January 20, 2018 Rosie the Riveter

All told some six million women answered the call, expanding the female participation in the overall workforce from 27%, to 37%.


Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of general war in Europe, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed a limited national emergency, authorizing an increase in Regular Army personnel to 227,000 and 235,000 for the National Guard. Strong isolationist sentiment kept the United States on the sidelines for the first two years, as victorious German armies swept across France.

That all changed on December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on the Pacific naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor. Seizing the opportunity, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, four days later.

The Roosevelt administration had barely found the keys to the American war machine in February 1942, when disaster struck with the fall of Singapore, a calamity Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the “worst disaster” in British military history.

The mobilization of the American war machine was a prodigious undertaking. From that modest beginning in 1939, the Army alone had 5.4 million men under arms by the end of 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, American factories produced a staggering 296,000 warplanes, 86,000 tanks, 64,000 landing ships, 6,000 navy vessels, millions of guns, billions of bullets, and hundreds of thousands of trucks and jeeps. US war production exceeded that of the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan, combined.

As all that manpower mobilized to fight the war, women moved into the workforce in unprecedented numbers.  Nearly a third of a million women worked in the American aircraft industry alone in 1943:  65% of the industry’s workforce, up from just 1% in the interwar years.

All told some six million women answered the call, expanding the female participation in the overall workforce from 27%, to 37%.

rosie-the-riveter

The mythical “Rosie the Riveter” first appeared in a song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and made famous by swing bandleader James Kern “Kay” Kyser, in 1943.  The song told of a munitions worker who “keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage / Sitting up there on the fuselage…Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie.  Charlie, he’s a Marine / Rosie is protecting Charlie Working overtime on the riveting machine”.

Norman Rockwell had almost certainly heard the song when he gave Rosie form for the cover of that year’s Memorial Day Saturday Evening Post.  Posed like the Prophet Isaiah from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Rockwell’s “Rosie” is on lunch break, riveting gun on her lap, a beat-up copy of Mein Kampf ground happily under foot.

1035x1485-gettyimages-90017379

Vermont Dental Hygienist Mary Doyle Keefe was the model for Rockwell’s Rosie.  The propaganda value of such an iconic image was unmistakable, but copyright rules limited the use of Rockwell’s portrait.  The media wasted no time in casting a real-life Rosie the Riveter, one of whom was Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter at the Willow Run aircraft factory, in Ypsilanti Michigan.  Rose Monroe would go on to appear in war-bond drives, but the “Real” Rosie the Riveter, was someone else.

The year before the Rosie song came out, Westinghouse commissioned graphic artist J. Howard Miller to produce a propaganda poster, to boost company morale.  The result was the now-familiar “We Can Do It” poster, depicting the iconic figure flexing her biceps, wearing the familiar red & white polka dot bandanna.

world-war-ii-women-at-work-in-color-8
Colorized image of railroad workers on break, 1943

Though she didn’t know it, Miller’s drawing was based on a photograph of California waitress Naomi Parker Fraley, who worked in a Navy machine shop in 1942.

While Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was the first, it is Miller’s work we remember, today.  Rosie the Riveter was larger than any one woman.  She was symbolic of her age, one of the most memorable and long lasting images of the twentieth century.

merlin_132732191_22bab46e-396e-4056-809a-2e551095a7dc-superjumbo
Naomi Parker Fraley, real-life model for Rosie the Riveter

For many years, it was believed that a Michigan woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, was the “real” Rosie the Riveter.  Hoff Doyle had seen the uncaptioned image, and believed it to be herself.  It was an innocent mistake. The woman bears a striking resemblance to the real subject of the photograph.

Thirty years came and went before Parker-Fraley even knew about it.  She saw herself in a newspaper clipping, and wrote to the paper around 1972, trying to set the record straight.  Too late. Hoff Doyle’s place had been cemented into popular culture, and into history.

Parker-Fraley was devastated. “I just wanted my own identity,” she says. “I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.”

kimble_research_rosie-320
Professor James Kimble, Ph. D.

Another thirty-eight years would come and go before Seton Hall Communications Professor James J. Kimble, Ph.D., took an interest in the identity of the famous female from the WW2 poster. Beginning in 2010 and lasting nearly six years, the search became an obsession. It was he who discovered the long lost original picture with photographer’s notes identifying Naomi Parker-Fraley. “She had been robbed of her part of history,” Kimble said. “It’s so hurtful to be misidentified like that. It’s like the train has left the station and you’re standing there and there’s nothing you can do because you’re 95 and no one listens to your story.

rosie-the-riveter (1)

Over the years there have been many Rosie the Riveters, the last of whom was Elinor Otto, who built aircraft for fifty years before being laid off at age ninety-five.  Naomi Parker-Fraley knew she was the “first”, but that battle was a long lost cause until Dr. Kimble showed up at her door, in 2015.  All those years, she had known.  Now the world knew.

Rosie the Riveter died on January 20, 2018.  She was ninety-six.

Hat tip “BoredPanda.com”, for a rare collection of colorized images from the WW2 era, of women at work.  It’s linked HERE.

December 31, 1938 The Drunkometer

Guidelines set up in 1939 by the National Safety Council and the American Medical Association gave three ranges for blood alcohol content, which would become the standard in a majority of state legislatures:
• 0.05% and below: Defendants should not be considered under the influence
• 0.05% to 0.15%: Not considered “under the influence” but taken into account if other evidence is presented
• 0.15% and above: Presumed “under the influence” of alcohol
Today national standards for BAC are .08% for drivers 21 and over with state limits ranging from 0.00 to 0.02 for younger drivers.

The first recorded drunk driving arrest came about in 1897 when London taxi driver George Smith, crashed into a building. Smith entered a plea of guilty after his arrest and was sentenced to a fine of 25 shillings, equivalent to $33.49 USD, in 2021.

In the US at this time transportation more often, involved a horse. There were 4,192 vehicles on US roads in 1900 mostly steam and electric with a mere 936 running, on internal combustion. The Automobile Club of America estimated 200,000 motorized cars in the United States in 1909. By 1916 the number skyrocketed, to 2.25 million.

Early postcard warning of the dangers, of driving drunk.

As roads became more numerous and cars got faster the drunk driver’s primary concern was no longer, falling off his horse. Now pedestrians and other motorists were increasingly at risk. New York was the first state to enact drunk driving laws, in 1910.

“Prohibition” went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. It was now illegal to import, export, transport or sell intoxicating liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

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

Frustrated by the lack of compliance the federal government ordered the deliberate poisoning of industrial alcohols in 1926 to prevent bootleggers from “renaturing” the stuff, as drinkable alcohol. By some estimates the federal government’s poisoning program killed as many as 10,000 of its own people.

For thirteen years federal prohibition did little more than empower the mob, and destroy the nation’s 5th largest industry. It’s hard to compare alcohol consumption rates before and during prohibition but, if death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never went down more than 10 to 20 percent. Revelers continued to get behind the wheel, and drive.

In 1927, Dr. Emil Bogen’s landmark study established a scientific method of determining inebriation by testing the blood, urine or breath of a subject. An individual would breathe into an apparatus not unlike a football bladder where chemicals would change to various colors, depending on exposure to alcohol. Colors were then compared with a collection of vials to determination the amount of alcohol in the system. The system worked but it wasn’t very practical, for a traffic stop.

One W.D. McNally published the picture below in the November 1927 issue of Science and Invention with the promise that a method was coming soon, to reliably determine blood alcohol levels.

Prohibition was repealed in late 1933. In the first six months of 1934 Chicago reported a four-fold increase in drunk driving fatalities over the same period of the last full year, of Prohibition. Los Angeles reported similar numbers.

A conceptual breakthrough happened in 1931 when Indiana University biochemist Dr. Rolla N. Harger announced his own method for measuring blood alcohol content, by means of a breath test. By 1938 Harger had a working model of a new machine, small enough for practical use in the field. Indiana State Police first put the device to use on December 31.

By 1940 police departments across the nation were using Harger’s device like the one pictured here, at the New Jersey State police.

When asked what they called their device Harger and his team called the thing, a “Drunkometer”. Whether they were serious or the name was a joke is a matter for conjecture, but the modern breathalyzer, was here to stay.

Eighty three years to the day it is New Year’s Eve, 2021. Tonight, revelers the world over will celebrate the New Year.  I wish you and yours a safe, healthy and prosperous new year and if you need to, you can always call a cab. Just make sure the guy’s name isn’t, George Smith.

November 12, 1933 The Loch Ness Monster

Before the age of King George III, readers scoffed at the notion of a venomous, egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the webbed feet, of an otter. Until one was discovered, in 1799.


As the story goes, the Irish priest Columba was traveling the Scottish Highlands, teaching Christianity to the Picts. He was walking along the shores of Loch Ness one day, when he came upon some local villagers burying one of their own. The poor unfortunate had swum out to retrieve a boat adrift from its moorings, when he was bitten by a water creature of some sort. The priest sent one of his followers swimming across the loch to get the boat. The monster rose from the depths once again and was just about to eat the man, when Columba commanded the beast to depart.

There’s no telling how it actually happened. The story was written down 100 years, after the fact. The events described took place on August 22nd, 565, meaning that we’ve been talking about the Loch Ness monster for about 1,500 years. At a minimum.

Loch Ness is formed by a 60 mile, active tectonic fault, where the hills are still rising at a rate of a millimeter, per year. It’s made up of 3 lochs; Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness with Loch Ness being by far, the largest. There is more water in Loch Ness than all the other lakes in England, Scotland and Wales, combined. It is 22½ miles long and varies from a mile to 1½ miles wide, with a depth of 754-feet and a bottom “as flat as a bowling green”.

Loch Ness never freezes. There is a thermocline at 100-feet, below which the water remains a uniform 44° Fahrenheit. As the surface water cools in winter, it is replaced by warmer water rising up from below, causing the loch to steam on cold days. The heat energy generated has been compared to burning 2 million tons of coal. With the steam rising off the water and the occasional seismic tremor, Loch Ness can be a very eerie place.

Heron-Allen Image
Loch Ness ‘Monster’ as photographed, by Hugh Gray

The first photographic “evidence” of the Loch Ness monster was taken on the 12th of November 1933, by Hugh Gray. Some said the picture showed an otter, while others believed it was “some kind of giant marine worm”. The UK Daily Mail sent a team to look for evidence, headed by the famous big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell. There was great media excitement when Wetherell discovered enormous footprints along the shore in December. Researchers from the Natural History Museum examined the tracks, which they determined to have come from a dried hippo’s foot; probably one of the umbrella stands popular at the time. That was the end of that.

Nessie, Robert Wilson
Surgeon’s Photo

A British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, took what might be the most famous picture of “Nessie” the following year. He didn’t want his name associated with it, so it became “The Surgeon’s Photo”, showing what appears to be a head and neck rising above the waters of the loch.

In one of history’s more interesting death bed confessions, Christian Spurling claimed in 1994 at the age of 93, that the surgeon’s photo had been a hoax.  According to Spurling, his step-father Marmaduke Wetherell, was smarting over his hippo-foot humiliation.  Spurling remembers Wetherell saying “We’ll give them their monster”, and asking his stepson to build a credible model of a marine creature.  And so he did, the photo was taken, and Dr. Wilson became the respectable front man for the hoax.

Crypto

An entire study called “Cryptozoology” (literally, the study of hidden animals) has sprung up around Nessie and other beasts whose existence is never quite proven, and never completely debunked. There is Big Foot, who seems to have made it to stardom with his own series of beef jerky commercials. You have the Chupacabra, the Yeti, Ogopogo, Vermont’s own Lake Champlain monster, “Champ”, and more.

And yet, some of these critters have proven to be, very real. The terrifying ‘Kraken’ of sailor’s lore was likely a colossal squid, now known to gain lengths up to 46-feet. Before the age of King George III, readers scoffed at the notion of a venomous, egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the webbed feet, of an otter. Until one was discovered, in 1799. Today we know that little guy, as the duck-billed platypus. The Coelacanth was ‘known’ to be extinct since the late cretaceous, until one of them popped up in a fisherman’s net, in 1938.

Hundreds of images have been taken over the years, purporting to demonstrate that these critters do exist. Some were transparent hoaxes, for others there is less certainty. In the end, people will believe what they want to believe. The existence of these mythical creatures may never be proven, short of one of them washing up on shore somewhere. Even then, someone will take to social media, to argue otherwise.

November 4, 1781 Divas

Händel himself was no slouch when it came to being the Temperamental Artist. He was lucky even to be alive following a furious argument in 1704 when a button was all that stood in the way of the skewering blade of fellow composer, Johann Mattheson.

George III King of Great Britain and Ireland ascended to the throne in 1760 declaring that, “Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain”. It was his reassurance that, unlike his father and grandfather before him, George III would rule, as an English King.

Kings George I and II were in fact Hanoverian and as such, did not speak English. At least not, fluently. Queen Victoria, that most quintessentially British of monarchs was in fact of German ancestry and spoke German, as a first language. George I, Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ascended to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland in August 1714, the first of the British Kings, from the House of Hanover.

The German composer George Frideric Händel was well known by this time, in German and Italian opera. He became Kapellmeister to the German prince in 1710, “Master of the Chapel Choir”. Chorale works Händel composed around this time for Queen Anne and the young and wealthy “Apollo of the Arts” Richard Boyle made it almost natural, that Händel would settle in England.

George I enjoys the River Thames with George Frideric Händel, in 1717

In Italian opera, a prima donna is the leading female singer in the company, the “first lady” opposite the male lead or primo uomo. Usually (but not always) a soprano, prima donne could be demanding of their colleagues with grand and sometime insufferable personae both on- and off-stage. Opera enthusiasts would divide into opposing “clubs” supporting or opposing one singer, over the other. The 19th century rivalry between fans of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi is an infamous example despite a personal friendship, between the two singers. When prima donne detest one another pandemonium, is sure to follow.

Händel’s work was popular in Georgian era society, so much so he was given free reign to hire his own performers. One such was Francesca Cuzzoni, a fiery soprano with the reputation as being among the greatest, of 18th century divas. Unkindly described by one opera historian as “doughy” and plain, a “short, squat” performer she nevertheless sang, with the voice of the angels. Widely regarded as one of the finest Sopranos in all Europe Händel hired Cuzzoni, in 1722.

Händel himself was no slouch when it came to being the Temperamental Artist. He was lucky even to be alive following a furious argument in 1704 when a button was all that stood in the way of the skewering blade of fellow composer, Johann Mattheson.

On rehearsal for her London debut, Cuzzoni became furious over one aria claiming the role was written, for someone else. She refused even to perform when Händel, a great bear of a man physically picked the woman off the ground by her waist, and threatened to throw her out a window.

Problem solved.

Francesca Cuzzoni, by James Caldwall

Francesca Cuzzoni went on to become a smashing success, for four years the undisputed Queen, of the London opera. In 1726, Händel sought to capitalize on this success and reached out to his Italian agents, for a second Star. So it was the mezo-soprano Faustina Bordoni was hired, for the following season.

Younger and considerably more attractive than the older Cuzzoni the pair had been rivals, back in Italy. Notwithstanding, Händel and other composers wrote a series of operas featuring a two-female lead taking great care to give the two, equal prominence.

You know where this is going, right?

Faustina Bordoni pastel, in 1724

Baroque opera loved nothing more than a love triangle and the two were often cast, as rivals for the affections of one man. The degree to which the two divas’ professional rivalry bled into their personal lives is a matter of some discussion but the behavior of their fans, is not.

The “clash” between the two soon became public knowledge. Opera-going aristocrats began to take up sides enthusiastically egged on, by the press. Society ladies would dress in the respective fashion of their particular heroine and hiss and catcall, at the appearance of the other.

Things got out of hand during a performance of Bononcini’s Astianatte. Fights broke out among the audience when Cuzzoni turned and unleashed a torrent of Italian invective, at her rival. The pair hurled insults at one another. You know the words. These two, knew ALL of them them. Verbal combat soon became physical the performance, be damned. The scene beggars the imagination. A wild west bar fight in stalls and stage alike as two divas tore at each other’s costumes, and pulled each other’s hair.

In the end, the two were physically dragged from the stage their performance, abandoned.

Theater management canceled Cuzzoni’s contract. King George would have none of that and threatened to withdraw their allowance, and that was the end of that. The two divas kept an uneasy truce for the following season, but something had to give.

In the end, Faustina Bordoni was offered a guinea more for the 1728 season. One schilling, one pence. Predictably, Francesca Cuzzoni threw a tantrum and immediately resigned, and returned to Italy.

Faustina Bordoni lived on to a happy and prosperous old age and died on November 4, 1781. No so Francesca Cuzzoni who faded into poverty and obscurity eking out a living it is said, making and selling, buttons.

Back in 1728, theater management dearly wished the whole sorry mess would just go away. No such luck. John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera was a smash hit that season, “the most popular play of the eighteenth century” satirizing Italian opera with its perpetually feuding heroines Polly Peachum, and Lucy Lockit.

Hat tip “Rival Queens” featuring Simone Kermes, and Vivica Genaux

November 2, 1985 The Curse of Harlan Sanders

Much has been written of the rise of imperial Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century might have turned out had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

Baseball as we know it was introduced to the nation, in 1872. To this day, the game remains the most popular sport in the country for participants and spectators, alike. In 1907, Ambassador to the United States Tsuneo Matsudaira commented: “the game spread, like a fire in a dry field, in summer, all over the country, and some months afterwards, even in children in primary schools in the country far away from Tōkyō were to be seen playing with bats and balls“.

Did I neglect to mention? The nation we’re talking about, is Japan.

Professional baseball got off to a rocky start in 1920s Japan and continued to flounder, until 1934. That’s when media bigwig Matsutarō Shōriki pulled off a “goodwill tour” with an all-star American team.

“The [1934] party included future Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Connie Mack, Foxx and Ruth, along with several other American Leaguers (asked to accompany the tour when the National League forbade its stars from coming along). Even Moe Berg, the big league catcher who would eventually work as a United States government spy, was a member of the ball playing entourage”.

H/T baseballhall.org

Much has been written of the rise of imperial Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century might have turned out had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

The first Japanese professional league was formed in 1936, becoming large enough to split into two leagues in 1950, the Central and Pacific.

Today, the Kansai region of Honshu is the 2nd largest metropolis, in all Japan. That’s where you’ll find the Hanshin Tigers, those perennial underdogs of Nippon Professional Baseball and arch-rival to the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, widely regarded as the kings, of Japanese baseball.

As a life-long Red Sox fan, this story is beginning to sound familiar.

November 2, 1985 was a time of unbridled joy for delirious Tigers fans, following Hanshin’s 6-2 drubbing of the Seibu Lions to win the ultimate prize, the Japan series pennant, of 1985.

Now you may not know this, but the Japanese people are crazy, about Kentucky Fried Chicken. Japan is the third largest market on the planet for the Colonel’s yard bird, #3 only behind the United States and China. Not bad for a fast food outfit that opened its first Japanese franchise on July 4, 1970.

Which brings us back, to baseball.

The Boston baseball fan is well acquainted with the “Curse of the Bambino”, the 86-year World Series championship drought, second only to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” denying victory to long-suffering Cubbies fans, for 106 years.

Since 1985, Japanese mothers have scared wayward children into acting right with the curse, of Colonel Sanders.

The Hanshin club emerged victorious in 1985, due in large part to the efforts of American slugger, Randy Bass. Delirious after unexpected victory in game one and superstitious as baseball fans the world over, Hanshin supporters gathered at the Ebisu Bridge over the Dōtonbori river in Osaka, to partake in one of the most bizarre spectacles, in the history of sports.

Fans would shout out the names of Tigers players and someone who resembled that player, even vaguely, would jump into the river. There being no Caucasians in attendance to represent Mr. Bass, the crowd took hold of a storefront statue of Harlan Sanders, and threw it into the River.

A young fan of the Hanshin Tigers dives into the Osaka river to celebrate the team’s first league championship win in 18 years 15 September 2003. Tigers defeated Hiroshima Carp 3-2. AFP PHOTO/JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

What the hell. They were both white guys and they both wore beards, right?

Thus began the curse of Colonel Sanders, a losing streak brought on by the ghost of a man who didn’t appreciate being tossed, into a river. Brief rallies in 1992 and again in ’99 brought hope once again to the Hanshin faithful, (gosh, this story sounds Really familiar now), only to have cruel fate, block the way. Repeated efforts were made to retrieve the Colonel from the river, only to be met, with failure.

The curse, dragged on.

“Dangerous! Do not dive into this river. Osaka Regional Development Bureau and Osaka-Minami Police station” sign at the new Ebisubashi bridge H/T Wikipedia

The joy of victory smiled upon the land of Hanshin once again in 2003, when Yomiuri Giants MVP Hideki Matsui was traded to the New York Yankees, clearing the way to a Central League pennant for Hanshin. Even so, final victory remained elusive. The Japan series went to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks that year, in 7 games.

Celebration turned to tragedy that year, when thousands of Tigers fans jumped into the river. 24-year-old Masaya Shitababa, drowned. The Osaka city council ordered construction of a new bridge over the Dōtonbori beginning in 2004, making further such jumps, next to impossible.

Divers discovered the upper part of Harlan Sanders’ statue on March 10, 2009 and the lower piece, the following day. And yet one hand and the Colonel’s eyeglasses, were nowhere to be found.

Colonel Sanders’ left hand and spectacles remain missing to this day and the KFC where it all started, is closed and gone forever. The October 26, 2021 English language edition of thehanshintigers.com blog mournfully reports: “Game 143 vs. Dragons: Lifeless Last Game, Pennant Lost”. So it is for long suffering fans of the Hanshin Tigers. The curse of Colonel Sanders, lives on.

Image.jpeg

October 30, 1938 Fake News

“We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” – Orson Welles

October 30, 1938 was a Sunday. The 8:00pm (eastern) broadcast of the Mercury Theater of the Air began with a weather report and then went to a dance band remote featuring “Ramon Raquello and his orchestra”. The music was periodically interrupted by live “news” flashes, beginning with strange explosions on Mars. Producer Orson Welles made his debut as the “famous” (but non-existent) Princeton Professor Dr. Richard Pierson, who dismissed speculation about life on Mars.

A short time later, another “news flash” reported a fiery crash in Grovers Mill, New Jersey. What was believed a meteorite turned out to be a rocket capsule as a tentacled, pulsating Martian unscrewed the hatch and incinerated the gathering crowd of onlookers, with a death ray.

The story is great fun, a Halloween classic telling and retelling the story of a radio broadcast leading untold thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands to take up their families and their shotguns and flee into the night, to escape the Martian menace.

1 million Americans or more according to some news outlets, members of a generation who survived the Great Depression and went on to win World War II, actually believed Martian killing machines had blasted off and traveled across interplanetary space and attacked New Jersey, only to be destroyed themselves by microorganisms, all in the space of a sixty minute broadcast.

Umm…OK.

To be fair I wrote as much myself in this space, four years ago. Then as now the healthy skeptic might have begun, by following the money.

In 1899, the obscure Brazilian priest and inventor Father Roberto Landell de Moura successfully transmitted audio over a distance, of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles). That same year an Italian inventor called Guglielmo Marconi successfully broadcast, across the English Channel. Twenty years later, Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad began to broadcast music, in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania area. Conrad’s broadcasts stimulated demand for crystal sets. A year later, Westinghouse started the radio station, KDKA. Within two years, KDKA was broadcasting prize fights and Major League Baseball games. By early 1927 there were 737 stations nationwide, and growing.

In the 19th century, newspapers alone carried the journalistic heft, to go toe-to-toe with the corruption of Tammany Hall and other such political machines. Books could be written about the newspaper wars of the turn-of-the-century and the Yellow Journalism which helped goad the nation, to war. A week after the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 William Randolph Hearst’s American Journal ran the headline “How do you like the Journal’s war?” 

The “stunt journalism” of Nellie Bly and her Ten Days in a Madhouse opened the door to an era of Muckraking, journalists reporting on waste, fraud and abuse in public and private life, alike.

In depression-era America, radio was not only the cheapest form of entertainment but a source for high quality programming. By the late 1930’s radio was not only the center of household entertainment but also, a center for news and information.

It was the Golden Age of radio. By 1934 some 60 percent of American households had radio sets as did 1½ million, of the nation’s automobiles. Many theaters didn’t bother to open their doors during the Amos & Andy program and those who did shut off the projectors while the show was on and hauled out, a radio.

To the news reader of the Great War period the newspaper was equal to the entire print and electronic media of our time, in all its forms.

Such was the media landscape in the inter-war years. A new and novel form of news and entertainment gaining ground almost daily, at the expense of a centuries-old competitor. Small wonder it is then that such an industry would find threat in this upstart, called radio.

And then came October 30, 1938. The War of the Worlds.

With memories of the Great War still painfully fresh and the Nazi threat looming in Europe an excitable few did indeed, take to the streets. Most had heard the repeated warnings that this was only entertainment though, or figured it out for themselves. Others did what rational people would do and picked up the phone, in search of information.

Friends and family called each other to see if they had heard anything. New York phone switchboards experienced a geometric increase in traffic, that night. New Jersey phone traffic jumped 39 percent during the broadcast. The New York Times received 875 calls about the program. The Newark Evening News logged over a thousand. Some called CBS, to congratulate them for the show. Others complained that the program was too realistic.

Then as now Sunday night newsrooms, are all but cold and dark. With few reporters working that night and little original reporting many papers relied on the Monday morning recap from organizations, like AP. And who was this irresponsible upstart in any case when the public already had a far more trusted source, for news and information?

The Associated Press reported Monday morning, a man in Pittsburgh returned home to find his wife with a bottle of poison saying “I’d rather die this way“. A woman in Indianapolis ran into a church screaming “New York is destroyed… It’s the end of the world!“. The Washington Post reported the story of one Baltimore man who died of a heart attack but somehow didn’t bother to follow up, for any of the details. The New York Times piled on with the October 31 headline “Radio listeners in panic, Taking Radio drama as fact”. The Times went on to inform its readers, “In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than 20 families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture”.

Long on anecdote and egregiously short on details, the print media went with the narrative blaming the entire radio industry. It was the first clue, that something wasn’t right.

“For at least a couple hours or more and really into the next morning, we believed we were mass murderers, because the press which was very hostile to radio was delighted for this opportunity to piss on radio and say they were irresponsible, and so on”.

War of the Worlds producer, John Housman

Not a single one of multiple purported deaths was ever tied directly to the War of the Worlds and yet, 83 years later the panic narrative remains, alive and well. For the 75th anniversary in 2013 USA Today reported, that “The broadcast … disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams and clogged communications systems.”

NPR’s Morning Edition reported as recently as 2005, that “”listeners panicked, thinking the story was real. Many jumped in their cars according to the broadcast, to flee from the “invasion.” ‘Radiolab’, a program produced by New York Public Radio from 2002 to the present day reported that some 12 million people listened to that original broadcast, in 1938. 1 in 12 according to Radiolab believed the story, to be true.

The Truly Terrified likely numbered in the tens of dozens and not the tens of thousands but the narrative was already being set. What better tools to apply but fear and mockery, techniques we see in common use, to this day.

The War of the Worlds broadcast was, in the end, what it described itself to be. A Halloween concoction. The equivalent of dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, ‘Boo!’. Instead, the story remains one of our great and enduring media hoaxes giving proof where little is required, of Winston Churchill’s wise and timeless advice: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on“.

October 20, 1977 That Other day, the Music Died

As for that so-called feud with Neil Young it never was anything more, than a good-natured brushback pitch. “I think “Sweet Home Alabama” is a great song” Young would later say, “I’ve actually performed it live a couple of times myself”.

If you’d like to start an argument, find yourself a pair of music enthusiasts and ask them, about the origins of rock ‘n’ roll. And then sit back because I guarantee you, hours of entertainment.

If you’d permit me a gross oversimplification, the answer may be found in the collision of black and white culture of the 1940s and 50s, an amalgamation of style and instrumentation exceeding the sum of its parts and resulting in nothing short, of cultural revolution.

Religious leaders, government officials and parents’ groups decried the new style, as the “devils music. The FBI launched a year-long obscenity investigation directed at the Jamaican sailor’s ballad “Louie Louie”, as performed by an obscure Portland Oregon outfit, called the Kingsmen. The G-Men could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and asked lead singer Jack Ely about those lyrics, but that would have made sense. As it is, the FBI’s archival website contains no fewer than 119 pages, covering the investigation.

Witnesses were interviewed and Louie Louie played forward, backward and at varying speed. In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

Rock ‘n’ roll music, was here to stay.

Before the “British invasion“ of the 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll music remained largely a product, of the American south. Artists such as Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis all hailed, from the deep South.

Popular music changed in the 1960’s from the “Land of Cotton” to large cities like Liverpool, New York, London, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco. A generation of youth the world over “turned on, tuned in and dropped out” in the words of Timothy Leary while bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Canned Heat and a Canadian folk rock group called The Band featuring Arkansas’s own Levon Helm preserved a Southern blues, boogie woogie and country music heritage which would come to be known, as Southern rock..

For a man tragically taken from among us at the age of 24, few have brought about the tectonic cultural shift of a man called “Skydog” by his friends, Howard Duane Allman, by the rest of us. As a session musician with established artists such as Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and Derek and the Dominoes, Rolling Stone ranked Allman #2 guitar player of all time in 2003 second only, to Jimi Hendrix.

The Allman Brothers Band established in 1968 never played so much as a single gig before cutting their first album and yet, went on to become “the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years,” according to George Kimball of Rolling Stone. Following session work on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton himself described Allman as the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did.”

On October 29, 1971, a motorcycle crash on the streets of Macon Georgia ended the life of Duane Allman. A year later, bassist Berry Oakley was himself killed in a motorcycle crash only three blocks from the spot, where Allman had perished. He too, was only 24.

“You can’t help the revolution, because there’s just evolution … Every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace”

Duane Allman

Up to this point, the Allman Brothers’ sound may be described, as blues rock. The 1972 double album “Eat a Peach” turned the corner to a more “Southern Fried” sound led by guitarist Dickey Betts’ epic, “Blue Sky“. The band led the 1970’s Southern rock phenomenon with hits like “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica“, both from the Brothers and Sisters album. Groups like Marshall Tucker, ZZ Top and Molly Hatchet rocketed to stardom during this period but none so much, as Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In the insanity that was the summer of 2021, the Robert E. Lee High School of Jacksonville Florida was renamed, Riverside High. Back in 1969, five Lee High school buddies, were in a band. Ronnie Van Zant (guitar), Bob Burns (drums), Gary Rossington (guitar), Allen Collins (guitar) and Larry Junstrom (bass) went through several band names from ’64 on, including The Noble Five, The One Percent, and My Backyard. In 1969, the boys took a backhanded swipe at a flat-topped gym teacher who didn’t care for all that hair. Forby Leonard Skinner was his name, the band at first calling itself Leonard Skinnerd and later morphing into, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“It seems a physical education teacher named Leonard Skinner didn’t cotton to long hair or loud music. A run-in with him helped get the boys suspended. As a way of getting back, they named the band for Skinner, changing the vowels to avoid a lawsuit and becoming famous enough to make the story a rock legend.

Associated Press
Leonard Skinner, in later life

Skinner went on to sell real estate and even had his sign and phone number (for which he gave permission) included in the cover art for the band’s third album. Fans would call him up at all hours to ask “who’s speaking”? What followed was invariably “far out” at the response “Leonard Skinner”, but the retired PE teacher said such calls at 4:00am tended to be, anything but.

In 1972, songwriter, musician and record producer Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat and Tears saw the band on performance in Atlanta and signed them to his “Sounds of the South” label to produce their first album: “Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” featuring the hit song “free bird“ debuted in August 1973. The band never looked back.

An opening slot on the Who’s Quadrophenia tour of late 1973 cemented the band’s popularity proceeding to the follow-up album “Second Helping”, in 1974. Much was made at the time (and since), of the so-called “feud” between Neil Young and these sons of the south but that drama may be a wee bit, overblown. Everyone concerned describes themselves as fans of the other’s work. Neil Young later described his own lyrics in “Alabama” and “Southern Man” as overly accusatory. Ronnie van Zant said the man was shooting all the ducks when he only wanted to kill, one or two. The song “Sweet Home Alabama” they claimed, started out as a joke and was, after all, just a song.

Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Be that as it may, the song rocketed up the charts scoring Gold and/or Platinum certifications in Denmark, Italy, the US and the UK. Lynyrd Skynyrd was on the way to becoming one of the most popular Southern rock bands of all time, but such popularity does not come, without a cost.

There were brushes with the law and band defections much of it steeped, in drugs and alcohol. Allen Collins and Gary Rossington were involved in serious car crashes only hours apart over Labor Day weekend 1976, prompting Ronnie van Zant’s ominous warning in a song called, “That Smell”.

Angel of darkness is upon you
Stuck a needle in your arm (Ya fool you)
So take another toke have a blow for your nose
One more drink fool would drown you (Hell yeah)

Guitarist Ed King left the band in 1975. Looking to restore the signature three-guitar front-end Lynyrd Skynyrd, went looking for a replacement. Back up singer Cassie Gaines recommended her younger brother, Steve. Steve Gaines proved to be a prodigiously talented singer, songwriter and musician. The band was headed for greatness, in 1977. The Street Survivors tour brought the band to sold-out concerts throughput Europe and all the way to Asia and a first-ever appearance for a Southern rock band, in Japan. The same group who had once opened for the Who was now playing the same venues, as headliners.

With the release of the Street Survivors album on October 17, Lynyrd Skynyrd rebranded the next leg of the tour with the ominous name, “Tour of the Survivors“. The October 19 show in Greenville South Carolina followed a three day run through their native Florida and ended with a 20 minute rendition of the now famous rock anthem, “Free Bird“. A bright future lay in wait. A future, never meant to be.

26 people boarded the Convair CV-240 chartered from South Carolina on October 20, bound for Baton Rouge and the next concert, at LSU.

“Whiskey bottles, and brand new cars, Oak tree you’re in my way / There’s too much coke and too much smoke / Look what’s going on inside you / Ooooh that smell / Can’t you smell that smell … The smell of death surrounds you.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Realizing the aircraft was running out of fuel, the pilots attempted to reach the airport outside McComb, Mississippi. Visibly distressed and losing altitude, pilot  Walter McCreary instructed passengers, to strap in.  Gary Rossington describes a sound like baseball bats on the aircraft’s aluminum skin as tree branches began to strike  the fuselage.

Keyboard player Billy Powell, deeply lacerated with his nose all but torn from his face later described Van Zant being hurled from the plane, his head striking a tree as the aircraft, broke apart. Despite broken ribs, former United States Marine-turned drummer Artimus Pyle extricated himself from the wreckage and walked to a nearby home to notify the inhabitants.

Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie, road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were all killed in the crash.  Everyone else on the aircraft, all 20 of them, were seriously injured.

This was to be the band’s last flight in this particular aircraft. Everyone agreed the Convair was well past its prime, unbefitting a band some have called, the best in the world. Pyle said the thing looked like it belonged to the Clampett family, referring to the Beverly hillbillies. Aerosmith had previously looked at the same aircraft and flight crew and rejected it for the 1977 American tour, despite objections from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Lynyrd Skynyrd went on hiatus for over a decade after the crash but eventually, reformed. The band remains on tour to this day including original member Gary Rossington and now featuring Van Zant’s brother Johnny, as a lead singer and lead guitarist.

I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, too easy to misconstrue.”

Neil Young in his 2012 book, “Alabama”

As for that so-called feud with Neil Young it never was anything more, than a good-natured brushback pitch. “I think “Sweet Home Alabama” is a great song” Young would later say, “I’ve actually performed it live a couple of times myself. My own song “Alabama” richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it today.” There were even plans to collaborate on Young’s upcoming song “Powderfinger” recorded on the 1979 “Rust never sleeps: album, but it wasn’t meant to be.

In later life, Leonard Skinner opened a bar in Jacksonville called “The Still” and his namesake rock group, played there. Skinner died in 2010 leaving a New York Times obituary to call him, “Arguably the most influential high school gym teacher in American popular culture“. Other music fads of the 1970s would come and go. Today, the Funk and Punk movements of the period make for good trivia questions. The disco craze is more of a punchline.

Ain’t nobody making fun of Sweet Home Alabama…

September 6, 3114BC It’s a Mayan Thing

“Each day in the sacred Maya calendar has a meaning. It tells us about the relationship among all things, including the animals, the land, humans, and everything in the cosmos.” —Hermelinda Sapon Pu, K’iche’ Maya, Day Keeper

One of the sillier bits of pop culture nonsense served up to us in the recent past, may be the world coming to an end on 12/21/12, according to the Mayan calendar. The calendar itself isn’t silly, it’s actually a sophisticated mathematical construct but the end of the world part, certainly was.

The Mayans were skilled mathematicians and it shows in their calendar, the first to recognize the concept of zero, and working extensively in a base 20 number system.

Long count glyphs

The Mayans used three separate calendars, each period represented by its own glyph. The Long Count was mainly used for historical purposes. The Maya/Mesoamerican long count, begun this day in 3114BC (corresponding to the Julian Calendar).was able to specify any date within a 2,880,000 day cycle.

The Haab was a civil calendar consisting of 18 months of 20 days, and one 5-day Uayeb, a nameless period rounding out the 365-day year.

The Tzolk’in was the “divine” calendar, used mainly for ceremonial and religious purposes. Consisting of 20 periods of 13 days, the Tzolk’in goes through a complete cycle every 260 days. The significance of this cycle is unknown, though it may be connected with the 263 day orbit of Venus. There is no year in the Haab or Tzolk’in calendars, though a Haab and Tzolk’in date may be combined to specify a particular day within a 52-year cycle.

National Geographic explains that 12/21/12 brings to a close not the end of time, but the end of the 12th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The world doesn’t end, according to this explanation, it “rolls over” to the year zero and starts over, kind of like old cars used to do, when the odometer reached 100,000 miles.

MayanCalendar-300x300

It doesn’t really roll over to “zero”, either.  The base 20 numerical system means that 12/22/12 begins the next 400 year (actually 394.3 years) period to begin the 13th Bak’tun.  It will reset to zero at the end of the 20th Bak’tun, about 3,000 years from now.  Please let me know how that turns out.

The Mayan calendar system became extinct in most areas after the Spanish conquests of the 16th century, though it continues in use in many modern communities in highland Guatemala and in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.

The table of Long Count units below illustrates the Mayan units of measure.

Table of Long Count units

A day is a K’in, there are 20 K’ins in a Winal, and so on.

Today’s date then, according to the Mayan calendar, is Long Count Date 13.0.8.15.1, or:
13 baktun (13 X 144,000 days = 1,872,000 days)
0 katun (0 X 7,200 days = 0 days)
8 tun (8 X 360 days = 2,880 days)
15 uinal (15 X 20 days = 300 days)
1 k’in (1 X 1 day = 1 days)
Tzolk’in Date: 13 Imix’
Haab Date: 19 Mol
Lord of the Night

Represented graphically it all looks like this:

Hat tip to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, for that one.

Get it? Me neither, but Happy…umm… 13.0.8.15.1.

August 15, 1057 The Real Macbeth

History collides with legend when you peer a thousand years into the past, but one thing is certain. Shakespeare’s Macbeth bears little resemblance to the man, for whom the story is named.

Them that strut and fret their hours upon the stage are a superstitious lot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Apologies to the Bard for that bit of word butchery).

In the world of theater it is high praise to present the performer with flowers, in token of appreciation for a fine performance. Be warned though, never give a performer flowers, before the play. That would bring bad luck. Never bringing a mirror on stage may be more practical than superstitious as you can never account for the reflection of set lighting, but then there’s the tradition, of the graveyard bouquet. Yeah. When a production closes, it is considered good luck to steal flowers from a graveyard and present them, to the director. Go figure. And whatever you do you are never to utter the name, Macbeth. Trust me. It’s “ the Scottish play”.

Act I. General Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, chances upon three witches who prophecy that he, Macbeth, is to be Thane of Cawdor and even more, King of Scotland.

Spurred on by his wife the ruthless and ambitious Lady Macbeth, he slips into the bedchamber of the good King Duncan and plunges the dagger, then frames the King’s bodyguards, for his murder. Now himself King in fulfillment of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth and his Lady descend into a world of guilt and madness, duplicity and murder in the fruitless attempt to cover for his crime.

So sayeth William Shakespeare but what of the real Mac Bethad mac Findlaích?

11th century Alba

History collides with legend when you peer a thousand years into the past, but some things are certain. 11th century Scotland was not the nation we know today, but a collection of warring kingdoms. Máel Coluim mac Cináeda (Malcolm II) came to power after defeating and killing his cousin King Kenneth III in 1005 at the battle of Monzievaird, near Crieff.

Malcolm was a fearsome ruler who immediately set about eliminating (read…killing), potential claimants to the throne. Information is scant but Malcolm appears to have fathered, three daughters. All three married well giving rise to yet more rivals but it was Duncan, Malcolm‘s grandson who would rise to power after his grandfather was killed in battle, in 1034.

Macbeth’s cousin murdered his father Findlaích and took for himself the title of Mormaer (Earl), when the boy was barely in his teens. Macbeth had his revenge in 1045 when found his cousin in a hall, with fifty of his warriors. Macbeth burnt the place to the ground, took the title for himself and, astonishingly, married his cousin’s widow, Gruoch.

The first Scottish Queen whose name we actually know, the real Lady Macbeth turns out to be hardly the avaricious harpy of the Bard’s portrayal but a saintly woman, best known for funding the production of illustrated manuscripts by the monks of a tiny friary, in Loch Leven.

Now himself Mormaer of Moray Macbeth proved a powerful fighter against the Vikings coming down from the north and a key ally, of King Duncan.

Duncan I ruled for five years and was indeed killed by Macbeth, but there the similarity ends. Duncan’s peaceful accession to the crown was the exception to the rule in 11th century Scotland. His death in battle was not, the killing blow delivered on August 14, 1040 at the battle of Pitgaveny, at the hands of Macbeth’s forces if not Macbeth, himself.

Victorious, Macbeth had a strong claim to the crown. According to modern descendants of clan Duncan stronger than Duncan, himself. The real lady Macbeth was the granddaughter, of Kenneth III. Macbeth was a direct relation to Malcolm himself, through his mother’s line. So it is the powerful Mormaer of Moray himself became King, ruling over Scotland, for the next seventeen years.

Scottish coronations were different at this time, than you might think. There was no physical crown, that wouldn’t come about, for another 200 years. Macbeth would have sat upon the 236-pound “Stone of Destiny” as the list of Scottish Kings, was read aloud. He was then given a sword with which to defend his kingdom and proclaimed King, by the assembled nobles.

While Shakespeare’s Macbeth was steeped in blood and treachery, the real King Macbeth seems to have been, well liked. There was blood, yes, Macbeth lived in a time of savagery when scores were settled with edged weapons but, much of his reign, was enjoyed in peace. Like the Bard’s Macbeth whose past would come back to haunt him, Duncan I’s father, Crinán, abbot of Dunkeld challenged the peace, in 1045. This was a brief but bloody struggle much smaller than the epoch-changing battle of Hastings, ten years after the death of Macbeth. When it was over Crinán lay dead along with 180 of his followers.

Macbeth was the first of the Scottish Kings to take a pilgrimage to Rome, to meet with Pope Leo IX. This demonstrates not only a sense of security against usurpers at home but the wealth, to scatter “money like seed to the poor”. For the first time a United Scotland, stood before the world.

Macbeth was the first to bring Normans into his service in 1052 indicating a new openness, to international trade.

Trouble came from the south in the form of Siward, the powerful Earl of Northumbria, a Danish chieftain who rose to power under the Viking King of England , Cnut the Great. The year was 1054, the battle taking place north of the Firth of Forth near a place called Dunsinane. When it was over 3,000 of Macbeth’s forces were dead. Siward lost 1,500 and his own son, Osbjorn.

Early 19th-century depiction by John Martin of Mac Bethad (centre-right) watching Siward’s Northumbrian army approaching (right)

His Norman mercenaries now eliminated Macbeth was forced to give up, much of his southern Kingdom. Macbeth retained his kingship for now his reign came to an end a year later near Lumphanan, in Aberdeenshire. The son of the man Macbeth had killed some seventeen years earlier came for his father’s killer on August 15, 1057.

Macbeth, King of Alba, was dead. Malcolm III Canmore would rule through the Norman Conquests until he himself was ambushed and killed, in 1093.

August 8, 1969 Echo Chamber

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

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

Paul is dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul is still with us-Life_magazine_nov_69

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

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

%d bloggers like this: