March 28, 1892 Two-Gun Hart, Prohibition Cowboy

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, and famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.”

A boy was born on this day in 1892 in the south of Italy, James Vincenzo, the first son of a barber named Gabriele and his wife, Teresa. A second son named Ralph came along before the small family emigrated to the United States in pursuit, of a better life.

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Silent film cowboy star William S Hart

Gabriele and Teresa would have seven more children in time: Frank and Alphonse followed by Ermina who sadly died in infancy, John, Albert, Matthew and Mafalda.

Most of the brothers followed a life of petty crime but not Vincenzo, the first-born who would often take the ferry to Staten Island to escape the overcrowded mayhem, of the city.

Vincenzo got a job there with help from his father. He was cleaning stables and learning how to care for horses. He even learned to ride and preferred the more “American sounding” part of his name, of “James”.

James newfound love of horses led to a fascination with Buffalo Bill Cody and the “Wild West” shows, popular at this time. At sixteen he left the city for good. James family had no idea where he had gone until a letter, a year later. James was in Kansas he wrote working as a roustabout, with a traveling circus.

This was the age of the silent film, William S. Hart one of the great “cowboy” stars of the era. Hart was larger than life, the six-gun toting cow-punching gunslinger from a bygone era.

The roustabout idolized the silent film star and adopted his mannerisms, complete with low-slung six-shooters, red bandanna and ten-gallon hat. He worked hard to lose his Brooklyn accent and explained his swarthy southern Italian color, saying he was part native American.

James even adopted the silent film star’s name and enlisted in the Army as Richard James Hart claiming to be a farmer, from Indiana. Some stories will tell you that Hart fought in France and rose to the rank of Lieutenant, in the military police. Others will tell you he joined the American Legion after the war only to be thrown out when it was learned, that the whole story was fake.

Be that as it may Vincenzo legally changed his name to Richard James Hart.

Richard Hart stepped off the freight train in 1919, a walking, talking anachronism. He was a 19th century Wild West gunfighter, from his cowboy boots to his embroidered vest to that broad-brimmed Stetson hat. This was Homer Nebraska, a small town of about 500, some seventeen miles from Sioux City Iowa.

Richard James “Two Gun” Hart

He claimed to be a hero of the Great War, personally decorated by General John J. Pershing. Intelligent, ambitious and not afraid of a little hard work, Hart took jobs as paper hanger, house painter, whatever it took.

He was short and powerfully built with the look of a man who carried mixed Indian or Mexican blood, regaling veterans at the local American Legion with tales of his exploits, against the Hun.

The man could fight and he knew how to use those guns, amazing onlookers with feats of marksmanship behind the Legion post.

Any doubts about Hart’s physical courage were put to rest that May when a flash-flood nearly killed the Winch family of neighboring Emerson Nebraska. Hart dashed across the raging flood time after time to bring the family to safety.  Nineteen-year-old Kathleen was so taken with her savior she married the man that Fall, a marriage that later produced four boys.

The small town was enthralled by this new arrival, the town council appointing Hart as Marshall. He was a big fish in a small pond, elected commander of the Legion post and district commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16 of that year, the Volstead Act passed by the United States Congress over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson on October 29. “Prohibition” was now, the law of the land. It was now illegal to produce, import, transport or sell intoxicating liquor.

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Richard Hart became a prohibition agent in the Summer of 1920 and went immediately to work, destroying stills and arresting area bootleggers.

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.

Officials at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took note and before long, Hart was performing the more difficult (and dangerous) job of liquor suppression on the reservations.

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Hart brought his chaps and his six-shooters to South Dakota where the Yanktown reservation superintendent reported to his superiors in Washington “I wish to commend Mr. Hart in highest terms for his fearless and untiring efforts to bring these liquor peddlers and moonshiners to justice. …This man Hart is a go-getter.”

Hart became proficient in Lakota and Omaha dialects. Tribal leaders called him “Two Gun”, after the twin revolvers he wore. Some members of the Oglala tribe called him “Soiko”, a name roughly translating as “Big hairy boogey-man”.

By 1927, Two-Guns Hart had achieved such a reputation as to be appointed bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge, on a trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By 1930, Richard James Hart was so famous a letter addressed only as “Hart” and adorned with a sketch of a brace of pistols, arrived to his attention.

Hart became livestock inspector after repeal of prohibition, and special agent assigned to the Winnebago and Omaha reservations.  He was re-appointed Marshall of his adopted home town but, depression-era Nebraska was tough.  The money was minuscule and the Marshall was caught, stealing cans of food.

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The relatives of one bootlegging victim from his earlier days tracked him down and beat him so severely with brass knuckles,  the prohibition cowboy lost his sight sight in one eye.

Fellow members of the American Legion had by this time contacted the Army to learn Hart’s WW1 tales, were fake.  Richard James Hart was never in the Army though his namesake Richard Jr. died fighting for the nation, in World War 2.

Turns out that other parts of the lawman’s story were phony, too.  A good story but altogether fake, just like the Italian American actor Espera Oscar de Corti better known character “Iron Eyes Cody” the “crying Indian”, who possessed not a drop of native American blood.  Nor did the mixed native American pretender, Richard James Hart.

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The lawman had left the slums of Brooklyn to become a Prohibition Cowboy while that little brother Alphonse, pursued a life of crime.  Richard James Hart was James Vincenzo Capone, long lost brother of Alphonse “Scarface” Capone.

A Trivial Matter
James Vincenzo Capone’s strange double-life came to the public eye for the first time in 1951, when defense attorneys subpoenaed Richard Hart to testify on behalf of his brother Ralph Capone. Hart faded into anonymity following a rash of newspaper stories, and died within a year at his adopted home town of Homer, the small Nebraska town where he stepped off that freight train, some 33 years earlier.

May 16, 1938 Buddy’s Eyes

Man and dog stepped off the ship in 1928 to a throng of reporters. There were flash bulbs, shouted questions and the din of traffic and honking horns that can only be New York City.  Buddy never wavered. At the end of that first day, Dorothy Eustis received a single word telegram: “Success”. 

Morris Frank lost the use of an eye in a childhood accident. He lost his vision altogether in a boxing mishap, at the age of 16.  Frank hired a boy to guide him around but the young man was easily bored and sometimes wandered off, leaving Frank to fend for himself.

German specialists were working at this time on the use of Alsatians (German Shepherds) to act as guide dogs for WWI veterans blinded by mustard gas. An American breeder living in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, wrote an article about the work in a 1927 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. When Frank’s father read him the article, he wrote to Eustis pleading that she train a dog for himself.  “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own. We can then set up an instruction center in this country to give all those here who want it a chance at a new life.

Dorothy Eustis

Dorothy Eustis called Frank in February 1928 and asked if he was willing to come to Switzerland.  The response left little doubt:  “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell”.  She accepted the challenge and trained two dogs, leaving it to Frank to decide which was the more suitable. Morris came to Switzerland to work with the dogs, both female German Shepherds. He chose one named “Kiss” but, feeling that no 20-year-old man should have a dog named Kiss, he called her “Buddy”.

Buddy's Eyes

Man and dog stepped off the ship in 1928 to a throng of reporters. There were flash bulbs, shouted questions and the din of traffic and honking horns that can only be New York City.  Buddy never wavered. At the end of that first day, Dorothy Eustis received a single word telegram: “Success”.  Morris Frank was set on a path that would become his life’s mission: to get seeing eye dogs accepted all over the country.

Frank and Eustis established the first guide dog training school in the US in Nashville, on January 29, 1929.    Frank was true to his word, becoming a tireless advocate of public accessibility for the blind and their guide dogs.  In 1928, he was routinely told that Buddy couldn’t ride in the passenger compartment.  Within seven years, all railroads in the United States adopted policies allowing guide dogs to remain with their owners while onboard.  By 1956, every state in the Union had passed laws guaranteeing access to public spaces for blind people and their dogs.

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Frank told a New York Times interviewer in 1936 that he had probably logged 50,000 miles with Buddy, by foot, train, subway, bus, and boat. He was constantly meeting with people, including two presidents and over 300 ophthalmologists, demonstrating the life-changing qualities of owning a guide dog.

Sadly, no dog is given the span of a human lifetime. Buddy’s health was failing in the end, but the team had one more hurdle to cross. One more barrier to break. Frank wanted to fly in a commercial aircraft with his guide dog. The pair did so on this day in 1938, flying from Chicago to Newark. Buddy passed the time curled up at Frank’s feet. United Air Lines was the first to adopt the policy, granting “all Seeing Eye dogs the privilege of riding with their masters in the cabins of any of our regularly scheduled planes.”

Buddy was all business during the day, but, to the end of her life, she liked to end her work day with a roll on the floor with Mr. Frank.  Buddy died seven days after that plane trip, but she had made her mark.  By this time there were 250 seeing eye dogs working across the country, and their number was growing fast.  Buddy’s replacement was also called Buddy, as was every seeing eye dog Frank would ever own until he passed away, in 1980.

Four decades and more since Morris Frank left this earth, his dream lives on. Today there are an estimated 10,000 seeing eye dogs currently at work, in the United States.

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The trompe l’oeil painted bronze statue “The Way to Independence” was unveiled on April 29, 2005, on Morristown Green, Morristown NJ. Artist John Seward Johnson, II

May 7, 1945 Victory in Europe

General Alfred Jodl came to Reims to sign the document including the phrase “All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945“.

Beginning on May 5, reporters from AP, Life magazine, and others began to sleep on the floor of Eisenhower’s red brick schoolhouse headquarters, for fear of stepping out and missing the moment. Adolf Hitler was dead by his own hand, the life of the German tyrant extinguished on April 30.

General Alfred Jodl came to Reims to sign the document including the phrase “All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945“.

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The signing of the instruments of surrender ending the most destructive war in history took place on Monday, May 7, at 2:41am, local time.   In Europe, World War II had come to an end.The German government announced the end of hostilities right away to its own people, but most of the Allied governments, remained silent.   It was nearly midnight the following day when Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed a second instrument of surrender, in the Berlin headquarters of Soviet General Georgy Zhukov.

Soviet Premier Josef Stalin had his own ideas about how he wanted to handle the matter while the rest of the world, waited.

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In England, May 7 dragged on with no public statement. Large crowds gathered outside of Buckingham Palace shouting “We want the King”. Bell ringers throughout the British Isles remained on silent standby, waiting for the announcement. The British Home Office issued a circular, instructing Britons how they could celebrate: “Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used.” And still, the world waited.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally lost patience in the early evening, saying he wasn’t going to give Stalin the satisfaction of holding up what everyone already knew. The Ministry of Information made this short announcement at 7:40pm: “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday”.

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The news was greeted with reserve in the United States, where the first thought was that of the Pacific. Even now, many months of savage combat lay ahead. President Harry Truman broadcast his own address to the nation at 9:00am on May 8, thanking President Roosevelt and wishing he’d been there to share the moment.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died on April 12 in Warm Springs, Georgia. President Truman’s speech begins: “This is a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe. For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity”.

So it is that most of the world celebrates May 8 as Victory in Europe, “VE Day”, the day of formal cessation of all hostilities, by Nazi Germany. And yet in some sectors, the fighting continued.

German military operations officially ceased on May 8, a day celebrated as VE Day in in the United States, Great Britain, Western Europe and Australia. VE Day occurs on May 9 in the former Soviet territories, and New Zealand.

Even so isolated pockets of resistance continued to surrender day through May 14-15. The “Georgian uprising” of some 400 German troops and 800 allied Georgian soldiers under German officers continued until May 20 on the Dutch island of Texel (pronounced “Tessel).

The last major battle in Europe concluded on May 25 between the Yugoslav Army and Croatian Armed Forces. One contingent of German soldiers lost radio communications in Spitsbergen in the Norwegian archipelago and surrendered to a group of seal hunters, on September 4. Two days after the formal surrender of Imperial Japan and the end of war, in the Pacific.

May 5, 1945 A Sunday School Picnic

Only once during all of World War 2 did death result from enemy action, in the 48 contiguous United States. That of a Sunday School class out for a picnic, on May 5, 1945.

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Following the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa volcano, weather watchers described an eastbound, upper atmospheric air current described as the “equatorial smoke stream”. 

In the 1920s, Japanese meteorologist Wasaburo Oishi tracked these upper level winds using pilot balloons from a site, near Mount Fuji. Oishi published his findings in Esperanto, dooming his work to international obscurity. Inside Japan there were those who took note, filing away this new-found knowledge of what we now call the “Jet Stream”.

Japanese balloon bomb diagram

During the latter half of WWII, Japanese military thinkers conceived a fūsen bakudan or “fire balloon”, a hydrogen filled balloon device designed to ride the jet stream using sand ballast and a valve system, to navigate its way to the North American continent.

With sandbags, explosives, and the device which made the thing work, the total payload was about a thousand pounds at liftoff.  The first such device was released on November 3, 1944, beginning the crossing to the west coast of North America. 

Between late 1944 and April 1945 some 9,300 such balloons were released, with military payloads.

Today, inter-continental ballistic missiles are an everyday if frightening reality, of our time. Such a long range attack was unheard of during World war 2 and would not be duplicated until the Falklands War, in 1982.

In 1945, intercontinental weapons existed only in the realm of science fiction.  As these devices began to appear, American speculation ran wild. Authorities theorized that they originated with submarine-based beach assaults, German POW camps, even the internment camps into which the Roosevelt administration herded Japanese Americans.

These “washi” paper balloons flew at high altitude and surprisingly quickly, completing the Pacific crossing in only three days. Balloons came down from Alaska to Northern Mexico and as far east, as Detroit.

A P-38 Lightning fighter shot one down near Santa Rosa, California, while Yerington, Nevada cowboys cut one up to make hay tarps. Pieces of balloon were found in the streets of Los Angeles. A prospector near Elko Nevada delivered one to local authorities, on the back of a donkey.

Among US units assigned to fight fire balloons was the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which suffered one fatality and 22 injuries fighting fires.

One of the last balloons came down on March 10 near Hanford Washington, shorting out power lines supplying electricity for Manhattan Project nuclear reactor cooling pumps. The war in the Pacific could have ended very differently had not backup safety devices restored power, almost immediately.

Japanese Balloon Bomb

Colonel Sigmund Poole, head of the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit, asked, “Where’d the damned sand come from?”  Microscopic analysis of sand ballast identified diatoms and other microscopic sea life.  This and the mineral content of the sand itself proved to be definitive.  The stuff could only have come from the home islands of Japan, more specifically, one or two beaches on the island of Honshu.

American authorities were alarmed.  Anti-personnel and incendiary bombs were relatively low grade threats.  Not so the biological weapons Japanese military authorities were known to be developing at the infamous Unit 731, in northern China.

284 of these weapons are known to have completed the Pacific crossing to the United States, Mexico and Canada.  Experts estimate as many as 1,000 may have made the crossing.  Sightings were reported in seventeen US states. Pilots were ordered to shoot them down on sight, but many escaped detection, altogether.

In an effort to deny valuable intelligence to their Japanese adversary, US military and government authorities did everything they could to keep these “Fire Bombs” out of the media.  Even while such secrecy put Americans at risk.

Japanese Authorities reported that the bombs were hitting key targets. Thousands were dead or injured they insisted, and American morale was low.

On the morning of May 5, 1945, Pastor Archie Mitchell and his wife Elsie took a Sunday school class of five on a picnic to a forest area near Bly, Oregon.  As Pastor Mitchell parked the car, Elsie and the kids came upon a large balloon with a strange looking device, attached. There was no way they could have known, what they had found was a Japanese weapon of war.  The device exploded killing all six, instantly.

Japanese balloon bomb shrapnel tree

Several such devices exploded, igniting wildfires in the forests of California, Oregon and Washington, but the site near Bly is the only one known to have resulted in American casualties.

Today there is a small picnic area located in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Lake County, Oregon.  It’s maintained by the US Forest Service, memorialized as the Mitchell Recreation Area and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A small stone marker points the way to a shrapnel scarred tree.

A second monument bears the words cast in bronze:  The “only place on the American continent where death resulted from enemy action during World War II”.  There are six names above those words, those of five children and their teacher:  Elsie Mitchell, age 26,  Edward Engen, 13,  Jay Gifford, 13,  Joan Patzke, 13,  Dick Patzke, 14 and  Sherman Shoemaker, age 11.

Elsie Mitchell was pregnant at the time of her death. Her unborn child was the 7th albeit nameless victim, of one of the most bizarre weapon systems of WW2.

Mitchell Monument

May 4, 1943 Counter Measures

Virtually anything that can be opened or closed, stepped on or moved in any way can be rigged to mutilate or kill, the unwary. Fiendish imagination alone, limits the possibilities.

In the Spanish language, the word “Bobo” translates as “stupid…daft…naive”. The slang form “bubie” describes a dummy. A dunce. The word came into English sometime around 1590 and spelled “booby”, meaning a slow or stupid person.

In a military context, a booby trap is designed to kill or maim the person who activates a trigger. Like the common mess tin at the top of this page, modified to mangle or kill the unsuspecting soldier. During the war in Vietnam, Bamboo pit vipers known as “three step snakes” (because that’s all you get) were tucked into backpacks, bamboo sticks or simply hung by their tails, a living trap for the unwary GI.

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Punji stakes were often smeared with human excrement result in hideous infection for the unsuspecting GI

The soldier who goes to lower that VC flag might pull the halyard rope may hear distant snickering in the jungle…just before the fragmentation grenade goes off. Often, the first of his comrades running to the aid of his now shattered body hits the trip wire, setting off a secondary and far larger explosive.

Not to be outdone, the operation code-named “Project Eldest Son” involved CIA and American Green Berets sabotaging rifle and machine gun rounds, in such a way as to blow off the face the careless Vietcong shooter.

German forces were masters of the booby trap in the waning days of WW1 and WW2. A thin piece of fishing line connected the swing of a door with a hidden grenade, by your feet. A flushing toilet explodes and kills or maims everyone in the building. The wine bottle over in the corner may be perfectly harmless, but the chair you move over to get it, blows you to bits.

Virtually anything that can be opened or closed, stepped on or moved in any way can be rigged to mutilate or kill, the unwary. Fiendish imagination alone, limits the possibilities. Would the “Joe Squaddy” entering the room care if that painting on the wall was askew? Very possibly not but an “officer and a gentleman” may be moved to straighten the thing out at the cost of his hands, or maybe his life.

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Exploding Peas, illustration by Laurence Fish

In the strange and malignant world of Adolf Hitler, the German and British people had much in common.  Are we not all “Anglo-Saxons”?  The two peoples need not make war the man believed, except for their wretched man, Winston Churchill.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a true leader of world-historical proportion during the darkest days, of the war.  Taking the man out just might cripple one of Hitler’s most potent adversaries.

In 1943, Hitler’s bomb makers concocted an explosive coated in a thin layer of chocolate and wrapped in expensive black & gold foil labeled “Peter’s Chocolate”. When you break a piece off of this thing, you might wonder in the last nanoseconds of your life.  What the hell is this canvas doing in a chocolate bar?

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Churchill was known to have a sweet tooth and so it was, that Nazi Germany planned to kill the British Prime Minister. A booby trapped chocolate bar placed in a war cabinet meeting room.

We rarely hear about the work of the spy or the saboteur in times of war. They are the heroes who work behind enemy lines, with little to protect them but their own guts and cleverness. Their work is performed out of sight, yet there were times when the lives of millions hung in the balance, and they never even knew it.

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The lives of millions, or perhaps only one.  German saboteurs were discovered operating inside the UK, the information sent to British Intelligence.

Lord Victor Rothschild was a trained biologist in peace and member of the Rothschild banking family. During WW2, British Intelligence recruited him to work for MI5, heading up a three-member explosives and counter-sabotage unit. Rothschild immediately grasped the importance of the information and the need to illustrate Nazi devices to communicate, with other intelligence officers. 

We live in an age when computers are commonplace but that wasn’t the case, in 1943. ENIAC, the first electronic computer wouldn’t come around yet, for another two years. Photoshop was definitely out of the picture and yet, high quality illustrations were needed and quickly, and they had to come from a trusted source. Donald Fish, one of Rothschild’s two colleagues, had just the man. His son.

On this day in 1943, Lord Rothschild typed a letter to illustrator, Laurence Fish.  The letter, marked “secret”, begins: “Dear Fish, I wonder if you could do a drawing for me of an explosive slab of chocolate…”

The letter went on to describe the mechanism and included a crude sketch, requesting the artist bring the thing, to life.

Laurence Fish would one day become a commercial artist and illustrator, best remembered for his travel posters of the 1950s and ’60s.  He always signed his work, “Laurence”. 

From the pen and ink technical drawings of the war years to the brightly colored travel posters of his post-war career, Laurence Fish was a gifted and versatile artist.

In 1943 that was all for some time in an unknown future, a time when dozens of wartime drawings were quietly left in a drawer and forgotten, for seventy years. For now a world had a war to win and Laurence Fish, played a part.

Hitler’s bomb makers devised all manner of havoc, from booby trapped mess tins to time-delay fuses meant to destroy shipping, at sea.   In 2015, members of the Rothschild family were cleaning out the house, and discovered a trove of Fish’s work.

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The artist is gone now and his name all but forgotten but his work, lives on.  Fish’s illustrations are now in the hands of his widow Jean, an archivist and former journalist living in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Thanks to her we can see this forgotten piece of history in her husband’s work, last shown in an exhibition last year over the weekend of September 18 – 19.

And a good thing it is. The man has earned the right to be remembered.

April 30, 1900 An Ordinary Man

Driving that train,
high on cocaine.
Casey Jones you better,
watch your speed.
It’s a nice rhyme but the cocaine part is a lie, told and retold across generations, of popular culture. For most of us it’s all we will ever know of a hero, called Casey Jones.

Acts of heroism have a way of popping up in the most unexpected places. Ordinary people rising to the occasion, in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Temar Boggs and Chris Garcia were two teenage boys who chased down a kidnapper – on their bicycles no less – to free a little girl. Eight-months pregnant mother-to-be Lauren Prezioso dove into an Australian undertow to save two boys, being swept out to sea. Six-year-old Bridger Walker threw himself in the path of a vicious dog to take the mauling directed at his little sister, only seconds earlier.

This is one of those stories.

Jonathon Luther Jones lived near Cayce Kentucky as a boy, and the nickname stuck. For reasons which remain unclear he preferred to spell it, “Casey”.

Casey Jones was a train man, working on the I.C.R.R. The Illinois Central Railroad.

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An example of the man’s character comes to us from 1895, when Jones was thirty-two. Outside Michigan City Mississippi, a group of children darted across the tracks, fewer than sixty yards from a speeding train.  Most made it across except one little girl, who froze in terror before the oncoming locomotive.

With fellow engineer Bob Stevenson hauling back on the emergency brakes and buying precious extra seconds, Jones ran across the running boards and inched his way down the pilot, better known as the “cow catcher”.

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Jonathon Luther “Casey” Jones

He was no trick rider.  No circus acrobat.  Casey Jones worked on the railroad and yet, bracing himself with his legs, Jones reached out and scooped up the terrified little girl, at the last possible fraction of a second. 

On this occasion, the man had every hope and expectation of remaining alive.  Five years later Casey Jones’ last act of heroism came in the face of certain, and violent death.

Casey Jones went to work for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad where he performed well, receiving first a promotion to brakeman, and then to fireman. He met Mary Joanna (“Janie”) Brady around this time, whose father owned the boarding house, where Jones lived. The pair fell in love and married on November 11, 1886, buying a house in Jackson Alabama where the couple raised their three children. By all accounts the man was sober and devoted to his work, a dedicated family man.

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Several crews from the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) were down with yellow fever in the summer of 1887. Fireman Jones went to work for the IC the following year, firing a freight run between Jackson, Tennessee, and Water Valley, Mississippi.

Casey Jones had a knack for these complex and powerful machines. He was good at what he did and an aggressive risk taker. Ambitious for advancement, Jones was issued nine citations for rules infractions over the course of his career, resulting in 145 days’ suspension.  He was well liked by fellow railroaders but widely regarded, as just this side of reckless.

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Jones achieved his lifelong goal of becoming an engineer in 1891.  He was well  known, for being on time. Jones insisted he’d never “fall down” and get behind schedule. People learned to set their watches by his train whistle, knowing he would always “get her there on the advertised” (time).

Jones moved his family to Memphis in 1900, transferring to the “cannonball run” between Chicago and New Orleans. The run was a four train passenger relay, advertising the fastest travel times in the history of the American railroad. Experienced engineers were worried about the ambitious schedule and some even quit. Jones saw the new itinerary as an opportunity for advancement.

How a steam locomotive, works

On this day in 1900, Engine #382 departed Memphis at 12:05am, ninety-five minutes behind schedule due to the late arrival of the first leg, of the relay. The Memphis to Canton, Mississippi run was 190 miles long and normally took 4 hours, 50 minutes at an average speed of 39 MPH. 95 minutes was a lot of time to make up but #382 was a fast engine and traveling “light” that night, with only six cars.

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Fireman Simeon “Sim” T. Webb

Fireman Simeon Taylor “Sim” Webb was one of the best. He would have to be. This would be a record breaking run.

Jones hit the Johnson bar, throttling #382 up to 80 MPH despite sharp turns and visibility reduced, by fog. There were two stops for water and a brief halt on a side track, to let another engine through. Despite all that, #382 made up most of those 95 minutes by the 155-mile mark. On leaving the side track in Goodman, Mississippi, Jones was only five minutes behind the advertised arrival, of 4:05am.

Jones was well acquainted with those last 25 miles into Vaughn Mississippi.  There were few turns and the engineer throttled his engine up to breakneck speed. He  was thrilled with his time, saying “Sim, the old girl’s got her dancing slippers on tonight!”

Unknown to both men there was a problem, up ahead. Three trains were in the station at Vaughn with a combined length of ten cars longer, than the main siding. Rail yard workers performed a “saw by” maneuver, backing #83 onto the main line and switching overlapping cars onto the “house track”. Then there was that problem with an air hose. Four cars remained stranded on the main line.

#382 sped through the final curve at 75MPH, only two minutes behind schedule. Clinging to the side board, Sim Webb was the first to see the red lights, of the caboose. “Oh my Lord”, he yelled, “there’s something on the main line!”

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Jones didn’t have a prayer of stopping in time. He was moving too fast. He reversed throttle and slammed the air brakes into emergency stop, screaming “Jump Sim, jump!” Sim Webb jumped clear with only 300 feet to go as the piercing shriek of the engine’s whistle, split the air.

Jones could have jumped. Having ordered Webb to do so demonstrated, the man understood the situation.  Casey Jones stayed on the train as “Ole 382” plowed through the red wooden caboose and three freight cars, before leaving the track.

By the moment of impact, Jones frantic efforts had slowed the engine down to 35 miles per hour. Untold numbers of passengers were saved from serious injury, or death. As the pieces came to a stop Jones himself, was the only fatality. His watch was stopped at 3:52am, only two minutes behind schedule.

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Adam Hauser of the New Orleans Times-Democrat was a passenger in a sleeper car, at the time of the wreck: “The passengers did not suffer” he said, “and there was no panic. I was jarred a little in my bunk, but when fairly awake the train was stopped and everything was still. Engineer Jones did a wonderful as well as a heroic piece of work, at the cost of his life”.

Legend has it that, when Jones’ body was removed his dead hands still clutched the whistle cord, and the brake.

Since that day Casey Jones has achieved mythological status, alongside the likes of Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. “The Ballad of Casey Jones” was recorded by Mississippi John Hurt, Johnny Cash and the Grateful Dead, among others.

Jones’ son Charles was 12 at the time of  his father’s death at age 37. Jones’ daughter Helen, was 10.  The  youngest, John Lloyd (“Casey Junior”) was 4.  Janie received two life insurance payments totaling $3,000 as Casey was “Double Heading” at that time, as a member of two unions.   Casey Jones widow would receive no other compensation.  The Railroad Retirement Fund wouldn’t come about, for another 37 years.

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Mary Joanna “Janie” Brady Jones lived another 58 years and never had so much as a thought, of remarrying. The idea that the hero she married was intoxicated at the time of the accident was a thorn in her side, for the rest of her life. What’s more there were allegations that she herself, was an unfaithful wife. According to one version of the song she told her heartbroken children to stop crying. They had “another papa on the Salt Lake Line.”

One particularly snotty article in Time Magazine informed the reader the “Widow Jones” … “looks well and buxom,” in a piece that couldn’t so much as get Jones’ engine number right. To their credit, Time Magazine itself criticized their tone, in 2015. 57 years after Janie died, at the age of 92.

Janie Jones lived another 58 years. She wore black every day, for the rest of her life.

A Trivial Matter

In 1907, brakeman Jesus Garcia stuck to the controls to drive a flaming train away from the small mining town of Nacozari, in the Mexican state of Sonora. The train was carrying dynamite, and blew up,  Killing Garcia.  His quick actions had saved the town where Jesus Garcia is remembered as a hero, to this day.

April 29, 1944 The White Mouse

To WW2-era British Special Operations she was Hélène.  To the Maquis she was Andrée. Her New York Times obituary called her “The socialite who killed a Nazi, with her bare hands”. To the Gestapo who wanted her dead, she was the “White Mouse.”

It was March 1944 in occupied France, when the French Resistance leader Henri Tardivat found her, dangling from a tree. Her name was Nancy Wake, and she had just jumped from a B24 bomber, with a pocketful of classified documents. Tardivat couldn’t help himself. “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year”. “Don’t give me that French shit” she snapped, as she cut herself out of the tree.

Nancy Wake was not a woman to be trifled with.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia as a young girl. She later moved to Paris where she met her future husband, the wealthy French industrialist, Henri Fiocca.

As a freelance journalist, a Parisian newspaper sent Wake to Vienna in 1933 to interview a German politician, by the name of Adolf Hitler. There she witnessed firsthand the wretched treatment meted out to Austrian Jews by followers of the future dictator. She vowed she would oppose this man, by any means necessary.

She would get her chance in 1940 when the German Blitzkrieg tore through Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

The couple had the means to leave but chose to stay in France, to help the Maquis. The French Resistance. For two years, Nancy and her husband Henri worked to hide downed allied flyers and get them out, of Nazi occupied France.

With the Gestapo reading their mail and staking out the Fiocca home the writing was on the wall. Nancy fled while Henri remained in Paris, to continue the couples work with the resistance.

Henri would be captured and tortured before execution, to reveal the whereabouts of his wife. Nancy would not learn until after the war, the man never gave up her whereabouts.

The British SOE called her by the code name, Hélène. To the Maquis she was Andrée. It was during her flight from France that Wake earned the name which would stick, given by the Gestapo who wanted her dead. “White Mouse,” they called her, for her ability to hide in plain sight and to disappear, without a trace. “A little powder and a little drink on the way” she later explained “and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say, ‘Do you want to search me? God”, she said, “what a flirtatious little bastard I was.”

Once picked up on a train outside of Toulouse she spun a wild tale about being the mistress, of one of the guards. She pleaded with her captors that her husband could never know. Astonishingly, they let her go.

Wake eventually escaped occupied France moving first through the Pyrenees into Spain and then, to England. There she joined the British Special Operatives Executive (SOE). The training was intense: infiltration/exfiltration techniques, tradecraft, weapons, even hand-to-hand combat. Her trainers called her as competent, as the men in her class.

On April 29, 1944, Wake parachuted into the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of occupied France, part of a three-person team sent to support three Maquis organizations, operating in the region. She participated in a major combat operation pitting resistance members against the German wehrmacht. It was a major defeat for the Marquee. She later said she bicycled 500 km to bring a situation report, to her SOE handlers.

One day she found herself on an SOE team, on the inside of a German munitions factory. An SS guard nearly gave up the whole operation when he arrived, to investigate. Wake killed the man, with her bare hands. “They’d taught this judo-chop stuff” she later explained, “with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practiced away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised.”

SOE official historian M. R. D. Foot said “her irrepressible, infectious, high spirits were a joy to everyone who worked with her”. Henri Tardivat may have given her the ultimate compliment, after the war. “She is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts” he recalled. “Then, she is like five men.”

She was the most decorated woman of World War 2, awarded the George Medal by Great Britain, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance by her adopted home nation, and three times, the Croix de Guerre. 

After the war

She worked for a time with the intelligence department at the British Air Ministry and dabbled in politics, after the war. She remarried, the union with RAF officer John Forward lasting 40 years until his death but producing, no children.

The White Mouse died of a chest infection on August 7, 2011, after a brief hospitalization. She was 98. Her New York Times obituary called her “The socialite who killed a Nazi, with her bare hands”.

She sold her medals along the way, because she needed the money. “There was no point in keeping them,” she said. “I’ll probably go to hell and they’d melt anyway.”

April 26, 1336 Because it’s There

Not being blessed with the luxury of surplus time and resources our forebears were more interested in survival, the mountains being more the object of religious veneration and supernatural terror.

Helmut and Erika Simon were visiting that day they found the body, German tourists hiking the mountains of the South Tyrol where the Austrian border, meets the Italian. On September 19, 1991, the couple was climbing the east ridge of the Fineilspitze in the Ötztal Alps, when they found him.

A fellow mountaineer perhaps, injured and succumbed to the cold? Who else would be up here at 3,210 meters above sea level (10,530 ft) but a fellow mountaineer.  The couple returned the following day, with a mountain gendarme.

Ötzi the Ice Man, as he may have looked

Eight groups would visit the site in the following days struggling with ice axe and pneumatic drill, to free the corpse from his ice tomb.

Among these were some of the modern-day royalty of the mountaineering community. There was Hans Kammerlander who, along with fellow climber Reinhold Messner, became the first in 1984 to traverse two 8000m peaks without descending to base camp. Messner himself was the first to ascend Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen, the first to climb all 14 of the world’s “eight-thousanders” – mountains with peaks above the 8,000 meter “death zone”, of 26,000-feet.

The body was freed from the ice on September 22 and extracted, the following day. Subsequent analysis revealed not a modern climber but the stunning realization that this man breathed his last, before the Old Kingdom of Egypt moved the first rock to build the first pyramid. This relic of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) turned out to be Europe’s oldest known mummy, preserved in the ice since the day he died sometime, around 3230 BC.

Artist’s interpretation of Ötzi the Ice Man as he may have
looked, in life.

The media called him Ötzi for the Ötztal Alps, in which he was found. Forensic analysis uncovered a nearly bone-deep defensive wound on the man’s hand between the thumb and forefinger. Not yet fully healed the injury suggests a days-long flight from attackers, until the arrow which would take his life was released by unknown pursuers to find its way, deep inside of Ötzi’s back.

Mountaineering is enjoyed today by any number of enthusiasts. There’s rock climbing and ski touring, trekking, spelunking and more. For the truly adventurous there are the hulking massifs of the world’s greatest peaks. The eight-thousanders. To the purists the sport has become little more than adventure tourism, but it wasn’t always that way.

Mountain climbers ascending Mount Rainier looking at Little Tahoma Peak. H/T Wikipedia

Humans have lived on and among the mountains since the dawn of time but the peaks were rarely visited. Ötzi himself had good reason to find himself at 10,530 feet and it wasn’t, “because it’s there”. Not being blessed with the luxury of surplus time and resources our forebears were more interested in survival, the mountains being more the object of religious veneration and supernatural terror than an object to be enjoyed, for its own sake.

Such was the case throughout the early history of our kind, through the rise and fall of the Roman republic and subsequent, empire. A timeline of the middle ages is pockmarked with conflict great and small from the early 5th century until the dawn of the Renaissance, a thousand years later.

The fourteenth century, the “calamitous 14th century” in the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, was a time of tectonic shift in the old order. The three horses of the apocalypse converged in the 14th century to form the “crisis of the late middle ages”. The Great Famine of 1315-’17 was followed a generation later by the Black Death, a calamity resulting in the death of half or more, of all Europe. Political and religious chaos followed demographic collapse, all of it set against the end of the Medieval Warm Period and the advent, of the “Little Ice age”.

This was the world of Francesco Petrarch, a man many consider the first of the modern alpinists.

Today no fewer than three paved roads and a network of walking trails crisscross the face of Mont Ventoux, a landmark in the southeastern French province, of Provence. French and foreign tourists alike climb the 6,263 limestone summit to munch on brie and baguette and to take in the views of the Calanque range all the way down the Mediterranean coast, to the Rhone Valley.

Mont Ventoux

It was all different this day in 1336 when the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch first scaled the heights of Mont Ventoux, because it was there.

In 1350, Petrarch wrote of his ascent of Mont Ventoux “My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer.” While certainly not the first human being to climb a mountain for fun we remember the man today as the first modern tourist and the spiritual father of untold women and men who take to the outdoors to fix a broken soul, to take in the magnificence of nature or simply to take on the challenge of climbing a mountain, because it is there.

George Mallory

Once asked by a reporter why he wished to climb Mt. Everest, the British adventurer George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there”. Left out of Mallory’s facile response was the cataclysm of World War 1, a war so awful as to destroy a generation and leave a continent for the first time, in ruin. Mallory himself enlisted in the artillery in December 1915 and helped to fight out that whole terrible ordeal in the rat filled trenches, of France.

No list of the great and terrible battles of the war they thought would “end all wars” would be complete, without the horrors of the Somme. George Mallory was there throughout and might as well have answered that reporter, because I may at last find peace in that place, for my soul.

Did George Mallory find the peace he sought on the slopes of Mount Everest?

On June 8, 1924, expedition member Noel Odell last witnessed George Mallory and Andrew Irvine traverse what may have been the then-unknown “third step” at 26,000 feet on the way, to the peak. Cloud cover then obscured the pair and the two men disappeared, for the next 75 years. Was George Mallory the first to summit the world’s tallest mountain? Tantalizing clues exist that maybe he did, or maybe not.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are credited with being the first to summit Mount Everest nearly twenty years later, in 1953. In 1999, the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition discovered the frozen corpse of George Leigh Mallory at 26,760 feet, 2,271.7 feet short, of the summit.

No helicopter will ever visit the summit of mount Everest. The human form is barely capable of survival at so great a height let alone the attempted salvage, of the body of a fellow climber. So it is that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine remain to this day on the slopes of the world’s greatest mountain, two among some 200 who died in the attempt and lie still on those towering heights, because it’s there.

April 14, 1912 A Penny, to Remember

Warm and dry in our rooms we can only wonder what went through the minds, of those lowering the lifeboats. Among them was Thomas Millar who must have wondered why. He had wanted to give little Tommy and Ruddock, a better life. He was about to leave his sons, orphans.

Edward Smith
Captain Edward Smith

The great ship left the port of Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, narrowly averting an accident only minutes into her maiden voyage. 

The largest liner in the world at this time, the bow wave of the RMS Titanic lifted the liners SS City of New York and Oceanic at their moorings.  Dropping into the trough, New York’s mooring cables snapped with a sound like a rifle shot as the vessel swung about, stern-first. The crew of the tugboat Vulcan struggled frantically to bring New York under tow as Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith ordered starboard engines hard astern. Collision was averted, by a scant four feet.

The liner to the left is the Oceanic. The stern of the New York edges towards the Titanic” H/T http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org

The idea for this largest of all luxury liners came about in 1907, construction beginning on March 31, 1909 at the Harland and Wolff shipyards of Belfast, Ireland.

Thomas Millar

In its prime Harland and Wolff was the largest shipyard in the world with some 40,000 workmen tramping to work across the cobblestone paved streets, of Belfast.

Thomas Millar was one of those workers. The son of a sailor Millar grew up in the shadow of the great vessels of northern Ireland and all but destined, for the shipbuilding industry. First came the apprenticeship with Harland & Wolff and later work at Vickers of Barrow, Workman, Clark & Co. of Belfast before returning to work, at Harland & Wolff.

Along the way, “Tommy” married Jane “Jennie” Ruddock, the marriage producing two sons, Thomas born February 9, 1901 and William Ruddock born March 5, 1907.

Millar took pride in his work, assigned to help build the great engines of RMS Titanic and proud to take some small part in the technological wonder, of the age. At night Millar would tell the boys about his work, wanting to instill in them the same pride he felt, in seeing the great liner take form.

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One of Britannic’s funnels, in transit to the ship

Disaster struck the family in January 1912 when Jennie died suddenly, of tuberculosis. With work now nearing completion on Titanic, the grieving father thought about a fresh start. He would improve his lot and that of his small family. So it was he left the dockyards to work, for the White Star Line. He would get himself settled and, when the time was right, he would reunite with his boys to pursue their new life. In America.

Thomas accepted work as assistant deck engineer for the White Star Line responsible for the upkeep of cranes, davits and the like. As things turned out he was assigned to the maiden voyage of the vessel he had helped to build. RMS Titanic.

With 16 transverse bulkheads Titanic could survive the breach, of as many as four. Shipbuilder Magazine dubbed the vessel “unsinkable”. The name was never officially sanctioned by her builders, but no matter. From that day, to this the name lives on, in the public imagination.

At last came the day. Time to leave. The work would be constant, and Thomas knew this was no place for children. He left the boys with his aunt Mary bidding the two, goodbye. “Be good to your aunt” he told the boys, “and try not to fight with your cousins”. He reached in his pocket and pulled out two new pennies. “Don’t spend these” he told his sons, “until we’re together again”.

Later that day the boys stood on the shores of Belfast Loch watching the liner, steam away. So tightly did each grip his penny the date imprinted into the palm of his small hand. 1912.

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The story from here, is familiar. On Sunday April 14, Titanic was 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Conditions were clear, calm and cold, just a few degrees above freezing. There had been warnings of drifting ice from other ships in the area, but no ice was believed to pose a danger, to such a ship as Titanic. Captain Smith said it himself, that he “[couldn’t] imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

Lookout Frederick Fleet alerted the bridge. Iceberg dead ahead at 11:40pm. First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines in reverse, veering the ship to port. Lookouts were relieved, thinking that collision was averted. Below the surface, the starboard side ground into the iceberg, opening a gash the length of a football field.

The ship was built to survive flooding in four watertight compartments. The iceberg had opened five. As Titanic began to lower at the bow, it soon became clear. The great ship was doomed.

Those aboard were poorly prepared for such an emergency. The vessel was built for 64 wooden lifeboats but only carried, 16. Based as they were on ship size and not the number of passengers and crew, regulations required enough for 990. Titanic carried enough for 1,178.

There was room for over half of those on board, provided that each boat was filled to capacity. And yet, many boats were launched only half-full. Confused and still sleepy in the midnight air many refused the small boats, reluctant to leave the “safety” of the 40,000-ton ship. In other cases so strictly did some adhere to the “women and children first” directive, that evacuation included women and children, only. The first lifeboat in the water, rated at 65 passengers, launched with only 28 aboard. Lifeboat #1 rated for 60, contained 12.

Only 20 miles away the crewmen of the SS Californian saw distress rockets but dismissed them, as fireworks. Titanic’s wireless operator pleaded for help but the dits and dahs fell on deaf ears. Californian’s wireless operator, had gone to bed. 57 miles away the steamship Carpathia turned and dashed to the rescue but, too late.

In the hour and ½ it took to lower the lifeboats Titanic’s enormous propellers were visible above the water. Warm and dry in our rooms we can only wonder what went through the minds, of those lowering the lifeboats. Thomas Millawas one of those. Did he wonder in those last hours of his life…why? He had left to seek a better life for little Tommy and Ruddock. He was about to leave them orphans.

1,496 died that night of 2,223 passengers and crew. Mostly from hypothermia. Thomas Millar’s body if it was ever recovered, was never identified. Tommy and Ruddock never did spend those pennies. The coins remain treasured family heirlooms from that day to this. You can still see those two pennies if you like, on the streets of Belfast. There Thomas’ Great-Granddaughter Susie Millar directs “the original & ONLY Titanic themed tour in Belfast guided by the direct descendant of a crew member”. http://www.titanictours-belfast.co.uk/

April 13, 1917 A Sealed Train

Leaving Zurich Station amid the jeers and the insults of 100 or so assembled Russians shouting “Spies!” “Traitors!” “Pigs!” “Provocateurs!” Lenin turned to a friend and said. “Either we’ll be swinging from the gallows in three months, or we shall be in power.”

The “War to End all Wars” dragged into its third dismal year in 1917, seeming as though it would go on forever.   Like two exhausted prize fighters, neither side could muster the strength to deliver the killing blow.  Many single days of the great battles of 1916 alone  produced more casualties than every European war of the preceding 100 years, combined.  At home, the social fabric of the combatant nations was unraveling.

WW1-Timeline-1917

By 1916 it was widely understood that the German war effort was “shackled to a corpse”, referring the Austro-Hungarian Empire where the war had started, in the first place.  Italy, the third member of the “Triple Alliance”, was little better.  On the “Triple Entente” side, the French countryside was literally torn to pieces, the English economy close to collapse. The Russian Empire, the largest nation on the planet, was teetering on the edge of the precipice.

The first of two Revolutions that year began on February 23 according the “Old Style” calendar, March 8, “New Style”. Long-standing resentments over food rationing turned to mass protests in and around the Russian capital of Petrograd (modern-day Saint Petersburg). Eight days of violent demonstrations pitted Revolutionaries against police and “gendarmes”, that medieval remnant combining military units with the power of law enforcement.

By March 12 (new style), mutinous units of the Russian military had switched sides and joined with the revolutionaries. Three days later, Car Nicholas abdicated the Imperial throne.

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German propaganda postcard depicting Russian peasants begging for food. With the size of the Russian empire and the difficulty in transportation, the propaganda wasn’t far from the truth.

Amidst all this chaos, Kaiser Wilhelm calculated that all he had to do was “kick the door in” and his largest adversary would collapse. He was right.

Following the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the more moderate Menshevik “Whites” vowed to continue the war effort. The split which had begun with the failed revolution of 1905 was more pronounced by this time with the radical Bolsheviks (“Reds”) taking the more extreme road. While Reds and Whites both wanted to bring socialism to the Russian people, Mensheviks argued for predominantly legal methods and trade union activism, while Bolsheviks favored armed violence.

March 8, 1917 A Political Plague

In 1901, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov adopted the pseudonym “Lenin” after the River Lena, the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers flowing into the arctic ocean. The middle-class son of a professor of mathematics and physics and the daughter of a well-to-do physician, Ulyanov became radicalized after the 1887 execution of his brother, for plotting to murder the Czar.Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

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Lenin

The man was soon convinced that capitalist society was bound to give way to socialist society with a natural transition to communism, not far behind.

Lenin was in exile when the war broke out, arrested and briefly imprisoned for his Russian citizenship. The radical revolutionary was released due to his anti-czarist sentiments when he and his wife, settled in Switzerland.

Lenin makes his way to the sealed train which would take him out of exile.

British historian Edward Crankshaw writes, the German government saw “in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection”.

Lurching toward food riots of his own and loathe to unleash such a bacterium against his own homeland, a “Sealed Train” carrying Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and 31 dissidents departed from exile in Switzerland on April 9, complements of the Kaiser. Leaving Zurich Station amid the jeers and the insults of 100 or so assembled Russians shouting “Spies!” “Traitors!” “Pigs!” “Provocateurs!” Lenin turned to a friend and said. “Either we’ll be swinging from the gallows in three months, or we shall be in power.”

North through Germany and across the Baltic Sea, this political plague bacillus traveled the length of Sweden arriving in Petrograd on the evening of April 16, 1917. Like the handful of termites destined to bring down the mighty oak, this small faction inserted into the body politic that April, would help to radicalize the population and consolidate Bolshevik power.

Sealed Train

By October, Russia would experience its second revolution of the year. The German Empire could breathe easier. The “Russian Steamroller” was out of the war, and none too soon. With the United States entering the war that April, Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy Erich Ludendorff could now move their divisions westward, in time to face the American Expeditionary Force.

On July 17, 1918, an assassination squad from the Ural Soviet of Workers’ Deputies murdered Czar Nicholas along with his wife and children, family physician, servants and dogs. The Romanov Dynasty was no more. It was the end of Czarist Russia. The death toll of human beings murdered by the totalitarian state which would rise to take its place, has been estimated as high as sixty million.

Romanov
Czar Nicholas II & family, colorized by the Russian artist Olga Shirnina, also known as ‘klimbim’
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