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.

May 26, 1907 Little Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday, John Wayne.

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

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

May 18, 1904 The Perdicaris Incident

Once deemed an international city by foreign colonial powers, Tangier has long been a favorite of spies, artists and an assortment of thieves, international bankers and business types. But perhaps I repeat myself.

On the northern coast of Africa lies the westernmost part of the Arab world, a region extending from Egypt in the east to the Atlantic Ocean and encompassing the modern nations of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Historically, the English speaking world referred to this region, the Maghreb (Arabic: المغرب‎ al-Maghrib – “The West”) as the Barbary Coast, a term deriving from the Berber peoples of the region.

Cape Spartel forms the high point of northwestern Africa and the southern boundary, of the Strait of Gibraltar. The Moroccan city of Tangier may be found there, an ancient metropolis once given as part of a dowry for a Portuguese Princess. Tangier was home to the first American property outside the continental United States, a two-story masonry building presented in 1821 by Sultan Moulay Suliman and used today, as the museum of the American Legacy, in Tangier.

Fun fact: Believing strongly in the benefits of international trade, Moroccan Sultan Muhammad III threw his ports open to a number of foreign nations in December 1777, including the United States. So it is that Morocco became the first nation whose head of state, publicly recognized the fledgling nation. The Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship signed by the Sultan along with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1786 remains the longest unbroken treaty, in US history.

Once deemed an international city by foreign colonial powers, Tangier has long been a favorite of spies, artists and an assortment of thieves, international bankers and business types. But perhaps I repeat myself.

Tangier, today

The rock group Def Leppard once played the nearby Caves of Hercules, the first of three concerts played on as many continents in a single day and intended to get them, into the Guinness Book of World Records. The novel Naked Lunch penned by William Burroughs, that oddest of oddball stories with no beginning, no end and no story to tell, was written in Tangier.

The Greek-American tycoon Ion “Jon” Perdicaris once owned a summer home in the hills above Tangier, a vine covered villa he called “Place of Nightingales”, complete with a tame demoiselle crane and a pair of pet monkeys, who ate orange blossoms. On May 18, 1904, Mr. Perdicaris sat down to dine with Ellen, Mrs. Perdicaris, Ellen’s son by a previous marriage Cromwell Oliver Varley (don’t ask), and Mrs. Varley.

A pandemonium of screams and barking dogs broke out in the servant’s quarters and Perdicaris thought it was yet another fight between his German housekeeper and French-Zouave chef. Not a chance. Two terrified servants came pelting into the room pursued by armed Moors who beat the pair with rifle butts and knocked Mrs. Perdicaris, to the ground. One put a knife to the Varley’s throat when a great, bearded sheik strode into the room. With a great sweep of his arm and a theatricality worthy of Sir Patrick Stewart playing King Lear, the newcomer proclaimed “I am the Raisuli!”

Mr. Perdicaris and his step-son were about to be kidnapped by the notorious Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, leader of several hill tribes and the last, of the Barbary pirates.

Raisuli (Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni, 1871 – 1925) and Rosita Forbes (1890 – 1967), English travel writer, in Morocco. Published in December 1923. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

In 1901, two American missionaries were kidnapped in southwestern Bulgaria, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. After six months’ negotiations, the “Miss Stone Affair” culminated in the payment of 14,000 gold Turkish liras, a sum equivalent to over thee million, today. The episode is considered the first American hostage crisis of the modern era. At the time the kidnapping received widespread coverage, as did the ransom.

Small wonder it is then that “The Raisuli” would have a hand, at kidnapping a wealthy American.

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, the son of a prominent tribal leader, was devoted to a life of womanizing, and stealing cattle and sheep. As a younger man, Raisuli was once invited to dinner by his cousin and foster brother Abd-el-Rahman Abd el-Saduk, Pasha of Tangier, only to be set upon and beaten and chained to a wall, in a dungeon.

Raisulli lived four years chained to that wall, surviving only by the food brought, by friends. Thoroughly hardened and filled with hate by such an experience, Raisulli was released four years later in a general amnesty, by Mulai Abd al-Aziz IV, the incoming Sultan of Morocco.

One day, Hollywood would produce a forgettable film based on the Perdicaris incident, save for the starring role of Sean Connery, as Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli

Despite his release, Raisulli grew to distrust the Sultan, a feckless politician with a weakness for European luxuries and far to0 deferential to the foreign powers, jockeying for control in Morocco. He returned to a life of crime but now he was more ambitious. Raisulli ‘s first kidnapping victim was the English Times correspondent Walter Burton Harris, a man kidnapped not for money but to secure the release from prison, of some of the kidnapper’s allies.

To his captives, Raisulli was capable of extravagant courtesies, worthy of the age of chivalry. He was also a man of extraordinary cruelty, known for putting out the eyes of opponents, with red-hot copper coins. He once sent the head of an opponent back where it came from, in a basket of melons.

Back at the Place of Nightingales, Ellen Perdicaris notified Consul General Samuel Gummere, of the kidnapping.

Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House at this time, President only by virtue of the assassination of President William McKinley. With 1904 being an election year, “Teddy” was eager to be elected, in his own right.

Roosevelt jumped into action on receiving Gummere’s telegram, sending four warships from the southern fleet, to Tangier.

Raisulli demanded a ransom of $55,000, the release of several “political prisoners”, the imprisonment of his cousin the hated Pasha & several other government officials and personal control over two of the wealthiest districts, in Morocco. As negotiations dragged on, he raised the stakes to $70,000 and six districts.

Forty years earlier, John Hay stepped onto the pages of history as personal secretary, to President Abraham Lincoln. It is John Hay who gives his name to one of five known copies, of the Gettysburg Address.

In June 1904, Secretary of State John Hay wrote to the Republican National Convention: “This government wants “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!”. The phrase would help boost Roosevelt to re-election but turned out to be embarrassing. More on that, later.

Spain, Great Britain and France sent warships of their own and prevailed upon the Sultan, to accede to the kidnapper’s demands. Raisulli would receive his money and his six districts however, graft and cruelty toward his poor “subjects” would lead to his ouster, two years later.

Now for Roosevelt. Gregory Perdicaris, Ion’s father, came to the United States at the age of 26, as a student. The elder Perdicaris was naturalized an American citizen, later marrying the daughter of a wealthy family and settling in her home state, of South Carolina. Ion Perdicaris was born in Athens where his father was working, as the American Ambassador.

Born as he was to American parents, Ion Perdicaris was himself an American citizen. Until the Civil War arrived and he renounced it, to avoid being conscripted to fight for the Confederacy.

Forty years later, the President of the United States sent the US southern fleet to rescue…a Greek.

May 4, 1838 King of Cons

“I am sick and tired of this bluffer, or Quixote, or the devil knows what.
This man can hardly serve us in New Granada without heaping ten thousand embarrassments upon us”

In January 1848, a carpenter and sawmill operator named James Marshall discovered gold on the American River near Coloma, California.  Some 300,000 flocked to the “Golden State” over the next few years from the United States and abroad, in search of fortune. For most, the “California Gold Rush” was tedious, dirty and difficult work.  For Jefferson Randolph “Soapy“ Smith and his merry  band of grifters, it was easier simply to fleece the miners out of their hard won gains through rigged poker games, scam three-card Monty and a catalog of petty deceits. 

Between 1869 and 1872, the German actress and amateur “banker” Adele Spitzeder became the wealthiest woman in Germany, handsomely rewarding suckers…err…investors, with cash derived from new marks. Sarah Emily Howe ran the same con throughout the 1870s and ’80s through the “Ladies Deposit Company”, of Boston.

In the 1920s, Italian swindler Carlo Ponzi elevated this “rob Peter to pay Paul” scheme to such heights as to have the scam, named after himself. In the classic Ponzi scheme, early investors are paid above-average returns with the proceeds coming from new investors.

The wisely skeptical among us may question the legitimacy of consistently spectacular returns on investment but the money is real. Until it isn’t, and then heaven help the person left without a chair, when the music stops. For investors with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities company, the music stopped in 2008 with early losses estimated at $18 billion dollars.

For New York’s Tammany Hall, the machinations of William Magear “Boss” Tweed elevated political corruption to such dizzying heights that the cost to taxpayers of building a single courthouse, nearly doubled that of the Alaska purchase.

Yet, in all the annals of humbuggery these are as nothing, a mere spark compared with the rising of a malign sun that was the “Cazique of Poyais”, Gregor MacGregor, the man who “sold” a continent. Or at least, part of one.

Between 1807 and 1814, a coalition of Spain, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Portugal went to war with the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte for control of the Iberian peninsula.

Gregor MacGregor of the clan Gregor was a Scottish soldier and adventurer, an officer of the Peninsular war at the ripe old age of 16, the youngest age it was permitted to do so.

Having little interest in working the seven years required to become Captain, MacGregor prevailed upon the substantial dowry of his wealthy wife Maria Bowater and purchased the rank of Ensign and finally, Captain.

In 1810, a running feud with a superior officer caused MacGregor to resign his commission and receive a refund of the £1,350 he’d paid to become an officer. In 1811, actions of 57th Foot soldiers at the Battle of Albuera earned considerable prestige for the regiment and the nickname, “Die-Hards”. MacGregor would make much of his association with his former unit even though the man had been gone by this time, for a year.

The now 23-year old MacGregor moved into a house rented by his mother in Edinburgh for a time where he adopted the title of “Colonel”, and took to referring to himself as “Sir Gregor MacGregor, Bart“.

The latter is a term of nobility equivalent to a Baronet, indicating chieftainship among the clan, Gregor.

Despite parading about in extravagant finery and a badge indicating membership in an elite order of Portuguese knights, Edinburgh society failed to take notice. So it was the MacGregors moved to London, where an entirely fanciful family tree filled with Dukes and Barons, had the desired affect.

Being the kept man of a wealthy wife has its advantages but disaster struck, in 1811.

Maria Bowater MacGregor died that December. With her went the income and the support of the influential Bowater family. Most especially Maria’s father the Admiral who wasted no time in punting his now-former son in law.

For Gregor MacGregor, options were limited. Too soon to announce an engagement with any sense of decency to another heiress, a return to soldiering made sense. But not with the home team. Not after that ignominious departure, back in 1809. So…what about South America?

Since Napoleon’s 1807 invasion, Spain was beset with problems, at home. Inspired by the United States’ recent independence from Great Britain, Spanish colonies from Peru to Mexico rose up.

Venezuela was embarked on a full scale revolution at this time when General Francisco de Miranda visited London. And didn’t the man cut a dashing figure through London society, with all that military finery.

It’s unclear whether the two met at this time but, for MacGregor, this was the answer. Gregor MacGregor arrived in Venezuela in April 1812 and headed directly for Caracas. There, Miranda was delighted to entertain such an accomplished British military officer…a member of the famous “Die hards”, no less.

With Maria dead a scant six months back at home, MacGregor married the heiress of a prominent Caracas family and a cousin of the revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, Doña Josefa Antonia Andrea Aristeguieta y Lovera, that June.

Venezuelan independence was a forlorn hope. General Miranda was captured and carted off to Spain, destined to end his days in a prison cell, in Cádiz.

Now “Colonel” MacGregor skedaddled with Josefa to the Dutch island of Curacao and on to Jamaica before returning to South America and accepting the rank of Brigadier General in service to New Granada, Venezuela’s neighbor to the west.

MacGregor’s South American military career is best remembered for a 34-day nation-wide retreat pursued by two Royalist armies and a hare-brained invasion of Amelia Island in Florida, resulting in the short-lived “Republic of the Floridas”. Then there was that time under fire in Porto Bello Panama, when he paddled out to his ships on a log and sailed away, abandoning his men to a miserable life, in captivity.

“Part of the fort at Porto Bello, Panama, where MacGregor abandoned his troops led by Colonel William Rafter in April 1819” – H/T Wikipedia

Even then there were those who proclaimed the “New Xenophon”, a latter-day Hannibal come forth to liberate the new Carthage. One of the more perspicacious New Granadan officials took the opposite view: “I am sick and tired of this bluffer, or Quixote, or the devil knows what” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “This man can hardly serve us in New Granada without heaping ten thousand embarrassments upon us“.

In 1820, MacGregor happened upon the Mosquito Coast (aka “Miskito), a swampy and inhospitable wilderness spanning the coasts of modern day Nicaragua, and Honduras. There, MacGregor persuaded a leader of the indigenous tribes to grant him land, to found a colony.

Woodcut depicting the non-existent “Black River Port”, of Poyais

Besotted with dreams of empire, MacGregor told tales back on British soil, of the independent Kingdom of “Poyais”. A land of vast wealth and welcoming natives where a man might work for a day and provide for his family, for a week. A land where he himself was “Cazique” or Royal Prince, a prestigious honor bestowed by none other than King George Frederic Augustus himself, of the Mosquito Coast.

The Cazique of Poyais set about recruiting settlers and investors, raising a dizzying £200,000, a sum equivalent to nearly 12 million, today. Settlers were invited to exchange their pounds sterling for Poyais dollars, the notes conveniently printed by none other, than Gregor MacGregor.

Seventy settlers departed England in the Autumn of 1822 bound for the tropical paradise, of Poyais. Another 200 followed a few months later only to be met by desperately poor natives, the bedraggled survivors of the earlier expedition and two American hermits.

Some evacuated to Honduras while fifty returned to England arriving in October, 1823. Inexplicably, most refused to blame MacGregor for the disaster. Even so, with Poyais dominating the headlines, the Cazique wisely performed a disappearing act. Across the channel to France where he ran the very same scam, this time raising £300,000.

French authorities got wind of the racket, impounding the ship and trying MacGregor, for fraud. Still unrepentant, the man was acquitted while an “associate” was convicted, in his stead.

“La Force Prison in Paris, where MacGregor was detained from December 1825 to July 1826, before his trial and acquittal” H/T Wikipedia

Back in England, MacGregor was re-arrested but released in a week, without charges. He persuaded the firm of Thomas Jenkins & Company to issue a new bond in the amount of £300,000, many believing the earlier debacle to be the result of someone else’s embezzlement. There followed another bond issue, this time amounting to £800,000. It was generally regarded as a humbug by this time, not that anyone ever thought to doubt the existence of Poyais itself. It’s just that those previous bonds, had failed to generate a profit.

Gregor MacGregor continued to dine out on the same sting but, by this time, the Poyais fix had seen its best days. An attempted sale of a few land certificates in 1837 marks the final appearance of the Poyais con.

Left: Poyais stock certificate, part of an £800,000 loan package, 1827

Josefa died on this day in 1838 in Burghmuirhead near Edinburgh. MacGregor immediately departed for Venezuela where he applied for reinstatement of his former rank, complete with back pay and a pension, of course. With MacGregor’s contributions to the Venezuelan Republic having been “heroic with immense results”, the Scotsman’s petition was approved in March, 1839. He settled in Caracas and died peacefully at home in December, 1845. The Cazique of Poyais was buried with full military honors at Caracas Cathedral with Presidente Carlos Soublette leading the procession, marching behind MacGregor’s coffin followed by a phalanx of cabinet ministers and military chiefs.

Back in Scotland, the Glenorchy Kirkyard near Loch Katrine has served as the ancestral burial ground for the Gregor clan, since 1390. There you will find an “octagonal-shaped Gothic church with its square tower and pointed stained-glass windows [set] in a peaceful graveyard on top of a knoll” according to find-a-grave.com. There is no mention of Gregor MacGregor nor of the tropical paradise, of his invention.

April 23, 1982. Where the Weird Go Pro

“[T]he variety of flora and fauna – rich though they are – do not approach the variety of people on the island. Pirates, fighter pilots, smugglers and cops. Shrimpers and singers. Sculptors and sword-swallowers. Bone carvers, body painters and musicians of every sort. A small fleet of commercial fisherman and more Pulitzer Prize winners per capita than any other city. – The Tennesseean

The competition is fierce come December 31 for intergalactic bragging rights: who will go home with the coveted title, “where the weird go pro”. New York drops that famous ball on New Year’s Eve and Miami drops an orange, but that stuff is all JV. Bethlehem Pennsylvania drops a 450-pound “peep”, that marshmallow children’s treat that only comes around, at Easter. Not to be outdone, Eastover North Carolina drops a 39-pound, ceramic flea (don’t ask). Mobile Alabama has a 600-pound Moon Pie (ya got an RC Cola for that?). Prairie du Chiens Wisconsin drops a live (dead) carp called “lucky”, selected by (I kid you not), a carp committee. For Eastport Maine, it’s a sardine. Others have their apples and pine cones and olives, but nothing the likes of “Sushi”, the live Drag Queen descending in a 13-foot stiletto heel.

“Weird” is no mere annual occurrence in a place where businessmen in suits ride about, on electric skateboards. Where crowds cheer dachshund parades and bed races down the main, err, drag. Where the most famous headstone in the town cemetery says: “I told you I was sick!

From “Robert” the evil doll of Fort East Martello to the wild chickens who roam the streets, where conch fritters are considered a food group and history is literally built on salvaging shipwrecks, we’re talking about Key West Florida, where the “Weird go Pro”.

On December 5, 1937, bar owner Joe Russell faced an increase in rent. From three dollars a week to a whopping four bucks. Lucky for Joe, the former Victoria Restaurant owned by one Juan Farto (I didn’t make that up), was available. That night, everyone in the place grabbed his chair, picked up his drink, and “moved” the bar across the street.

None other than Ernest Hemingway pitched in, (yeah, That Ernest Hemingway), helping himself to the urinal. “I’ve pissed enough of my money into this thing to pay for it‘ he said, bringing the object home to his wife Pauline, who converted it to a fountain. The peacocks who once roamed “Papa” Hemingway’s yard are gone now but the fountain’s still there, not far from “Sloppy Joe’s Bar” on the corner of Greene and Duval Street.

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Papa Hemingway’s fountain

Ladies? You married guys out there? Can you imagine bringing such an object home to your wife? Mrs. Hemingway turned the thing into a fountain.

Where else but Duval Street could you watch a “bed race”, pulled by women and men in Wonder Woman outfits, or men in grass skirts.

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Duval Street Bed Races, July 2015. H/t CBS, Miami

Speaking of the town cemetery. One long-suffering wife got the last word on a philandering husband, proving you should always be careful, who orders your headstone. This one says “At least I know where he’s sleeping tonight“.

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Oh.  Did I tell you the place seceded?  No, really.  It’s the “Conch Republic”, now.

Except for the Naval Air Station at Boca Chica and Coast Guard installations in Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, most of the economic activity in the Florida Keys, comes from tourism. It’s no wonder that, when the federal government shuts down the only road into the Keys, the locals are going to get cranky.

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In April 1982, the Mariel boat lift was a mere two years in the past, and very much in the public memory.

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The United States had a border in those days, which the Federal government attempted to enforce.

On April 18, Border Patrol set up a roadblock in front of Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, shutting down US Route 1, the only road in and out of the Florida Keys.  Originally intended to intercept illegals entering the country, the roadblock soon morphed into a hunt for illegal drugs, as well.

Cars waited for hours, in lines stretching 19 miles. Predictably, the attitude of Federal officials was one of towering indifference. Not so local business owners. Robert Kerstein wrote in his Key West on the Edge — Inventing the Conch Republic, “No one in Key West doubted that drugs were trafficked widely in the Keys by road and by boat. But tourism’s boosters had little tolerance for interruptions to their business.”

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Dennis Wardlow, then-Mayor of Key West, contacted the chief of police, the Monroe County sheriff, his State Representative and then-Governor Bob Graham, demanding the roadblock’s removal. With none of the above having any knowledge of the barrier and lacking the authority to pull it down, Wardlow contacted INS directly. When the Border Patrol told him it was “none of his business,” the Mayor’s response may best be summed up in the words of Bugs Bunny: “Of course you know, this means war!

Suffering a blizzard of hotel cancellations, this “attack on Key West’s sovereignty” could not stand. On April 22, Mayor Wardlow, local attorney & pilot David Horan and Old Town Trolley Tours operator Ed Swift flew to Miami seeking legal remedy. When District Court Judge C. Clyde Atkins failed to issue an injunction, the Key West delegation took to the courthouse steps.

“What are you going to do, Mr. Mayor”, asked the assembled media. Swift leaned over and whispered into the Mayor’s ear, “Tell them we are going to go home and secede!” “We are going to go home and secede!”, said Wardlow. And that’s what they did.

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Over the next 24 hours, secessionist co-conspirators worked feverishly to form a new government, filling cabinet positions such as “Secretary of Underwater Affairs” and “Minister of Nutrition”.

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On April 23, with federal agents on scene to monitor the proceedings, a crowd gathered before the old customs building. Mayor Wardlow and a gaggle of allies mounted the back of a flatbed truck, to read the proclamation of secession. “We serve notice on the government in Washington”, Wardlow began, “to remove the roadblock or get ready to put up a permanent border to a new foreign land. We as a people, may have suffered in the past, but we have no intention of suffering in the future at the hands of fools and bureaucrats“.

With that, Mayor Wardlow declared “war” on the United States.  The “Great Battle of the Conch Republic” broke out in the harbor, when the Schooner Western Union commanded by Captain John Kraus, attacked the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence with water balloons, Conch fritters and toilet paper.  Diligence fought back with water hoses, as the new “Prime Minister” broke a stale loaf of Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a Navy uniform.

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Naval History was forever changed on this day, as the “Great Battle of the Conch Republic” raged across the waters of Key West

Pandemonium broke out as onlookers launched stale bread and conch fritters at federal agents, Navy sailors and Coast Guard personnel. One minute after declaring his “verbal shot” at the Federal government, Mayor Wardlow surrendered to a nearby Naval officer, demanding a billion dollars in “foreign aid” in compensation for “the long federal siege.”

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Apparently, that’s what it takes to get the attention of a Federal government bureaucrat. The roadblock lifted.  The restaurants, stores and hotels of the Keys soon filled with tourists and, once again, happiness smiled upon the land.  Key West never did get its “foreign aid”, but secessionist leaders never received so much as a letter saying they couldn’t leave the Union, either.

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So it is that the micro-nation of Key West celebrates its independence, every April 23. The “Conch Republic’ issues its own passports, selling T-shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan “We seceded where others failed”.

And if the Federal government ever comes back to mess with the sovereign nation of Key West, it had best be prepared to deal with the Conch Republic’s very own “Special Forces”, the motto for which is “Sanctus Merda”.  “Holy Shit”.

Tip of the hat to

“Conch Republic Military Forces, The Official Site of the Conch Republic Military” for the “Conch Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  Lyrics by First Sea Lord, Admiral Finbar Gittelman, October 14, 2012 © Finbar Gittelman

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sunshine and the sea
Right here upon our islands, where we love to live so free 
But in April 1982, the peace was not to be 
And we went rolling on

CHORUS
Glory glory Conch Republic 
Glory glory Conch Republic 
Glory glory Conch Republic 
From Key to shining Key

They were setting up a check point, tween the mainland and the Keys 
They had put a US Border, where it shouldn’t ‘oughta’ be 
So that’s when we seceded, and declared our sovereignty 
And the fun had just begun

(CHORUS)

We went forth into the harbor and a cutter we did spy 
And we sailed up along side her and we took her by surprise 
We hoisted up our battle flag, so proudly and so high 
And we went sailing on

(CHORUS)

The water and Conch fritters and the Cuban bread did fly 
Our bombers, they were raining toilet paper from the sky 
Our cannons they did thunder to proclaim our victory 
And we fought bravely on

(CHORUS)

We have faced the silly forces of misguided zealotry 
We have stood up to their foolishness for all the world to see 
And we’ve showed the other nations what America can be From
Key to shining Key

(CHORUS)

April 16, 1933 A Fish Story

Future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party.  It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this.  For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.

The American Revolution was barely 15 years in the rear-view mirror, when the new State House opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston.  The building has expanded a couple of times since then and remains the home of Massachusetts’ state government, to this day.

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On January 11, 1798, a procession of legislators and other dignitaries worked its way from the old statehouse at the intersection of Washington and State Streets to the new location on Beacon Hill, a symbolic transfer of the seat of government.  The procession carried with it, a bundle.  Measuring 4-feet eleven-inches and wrapped in an American flag, it was a life-size wooden carving.  Of a codfish.

For the former Massachusetts colony, the lowly cod was once a key to survival.  Now, this “Sacred Cod” was destined for a new home in the legislative chamber of the House of Representatives.

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Mark Kurlansky, author of “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, laments the 1990s collapse of the Cod fishery, saying the species finds itself “at the wrong end of a 1,000-year fishing spree.”

Records date back as early as AD985 when Eirik the Red, Leif Eirikson’s father, preserved Codfish by hanging them in the cold winter air.  Medieval Spaniards of the Basque region improved on the process, by the use of salt.  By A.D. 1,000, Basque traders were supplying a vast international market, in codfish.

By 1550, Cod accounted for half the fish consumed in all Europe.  When the Puritans set sail for the new world it was to Cape Cod, to pursue the wealth of the New England fishery.

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Without codfish, Plymouth Rock would likely have remained just another boulder. William Bradford, first signer of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and 5-term governor of the Plymouth Colony (he called it “Plimoth”), reported that, but for the Cod fishery, there was talk of going to Manhattan or even Guiana:  “[T]he major part inclined to go to Plymouth, chiefly for the hope of present profit to be made by the fish that was found in that country“.

There are tales of sailors scooping codfish out of the water, in baskets.  So important was the cod to the regional economy that a carved likeness of the creature hung in the old State House, fifty years or more before the Revolution.

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Massachusetts’ old Statehouse

The old State House burned in 1747, leaving nothing but the brick exterior you see today, not far from Faneuil Hall.  It took a year to rebuild the place, including a brand new wooden Codfish.  This one lasted until the British occupation of Boston, disappearing sometime between April 1775 and March 1776.

The fish which accompanied that procession in 1798 was the third, and so far the last such carving to hang in the Massachusetts State House where it’s remains, to this day.  Sort of.

It was April 16, 1933 with the country mired in the Great Depression, when someone looked up in Massachusetts’ legislative chamber, and spied – to his dismay – nothing but bare wires.  The Commonwealth had suffered “The Great Cod-napping”, of 1933.

Newspapers went wild with speculation. What had happened to The Sacred Cod.

Suspects were questioned and police chased down one lead after another, but they all turned out to be red herring (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).  State police dredged the Charles River, (Love that dirty water).  Lawmakers refused to d’bait (pardon), preferring instead to discuss what they would do with those dastardly Cod-napper(s), if and when the evildoers were apprehended.

Soon, an anonymous tip revealed the culprits to be college pranksters. Three editors of the Harvard Lampoon newspaper, pretending to be tourists.  It was a two-part plan, the trio entering the building with wire cutters and a flower box, as other Lampoon members created a diversion by kidnapping an editor from the arch-rival newspaper, the Harvard Crimson.  The caper worked, flawlessly.  Everyone was busy looking for the missing victim, as two snips from a wire cutter brought down the Sacred Cod.

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On April 28, a tip led University Police to a car with no license plate, cruising the West Roxbury Parkway. After a 20-minute low speed chase, (I wonder if it was a white Bronco), the sedan pulled over.  Two men Carp’d the Diem (or something like that) and handed over the Sacred Cod, before driving away.

Once again the Sacred Cod ascended to its rightful place, and there was happiness upon the Land.  The Cod was stolen one more time in 1968, this time by UMASS hippies protesting some fool thing, but the fish never made it out of the State House.

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The “Holy Mackerel” of the Massachusetts State Senate

Years later, future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party.  It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this.  For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.

Not to be outdone, the State Senate has its own fish, hanging in its legislative chambers.  There in the chandelier, above the round table where sits the Massachusetts upper house, is the copper likeness of the “Holy Mackerel”.  No kidding.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

Legend has it that, when you see those highway signs saying X miles to Boston, they’re really giving you the distance to the Holy Mackerel.

A tip of my hat to my friend and Representative to the Great & General Court David T. Vieira, without whom I’d have remained entirely ignorant of this fishy tale.

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Beacon Hill, seat of Massachusetts state government, where the author addresses an empty chamber. Who knows. Maybe The Sacred Cod™ was paying attention.

April 9, 1940 A Dish Best Served Cold

On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge.  Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.


The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Croton oil as a “poisonous viscous liquid obtained from the seeds of a small Asiatic tree…”  Highly toxic and a violent irritant, the substance was once used as a drastic purgative and counter-irritant in human and veterinary medicine, but is now considered too dangerous for medicinal use. Applied externally, Croton oil is capable of peeling your skin off.  Taken internally, the stuff may be described as the atomic bomb, of laxatives.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or subject to Nazi occupation.  France fell to the Nazi war machine in six weeks, in 1940.  The armed forces of the island nation of Great Britain were left shattered and defenseless, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

On the Scandinavian Peninsula, longstanding policies of disarmament in the wake of WW1 left the Nordic states of Denmark and Norway severely under-strength, able to offer little resistance to the Nazi invaders.

On this day in 1940, German warships entered Norwegian harbors from Narvik to Oslo, as German troops occupied Copenhagen and other Danish cities.  King Christian X of Denmark surrendered almost immediately.  To the northwest, Norwegian commanders loyal to former foreign minister Vidkun Quisling ordered coastal defenders to stand down, permitting the German landing to take place, unopposed.  Norwegian forces refused surrender demands from the German Minister in Oslo, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Nazi Germany responded with an airborne invasion by parachute.  Within weeks, Adolf Hitler could add a second and third scalp to his belt, following the invasion of Poland, six months earlier.  The Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, were out of the war.

Norway was out of the war, but not out of the fight.   One Nazi officer passed an elderly woman on the street, who complained at the officer’s rudeness and knocked his hat off, with her cane. The officer apologized, and scurried away.  The gray-haired old matron snickered, to herself:  “Well, we’ll each have to fight this war as best we can.  That’s the fourth hat I’ve knocked into the mud this morning.

Norwegian Resistance was quick to form, as patriotic locals united against the Nazi occupier and the collaborationist policies of the Quisling government.

“Anti-Nazi graffiti on the streets of Oslo, reading “Live” above the monogram for the Norwegian king, who had fled when the Germans invaded in 1940”. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The Norwegian secret army known as Milorg and led by General Otto Ruge, was at first loath to engage in outright sabotage, for fear of German reprisals against innocent civilians.  Later in the war, Milorg commandos attacked the heavy water factory at Rjukan and sank a ferry carrying 1,300 lbs of heavy water, inflicting severe damage to the Nazi nuclear research program.

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Norwegian Resistance member Sven Somme demonstrates one of the techniques by which he evaded capture in the mountains.

In the beginning, Resistance activities centered more around covert sabotage and the gathering of intelligence.  One of the great but little-known dramas of WW2 unfolded across the snow covered mountains of the Scandinavian peninsula, as the civilian-turned-spy Sven Somme fled 200 miles on foot to neutral Sweden, pursued by 900 Wehrmacht soldiers and a pack of bloodhounds.

Operations of all kinds were undertaken, to stymie the Nazi war effort. Some actions seem like frat-boy pranks, such as coating condoms destined for German units, with itching powder.  Hundreds of Wehrmacht soldiers (and presumably Norwegian women) showed up at Trondheim hospitals, believing they had contracted Lord-knows-what kind of plague.

Other operations demonstrate a kind of evil genius.  This is where Croton oil comes in.

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As dedicated as they were, Norwegian resistance fighters still had to feed themselves and their families.  Many of them were subsistence fishermen, and that meant sardines.  For centuries, the small fish had been a staple food item across the Norwegian countryside.  It was a near-catastrophic blow to civilian and Resistance fighters alike, when the Quisling government requisitioned the entire sardine crop.

The Battle of the Atlantic was in full-swing by this time, as wolf packs of German submarines roamed the north Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping.  Thousands of tons of sardines would be sent to the French port of Saint-Nazaire, to feed U-Boat crews on their long voyages at sea.

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German Type X Submarine, U-864

Norwegian vengeance began with a request to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Great Britain, for the largest shipment of Croton oil, possible.  The “atomic laxative” was smuggled into canneries across Norway, and used to replace vegetable oil in sardine tins.  The plan worked nicely and no one suspected a thing, the pungent taste of the fish covering the strange flavor of the oil.

From midget submarines such as the BiberHaiMolch, and Seehund models to the behemoth 1,800-ton “Type X“, the Kriegsmarine employed no fewer than fifteen distinct submarine types in WW2, including the workhorse “Type VII”, of which some 700 saw service in the German war effort. 

On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge.  Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.

Revenge, it is said, is a dish, best served cold. Excepting the participants in this tale, no one knows what it looks like when ten thousand submariners simultaneously lose control of their bowels. It could not have been a pretty sight.

March 10, 2011 When I Fell from the Sky

Abraham Lincoln was neither the first nor the last to fall from a high place, and live to tell the tale.

In 1840, a young politician found himself in a legislative minority, opposed to a payment to the Illinois State Bank.  In order to prevent a quorum, a handful of Whigs attempted to leave the chamber.  Finding the door locked, our man stepped to a second-story window, and jumped out.  Abraham Lincoln would come to regret what he called his “window scrape”, but the future 16th President was far from the first person to fall from a high place.  Voluntarily, or otherwise.

The term is “Defenestrate”: to throw a person or thing, out of the window.

Jezebel, yeah that Jezebel, the unlovable Queen of Israel from the Bible, was executed by defenestration, in 842BC.

In 1618, three regents of the imperial crown were thrown from the window of the Prague castle, 70-feet from street level. Things hadn’t worked out so well 200 years earlier, when a burgomaster and 13 members of the Prague town council, were similarly defenestrated.

All three survived this time, thanks to the help of mythic angels, according to friends and supporters. Detractors weren’t quite so kind, attributing the trio’s survival to a pile of horseshit. Be that as it may, one of them became a noble thanks to the emperor, and received a title: Baron von Hohenfall. (“Baron of Highfall“). Honest. I couldn’t make up a thing like that.

Since the age of aircraft there are tales of survival, enough to make Baron Highfall’s adventures look like stepping from a curb.

The 2003 737 crash outside port Sudan airport killed 113 and left 2-year-old Mohammed el-Fateh Osman lying on a fallen tree, injured, but still alive.

In 2009, pilot error put Yemenia Flight 626 into aerodynamic stall over the Indian ocean. Alone among 153 passengers and crew, 14-year-old French schoolgirl Bahia Bakari found herself the sole survivor, clinging to wreckage and floating in pitch black heavy seas, for 13 hours.

Base jumper James Boole plunged 6000-feet landing on snow covered rocks in 2009 while filming another jumper, in Russia. “This is going to hurt a lot” he later recounted to the guardian newspaper, “or not at all”. Boole broke his back that time but he was at it again, a year later.

In December 1971, lighting struck LANSA Flight 508 over the Amazon rainforest, breaking the Lockheed Electra to pieces. 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke plunged 10,000 feet still strapped to her seat and survived despite deep gashes and a broken collarbone. Koepcke, the daughter of German scientists working in the Amazon, had grown up a “jungle child”. If you’re lost in the jungle her father would say, follow a stream. Water will always lead you to civilization. For ten exhausting days she trekked through knee-deep water, poking the ground ahead of her to scare away rays and dodging crocodiles.

With maggot infested wounds and nothing to live on but candy scrounged from the wreck, Juliane found her salvation on day 11 at the hands of remote fishermen. Following a period of recovery, she led search parties back to the scene of the crash. It was then that she learned, astonishingly, that her mother had also survived the crash only to succumb to her injuries, days later. Now Juliane Diller, she returned to Germany and followed her parents, into the physical sciences. Her autobiography came out on this day in 2011, if you want to learn more of her story. When I Fell from the Sky (German: Als ich vom Himmel fiel). That must be one hell of a story.

Julianne Koepcke Diller in 2019

In 1985, two sky divers became tangled during a 12,000-foot jump near Victoria Australia. Frank’s injuries were minor. Dave Hodgman wasn’t so lucky but still returned to jumping, within three months.

21 year old RAF Flight Sergeant Nicholas Stephen Alkemade found himself under attack by German aircraft on March 24, 1944. With his parachute burned away and his aircraft in a burning death spiral, Alkemade chose a quick death over being burned alive. At 18,000 feet. The tail gunner regained consciousness looking up from the snow, at the stars above. He lit a cigarette. With a sprained ankle, the airman was easily captured. German interrogators were so impressed with his story they gave him a certificate, attesting to his tale.

Joe Herman of the Royal Australian Air Force was blown out of his bomber, in 1944. Free falling through the night sky Herman grabbed wildly for anything he could get hold of. It happened to be the leg of fellow airman John Vivash. Herman hung on for dear life and returned the favor, hitting the ground first and breaking the fall, for his benefactor. Herman walked away with two broken ribs.

In 1943, American turret gunner Alan Magee was forced to jump from the B-17F Snap! Crackle! Pop!, four miles through the skies over France. He fell 22,000 feet, crashing through the glass roof of the St. Nazaire railroad station. On the ground, his German captors were astonished. With 28 shrapnel wounds, massive internal injuries and a right arm all but severed the man lived on, for another 61 years.

Turret gunner Alan Magee poses for the camera, halfway out of his “office”

Soviet Airforce Lieutenant Ivan Chisov bailed out of his Ilyushin Il-4 bomber, at 22,000 feet. He intended to freefall out of the combat zone so as not to be gunned down by vengeful German pilots, while dangling from his parachute. And a fine plan it was, too, until he lost consciousness, due to the altitude. Chisov hit the snowy embankment at somewhere between 120 and 150 miles per hour, breaking his pelvis and injuring his spine. He was flying again, three months later.

In January 1972, Croatian terrorists placed a briefcase bomb on JAT Air flight 367 from Stockholm, to Belgrade. The bomb exploded, breaking the aircraft into three pieces. Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulović survived the fall with a fractured skull and brain bleeding, two broken legs and three broken vertebra. Vulović passed the next 27 days in a coma and remembers nothing after greeting passengers, on the flight. When offered sedatives for her return flight to Belgrade, she declined the injection. With no memory of the crash, there was nothing to be afraid of.

At 33,330 feet, Vesna Vulović is listed in the Guinness book of world records, for surviving the highest fall.

JAT flight attendant Vesna Vulović

If you’re ever caught in such a situation, experts advise that you spread out your arms and legs to create as much drag, as possible. How one becomes “expert” in such a subject, remains unexplained. Let me know how it works out, if you ever give it a try. As for myself I think I might bend down if I was a little more flexible, and kiss my behind goodbye.