August 19, 1879 Last of the Bare Knuckle Boxers

Nineteenth century prizefighting rules were nothing like the modern “sweet science” of boxing.

In 1858, the overly crowded tenements of Roxbury Massachusetts teemed with newly arrived Irish immigrants, looked down upon as “unmannered bogtrotters” and given wide berth by the self-appointed elites, of Boston. 5-foot 2-inch Michael Sullivan, newly arrived from County Kerry, worked as “hod carrier” for bricklayers and masons, dug ditches, and did any other job, that was available.

Like many first-generation immigrants, Michael and Catherine Sullivan did whatever they had to do, always hoping for something better, for their children.

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John L. Sullivan

That was the year the couple’s first-born son came into the world. From the beginning, baby John Lawrence was something different. “Strong as a bear” even as an infant, one family legend described little “Sully” clocking a visiting aunt before the age of one, leaving the woman with a black eye.

Sully excelled in sports as a boy and got into plenty of fights, which he easily won. He left high school as a young teenager and made a few bucks in semi-professional baseball, while working as a tinsmith, plumber and mason.

Prize fighting was illegal in those days, looked down upon by the middle classes as “butchery for profit”. The working classes had no such qualms, reveling in the sport in the saloons and music halls of most American cities.

Nineteenth century prizefighting rules were nothing like the modern “sweet science” of boxing. The earliest recognizable form of the sport, as opposed to mere brawling, came about after a 1744 bout in which British boxer George Stevenson was fatally injured, following a fight with Jack Broughton.

Broughton’s “seven rules of boxing” were printed and framed, and posted that August at his London amphitheater.

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Jack Broughton

Frank Lewis Dowling wrote in Fistiana; or The Oracle of the Ring:…Results of prize battles from 1700 to December 1867, that Broughton’s rules brought about “that spirit of fair play which off ers so wide a contrast to the practices of barbarous ages…[when] It is to be lamented that, even in modern times, the inhuman practices of uncivilised periods have subsisted to a disgraceful extent, and hence we have heard of gouging, that is to say forcing out the eye of an antagonist with the thumb or finger…kicking a man with nailed shoes as he lies on the ground, striking him in vital parts below the waistband, seizing him when on his knees, and administering punishment till life be extinct…”

In 1838, William “Brighton Bill” Phelps died following a particularly savage match with the British bare-knuckle prize fighter, Owen Swift. Phelps, who had himself killed a man in the ring, died after an 85-round, ninety-five minute fight for which Swift was tried and convicted, of manslaughter. Robert Rodriguez, author of The Regulation of Boxing: A History and Comparative Analysis of Policies Among American States writes that the “London Prize Ring Rules” of that year and amended in 1853 “introduced measures that remain in effect for professional boxing to this day, such as outlawing butting, gouging, scratching, kicking, hitting a man while down, holding the ropes, and using resin, stones or hard objects in the hands, and biting.”

The London prize ring rules specified the size and shape of the ring,  and that of the spikes in the fighter’s shoes, as well as the role for each fighter’s “second”.  Nothing is said of the length or number, of rounds.  Each round ended when a fighter was knocked (or thrown) to the ground.  There followed a thirty-second break when the umpire would cry “Time!”, and an eight-second interval when each combatant was to step up to the “scratch line”.  Failure to come “up to scratch” or incapacity put an end to the match, but 70+-round fights, were commonplace.

72086-004-DDFAAC8EThis was the world of bare knuckle boxing in the age of John L. Sullivan.  He thrived in that world. The urban prize ring was his “temple of manhood”.  He intended to be its Crown Prince.

In 1879, Sullivan trounced the veteran brawler Mike Donovan in an exhibition match. The older fighter was the more skilled and experienced, but the 21-year-old made up for it with speed and power. Afterward, Donovan knew that he had “just fought the coming champion of the prize ring.”

A month later, Sullivan challenged “any man breathing” to fight for prizes ranging between $1,000 to $10,000. Sometimes, matches were fought with bare knuckles, other times, with padded gloves and timed rounds.  Over 450 fights, Sullivan seemed unbeatable. “The Hercules of the Ring.”  Gamblers and other backers were making a fortune.

The media eagerly promoted the fighter as an “urban Paul Bunyan”. Stories were told and retold, each becoming more outlandish, as Sullivan “battled wild animals with his bare hands, drank rivers of liquor, had his way with regiments of women. . . .”

The epic drunkenness and domestic violence of the man’s real life at home, went largely unreported.

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Sullivan was a Rockstar, the “Boston Strongboy”, the first professional athlete to make a million dollars. He performed in vaudeville, and hung out with some of the most iconic figures of the ‘gilded age’, from Presidents and Kings to wild west gunslingers. Sullivan made countless public appearances and even considered a run for the United States Senate. A famous song of the era invited listeners to “shake the hand that shook the hand of John L. Sullivan.”

On this day in 1887, thousands of adoring fans crowded the ways to Nantasket Beach in Hull, to glimpse the Heavyweight Champion of the World with his diamond-studded, gold-plated belt.

Depending on who you read, Sullivan was first considered world heavyweight champion either in 1888 when he fought Charley Mitchell in France, or in 1889 when he knocked out Jake Kilrain in round 75 of a scheduled 80-round bout.

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Souvenir poster, 1888

The modern sport of Boxing was born in 1867, with the twelve rules drawn up by John Graham Chambers, member of the British Amateur Athletic Club under the sponsorship of John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.  Timed rounds and gloves remained optional until the night of July 8, 1889, a scheduled 80-round bare knuckle bout between the undefeated champion John L Sullivan, and Jake Kilrain, the last professional fight to be held under the old London Prize Ring rules.

Whiskey had taken its toll on Sullivan by this time.  It looked like he was done when he threw up in the 42nd round, but Sullivan got his second wind.  Kilrain’s second threw in the towel in round 75, afraid that his principle was about to be killed.

John-L.-Sullivan-vs.-Jake-KilrainSullivan’s unbeaten record over 44 professional fights came to an end on July 9, 1892, when “Gentleman Jim” Corbett  unloaded a smashing left in the 21st round that put the champion down, for good.  Sullivan would later say that his opponent only “gave the finishing touches to what whiskey had already done to me.”

Sullivan retired to his home in Abington Massachusetts. In his later years, the last bare knuckle champ in history became a sports reporter, celebrity baseball umpire and tavern owner. He gave up his life-long addiction to alcohol taking his last drink in 1905. Sullivan took to the temperance lecture circuit, but the prizefighting years and those “Rivers of Whiskey” had taken their toll.

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John Lawrence Sullivan earned over a million dollars over his career, and died with an estate valued at $3,675, and ten dollars in his pocket.  He was fifty-nine. Sullivan constantly warned young men to avoid the perils of alcohol. “John L. Sullivan, champion of the world, could not lick whiskey.  What gives any one of them the notion that he can?”

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August 16, 1927 The Dole Air Race

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began. 

In the period between the World Wars, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk was well within living memory. The flying Aces of the Great War seemed like some kind of modern-day knights, and many became pop-culture heroes. Wood-and-fabric biplanes gave way to sleek, metal monoplanes, while air races and daring, record-setting flights seemed a constant feature of the daily news.

The first non-stop transatlantic flight in history began on June 14, 1919, when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown departed St. John’s, Newfoundland in a modified bomber, arriving in Ireland the following day.

Charles Lindbergh’s better known (and longer) New York to Ireland flight began in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, when the custom-built, linen-skinned Ryan Aeronautical Company monoplane Spirit of St. Louis departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

33½ hours later, thousands of spectators’ cars were caught up in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history”, to be there for the landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome.

Heavier-than-air flight, once considered an impossibility, was coming of age.

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Oakland Field California, August 16, 1927, for the start of the Dole Air Derby

Two months after Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic, a pineapple magnate offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to fly from Oakland to Honolulu, an orthodromic (Great Circle) distance of 2,406.05 miles.  A $10,000 prize was offered for a second-place finisher.

The overture from James Drummond Dole, founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now known as Dole Foods), attracted 33 entrants for the event.  14 were selected for starting positions following inspections.  By August 16, 1927, race day, the final list of starters was down to eight.

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Wreckage of the Tremaine Hummingbird, H/T San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began.  One Pacific Aircraft Company J-30 known as the Tremaine Hummingbird crashed in heavy fog on August ten on the way to Oakland, killing Naval Lieutenants George Covell and Richard Waggener.

The pair had drawn starting position #13, for race day.

British aviator Arthur Vickers Rogers was killed the following day, just after takeoff in his Bryant Monoplane the Angel of Los Angeles.  Still another aircraft, the Miss Doran, was forced to make an emergency landing in a farm field, and the International Aircraft Corporation F-10 triplane  Pride of Los Angeles crashed into San Francisco Bay on final approach to Oakland.

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Happily, the occupants of neither aircraft were hurt, though the latter came away wetter for the experience.

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The Goddard Special, NX5074, El Encanto, favored to win the race, crashed on takeoff. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Eight entrants remained by the morning of the 16th, but that number was whittled down, fast.

Oklahoma took off but soon returned, due to engine trouble. El Encanto and the PABCO Pacific Flyer, crashed on takeoff. Fortunately, none of the three crews were hurt.

The Golden Eagle took off without a problem, and disappeared into the west.  PABCO Pacific Flyer took her second attempt, only to crash.  Again.

Miss Doran, freshly repaired following her unscheduled landing in that farmers fieldcrashed on takeoff, but the second attempt proved successful.

On board Miss Doran were John “Auggy” Pedlar at the stick and Lieutenant Vilas Raymond Knope, U.S. Navy, Navigating. This entrant carried a passenger too, Miss Doran herself, a 22-year-old fifth-grade school teacher from Flint, Michigan.

Dallas Spirit took off, but quickly returned to Oakland. The last two entrants, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane called Aloha and Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000, took off and headed west, without a problem.

This last entrant, with Arthur Cornelius Goebel as pilot and Lieutenent (j.g.) William Virginius Davis, Jr., U.S. Navy, as navigator, won the air race, crossing the Pacific and landing in Honolulu with a time of 26 hours, 17 minutes.

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Neither Golden Eagle nor Miss Doran were ever seen again.

Forty ships of the United States Navy scoured the ocean for Miss Doran and Golden Eagle, but to no avail. Dallas Spirit was repaired and joined in the ocean search but she too disappeared, never to be seen again.

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Mildred Alice Doran had once said, “Life is nothing but a chance.” Miss Doran had taken her chance and lost, at the dawn of the age of aviation.

Ten years later almost to the day, another pioneering female aviator would take her chance, crossing the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean. She too would disappear without a trace, joining her sister and so many others, at the bottom of some unmarked and watery grave.

A tip of the hat to This Day in Aviation.com, for all these great photographs.

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

August 4, 1693 Drinking the Stars

The Roman Rebublic built on and improved what the Greeks had begun, creating their own God of Wine and calling him Bacchus. It was the ancient Romans who first developed the concept of Terroir, “tare WAHr”, the notion that regional climate, soils and aspect (terrain) can effect the taste of wine.

1-armeniaThe oldest winery for which archaeological evidence exists was established around BC4100, in present-day Armenia. The Egyptian Pharoahs were producing a wine-like substance from 3100BC for use in public ceremonies, due to its resemblance to blood.

Archaeologists discovered a 3,700 year old wine cellar in the north of Israel.  Phoenecian traders plied the Mediterranean from the shores of the Middle East to Gibraltar, transporting grapevines and wine in ceramic jugs.   Traders introduced wine to the ancient Greeks sometime around BC800, who then began to perfect the beverage, even naming a God of the grape harvest: Dionysus.

alexakis-history-of-wineSounds like a great job, as Greek Gods go.

As the Greek city-states rose in power, viticulture and wine making traveled the eastern Mediterranean with Greek armies, into Sicily and the boot of Italy, and north toward Rome.

wine history

The Roman Republic built on and improved what the Greeks had begun, creating their own God of Wine and calling him Bacchus. It was the ancient Romans who first developed the concept of Terroir, “tare WAHr”, the notion that regional climate, soils and aspect (terrain) can effect the taste of wine.

bacchus-12The legions of Rome expanded the Empire across Europe from modern day France and Germany into Portugal and Spain.  Everywhere the Legions went, vineyards were soon to follow. To this day, some regions are said to have more ‘Terroir’, than others.

Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, and Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Nevertheless, letters home from cavalry commanders of the Roman Britain period (ca AD97-103), include requests for more “cerevisia”.

Muhammad directed the “Righteous” to abstain from alcohol sometime in the seventh century, but promised “[R]ivers of water unaltered, rivers of milk the taste of which never changes, rivers of wine delicious to those who drink…” in heaven.  (Surah 47.15 of the Qur’an.)

Local production of rustic beers continued well beyond the collapse of the Roman empire, while the monasteries of Europe became prime repositories of viticulture and wine making technique.

The wines of medieval and renaissance-era Europe tended to be almost universally red and almost always, still.  The in-bottle refermentation that gives “sparkling” wine its ‘fizz’ was a problem.  Fermentable sugars were frequently left over when weather began to cool in the fall, particularly with the white grape varietals. Refermentation would set in with the warm spring weather, converting bottles into literal time bombs. Caps would pop off and wine would spoil. Sometimes the whole batch would explode, one pressurized bottle going off in sympathetic detonation with the other.

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Pierre Perignon entered the Benedictine Order at the age of 19, doing his novitiate at the abbey of Saint-Vannes near Verdun and transferring to the abbey of Hautvillers in 1668.

On August 4, 1693, the date traditionally ascribed to Brother (Dom) Pérignon’s invention of Champagne, the monk is supposed to have said “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”.

hautvillers-vineyardsThe story is almost certainly a myth, a later embellishment to the story.  During his 47 year career, Pérignon went to considerable lengths to eliminate bubbles from his wine.  Dom Pérignon never succeed in that goal, yet he did make bubbly wine a whole lot better, using corks for the first time to prevent the escape of carbon dioxide, and perfecting a ‘gentle’ pressing technique which left out the murkiness of the skins.

It is almost certainly Dom Pérignon who perfected the double fermentation process. He was an early advocate of natural farming methods we would call “organic”, today.  Pérignon insisted on “blind” tasting, not wanting to know what vineyard a grape came from prior to selection, and strictly avoiding the addition of foreign substances, insisting that all blending take place at the grape stage.

Dom PerignonPérignon didn’t like white grapes because of their tendency to enter refermentation. He preferred the Pinot Noir, and would aggressively prune the plants so that vines grew no higher than three feet and produced a smaller crop. The harvest was always in the cool, damp early morning hours, and Pérignon took every precaution to avoid bruising or breaking his grapes. Over-ripe and overly large fruit was always thrown out. Pérignon never permitted grapes to be trodden upon, always preferring the use of multiple presses.

In 1891, the Madrid Agreement established among the European powers, that only sparkling wines from a certain region in northeast France may be labeled “Champagne”.  The principle was re-asserted in the Treaty of Versailles ending WW1, providing protections for a French wine industry which had, ironically, been saved and literally rebuilt from the ground up by grafting “inferior” American root stock onto French vines.

But that must remain a story for another day.

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1890 cartoon from Punch depicting the Phylloxera aphid, which all but obliterated the French wine industry.

That American companies like Korbel, Cook’s and others may continue to call their bubbly wines Champagne is due to the United States’ Senate never having ratified the treaty formally ending WW1, back in 1920.  The United States entered the Madrid system in 2003, but the Champagne name dispute, remains unsettled.

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Benjamin Franklin, born nine years before brother Pérignon’s death in 1715, is supposed to have said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” That’s close, but the quote seems to come from a letter to André Morellet dated 1779, in which the Founding Father wrote  “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy“.

Either way, I enthusiastically approve Mr. Franklin’s message.  Cheers.

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

August 2, 1864 Both Barrels

Named for one of it’s own private soldiers, the Mitchell Thunderbolts were not your standard military company. These guys were “organized strictly for home defense” and absolutely refused to take orders.  From anyone. They recognized no superior officer and the right to criticism was reserved and freely exercised from that “splendid old gentleman” Colonel John Billups, down to the lowliest private.

In 1642, Italian gun maker Antonio Petrini conceived a double barrel cannon, with tubes joined at 45° and firing solid shot joined together, by chain.  This was the year of the “Great Rebellion“, the English Civil War, when the King and Parliament raised armies to go to war – with each other.  The idea must have looked good as proposed to King Charles I of England, the weapon capable of slicing through his enemies, like grass before a scythe.

The idea was to fire both barrels simultaneously, but there was the rub.  Wild ideas occur to the imagination of imperfect combustion, and a chained ball swinging around to take out the gun crew.  The King himself was mute on the subject, and went on to lose his head, in 1649.  Petrini’s manuscript resides to this day in the tower of London.  There is no documented proof that the weapon was ever fired, save for the designer’s own description of the ‘Grandissima Ruina’ left behind, by his creation.

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Two-hundred years later the former British colonies in America, found themselves embroiled in their own Civil War.

In the early days of its independence, the Confederate Congress enacted a measure, allowing local cities and towns to form semi-military companies for the purpose of local defense. As the very flower of young southern manhood was called up and sent to the front, these “home guard” units often comprised themselves of middle-age and older gentlemen, and others for various reasons, unable to leave home and hearth.

ALHullAugustus Longstreet Hull was born 1847 in “The Classic City” of Athens Georgia, and enlisted in the Confederate Army on September 8, 1864.

After the war, Hull worked twenty-seven years as a banker, before publishing the Annals of Athens, in 1906.  In it, Mr. Hull writes with not a little biting wit, of his own home town home guard unit, Athens’ own, Mitchell Thunderbolts.

“From the name one might readily infer that it was a company made up of fierce and savage men, eager for the fray and ready at all times to ravage and slaughter; yet such was not the case, for in all their eventful career no harm was done to a human being, no property was seized and not one drop of blood stained their spotless escutcheon.

Thus from their patriotism sprang the “Thunderbolts”, a company whose deeds must live in order that history may be complete, whose fame, though not blazoned to the world in song and story, is yet of such a character as to entitle the names of its members to be inscribed alongside those “that were not born to die.”

Named for one of it’s own private soldiers, the Mitchell Thunderbolts were not your standard military company. These guys were “organized strictly for home defense” and absolutely refused to take orders.  From anyone. They recognized no superior officer and the right to criticism was reserved and freely exercised by everyone from that “splendid old gentleman” Colonel John Billups, down to the lowliest private.

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Georgia Senator Middleton Pope Barrow

General Howell Cobb sent the future United States Senator Captain Middleton Pope Barrow to Athens in 1864, to inspect the Thunderbolts. Having no intention of submitting to “inspection” by any mere stripling of a Captain, Dr. Henry Hull (Augustus’ father) “politely informed him that if he wished to inspect him, he would find him on his front porch at his home every morning at 9 o’clock“.

John Gilleland, 53, was a local dentist, builder and mechanic, and member in good standing of the Mitchell Thunderbolts.  Gilleland must have liked Petrini’s idea because he took up a collection in 1862, and raised $350 to build the Confederate States of America’s own, double-barrel cannon.

Measuring 13 inches wide by 4-feet 8½” inches and weighing in at some 1,300 pounds, this thing had two barrels diverging at 3° and equipped with three touch holes, one for each barrel and a third should you wish to fire them, together.  It was the secret “super weapon” of the age, two cannonballs connected by a chain and designed to “mow down the enemy somewhat as a scythe cuts wheat.”

As with Mr. Petrini’s invention, the insurmountable problem remained, how to fire the two, simultaneously.

The atmosphere was festive on April 22, 1862, when a crowd gathered to watch Gilleland test his creation. The weapon was aimed at two upright poles stuck into the ground, but uneven ignition and casting imperfections sent the two balls spinning wildly off to the side, where they “plowed up about an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and then the chain broke, the two balls going in different directions“.

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Double Barrel Cannon model, H/T ModelExpo

On its second test, two chain-connected balls shot through the air and into a stand of trees.   According to one witness, the “thicket of young pines at which it was aimed looked as if a narrow cyclone or a giant mowing machine had passed through“.

On the third firing, the chain snapped right out of the barrel.  One ball tore into a nearby cabin and destroyed the chimney, while the other spun off and killed a cow, who wasn’t bothering anyone.

Gilleland considered all three tests successful, but the only thing that was safe, seems to have been those target posts.

The dentist went straight to the Confederate States’ arsenal in Augusta where Colonel George Rains subjected his creation to extensive testing, before reporting the thing too unreliable for military use. The outraged inventor wrote angry letters to Georgia Governor Joseph “Joe” Brown and to the Confederate government in Richmond, but to no avail.

At last, the contraption was stuck in front of the Athens town hall and used as a signal gun, to warn the citizens of approaching Yankees.

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There it remained until August 2, 1864, when the gun was hauled out to the hills west of town to meet the Federal troops of Brigadier General George Stoneman.  The double-barrel cannon was positioned on a ridge near Barber’s Creek and loaded with canister shot, along with several conventional guns.  Outnumbered home guards did little real damage but the noise was horrendous, and Stoneman’s raiders withdrew to quieter pastures.

There were other skirmishes in the area, but all of them minor. In the end, Athens escaped the devastation of Sherman’s march to the sea, and the weapon was moved back to town.

Gilleland’s monstrosity was sold after the war and lost, for a time.  The thing was recovered and restored back in 1891, and returned to the Athens City Hall, where it remains to this day, a contributing property of the Downtown Athens Historic District.  Come and see it if you’re ever in Athens, right there at the corner of Hancock and College Avenue.  There you will find it, pointing north, toward the Yankees.  Just in case.

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

 

July 18, 1921 Say it ain’t so, Joe

The reputation of professional baseball had suffered a major blow.  Franchise owners appointed a man with the best “baseball name” in history, to help straighten out the mess.  He was Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

From the World Cup to the Superbowl, the world of professional sports has little to compare with the race for the Pinnacle Trophy. The contest for Championship, in which entire economies slow to a crawl and even casual sports fans are caught up in the spectacle.

For professional baseball, the “Fall Classic” began in 1903, a best-of-nine “World Series” played out between the Boston Braves and the Pittsburg Pirates. (Boston won, in eight).

Excepting the boycott year of 1904 when there was no series at all, most World Series have been ‘best-of-seven”. That changed in 1919, when league owners agreed to play a nine-game series, to generate more revenue and increase the popularity of the sport.

Today, top players are paid the GDP of developing nations, but that wasn’t always the case. One-hundred years ago, much of that revenue failed to find its way to the players.  Even the best, held second jobs.

Around that time, Chicago White Sox owner Chuck Comiskey built the most powerful organizations in professional baseball, despite a stingy reputation.

BlackSox-Lg_400x400The scandal of the 1919 “Black Sox” series began when Arnold “Chick” Gandil, the first baseman with ties to Chicago gangsters, convinced his buddy and professional gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, that he could throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. New York gangster Arnold Rothstein supplied the money through his right-hand man, former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell.

Pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams were principally involved with throwing the series, along with outfielder Oscar “Hap” Felsch and shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg.  Third baseman George “Buck” Weaver attended a meeting where the fix was discussed, but decided not to participate. Weaver handed in some of his best statistics of the year during the 1919 post-season.

Star outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson may have been a participant, though his involvement has been disputed. It seems that other players may have used his name in order to give themselves credibility. Utility infielder Fred McMullin was not involved in the planning, but he threatened to report the others unless they cut him in on the payoff.

The more “straight arrow” players on the club knew nothing about the fix. Second baseman Eddie Collins, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber had nothing to do with it, though the conspiracy received an unexpected boost, when Faber came down with the flu.

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Official Program

Rumors were flying as the series started on October 2. So much money was bet on Cincinnati, that the odds were flat.  Gamblers complained that nothing was left on the table.  Cicotte, who had shrewdly collected his $10,000 the night before, struck leadoff hitter Morrie Rath with his second pitch, a prearranged signal that “the fix was in”.

The plot began to unravel, that first night.   Attell withheld the next installment of $20,000, to bet on the following game.

Game 2 starting pitcher Lefty Williams was still willing to go through with the fix, even though he hadn’t been paid.   He’d go on to lose his three games in the best-of nine series, but by game 8, he wanted out.

The wheels came off in game three.  Former Tigers pitcher and Rothstein intermediary Bill “Sleepy” Burns bet everything he had on Cincinnati, knowing the outcome in advance.  Except, Rookie pitcher Dickie Kerr wasn’t in on the fix.  He pitched a masterful game in game three, shutting Cincinnati out 3-0, and leaving Burns flat broke.

Cicotte became angry in game 7, thinking that gamblers were trying to renege on their deal.  The knuckle baller bore down to a White Sox win and the series stood, 4-3.

Williams was back on the mound in game 8.  By this time he wanted out of the deal, but gangsters threatened to hurt him and his family if he didn’t lose the game. Williams threw nothing but mediocre fastballs, allowing four hits and three runs in the first.  The White Sox went on to lose that Game 10-5, ending the series in a 3 – 5 Cincinnati win.

Rumors of the fix began immediately, and dogged the team throughout the 1920 season.  Chicago Herald and Examiner baseball writer Hugh Fullerton, wrote that there should never be another World Series.   A grand jury was convened that September.  Two players, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson, testified on September 28, both confessing to participating in the scheme. Despite a virtual tie for first place at that time, Comiskey pulled the seven players then in the majors.  Gandil was back in the minors, at the time.

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“Shoeless” Joe Jackson

The reputation of professional baseball had suffered a major blow.  Franchise owners appointed a man with the best “baseball name” in history, to help straighten out the mess.  He was Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

The Black Sox trial began this day in 1921, in the Criminal Court in Cook County.  Key evidence went missing before the trial, including both Cicotte’s and Jackson’s signed confessions. Both recanted and, in the end, all players were acquitted. The missing confessions reappeared several years later,Black Sox Headline in the possession of Comiskey’s lawyer. It’s funny how that works.

According to legend, a young boy approached Shoeless Joe Jackson one day as he came out of the courthouse. “Say it ain’t so, Joe”. There was no response.

The Commissioner was unforgiving, irrespective of the verdict. The day after the acquittal, Landis issued a statement: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball”.

Jackson, Cicotte, Gandil, Felsch, Weaver, Williams, Risberg, and McMullin are long dead now, but every one remains Banned from Baseball.

Black Sox Eight_men_banned

Ironically, the 1919 scandal lead the way to the “Curse of the Black Sox”, a World Series championship drought lasting 88 years and ending only in 2005, with a White Sox sweep of the Houston Astros.  Exactly one year after the Boston Red Sox ended their own 86-year drought, the “Curse of the Bambino”.

The Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper published a poem back on opening day for the 1919 series. They would probably have taken it back, if only they could.

“Still, it really doesn’t matter, After all, who wins the flag.
Good clean sport is what we’re after, And we aim to make our brag.
To each near or distant nation, Whereon shines the sporting sun.
That of all our games gymnastic, Base ball is the cleanest one!”

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July 17, 1938 Wrong Way Corrigan

Aviation officials were apoplectic that a New York to California flight plan, would wind up in Ireland. 

In the period between the two World Wars, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk was well within living memory. The flying Aces of the Great War seemed like some kind of modern-day knights, and many became pop-culture heroes. Wood-and-fabric biplanes gave way to sleek, metal monoplanes, while air races and daring, record-setting flights seemed a constant feature of the daily news.

Heavier-than-air flight, once considered an impossibility, was coming of age.

Cal_banquetThe first non-stop transatlantic flight in history began on June 14, 1919, when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown departed St. John’s, Newfoundland in a modified bomber, arriving in Ireland the following day.

Charles Lindbergh’s better known (and longer) New York to Ireland flight began in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, when the custom-built, linen-skinned Ryan Aeronautical Company monoplane Spirit of St. Louis departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

33½ hours later, thousands of spectators’ cars were caught up in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history”, to be there for the landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome.

Five years later to the day, Amelia Earhart performed the first nonstop transatlantic crossing by a female pilot, completing the 2,000 mile crossing from Newfoundland to Ireland, in fifteen hours.

Amelia_Earhart_LOC_hec.40747Five years later, “Lady Lindy” disappeared over the South Pacific, along with copilot Frederick J. Noonan.

Few events so captured the world’s imagination, as the Earhart search of 1937, and the explosion aboard the Apollo spacecraft, in 1970.  On both occasions, breathless headlines the world over followed the unfolding drama.

The Apollo 13 story had a happy ending, as astronauts James Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise returned safely, to earth.  It was thirty-three years since the Earhart disappearance, a mystery which remains unsolved, to this day.

The 1920s – 30s have been described as the “Golden Age of Aviation”.  This was the world of Douglas Corrigan.

Douglas_Groce_Corrigan_(afdotmil)
Douglas Corrigan

At the age of eighteen, Corrigan forked over $2.50 for a ride on a Curtiss Jenny biplane. He was hooked.  He began flying lessons a week later, making his first solo flight on March 25, 1926.

A man without the means or the fame of Charles Lindbergh, Douglas Corrigan brought himself up in the aviation world, with his hands.  He was an aircraft mechanic, and a good one.

It was Corrigan who assembled the wing and installed the fuel tanks and instrument panel, for Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis.  Corrigan and colleague Dan Burnett increased the lift of the aircraft, extending the wing an additional 10-ft. longer than any earlier Ryan-designed aircraft.

Following Lindbergh’s success, Corrigan set his sights on a transatlantic crossing of his own. Working as an aircraft mechanic with the Airtech Flight School in San Diego, Corrigan would work on his flight skills, during short lunch breaks. He would perform aerobatic stunts with company aircraft, much to the chagrin of his employer.   He continued to perform stunts after the company prohibited the practice, simply a little south, where the boss couldn’t see him.

Corrigan worked several jobs as aircraft mechanic, always using his employer’s planes to hone his flying skills.

In 1933, Corrigan paid $310 for a used 1929 Curtiss Robin monoplane, and began to modify it for transatlantic flight. He scavenged the parts from two old Wright Whirlwind engines, increasing the aircraft’s horsepower from 90 to 165. He installed additional fuel tanks and applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce in 1935, for permission to make the flight. The application was rejected.

corriganCorrigan made additional modifications and repeated applications over the next two years, all of which were rejected.  By 1935, the once-freelance aviation industry faced increasing government regulation.  Corrigan found his project losing ground. . In 1937, federal officials not only rebuffed his flight plan.  Authorities deemed Corrigan’s aircraft Sunshine unstable for safe flight, and denied renewal of its license to fly.

That was it.  If he couldn’t get the permit, he’d do it without.

Corrigan flew in from California, arriving in Brooklyn unannounced and nauseous from a fuel leak. All was confusion at the time, with Howard Hughes preparing to take off on a world tour. Corrigan filed his flight plan for a return trip to California and headed out at first dawn on July 17, 1938, headed east with two chocolate bars, a couple boxes of fig bars, and a quart of water.

This was not the well-backed, bountifully financed custom aircraft of the Lindbergh days.  This was the soapbox derby of airplanes, literally held together with baling wire and a quiltwork of patches, welded to the hood.  Let journalist H. R. Knickerbocker, pick up the story:

“You may say that Corrigan’s flight could not be compared to Lindbergh’s in its sensational appeal as the first solo flight across the ocean. Yes, but in another way the obscure little Irishman’s flight was the more audacious of the two. Lindbergh had a plane specially constructed, the finest money could buy. He had lavish financial backing, friends to help him at every turn. Corrigan had nothing but his own ambition, courage, and ability. His plane, a nine-year-old Curtiss Robin, was the most wretched-looking jalopy…The door behind which Corrigan crouched for twenty-eight hours was fastened together with a piece of baling wire. The reserve gasoline tanks put together by Corrigan, left him so little room that he had to sit hunched forward with his knees cramped, and not enough window space to see the ground when landing”.

Ten hours into the flight, Corrigan discovered his ‘cold feet’ were the result of gasoline, sloshing around the cockpit. He poked a hole with a screwdriver, and kept going. 26 hours in, he claimed to have discovered a “navigation error”. The Robin was still over water. 28 hours and 13 minutes after leaving Brooklyn, Corrigan touched down at Baldonnel Aerodrome, in Dublin.

Wrong_Way_Corrigan HeadlineAviation officials were apoplectic that a New York to California flight plan, would wind up in Ireland.  At a time when Western Union charged by the word, the pilot was excoriated with a 600-word diatribe, enumerating the pilot’s transgressions.  Corrigan served a 14-day suspension of his flying license, ending the day he returned with his aircraft aboard the steamship Manhattan.

“Wrong Way” Corrigan returned to a ticker-tape parade, larger than the one given Lindbergh, himself.

The flight mechanic was a celebrity, writing an autobiography and endorsing a line of “Wrongway” products, including a watch that ran backward. He appeared on a 1957 episode of To Tell the Truth, and earned $75,000 portraying himself in the RKO film, The Flying Irishman. It would have taken thirty years to earn that much, at any of his airfield jobs.

To his great disappointment, Charles Lindbergh, Corrigan’s hero and the reason he had made the flight in the first place, never acknowledged his feat.

Corrigan-autographed-500x378Wrong Way Corrigan flight tested bombers during WW2 and retired in 1950, and bought an orange grove in Santa Ana, California. He claimed he knew nothing about growing oranges, he just copied what his neighbors were doing.

The old Robin came out of its hangar one last time on the golden anniversary of the flight, reassembled and the engine restarted, successfully.  Corrigan became so excited that event organizers placed guards at the aircraft’s wings – they even considered tying the tail to a police car – fearful that the old man would once again, take off in the thing.

At age 84, Douglas Corrigan was elected an Honorary Member of the ‘Liars Club of America’, an honor which he politely, but firmly, refused. To the end of his days, Wrong Way Corrigan insisted that his transatlantic flight was nothing more than a navigation error.  He was as surprised to find himself in Ireland, as anyone else.

The autobiography is out of print but still available, if you’re interested.  It’s about fifty bucks, in hard cover, the title is That’s my Story.

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July 11, 1804 A Dual at Weehawken

Dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey by this time, though enforcement was far more aggressive in NY.  The two rowed across the Hudson River from Manhattan to Weehawken, New Jersey in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804, dueling pistols tucked safely in a leather bag.

naduel_t180What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob (‘Jack’) Lew was party to a duel and that he was near death, after being shot by the sitting Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.

The year was 1804, and President Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr, had a long standing personal conflict with one of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton had been Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington; the first Secretary of the Treasury, and the only signer of the US Constitution from the state of New York.

The animosity between the two began in 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler in a US Senate election. Hostilities escalated when the Electoral College deadlocked in the 1800 Presidential election, moving the selection of President and Vice President to the House of Representatives. Hamilton exerted his influence on behalf of Jefferson, who was elected on the 36th ballot, making Burr his VP.

Burr knew that Jefferson wouldn’t keep him on as VP for the 1804 election, and so he ran for Governor of New York. He blamed Hamilton for his defeat, and challenged the man to a duel over comments made during the election.

Alexander-Hamilton-Aaron-Burr-Duel-Pistols-JP-Morgan-Chase-Bank-270-Park-Avenue-NYC-2

Dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey by this time, though enforcement was far more aggressive in NY.  The two rowed across the Hudson River from Manhattan to Weehawken, New Jersey in the early morning hours of July 11, 1804, dueling pistols tucked safely in a leather bag.

Both men’s “seconds” stood with their backs to the duelists, enabling both to later state under oath that they didn’t see either the weapons or the duel itself.   “Plausible deniability” was preserved, but it’s hard to have a first-hand account when the only witnesses have turned their backs. Accounts vary, but it seems that Hamilton fired first, apparently “throwing away his shot” as he had once advised his son Philip to do when the younger man was in this position.

This account is supported by a letter that Hamilton wrote the night before the duel, stating that he was “strongly opposed to the practice of dueling” for both religious and practical reasons. The letter went on, “I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire”.

hamilton burr

Aaron Burr had no such reservations.  The Vice President fired with intent to kill, the shot hitting Hamilton in the lower abdomen.  The wound was clearly fatal, even to Hamilton himself, who said “This is a mortal wound, doctor”.

The man whose likeness appears on the $10 bill died the next day. Among his last words were “Pendleton knows,” (Judge Nathaniel Pendleton, his second), “that I did not intend to fire at him”.

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