in another direction. It could sink, move in on my hands, or sail away like Mariano Rivera’s cutter.”

And then there were those times…

Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn repeatedly ordered the man to refrain from wearing curlers, on the field. He once burned a pre-game pitch list in the locker room and set off the sprinkler system. The man literally went ‘hunting’ Cincinnati batters one day in 1974, striking the first three men in the lineup: Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen. The next two were a little too quick dodging one head shot after another until Ellis was pulled, from the game.

Lest anyone think that was by accident, permit me to put the matter to rest. He said he’d do it, before the game. I believe Dock Ellis still holds the record for most consecutive batters, hit by a pitch.

Dock Ellis could be one of the best in the game, but never seemed to keep the focus to stay that way. Flamboyant, vocal and quick to anger, Jackie Robinson himself once praised Dock Ellis for advancing the rights of black players and criticized him, for talking too much.

And then there were the drugs. Ever mindful of his “can’t miss” status as a prospect, Ellis was never without a bit of chemical assistance. He later said he never pitched a major league game, without amphetamines.

And those were the days he was working.

June 11, 1970 was a Thursday, the day before a double header between the visiting Pirates, and the San Diego Padres. Ellis wasn’t pitching that day and drove to Los Angeles, to visit a friend.

Father Time moved on. The earth revolved on its axis and night followed day but Dock Ellis, knew none of it. “Two or three” LSD tabs took care of that. And then it was Friday. Game day. Ellis crushed another tablet and snorted the thing. Two hours later his host asked, aren’t you playing tonight? Ellis didn’t believe that it was Friday, asking “what happened to Thursday? She had to show him a sports page with the day’s date. June 12, 1970.

It was 2:00pm. He was scheduled to pitch at 6:08.

The rest of that day? Who knows. There was that frenzied trip to the airport, the flight and the pitcher’s arrival, just in time. Sometimes the ball seemed so big he later said, and sometimes, it was small. There was a plate up there or was it several, and why did it (they) keep moving? Years later he said he couldn’t see the batters, just which side of the plate they were on. Catcher Jerry May had to wear reflective tape on his fingers, so Ellis could see the signals.

At 8:18 it was over, the most unlikely no-hitter, in history. Pitching was so erratic the Padres had a man on base, in every inning.

“I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”

Dock Ellis

In 1993, San Francisco’s “proto-punk” singer songwriter Barbara Manning and the SF Seals, a group named after the city’s one-time minor league ball club, released what may be the first and only baseball themed EP in the history, of indie pop.

Manning’s trilogy included a cover of Les Brown’s “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” the “Ballad of Denny McLain” and “Dock Ellis”, the psychedelic ballad of a Major League no-hitter, once pitched while tripping on acid.