October 19, 1864, St. Albans Raid

The $1 million the Confederate government sunk into their Canadian office, probably did them more harm than good.  Those resources could have been put to better use.

In the late 18th century, lands granted by the governor of New Hampshire led the colonial province into conflict with the neighboring province of New York.  Conflict escalated over jurisdiction and appeals were made to the King, as the New York Supreme Court invalidated these “New Hampshire grants”.  Infuriated residents including Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” rose up in anger.  Two natives of Westminster Vermont, then part of the New Hampshire land grants, were killed on March 13, 1775, by British Colonial officials.  Today, the event is remembered as the “Westminster Massacre”.

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The New Hampshire Grants region petitioned Congress for entry into the American union as a state independent of New York in 1776″ – H/T, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Grants

The battles at Lexington and Concord broke out a month later, ushering in a Revolution and eclipsing events to the north.  New York consented to admitting the “Republic of Vermont” into the union in 1790, ceding all claims on the New Hampshire land grants in exchange for a payment of $30,000.  Vermont was admitted as the 14th state on March 4, 1791, the first state so admitted following the adoption of the federal Constitution.

Organized in 1785, St. Albans forms the county seat of Franklin County, Vermont.  15 miles from the Canadian border and situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, it’s not the kind of place you’d expect, for a Civil War story.

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St. Albans Vermont, 1864

The Confederate States of America maintained government operations in Canada, from the earliest days of the Civil War.  Toronto was a logical relay point for communications with Great Britain, from whom the Confederate government sought unsuccessfully to gain support.

Secondly, Canada provided a safe haven for prisoners of war, escaped from Union camps.

Former member of Congress and prominent Ohio “Peace Democrat” Clement Vallandigham fled the United States to Canada in 1863, proposing to detach the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio from the Union, in exchange for sufficient numbers of Confederate troops to enforce the separation.  Vallandigham’s five-state “Northwestern Confederacy” would include Kentucky and Missouri, breaking the Union into three pieces.  Surely that would compel Washington to sue for peace.

ThomasHinesin1884fromHeadleyIn April 1864, President Jefferson Davis dispatched former Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson, ex-Alabama Senator Clement Clay, and veteran Confederate spy Captain Thomas Henry Hines to Toronto, with the mission of raising hell in the North.

This was no small undertaking. A sizeable minority of Peace Democrats calling themselves “Copperheads” were already in vehement opposition to the war.  So much so that General Ambrose Burnside declared in his General Order No. 38, that “The habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this” (Ohio) “department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested with a view of being tried. . .or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department“.

Hines and fellow Confederates worked closely with Copperhead organizations such as the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Order of the American Knights, and the Sons of Liberty, to foment uprisings in the upper Midwest.

In the late Spring and early Summer of 1864, residents of Maine may have noted an influx of “artists”, sketching the coastline.  No fewer than fifty in number, these nature lovers were in fact Confederate topographers, sent to map the Maine coastline.

Rebels on the great LakesThe Confederate invasion of Maine never materialized, thanks in large measure to counter-espionage efforts by Union agents.

J.Q. Howard, the U.S. Consul in St. John, New Brunswick, informed Governor Samuel Cony in July, of a Confederate party preparing to land on the Maine coast.

The invasion failed to materialize, but three men declaring themselves to be Confederates were captured on Main Street in Calais, preparing to rob a bank.

Disenchanted Rebel Francis Jones confessed to taking part in the Maine plot, revealing information leading to the capture of several Confederate weapons caches in the North, along with operatives in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

Captain Hines planned an early June uprising in the Northwest, timed to coincide with a raid planned by General John Hunt Morgan.  Another uprising was planned for August 29, timed with the 1864 Democratic Convention in Chicago.   It seems the conspirators’ actions didn’t quite live up to the heat of their rhetoric, and both operations fizzled.  A lot of these guys were more talk than action, yet Captain Hines continued to send enthusiastic predictions of success, back to his handlers in Richmond.

The Toronto operation tried political methods as well, supporting Democrat James Robinson’s campaign for governor of Illinois.  If elected they believed, Robinson would turn over the state’s militia and arsenal to the Sons of Liberty.  They would never know.  Robinson lost the election.

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Bennett Henderson Young

All this cost money, and lots of it.  In October 1864, the Toronto operation came to St. Albans, to make a withdrawal.

Today, St. Albans is a quiet town of 6,918.  In 1864 the town was quite wealthy, home to manufacturing and repair facilities for railroad locomotives.  Located on a busy rail line, St. Albans was also home to four banks.

Nicholasville, Kentucky native Bennett Henderson Young was a member of the Confederate 8th Kentucky Cavalry, captured during Morgan’s 1863 raid into Ohio.  By January, Young had escaped captivity and fled to Canada. On October 10, Bennett crossed the Canadian border with two others, taking a room at the Tremont House, in St. Albans.  The trio said they had come for a “sporting vacation”.

In the following days, small groups filtered into St. Albans, quietly taking rooms across the town.  There were 21 of them, former POWs and cavalrymen all, hand selected by Young for their daring and resourcefulness.

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On October 19 the group split up.  Announcing themselves to be Confederate soldiers, groups of them simultaneously robbed three of St. Albans’ four banks, while eight or nine held the townspeople at gunpoint, on the village green.  One resident was killed before it was over and another wounded. Young ordered his troops to burn the town, but the bottles of “Greek Fire” they carried for the purpose, failed to ignite.  Only one barn was burned down and the group got away with a total of $208,000, and all the horses they could find. It was the northernmost Confederate action of the Civil War.

StAlbansRaid, memoriaizedThe group was arrested on returning to Canada and held in Montreal.  The Lincoln administration sought extradition, but the Canadian court decided otherwise, ruling that the raiders were under military orders at the time, and neutral Canada could not extradite them to America.  The $88,000 found with the raiders, was returned to Vermont.

The $1 million the Confederate government sunk into their Canadian office, probably did them more harm than good.  Those resources could have been put to better use, but we have the advantage of hindsight.  Neither Captain Hines nor Jefferson Davis could know how their story would turn out.  In the end, they both fell victim to that greatest of human weaknesses, of believing what they wanted to believe.

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October 18, 1009 The Mad Caliph

Christians and Jews had had relatively cordial relations with the Caliphs who had come before, but Al-Hakim was different. Some believed his every action to be right and just, others that he was overcompensating for being borne of a Christian mother. Many believed he was simply insane.

According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death in the year 33AD. He was crucified on Mount Golgotha, his body buried in a tomb carved out of the rock of a nearby garden. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead. From that moment to this, the Tomb of the Resurrection has been at the center of all Christian faith.

roman templeIn 132, the Roman Emperor Hadrian all but erased all sign of Jewish and Christian presence, in the old city of Jerusalem. Golgotha and the Tomb were obliterated, and a pagan temple to Venus Aphrodite was raised in their place.

Constantine the Great, Rome’s first Christian Emperor, destroyed the pagan temple in the 330s, bringing the tomb back to light and building a magnificent complex on the site.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It was almost 300 years later that, according to Islamic faith, the Angel Gabriel revealed the Word of God (Allah) to the prophet Muhammad.   In the years following the death of Muhammad in 632, the armies of the Rashidun or “Rightly Guided” Caliphs swept across the Arabian peninsula and laid siege to Jerusalem, conquering the city in 637.  The Rashidun Caliphate was replaced by the Umayyad a short 24 years later, only to be replaced by the Abbassid, in 750.  Within 400 years, these first three Caliphates in the history of Islam had expanded the faith from the borders of China and India, to Visigothic Spain.  Five million square miles, larger than any modern state, with the sole exception of the Russian Federation.

In the years that followed, Jews and Christians were able to practice their faith in the conquered city with varying degrees of freedom. That came to an end in 1009.

Al-Hakim_bi-Amr_AllahAl-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, (literally “Ruler by God’s Command”) was the 6th Caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty, coming to power in October of 996.

He was the “Mad Caliph”, the “Nero of Islam”. In September of 1009, Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of all churches, synagogues, Torah scrolls and other religious artifacts throughout Jerusalem, Syria and Egypt. Most especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whose destruction was carried out on this day, October 18, 1009.

The Church of Calvary and the Martyrium were demolished, and the Edicule of the Tomb dismantled.  Furnishings and equipment were stolen or destroyed.  So complete was its destruction that the rock beneath its foundation was hacked, and then the rubble set ablaze.  Only remnants of the Constantinian structures of the Anastasis remained, submerged under demolition debris.

All of Christendom recoiled in horror, at the desecration.  It was no small part of what led to the 1st Christian Crusade to retake Jerusalem, though that wouldn’t take place for another 100 years.

Unlike the Fatimid Caliphs who came before, Al-Hakim persecuted the “dhimmis” under his control, launching campaigns of destruction throughout Palestine and Syria in 1011 and again in 1013-14.

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The reasons are unclear.   Christians and Jews had had relatively cordial relations with the Caliphs who had come before, but Al-Hakim was different. Some believed his every action to be right and just, others that he was overcompensating for being borne of a Christian mother.

Many believed he was simply insane.

Al-Hakim became increasingly erratic in the following years, issuing edicts forbidding the eating of certain foods, dictating what fishermen were permitted to catch, and prohibiting chess. Women were proscribed from going outside.  Shoemakers were forbidden from making women’s shoes. One day he ordered Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, the next day he’d rescind the order. Hakim would personally murder or cut off the hands of slave or dignitary, without warning, and without reason.  He was feared by Muslim and Christian emissaries alike.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt between 1042-1055 with funding from Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus, though it would never regain the magnificence of Constantine’s original structure.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Al-Hakim himself went out for a ride one night in October 1021, and never returned. All that was ever found of him was his blood stained clothing, and his donkey.

October 17, 1814  London Beer Flood

Nine people lost their lives altogether, including one man who died of alcohol poisoning, apparently leading a heroic one-man effort to drink the entire flood.

On April 1, 1785, the Times of London reported:  “There is a cask now building at Messrs. Meux & Co.’s brewery…the size of which exceeds all credibility, being designed to hold 20,000 barrels of porter; the whole expense attending the same will be upwards of £10,000”.

05-the-great-vats-barclay-perkins-1847-550The Meux’s Brewery Co Ltd, established in 1764, was a London brewery owned by Sir Henry Meux. What the Times article was describing was a 22′ high monstrosity, held together by 29 iron hoops.

When completed, this would be one of several such vats, each designed to hold 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale.

The brewery was located in the crowded slum of St. Giles, where many homes contained several people to the room.

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On October 17, 1814, storehouse clerk George Crick noticed one of those 700-pound iron hoops had slipped off a cask.   This happened two or three times a year, and Crick thought little of it, writing a note to another employee, to fix the problem.

It was a bad decision.

The explosive release of all that hot, fermenting liquid could be heard five miles away, causing a chain reaction as the other vats went down like exploding dominoes.

londonbeerflood323,000 imperial gallons of beer smashed through the brewery’s 25′ high brick walls, gushing into the streets, homes and businesses of St. Giles. The torrent smashed two houses and the nearby Tavistock Arms pub on Great Russell Street, where a 14-year-old barmaid named Eleanor Cooper was buried under the rubble.

One brewery worker was able to save his brother from drowning in the flood, but others weren’t so lucky.

Mary Mulvey and her 3-year-old son Thomas were drowned, while Hannah Banfield and Sarah Bates, ages 4 and 3, were swept away in the flood.  Both died of their injuries.  Nine people lost their lives altogether, including one man who died of alcohol poisoning, apparently leading a heroic one-man effort to drink the entire flood.

As the torrent subsided, hundreds of people came outside carrying pots, pans, and kettles – whatever they had on hand to scoop up some of it.  Some just bent low and lapped at the dirty, warm beer as it washed through the streets.  Meanwhile, several injured were taken to the nearby Middlesex Hospital, where a near-riot broke out as other patients demanded to know why they weren’t getting some of it, too.

london-beer-floodIn the days that followed, the crushing poverty of the slum led some to exhibit the corpses of their family members, charging a fee for anyone who wanted to come in and see.  In one house, too many people crowded in and the floor collapsed, plunging them all into a cellar full of beer.

The stink lasted for months, as the Meux Brewery Company was taken to court over the accident.  Judge and jury ruled that the flood was an ‘Act of God’ and the deaths were just a ‘casualty’, leaving no one responsible.  Meux & Co. survived, though the financial loss was made worse by the fact that they had already paid tax on the beer. The company successfully applied to Parliament for a refund, and continued to brew beer on the same site.

The brewery was closed in 1921 and demolished the following year.  Since 2012, a local tavern called the “Holborn Whippet” marks the event with its own vat of porter, brewed specially for this day. Cheers.

October 15, 1917 Mata Hari

Despite problems at home, the Dutch mail order bride found herself moving among the upper classes. She immersed herself in Indonesian culture and traditions, even joining a local dance company. It was around this time that she revealed her “artistic” name in letters home: “Mata Hari”, Indonesian for “sun” (literally, “eye of the day”), in Sanskrit.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in the Netherlands on August 7, 1876, the eldest of four children. “M’greet” to family and friends, she answered a newspaper ad placed by Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod, then stationed in the Dutch East Indies, in modern day Indonesia.

She’d come from a broken home.  Being a “mail order bride” must have seemed like the way to financial security.  The marriage was a disappointment, MacLeod was a drunk and openly kept a mistress.  Margaretha moved in with another Dutch officer some time in 1897.

Mata_Hari_postcardDespite problems at home, the Dutch mail order bride found herself moving among the upper classes. She immersed herself in Indonesian culture and traditions, even joining a local dance company. It was around this time that she revealed her “artistic” name in letters home: “Mata Hari”, Indonesian for “sun” (literally, “eye of the day”), in Sanskrit.

Margaretha Zelle was divorced by 1905, and becoming known as an exotic dancer. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement.  As Mata Hari, she played the more exotic aspects of her background to the hilt, projecting a bold and in-your-face sexuality that was unique and provocative for her time.

She claimed to be a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth, immersed since childhood in the sacred art of Indian dance. Carefree and thoroughly uninhibited, she was photographed in the nude or the next thing to it on many occasions during this period, becoming the long-time mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet.

The world stood still at the beginning of World War I, but not Margaretha Zelle. By 1914 her dancing days were over, but she was a famous courtesan, moving among the highest social and economic levels of her time. Her neutral Dutch citizenship allowed her to move about without restriction, but not without a price. Zelle’s movements brought her under suspicion of being a German Agent, and she was arrested in the English port of Falmouth. She was taken to Scotland Yard for interrogation in 1916, but later released.
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French authorities arrested her on February 13, 1917, in her room at the Hotel Elysee Palace, in what is now the banking giant HSBC’s French headquarters. She was kept in prison as the case was prepared against her, all the while writing to the Dutch Consul in Paris, proclaiming her innocence. “My international connections are due to my work as a dancer, nothing else”, she wrote. “I really did not spy, it is terrible that I cannot defend myself”.

Her defense attorney, Edouard Clunet, never really had a chance. He couldn’t cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses or even directly question his own.  Her conviction was a foregone conclusion.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was executed by a French firing squad on October 15, 1917.  She was 41.

Mata_Hari statueBritish reporter Henry Wales described the execution, based on an eyewitness account. Unbound and refusing a blindfold, Mata Hari stood alone to face her firing squad.  After the shots rang out, Wales reported that “Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her.”

An NCO walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver, and shot her in the head to make sure she was dead.

German documents unsealed in the 1970s indicate that Mata Hari did, in fact, provide information to German authorities, though it seems to have been of limited use.  It is possible to believe that she was little more than a young woman, with a fondness for men in uniform.  French authorities built her up as “the greatest woman spy of the century”, though that may have been little more than covering up for their own disastrous performance in the Nivelle offensive.

French officers from whom she ostensibly got all that information, seem not to have been questioned.

The whole truth may never be known, but the tale of the real-life exotic dancer working as a lethal double agent, is a story that’s hard to resist.

October 14, 1912 Can’t Stop a Bull Moose

The 9000+-member audience was stunned when Roosevelt announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”

The first “Progressive” era began as a local movement in the 1890s, largely in response to the corruption of the political machines, and the monopolistic corporate excesses of the “gilded age”.  By the 1920s, Progressivism had come to dominate state and national politics, bringing with it the national income tax, direct election of Senators, and Prohibition, with the 16th, 17th and 18th amendments, respectively.

progressiveGreat believers in the perfectibility of the public sphere, Progressives eschewed old methods as wasteful and inefficient, leaning instead toward the advice of academics and “experts”, looking for that “one best way” to get things done.

Progressive politicians covered both sides of the political aisle, with leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes on the Republican side, and Woodrow Wilson, and the attorney, politician and orator William Jennings Bryan (he of the famous “Monkey Trial”), on the side of the Democrats.

When Theodore Roosevelt first appeared on the political scene at age 23, there was little to hint at the Progressive he would later become.  “TR” was sworn into office in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley.   At 42 he was the youngest man to ever take the oath of office, and possibly the most energetic.

As President, Roosevelt pushed executive power to new heights, attacking “Captains of Industry” with a two-pronged strategy of anti-trust legislation, and regulatory control.  TR was the “Conservation President”, creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing no fewer than 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.  All told, Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.

william-howard-taft-nationalRoosevelt retired from politics after two terms to go on African safari, backing William Howard Taft for the Republican nomination.

Taft easily defeated Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan in the 1908 election, but his presidency proved to be a disappointment to the Progressive wing of the party.

The more conservative Taft didn’t take the expansive view of his predecessor.  By 1910, Roosevelt had returned to a public speaking tour against his own hand-picked successor.

The federal government needed to assume a larger role in the lives of every-day Americans, argued Roosevelt, who, despite repeated assurances that he was done with politics, challenged Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination.  When asked if he was up to another campaign season, Roosevelt replied he was ready and felt as “fit as a bull moose”.

The final split came with the June Republican party convention in Chicago, when the party rejected Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” platform, nominating Taft as its standard bearer for re-election.  Roosevelt and his reform-minded supporters broke with the party, forming the “Progressive”, or “Bull Moose” party, as the Democratic convention selected former Princeton University President and New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, to be its candidate.  This was going to be a three-way race.

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1912 Election

John Flammang Schrank emigrated to America in 1885, at the age of 9.  His parents died a short time after, leaving him to work for an uncle, a tavern keeper in the Kleindeutschland, (“Little Germany”) section of New York.  Schrank’s aunt and uncle left him a sizeable inheritance on their passing, in hopes that he would live a quiet and peaceful life.  Schrank was heartbroken at losing this, his second set of parents.  When his first and only girlfriend Emily Ziegler died in the General Slocum disaster of 1904, John Schrank became unhinged.

He drifted up and down the east coast for several years.  In September 1912, he became obsessed with Theodore Roosevelt.  For three weeks, John Schrank followed the Roosevelt campaign, stalking the candidate across eight states.  On the afternoon of October 14, Roosevelt was in Milwaukee, dining with local dignitaries at the Hotel Gilpatrick, before a planned speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium.  As the former President was getting into his vehicle, he turned to wave to well-wishers. Schrank was four or five feet away when he fired his .38 caliber revolver, hitting the former President in the chest.

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John Flammang Schrank smiles as he’s taken into custoy for the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt

The bullet pierced the fifty folded pages of Roosevelt’s speech and a metal spectacle case, before lodging in his chest.  The former President coughed once into his hand, to see if there was blood.  Seeing none, TR concluded that his lungs were fine, and decided to give the speech.  The 9000+-member audience was stunned when the candidate announced “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” Roosevelt spoke for 80 minutes, before going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.

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Roosevelt x-ray

Theodore Roosevelt lived the rest of his life with that bullet in his chest.  Six more years. As for John Schrank, he claimed in a letter found on his person, that the ghost of William McKinley had instructed him to avenge his death with the assassination of his former Vice President.  He would live out the rest of his days at the Central State Mental Hospital for the criminally insane, in Waupun, Wisconsin.

Schrank letter

Woodrow Wilson easily defeated his opponents to become the 28th President of the United States, garnering 435 electoral votes to his opponents’ combined total, of 96.

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Fifty pages long and folded in half, Elbert Martin holds the speech that saved TR’s life

October 12, 1859 American Emperor

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

Joshua Abraham Norton was born around 1818, in England.  He lived most of his early life in South Africa, immigrating to the United States in 1849 following an inheritance of $40,000 from his father – equivalent to $1½ million, today.

As a San Francisco businessman, Norton sextupled his fortune to $250,000, then blew it all on a bad Peruvian rice deal.  A lawsuit followed, which the now-formerly wealthy businessman, lost.  Somewhere along the line, Joshua Norton appears to have lost his mind.

Emperor_Joshua_A._Norton_IFor a time, Norton disappeared from the public eye.  In September 1859, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States, his Royal Ascension announced to the public in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin.   “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 a harmless eccentric.  A kook.  Many were pleased to go along with the gag.

On October 12, 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.”

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”.

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

As America teetered on the brink of Civil War in 1861, Norton abolished the Union altogether and established an absolute monarchy, with himself at the helm.  France invaded Mexico later that year, when Norton added “Protector of Mexico” to his titles.

images (4)Norton wore an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulettes, carrying a cane or saber and topped off with beaver hat with peacock feather.  By day he “inspected” the streets and public works of San Francisco, by night he would dine in the city’s finest establishments.  No play or musical performance would dare open in the city, 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 out brass plaques, declaring their “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States”.

Norton was often accompanied by two stray dogs.  “Bummer” and “Lazarus” became quite the celebrities themselves, and usually dined for free along with the Emperor.

nortonsmIn 1867, police officer Armand Barbier arrested Norton, attempting to have him involuntarily committed to an insane asylum.  The public backlash was so vehement that Police Chief Patrick Crowley ordered Norton’s release and issued a public apology.  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 census records one Joshua Norton, age 50, occupation, Emperor, along with a note, declaring him to be insane.

Admiring supporters gave 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’s Notes are highly prized collector’s items.

Norton10dThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors once bought him a new uniform, when the old one got too shabby.  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.”

Emperor Norton’s funeral was attended by 10,000 loyal “subjects”.  His reign had lasted for twenty-one years.

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October 6, 1945  Curse of the Billy Goat

It was game four of the World Series between the Cubbies and the Detroit Tigers, October 6, 1945, with Chicago home at Wrigley Field.  Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, bought tickets for himself and his pet goat “Murphy”.

For a Red Sox fan, there was nothing sweeter than the 2004 World Series victory ending the “Curse of the Bambino”. Babies grew up and had babies of their own during that time. There were grandchildren and great grandchildren and even great-greats, and still the drought wore on.  It was 86 years, one of the longest World Series championship droughts in Major League Baseball history.

Yet the suffering of We who love the Red Sox™ pales in comparison, with the 108-year drought afflicting the Chicago Cubs, since back-to-back championships in 1907/1908.

They say it’s the fault of Billy goat.

billy-goat-curseIt was game four of the World Series between the Cubbies and the Detroit Tigers, October 6, 1945, with Chicago home at Wrigley Field.  Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, bought tickets for himself and his pet goat “Murphy”.   Anyone who’s ever found himself in the company of a goat understands the problem.  Right?

There are different versions of the story, but they all end with Billy and Murphy being thrown out of the game and casting a curse on the team.  “Them Cubs”, he said, “they ain’t gonna win no more”.

Sianis’ family claims that he sent a telegram to team owner Philip Wrigley reading, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”

cubs-goatBilly Sianis was right.  The Cubs were up two games to one at the time, but they went on to lose the series.  They’ve been losing ever since.

Billy Sianis himself tried to break the curse, prior to his death in 1970, but no dice.  Billy’s nephew Sam brought a goat out onto the field in 1984, 1989, 1994 and again in 1998.  All to no avail

In 2003, the year of the goat on the Chinese calendar, a group of Cubs fans brought a goat named “Virgil Homer” to Houston, during the division championship series.  They couldn’t get him into Minute Maid Park, so they unfurled a scroll outside and proclaimed the End of the Curse.

That got them through the series, but the curse came roaring back in game 6 of the National League championship.  It was Cubbies 3, Florida Marlins 0 in the 8th inning of game 6.  Chicago was ahead in the series, when a lifelong Cubs fan named Steve Bartman deflected what should have been an easy catch for Chicago outfielder Moisés Alou.

Steve BartmanAlou slammed his glove down in anger and frustration.  Pitcher Mark Prior glared at the stands, crying “fan interference”.  The Marlins came back with 8 unanswered runs in the inning.  Steve Bartman required a police escort to get out of the field alive.

For fourteen years, Chicago mothers frightened wayward children into behaving, with the name of Steve Bartman.

In 2008, a Greek Orthodox priest sprinkled holy water around the Cubs dugout. Goat carcasses and parts have appeared at Wrigley Field on multiple occasions, usually draped across a statue of Harry Caray.

The Florida Marlins taunted the Cubs in August 2009, parading a goat in front of the Cub’s dugout between the second and third innings.  Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella was not amused, though the Cubs squeaked by with that one, 9-8.

Five fans and a goat set out on foot from the Cubs’ Spring Training facility in 2012.  Calling it “Crack the Curse”, the group hiked 1,764 miles from Mesa, Arizona to Wrigley Field.  The effort raised a lot of money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, but did nothing to lift the Curse of the Billy goat.

Red Sox fans are well aware of the infamous choke in game 6 of the ‘86 World Series, resulting in the gag “What does Billy Buckner have in common with Michael Jackson?  They both wear one glove for no apparent reason”.  With due respect to Mr. Buckner, he was better than that story would have you believe, there’s something my fellow Sox fans may not know.  The former Cub 1st Baseman was wearing a Chicago batting glove under his mitt.  For “luck”.

Curse_of_the_Billy_Goat_and_Chicago_Cubs_cookies_2016

In 2011, a philanthropic enterprise sprang up called “Reverse the Curse”, selling goat milk lip balms, soaps and more, and, according to their website, “[C]ollaborating with an institution that provides technical cooperation for agriculture in the U.S., Dominican Republic and Haiti to develop goat breeding centers, vegetable gardens, and chicken farms for small producers”.

2015 was once again the Year of the Goat on the Chinese zodiac.   That September, five “competitive eaters” consumed a 40-pound goat in 13 minutes and 22 seconds at Chicago’s “Taco in a Bag”.  The goat was gone.  Surely that would work.

The Cubs made it all the way to the National League Championships, only to be broomed by the New York Mets.

Mets 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy was NLCS MVP that year, setting a postseason record for consecutive games with a home run.  Mets fans joked that, Murphy may be the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.), but he wasn’t the first.

As the 2017 season draws to a close, the Chicago Cubs find themselves champions of the National League Central division, and defending World Champions.  That’s right.  On October 22, 46 years to the day following the death of Billy Sianis, the Cubbies defeated the LA Dodgers 5–0 to win the 2016 National League pennant.

Steve Bartman ringThe mother of all droughts came to a halt on November 2 in a ten-inning cardiac arrest that had us all up Way past midnight, on a school night.  I even watched that 17-minute rain delay, and I’m a Red Sox guy.

The drought has ended, the curse is broken.  Steve Bartman has emerged from Chicago’s most unforgiving doghouse, his way now lit by the 108 diamonds of his very own World Series ring.  Billy Sianis and Murphy may, at long last, rest in peace.

In reading up for this story, I learned that the 1913/1914 Milwaukee Brewers roster included a nanny goat, named Fatima.  Honest.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

1913 Brewers
1913/14 Milwaukee Brewers.  And Fatima.