August 27, 1955 Guinness Book of World Records

The free reference book once intended to inform barroom squabbles has spawned a franchise including museums and television programs, becoming the leading  international authority for the certification of every world record you can think of, from the longest fingernail (2 feet, 11 inches), to the longest mustache (14 feet), to slam dunking basketball bunnies.

Hugh Campbell Beaver was a British engineer and industrialist and, at the time of this story, Managing Director of the brewery founded by Arthur Guinness, about two hundred years earlier. Beaver was on a hunting trip in County Rexford in Ireland, when a friendly argument broke out among the group. Which is the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover, or the grouse?

StjamesgateThe information was surprisingly difficult to find, and no reference book was available to settle the matter.

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Julia Gnuse, Guinness World Record most tatooed woman H/T IrishCentral.com

At that time, there were some 81,400 pubs in Great Britain and Ireland. What if they all had a reference book to settle such weighty matters, while enjoying a Guinness Draught, of course.

Beaver turned out to be more correct, than he realized.

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H/T Today.com

At that time, Norris and Ross McWhirter were running a fact-finding agency in London “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopedias and advertisers” and working as sports reporters, on the side. One of the athletes they covered was the middle and long-distance runner Christopher Chataway, who just happened to work for the Guinness Brewery.

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“Chandra Bahadur Dangi, from Nepal, left, the shortest adult to have ever been verified by Guinness World Records, poses for pictures with the world’s tallest man Sultan Kosen from Turkey, in London on November 13, 2014, to mark Guinness World Records Day.” H/T Today.com

Chattaway introduced the pair to Beaver in 1954. Guinness’ directors were impressed with the encyclopedic knowledge possessed by the McWhirter twins, when it came to facts and figures. The brothers agreed to take up work and, on this day in 1955, the 198-page Guinness Book of Records was first published in Great Britain.

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“Guinness World Records Day: The world’s shortest married couple”  H/T Express.co.uk

The book was intended to be given out for free, but proved to be far more popular than anyone had expected. The company began selling it that fall. Within four months, the book was non-fiction best-seller, in all the United Kingdom.

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“Norris McWhirter holding a copy of the largest diamond in the world (1977)” HWikipedia

Soon, the McWhirter brothers were traveling the world over, to research and verify records. The first American edition was published in 1956, followed by editions in other countries.

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Largest human image, of a camera. H/T Nikon

In the early 1960s, the McWhirter twins became involved in British Conservative party politics, bringing the pair into conflict with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Ross was hunted down and murdered in front of his home in 1975, by IRA gunmen. His brother Norris continued to serve as the book’s editor until retiring, in 1986.

Guinness-World-Records-2017-stars-main_tcm55-443157The free reference book once intended to inform barroom squabbles has spawned a franchise including museums and television programs, becoming the leading  international authority for the certification of every world record you can think of, from the longest fingernail (2 feet, 11 inches), to the longest mustache (14 feet), to slam dunking basketball bunnies.

As of this year the book is in its 63rd year of publication, published in 100 countries and 23 languages and itself holding a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted book of all time.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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August 26, 1883 Krakatoa

Roughly 90% of all earthquakes and 75% of potentially active volcanoes in the world, occur along a horseshoe shaped Ring of Fire, encircling the Pacific Ocean.

Within living memory, the “greatest generation” fought the most destructive war, in human history. Had any of them survived the experience, the parents and grandparents of that generation could’ve gazed into the abyss, at a force capable of breaking the very world, on which the great contest was won.

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H/T LiveScience.com

Deep in the ground beneath our feet, a rocky shell comprising an outer Crust and an inner Mantle forms a hard and rigid outer layer, closing off and containing the solid inner core of our planet.  Between these hard inner and outer layers exists a liquid core of molten material, comprising approximately two-thirds the cross-section of planet Earth.

The air around us is a liquid, exerting a ‘weight’ or barometric pressure at sea level, of approximately 14.696 pounds per square inch. Scientists estimate the pressures within this outer core to be approximately 3.3 million times atmospheric pressure, generating temperatures of 10,800° Fahrenheit, a temperature comparable to the surface of the sun.

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ABWCWW Earth s Core

That rocky shell closing us off from all that is actually quite elastic, broken into seven or eight major pieces, (depending on how you define them), 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. Roughly equal and opposite to these are the Subduction zones, where one plate moves under another and down into the mantle.

This movement in what we’d like to regard as Terra Firma, results in deep ocean trenches (the Aleutian Trench reaches depths of 25,194 feet) and mountain ranges such as the Andes along the border with Argentina and Chile, where towering peaks reach a height of over 22,500 feet or more.tectonic+plates+map

800px-Subduction-en.svgRoughly 90% of all earthquakes and 75% of potentially active volcanoes in the world, occur along a horseshoe shaped Ring of Fire, encircling the Pacific Ocean.

One hundred and thirty five years ago today, a mere blink of an eye in geologic time, the most destructive volcano in recorded history erupted along the western reaches of this ring of fire on the Indonesian island of Krakatau (Krakatoa).

Early seismic activity began several years before the 1883 eruption, with earthquakes felt as far away, as Australia. Steam began to vent in May of that year, from the northernmost of three cones comprising the island group of Krakatau. Explosions could be heard from as much as 99 miles away by the end of May, propelling thick clouds of ash to an estimated altitude of 20,000 feet, before activity died down in early June.

Eruptions at Krakatoa resumed around the 16th of June, and continued until the 24th. The violence of these ongoing eruptions caused tides in the area to be unusually high, while ships at anchor, had to be moored with heavy chains.

This thing was only yawning and stretching.  Just getting out of bed.

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Dutch topographical engineer Captain H. J. G. Ferzenaar investigated the Krakatoa islands on August 11, reporting three major ash columns and steam plumes from at least eleven other vents. All vegetation was extinct by this time, leaving only tree stumps, buried beneath nearly two feet of ash.

Eruptions intensified on August 25, while ships twelve miles away reported softball-sized pieces of hot pumice, raining down on their decks.  A small tsunami hit the shores of Java and Sumatra, twenty-five miles away.  Krakatoa entered its paroxysmal stage on August 26 followed by four prodigious explosions, the following day.

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Mount Mazama in the Cascade Range of Oregon, collapses into the magma chamber below. Crater Lake reaches a depth of 1,943 feet, the deepest freshwater body in the United States. H/T Wikipedia

The first explosion at 5:30am triggered a Tsunami of 98-feet or more, wiping out much of the island of Sumatra.  The second explosion at 6:44 triggered a second tsunami.  The third and largest explosion at 10:02 am was so violent it could be heard 1,930 miles away in Perth, in Western Australia.  On the Indian Ocean islands near Mauritius, 3,000 miles distant, the sound was mistaken for cannon fire, from a nearby ship.

It’s reported to have been the loudest sound in recorded history, equal to the explosive force of 200,000 tons of TNT, four times the explosive force of the Soviet Tsar Bomba explosion of October 30 1961, the most powerful thermonuclear weapon, ever detonated.

The colossal fourth and final explosion generated pressure waves racing outward from Krakatoa, at 675 mph. The sound was so loud as to be heard clearly from the United States to Great Britain, the pressure wave rounding the globe and returning to the volcano no fewer than 3½ times.

Barometric pressure gauges spiked 2½ inches of mercury, equivalent to 180 decibels, of sound pressure.  As a point of reference, short-term hearing damage can occur at 120, and the threshold for human pain, is 134.

Untold millions of tons of super heated ash rose fifty miles and more, into the air. Ships as far away as South Africa, were rocked by the series of tsunamis.

The combined effects of the explosions, tsunamis and the Pyroclastic Flow, the fast-moving air current of superheated gases and volcanic material capable of reaching ground speeds of 430 miles per hour, resulted in an official death toll of 36,417.  Some estimates put the number as high as 120,000.

When it was over, all but the bottom third of the island was gone, swallowed whole by the empty magma chamber, below. Fifty-six miles distant, the westernmost provinces of Java have been reclaimed by jungle and remain depopulated, to this day.

scream-16_6155Following the 1883 eruption, temperatures in the northern hemisphere fell by an average of 2.2°, Fahrenheit. Weather patterns were disrupted for years on end.

Particulate matter in the atmosphere refracted light worldwide resulting in glowing white clouds at night, and some of the most spectacular red sunsets, ever seen. Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream“, is thought to be an accurate depiction of the colors. Fire trucks were called out in Poughkeepsie and New York, for what many believed to be a raging fire.

In 1927, a new island emerged from the caldera left by the 1883 cataclysm.  Anak Krakatau (“Child of Krakatoa”) is currently the site of eruptive activity, one of 1,500 potentially active volcanoes, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS.gov).  Approximately five hundred of these were active, in historic times.

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Anak Krakatau, “Child of Krakatoa” in modern times

The ability to predict such an eruption, remains elusive.  Iceberg tremors, gas emissions, thermal monitoring and relative rates of ground deformation remain areas, for continued study. When Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, USGS scientists were able to provide about three weeks warning.

Feature Image, top of page:  Anak Krakatau

August 25, 1835 Hoax

Today we hear a lot about ‘Fake News’ but that’s nothing new.  On this day in 1835, the New York Sun published the first of a six-part series, about civilization on the moon.

Nine years ago, Richard and Mayumi Heene released a helium-filled gas balloon into the atmosphere, and claimed that their six-year-old son Falcon, was stuck inside. The world looked on in horror, as a young boy soared to altitudes of 7,000-feet. National Guard helicopters and local police, gave chase. The thing flew for more than an hour, only to come down with nobody on board. Rumors quickly turned into “reports”, that an object was seen falling from the balloon. A search was carried out, but revealed nothing.

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Later that day, the kid was found hiding in the attic. He’d apparently been there all day. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer for the Larry King Live television program, Falcon was asked why he’d been hiding. The boy turned to his father: “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.” Busted. The Balloon Boy Hoax was born, for which Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $36,000, in restitution. Mayumi Heene was sentenced to 20 days in jail, to be served one weekend at a time.

Dino StampsThose of us of a certain age remember the “Thunder Lizard”, the Brontosaurus, that iconic dinosaur seemingly at the center of every museum display. The Sinclair Oil Company adopted the creature as its mascot. The United States Postal Service featured the animal, in a series of commemorative stamps.

Except that – oops – someone had put the wrong head on the thing and, the previously discovered ‘Apatasaurus’ was, in fact, a juvenile specimen of the same animal.

This wasn’t a ‘hoax’ so much as a mistake, forged by the great “Bone Wars”, of the 19th century. Dinosaur enthusiasts accused the Postal Service of fostering ‘scientific illiteracy’. An ironic charge, given the number of museums that had mislabeled the animal, for over a century.

The dearly departed Brontosaurus was more a mistake, than a hoax. Not so “The Earliest Englishman”, a few fossils discovered near the village of Piltdown.  Between 1911-’12,  a portion of a skull was discovered along with a jawbone and a few teeth. It was the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans.  Years of scientific thought would be spent, reconstructing the life and times of ‘Piltdown Man’, and fitting the creature into the narrative of our shared, evolutionary history.

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In 1953, the British Museum of Natural History revealed the whole thing to have been a fabrication, a clever hoax carried out with modern bones most likely those of an orangutan, and treated with chemicals to make them appear much older.

Today we hear a lot about ‘Fake News’ but that’s nothing new.  On this day in 1835, the New York Sun published the first of a six-part series, about civilization on the moon.

The “Great Moon Hoax”, ostensibly reprinted from The Edinburgh Courant, was falsely attributed to the work of Sir John Herschel, the most prominent astronomer, of his time.

The byline was that of the non-existent Dr. Andrew Grant, ostensibly a colleague of Dr. Herschel.  Herschel had in fact traveled to Capetown South Africa in January 1834, to set up an observatory with a powerful new telescope.

The articles took this one slender reed and ran with it, describing a 24-foot-wide behemoth instrument revealing fantastic creatures on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns and a two-legged creature resembling a beaver with no tail, that walked upright and carried its young in the manner of human mothers.   There were temple-building, vegetarian, furry bat-like humanoids, called “Vespertilio-homo”.

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The articles described palm trees and lush forests, with flowers and rushing rivers.  There were valleys with melon trees, and all of it witnessed through “an immense telescope of an entirely new principle.”

Readers couldn’t get enough, and circulation figures shot up from day one.  A committee of oh-so serious Yale University scientific types traveled to New York, in search of the Edinburgh Journal articles. Panicked newspaper employees sent these guys back & forth between the printing and editorial offices, hoping to wear them out.  It worked.  The committee returned to New Haven empty handed, never realizing they’d been punked.

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That September, the Sun admitted the whole thing to have been a gag. Herschel himself knew nothing about it.  The astronomer was amused, noting that nothing in his own work was quite that interesting, but would later become irritated at the incessant questions of those who took the thing seriously.

British journalist and Sun reporter Richard Adams Locke confessed to writing the series, not as a hoax, but as satire. Locke set out to ridicule some of the more outlandish astronomical theories then in publication, by the likes of Munich University professor of Astronomy Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, and his “Discovery of Many Distinct Traces of Lunar Inhabitants, Especially of One of Their Colossal Buildings.”  Of course, it didn’t hurt that such a sensational tale as civilization on the moon, would help sell newspapers.

Be that as it may, readers were amused, and newspaper circulation didn’t suffer. The Sun merged with the New York World-Telegram in 1950, and folded in 1967. The New York Sun newspaper founded in 2002, has no relation to the original.

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

August 23, 1784 The Lost State of Franklin

On this day in 1784, Washington, Sullivan, Spencer (modern-day Hawkins) and Greene counties in what is now east Tennessee formally seceded and declared their independence, becoming the only territory in American history, to be both ceded and seceded.

Following the American colonies’ hard-fought war for independence from Great Britain, it seems foreordained that the fledgling nation would spread ever outward.  That a “west coast” was only a matter of time, and the new nation would spread ever westward, stopping only at the golden waters of the Pacific.

Except, that wasn’t the way it happened. In fact, aside from the original thirteen colonies, the western frontier comprising those communities west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi, were pretty much on their own. Such districts were free to create new jurisdictions within already-existing states, or form new states to be part of the union.  They could even create their own sovereign republics such as the one-time Republic of Texas. or the original “Lone Star Republic” – the Republic of West Florida.

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“The history of the State of Franklin, an autonomous territory west of the Appalachian Mountains (in what is now part of Tennessee), established by frontier pioneers in 1784”. H/T Alabama Public Television for this image

In October 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered 8,000 soldiers and seamen to a combined force of Americans and their French allies, at Yorktown. Representatives of King George III and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, formally ending the American Revolution.

Six months earlier, the state of North Carolina ceded land claims between the Allegheny Mountains and Mississippi River to the United States Congress, as a means of paying off some of the government’s war debt.

Counties-of-the-State-of-Franklin-1786For ten years or more, settlers in the area known as the Cumberland River Valley operated their own independent government, along the western frontiers of North Carolina.  With its new-found independence, settlers to the Western Counties found themselves alone in dealing with the area Cherokee, who were at that time anything but peaceful.

On this day in 1784, Washington, Sullivan, Spencer (modern-day Hawkins) and Greene counties in what is now east Tennessee formally seceded and declared their independence, becoming the only territory in American history, to be both ceded and seceded.

The concept of a new western state came from Arthur Campbell of Washington County in Virginia, and John Sevier, regarded today as the founding father of Tennessee.  Campbell’s proposed state would have included southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama

af9553b1ce03641bb9c292fa6cca4cb7--pink-marble-family-historyThe Western counties petitioned the United States Congress for statehood the following May as the 14th state in the Union, the independent state of “Frankland”.  Seven states voted in the affirmative, short of the two-thirds majority required by the Articles of Confederation, for full statehood.

Virginia Governor and Kentucky land speculator Patrick Henry, he of the famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech of 1775, opposed the loss of territory, and passed a law forbidding the creation of a new state from Virginia territory. After this, Sevier and his followers renamed their proposed state Franklin, in hopes of gaining the support of the venerable founding father, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin himself was lukewarm toward the proposal, writing to Governor Sevier in 1787:

.. I am sensible of the honor which your Excellency and your council thereby do me. But being in Europe when your State was formed, I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you anything just now that may be of importance,.. 

As the would-be 14th state established its capital in Jonesboro, the newly elected North Carolina legislature rescinded the earlier cession, concerned about the possibility of a Spanish client state, at its western frontier.

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For four and one-half years, The former colony and now state of North Carolina operated a government within the western territories, parallel to that of \the extra-legal state of Franklin.

Franklin opened courts and annexed five new counties, fixing taxes and authorizing the salaries of government officials. Both federal and  foreign currencies were accepted but, without an economic infrastructure of its own, debts were often settled by exchange of corn, tobacco or apple brandy. Governor Sevier himself was often paid, in deerskins. Citizens were granted a two-year reprieve from paying taxes, which only slowed development and created chaos.

valakefallaAs Franklin expanded westward, the state met resistance from the Chickamauga and “Overhill Cherokee” of war chief Dragging Canoe, a man often referred to as the “Savage Napoleon”.  With the protection of neither a federal army nor a state militia, Sevier sought a loan from the Spanish government, who then attempted to assert control over the territory.

Governor Sevier was arrested for his troubles in 1789 leaving government in a state of collapse, now under the firm control of the state of north Carolina.  One day, the state would once again cede the area to the federal government, the region becoming the 16th state of the union in 1796 and re-electing John Sevier, governor.

Forty years later, the most famous son of the lost state of Franklin would take his last stand, at a place called the Alamo.  History remembers this man by the epithet, “King of the Wild Frontier“.  The rest of us remember him, as Davy Crockett.

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

 

 

August 22, 1992 Ruby Ridge

When Weaver declined to become informant, ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming that Weaver was a bank robber with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent US Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions.  Weaver was now ensnared by a federal government bureaucracy, as unreasoningly suspicious as himself.

Randall Claude “Randy” Weaver came into the world in 1948, one of four children born to Claude and Wilma Weaver, a farming couple from Villisca, Iowa. Deeply religious people, the Weavers moved among several Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, in search of a spiritual ‘home’ to fit with their beliefs.

Weaver dropped out of community college at age 20 and enlisted in the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg and serving three years before earning an honorable discharge.

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A month after leaving the Army, Weaver married Victoria Jordison and soon enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to study criminal justice. At the time, Weaver wanted to become an FBI agent, but the high cost of tuition put an end to that. Randy found work at a local John Deere factory while “Vicki” became first a secretary and later a homemaker, as the family grew.

Over time, the couple began to harbor fundamentalist beliefs, while becoming increasingly distrustful of the government. Vicki came to believe that the Apocalypse was imminent.  The answer to her family’s survival lay in moving ‘off the grid’, away from ‘corrupt civilization’.

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In the early eighties, the couple paid $5,000 cash plus their moving truck for a piece of property, and built a cabin on the remote Ruby Ridge in the north of Idaho.

In 1984, Randy Weaver had a falling out with neighboring Terry Kinnison, over a $3,000 land deal. Kinnison lost the ensuing lawsuit and was ordered to pay Weaver an additional $2,100 in court costs and damages. Kinnison took his vengeance in letters written to the FBI, Secret Service, and county sheriff, claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and Idaho governor John Evans.

Randy and Vicki Weaver were interviewed by FBI as well as Secret Service agents, and the County sheriff. Investigators were told that Weaver was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation and that he had a large gun collection in his cabin. Weaver denied the allegations, and no charges were filed.

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Sarah and Samuel on family property

There seems no small amount of paranoia and mutual distrust, in what followed. The Weavers filed an affidavit in 1985, that their enemies were plotting to provoke the FBI into killing them. The couple wrote a letter to President Reagan, claiming that a threatening letter may have been sent to him, over a forged signature. No such letter ever materialized but, seven years later, prosecutors would cite the 1985 letter, as evidence of a Weaver family conspiracy against the government.

White supremacist Frank Kumnick was a member of the Aryan Nations, and target of an investigation by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Weaver attended his first meeting of the World Aryan Congress in 1986, where he met a confidential ATF informant, posing as a firearms dealer. In 1989, Weaver invited the informant to his home, to discuss forming a group to fight the “ZOG”, the “Zionist Occupation Government” of anti-Semitic and paranoid conspiracy theory.

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ATF charged Weaver that same year, with selling its informant two sawed-off shotguns. The government offered to drop the charges in exchange for Weaver’s becoming an informant. Weaver declined, and ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming the subject was a bank robber, with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent US Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions, but Weaver was ensnared, by a  government bureaucracy as unreasoningly suspicious, as himself.

Trial was set for February 20 1991 and subsequently moved to February 21, due to a federal holiday. Weaver’s parole officer sent him a letter, erroneously stating that the new date was March 20. A bench warrant was issued when Weaver failed to show in court, for the February date.

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Randy Weaver was now a “Fugitive from Justice”.

The U.S. Marshals Service agreed to put off execution of the warrant until after the March 20 date, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a grand jury, a week earlier. It’s been said that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich and the adage proved true, particularly when the prosecution failed to reveal parole officer Richins’ letter, with the March 20 date.

The episode fed into the worst preconceptions, on both sides. Marshalls developed a “Threat Profile” on the Weaver family and an operational plan: “Operation Northern Exposure”. Weaver, more distrustful than ever, was convinced that if he lost at trial, the government would seize his land and take his four children, leaving Vicki homeless.

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Surveillance photos of Weavers with guns, on their own property

Marshalls attempted to negotiate over the following months, but Weaver refused to come out. Several people used as go-betweens, were even more radical than the Weavers themselves. When Deputy Marshal Dave Hunt asked Bill Grider: “Why shouldn’t I just go up there … and talk to him?” Grider replied, “Let me put it to you this way. If I was sitting on my property and somebody with a gun comes to do me harm, then I’ll probably shoot him.”

On April 18, 1992, a helicopter carrying media figure Geraldo Rivera for the Now It Can Be Told television program was allegedly fired on, from the Weaver residence. Surveillance cameras then being installed by US Marshalls showed no such shots fired, and Pilot Richard Weiss denied the story.  Yet, a lie gets around the world, before the truth can get its pants on. (H/T, Winston Churchill). The ‘shots fired narrative’ became a media sensation. The federal government drew up ‘rules of engagement’.

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US Marshall Recon Team photo of Vicki Weaver, taken August 21, 1992

On August 21, a six-man armed Recon team arrived to scout the property, for a suitable spot to ambush and arrest Randy Weaver. Deputy Art Roderick threw rocks at the cabin to see how the dogs would react. The cabin was at this time out of meat and, thinking the dog’s reaction had been provoked by a game animal, Randy, a friend named Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel came out with rifles, to investigate. Vicki, Rachel, Sarah and baby Elisheba, remained in the cabin.

Marshalls retreated to a place out of sight of the cabin, while “Sammy” and Harris followed the dog ‘Striker’ into the woods. Later accounts disagree on who fired first, but a firefight erupted, between Sammy, Harris, and the Marshall’s team. When it was over, the boy, the dog and Deputy US Marshall William “Billy” Degan, lay dead.

The standoff now spun out of control, with National Guard Armored personnel carriers, SWAT, State Police and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams, complete with snipers.

On the 22nd, Harris, Weaver and sixteen-year old daughter Sarah were entering a shed to see the body of Weaver’s dead son, when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired from a position some 200 yards distant. The bullet tore into Weaver’s back and out his armpit. When the three raced back to the cabin, Horiuchi’s second round entered the door as Harris dove for the opening, injuring him in the chest before striking Vicki in the face, as she held the baby in her arms.

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Protesters were quick to form at the base of Ruby Ridge

Two days later, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson wrote the following memorandum, unaware that Vicki Weaver lay dead:

Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.”

The siege of Ruby Ridge would drag on for ten days. Kevin Harris was brought out on a stretcher on August 30, along with Vicki’s body. Randy Weaver emerged the following day. Subsequent trials acquitted Harris of all wrongdoing and Weaver of all but his failure to appear in court, for which he received four months and a $10,000 fine.

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Randy Weaver, mugshot

Questions persist about the government’s ham-fisted approach at Ruby Ridge, and intensified after the Branch Davidian train wreck at Waco six months later, involving many of those same agencies and federal officials.

In 1995, a pair of reprobates would carry out their “revenge” on the government, blowing up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killing 168 innocent people, injuring 680 others.  Nineteen of the dead, were children.

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Subsequent Senate hearings criticized Ruby Ridge “rules of engagement” as unconstitutional, the use of deadly force unwarranted, under the circumstances.  Kevin Harris was awarded $380,000 damages for pain and suffering.  Weaver was awarded $100,000, and his three daughters, $1 million each.

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997, charges later dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.

Deadly force procedures were brought about, intending to bring the government into line with Supreme Court precedent, resulting in a kinder, gentler federal law enforcement apparatus.  That was the idea.  You might want to ask Elian Gonzalez, how that worked out.

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

August 21, 1863 Bushwacker

During the “Bleeding Kansas” period, pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” and anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” crossed one another’s borders with impunity, primarily to murder each other’s civilians and burn out one another’s towns.

Lawrence, 1863
Lawrence, Kansas 1863

In the early morning hours of August 21, 1863, 300 to 400 riders converged in the darkness outside the city of Lawrence, Kansas.

These were a loose collection of independent “bushwacker groups”, pro-slavery and nominally Confederate, though subject to no structure of command and control.

This was a civilian group operating outside of any structured chain of command, more a gang of criminal outlaws than any military operation. There was Cole Younger and Frank James, the soon-to-be-famous Jesse’s older brother. There was William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson, whose men were known for tying the scalps of slain Unionists to the saddles and bridles of their horses. Leading this assemblage of ruffians was a 27-year-old former schoolteacher from Ohio: William Clarke Quantrill.

Lawrence Kansas
Lawrence Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas was mostly asleep at that hour, as several columns of riders descended on the town. It was 5:00am and pitch dark, as most of the city of 3,000 awoke to the sound of pounding hooves.

Doors were smashed in amid the sounds of gunshots and screams. Quantrill’s band went through the town, systematically shooting most of the male population.

The shooting, the looting and the burning went on for four hours. Between 160 and 190 of the men and boys of Lawrence, ages 14 to 90, were murdered. Most of them had no means of defending themselves.

06quantrill0Intending to deprive Confederate sympathizers from their base of support, General Thomas Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 four days later, ordering that most of four counties along the Kansas-Missouri border be depopulated. Tens of thousands of civilians were forced out of their homes as Union troops came through, burning buildings, torching fields and shooting livestock.

The area was so thoroughly devastated, it would forever be known as the “Burnt District”.

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Following the raid on Lawrence, Quantrill fled to Texas and was later killed in a Union ambush, near Taylorsville Kentucky.

William Clarke Quantrill
William Clarke Quantrill

Quantrill’s band broke up into several smaller groups, with some joining the Confederate army. Others such as Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers, went on to apply the hit and run tactics they had learned from Quantrill’s “army” to a career of bank and train robberies.

Quantrill himself explained the incursion as retribution, for the 1861 “Jayhawker” raid of Colonel Charles “Doc” Jennison and Senator James H. Lane, that left 9 dead in Osceola, Missouri, resulting in acres of so-called “Jennison Monuments”, the two story brick chimneys which were all that remained of the burned out homes of Union and Confederate sympathizer, alike.

Others blamed the raid on the collapse of a makeshift jail in Kansas City, that killed several female relatives of the raiders. It seems more likely that it was just one more in a series of homicidal raids carried out by both sides, such raids usually resulting in the death of innocents.

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Quantrill’s Guerrillas Reunion, 1920

In 1907, newspaper articles appeared in Canada reporting that Quantrill was still alive, living on northwest Vancouver Island, under the name of John Sharp.  “Quantrill” claimed to have survived that Kentucky ambush after all, despite wounds from bullet and bayonet. Sharp/Quantrill made his way south to Chile, according to the story, before drifting up north and finally become a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The story was probably one of fiction on Mr. Sharp’s part, but the fib would prove to have unfortunate consequences. Weeks later, two men traveled north to Canada, with the apparent purpose of taking revenge.  The pair took a coastal steamer out of Quatsino Sound the following morning, the day in which Sharp was found, severely beaten.  John Sharp died several hours later, without identifying his attackers.  The crime has never been solved.

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August 20, 1938 Lucky Man

Lou Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam on August 20 1938, a record which would stand until fellow “Bronx Bomber” Alex Rodriquez tied it, in 2012.

The Lane Tech High school baseball team was at home on June 26, 1920. 10,000 spectators assembled to watch the game at Cubs Park, now Wrigley Field. New York’s Commerce High was ahead 8–6 in the top of the 9th, when a left handed batter hit a grand slam out of the park. No 17-year-old had ever hit a baseball out of a major league park before, and I don’t believe it’s happened, since. It was the first time the country heard the name, Lou Gehrig.

lou-gehrig-columbiaGehrig was pitching for Columbia University against Williams College on April 18, 1923, the day that Babe Ruth hit the first home run out of the brand new Yankee Stadium. Though Columbia would lose the game, Gehrig struck out seventeen batters that day, to set a team record. The loss didn’t matter to Paul Krichell, the Yankee scout who had been following Gehrig. Krichell didn’t care about the arm either, as much as he did that powerful, left-handed bat. He had seen Gehrig hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on several Eastern campuses, including a 450′ home run at Columbia’s South Field that cleared the stands and landed at 116th Street and Broadway.

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Lou Gehrig played Fullback for Columbia during the 1922 season

New York Giants manager John McGraw persuaded a young Gehrig to play pro ball under a false name, Henry Lewis, despite the fact that it could jeopardize his collegiate sports eligibility. He played only a dozen games for the Hartford Senators before being found out, and suspended for a time from college ball. This period, and a couple of brief stints in the minor leagues in the ’23 and ’24 seasons, were the only times Gehrig didn’t play for a New York team.

Gehrig started as a pinch hitter with the New York Yankees on June 15, 1923. He came into his own in the ‘26 season, in 1927 he batted fourth on “Murderers’ Row”; the first six hitters in the Yankee’s batting order: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.

He had one of the greatest seasons of any batter in history that year, hitting .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 RBIs, with a .765 slugging percentage. Gehrig’s bat helped the 1927 Yankees to a 110–44 record, the American League pennant, and a four game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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“Gehrig with his parents, Christina and Heinrich, in 1938. The three lived together in the house until Gehrig got married in 1933”. Hat tip, New York Daily News

Gehrig was the “Iron Horse”, playing in more consecutive games than any player in history. It was an “unbreakable” record, standing for 56 years, until surpassed in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr.

Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam on August 20 1938, a record which would stand until fellow “Bronx Bomber” Alex Rodriquez tied it, in 2012.

Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 spring training, and went into an abrupt decline early in the season. Sports reporter James Kahn wrote: “I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing”.

lou-gehrigThe team was in Detroit on May 2 when he told manager Joe McCarthy “I’m benching myself, Joe”. It’s “for the good of the team”. McCarthy put Babe Dahlgren in at first and the Yankees won 22-2, but that was it. The Iron Horse’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games, had come to an end.

ny_50yankess_02Gehrig left the team in June, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on the 13th. The diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed six days later, on June 19. It was his 36th birthday. It was a cruel prognosis: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than three years.

Gehrig briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, D.C. He was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts at Union Station, happily waving and wishing him luck. Gehrig waved back, but leaned forward to a reporter. “They’re wishing me luck”, he said, “and I’m dying.”

Gehrig appeared at Yankee Stadium on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day”, July 4, 1939, his once mighty body now so weakened by the disease which would take his name, as to barely be able to stand.  Only two months earlier, manager Joe McCarthy had asked Babe Dahlgren to take the Iron Horse’s position.  Now he asked the 1st baseman, to look out for his dying teammate.  “If Lou starts to fall, catch him.”

Gehrig was awarded a series of trophies and other tokens of affection by the New York sports media, fellow players and groundskeepers. He would place each one on the ground, already too weak to hold them.

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As the ceremony drew to a close, Master of Ceremonies Sid Mercer asked for a few words.  Overwhelmed and struggling for control, Gehrig waved him off.  The New York Times later wrote, “He gulped and fought to keep back the tears as he kept his eyes fastened to the ground”.  62,000 fans would have none of it.  The chant went up.  “We want Lou!” We want Lou!”

Eleanor Gehrig, a “tower of strength” throughout her husband’s ordeal, watched from a box seat.  New York Daily News reporter Rosaleen Doherty wrote that she did not cry, “although all around us, women and quite a few men, were openly sobbing.”

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At last, Lou Gehrig shuffled to the microphone, and began to speak. “For the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break.”  As if the neurodegenerative disease destroying his body, was merely a “bad break.” He looked down and paused, as if trying to remember what to say.  And then he delivered the most memorable line, of his life.

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Henry Louis Gehrig died on June 2, 1941.  He was 37.

I drove by Yankee Stadium a while back, and I thought of Lou Gehrig. It was right after the Boston Marathon bombing, in 2013. The sign out front said “United we Stand”. With it was a giant Red Sox logo. That night, thousands of Yankees fans interrupted a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, to belt out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple of Red Sox home games, since 1997.

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I’ve always been a Boston guy myself, I think I’m required by Massachusetts state law to hate the Yankees. But seriously.  They’re a class act..

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