March 15, 1783 A Republic, nearly Stillborn

239 years ago today this Republic to which we owe so much, was about to die before it was born.  All but for one magnificent man with an actor’s sense of timing.  And a new pair of spectacles.

While no one knew it at that time, Lord Cornwallis’ October 1781 surrender at Yorktown effectively brought the great rebellion, to an end.  Eight years after the “shot heard round the world“, the American Revolution had now ground to a standoff.

King George III remained personally in favor of prosecuting the war even after the Patriot victory at Yorktown while opinion in Parliament, was split.  Across the water, some 26,000 British troops remained in occupation in Charleston, Savannah and New York and backed up, be a mighty fleet of warships.

The Americans’ greatest ally departed in 1782, never to return.  With state finances already prostrate with debt, l’Ancien régime (French: “the old order”) would be overthrown by its own revolution inside the next ten years, the French King Louis XVI and Queen Consort Marie Antoinette executed, by guillotine.

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Negotiations carried on in Paris for nearly three years while, an hour’s drive north of New York by modern highway, the Continental Army waited at Newburgh.

France wasn’t the only nation ruined by this war.  The American Revolution debilitated the finances of all three principle belligerents, none more so than the new-born American Republic, itself.  In fact, the fledgling United States nearly died on this day in 1783, by the very hands which had given it birth.

The Articles of Confederation, ratified by the states in March 1781, provided for a loose alliance of sovereign states. In theory, Congress possessed the authority to govern foreign affairs, conduct war and regulate currency.  In practice, these powers were limited to a national body with no authority to enforce its own will on the states.

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In 1780, Congress promised Continental officers a lifetime pension, equal to half-pay upon discharge.  The government in Philadelphia attempted to amend the Articles, to allow a new import duty or “impost”.  States were divided against the measure.  Two years later, the cupboard was bare.  Forget the bonus, Continental soldiers weren’t being paid, at all.   

It wasn’t even possible to borrow.  That required evidence of an income stream.

The politician who alienates a battle hardened army in the field walks on dangerous ground.  Don’t pay for their services, that’s a good way to do it.  At the outset of war, these guys had left homes and fields and families. They had risked their lives on behalf of the dream of Liberty, to say nothing of the hardships endured by those left at home.  Many among their number had given all in service to that dream.

There was little to do but wait during those long winter months of 1782-’83.  Each man concerned with his own financial hardship every man worried his promised compensation, would never come.  The rumor mill worked overtime:  The Army would be disbanded.  Promised pensions would remain, unfunded.

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The vague unease of rumor turned to a fury of near certainty through the late winter months, as one overture after another met with defeat, in Congress.  On March 10, an unsigned letter believed to be written by Major John Armstrong, aide to General Horatio Gates, urged unspecified action against the Continental Congress.  Another called for a meeting on the morning of the 11th.  Events were inexorably building toward military insurrection.

General Washington reacted quickly, objecting in his general orders of March 11 to the “disorderly” and “irregular” nature of such a meeting.  Washington specified the morning of March 15 for an officer’s meeting and requested a report implying that he himself, would be absent.

The mood was one of surprise and anger the morning of March 15, 1783, when the Commander-in-Chief himself walked into the room. Hard men had been pushed past the point of patience and were now determined, to take action.  Now this.

The General urged patience in a brief and impassioned speech remembered as the Newburgh address. Washington’s words may as well have fallen on deaf ears.  There was little of the usual deference in this room.

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Reconstructed Temple at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site, where the critical meeting took place on March 15, 1783

The future President of the United States then produced a letter from a member of Congress, to read to his officers. The content of the letter is unimportant. The man we remember as the father of the nation gazed at the letter in his hands, without speaking. Fumbling in his pocket, the general came up with a pair of reading glasses. This was something new.  Few in the room even knew the man required glasses.

Washington spoke:

Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.

The words were as a physical blow on the men assembled in that room.  Obstinate and unheeding only moments earlier, the realization dawned on all at once.  This man had been at their head and by their sides.  General Washington had personally endured every bit of the hardship, as men now bent on mutiny.

There was hardly a dry eye in the place.  The moment was broken, never to return.  Bent on mutiny only moment before, the cream of the continental army now determined, to wait. 

On this day 239 years ago this Republic to which we owe so much, nearly died before it was born.  All but for one magnificent man with an actor’s sense of timing.  And a new pair of spectacles.

A Trivial Matter
At age 26, George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow with two children: Jacky and Patsy. The Father of the Nation never had any children of his own. At 6 feet, 3½ inches and 200-pounds, George Washington towered above the Continental soldier who stood an average 5-feet 8-inches, in height.

March 14, 1964 Tales from the Skyline Lounge

The camera captured the shock and surprise on the victim’s face, similar I’m sure to that which crossed the faces of four musicians watching it all , on TV. The shooter was the same man they had worked for just a few months earlier, at that burned out dive bar, called the Skyline lounge.

Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a troubled child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent from his earliest adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.

Barney Google and Spark Plug

Many who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”, a nickname shared with Peanuts creator, Charles M Shulz. Any similarity between the two ended there. Some say the sobriquet came from an uncanny resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket, from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip. Be that as it may Rubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that quick temper, that made the hated name stick.

Rubinstein spent the early 40s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago, before moving to Dallas the following year.

Jack Ruby

Rubenstein managed a series of seedy Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring ladies like “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”. Somewhere along the line this towering figure from the early 1960s Dallas hospitality scene shortened his name, to “Ruby”.

Ruby dabbled in all manner of underworld activities such as gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were even rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.  The lower crust of the Dallas police force knew Ruby was always good for free booze, prostitutes, and other favors.   This was one unsavory guy.

A typical blackjack

Today, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians touring with Bob Dylan in 1965 who later morphed into “The Band”, and performed such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight”.

In early days, the joints these guys played were so rough they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats.

In 1963, they played a week in a Fort Worth nightclub. It was a huge venue but no one was there that first night save for two couples, a couple of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer. The band wasn’t through their first set before a fight broke out, and someone was tear-gassed. The band played on, coughing and choking with teargas wafting across the stage, faces wet with tears.

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Part of the roof had either blown off this joint, or burned off, depending on which version you accept. Jack, the owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money calling this fine establishment , the “Skyline Lounge”.

Even without the roof Jack saw no need to pay for security. He told the musicians “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall. Problem solved.

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Months later, the country was stunned at the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5½ at the time and I remember it, to this day. An hour after the shooting, former marine and defector to the Soviet Union Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.

By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit.  He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters where an armored car awaited, to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. It was never meant to be.

The scene was crowded with press and police. If you were alive that day you probably remember, half the country watched it on live TV. A lone man came out of the crowd and fired a single bullet from his .38 revolver into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The camera captured the shock and surprise on Oswald’s face, similar I’m sure to that which crossed the faces of four musicians watching it all, on TV. The shooter was the same man they had worked for just a few months earlier, at that burned out dive bar, called the Skyline lounge. Jack Ruby.

Oswald was transported unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where John F. Kennedy had died, only two days earlier. He was dead in two hours.

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Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, on March 14, 1964. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county from where his high profile crime had taken place.

Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial. The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President.  

In 1973 the Jack Ruby inspired a thoroughly forgettable band to take the same name unless that happens to be, your “thing”. Whatever became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s fine Dallas establishment will be left left to the more scandalous bits, of our imagination.

November 19, 1864 The Man who Shot the Man who Shot, Abraham Lincoln

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Thomas Corbett was born in London England in 1832, emigrating with his family at age 7 and settling in Troy, New York. There he apprenticed to a hat maker, a profession he would hold off and on for the rest of his life.

19th century hat makers used an orange colored mercury solution to make felt from the fur of small animals, in a process called “carroting”.  Mercury attacks the nervous system causing drooling, hair loss, a lurching gait, difficulty in speaking, “brain fog” and a convulsive shaking called “hatter’s shakes”.

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Felt hat

There were plenty of “Mad hatters,” in Lewis Carroll’s time, long before Alice’s Wonderland.  Danbury Connecticut was once the hat making capital of the world, with 56 factories producing five million hats a year.  By the time of the Civil War, mercury poisoning had reduced countless numbers of factory workers, to physical wrecks.  Everybody knew the “Danbury shakes”.

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Corbett married early in life.  It nearly broke him to lose his young wife in childbirth.  He moved to Boston and continued to work as a hatter, but heavy drinking left him unable to keep a job for long and eventually, homeless.  Corbett was confronted by a street preacher one night and the event, changed his life.

He immediately quit drinking and became fanatically, religious.  He was “the Glory to God man,” growing his hair long to emulate Jesus.  The “local eccentric” who took up his own street ministry and changed his name to “Boston” after the city of his own re-birth.

“God has called on you to preach, my son, about four blocks, that way”.

Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes in 1858, while walking home from a church meeting. Deeply troubled by his own temptation, he returned to his boardinghouse room and took up the Gospel, according to Matthew: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.  He knew what he needed to do.  He emasculated himself, with a pair of scissors.  Then he ate dinner and he went to a prayer meeting, before seeking medical attention.

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In the early months of the Civil War, Boston Corbett enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York state militia. Eccentric behavior quickly got him into trouble. He would carry a bible with him at all times, reading passages aloud and holding unauthorized prayer meetings.  He would argue with superior officers, once reprimanding Colonel Daniel Butterfield for using profane language and using the Lord’s name, in vain. That got the man a stay in the guardhouse, where he continued to argue.

Corbett decided an arbitrary date, on which his enlistment would end.  When that day arrived, he laid down his gun at midnight, and walked away.  That got him court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but the sentence was reduced. He was discharged in August, 1863, and re-enlisted the same month.

Harper’s Weekly of May 13, 1865 described the annoying habit of adding “er” to his words, as in “O Lord-er, hear-er our prayerer.” His shrill, sharp voice would shout out “Amen,” and “Glory to God,” whenever anything pleased him. He was often thrown in the guard-house, with a knapsack full of bricks as punishment. There he would be, Testament in hand, “preaching temperance, and calling upon his wild companions to “seek the Lord.””

Boston Corbett

On June 24, 1864, fifteen members of Corbett’s company were hemmed in and captured, by Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s men in Culpeper Virginia.

They were sent to the notorious prison camp in Andersonville Georgia, where he escaped once, but the bloodhounds put an end to that.  Only two, ever returned.  Starving, skeletal, his body wracked with scurvy, Boston Corbett was paroled on November 19, 1864.

Following the Lincoln assassination, a twelve-day manhunt led to the farm of Richard Henry Garrett near Port Royal, Virginia. The life of John Wilkes Booth came to an end in a burning tobacco barn in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, the bullet fired through a crack in the boards and entering his spine, just below the point where his own bullet had entered the President’s head.

A bullet from the gun, of Boston Corbett.

The paralyzed, dying man was dragged from the barn and onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. In his dying moments, Lincoln’s assassin asked that his hands be lifted where he could see them.  John Wilkes Booth gazed at those hands as he uttered his last words. “Useless. Useless”.

In his report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger recommended that Sergeant Boston Corbett be punished for disobeying orders that Booth be taken alive, stating that Corbett had fired “without order, pretext or excuse.”

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Thomas “Boston” Corbett

Despite Conger’s recommendation, Corbett was treated like a conquering hero.  He returned to making hats after the war, returning first to Boston and then to Danbury and finally, Camden New Jersey.  He could never hold a job for long.  Frequent pauses to pray for co-workers did little to endear him, to supervisors.

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever asked to hear the man speak, a second time.

Corbett became increasingly paranoid, convinced that important men in Washington were out to “get him”.  Hate mail directed to Wilkes Booth’s killer, didn’t help.  At a Blue & Gray reunion in 1878, Corbett pulled a gun on several former soldiers during an argument, over whether Booth still lived.  He was hustled off before he could fire, but this was only one of several such episodes.

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Example of a dugout house, this one in New Mexico

He moved to Kansas in 1878 and built a dugout home, and tried his hand at homesteading.  That didn’t work out, either.

Corbett received an invalid’s pension in 1880. The Grand Army of the Republic appointed him a doorman to the Kansas state legislature, seven years later.  The man’s mental status was questionable even before the war and beyond dispute in 1887 when he entered the legislative chamber, with two loaded revolvers.  Lawmakers dove for the exits and hid behind garbage cans and doors, as Corbett shot up the Kansas House of Representatives.  Two guns, twelve bullets.  It was a miracle no one was hit.

The following day, a judge declared Corbett to be out of his mind and remanded him to the Topeka Asylum, for the Insane.  On May 26, 1888, Corbett was marching along a road with other inmates when he spotted a horse, tied to a post.  Corbett dashed from the line and jumped into the saddle, and rode into history.

Corbett is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894, a conflagration which killed more than 400 and destroyed over 200,000 acres of Minnesota pine forest, but there is no proof.  Several men stepped forward in the years that followed claiming, to be Boston Corbett. A Dallas man claimed to be Boston Corbett while an Oklahoma patent medicine salesman, filed for the man’s pension benefits. The first was committed to an insane asylum the second, to prison.

In 1958, Boy Scout Troop 31 from Concordia Kansas erected a small memorial beside a dug hole in which Boston Corbett, had once lived. What became of the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, is a mystery.

October 31, 1883 A Presidential Ghost Story

A Presidential ghost story for your Halloween enjoyment. But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Permit me a moment, for a Presidential ghost story. A true tale shared for your Halloween enjoyment, a narrative to reach out to that icy spot at the back of your neck. The one that makes you ask yourself…was that a ghost? But we are civilized women and men, are we not? We know there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Albany, New York businessman Jared Rathbone passed away in 1845, leaving a considerable fortune to his widow Pauline, and their four children.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Harris, himself a widower, joined his household with hers when the couple were married, in 1848.  His four were added to hers making eight, a regular 19th-century “Brady Bunch.”

Pauline’s son Henry and Ira’s daughter Clara became close friends and later, more.  Much more.  They were step-siblings, yes, but there was no “blood” between them.  Such a relationship seems not to have been so ‘odd’ back then as it may seem, today.

With the incoming Lincoln administration, Ira Harris was elected to the United States Senate, replacing Senator William H. Seward who’d been picked to serve in the new administration.

By the time of the War between the States Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone were engaged, to be married.

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Rathbone served for the duration of the war in the Union army, becoming Captain in the 12th Infantry Regiment and participating in the battles at Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  By the end of the war he’d attained the rank, of Major.

Meanwhile, Senator Harris’ daughter Clara formed a friendship with the First Lady of the United States, Mary Todd Lincoln.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, before and after photographs tell of the burdens, borne by the chief executive of a nation at war with itself. Making matters worse, by war’s end the Lincolns had lost two of their four boys, in childhood. The war was all but over in April 1865. A night out must have seemed like a welcome break. An evening at the theater. A play, the three-act farce by English playwright Tom Taylor. “Our American Cousin”.197030-Abraham-Lincoln-Before-And-After-Civil-War

The Lincoln’s companions for the evening were to be General Grant and his wife, Julia, but the General had other plans.  It was probably convenient, because the ladies didn’t get along.  Mary suggested her neighbor Clara Harris, of whom she was quite fond.  And besides, didn’t her fiancée cut a dashing figure, in his blue uniform.

The story of that night is familiar. The assassin creeping up from behind. The bullet to the head. The Major lunging for the killer but…too late.

John Wilkes Booth was himself one of the great performers of his day, with the actor’s impeccable sense of timing. The assassin had chosen his moment, carefully. Raucous laughter and applause could be expected to follow the line “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdolagizing old man-trap!

LINCOLN: ASSASSINATION, 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C., 14 April 1865. Lithograph, 1865.

The bullet was fired at point-blank range, entering the President’s skull behind the left ear and coming to rest, behind the right eye.  Rathbone sprang to the attack but the assassin was ready, the dagger slashing the major nearly bone-deep, from shoulder to elbow.  Rathbone made one last lunge, knocking Booth off balance as he leapt from the bunting to the stage, below.  Witnesses remembered the cry “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.  Thus always, to tyrants.  And then, he was gone.

In the President’s box, all was chaos. The first lady was inconsolable, sobbing, apoplectic, shrieking like a wildcat. Rathbone was losing blood at a prodigious rate, a major artery severed in the fight.

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John Wilkes Booth dagger, used to attack Henry Rathbone

Clara’s new dress was drenched in the blood of her fiancée, her face splashed and clothing soaked through layers of petticoats to the skin, beneath.  The small group was taken across the street to the Peterson house, the President laid out on a bed.  Henry Rathbone faded in and out of consciousness due to loss of blood, raving in his delirium how he should have caught the assassin, his head on Clara’s lap, her handkerchief stuffed into the void where the bicep, used to be.

She didn’t even have time to wash her blood-spattered face. Mary Lincoln would just begin to calm down when she’d turn and see Clara and fall apart, wailing “My husband’s blood!”.

It was the Major’s blood, but, no matter. Perception is reality, isn’t it? The death vigil lasted this way, for nine hours. The 16th President of the United States passed away at 7:22 the following morning, April 15, 1865.

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Major Rathbone would heal in time, but he never came to terms with his failure to protect the President.  He was tormented, distraught with guilt, unable to understand what he could have done differently, but, What!? Surely there must have been…Something.

Clara Harris couldn’t bring herself to wash that dress, nor even to burn it.  She hung it in a guest room closet, blood and all, in the family’s vacation home in New York.

What demons afflicted the mind of Henry Rathbone can only be guessed at, as a mental illness which had no name, crept into his soul.  He was possessed with that night.  Was I not quick enough?  Or brave enough?  Or Strong enough?  It was MY fault.  A Better Man would have taken that bullet.  Or Stopped that man.  No he wouldn’t…yes he would…but…I…what, the, hell, is WRONG WITH ME???!!!

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The dress

Washington DC was saturated with All Things Lincoln in April 1866, and Clara fled to the family home in Albany, to get away.  There in that closet hung the bloody dress.  On the anniversary of the assassination she heard laughter, she knew she did, coming down the hall.  Abraham Lincoln’s laughter.

Others reported the same thing in the following years.  The sound of laughter.  A single gun shot.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Major Rathbone and Clara Harris were married in July 1867 and the couple had three children, Henry rising to the rank of brevet Colonel, in 1870.  That was the year he resigned from the army but work remained hard to come by, due to increasing mental instability.

Rathbone convinced himself that Clara was unfaithful, that she planned to take the kids away.   He would fly into rages with little or no provocation. She considered divorce but couldn’t bear the thought, nor the stigma.

Clara went so far as to have the closet bricked up with that dress inside, like Edgar Allen Poe’s Montresor bricked up Fortunato.  That changed, precisely, nothing.  The family traveled to Europe and back in search of a cure, but Rathbone’s condition only worsened.

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US Capitol as it looked, in 1872

Despite all this or possibly because of it, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Rathbone US Consul to the Province of Hannover in Germany, in 1882.

“Trick or Treating” had yet to take hold by this time, back in the United States.  For most, October 31, 1883 passed pleasantly enough:  Fall festivals, children bobbing for apples, young women consulting mirrors or tossing nuts into fires, to see whom they would marry.  Not so, Henry Rathbone.  He had Monsters in his head.

Two months later, December 23, Henry Rathbone shot his wife, and stabbed himself, in the chest.  Six times.  He lived.  She died.

He said he was defending his wife, against an attacker.

The three children, Henry Riggs, Gerald Lawrence and Clara Pauline went to live with relatives. Henry Reed Rathbone was convicted of their mother’s murder and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany, there to spend the next twenty-eight years.

Henry Reed Rathbone died on August 14, 1911 and was buried, next to Clara.

In 1922, Henry Riggs Rathbone was elected to the United States House of Representatives.  Twelve years before he had unbricked his mother’s closet and burned the hated dress, the dress that had stolen his childhood, murdered his mother, and cursed his father.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

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“The modern day home where Union Army Officer Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris resided”. Hat tip, HISTORIAN’S OFFICE, TOWN OF COLONIE.

Afterward

Burial customs are different in Germany, than in the United States.  Grave plots are generally leased for a period of 20 to 30 years, with an option to renew.  In 1952, officials with the city cemetery at Hanover/Engesohde looked over visitation records and determined there was no further interest, in Clara Harris or Henry Rathbone.  The couple was exhumed and their remains burned, and disposed of.  Like neither one of them had ever lived.

But there are no such things as ghosts.

Right?

August 29, 1854 The Resolute Desk

Once hopelessly caught in arctic ice the British vessel HMS Resolute was returned to her majesty Queen Victoria’s government and now serves as a desk for virtually every US President from Rutherford B. Hayes, to Joseph R. Biden.

Since the time of Columbus, European explorers have searched for a navigable shortcut by open water, from Europe to Asia.   The “Corps of Discovery“ better known as the Lewis and Clark expedition, departed the Indiana Territory in 1804 with, among other purposes, the intention of finding a water route to the Pacific.

Forty years later, Captain sir John Franklin departed England aboard two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to discover the mythical Northwest Passage.

The two vessels became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island, in the Canadian Arctic.

Ship

Prodded by Lady Jane Franklin, the hunt for her husband’s expedition would continue for years, at one time involving as any as eleven British and two American ships.  Clues were found including notes and isolated graves, telling the story of a long and fruitless effort to stay alive in a hostile climate.  The wreck of HMS Erebus would not be discovered until 2014, her sister ship, two years later.

In 1848, the British Admiralty possessed few hulls suitable for arctic service. Two civilian steamships were purchased and converted to exploration vessels: HMS Pioneer and HMS Intrepid, along with four seagoing sailing vessels, Resolute, Assistance, Enterprise and Investigator.

HMS Resolute was a Barque rigged merchant ship, purchased in 1850 as the Ptarmigan and refitted for Arctic exploration. Renamed Resolute, the vessel became part of a five ship squadron leaving England in April 1852, sailing into the Canadian arctic in search of the doomed Franklin expedition.

Neither Franklin nor any of his 128 officers and men would ever return alive.  What HMS Resolute Did find was the long suffering crew of the HMS Investigator, hopelessly encased in ice where, three years earlier, she too had been searching for the lost expedition.

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Three of the Resolute expedition’s ships themselves became trapped in floe ice in August 1853 including Resolute, herself. There was no choice but to abandon ship, striking out across the ice pack in search of their supply ships. Most of them made it despite egregious hardship, straggling into Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, between May and August, of the following year.

The expedition’s survivors left Beechey Island on August 29, 1854, never to return. Meanwhile Resolute, alone and abandoned among the ice floes, continued to drift eastward at a rate of 1½ nautical miles per day.

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The American whale ship George Henry discovered the drifting Resolute on September 10, 1855, 1,200 miles from her last known position. Captain James Buddington split his crew, half of them now manning the abandoned ship. Fourteen of them sailed Resolute back to their base in Groton CT, arriving on Christmas eve.

The so-called ‘Pig and Potato War” of 1859 was resolved between the British and American governments with the loss of no more than a single hog, yet a number of border disputes made the late 1850s a difficult time, for American-British relations. Senator James Mason of Virginia presented a bill in Congress to fix up the Resolute and give her back to her Majesty Queen Victoria’s government, as a token of friendship between the two nations.

$40,000 were spent on the refit. Resolute sailed for England later that year. Commander Henry J. Hartstene presented the vessel to Queen Victoria on December 13. HMS Resolute served in the British navy until being retired and broken up in 1879. The British government ordered two desks to be fashioned from the English oak of the ship’s timbers, the work being done by the skilled cabinet makers of the Chatham dockyards.

In 1880, the British government presented President Rutherford B. Hayes the gift, of a large partner’s desk. A token of gratitude for the return of the HMS Resolute, 24 years earlier.

The desk, known as the Resolute Desk, has been used by nearly every American President from that day, to this. Every president from Hayes through Hoover used the desk either in the White House Green Room, the president’s study or working office. FDR moved the desk into the oval office where he had a panel installed in the opening, as he was self conscious about his leg braces.

There was a brief period of climate controlled storage during the Truman era as the White House went through major renovation. It was Jackie Kennedy who brought the desk back, into the Oval Office. There are pictures of JFK working at the desk while a young JFK, Jr., played underneath.

Stanley Tretick’s October 2, 1963 photo of John F. Kennedy Jr. playing in the kneehole of the Resolute desk

Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford were the only ones not to use the Resolute desk, as LBJ allowed it to leave the White House following the Kennedy assassination.

The Resolute Desk spent several years in the Kennedy Library and later the Smithsonian Institute, the only other time the desk has been out of the White House.

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Jimmy Carter returned the desk to the Oval Office where it has remained through the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald J. Trump and, as of this article, Joe Biden.

May 22, 1807 Aaron Burr

Vice President John Nance Garner served in office between 1931, and ’41. With precisely zero influence over President Roosevelt’s policies, Garner once described the position as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. Since that time, the sentiment is often cleaned up and retold as, “warm spit”. Be that as it may, such a prize was a distant second-best to a man like Aaron Burr.

What would it be like to turn on the evening news, and learn that former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin lay near death, following an “affair of honor”. A duel. Worse yet, the man who shot him wasn’t a man at all but a woman, Kamala Harris, the sitting vice president of the United States.

The year was 1804.  President Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President Aaron Burr, had a long standing grudge against Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington.

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Aaron Burr

The animosity between the two went back to the Senate election of 1791, when Burr won a United States Senate election over Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler. Animosity between the two men escalated during the presidential race of 1800, one of the ugliest elections in American history.  It’s been called the “Revolution of 1800”, an election pitting Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson, against one-term incumbent John Adams, of the Federalist party.

Both sides were convinced beyond a doubt, that the other side would destroy the young nation. Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, a populist whose sympathies with the French Revolution would bring about a similar cataclysm in the young American republic. Democratic-Republicans criticized the alien and sedition acts, and the deficit spending of the Adams administration.

At the time, electors cast two votes, the first and second vote-getters becoming president and vice president.

“The father of modern political campaigning”, Aaron Burr had long since enlisted help from New York’s Tammany Hall, transforming what was then a social club into a political machine.  The election was a decisive victory for the Democratic-Republicans.  Not so much for the candidates themselves.

The electoral vote tied at 73 between Jefferson and Burr, moving the selection to the House of Representatives. Hamilton was no fan of Thomas Jefferson but detested Burr and threw his support behind the former. Jefferson was elected on the 36th ballot, Aaron Burr, relegated to the second spot.

Vice President John “Cactus Jack” Nance Garner was the 32nd vice president of the United States, serving under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

With precisely zero influence over Roosevelt’s policies, Garner described the position as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. 

The sentiment is often cleaned up and retold as, “warm spit”. Be that as it may, such a prize was a distant second-best to a man like Aaron Burr.

Vice President Aaron Burr, 1802

As part of the new administration, the vice president was anything but a “team player”. Behind the scenes, Burr corresponded with British and Spanish ministers to the United States, offering in the first case to detach Louisiana from the Union and, in the second, to orchestrate an overthrow of Mexico.  Either way, he himself would do nicely to found the new dynasty.  Thank you very much for asking.

Today we’re accustomed to the idea of “Judicial Review”, the idea that Supreme Court decisions are final and inviolate, but that wasn’t always the case. The landmark Marbury v Madison decision established the principle in 1803, a usurpation of power so egregious to Democratic-Republicans, as to bring about the impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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Justice Samuel Chase

Relations were toxic between Jefferson and Burr.  The VP knew he wouldn’t be around for the 1804 re-election campaign so he ran for Governor of New York, losing in a landslide to a virtual unknown, Morgan Lewis.

“Nothing has given me so much chagrin as the Intelligence that the Federal party were thinking seriously of supporting Mr. Burr for president. I should consider the execution of the plan as devoting the country and signing their own death warrant. Mr. Burr will probably make stipulations, but he will laugh in his sleeve while he makes them and will break them the first moment it may serve his purpose.”

Alexander Hamilton

It was a humiliating defeat.  Burr blamed Hamilton, a tireless supporter of his victorious opponent, and challenged him to a duel.  Dueling was illegal at this time but enforcement was lax in New Jersey. So it was, the pair rowed across the Hudson River with their “seconds”, meeting at the waterfront town of Weehawken. It was July 11, 1804. Hamilton “threw away” his shot, firing into the air. Aaron Burr shot to kill.

missedinhistory-podcasts-wp-content-uploads-sites-99-2015-07-hamilton-burr-660x357Murder charges were filed in both New York and New Jersey, but neither went to trial.

As vice president, Aaron Burr went on to preside over Justice Chase’s impeachment, It was the high point of a career otherwise ended, the day he met Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken.

Burr headed for New Orleans where he got mixed up with one General James Wilkinson, one of the sleazier characters of the founding generation. At that time, Wilkinson was a paid agent for Spanish King Charles IV. 100 years later Theodore Roosevelt would say of the man, “In all our history, there is no more despicable character.”

Wilkinson took his payments in silver dollars, hidden in rum, sugar and coffee casks. All those clinking coins nearly undid him, when a messenger was caught and killed with 3,000 of them. The messenger’s five murderers were themselves Spaniards, who testified at trial the money belonged to the spy, James Wilkinson. Payment for services rendered to their King. Wilkinson’s luck held, as the killers spoke no English. Thomas Power, interpreter for the Magistrate, was another Spanish spy. He threw those guys so far under the bus, they’d never get out: ‘They just say they’re wicked murderers motivated by greed.’

Imagine a person who would say such a thing, in high public office.

The nature of Burr’s discussions with Wilkinson is unclear but, in 1806, Burr led a group of armed colonists toward New Orleans, with the apparent intention of snatching the territory and turning the place into an independent Republic. It’s safe to assume that Aaron Burr saw himself at the head of such a Republic.

Seeing no future in it and wanting to save his own skin, Wilkinson turned on his former ally, sending dispatches to Washington accusing the former vice president of treason. Burr was tracked down in Alabama on February 19, 1807, arrested for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, for trial.

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The size and shape of the “Burr Conspiracy” remain unclear, to this day.  Historians claim the vice president intended to take parts of Texas and the Louisiana Purchase, forming his own independent Republic. Others claim he intended to conquer Mexico,  That Aaron Burr had a following among prominent politicians and soldiers is beyond question, but estimates of their numbers range from forty, to over seven-thousand.

Burr himself claims only to have wanted the 40,000 acres in the Texas Territory, deeded him by the Spanish crown.  On this there is no uncertainty.  The lease still exists.

The one-time vice president who killed the man on our ten dollar bill went to trial for treason on May 22, 1807. Burr was acquitted in the end, on grounds he had not committed an “overt act” as specified in the Constitution. Not guilty in the eyes of the law. The court of public opinion, was another matter. Aaron Burr would ever be held in contempt, as a traitor.

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He spent the next several years in Europe before returning to New York, and resuming his law practice. At the age of 77, Burr married Eliza Jumel, a wealthy widow 19 years his junior. After four months of watching her fortune squandered, she filed for separation. For her divorce attorney, Eliza hired Alexander Hamilton, Jr. The divorce was final on September 14, 1836. Aaron Burr, now relegated to a New York boarding house, died the very same day, at the age of 80.

“Aaron Burr was like a new refrigerator. He was bright, cold and empty.”

American journalist, biographer and historian, Richard Brookhiser

May 19, 1828 Tariff of Abominations

Protective tariffs worked to the advantage of the north as they tended to strengthen, the industrial economies. To the south, agricultural economies were more dependent on imported goods whether those came from the north, or from overseas.

Following the industrial revolution, Britain emerged as the economic powerhouse of Europe. As Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to throttle the British economy by shutting down exports to Europe, manufacturers across the UK sought out new trade partners. Among those were their own former colonies, in America.

In the United States, the low prices of British goods had a damaging affect on American manufacturing. Goods were flooding into the market at prices American companies, were unable to match. The tide increased after the war of 1812. Congress passed a tariff on British made goods in 1816 and upped the tax, eight years later.

Protective tariffs worked to the advantage of the north as they tended to strengthen, the industrial economies. To the south, agricultural economies were more dependent on imported goods whether those came from the north, or from overseas. The cotton states doubly resented protective tariffs as they made it more difficult, for their British trade partners to pay for exported cotton.

Today, the divide between Democrats and Republicans is a fact of life. In the 1820s, the first recognizable pieces of that system, were just falling into place. John Quincy Adams was elected in 1824 in what many described, as a “corrupt bargain”. The mid-terms of 1826 marked the first time Congress was in firm control of the President’s political opponents.

In 1828, southern and mid-Atlantic lawmakers agreed to concoct a tariff so egregious, the bill would never pass. The “Tariff of Abominations” weighed heavily on manufactured goods and therefore southern states but also on raw materials like iron, hemp (for rope) and flax, a direct shot at New England manufacturing. In so doing, future President Martin van Buren, then-Vice President John C. Calhoun and others expected to pull southern support in the final moments and thus to embarrass the President and his more conservative allies like Adams’ Secretary of State, Henry Clay.

Fun fact: Martin van Buren was born in Kinderhook New York where most of the residents, spoke Dutch. Van Buren was no exception, making the 8th President of the United States the only President to speak English, as a second language.

The plan worked nicely in the southern states, where the bill went down to defeat, 64-4. To their horror and astonishment, the thing received overwhelming support in the middle and western states. Even in New England where textile mills teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, lawmakers were swayed by the argument that, what was good for one region, was good for the nation. The tariff of abominations received 41% support, even in New England.

Political cartoon depicts the north getting fat on tariffs, at the expense of the south

President Adams was well aware the measure would damage him politically but he signed it into law regardless, on this day in 1828.

The President was right. His own vice president jumped ship to join Andrew Jackson’s ticket to destroy Adams for re-election in an electoral vote, of 178 to 83.  The “Era of Good Feelings” was ended. The age of the two-party system, had begun.

John C. Calhoun, (left) the only vice President to serve under two different Presidents, detested the law he had helped to create.

In December 1828, the outgoing/incoming vice President penned an anonymous pamphlet, urging nullification in his home state of South Carolina.

The South Carolina legislature printed 5,000 copies of Calhoun’s pamphlet but took none of the legislative measures, it argued for. Calhoun was out in the open in 1829, claiming the measure was unconstitutional and urging the law be declared null and void, in the sovereign state of South Carolina.

The issue created a split between Jackson and his vice President leading Calhoun to resign the vice Presidency.

Fun fact: While John C. Calhoun and Spiro T. Agnew are the only vice Presidents ever to resign, seven others have died in office, leaving the vice Presidency vacant for a total of 37 years and 290 days, about a fifth of the time, we’ve had a President.

President Jackson signed a reduced tariff into law in 1832 but, for South Carolina, it was too little, too late. The state called a convention that November and, by a vote of 136-26, voted that the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were both unconstitutional and thereby null and void, in South Carolina.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was not a man to be trifled with. At 13, Jackson received serious saber wounds at the hands of a British soldier, infuriated that the boy refused to shine his boots. In 1806, the man killed a Nashville lawyer in a duel while himself being shot, in the chest. He would carry that bullet in his body until 1831 when a navy doctor cut it out right there in the White House…without anesthesia. Another dueling opponent shot Jackson in 1813, this time, shattering his shoulder. He would carry that bullet in his body, until the day he died. As a General in the War of 1812, Jackson famously crushed an advancing British army, in the Battle of New Orleans.

As President, Jackson wasn’t about to tolerate a nullification crisis under his watch and threatened to make war, on South Carolina. Congress passed the Force Act, granting Jackson the authority to take any measure, he deemed necessary. South Carolina began military preparations for war, with the federal government.

Bloodshed was averted when Calhoun and Clay stepped in, with a compromise. Under their plan, the tariff of 1833 would begin to reduce rates over 20% by one tenth every two years until they were all back to 20%, in 1842.

South Carolina reconvened and repealed the ordnance of nullification. Lest anyone doubt their true intentions or deny the state’s right to do so, the convention then went on to nullify Congress’ Force Act.

It didn’t much matter. The “Black Tariff” of 1842 reinstated the old duties and increased dutiable imports, to 85%.

By the 1850s, westward expansion brought back the issue of “State’s Rights”, this time over the expansion, of slavery.

The next crisis was not to be averted, but by rivers of blood.

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.

November 26, 1941, Franksgiving

Popular comedians of the day got a laugh out of the Franksgiving ruckus including Burns & Allen, and Jack Benny. One 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon shows two Thanksgivings, one “for Democrats” and one a week later “for Republicans.”

The first Autumn feast of Thanksgiving dates well before the European settlement of North America.

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Historian Michael Gannon writes that the “real first Thanksgiving” in America took place in 1565, when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in modern-day Florida, and “had the Indians fed and then dined himself.”

Likely, it was salt-pork stew with garbanzo beans. Yum.

According to the Library of Congress, the English colony of Popham in present-day Maine held a “harvest feast and prayer meeting” with the Abenaki people in 1607, twenty-four years before that “first Thanksgiving” at Plymouth.

George Washington proclaimed the first Presidential National day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1783, “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness“.

So much for the “separation of Church and state”.

President Abraham Lincoln followed suit in 1863, declaring a general day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November.  The date seemed to work out OK and the tradition stuck, until 1939.

Roughly two in every seven Novembers, contain an extra Thursday.  November 1939, was one of them.

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In those days, it was considered poor form for retailers to put up Christmas displays or run Christmas sales, before Thanksgiving.  Lew Hahn, General Manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, was afraid that extra week was going to cut into Christmas sales.

Ten years into the Great Depression with no end in sight, the Federal government was afraid of the same thing. By late August, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to deviate from the customary last Thursday and declared the fourth Thursday, November 23, to be a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.

Opposition to the plan was quick to form.  Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s Republican challenger in the earlier election, complained of Roosevelt’s impulsiveness and resulting confusion.  “More time should have been taken working it out” Landon said, “instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.”

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In Plymouth Massachusetts, self-described home of the “first Thanksgiving”, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen James Frasier, “heartily disapproved”.

The short-notice change in schedule disrupted vacation plans for millions of Americans. Traditional Thanksgiving day football rivalries between school teams across the nation, were turned upside down.

Unsurprisingly, support for Roosevelt’s plan broke along ideological lines.  A late 1939 Gallup poll reported Democrats favoring the move by a 52% to 48% majority, with Republicans opposing the move, 79% to 21%.

Such proclamations represent little more than the “’moral authority” of the Presidency. States are free to do as they please.  Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia observed Thanksgiving day on the non-traditional date, and twenty-two kept Thanksgiving on the 30th.  Colorado, Mississippi and Texas, did both.

The next two years, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia celebrated what came to be called “Franksgiving” on the third Thursday of the month, while the remainder observed a more traditional “Republican Thanksgiving” on the last.

Franksgiving calendar

In 1941, a Commerce Department survey demonstrated little difference in Christmas sales between those states observing Franksgiving, and those observing the more traditional date. A joint resolution of Congress declared the fourth Thursday beginning the following year to be a national day of Thanksgiving. President Roosevelt signed the measure into law on November 26.

Interestingly, the phrase “Thanksgiving Day” appeared only once in the 20th century prior to the 1941 resolution, that in President Calvin Coolidge’s first of six such proclamations.

Most state legislatures followed suit with the Federal fourth-Thursday approach, but not all.  In 1945, the next year with five November Thursdays, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia reverted to the last Thursday.  Texas held out the longest, celebrating its fifth-Thursday Thanksgiving for the last time in 1956.

To this day, the years 1939, ’40 and ’41 remain the only outliers, outside the fourth-Thursday tradition.

Popular comedians of the day got a laugh out of the Franksgiving ruckus including Burns & Allen, and Jack Benny.  One 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon shows two Thanksgivings, one “for Democrats” and one a week later “for Republicans.”

The Three Stooges short film of the same year has Moe questioning Curly, why he put the fourth of July in October.  “You never can tell”, he replies.  “Look what they did to Thanksgiving!”

Joe Toye, the “Easy Company” character in the 2001 HBO miniseries “A Band of Brothers”, may have had the last word on Franksgiving.  Explaining his plan to get the war over quickly, the paratrooper quips “Hitler gets one of these [knives] right across the windpipe, Roosevelt changes Thanksgiving to Joe Toye Day, [and] pays me ten grand a year for the rest of my f*****g life.

Sounds like a plan.

November 18, 1863 The Gettysburg Address

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address. Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process. That working copy is lost.

Have you ever crossed that field at Gettysburg? The site of the final assault on the third day? You can feel the sense of history, stepping off Seminary Ridge. Only a mile to go. You are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance. Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you enter a low spot on what seemed like a flat plain. It’s almost imperceptible but the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight. You can’t help a sense of relief as you cross the draw. If you can’t see them they can’t shoot you. Right?

Then you look to your right and realize. Cannon would have been firing down the length of your lines that day, from Little Round Top. From your left, the guns of Cemetery Hill tear into your lines. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry. You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road. Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.

Finally you are over and now it’s a dead run. There’s a savage struggle to possess an angle in a stone wall, but it is not enough. The Bloody Angle. You have reached the “high water mark of the Confederacy”. The shattered remains of that splendid Multitude you joined only moments before, retreat. It is over.

The hill from which the Union center repulsed Longstreet’s assault of the third day was selected for a national cemetery, within the four months following the battle of Gettysburg. Work began to re-inter the dead from the carnage of July, on October 27.

Three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train in Washington.  He’d been asked to make “a few dedicatory remarks” on the following day, consecrating the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg where, even now on this day in 1863, workmen yet labored.

Lincoln was the President of a country torn by Civil War, a war so terrible that, before it was over, would kill more Americans than all the wars from the Declaration of Independence to the Global War on Terror, combined.

November 18, 1863. President Lincoln takes a break at the Hanover junction Station (PA), waiting to be joined by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Curtin’s train was late and the President moved on, without him. The Governor would have to find find another route to join the President, the following day.

Lincoln had been feeling poorly the day of the train ride, telling his secretary John Hay, he was feeling weak.  He would feel worse before that day was over. Hay noted that Lincoln’s face was ‘a ghastly color’, the day of the address.  No one knew it at the time. The President had entered the first stages, of smallpox.

His was not the keynote address.  That would be a 13,607 word, two-hour oration delivered by Boston politician Edward Everett.

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“A rare photo of the ceremonies. A group of boys stand at the fringe of a crowd. In the distance, several men wearing sashes can be seen standing on the speakers’ platform. Analysis of an enlargement of this photo reveals the image of Lincoln sitting to the left of these men”. Tip of the hat to http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com, for this image

After Everett’s speech, photographers began the careful preparation and setting, of glass plates. Each an thought he had all the time in the world. He did not.

There is no photograph of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address.

The 16th President of the United States stepped to the rostrum and delivered 271 words, in ten sentences.  In just over two minutes, Lincoln captured an entire vision of where the country was at that moment in time, where it had been, and where it was going.

Lincoln himself thought his speech a flop, but Everett later wrote to him, saying “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Then as now there were haters, a peanut gallery firing spitballs, from secure positions on the sidelines.  The Chicago Times described Lincoln’s remarks as “silly, flat and dish-watery utterances”. It all came out in the end.  Lincoln’s address is remembered as one of the finest English language orations since Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, at Agincourt.  The names of those croaking tree frogs at the Chicago Times, are all but forgotten.

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address.  Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process.  That working copy is lost.

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“The only known image of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg was uncovered in 1952 at the National Archives. It was taken by photographer Mathew Brady. (Library of Congress)” H/T Smithsonian.com, for this image

There are five known copies of the Gettysburg address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Each varies slightly in wording and punctuation.  He wrote two after the address, giving them to his two personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay.  He sent one to Edward Everett early in 1864 and another to George Bancroft, the former Secretary of the Navy turned historian.  Lincoln wrote a fifth copy in February known as the Bliss copy, for Colonel Alexander Bliss, upon learning the Bancroft version was unsuitable for publication. Preproduction technologies were unsuitable at that time, for documents written on both sides of the same page.

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Lincoln signed, dated and titled the Bliss copy.  This is the version inscribed on the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

One of my stranger childhood notions, was the idea that sounds never disappeared. They only diminished as they spread outward, like ripples on a pond.  If that was true (thought my nine-year-old self), could we not somehow capture and listen to the Gettysburg address, as it was actually delivered?

It’s a funny thing how some ideas, even the goofy ones, never completely die away.

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