January 30, 1889 If Only

“What if” counterfactuals can be slippery. We can’t know how a story will end only by starting it out… “if only”. But still…

“What if” counterfactuals can be slippery. We can’t know how a story will end only by starting it out… “if only”. But still. How might the 20th century have played out, for example, had it not been for that day in Sarajevo, in 1914.

Perhaps the tinderbox already building by 1914 would have been lit, on some other day. But what if? Maybe two World Wars never happened, after all. Adolf Hitler remained a mediocre artist living in a flop house, in Vienna. All China became a free market, and not just Taiwan. What if the cold war, communism and everything that stemmed from that malevolent ideology was nothing more than the unpublished, nightmare imaginings of some crazy novelist?

In the wake of World War 2, a bipolar structure emerged in the world political order and remained so, for 40 years.

America was a minor player in pre-WW1 affairs, a period about which Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck once explained: “All politics reduces itself to this formula: try to be one of three, as long as the world is governed by the unstable equilibrium of five great powers.”

After the downfall of French Emperor Napoleon I, 1814-’15, the Great Powers of Austria, Britain, France, Russia and Prussia met in Vienna to settle old issues and rebalance national boundaries in order to bring long-term peace, to Europe.

Austria declined over the next half-century leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, an accord between the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. Ostensibly a constitutional union, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a kaleidoscope of fifteen distinct ethnic groups speaking at least as many languages and divided, along no fewer than six religious lines.

After the 1889 suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf, the only son of Franz Josef, the emperor’s younger brother Karl Ludwig became heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Ludwig’s death in 1896 left his eldest son, Franz Ferdinand, the new heir presumptive.

Otto von Bismarck once said the next European war would begin with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”. Bismarck got his damn fool thing in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. We all know the story. The diplomatic visit of an heir presumptive. The open car. The wrong turn. The assassin.

There followed a series of diplomatic missteps, military mobilizations and counter-mobilizations called the “July Crisis of 1914″. By August there was no turning back. The “War to End all Wars” would shatter a generation, lay waste to a continent and erect the foundation, for the rest of the 20th century.

So, what about Rudolf and that “suicide”, in 1889. He was supposed to succeed Ludwig, not Ferdinand. What if the Emperor’s only son, had lived?

Political alliances came and went among the dynastic families of Europe, with treaties often sealed by arranged marriages.  On May 10, 1881, Crown Prince Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie, daughter of King Leopold, of Belgium.

Crown Prince Rudolf and his wife, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II

A child was born in 1883, Archduchess Elisabeth, but the union soon soured. Rudolf began to drink and pursue women, not his wife. He wanted to write to Pope Leo XIII to annul the marriage. The formidable Franz Josef, would have none of that.

Three years later, Rudolf bought a hunting lodge in the Austrian village of Mayerling. In 1888, the 30-year old crown Prince met and began an affair with 17-year-old Marie Freiin (Baroness) von Vetsera.

Marie Freiin von Vetsera preferred to go by the more fashionable Anglophile version of her name, Mary

On January 30, 1889, the bodies of the Crown Prince and the Baroness were discovered in the Mayerling hunting lodge, victims of an apparent suicide pact.

Mayerling

Emperor Franz Josef went on to reign until 1916, one of the longest-serving monarchs of the 19th century.

Now without male heir, succession to the imperial throne passed first to the emperor’s younger brother Ludwig and later to Franz Ferdinand, best remembered for his assassination, in 1914.

Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, Rudolf’s mother, went into deep mourning.

She wore the colors of her grief, pearl gray and black, every day until her assassination at the hands of 25-year-old Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, in 1898.

132 years later we can only ponder. It may be the ultimate counterfactual. What if Crown Prince Rudolf had lived to succeed Franz Josef. Politically, the son was far more liberal, than his father. Rudolf would surely have held more conciliatory views toward the forces, tearing at the empire. The same could be said of Franz Ferdinand, so who knows. Perhaps a rock in a stream once moved, alters not the flow of events yet to come.

But maybe that fork in the road met on June 28, 1914, would have led to a road less traveled and perhaps, the history of the last century, never happened.

Afterward,

By special dispensation, the Vatican declared Rudolf to be in a state of “mental imbalance” as suicide would have precluded church burial. The Emperor ordered Mayerling transformed into a penitential convent and endowed a chantry ensuring that prayers would rise up daily, for the eternal rest of his only son.

Vetsera’s body was smuggled out in the dark of night and quietly buried in the village cemetery at Heiligenkreuz, her funeral so secret even her mother was forbidden to attend.

Stories of poison gave way to reports of murder-suicide. Rumors have surrounded the Mayerling incident, for 100 years. Such stories went unchallenged until 1946 when occupying Red Army troops dislodged the stone covering the crypt and opened Vetsera’s coffin, looking for jewels. Repairing the damage some nine years later the fathers of the monastery observed the small skull and noticed, the absence of bullet holes. Physician Gerd Holler examined the remains in 1959 and concurred. No bullet hole.

But Maria von Vetsera was shot by the Crown Prince who later took his own life. That was the story, right?

Stories came to life of defensive wounds. Of evidence the pair had been murdered, after all.

Obsessed with the tale, Linz furniture store owner Helmut Flatzelsteiner disturbed the remains yet again, in 1991. Rumors went wild but in the end, results were inconclusive. Flatzelsteiner paid the abbey €2,000, in restitution.

In 2015 a letter was found in a safe deposit box, in an Austrian bank. A suicide note from a young girl, to her mother

“Dear Mother
Please forgive me for what I’ve done
I could not resist love
In accordance with Him, I want to be buried next to Him in the Cemetery of Alland
I am happier in death than life”.

January 26, 897 The Cadaver Synod

56-score and four years ago today it was January 26, 897. A live Pope put his dead predecessor…his predecessor’s deceased predecessor really…on trial. Seriously. They dug up the corpse and dressed it in papal vestments, put it on a throne and tried the guy in a kangaroo court spectacle, worthy of a San Francisco politician.

Sometime down the road, future historians will remember this month for things that none of us ever thought we’d see. Concertina wire surrounds our nation’s capitol. Soldiers fill the streets of Washington as we are left to wonder.

Did somebody put Idi Amin in charge?

With so many needs to be met by the people we put in office, we get the bizarre spectacle of an “impeachment” and removal of a private citizen, who already left. The whole procedure is so outlandish the constitutionally mandated presiding officer, declines to show up. You would think these people have nothing better to do.

Someone once said “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain. Whoever it was, knew what they were talking about.

56-score and four years ago today it was January 26, 897. A live Pope put his dead predecessor…the dead guy who came before his predecessor really…on trial. Seriously. They dug up the corpse and dressed it in papal vestments, put it on a throne and tried the guy in a kangaroo court spectacle, worthy of a San Francisco politician.

According to Catholic church doctrine, the Pontifex maximus sits at the head of the church from the time of Peter, to the present day. Today, the Cardinals meet in secret conclave to elect the bishop of Rome, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the Gregorian reforms of the 11th century the Papacy was often as political, as any public office.

The Popes of the early middle ages were heavily involved in secular affairs. They were chosen by predecessors, popular acclaim, family connection or simony (the purchase of ecclesiastical office). It was inevitable that some would be…umm…less than pious men.

Relations between the Holy See and the Holy Roman Empire were particularly incestuous. First appearing on the scene in 754 after Pope Stephen II anointed Pepin III “The Short” “Patricius Romanorum” (Patrician of the Romans), emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were known to select Popes and Popes, emperors.

The French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire once quipped: “This agglomeration which was called and still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire”.

Formosus became Cardinal of Porto in 864 and representative of the Pope in Bulgaria, two years later. Many considered the man to be a candidate for the papacy, as early as 872.

That was the year, political issues caused Formosus to beat a hasty retreat from Rome.

Anyone ascending the heights of such a system was bound to have powerful allies. And powerful adversaries. The Cardinal’s enemies, pounced. Pope John VIII ordered Formosus defrocked and excommunicated.

Excommunication might seem a real career killer in his line of work but the sanction was lifted, in 878. Formosus could never return to Rome or resume his priestly functions, but that too was restored, five years later. In 891, Formosus was unanimously elected Pontiff to succeed Pope Stephen V.

Formosus served in a time of great political upheaval. There were problems with Saracens. Power struggles within the eastern church, in Constantinople. The Frankish kingdoms were in a state of upheaval and, worst of all, Formosus supported the German king Arnulf for succession to Holy Roman Emperor, over emperor Guido III of the powerful clan of Spoleto.

Pope Formosus died of natural causes on April 4, 896. He was succeeded by Boniface VI, who lived for 15 days. Some say Boniface died of gout, others that he was poisoned by supporters of his successor, Steven VI.

Even by Medieval standards, Pope Stephen VI must have been some piece of work. In January 897, Stephen had Formosus dug out of the ground, dressed in papal vestments and put on trial.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not

With the corpse propped up on a throne, the outcome was never in doubt. A church deacon attempted to speak for the defendant while Stephen himself shrieked at the corpse, rehashing the old charges of John VIII.

Unsurprisingly, the dead man was convicted. Stripped of his robes, Formosus was clad in the garb of a layman. His papacy was annulled, ordinations cancelled and the three “blessing fingers” of his right hand, hacked off.

The body was buried in a pauper’s grave but even now the revenge of Stephen VI, was unsated. The Pope ordered Formosus dug up yet again and thrown into the Tiber River.

The episode led to widespread outrage, possibly at the behest of Stephen’s enemies. The Pope was incarcerated in the Summer of 897 and strangled, while still in prison.

The cadaver synod ushered in 100 years of corruption of the Holy See known by some as the “Saeculum obscurum” – the Dark Age/Century, and by others, the “Pornocracy”.

Fast forward 39-score and one and it’s January 26, 1661. Four days from now, January 30, the corpse of Oliver Cromwell, one-time “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland” would be dug up and “executed”, by decapitation. The body was hung up in chains while his head was mounted on a pike, outside Westminster hall. That thing stayed there, for 24 years. Sold and sold again, Cromwell’s head would at last go to its final rest some 299 years later. In 1960.

History rhymes, indeed.

January 25, 1890 Nellie Bly

“Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did”. – Nellie Bly

Born May 5, 1864, Elizabeth Jane Cochran was one of fifteen children born to Michael Cochran, and two wives. Michael died in 1870 leaving a modest legacy. It didn’t amount to much, split fifteen ways.

As a teenager in western Pennsylvania, Elizabeth adopted an “e” believing that “Cochrane” sounded more sophisticated. She enrolled at the Indiana Normal School in 1879 (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania) but dropped out after one semester, for lack of funds. In 1880 her mother moved the family, to Pittsburgh.

According to an article in the Pittsburg Dispatch entitled “What girls are for” the answer appears to be, not very much. Making babies and keeping house. Elizabeth didn’t appreciate that and wrote to the paper, to say so. She signed her letter, “Lonely Orphan Girl”.

If writing well is the sign of an organized thought process, the mind of Elizabeth Cochrane was in good working order. Impressed with the anonymous letter, Editor George Madden ran an advertisement asking that the writer, identify herself.

That she did. Madden offered the opportunity to write a piece for publication, under the same pseudonym. Cochrane called that first piece “The Girl Puzzle”, describing how divorce effected women and arguing for reform of marital laws.

Madden was even more impressed and hired Elizabeth, full-time. In those days, women who wrote for newspapers generally did so, under a pseudonym. The Editor suggested “Nelly Bly” after the subject of a popular minstrel song, from 1850. Cochrane liked “Nelly” but her editor spelled it with an ‘ie’.

Nellie Bly would go on to be one of the most famous journalists of the age.

She first came to widespread notice with a series of investigative articles, focused on poor working conditions and the plight of female factory workers. Factory owners complained. Bly was reassigned to a role more typical of female reporters: Gardening. Society. Fashion.

She didn’t want any of it. Still only 21, she wanted “to do something no girl has done before.” She traveled to Mexico and became a foreign correspondent, writing about the Mexican people and criticizing the dictatorship, of President Porfirio Diaz.

Nellie Bly, in Mexico

Stung by what she had written, Mexican authorities threatened to throw her in jail. Bly was forced to flee. Back in Pittsburg, it wasn’t long before she’d had enough of theater and arts reporting. She resigned her job in 1887 and moved to New York.

This was the age of lurid headlines, of sensational if not always accurate stories and homeless street waifs called “Newsies“, hawking newspapers: “Extra Extra, read all about it!” Within the next five years, San Francisco publisher William Randolph Hearst would buy crosstown rival New York Journal sparking a newspaper war and a new style of news we now call “Yellow Journalism“.

Penniless after four months without income, Cochrane walked into the office of New York World publisher, Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer had purchased the company four years earlier promising to root out corruption, expose fraud and ferret out public abuse, at all levels.

Bly was hired to cover theater and the arts but the pair soon concocted an undercover assignment. Nellie Bly would feign insanity, with the aim of being committed to the notorious women’s insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

It was a dangerous ruse but it worked. The “pretty crazy girl” fooled the New York press and mental health “experts” alike, culminating in Bly’s incarceration at Blackwell’s Island. She was released at the behest of the New York World, ten days later.

Bly’s exposé was a sensation. First in a series of stories and then in a book entitled Ten Days in a Madhouse, Nellie Bly told tales of torture, of ice cold baths in used and filthy water, rancid food and the rats, vermin and brutality suffered by women she was convinced were every bit as sane, as herself.

Public outrage prompted a grand jury investigation culminating in an $800,000 increase in public funding to the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.

Bly’s caper sparked a new form of “stunt journalism”, a new breed of female reporters with secret identities like “Florence Noble” and “Dorothy Dare” tackling subjects like disaster victims, the plight of factory workers and other subjects previously considered “unfit for ladies”.

Every major newspaper in the nation wanted a “stunt girl” on the staff.

In 1872, novelist Jules Verne published the fictional tale of the gambler Phileas Fogg and the trip he went on, to win a bet. The story was called Around the World in 80 Days. In 1888, Nellie Bly pitched the same trip to her editor. For real.

With two days’ notice, Nellie Bly boarded the Hamburg America Line steamer Augusta Victoria in November 1889 to begin her 25,000-mile adventure. She took an overcoat, the dress she was wearing, a few changes of underwear and a travel bag with a few essentials. A bag with £200 in English bank notes, some gold and American currency hung around her neck.

Unknown to Nellie at this time, Cosmopolitan magazine was sponsoring reporter Elizabeth Bisland to take the same trip, in the opposite direction.

She departed the same day.

New underwater cables enabled Bly to send short progress reports though longer dispatches had to travel by mail. From her first stop in England she traveled to France where she met Jules Verne himself and on to Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Ceylon and the Far East. She visited a leper colony in China. In Singapore, she bought a monkey.

The New York World sponsored a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match”. Who could predict to the second, the journalist’s return. The grand prize was an all-expense paid trip to Europe. Spending money was tossed in, later on. A rough Pacific passage on board the Steamer RMS Oceanic put the trip two days behind schedule but Pulitzer’s newspaper made that up, hiring a private train from San Francisco.

RMS Oceanic

Nellie Bly arrived in New York on January 25, 1890 at 3:51pm, besting Phileas Fogg’s time, by eight days. Over at Cosmo, Bisland was still crossing the Atlantic, with 4½ days to go.

At 31, Nellie Bly married 73-year old metal container manufacturer Robert Seaman in 1895, and left journalism. Seaman died in 1904 and, for a time, Elizabeth was one of the leading female industrialists, in the country.

She ran the company as “a model of social welfare, replete with health benefits and recreational facilities“, according to biographer, Brooke Kroeger.

But Bly was hopeless at understanding the financial aspects of her business and ultimately lost everything. Unscrupulous employees bilked the firm of hundreds of thousands of dollars, troubles compounded by a protracted and costly bankruptcy litigation“.

Back in journalism, Bly traveled to Europe to cover the Great War. She was the first woman and one of few foreigners to visit the war zone between Austria, and Serbia.

In 1913, Nelly Bly covered the first suffragist parade in Washington. She predicted women would have the vote, by 1920.

The 19th Amendment giving (white) women the vote was certified on August 26, 1920, by US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby.

In practice, voting restrictions against non-white men now extended to non-white women. The crusade to protect the voting rights of ALL American citizens would last, another 40 years.

January 23, 1960 Into the Abyss

On this day in 1960, submarine commander Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard mounted that hallway, climbed into the sphere and closed the hatch. The dive to the bottom of the world began at 0823.

For most of us, the oceans are experienced as a day at the beach, a boat ride, or a moment spent on one end of a fishing line.

There is one global ocean divided into five major basins: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Arctic. Covering 70 percent and more of the planet, the oceans contain 97% of all the water, on earth.

Yet when it comes to exploration we are strangers, to 80 percent of it.

For most dive organizations, the recommended maximum for novice divers is 20 meters (65 feet). A weird form of intoxication called nitrogen narcosis sets in around 30 meters (98 feet). Divers have been known to remove their own mouthpieces and offer them to fish, with tragic if not predictable results. Dives beyond 130 feet enter the world of “technical” diving involving specialized training, sophisticated gas mixtures and extended decompression times.

Oxygen literally becomes toxic around 190 feet.

On September 17, 1947, French Navy diver Maurice Fargues attempted a new depth record, off the coast of Toulon. Descending down a weighted line, Fargues signed his name on slates placed at ten meter intervals. At the three minute mark, the line showed no sign of movement. The diver was pulled up. Petty Officer Fargues, a diver so accomplished he had literally saved the life of Jacques Cousteau only a year earlier, was the first diver to die using an aqualung. He had scrawled his last signature at 390 feet.

The man had barely scratched the surface.

Maurice Fargues prepares for his final dive

For oceanographers, all that water is divided into slices. The top or epiplagic Zone descends from 50 to 656 feet, depending on clarity of the water. Here, phytoplankton convert sunlight to energy forming the first step in a food chain, supporting 90 percent of all life in the oceans. 95 percent of all photosynthesis in the oceans occur in the epiplagic zone.

The mesopelagic or “twilight zone” receives a scant 1% of all sunlight. Temperatures descend as salinity increases while the weight of all that water above, presses down. Beyond that, lies the abyss.

Far below that the earth’s mantle is quite elastic, broken into seven or eight major pieces and several minor bits called Tectonic Plates. Over millions of years, these plates move apart along constructive boundaries, where oceanic plates form mid-oceanic ridges. The longest mountain range in the world runs roughly down the center, of the Atlantic ocean.

The Atlantic basin features deep trenches as well, sites of tectonic fracture and divergence. Far deeper though are the Pacific subduction zones where forces equal and opposite to those of the mid-Atlantic, collide. One plate moves under another and down into the mantle forming deep ocean ridges, the deepest of which is the Mariana Trench, near Guam. The average depth is 36,037, ± 82 feet, dropping off to a maximum depth of 35,856 feet in a small valley at the south end of the trench, called Challenger Deep.

If you could somehow pull up Mt. Everest by the roots and sink it in Challenger Deep, (this is the largest mountain on the planet we’re talking about), you’d still have swim 1.2 miles down, to get to the summit.

The air around us is liquid with a ‘weight’ or barometric pressure at sea level, of 14.696 pounds per square inch. It’s pressing down on you right now but you don’t feel it, because your internal fluid pressures push back. A column of salt water exerts the same pressure at 10 meters, or 33 feet.

Fun fact: The bite force of the American Grizzly Bear is 1,200 psi. The Nile Crocodile, 5,000. The pressure in Challenger Deep is 1,150 atmospheres. Over 16,000 pounds per square inch.

The problems with reaching such a depth are enormous. The “crush depth” of a WW2 era German submarine is 660-900 feet. The modern American Sea Wolf class of nuclear submarine collapses, at 2,400.

In the early 1930s, Swiss physicist, inventor and explorer Auguste Piccard experimented with high altitude balloons to explore the upper atmosphere.

The result was a spherical, pressurized aluminum gondola which could ascend to great altitude, without use of a pressure suit.

Within a few years the man’s interests had shifted, to deep water exploration.

Knowing that air and water are both fluids, Piccard modified his high altitude cockpit into a steel gondola, for deep sea exploration.

By 1937 he’d built his first bathyscaphe.

“A huge yellow balloon soared skyward, a few weeks ago, from Augsberg, Germany. Instead of a basket, it trailed an air-thin black-and-silver aluminum ball. Within [the contraption] Prof. Auguste Piccard, physicist, and Charles Kipfer aimed to explore the air 50,000 feet up. Seventeen hours later, after being given up for dead, they returned safely from an estimated height of more than 52,000 feet, almost ten miles, shattering every aircraft altitude record.” – Popular Science, August, 1931

Piccard’s work was interrupted by WW2 but resumed, in 1945. He built a large steel tank and filled it with low-density non-compressible fluid, to maintain buoyancy. Gasoline, it turned out, worked nicely. Underneath was a capsule designed to accommodate one person at sea-level pressure while outside, PSI mounted into the thousands of atmospheres.

The craft, with modifications from the French Navy, achieved depths of 13,701 feet. In 1952, Piccard was invited to Trieste Italy to begin work on an improved bathyscaphe. In 1953, Auguste and and his son Jacques brought the Trieste to 10,335 feet.

Auguste Piccard at one time or another held the records for altitude, and for depth

Designed to be free of tethers, Trieste was fitted with a pair of 2HP electric motors, capable of propelling the craft at a speeds of 1.2mph and changing direction. After several years in the Mediterranean, the US Navy acquired Trieste in 1958. Project Nekton was proposed the same year, code name for a gondola upgrade and three test dives culminating in a descent to the greatest depths of the world’s oceans. The Challenger Deep.

Trieste received a larger gasoline float and bigger tubs with more iron ballast. With help from the Krupp Iron Works of Germany, she was fitted with a stronger sphere with a thickness five inches and weighing in at 14 tons.

Piccard and Walsh aboard Trieste, January 23, 1960

The cockpit was accessible, only by an upper hallway which was then filled with gasoline. The only way to exit was to pump the gas out and blow out the rest, with compressed air. On this day in 1960, submarine commander Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard mounted that hallway, climbed into the sphere and closed the hatch. The dive began at 0823.

The bathyscaphe Trieste, on the surface

Trieste stopped her descent several times, each time a new thermocline brought with it a colder layer of water and neutral buoyancy, for the submersible. Walsh and Piccard discussed the problem and elected to gamble, ejecting some of that buoyant gasoline. By 650 feet, thermocline problems had ended.

By 1,500 feet, the darkness was complete. The pair changed their clothes, wet with spray from a stormy beginning. With a cockpit temperature of 40° Fahrenheit, they would need dry clothes.

Looking out the plexiglass window, depths between 2,200 and 20,000 feet seemed “extraordinarily empty”. By 14,000 feet the pair was now in uncharted territory. No one had ever been this deep. At 26,000 feet, descent was slowed to two feet per second. At 30,000 feet, one.

At 1256 Walsh and Piccard the bottom could be seen, on the viewfinder. 300 feet to go. Trieste touched down in a cloud of silt, ten minutes later. Not knowing if the phone would work at this depth, Walsh called the surface. “This is Trieste on the bottom, Challenger Deep. Six three zero zero fathoms. Over.” The response came back weak, but clear. “Everything O.K. Six three zero zero fathoms?” Walsh responded “This is Charley” (seaman-speak, for ‘OK”). We will surface at 1700 hours”. 37,800 feet.

The feat was not unlike the first flight into space. No human had ever reached such depths and never would, again. Unmanned deep sea submersibles have since visited the Challenger Deep, but this was the last manned voyage, to the bottom of the world.

Computerized rendering shows Trieste at the bottom, January 23, 1960 H/T National Geographic

Afterward: “After the 1960 expedition the Trieste was taken by the US Navy and used off the coast of San Diego, California for research purposes. In April 1963 it was taken to New London Connecticut to assist in finding the lost submarine USS Thresher. In August 1963 it found the Threshers remains 1,400 fathoms (2,560 meters) below the surface. Soon after this mission was completed the Trieste was retired and some of its components were used in building the new Trieste II. Trieste is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard”. – H/T Forgotten History

January 22, 1957 The Mad Bomber

The American power grid operates 55,000 electrical substations, nationwide. 30 of them are critical to US infrastructure. Should terrorists or other mishap take out nine of them, the result would be nationwide blackout. For 18 months.

Seven years ago, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) described the possibility of terrorist attacks, against the American power grid. Excerpts leaked to the Wall Street Journal described some 55,000 electrical generating substations, nationwide. 30 of them are critical to US infrastructure. Should terrorists or other mishap take out nine of them, the result would be nationwide blackout. For 18 months.

With the exception of nuclear facilities, American power plants are neither hardened nor guarded against external attack, a fact borne out by a previously unreleased 2012 report, from the Department of Homeland Security.

The crippling affects of such a shutdown can only be imagined and I sincerely hope, someone in a position of authority is doing just that.

And yet, America’s first terror campaign aimed at the power grid came not from outside but from the industry, itself.

Ninety years ago, George Metesky lived with his two unmarried sisters in Waterbury, Connecticut. Every day this Lithuanian immigrant would drive to New York where he worked as a wiper, at the Consolidated Edison (ConEd) plant at Hell Gate. A wiper is the entry level employee at an electrical power plant, responsible for keeping equipment clean and in good working order.

In 1931, Metesky was knocked down by a boiler backfire and a rush of hot gases. Choking fumes had damaged his lungs he claimed, and he went out on sick leave. Benefits ran out after 26 weeks and Metesky was terminated. Applications for worker compensation were denied, because it had been too long.

Appeals were filed, each denied in a process that stretched out, until 1936. Metesky developed pneumonia and later tuberculosis, all the while nursing an incandescent hatred for ConEd, company attorneys and three former coworkers he believed had perjured themselves, during proceedings.

On November 16, 1940, a brass pipe packed with gunpowder was left in a wooden toolbox, on a window at the mid-town Manhattan ConEd plant. The bomb was found before it exploded, along with a note: CON EDISON CROOKS – THIS IS FOR YOU. F.P.

Police inquired about disgruntled employees or former customers of ConEd but the inquiry, led nowhere.

Modern pipe bomb mailed to former CIA director, John Brennan

Nearly a year came and went before another bomb was discovered at the ConEd headquarters at 4 Irving Place. This one was also found, before it exploded. There would be more bombs and others, weren’t so lucky.

Metesky, a former marine who served in the years following WW1, had worked as an electrical specialist and helped to wire the new Consulate, in Hong Kong.

Evidently, the man still still harbored patriotic feelings. Shortly after the outbreak of WW2, a note arrived at the New York Police Department: I WILL MAKE NO MORE BOMB UNITS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR – MY PATRIOTIC FEELINGS HAVE MADE ME DECIDE THIS – LATER I WILL BRING THE CON EDISON TO JUSTICE – THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS . . .F.P.

True to his word, the bombing started once again, in 1951. Phone booths. Storage lockers. Public batrooms all over the city: Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the RCA Building and the New York City Subway. Theater seats were slit open and bombs inserted, inside the upholstery. Metesky planted no fewer that 33 bombs of which 22, exploded. 15 people were injured.

Penn Station

With bombs no longer targeting ConEd itself, the letters continued: BOMBS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL THE CONSOLIDATED EDISON COMPANY IS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE FOR THEIR DASTARDLY ACTS AGAINST ME. I HAVE EXHAUSTED ALL OTHER MEANS. I INTEND WITH BOMBS TO CAUSE OTHERS TO CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE FOR ME.

Always in the same immaculately formed, capitalized block letters.

The NYPD formed a special task force to find the bomber, the New York Bomb Squad. The first of its kind. A reward of $26,000 was offered for information leading to arrest and conviction.

Phony bombs, fake leads and false bomb scares materialized by the hundreds making it near impossible to determine what information was real, and what was fake. A bomb went off on December 2, 1956 at the paramount movie Theater injuring six, one seriously. The next day police commissioner Stephen Kennedy announced “the greatest manhunt in the history of the police department”.

The largest city in the nation lived in terror.

HAVE YOU NOTICED THE BOMBS IN YOUR CITY – IF YOU ARE WORRIED, I AM SORRY – AND ALSO IF ANYONE IS INJURED. BUT IT CANNOT BE HELPED – FOR JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED. I AM NOT WELL, AND FOR THIS I WILL MAKE THE CON EDISON SORRY – YES, THEY WILL REGRET THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS – I WILL BRING THEM BEFORE THE BAR OF JUSTICE – PUBLIC OPINION WILL CONDEMN THEM – FOR BEWARE, I WILL PLACE MORE UNITS UNDER THEATER SEATS IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

The notes were always signed, “F.P.”

In 1840, the writer Edgar Allen Poe introduced the super sleuth character C. Auguste Dupin in his novel, Murders in the Rue Morgue. Possessed of preternatural intelligence, Dupin seemed literally able to get into the mind, of the criminal subject. The character reappeared in The Mystery of Marie Rogêt and The Purloined Letter, laying the groundwork for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character and a whole genre, of detective fiction.

Desperate, out of ideas, Captain John Cronin went to the office of a friend, psychiatrist and Assistant Commissioner at the New York Department of Mental Hygiene Dr. James Brussel. Brussel had worked with military intelligence during the war in Korea and now worked with the criminally insane. Inspired by Poe’s character Dupin and informed by real world experience, Brussel had a theory he called “reverse psychology”.

At first reluctant to test his theories in the real world, (people could DIE if he was wrong), Dr. Brussel at last consented to look into the case. Looking into patterns, letters and anything else he could glean about the mad bomber, Dr. Brussel came back in two hours with a surprisingly detailed profile.

Dr. Brussel believed the bomber to be a neat, proper man and exemplary employee. The suspect was punctual, methodical and sober. Reclusive, anti-social and never married, the suspect probably lived with an older female relative. When arrested he would likely be wearing a double-breasted suit. Last, Brussel believed the suspect to be an immigrant of eastern European ancestry and deduced that he lived in Connecticut, based on the state’s large Slavic population.

At first wanting to keep the profile confidential, police were persuaded by Dr. Brussel who insisted, the bomber couldn’t restrain himself from responding. Especially if the profile got anything wrong. The profile needed to be public.

On Christmas day 1956, every newspaper in New York published Dr. Brussel’s profile. New York Journal publisher Seymour Berkson took it further and appealed directly, to the bomber. Berkson promised a fair trial if the bomber would turn himself in. The tactic worked. The bomber responded. He would not turn himself in but he agreed to a “truce”, until march 1. Working with police and corresponding directly with the bomber, Berkson carefully crafted his language so as to draw out information while not provoking, the suspect. It worked.

The bomber revealed his hatred for ConEd. That he’d been injured in a workplace accident, and left permanently disabled. The man even specified the date of the accident. September 5, 1931.

Inexplicably, ConEd itself had been less than cooperative. First explaining that records were destroyed for employees terminated before 1940 the company hid for two years, behind “legal issues”. Now it was as if company executives, woke up.

ConEd clerk Alice Kelly pored through old paperwork until she found the words, in red: Injustice. Disability. Words regularly appearing in the notes of the mad bomber. Someone had written those words in red, on the file of George Metesky. Reading over the file Kelly found many words and phrases, echoed in the bomber’s letters.

On January 22, 1957, police appeared at the Waterbury home of George Metesky. He opened the door not in a double breasted suit but in his pajamas and a bathrobe: buttoned up, clean and neat, almost fussy. Just as the profile had predicted. The man lived with two older sisters.

On questioning, police were astonished at how much Metesky fit Brussel’s profile. They asked him what “F.P.” stood for. Fair play. Metesky readily admitted his guilt and led police to his garage. To his bomb-making materials.

A smiling George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber,” in 1957 in Waterbury, Connecticut.

The grand jury deliberated over 47 counts as Metesky himself was evaluated, for competence. He was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, later judged incompetent to stand trial and remanded to the custody of the Matteawan Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

The Mad bomber was declared harmless in 1973 and, having served 2/3rds of his sentence, was released to live out the rest of his life, in Connecticut. He died in 1994, at the age of 90.

Dr. Brussel became a much-sought after speaker and went on to write a book. Today the man’s work is considered seminal to modern techniques of criminal profiling. Brussel went to visit Metesky once in Matteawan and found the man calm, smiling and condescending. He explained that he never did want to kill anyone. Only to cause injury.

January 21, 1865 More than a Uniform

Those left behind perform a quiet kind service to the rest of us, a service shared by the whole family without so much as outside recognition.

When Civil War broke out in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 90-day troops, to put down the rebellion. Kentucky refused. Governor Beriah Magoffin responded that Kentucky would send no soldiers “for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister southern states.” In a letter written that September, President Lincoln described the importance of his home state to the war effort. “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game…Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us and the job on our hands is too large for us…..” The place was equally important on the Confederate side. Had Kentucky seceded, rebel troops would be positioned to strike at will toward Ohio, Indiana or Illinois.

That October, commander of Union forces in Kentucky William Tecumseh Sherman told Secretary of War Simon Cameron he needed 60,000 men to defend the territory, and 200,000 to go on the offensive. Outraged, Cameron called Sherman’s request “insane” and removed the general, from command. One Ohio newspaper opined that Sherman had lost his mind.

Humiliated, Sherman wrote to his brother, “I do think I should have committed suicide were it not for my children...”

General Ulysses Grant saw not insanity in general Sherman, but cold competence. In 1862, Grant reassigned Sherman to Paducah, Kentucky.

Later in the war, Sherman defended Grant about a (possibly unfair) accusation of being drunk on duty. “General Grant is a great general”. Sherman began. “He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.”

The story may be found in any number of books. Books about war, about soldiers, but what of the man, inside the uniform. The man called to leave his family, to do a job. And what of the family left behind and the bonds of affection forced to stretch across a nation, or an ocean. That book with so much to say about combat, has less to say about the man behind the soldier, that man’s place in the family unit and even less about the loved ones, left behind.

I’ve seen the story played out by my mother, two sisters-in-law and a daughter. The soldier, usually a “he”, leaves home in service to his country. Those left behind do their best to carry on without the help of a partner, all the while keeping their worst fears locked away in a dark closet of imagination. Those left behind perform a quiet kind of service to the rest of us, a service shared by the whole family without so much as outside recognition.

The long siege of Vicksburg was over in 1863 following the Union victory of July 4. The city of Vicksburg wouldn’t celebrate another Independence Day, for 80 years.

Making camp on the Big Black River near Bovina Mississippi, Sherman made headquarters in the home of Reverend James Fox. Thinking it would be a good time to reunite with his family, Sherman sent for his wife, Ellen and the couple’s four children: Minnie [12], Lizzie [11], Willy [9] and Tom [7].

Sherman himself had become fatherless at 9 and adopted by one Thomas Ewing of Lancaster, Ohio.

“I have a healthy camp,” Sherman wrote to Ewing, father of Sherman’s former step-sister and now-wife Eleanor “Ellen” Ewing Sherman. “I have no fear of yellow or other fevers.”

What an adventure it was for the children, especially Willy. Living in tents and hanging around with Union soldiers.

The 13th Infantry made him an honorary sergeant, teaching the boy the manual of arms and including him in guard details, drills and parades. The boy would accompany his father on inspection tours of the Army. What a lark. The experience of a lifetime.

Sherman’s confidence about yellow fever was based on that which was known, in 1863. Thirty years later, science would understand the illness to be mosquito-borne and not spread by human contact.

The family boarded the steamboat Atlantic that September, to begin the trek back home to Ohio. Willy didn’t look well. The boy was uncharacteristically quiet, his cheeks flushed. Surgeon E. O. F. Roler was summoned to examine him and came back with a dreadful diagnosis. Yellow fever.

The prognosis was grim. Fewer than 1,000 soldiers died in battle during the 8-month war Spanish American war in Cuba, in 1898. More than 5,000 died of disease, most of those from yellow fever.

Willy’s condition worsened. Arriving in Memphis, the boy was taken to the Hotel Gayoso, that October. Fading in and out of consciousness, he was given last rites on October 3. Willy told the priest he was willing to die if it was God’s will, but he didn’t want to leave his parents. With tears streaming down the cheeks of his mother and father, Willy reached and out, and touched their faces. And then he was gone.

Shattered, Ellen and her remaining children boarded a steamer to Ohio, three days later. The General went back to Mississippi. He had a war to fight.

On October 6, Sherman wrote to Ellen, from Gayoso: “I have got up early this morning to steal a short period in which to write you, but I can hardly trust myself. Sleeping, waking, every-where I see poor little Willy. … I will always deplore my want of judgement in taking my family to so fatal a climate at so critical a period of the year….To it must be traced the loss of that child on whose future I had based all the ambition I ever had.

This from a man who had written only two year earlier, “I do think I should have committed suicide were it not for my children”.

Ellen, a devout and practicing Catholic, fell back on her faith. General Sherman fell into depression, despair, and self-reproach.

So great was the General’s grief that he never forgave himself, for bringing his family to that place.

A year before his death in 1891, Sherman left detailed instructions about his last rest in that St. Louis cemetery, “alongside my faithful wife and idolized soldier boy.”

The grief, the self-reproach, it all but crushed him. Sherman wrote to Admiral David Porter:  “I lost recently my little boy by sickness incurred during his visit to my camp on Big Black. He was my pride and hope of life, and his loss has taken from me the great incentive to excel, and now I must work on purely and exclusively for love of country and professional pride.”

Some historians blame the savagery of Sherman’s attack on Meridian Mississippi, the cruelty of his assault on Atlanta and the “March to the Sea” on a form of madness, brought on by the loss of his precious boy.

In the Summer of 1864, three Union armies of the newly appointed division of the Mississippi under William Tecumseh Sherman were advancing, on Atlanta. Meanwhile back home in Lancaster, Ellen was about to give birth to another child. A baby boy, named Charley.

Let the couple’s letters tell the story and imagine if you will your own troubles, set against the backdrop of civil war.

Big Shanty, GA June 12, 1864: Dearest Ellen, I have received Phil’s dispatch announcing the birth to us, of another son. I’m glad you’re over the terrible labor, and hope it’s the last you will have to endure. Of course, I’m pleased to know the sex of the child, as he must succeed to the place left vacant, by Willy. Though I fear we will never be able to lavish on anyone, the love we bore for him. I am ever yours, W.T. Sherman

Lancaster Ohio, July 7, 1864: Dearest Cump, For the first time since I went to bed the night of the 10th of June I am able to sit up, and hold my pen.  I’d been sick all that day. About 1 o’clock I sent for the doctor.  At 20 minutes past two the baby was born with a cry, loud enough to disturb the neighborhood.  Like Tommy he was born with a caul over his face which the doctor had to remove, before his cry came forth.  I must thank God I am spared to my children, and not murmur at the trials he sends me.  As ever, Ellen

Headquarters, Military division of Mississippi, In the field near Chattahoochee, July 9, 1864:  Dearest Ellen, it is now two months since I left Chattanooga, and I think during all this time I have but one letter from you.  I fear you have been more ill than I supposed.  The enemy and the Chattahoochee lie between us, and intense heat prevails, but I think I shall succeed.  At all events you know, I never turn back.  Give my love to your father and all the young folks.  Yours ever, WT Sherman

Lancaster Ohio July 16, 1864: Dearest Cump, I have been ill indeed, in great danger of death, and left weak.  Charley thrives, grows and fattens, and is very strong and healthy.  The children dote on him, particularly Tommy and Lizzie.  Tommy asked me how long babies wore long dresses and when I told him six or eight months he begged me to put pantaloons on Charlie then.  He walks with him in his arms and watches him and plays with him and sings 20 times a day.  He is so glad the baby is not a girl.  I  have not told you how very strongly he resembles you in form, face and shape of head.  The likeness is  striking and I am delighted to see it.  All are well, and send love to dear Papa. Ever your affectionate, Ellen

Lancaster Ohio September 17, 1864: Saturday morning:  Dearest Cump, the baby has a very bad cold, settled on his lungs.  May Willy’s pure spirit be your guide to his happy home in heaven is the hourly prayer of your truly affectionate, Ellen

Cincinnati Ohio September 22, 1864: it seems as if I were never to have another letter from you, dearest Cump

Cincinnati Ohio September 25, 1864: Sunday evening:  Dearest Cump, the baby has a very bad cough and I feel so uneasy.

Lancaster Ohio, November 8, 1864: Dearest Cump, Dear Willy’s picture has just been brought, and now stands framed in my room. We need this to keep him fresh in the minds and the hearts of all the children for all must love and know and talk of their holy brother, until by God‘s grace we join him in his heavenly home. The baby has such a severe cold, which has taken such a firm hold on his lungs that I greatly fear, he will never get over it, and that it will end in consumption. Ever your truly affectionate, Ellen.

Obituary, Charles Celestine Sherman, New York Times, December 25, Christmas Day, 1864: Died at South Bend Indiana on Sunday, December 4, 1864, of pneumonia. Charles Celestine, infant son of Major General WT and Ellen E. Sherman, aged 5 months and 23 days

South Bend Indiana, December  29, 1864: Dearest Cump, long before this, you have seen in the papers the notice, of the dear baby’s death.  God grant that his prayers and Willy’s may ensure my perseverance and obtain for you the gift of faith.  Ellen E. Sherman

Military Division Mississippi in the field, January 5, 1865: Dearest Ellen I have written several times to you and the children. yesterday I got your letter of December 23 and realized the deep pain and anguish through which you have passed, and the pain and sickness of the little baby I never saw.  All spoke of him as so bright and fair that I had hoped he would be spared to us, to fill the great void in our hearts left by Willy. But it is otherwise decreed, and we must submit.  I have seen death in such quantity and in such forms that it no longer startles me.  But with you, it is different.  Yours, WT Sherman 

Two weeks after that last letter from Ellen, General Sherman was in Savannah, preparing to march north into South Carolina. It began to rain on January 17, the heaviest rainfall in 20 years. January 21 came and went with no respite. Not until the end of the month did the rain cease to fall. The misery of that camp in Savannah and of General Sherman’s mental state, can only be guessed at.

The coming assault on the seat of secession would be worse than Sherman’s march to the sea.

Margie Bearss, wife of Vicksburg Military Park historian Edwin Bearss is herself an accomplished historian, a fellow of the National Military Collectors and Historians association, author of Sherman’s Forgotten Campaign in Meridien Mississippi and known for her work in support of the Grand Gulf Military Park in Mississippi, and the USS Cairo, now in the Vicksburg military Park. Bearss once mused, “Did perhaps the death of Willy start a chain reaction of fires and desolation in Mississippi that the winds of more than a century have not entirely hidden? Did Sherman hold Mississippi ‘that sickly region’ responsible for his death? Who knows. Yet, we do know that between the end of the Vicksburg Campaign and the beginning of the Meridian Expedition, only a few months’ time, his concept of warfare changed and he began his own version of the ‘total war’ for which he became well-known.

January 18, 1983 Athlete of the Century

Future President Dwight Eisenhower played against Thorpe during the 1912 season and said this, in a 1961 speech: “Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw”.

He was born in Oklahoma Indian territory around 1887, to parents of mixed Caucasian and Indian ancestry. According to custom he was named after something that happened, around the time of his birth. Lighting had lit up the trail to the house in which he was born. So it is he was known by the native name, Wa-Tho-Huk. “Bright Path”. He was raised a Catholic, a faith he would practice all his life with the baptismal name, Jacobus Francis Thorpe. He would grow to be the finest all-round athlete of the first half of the 20th century and maybe, for the next 100 years. We remember him as Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe was an indifferent student and ran away from school several times, especially after his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia, at age 9. His father sent him to the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, hoping he wouldn’t run away again.

Two years later, his mother died in childbirth. That was it. After several arguments with his father, he left to take work at a horse ranch. Thorpe returned to his father at 16 and agreed to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

One day in 1907, Thorpe was walking past the school track. Several high jumpers were at practice and he decided to give it a try. With no warm-up and still in street clothes, Thorpe beat them all on his first try with a high jump of 5-feet, 9-inches.

In those days, Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, yeah, THAT Pop Warner, coached football at the Indian School.

Reluctant to let his best track & field athlete try a contact sport, Warner relented and let Thorpe carry the ball on two rushing plays. He’d be easily tackled and change his mind thought Warner, but Thorpe ran circles around the defenders. Twice. Flipping the ball to coach Warner, Thorpe quipped, “Nobody is going to tackle Jim“.

Thorpe came to compete in football, baseball, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing, winning the intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship, in 1912. I can’t help but respect that, as someone who moves, like a refrigerator.

Jim Thorpe in 1912

Thorpe came to national attention in 1911, after scoring all four field goals in an upset victory over Harvard, 18-15. In a 1912 victory over Army, Thorpe’s 92-yard touchdown run was called back, due to a teammate’s penalty. He ran it in again on the following play, this time running 97-yards.

He didn’t compete in track & field in 1910 or ’11 but, in the spring of 1912, he started training for the Olympics. At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, somebody stole his shoes. He scrounged a pair from somewhere including one from a garbage can and won the decathlon, and pentathlon.

It was his first and only decathlon.

Martin Sheridan, champion athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club and five-time Olympic gold medalist told a reporter from the New York World: “Thorpe is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

The New York Times wrote in his 1953 obituary, that Thorpe “could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat; the 220 in 21.8 seconds; the 440 in 51.8 seconds; the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35; the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds; and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in.[7] He could pole vault 11 feet; put the shot 47 ft 9 in; throw the javelin 163 feet; and throw the discus 136 feet“.

In today’s Olympics, we’re all supposed to be excited when professional athletes paid tens of millions of dollars to play basketball, defeat some kids from Croatia.

That wasn’t so in 1912. There were strict amateur rules. Sports teachers, professional athletes and anyone who ever competed against them were strictly forbidden from amateur sports, particularly when someone noticed.

In 1909 and 1910, Thorpe played baseball for the Rocky Mount Railroaders of the Eastern Carolina League. They were the worst team in the league despite the presence of Jim Thorpe, but no matter. The man was paid $2 a game, and $35 a week, to play baseball.

The fact was widely known but, in 1913, the Worcester Telegram published an article, stating that Thorpe had played professional baseball. Other papers picked up the story. Plausible deniability thus denied, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Secretary James Edward Sullivan, sprang into action.

Thorpe wrote a letter, hoping it would help: “I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names …”

It didn’t. Despite a 30-day rule for such challenges, the AAU retroactively withdrew his amateur status. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped him of his awards, and medals.

Jim Thorpe first signed with the New York Giants in 1913 and played six seasons in the major leagues, between 1913 and 1919. He joined the American Football League Canton Bulldogs in 1915 helping the team to three championships before joining the National Football League where he played, for six years. All the while he would barnstorm around the country with an all-Indian professional basketball team. He was President of the American Football league in 1920 which later became, the NFL.

Jim Thorpe would play professional sports until he was 41. Depression was upon the land on those days and Thorpe struggled to hold down a job. Bouncer. Security Guard. Ditch digger. He briefly joined the Merchant Marine, in 1945. He appeared in several films sometimes sometimes as himself, and sometimes a bit player. He became a chronic alcoholic, married three times and divorced twice, with 8 kids. He was hospitalized with lip cancer in 1950 and admitted, as a charity case.

Jim Thorpe went into heart failure in 1953 while dining with his third wife, Patricia. He was revived and spoke to those around him, but later lost consciousness. Jim Thorpe died at the couple’s home in Lomita, California on March 28, 1953.

Over the years, supporters tried to have his medals restored and Olympic titles, reinstated.

Former teammate and IOC President Avery Brundage would have none of it, saying “ignorance is no excuse.”

In 1981, author Bob Wheeler published Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete. Wheeler and his wife Florence Ridlon, herself a PhD and author of several books, may be Thorpe’s greatest supporters.

The couple founded the Jim Thorpe Foundation in 1982 and, that October, the IOC executive committee approved Thorpe’s reinstatement. Sort of.

Jim Thorpe was declared “co-champion” with Ferdinand Bie and Hugo Wieslander, athletes who had always said, that Thorpe had won. On this day in 1983 the IOC presented commemorative medals to two of Thorpe’s children, Gale and Bill. Today, the IOC lists Thorpe as “co-medalist’.

In 1954, the communities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk of Carbon County Pennsylvania merged to form the borough of Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe’s original medals were at one time in museums but since stolen, and never recovered.

In 2020, a petition called upon the IOC to reinstate Thorpe as the sole winner of the 1912 events. Pictureworks Entertainment, a company producing a film about Thorpe supports the petition as does 1964 gold medalist, Billy Mills.

January 16, 27BC Republic

“Many Romans themselves put the key turning point in 133 BC. This was the year when a young aristocrat, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, held the office of ‘tribune’ (a junior magistracy which had originally been founded to protect the interests of the common people). As one ancient writer put it, this was when ‘daggers first entered the forum”. – BBC

According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa, a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome.  Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his throne. She however, was already pregnant by the war god Mars, destined to give birth, to twins.

Romulus and Remus, by Rubens

Learning of the birth, Amulius ordered the infants Romulus and Remus drowned in the Tiber river. The twins survived, washing ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where the two were suckled by a she-wolf.

Later discovered by the shepherd Faustulus, the boys were reared by he and his wife. Much later, the brothers became leaders of a band of young shepherd warriors. On learning their true identity, the twins attacked Alba Longa, killed King Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne.

Romulus and Remus founded a town on the site of their salvation, the traditional date being April 21, 753BC. Romulus later murdered his brother after some petty quarrel, making himself sole ruler of the settlement which he modestly called “Rome”, in his own honor.

Except, the whole story, is nonsense. Much like a centurion with a cell phone.

It’s more likely that first three hundred years were a scrap for survival. If anyone had time to write down a serious history, it’s been lost.

Sparse factual material was embellished by later generations with some facts exaggerated or invented outright, while the more embarrassing episodes, were “disappeared”. This early or Regal period is said to be a time of six Kings, benevolent rulers all except for the seventh, a cruel tyrant known as Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

According to legend, Tarquin was overthrown by public uprising, around 509/510BC. Etruscan civilization, dominant over the Italian peninsula since 900BC, had begun to lose hold. A series of wars would see the ascension of the Latin League (albeit temporarily), at the expense of the Etruscan league. The siege of Veii in 396BC brought the ancient Etruscan city into the Roman orbit.

The last remnants were absorbed in 27BC as Republic morphed into Empire, but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Rather than restoring the monarchy, the Romans replaced the kingship with two annually elected magistrates, or Consuls. The Republic, was born.

The historian Livy tells us, the first 200 years of Republic was a never ending struggle between two social orders: Patricians and Plebeians. The privileged classes, and the common citizen.

The republic built a governing system of three branches with checks and balances and a strong aversion to the concentration of power.

The executive branch or Consuls (usually two) were primarily Generals, whose job was to lead the republican military in war. In times of national emergency, Rome would appoint a dictator in place of Consuls, a military leader entrusted with supreme command for no more than six months.

The Senate consisted of 300 who served, for life. Primarily an advisory body, the Senate focused mostly on foreign policy but exercised considerable jurisdiction over civil affairs, as the Senate controlled the treasury. At first exclusive to ex-consuls and other members of the Patrician class, the Senate would later open to members of the Plebian class.

Last came the Assemblies, the most democratic branch of Republican government, of which there were four.

Within fifteen years, the crushing debt of endless wars and the excesses of the publicani, the ruthless, usurious contractors hired by the state to collect taxes, brought the Plebeians to open revolt. There was talk of assassinating a Consul. The Plebs seceded in 493BC in much the same way, as a modern labor strike. With the economy ground to a halt, the popular ex-consul Agrippa Menenius was sent to negotiate, resulting in a direct representative of the common man, in the Assembly. This was the Tribune of the Plebs of which there were two, and later ten.

With their physical person sacrosanct, anyone who laid a hand on them was subject to death, the Tribune of the Plebs was uniquely able to propose and veto legislation and to rescue commoners, from the hands of Patrician magistrates. Several important offices opened to the Plebs by the 4th century BC, up to and including that of Consul, and Dictator

The working classes left the city en masse, leaving the wealthy elite, to fend for themselves.

In theory, the Tribune of the Plebs brought representation for the common citizen. In practice, such powers in the hands of demagogues, would bring about the death of the Republic.

By the 5th century, the people of Gaul (modern-day France, parts of Belgium, western Germany and northern Italy) migrated south to the Mediterranean coast. Disaster struck in 390BC as war bands of the Gallic Chieftain Brennus swept out of the north, easily defeating Roman defenses at the river Allia and capturing and sacking much of Rome, itself.

The sack of Rome doesn’t seem to have been the disaster, described in Roman legend. Little archeological evidence exists to support the idea of a sustained sack and burning of the city. Very possibly, Brennus and his band were headed south to sign on as mercenaries, in service to Dionysius of Syracuse.

Maybe all they wanted was the sort of plunder easily carried away. Like the gold they were paid to get out of town which they happily did, following a 7-month siege.

There followed forty years of hard fighting in Latium and Etruria to restore the power of Rome. Be that as it may, the Gallic bogey man would live on in the Roman psyche.

The Latin war of 340-338BC ended in victory for the Republic, placing Rome in control of central Italy. The next three decades saw the conquest and colonization of the Samnites to the north and the Greek principalities, to the south. By 275BC, Rome was master of all Italy.

Meanwhile, a child was born in Carthage some 1,500 miles to the south, who would rock the Roman world. His name was Hamilcar Barca.

The 3rd century BC was a time of endless military campaign for the Roman Republic, no fewer than 68 of them.

Outward expansion inevitably brought the Republic into conflict with the other major Mediterranean power of the age, the ancient Phoenician seafaring civilization long since settled in north Africa, called Carthage.

Hamilcar Barca was a great general in the first of three wars between Rome and Carthage, the longest continuous conflict and the greatest naval war, of antiquity. The 1st Punic War went badly for Carthage and ended on harsh terms, including the loss of that famous navy. Hamilcar died in 228BC most likely drowning in the Jucar River but he lived on in a way, in the form of the Roman’s worst nightmare – Hamilcar’s sons sworn to eternal hate for Rome, Hasdrubal, Mago and possibly the greatest field commander in history, the general Hannibal.

In 218BC, Hannibal crossed into hostile Gaul at the head of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants. His crossing of the Alps that winter is one of the great feats of military history, costing almost half of his force before entering Italy that December.

The first of several major battles took place on December 18, 218BC, on the banks of the Trebia River. The army of Hannibal was near invincible, defeating Roman legions in one major engagement after another. Trebia, Lake Trasimene, Cannae: where Hannibal annihilated nearly down to the man, the largest Roman army, ever assembled. For sixteen years, Hannibal’s Carthaginians were virtually unbeatable, devastating the Italian countryside as Rome drafted one army after another only to see them crushed, yet again. Meanwhile, Carthage itself was politically divided. Hannibal never did receive any significant support from home. In the end, he had to leave Italy to defend his homeland in North Africa.

Hannibal was soundly defeated by his own tactics on October 19, 202BC at the Battle of Zama, ending the second Punic war under humiliating terms for Carthage.

By the 1st century BC, Roman power all but encircled the Mediterranean, from modern-day Spain to Syria, from Normandy to North Africa.

Such diverse, conquered peoples proved ever more difficult to govern as troops were stationed literally everywhere, ready to use force, if necessary. In Rome itself, citizens suffered under a government that always seemed to be looking, elsewhere. Roman made goods and produce became ever more expensive as locals found themselves unable to compete, with the provinces. Many migrated to the city where, increasingly, those in public service sought to placate the masses with handouts, and lavish entertainments.

In the late first and early second centuries (AD), the Roman poet Juvenal spoke of the period in his Satires, of a population no longer dedicated to the sacred birthright of public service, of civic engagement, preferring instead panem et circenses. Bread and circuses.

In the end, the Republic died by its own hand, a victim of internal politics.

In the middle years of the Republic, legionaries were required to serve out entire campaigns, regardless of length. Larger homesteads could always count on the labor of slaves while smaller farms were left in the hands of wives and children. These often went bankrupt, properties bought cheaply by an increasingly wealthy and avaricious, upper class.

According to Plutarch, “[W]hen Tiberius on his way to Numantia passed through Etruria and found the country almost depopulated and its husbandmen and shepherds imported barbarian slaves, he first conceived the policy which was to be the source of countless ills to himself and to his brother.”

Tiberius and his brother were the Gracchus brothers, important populist politicians of the late Republic. Tiberius, a hero of the 3rd Punic war, instituted reforms redistributing lands, back to the poor. Tiberius became a hero to the poorer classes and hated by the wealthy, so much so that he and 300 supporters were beaten to death with stones and clubs, in 132BC.

The Senate attempted to placate the Plebs by enforcing Gracchus’ land reforms but, ten years later, Tiberius’ younger brother and heir to his populist politics Gaius, would share the fate of his brother.

The Gracchi were gone but the animus between Populares and Optimates, had never been greater.

The first of several civil wars began in 88BC with a struggle for power between two men.

Elected Consul an unprecedented seven times, Gaius Marius implemented military reforms, transforming the loyalty of the soldiery from the republic, to their commander. Lucius Cornelius Sulla was the ambitious son of a Patrician family.

Outmaneuvered by Marius for supreme command of the 1st war against King Mithradates of Pontus (eastern Turkey), Sulla gathered his allies and marched under arms, against Rome. It was an unprecedented act of hostility duplicated by Marius himself and his allies, on Sulla’s return to Pontus. The murderous “reforms” of Marius and his Populares paled in comparison to the second return of Sulla and his Optimates.

Imagine finding your name on a list published by your government, knowing that meant you were “proscribed”. Whosoever of your fellow citizens who found and killed you, was entitled to your worldly possessions. The names of as many 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum during the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla.

Forty years later, a General’s marching on Rome at the head of an army was still an act of war, though hardly “unprecedented”. With the words “the die is cast”, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river on January 10, 49BC, igniting another civil war. Caesar emerged victorious in early 44BC to be appointed, “Dictator for Life”. The very idea was an affront to traditional Roman sensibilities. Caesar was murdered by a cabal of Senators on March 15. The “Ides of March“.

Caesar’s killers believed they were saving the Republic but their actions, had the opposite effect. The assassination sparked a period of civil war and political instability from which Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, emerged victorious over Marc Antony and his Greek princess ally turned Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra.

Octavian was crowned the first emperor of Rome on January 16, 27BC and given the honorific title, “Augustus”. The Republic was dead. The era of Empire, had begun.

January 15, 1987 An Innocent Man

Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons. Prosecutors hide evidence. Incompetent defense counsel. Mistaken identity and ulterior motives, on the part of witnesses.

Were there a catalog of lies, there may be none more egregious than the false accusation.  No matter how he tries, the victim of such a falsehood will never prove a negative.

Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons. Prosecutors hide evidence. Incompetent defense counsel. Mistaken identity and ulterior motives, on the part of witnesses.

Interior views of traditional prison

Accurate numbers are all but impossible to determine, but we can make an educated guess. A study conducted by Ohio State University surveyed 188 judges, prosecutors, public defenders, sheriffs and police chiefs. The survey found that 75% of respondents believed that more than zero and less than 1 percent of convictions, were unjust. Taking the middle number of .5 percent and a rough estimate of 195,000 convictions per year works out to 9,750 wrongful convictions. Every year. (H/T Housley Law blog for these statistics, which states there have been 1,962 exonerations nationwide, since 1989).

Feel free to make any assumptions you like concerning these numbers but one thing is sure. To assume there are no wrongful convictions is to believe that government does everything right, all of the time.

Graduating from Allegheny College in 1961, Robert Budd Dwyer set his sights on elective office.  The future looked bright.

First elected State Rep in 1964, the Pennsylvania Republican ran successfully for state Senate in 1970 and then for state-wide office, elected Treasurer, in 1980.

In 1986, Pennsylvania officials discovered that state employees had overpaid millions in FICA taxes, due to errors in state withholding. Several accounting firms bid for the contract to determine, how much compensation was due each employee. The contract was awarded to California based Computer Technology Associates (CTA), owned by Harrisburg native, John Torquato Jr.

Governor Dick Thornburg received an anonymous memo a few weeks later, alleging bribery in the award of the CTA contract. R. Budd Dwyer was named as one of the people receiving kickbacks in the deal along with Republican committee member Bob Asher, and CTA attorney William ‘Bill’ Smith.

Anonymous accusations are such a cowardly tactic.

No money ever changed hands. The CTA contract was canceled two months after it was signed. Even so, prosecutors pushed the case for everything it was worth.

Most criminal cases end in plea deals, and not in trials. Smith pleaded guilty to offering Dwyer and Asher $300,000 in bribes and received a reduced sentence. Torquato also pleaded guilty and received a sentence, of 4 years. Adamantly proclaiming his innocence, Budd Dwyer refused a plea deal: a guilty plea on one count and a sentence, of five years. Dwyer was adamant, and demanded a trial. “I absolutely did nothing wrong”.

On December 18, 1986, Budd Dwyer was found guilty. Conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. Eleven counts.

Judge Malcolm Muir hinted at a sentence, of 55 years. Many believe the man wanted to make an example, of Budd Dwyer. Sentencing was scheduled for January 23, 1987.

On December 15, 1987, Dwyer held a meeting at his home with press secretary James Horshock, and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson. With a week to go before sentencing, Dwyer wanted to make a statement, to the press.

Budd Dwyer addresses the press on January 22, 1987. It would be his last press conference.

The meeting was scheduled for January 22, the day before sentencing.

In a rambling speech before the press, R. Budd Dwyer proclaimed his innocence. He said how much he’d enjoyed his life with his wife Joanne and the couple’s kids, Rob and Dyan. He reflected on what a bright future it could have been.

“I am going to die in office” he said, “in an effort to ‘…see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.’ Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S.

Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don’t want to cause physical or mental distress.

Joanne, Rob, DeeDee [sic] – I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Goodbye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.”

Pandemonium broke out as R. Budd Dwyer took out a briefcase, and a .357 magnum pistol. He put the gun in his mouth and blew his brains out.

You can find the video online if you want, it was all on camera. I’m not going to show it.

Joanne never for a moment doubted her husband’s innocence but she never forgave herself for failing to notice, how the man was struggling. She took heavily to drink, perhaps to self-medicate and died in 2009, an alcoholic.

Former chair of the Dauphin County Republican Committee Bill Smith has made contradictory statements under oath and expressed regret for lying, and the role it played in Dwyer’s death.

Subsequent court proceedings never did overturn Dwyer’s conviction, but the Treasurer was able to provide for his family. Having died in office, Dwyer’s widow Jo received full survivor’s benefits of $1.28 million.

Dyan “DeeDee”, now a married mother of two, has lived a private life. Rob, now a realtor in Arizona, has been quite public about his own difficulties, in dealing with his father’s suicide. ‘I’d tell anyone thinking about suicide’ he said, ‘that the scars and the emotional toll that it leaves on those left behind, is immense.

January 14, 1969 Fire at Sea

For every multi-ton flying fuel tank hurtling from bow-mounted catapults bristling with armaments, a controlled crash landing of that same aircraft, takes place in the stern. Combine all that chaos with a heaping helping of Murphy’s law and the table is set, for disaster.

From the WW1-era launch of the first modern aircraft carrier to the present day, the carrier sailor has literally lived and worked, surrounded by the means of his own destruction.

In March 1953, a Corsair fighter off the coast of Korea landed on the decks of USS Oriskany, with a bomb still attached. The thing fell off and exploded, piercing the wingtip tanks of several F9F-5 Panthers, spilling flaming fuel across the decks. That time, fire crews were able to put out the fire, before the flames reached ordnance lockers. Loss of life was limited to two sailors killed and another fifteen, wounded. A decade later, the “Mighty O” wouldn’t get off, so lightly.

USS Oriskany

Oriskany began her second tour off the Vietnam coast in July, 1966. The carrier’s five fighter squadrons launched nearly 8,000 sorties in the first four months, a pace taxing to man and machine, alike.

On October 26, apprentice seamen George James, 18, and James Sider, 17, were ordered to stow 117 parachute flares. Untrained and unsupervised, Sider snagged a lanyard , and accidentally set one off. Panicked, blinded by the brilliant light of white phosphorus, Sider tossed the flare into the storage locker.

The bin already contained some 650 flares and 2¾-inch air-launched rockets, each carrying a 6-pound warhead. Temperatures inside the locker soared to 4,500° Fahrenheit and the main hatch exploded as steel bulkheads began to sag and buckle.

Water is worse than useless against a magnesium fire. Anyone who’s seen the Hindenburg tape understands why. Water breaks down to oxygen and hydrogen at temperatures over 3,000°, literally transforming into fuel, for the inferno.

Magnesium fires burn as hot as 5,600°, Fahrenheit. As a point of reference, volcanic lava ranges from 1,470° to 2,190°.

As helicopters burned and ammunition cooked off, the courage of individual firemen is scarcely to be believed. Literally surrounded by bombs staged for loading, firemen trained water hoses to cool these monsters even as their paint blistered, and fuze inlets began to smoke.

Oriskany fire, October 1966

Had the bombs gone off, the probable result would be the death of the carrier itself.

Down below, murderous heat and noxious fumes killed men where they stood. Lt. Cmdr. Marvin Reynolds wrapped a wet blanket around himself and fumbled in the darkness, for the wrench to open his porthole. “If you let this wrench slip and lose it in the smoke” he thought, “you’ve bought the farm.” Reynolds managed to open his porthole, holding his head out the small opening until a sailor passed him a breathing mask, and fire hose.

In the end, firemen could do little but hose the edge of the fire, while the inferno burned itself out. 44 men were killed and another 156, injured. So much water was pumped onboard that scuba teams were required, to rescue men trapped on lower decks.

8 months later, USS Forrestal met a similar fate. This one is personal as a close family member, was involved.

In 1967, the carrier bombing campaign against North Vietnam reached an intensity unrivaled, in US Naval history.

USS Forrestal, departing San Francisco bay.

Combat operations were literally outpacing ordnance resupply, which soon included AN-M65A1 “Fat Boy” bombs, left over from the war in Korea.  Handlers feared these old bombs might spontaneously explode from the shock of a catapult takeoff.

Before the cruise, damage control firefighting teams were shown training films of Navy ordnance tests, demonstrating how a 1000-lb bomb could be directly exposed to a jet fuel fire for a full 10 minutes. Tests were conducted using the new Mark 83 bomb featuring a thicker, heat resistant wall compared with older munitions and “H6” explosive, designed to burn off at high temperatures, like a huge sparkler.

The problem was, the old ordnance was thinner-skinned than the modern bombs, and armed with 10+ year-old “Composition B” explosive.  Already more sensitive to heat and shock than the newer ordnance, composition B becomes more volatile as the explosive ages.  The stuff becomes more powerful too, as much as 50%, by weight.

On the morning of July 29, preparations were underway for the second strike of the day.  Twenty-seven aircraft were on deck, fully loaded with fuel, ammunition, bombs and “Zuni” unguided rockets. 

An electrical malfunction fired a rocket across the flight deck, severing the arm of one crew member and piercing the 400-gallon fuel tank of an A-4E Skyhawk. The rocket’s safety mechanism prevented the weapon from exploding, but the A-4’s torn fuel tank was spewing flaming jet fuel onto the deck. Other tanks soon overheated and exploded, adding to the conflagration.

800px-USS_Forrestal_A-4_Skyhawk_burning.png

During WW2, virtually all carrier sailors were trained to fight fires. That all changed by the Vietnam era in favor of small, highly trained teams of fire fighters. Damage Control came into action immediately, as Team #8 Chief Gerald Farrier spotted a Fat Boy bomb turning cherry red, in the flames.  Without protective clothing, Farrier held a fire extinguisher on the 1000-pound bomb, hoping to keep it cool enough to prevent cooking off as his team brought the conflagration under control.

Firefighters were confident that their ten-minute window would hold, but composition B proved as unstable as the ordnance people had feared.  Farrier “simply disappeared” in the first of a dozen or more explosions, in the first few minutes.  By the third such explosion, Damage Control Team #8 had all but ceased to exist.

There were nine major explosions on deck during the first five minutes.

The port quarter of the Forrestal ceased to exist in the violence of the blasts. Office furniture was thrown to the floor, five decks below.  Huge holes were torn through the flight deck while 40,000 gallons of flaming jet fuel, poured through ventilation ducts and into living quarters below.

USS_Forrestal_fire_1_1967

Future United States Senator John McCain managed to scramble out of his cockpit and down the fuel probe.  Seconds later, Lieutenant Commander Fred White wasn’t so lucky.

With the life of the carrier itself at stake, tales of incredible courage, were commonplace. Medical officers worked for hours in the most dangerous conditions imaginable. Explosive ordnance demolition officer LT(JG) Robert Cates “noticed that there was a 500-pound bomb and a 750-pound bomb in the middle of the flight deck… that were still smoking. They hadn’t detonated or anything; they were just setting there smoking. So I went up and defused them and had them jettisoned.” Sailors volunteered to be lowered through the flight decks into flaming and smoked-filled compartments, to defuse live bombs.

The fire burned until 4:00 the next morning. 21 of the 73 aircraft on board were destroyed and another 40, damaged. 134 crewmen died in the conflagration. Another 161 received non-fatal injuries. It was the worst loss of life on a US Navy vessel, since World War 2.

They say bad luck comes in threes. On this day in 1969, the nuclear carrier USS Enterprise finished the list.

Since the age of the Wright brothers, aircraft designers have often left out the excess weight of starters and batteries. Early piston engines were startd by hand and, in the jet age, gas turbines often use auxiliary starters powered by gas or other combustible material.

On the morning of January 14, 1969, USS Enterprise was training 70-miles off Hawaii, preparing for her 4th tour of Vietnam. Her flight deck was crowded with F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsair II bombers, each loaded with Zuni rocket pods and 500-pound Mk-82 bombs. At 8:18am, an MD-3A “Huffer” aircraft engine starter was parked near the wing of an F4 Phantom, its exhaust a mere 24-inches from a rocket pod.

The 15-pound warhead on a Zuni rocket, goes off at 358° Fahrenheit. A Huffer exhaust burns between 362° and 590°. For a minute and 18 seconds, no fewer than four crew members were aware of the problem. None took steps to fix it and each, paid the ultimate price.

In the flash of an eye the exploding rocket ruptured several nearby fuel tanks as fuel vaporized and immediately, burst into flames. That’s when all hell, broke loose. The nearest 15 aircraft carried a combined fuel load of 15,000 gallons with a combined armament of 30 500-pound bombs and 40 Zuni rockets. 18 massive explosions went off in close succession, tearing great holes in 2½-inch deck armor.

Men and machines were tossed by each explosion, “like dust”. Three bombs went off at once opening a 22-foot hole in the deck, damaging a nearby tanker and spilling burning fuel, six floors below.

Knocked unconscious in the initial blast, Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Neumayer of Fighter Squadron VF-96 awoke to find his goggles melting and his clothing, on fire. “The roar of the fire was just horrendous,” he later said. “It just blotted out any other sound. The stench… was horrible.” He managed to crawl to the catwalk below just as 2 500-pound bombs went off, not 30-feet from his previous position. Neumayer lost his left leg in the blast and twice received last rites, but survived.

The Destroyers USS Bainbridge and Rodgers came alongside, to lend their hoses. Helicopters arrived within two hours from Pearl Harbor, to medevac the wounded. Within three hours the last flames, were out.

The USS Enterprise fire resulted in the death of 34 men and another 341 non-fatal injuries. The fire resulted in a redesign of the Huffer starter and repair costs equivalent to $912 million, today. No formal inquiry was ever held, to determine fault. Everyone plausibly to blame for the catastrophe, had been among the first to die.