July 19, 1969, Chappaquiddick

“I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call. But he [Ted Kennedy] didn’t call”.

The Saturn V rocket departed Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 1969, carrying Apollo 11 mission members Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The Command/Service Module passed behind the moon at 12:21 Eastern Standard Time on July 19, firing its service propulsion engine and inserting the craft into lunar orbit. Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon on July 21, descending the last stair to the lunar surface at 11:56EST. “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

On the evening of July 18, most of the country was focused on the unfolding drama.

Mary_Jo_KopechneEdward M. “Ted” Kennedy, Senior Senator from Massachusetts, was focused on a former secretary and volunteer with his brother’s 1968 Presidential campaign, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

The pair left a house party on Chappaquiddick island off Martha’s Vineyard, shortly after 11:00pm.  The two claimed to be going back to the ferry then on to their hotel rooms in Edgartown, but it’s not clear how many believed the story.

Mary Jo left her purse and room keys, on the table.

Kennedy drove his Oldsmobile Delmont 88 in the opposite direction from the ferry, finally turning off the road and onto the unpaved Dike Road.  He later claimed to have been disoriented in the dark, but both of them knew the road, and the secluded ocean beach to which it led.

It’s not there anymore, but there was an old wooden bridge at the time, over a tidal inlet called Poucha Pond.  The Olds entered the bridge at an odd angle, veering off and plunging into the water, coming to rest upside down in the shallow, tide swept channel.

Kennedy managed to swim free but Mary Jo did not.  In later testimony, he claimed to have swum down several times trying to free her from the car, before swimming to the shore and calling her name.

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It’s impossible to know the man’s state of mind at this time, but one can hazard a guess.  Ted Kennedy was a married man.  He had driven off a bridge with a woman not his wife, in the middle of the night.  Recently elected Senate Majority Whip, Kennedy was considered the odds-on favorite for nomination as the Democratic candidate, for the 1972 presidential election.  The murder of his two brothers, one at the hands of a leftist and the other by a Muslim extremist, had barely faded from current events into memory.  The sympathy factor alone would have made him difficult to beat.

Kennedy walked back to the house party, returning once more to the scene of the accident, before finally swimming back to Edgartown, and his hotel room.

Senator Kennedy emerged from his room on the morning of July 19, cleaned up, sobered up and lawyered up.  It was ten full hours before he finally got around to reporting the accident.

Edward Kennedy

The Oldsmobile had been discovered by this time.  Captain of the Edgartown Fire Rescue unit John Farrar arrived with scuba gear at 8:45am, and recovered Mary Jo’s body within ten minutes.  She was wedged and contorted into the back seat, in a manner indicating that she may have found an air bubble, and used it until the small space could no longer sustain life.  Her body was buried the next day, without benefit of autopsy to determine exact cause of death.

Legally, Mary Jo Kopechne’s cause of death was recorded as drowning.  Farrar swore at the inquest that she died of slow asphyxiation, a process which would have taken hours.

“It looked as if she were holding herself up to get a last breath of air. It was a consciously assumed position…. She didn’t drown. She died of suffocation in her own air void. It took her at least three or four hours to die. I could have had her out of that car twenty-five minutes after I got the call. But he [Senator Kennedy] didn’t call”.  Rescue diver John Farrar

In his official report from the inquest, Judge James A. Boyle concluded that:

1.  “The accident occurred “between 11:30 p.m. on July 18 and 1:00 a.m. on July 19.”
2.  “Kopechne and Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry slip and his turn onto Dike Road had been intentional.”
3.  “A speed of twenty miles per hour as Kennedy testified to operating the car as large as his Oldsmobile would be at least negligent and possibly reckless.”
4.  “For some reason not apparent from [Kennedy’s] testimony, he failed to exercise due care as he approached the bridge.”
5.  “There is probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently… and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.”

Boyle’s report was impounded, and never shown to the grand jury.   Farrar told People Magazine in July 1989 “I was told outright by the D.A.’s office that I would not be allowed to testify on how long Kopechne was alive in the car.  They were not interested in the least in anything that would hurt Ted Kennedy.”

Kennedy_Institute_-0be75Kennedy’s driver’s license was suspended for a time.   There would be no further penalty. Joan Kennedy, who was pregnant at the time, attended Mary Jo Kopechne’s funeral, and stood by her husband’s side at the courthouse, three days later.   She miscarried a short time later, a personal tragedy she always blamed on the events at Chappaquiddick.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts would continue to elect and re-elect the “Liberal Lion of the Senate”, for the rest of his life.  Edward Kennedy’s Senate career, begun in 1962, ended only with his death of brain cancer, in 2009.

“Progressive” blogger for the Huffington Post Melissa Lafske reflected in a now-deleted editorial, on what Mary Jo Kopechne might have felt had she lived long enough to witness the accomplishments of Senator Kennedy’s long career.  “So it doesn’t automatically make someone (aka, me) a Limbaugh-loving, aerial-wolf-hunting NRA troll for asking what Mary Jo Kopechne would have had to say about Ted’s death, and what she’d have thought of the life and career that are being (rightfully) heralded”.

“Who knows — maybe she’d feel it was worth it”.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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July 18, 1921 Say it ain’t so, Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Official Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Shoeless” Joe Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

Black Sox Eight_men_banned

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

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

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

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

July 17, 1938 Wrong Way Corrigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Douglas_Groce_Corrigan_(afdotmil)
Douglas Corrigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 16, 1945 Destroyer of Worlds

“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. – Bhagavad Gita

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds“.

The words come down to us from the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic Mohandas Gandhi would describe as his “spiritual dictionary”. On this day in 1945, these were the words of “Manhattan Project” director J. Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed “Trinity”, the world’s first nuclear detonation.

The project had begun with an August 2, 1939 letter, written by the prominent physicists Leo Szilárd and Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt, warning that Nazi Germany may be working to develop a secret “Super Weapon”. It ended with that single explosion in the Jornada del Muerto (loosely, “Journey of the Dead Man”) desert, equal to the explosive force of 15,000 – 20,000 tons of TNT.

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Einstein–Szilárd letter

The Manhattan project, the program to develop the Atomic Bomb, was so secret that Vice President Harry Truman was unaware of its existence. President Roosevelt passed away on April 14, when Harry Truman was sworn in as President. He was fully briefed on the Manhattan project 10 days later, writing in his diary that night that the United States was perfecting an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world.

Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, but the war with Japan ground on. By August, Truman faced the most difficult decision ever faced by an American President.  Whether to drop an atomic bomb on a population of human beings.

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The morality of the decision has been argued ever since, and will continue to be, I’m sure. In the end, it was decided that to drop the bomb would end the war faster with fewer lives lost (on both sides), compared with an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

The second nuclear detonation in history took place on August 6 over Hiroshima, Japan. “Little Boy”, as the bomb was called, was delivered by the B29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, named after the mother of United States Army Air Forces pilot Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets. 66,000 Japanese citizens were vaporized in an instant, or died within the following days from the effects of the bomb.  Another 100,000 later died from injuries and the delayed effects of radiation.

7A_Nagasaki_Bomb_Cloud

Even then, the Imperial Japanese Government refused to surrender.  ‘Fat Man’, a plutonium bomb carried by the B29 “Bockscar”, was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9.

The intended target was Kokura, but local weather reduced visibility.  393d Bombardment Squadron Commander Major Charles Sweeney bypassed Kokura and chose the secondary target, Nagasaki. Half of Nagasaki was destroyed in the blast, and another 70,000 people killed.

Japan surrendered unconditionally on the 14th of August, ending the most destructive war in history.

During the 1920s, the University of Göttingen was one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical physics. American-born J. Robert Oppenheimer was himself educated there, along with the likes of Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and the English-born Paul Dirac, regarded as “one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century”.

The academic landscape of 1920s Germany was such that the Nazi regime may very well have been first to the nuclear finish line, but for the politicization of the universities themselves, brought on by National Socialist policy.

German+experimental+nuclear+pile+at+Haigerloch

On April 7, just 67 days after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the ‘Civil Service Law’ of 1933 established the framework for the removal of ‘undesirables’ in civil service, medicine, education and the legal profession. A series of increasingly draconian anti-Jewish laws left tens of thousands of Jews including that pillar of modern theoretical physics Albert Einstein himself, no choice but to flee.

More than 133,000 German Jewish émigrés moved to the United States between 1933 and 1944, many of them highly educated and some holding Nobel prizes. In a research paper for the University of Stanford, assistant Professor of Economics Petra Moser reported a 31% increase in the number of US patents in the physical sciences, after 1933.

The Nazi nuclear weapons project began on December 17, 1938 when German physicist Otto Hahn and assistant Fritz Strassmann discovered the atomic fission of heavy elements. The first real push to develop a nuclear weapon began the following April but fizzled months later, when a number of notable physicists were drafted into the Wehrmacht.

Nazi-Nuclear-Weapons-Adolf-Hitler-Third-Reich-Test-Bomb-Drop-V2-Ludwigslust-Britain-Rocket-590825

A second such effort began on September 1, 1939, the day that Hitler invaded Poland. While the Nazi nuclear program received funding throughout the war, it never received the concentrated effort of a Manhattan project. Instead, the program was carved into three separate pieces, and personnel were always subject to the recruiting needs of the military, irrespective of education, training or skills.

This series of decisions, no doubt taken in some conference room somewhere, put Nazi Germany behind in the nuclear arms race. How different the world would be, if Little Boy and Fat Man displayed swastikas, painted on their sides.

 

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

July 15, 1864 The Great Shohola Train Wreck

Note the pointed tops of the Confederate grave markers, different from the arc-shapes at the top of Federal stones.  Rumor has it that the point was there to “stick it” to any Yankee, dumb enough to sit on a Confederate gravestone.  No Rebel would ever be so disrespectful.

The wood burning steam locomotive #171 left Jersey City, New Jersey on July 15, 1864, pulling 17 passenger and freight cars. On board were 833 Confederate Prisoners of War and 128 Union guards, heading from Point Lookout, Maryland to the Federal prison camp in Elmira, New York.

Engine #171 was an “extra” that day, running behind a scheduled train numbered West #23. West #23 displayed warning flags, giving the second train right of way, but #171 was delayed while guards located missing prisoners.  Then there was the wait for the drawbridge. By the time #171 reached Port Jervis, Pennsylvania, the train was four hours behind schedule.

shohola station

Telegraph operator Douglas “Duff” Kent was on duty at the Lackawaxen Junction station, near Shohola Pennsylvania. Kent had seen West #23 pass through that morning with the “extra” flags.  His job was to hold eastbound traffic at Lackawaxen until the second train passed.

He might have been drunk that day, but nobody’s sure. He disappeared the following day, never to be seen again.

Erie Engine #237 arrived at Lackawaxen at 2:30pm pulling 50 coal cars, loaded for Jersey City.  Kent gave the All Clear at 2:45, the main switch was opened, and Erie #237 joined the single track heading east out of Shohola.

Only four miles of track now lay between the two speeding locomotives.

ShoholaWreckPA

The two trains met head-on at “King and Fuller’s Cut”, a section of track following a blind curve with only 50’ of visibility.

King and Fullers Cut
King and Fullers Cut

Engineer Samuel Hoit at the throttle of the coal train had time to jump clear, and survived the wreck.   Many of the others, never had a chance.

Historian Joseph C. Boyd described what followed on the 100th anniversary of the wreck:

“[T]he wooden coaches telescoped into one another, some splitting open and strewing their human contents onto the berm, where flying glass, splintered wood, and jagged metal killed or injured them as they rolled.  Other occupants were hurled through windows or pitched to the track as the car floors buckled and opened. The two ruptured engine tenders towered over the wreckage, their massive floor timbers snapped like matchsticks. Driving rods were bent like wire. Wheels and axles lay broken.” The troop train’s forward boxcar had been compacted and within the remaining mass were the remains of 37 men”. [Witnesses] saw “headless trunks, mangled between the telescoped cars” and “bodies impaled on iron rods and splintered beams.”

Pinned against the split boiler plate and slowly scalded to death, engineer William Ingram lived long enough to speak with would-be rescuers. “With his last breath he warned away all who went near to try and aid him, declaring that there was danger of the boiler exploding and killing them.”

Frank Evans, a guard on the train, describes the scene: “The two locomotives were raised high in air, face to face against each other, like giants grappling. The tender of our locomotive stood erect on one end. The engineer and fireman, poor fellows, were buried beneath the wood it carried. Perched on the reared-up end of the tender, high above the wreck, was one of our guards, sitting with his gun clutched in his hands, dead!. The front car of our train was jammed into a space of less than six feet. The two cars behind it were almost as badly wrecked. Several cars in the rear of those were also heaped together.”

51 Confederate prisoners and 17 Union guards were killed on the spot, or died within a day of the wreck. Five prisoners escaped in the confusion.

shohola2Captured at Spotsylvania early in 1864, 52nd North Carolina Infantry soldier James Tyner was a POW at this time, languishing in “Hellmira” – the fetid POW camp at Elmira, New York.  “The Andersonville of the Northern Union.”

Tyner’s brother William was one of the prisoners on board #171.

William was badly injured in the wreck, surviving only long enough to avoid a mass grave alongside a train track, in Shohola. William Tyner was transported to Elmira where he died three days later, never regaining consciousness.

I’ve always wondered if the brothers were able to find one another, that one last time.  James Tyner was my own twice-great Grandfather, one of four brothers who went to war for North Carolina, in 1861.

We’ll never know.  James Tyner died in captivity on March 13, 1865, 27 days before General Lee’s surrender, at Appomattox.  Of the four Tyner brothers, Nicholas alone survived the war.  He laid down his arms on the order of the man they called “Marse Robert”, and walked home to pick up the shattered bits of his life, in the Sand Hills of North Carolina.

Family Plot
Memorial for the brothers Tyner is located on the old family farm, in North Carolina.  Note the pointed tops, which are different from the arc-shapes at the top of Federal grave markers.  Rumor has it that the point was there to “stick it” to any Yankee, dumb enough to sit on a Confederate gravestone.  No Rebel would ever be so disrespectful.

“About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the war, accounting for almost 10% of all Civil War fatalities. During a period of 14 months in Camp Sumter, located near Andersonville, Georgia, 13,000 (28%) of the 45,000 Union soldiers confined there died. At Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, 10% of its Confederate prisoners died during one cold winter month; and Elmira Prison in New York state, with a death rate of 25%, very nearly equaled that of Andersonville”.  H/T Wikipedia

 

Afterward

Burial details worked throughout the night of July 15 until dawn of the following day. 

Two Confederate soldiers, the brothers John and Michael Johnson, died overnight and were buried in the congregational church yard across the Delaware river, in Barryville, New York.

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Last resting place of the brothers John and Michael Johnson, killed in the Great Shohola Trainwreck

The remaining POW dead and those about to die were buried alongside the track in a 75′ trench, placed four at a time in crude boxes fashioned from the wreckage.  Conventional caskets arrived overnight.  Individual graves were dug for the 17 Federal dead, and they too were laid alongside the track.

As the years went by, memorial markers faded and then disappeared, altogether. Hundreds of trains carried thousands of passengers up and down the Erie railroad, ignorant of the burial ground through which they had passed.  

11df509e6d89fc150e76c8192efc5975The “pumpkin flood“ of 1903 scoured the rail line, uncovering many of the dead and carrying away their mortal remains.  It must have been a sight – caskets moving with the flood, bobbing like so many fishing plugs, alongside countless numbers of that year’s pumpkin crop.

On June 11, 1911, the forgotten dead of Shohola were disinterred, and reburied in mass graves in the Woodlawn national cemetery in Elmira, New York. Two brass plaques bear the names of the dead, mounted to opposite sides of a common stone marker.

The names of the Union dead, face north. Those of the Confederate side, face south. To my knowledge, this is the only instance from the Civil War era, in which Union and Confederate share a common grave. 

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July 11, 1804 A Dual at Weehawken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hamilton burr

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

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

Weehawken today
Weehawken, today
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July 14, 1987 The Other Hitler

William Patrick Hitler petitioned President Roosevelt for permission to fight on the American side, receiving permission in 1944.  Drafted into the Navy, the induction officer asked his name.  The reply came, “Hitler”. “Glad to see you Hitler,” the officer replied, “My name’s Hess.”

Suppose for a moment, that Gallup or Ipsos were to conduct a survey, naming the top ten bad guys, in all history. One name I daresay would top every list, would be that of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party leader, Adolf Hitler.

Hitler himself wouldn’t have the term, “Nazi”. That was bitter insult, coined long before the rise of the Nazi party. In German, Hitler would have referred to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP for short.

Alois Johann Schicklgruber was born on June 7, 1837, to the 42-year-old unmarried peasant Maria Schicklgruber.  The boy’s father was known to her, the priest wrote “illegitimate” on the baptismal certificate. Johann Georg Hiedler married the peasant woman when the boy was five.  By ten, Alois was sent to live with Heidler’s brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. Three years later, Alois  Schicklgruber moved to Vienna where he worked as a cobbler’s apprentice, finally becoming a low level civil servant in the Austrian Finance Ministry.

There are plenty of variations on the Hiedler family surname. ‘Hiedler’ apparently derives from an Austro-Bavarian dialect, meaning one who lives by a Hiedl, or underground spring. Other derivations come from the German Hutte (hut), as in “one who lives in a hut”.  Be that as it may, the variations appear to have been interchangeable.  Common variations included Hitler, Hiedler, Hüttler, Hytler, and Hittler.

5025565e94b0d956cd32e9326850bdf6There are plenty of tales regarding the man’s paternity, but none are any more than that. Alois Schicklgruber ‘legitimized’ himself in 1877, adopting a variant on the name of his stepfather and calling himself ‘Hitler”.

Historian Alan Bullock has described Alois Hitler as “hard, unsympathetic and short-tempered”. He seems to have had a problem with marital fidelity, as well. Alois was thirty-six when he married Anna Glasl-Hörer, the 50-year-old, invalid daughter of a customs official. By age 43, he was carrying on with the 19-year-old servant girl, Franziska “Fanni” Matzelsberger, with whom he had an illegitimate son, Alois Jr.

Alois Sr. was for all intents and purposes ‘married’ to the Matzelsberger girl for the next two years, while his lawful wife Anna, sickened and died. Hitler, 45, married Matzelsberger, age 21 in May, 1883. The couple’s second child Angela, was born two months later.

Sixteen-year-old Klara Pölzl moved in years earlier as household servant, and no woman was going to do to the new Mrs. Hitler, that which she had done to another woman.  Frau Hitler demanded that the “servant girl” be sent away but Pölzl would return the following year, as Fanni herself sickened and died.

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Pölzl was by this time pregnant with the first of the couple’s four children, but there was a problem. There are many candidates for Alois (Schicklgruber) Hitler’s biological father. If Hitler’s step-father was in fact his real sire as implied by the name change, that made Klara Pölzl his first cousin once removed, at least by law. The couple was too close to marry.

Alois petitioned the church for a humanitarian waiver. The waiver was granted and Klara Pölzl became the third Frau Hitler in January 1885. The first-born child was born five months later.

Adolf Hitler as an infant

The future leader of the National Socialist Party was born fours later, by that time the only child born to his mother Klara.  Her first three children Gustav, Ida and Otto, all died in childhood.

Alois Hitler, Sr. seems to have been a thoroughly unlikable man, lording it over neighbors and brutalizing his own family. Historian Robert Waite notes that, “Even one of his closest friends admitted that Alois was ‘awfully rough’ with his wife and ‘hardly ever spoke a word to her at home’.” The man would berate Klara and children alike, and apparently beat them on a regular basis.  Alois Jr. left home never to return, following a violent argument with his father. The elder Alois swore that he would never give the boy a single mark of inheritance, over what the law required. The youngest, Adolf, grew up a frail and sickly child, doted on by his mother and often at the center of violent rages by his father.

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Alois Hitler

Alois tried to browbeat his youngest into following him, into the civil service. The boy feared and detested his father, and wanted nothing to do with him.  Adolf Hitler would follow the path which would bring him to that list of the great monsters of the 20th century, as his brother Alois Jr., made his own way in the world.

Some apples don’t fall far from the tree. Alois Hitler Jr. went to Ireland, where he met Bridget Dowling at the Dublin Horse Show. Nothing more than a poor kitchen porter at the Shelbourne Hotel, Hitler managed to convince her that he was, in fact, a wealthy hotelier, touring Europe. The couple eloped to London in June 1910. Bridget’s father William threatened to bring Hitler up on charges of kidnapping, and only relented when Bridget pleaded with him to stop.

It was a decision she would come to regret.

Dowling-Hitler
Dowling-Hitler

The couple had their only child in 1911, William Patrick Hitler. Alois left home in Liverpool in May 1914 to establish himself in the safety razor business.  He had become violent by this time and begun to beat the boy.  Bridget refused to go with William’s father and would end up, raising the boy alone.

War descended over Europe in 1914, when the elder Hitler met and (bigamously) married his second wife, Hedwig Heidemann.

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Heinz Hitler was captured by Soviet Forces in 1942, and tortured to death

Alois’ second marriage  produced a son, Heinz, who went on to become a committed Nazi. In 1933, William moved to Germany, in an effort to take advantage of his uncle’s rise to power.  He got a job at an Opel factory and later worked as a car salesman, but  badgered his uncle for a better job. At last, he threatened to sell embarrassing family stories to the newspapers, if Uncle Adolf didn’t do something to improve his “personal circumstances”.

Ironically, Nazi party regulations precluded Adolf Hitler himself from proving his own “Aryan Purity”, based on his father’s unknown paternity.  For years, Hitler had been dogged by hushed speculation about “Jewish blood”.  Quiet rumor became front-page headline this day in 1933, when Austrian newspapers published reports that the German Chancellor, sworn enemy of all things Jewish, was himself, a Jew.  That same day, all political parties but the Nazi party, were banned from Germany.

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Pharmacists Mate William Patrick Hitler

Der Führer of the fledgling thousand-year Reich promised his nephew a “high ranking post” in 1938, in exchange for renunciation of his British citizenship. Suspecting a trap, the younger Hitler fled Germany, traveling to the United States in 1939. William Patrick Hitler petitioned President Roosevelt for permission to join the American side, receiving permission in 1944.

Drafted into the Navy, the induction officer asked his name.  The reply came, “Hitler”. “Glad to see you Hitler,” the officer replied, “My name’s Hess.”

William Patrick Hitler served honorably for the duration of the war, holding the rank of Pharmacists Mate (a designation later changed to Hospital Corpsman) and earning a purple heart in the process.    Hitler’s half-brother Heinz was captured by Soviet forces in 1942, and tortured to death. Their more famous uncle took his own life in 1945 and died, childless.

Ironically, Hitler’s childhood home in Liverpool was destroyed in the last air raid of the Liverpool Blitz, in 1942.

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Alexander

Wishing to live a life of anonymity, “Willy” Hitler changed his name to William Patrick  Stuart-Houston at the end of the war, and married fellow German emigre Phyllis Jean-Jacques in 1947.  The couple made a home in Patchogue, New York and raised four sons: Alexander Adolf (b. 1949), Louis (b. 1951), Howard Ronald (1957–1989), and Brian William (b. 1965).

William Patrick Stuart-Houston, nephew to one of the worst dictators in history and a man who fought with honor on the side of his uncle’s mortal enemy, died this day in 1987, leaving no grandchildren.

Alexander Adolf Stuart-Houston,, an American social worker, dismissed speculation of a pact to end the Hitler line. There was no such agreement among the last four boys in the family.  Things just turned out that way.

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