July 5, 1915  The Nutty Professor

For all his vaunted brilliance, Muenter seems to have been nuttier than a squirrel turd.  His intention as explained to police, was to take Morgan’s wife and children hostage, until the financier cut off loans to Europe.  He told police of his intention to assassinate J.P. Morgan, as well.  How these two objectives squared with one another, remains unexplained.

The train left Boston in April, 1906. On board were the infant, the toddler, the nanny, and the children’s father, a German language instructor from Harvard University.  The two little girls’ mother was onboard as well.  She, and her casket, were going home to Chicago, to be buried in her home town.  Leone (Krembs) Muenter had passed from some sort of stomach ailment, ten days after giving birth.

The story may have ended there, but for Dr. Herbert McIntyre.  The circumstances of death didn’t seem right, and Dr. McIntyre ordered an autopsy.  On April 27, Cambridge police issued a warrant for the arrest of Professor Erich Muenter, in the murder of his wife, by arsenic poisoning.

Apparently, this “man of science” wanted to test his theory that you could see the soul passing, at the moment of death.  Now, Erich Muenter vanished.Man of science

Nine years later, the United States’ entry into WW1 was still two years in the future.

US policy at this time allowed arms sales to any and all belligerents in the European war.  With British dominance of north Atlantic shipping routes, for all intents and purposes this meant France and Great Britain.

German language professor Frank Holt was teaching at Cornell University in 1915.  A naturalized citizen and committed German nationalist, Holt had ties with the secret German spy intelligence unit Abteilung IIIb, which was conducting a campaign of sabotage against US ships carrying munitions ‘over there’.

Frank Holt might have described himself as a ‘peace activist’, obsessed with the idea that arms themselves were extending the war.  If arms exports were brought to a halt, Holt believed, the war would come to an end.

On July 2, Holt gave up arguing the point, and took a train to Washington DC.  In his hands he carried a bomb, three sticks of dynamite attached to a timing mechanism, ingeniously designed to go off when the acid ate through its cork stopper.  In those days, you were apparently free to stroll about the United States Capitol, with a bomb in your hands. At least when Congress was in recess.

Finding the Senate chamber locked, Holt placed his package under a telephone switchboard in the Senate reception room, with the timer set to go off around midnight.

The explosion was enormous, tearing the room to pieces and blowing a night watchman out of his chair on the other side of the building.  Writing to the Washington Star newspaper under the pseudonym R. Pearce, Holt explained his intentions to “make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war. This explosion is an exclamation point in my appeal for peace.”

Senate_Bombing_July_2,_1915
Aftermath of the Senate bombing, July 2, 1915

The following day, a tiny little box on the front page of the New York Times, attributed the explosion to ‘gasses’.  As the paper was hitting news stands, Frank Holt was headed for Long Island, to the Glen Cove estate of “the Great Pierpont”, J. P. Morgan.  Armed with two revolvers, a suitcase full of dynamite and a few anti-war newspaper clippings, Holt bulled his way through the butler who opened the door, and into the Morgan residence.

JP Morgan
John Pierpont Morgan

Pandemonium broke out in the home, as Holt turned his weapons on the four Morgan children.  Mrs. Morgan tried to block the path to her husband, but the millionaire financier lunged, tackling the much smaller man to the ground.  Holt fired twice into Morgan’s thigh and groin, as the pair went down together.  Pierpont twisted the gun from his grasp as Mrs. Morgan and a gaggle of household servants struggled for the other.  All the while, the butler pounded the would-be assassin’s head with a lump of coal, as Holt shouted “Kill me! Kill me now! I don’t want to live any more. I have been in a perfect hell for the last six months on account of the European war!”

A copy of the R. Pearce letter quickly tied Holt to the Capitol bombing, as former colleagues identified the long-since vanished, accused killer of Leone Muenter.  Frank Holt and Erich Muenter were the same man.

A colleague once described Muenter as “a brilliant man, a tireless worker, and a profound student.  Night after night he would sit reading, studying and writing while his wife lay asleep in a room nearby.” The Harvard Crimson newspaper described him as ‘harmless on the surface…affect[ing] a scholarly stoop and a Van Dyke, and wore dingy, patched suits”.  Fluent in seven languages, he was the pale, bearded model of the junior faculty intellectual, complete with elbow patches.

For all his vaunted brilliance, Muenter seems to have been nuttier than a squirrel turd.  His intention as explained to police, was to take Morgan’s wife and children hostage, until the financier cut off loans to Europe.  He told police of his intention to assassinate J.P. Morgan, as well.  How these two objectives squared with one another, remains unexplained.

Erich MuenterThat Sunday morning, July 4, the J.P. Morgan shooting seems to have been front page on every newspaper in the world.  On July 5, Erich Muenter took the brass ferrule from a pencil eraser, and slit his wrist.  That suicide attempt was unsuccessful.  The following day, Muenter scaled the bars in his prison and jumped, leaving his brains on the concrete floor, twenty feet below.

The day after his death, Police tracked down a trunk Muenter had left in a New York city storage facility.  In it were 134 sticks of dynamite, blasting caps, fuse coils, batteries, nitric acid, windproof matches, mercury fulminate and smokeless explosive powder. Three tin can bombs had been recently completed, and were ready to go.  Inspector of Combustibles Owen Egan declared it to be “the greatest equipment for bomb making ever brought to New York”.

That same day, the 2nd Mrs. Muenter received a letter from her dead husband.  It said that an arms shipment headed for England would go to the bottom, that very day.    Warned by wireless, the crew of SS Minnehaha frantically searched for the bomb, without success.  Muenter’s bomb went off and touched off a fire, but it was far away from Minnehaha’s cargo of high explosives, and did little damage to the ship itself.

SS Minnehaha

The Harland & Wolff liner SS Minnehaha was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast with the loss of 43, on September 7, 1917.

July 4, 1826 Founding Fathers

The letters between Adams and Jefferson together constitute one of the most comprehensive historical and philosophical assessments ever written about the American founding.

Thomas Jefferson met John Adams at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the two forming a close personal friendship which would last for most of their lives.   They were two of the committee of five assigned to write the Declaration of Independence, and worked closely together throughout the era of our founding.

The friendship between the two men came to an end during the Presidential election of 1800.  Mudslinging on both sides rose to levels never before seen in a national election, an election in which both sides firmly believed the election of the other, would destroy the young nation.HamJeff

Jefferson defeated one term incumbent Adams and went on to serve two terms as President.

On Jefferson’s retirement in 1809, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, took it upon himself to patch up the broken friendship between the two founding fathers. Dr. Rush worked on his personal diplomatic mission for two years.  In 1811, he finally succeeded.

There followed a series of letters between Adams and Jefferson, which together constitute one of the most comprehensive historical and philosophical assessments ever written about the American founding.

Their correspondence touched on a variety of topics, from the birth of this self-governing Republic, to then-current political issues, to matters of philosophy and religion and issues of aging. Both men understood that they were writing not only to one another, but to generations yet unborn.Letters

Each went to great lengths to explain the philosophical underpinnings of his views.  Adams the Federalist, the firm believer in strong, centralized government.  Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican, advocating for smaller federal government and more autonomy for the states.

In 1826, Jefferson and Adams were the last of the founding fathers.  In an ending no fiction writer would even dare to contemplate, both men died on this day in 1826, fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic they had helped to create.

Adams was 90. His final words as he lay on his deathbed were “Thomas Jefferson still survives”.  Adams had no way of knowing that Jefferson had died five hours earlier, at Monticello.  He was 82.

Daniel Webster spoke of the pair a month later, at Faneuil Hall, in Boston. “No two men now live” he said”, (or) any two men have ever lived, in one age, who (have) given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. No age will come, in which the American Revolution will appear less than it is, one of the greatest events in human history. No age will come, in which it will cease to be seen and felt, on either continent, that a mighty step, a great advance, not only in American affairs, but in human affairs, was made on the 4th of July, 1776″.

July 3, 1775, Washington’s Sword

General Washington rode out in front of the troops gathered at Cambridge Common on July 3, 1775.  Washington drew his sword under the branches of an ancient elm, by that act formally taking command of the Continental Army.

The American Revolution began with the battles of Lexington and Concord on the 19th of April, 1775. Thousands of armed colonial militia followed the British columns as they withdrew, and there they remained, hemming the British occupiers up in the city of Boston.

Within days, more than 20,000 armed men from all over New England had gathered from Cambridge to Roxbury. Tories’ vacant homes, empty Churches, even the brick buildings of Harvard College served as barracks, officers’ quarters, and hospitals. Soldiers camped in tents and other makeshift shelters, while Harvard canceled classes on May 1. Classes would not resume at the Cambridge campus until June of the following year.

The Continental Congress created the Army on June 14, 1775, appointing George Washington to lead it. General Washington rode out in front of the troops gathered at Cambridge Common on July 3, 1775.  Washington drew his sword under the branches of an ancient elm, by that act formally taking command of the Continental Army.

Washington Elm marker

Interestingly, 150 years of de facto independence from Great Britain seems to have suited the American colonist.  If inheritance records are any indication, the average American enjoyed a better standard of living, than the average Brit.  Average heights of the time bear that out.

The average American colonist had a full three inches on his British counterpart. At a time when the average male stood 5’8′, Washington towered over the crowd at 6’2″.   George Washington was a hard man to miss.

For Washington to draw his sword against King George III, was itself an act of magnificent courage.  According to British law of the time, one of four definitions of High Treason was “If a man do levy war against our lord the King in his realm”.  By drawing that sword against the crown, Washington was clearly committing High Treason.  He surely understood that such a prominent person as himself would be dealt with harshly, if caught.

At that time, the centuries-old penalty for High Treason was as savage as it was gruesome. Even now the language of the death sentence is difficult to read.  You may consider that to be my warning if you don’t care to read what follows.

The full sentence as read to the condemned was: “That you be drawn on a hurdle (a sledge) to the place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being alive cut down, your privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you, your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of at the King’s pleasure”.

These were the terms of employment under which George Washington accepted his assignment.  He even declined to accept payment, beyond reimbursement for his personal expenses.

The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence would show the same brand of courage, by signing that document a year later. It must have been a supreme in-your-face moment when John Hancock put his pen to that parchment, which ended: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”.

Signers

At the signing, Ben Franklin famously said “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately”.  This was no empty philosophical statement they were signing.  Should circumstances turn against them, the founding fathers well understood. Each was signing his death warrant.

July 2, 1776 Founding Document

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Richard Henry Lee’s resolution was taken almost verbatim from instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton.  As presented to the second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, Lee’s resolution read:

“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation”.

Several colonies were not yet ready to declare independence at that time.

Committeof 5Representatives agreed to delay the vote until July 1, appointing a “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Members of the committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The committee selected Jefferson to write the document, the draft presented to Congress for review on June 28.

Debate resumed on July 1, 1776, with most of the delegates favoring Lee’s resolution.Declaration of Independence

The final vote was taken on July 2, when delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor. Delegates from New York abstained, having had no clear instructions from their constituents.

The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported on July 2nd that “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States”.

The Pennsylvania Gazette followed suit on the third with “Yesterday, the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES”.

John Adams thought that July 2 would go down as the country’s Independence Day.

This day has been mostly forgotten in favor of July 4, when the final edits of Jefferson’s Declaration were adopted, the final document engrossed (handwritten onto parchment), and sent off to the printer.

The 56 signers were never together at the same time.  Many of the signatures we see on the Declaration of Independence, would not be affixed to the document until August 2, possibly even later.

Happy Independence Day.

declaration-of-independence

 

 

 

July 1, 1863 Gettysburg

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, the Union and the Confederacy met in the south central Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.  

After two years of civil war, Robert E. Lee wanted to take the war to his adversary. Lee intended to do enough damage to create overwhelming political pressure in the North, to end the war and let the South go its own way. Lee had his best cartographers draw up maps of the Pennsylvania countryside, all the way to Philadelphia.  And then he took his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania.

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, the Union and the Confederacy met in the south central Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, to whom Lee contemptuously referred as “Mr. F.J. Hooker”, wanted to attack Richmond, but Lincoln ordered him to intercept Lee’s army to protect Washington DC.  Hooker was replaced on the 28th by Major General George Gordon Meade, “that damn old goggle eyed snapping turtle” to his men, in a move that so surprised him that he thought he was being arrested over army politics, when the messenger came into his tent.

The “North” came up from the south that day, the “South” came down from the north.  No one wanted the fight to be in Gettysburg, it was more like an accidental collision. What started out as a skirmish turned into a general engagement as fighting cascaded through the town. Confederate forces held the town at the end of the day, with the two armies’ taking parallel positions along a three-mile-long “fishhook” from Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill to the north, toward two prominences known as Big and Little Round Top to the south.

Fighting would continue and prove inconclusive at Culp’s Hill on day two, as the two armies stretched their position toward the Round Tops. Dan Sickles, the Tammany Hall politician best known for murdering the nephew of Francis Scott Key (he would be the first in American legal history to plead temporary insanity), had been ordered to move his corps into position on cemetery ridge, anchored at Little Round Top. Instead he took his corps a mile forward, into a Peach Orchard where they were torn apart in the Confederate assault. Some of the most savage fighting of the Civil War took place that day, at places like Devil’s Den, the Wheat Field, and bloody run. Sickles himself lost a leg to a cannonball. There was a foot race to the top of Little Round Top, leading to as many as 15 attacks and counterattacks for control of a small prominence at the Union’s extreme left. At the end of the day, the positions of the Armies had not changed.

Picketts Charge

On day 3, the last day, Lee came up the middle. 13,000 Confederate soldiers came across 1¼ miles of open field, to attack the Union Center at a position between a small copse of trees and a corner in stone fence called the angle. Cannon fire from their left, right and center tore them apart as they pressed on. A battered remnant actually penetrated Union lines: the “high water mark” of the Confederacy. It’s anyone’s guess what would have happened, had 4,000 Confederate cavalry smashed into the Union rear at that point, as Lee seems to have intended. But a 23-year-old general named George Armstrong Custer had waded into them with his 450 Union cavalry, routing the much larger force and very possibly changing history.

Lee withdrew in the rain of the 4th, ending the largest battle of the civil war. Lincoln was convinced that the time had come to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, but Meade and his battered army did not follow. Lee and his army slipped back across the line and returned to Confederate territory. The most lethal war in American history would continue for two more years.

Years earlier, then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had brought some 75 camels into West Texas, to try them out as pack animals. Davis’ camel experiment had been a flop, but the King of Siam, (now Thailand), didn’t know that. Seeing the military advantage to the Confederacy, the King wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, proposing to send elephants to help the Union war effort. This “animal arms race” appears to have gotten no further than the King’s letter to Lincoln but, the imagination runs wild, at the idea of War Elephants, at Gettysburg.

June 30, 1917 Doughnut Lassies

A correspondent to the New York Times wrote in 1918 “When I landed in France I didn’t think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off… [W]hen the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history”.

The United States entered the ‘War to end all Wars’ in April, 1917. The first 14,000 Americans arrived ‘over there’ in June, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) formed on July 5.  American troops fought the military forces of Imperial Germany alongside their British and French allies, others joining Italian forces in the struggle against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.WW1

For a variety of reasons, WW1 was a war of movement in the East.  Not so on the Western front.  As early as October 1914, combatants were forced to burrow into the ground like animals, sheltering from what Ernst Jünger called the ‘Storm of Steel’.

Conditions in the trenches and dugouts defy description. You must have smelled the trenches long before you could see them.  The collective funk of a million men and more, out in the open.  Little but verminous scars in the earth teaming with rats and lice and swarming with flies, time and again the shells churned up and pulverized the soil, the water and the shattered remnants of once-great forests, along with the bodies of the slain.

You couldn’t call the stuff these people lived in mud – it was more like a thick slime, a clinging, sucking ooze capable of claiming grown men, even horses and mules.

Captain Alexander Stewart wrote “Most of the night was spent digging men out of the mud. The only way was to put duck boards on each side of him and work at one leg: poking and pulling until the suction was relieved. Then a strong pull by three or four men would get one leg out, and work would begin on the other…He who had a corpse to stand or sit on, was lucky”.

On first seeing the horror of Paschendaele, Sir Launcelot Kiggell broke down in tears. “Good God”, he said. “Did we really send men to fight in that?”

Doughnut LassiesOften unseen in times of such calamity, are the humanitarian workers.  Those who tend to the physical and spiritual requirements, the countless small comforts, of those in need.

Within days of the American declaration of war, Evangeline Booth, National Commander of the Salvation Army, responded, saying “The Salvationist stands ready, trained in all necessary qualifications in every phase of humanitarian work, and the last man will stand by the President for execution of his orders”.

These people are so much more than that donation truck, and the bell ringers we see behind those red kettles, in December.

Lieutenant Colonel William S. Barker of the Salvation Army left New York with Adjutant Bertram Rodda on June 30, 1917, to survey the situation. It wasn’t long before his not-so surprising request came back in a cable from France.  Send ‘Lassies’.Doughnut Lassies, 2.png

A small group of carefully selected female officers was sent to France on August 22.  That first party comprised six men, three women and a married couple.  Within fifteen months their number had expanded by a factor of 400.

In December 1917, a plea for a million dollars went out to support the humanitarian work of the Salvation Army, the YMCA, YWCA, War Camp Community Service, National Catholic War Council, Jewish Welfare Board, the American Library Association and others.  This “United War Work Campaign” raised $170 million in private donations, equivalent to $27.6 billion, today.

‘Hutments’ were formed all over the front, many right out at the front lines.  Religious services of all denominations were held in these facilities.  Concert performances were given, clothing mended and words of kindness were offered in response to all manner of personal problems.  There were canteen services.  On one occasion, the Loyal Order of Moose conducted an initiation at one of them.  Pies and cakes were baked in crude ovens and lemonade was served to hot and thirsty troops.  Of all these corporal works of mercy, the ones best remembered by the ‘doughboys’ themselves, were the doughnuts.

Helen Purviance, sent to France in 1917 with the American 1st Division, seems to have been first with the idea.  An ensign with the Salvation Army, Purviance and fellow ensign Margaret Sheldon first formed the dough by hand, later using a wine bottle in lieu of a rolling pin.  Having no doughnut cutter at the time, dough was shaped and twisted into crullers, and fried seven at a time on a pot-bellied wood stove.

The work was grueling.  The women worked well into the night that first day,  serving all of 150 hand-made doughnuts.  “I was literally on my knees,” Purviance recalled, but it was easier than bending down all day, on that tiny wood stove.  It didn’t seem to matter.  The men stood in line for hours, patiently waiting in the mud and the rain.  Their own little piece of warm, home-cooked heaven, in a world full of misery.

Before long, the women got better at it.  Soon they were turning out 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts a day.  An elderly French blacksmith made Purviance a doughnut cutter, out of a condensed milk can and a camphor-ice tube, attached to a wooden block.

It wasn’t long before the aroma of hot doughnuts could be found, wafting all over the dugouts and trenches of the western front.  Volunteers with the Salvation Army and others made apple pies and all manner of other goodies, but the name that stuck, was “Doughnut Lassies”.

Doughnut Lassies, 1

A correspondent to the New York Times wrote in 1918 “When I landed in France I didn’t think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off… [W]hen the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history”.

June 29, 1950 Miracle on Grass

If you cared to bet on it, book makers posted 3–1 odds on the English winning the Cup.  The American team was 500–1.

In 2016, the British soccer world was cast into the abyss when the mighty English football club went down to defeat at the hands, err feet, of Iceland, a nation whose entire population falls short that of New Orleans.

It’s hard to think of anyone who could have deserved it more.  About 8% of the entire country turned out to watch the finals that year, in France.  CNN reporter James Masters wrote that it was the most humbling defeat for English soccer, since their 1950 defeat by the Americans.

In 1950, the English National Soccer team had a post-war record of 23 wins, 4 losses, and 3 draws. If you asked them, they’d have told you they considered themselves the “Kings of Football”.

hith-1950-world-cup-E

The American team had lost the last seven straight international matches by a combined score of 45–2. If you cared to bet on it, book makers posted 3–1 odds on the English winning the Cup.  The American team was 500–1.

The Americans were semi-professionals, most of the team holding down other jobs to support their families. Defender Walter Bahr was a high school teacher. Port-au-Prince native Joseph Edouard Gaetjens was playing forward while studying accounting at Columbia University on a scholarship from the Haitian government. Goalkeeper Frank Borghi drove a hearse for his uncle’s funeral parlor.  Prudencio “Pete” Garcia worked as a linesman.

The team had been thrown together on short notice, having only one chance to train together before leaving for the FIFA World Cup playoffs. On June 29 they would be in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, playing the self-styled Kings of Football in the first round.  Coach Bill Jeffrey captured what everyone was thinking, when he told the press “We don’t have a chance”.

It was thirty-seven minutes into a 0-0 game when Bahr took a long shot from 25 yards out. The English team had taken 9 clear shots on goal by this time.  This was only the second for the US team. Goaltender Bert Williams moved to his right to intercept, as Gaetjens dived at the ball, heading it to the left of the English goalkeeper. The crowd exploded as the US took the lead, eventually winning the game, 1–0.

Miracle on Grass

It was a double elimination format, and England lost their match with Spain. The Kings of Football had failed to make it to the second round, going home after the first round with a tournament record of 1–0–2.

International headlines trumpeted news of the upset, with the ironic exceptions of the American and English press. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter with the unlikely name of Dent McSkimming was the only American reporter at the game.  McSkimming wasn’t about to miss this match, even when his editor refused to pay for the trip.  A true fan of the sport, McSkimming  studied Portuguese for three days to prepare for the trip.

The British press was more interested by the English cricket team’s first-ever loss to the West Indies on the same day.

The US went on to lose their next match 5–2 against Chile, so they didn’t go on to the final round, either. But they had won the most shocking upset ever, until the 1980 US Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union.

The United States would not qualify another World Cup soccer team, until 1990.  This time, there were 100 credentialed American reporters, in attendance.