March 19, 1956 The Agony of Defeat, a Sports Story

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.

A few short days ago, I could enjoy a nice cold brew in my favorite sports bar.  As long as I didn’t mind.  There were no sports.  Every set in the place was running Music videos.

Now we can’t even do that as we stand on the sidewalk, looking in.  Every restaurant & watering hole in the place, is shut down.  So, here we are.  At home, hiding from the Wu Flu, without even the distraction of a good game.  The lights have gone out on every event from the Pros to March Madness to the Kentucky Derby while we who would escape the Great House Arrest of 2020, need a little diversion.  A sports story.EPlUJXbU0AEwa2LAs applied to the Wide World of Sport, the term “Blowout” was first used in 1965 to describe a single 40-minute inning in which the St. Louis Cardinals scored seven unearned runs in a 12-2 romp over the Milwaukee Braves.  Over the years, there have been plenty of other games that deserve such a characterization.

– In 1976, the Russian Olympic basketball team humiliated the Japanese men’s team, 129-63.
– The “Fighting Saints” of St. Francis College ended the 1996 baseball season with a run record of 71-1.
– In 1973, the American Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat crushed the #2 horse Twice a Prince at the Belmont Stakes, by an unprecedented 31 lengths.

The most lopsided college football game ever was played in 1916, when Georgia Tech rushed for 1,650 yards and didn’t allow a single first down by Cumberland College. Final score, 222-to-zip.GA Tech v Cumberland

In 1927, Kansas City’s Haven High School beat Sylvia High 256-0. In a record-setting season of blowouts, the 1901 Michigan Wolverines football team defeated all opponents by a combined score of 550-0.

In 1940 Washington Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall called the Chicago Bears “crybabies and quitters” after a 7-3 loss, in regular season.  Bears coach George Halas Really knew how to piss a guy, off.  He showed his players the newspaper.  Chicago went on to trounce Washington 73-0 in post-season, in a game so lopsided it had to be finished with practice balls.  ‘Da Bears’ had kicked all the regulation balls into the stands, kicking extra points.

The Chicago Colts of the National League defeated Louisville 36-7 in 1897. The modern Major League Baseball record for margin of victory was set in 2007, when the Texas Rangers defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3. Those 30 runs are a modern-era run record for a nine-inning Major League Baseball game which stands, to this day.Cavs meme

On this day in 1956, the Minnesota Lakers scored one of the most lopsided round ball victories ever over the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75. The blowout was second only to the 1991 Cleveland Cavaliers trouncing of the Miami Heat, 148-80.

In 2009, Dallas’ Christian Covenant High School girls basketball skunked Dallas Academy, 100-0. The victory was widely condemned: Dallas Academy, a school for students with learning disabilities, had a team of eight out of an entire student body population of 20 girls, yet Covenant continued a full-court press with three-point shots well after taking a halftime lead of 59-0. Covenant’s administration called for a forfeit of its own win, calling it “shameful and an embarrassment.”  The coach was fired after he declined to apologize.

Three players have won PGA Tour matches by 16 strokes: J.D. Edgar at the 1919 Canadian Open; Joe Kirkwood, Sr., at the 1924 Corpus Christi Open; and Bobby Locke at the 1948 Chicago Victory National Championship. Tiger Woods has the largest margin of victory in the modern era, with a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open.bjoptfzcmaatl9nThe Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 15-0 in 1944, but some of the worst sports disasters ever, have been in international hockey. The 2007 Slovakia women’s team defeated Bulgaria 82-0 in a 2010 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament.  At the 1998 Asia-Oceania Junior Championships, South Korea skunked Thailand 92-0. South Korean forward Donghwan Song scored 31 goals, all by himself.

For we few die-hard fans who stuck with the New England Patriots during the losing years, the 1986 Super Bowl XX was the worst moment Evah!

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.il_794xN.1777630928_efmbThe 1985 Patriots opened with some of the finest talent to ever play the game.  All-pro linebackers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson.  John “Hog” Hannah at Left guard, voted in 1999 the second greatest offensive lineman, in NFL history.   1983 1st-round draft pick Tony Eason, at QB.  There were no fewer than 9 future pro-bowlers, on both sides of the ball.

Despite all of it, the Patsies tripped out of the gate to  a 2-4 record and then that disastrous game 7, with the Buffalo Bills.  Eason was out with a separated shoulder.  In came the veteran, Steve Grogan.

Grogan was the “old man” at this point and all but put out to pasture, but the man went on to win the next six games.  Grogan went down with a broken leg in game 13 but it was enough.  Eason came back with a near-perfect performance in post-season victories in the Wild Card and Divisional Championships as the 13-5 Patriots turned south to “Squish the Fish”.

Miami fans were beside themselves, with joy.  The high flying Dolphins of Dan Marino would get to smash the lowly Patriots, for the AFC Championship.   Armed with T-shirts and foam fingers the Patriots Faithful knew it wasn’t going to be that way.    “We’re going to take the Orange Bowl apart … brick by brick!’’patsies006-ZXKJ$largeThat they did, the game was a Dolphins Disaster. New England controlled the ball for a full 40 minutes of smashmouth football, running 59 times for a whopping 255 yards and 10 out of 12 pass completions. The Fish was duly Squished in a 31-14 trouncing in their own home field.

Coach Raymond Berry and the Cinderella New England Patriots, were headed to Super Bowl XX.

berry-da-bearsThere we were with our “Berry da Bears” t-shirts.  Delirious with Joy we could do no wrong, as New England took the earliest lead in Super Bowl history with a field goal at 1:19.

After that, the room got quiet. REAL quiet.  New England was held to negative 19 yards in the first half.  Game MVP went to a defensive end with the painfully perfect name of Richard Dent, as “Da Bears” set or tied Super Bowl records for sacks (7), fewest rushing yards allowed (also 7) and final score, a positively humiliating, 46-10.

It was the worst beating in Super Bowl history, until the Denver Broncos took us out of our misery with a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl XXIV.

March 17, 432 Saint Patrick

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic. 

“Celtic languages are traditionally thought to have originated in central Europe and spread across vast areas of Europe, being gradually replaced by Germanic, Romance, or Slavic languages in most areas. The Continental Celtic languages, such as Gaulish, Hispano-Celtic, and Lepontic, are all now long extinct.” – Oxfordbibliographies.com

download - 2020-03-17T203213.007Today, the “insular” Celtic languages are all that’s left, relegated to two sub-groups:  the Goidelic (or Gaelic) spoken by Irish and Scots speakers and once on the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic or Brittonic once spoken in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall.

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic.  His father was Calpornius,  a Deacon of the Church and an officer in the Roman Army.  As a boy, Maewyn Succat had little time for religion.

He was a late fifth-century Roman teenager living in Great Britain when he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16, and brought to Ireland.  There he found religion during six years as a slave, tending sheep and hogs in county Antrim.  He would escape in time to rejoin his family before traveling to France, to join a Monastery.  In twelve years he returned to the shores of Ireland,  this time as a Bishop, with the blessing of the Pope.

There he came to be known as Patricius in the Latin (“nobleman”) or Pádraig (Gaelic), a simple priest ministering to Irish Christians and converting the pagan, to Christianity.  In time, “Patrick” would go on to become Bishop of all Ireland, and one of its primary Patron Saints.

Saint PatrickInterestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints though it seems he never was actually canonized, by a pope.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date generally agreed to be the date of his enslavement in 432 and his death in 460.

The date is celebrated in Ireland as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday, where in some diocese it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. Outside of Ireland, the day has become a general celebration of all things Irish.

The legend that St. Patrick banished the snakes likely springs from his work converting the pagans of his day, many of whom wore snake tattoos on their arms. This idea is supported by a Gallic coin of the time, which carries on its face the Druidic snake.

Be that as it may, Ireland has no snakes today, a trait it has in common with Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAnother legend involves a walking stick of ash, which Patrick carried with him wherever he went. He would thrust this stick into the ground wherever he would preach. At a place now known as Aspatria, (ash of Patrick), the message took so long to get through to the people that the stick took root.

The shamrock which came to symbolize the day was seen as sacred by many in pre-MedievalMonkChristian Ireland, with its green color evoking rebirth and eternal life.

The three leaves symbolize the “triple goddess” of ancient Ireland. Patrick is said to have taught the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the rest of Europe would suffer barbarian invasion from the fifth century onward, plunging into what are known today as “The Dark Ages”.  Almost alone, cloistered monks in the monasteries of Ireland, spiritual descendants of St. Patrick, acted as repository for Christian civilization, at a time when such advancement was almost extinguished elsewhere.

It’s been said of this period that the Irish saved civilization. Who knows.  They may have done just that. On this day it’s said that everyone’s Irish.  Here in the US some some 33 million really are according to census data, nearly seven times the population of Ireland itself.

So here we are.  A parade dating back to 1737 here in Boston is canceled, as we all hide from the Wu Flu.   So lift a glass to Saint Patrick, though the streets be empty and the bars be closed.  “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven, half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead”  Sláinte.l_irish-pub-signs-slainte-metal

March 15, BC44 The Ides of March

Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

The history of Rome may be drawn in two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509BC, the Republic operated based on a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual could wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

A series of civil wars and other events changed that in the 1st century, BC.  The Republic was dead by the 30s BC, leaving Imperial Rome in its wake, a period best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

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The Proscriptions of Sulla

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into this chaos, a son of the prestigious Julian Clan. In 82BC, the 18-year-old Caesar survived the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla, in which the names of as many as 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum. Any man thus proscribed was immediately stripped of citizenship and all its protections. Anyone killing a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate, the rest going to the government.  Rewards were paid for information leading to the death of the proscribed.

 

At the age of 25, Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by Cilician pirates, a group which may be described as the ISIS of its time. Caesar laughed on learning that his ransom was set at only 20 talents of silver, and demanded his kidnappers hold out for 50.  He would yell at this band of killers for talking too loud while he was trying to sleep. He’d write poetry and read it to them, calling them “savages” if they were insufficiently appreciative of his work.caesar (1)For 38 days, the young Caesar joined in games and exercises, with these bloodthirsty killers.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  All the while, he promised these pirates.  He would come back to crucify them all, and he said it with a smile.

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The pirates thought it uproariously funny, but Caesar was as good as his word. The fifty talents were raised, and the captive was released.  He made good on his promise, raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and bringing his former captors to Rome.

There he had them all crucified, but not without a moment of kindness.  Caesar style.  He slit their throats, ending the ordeal of crucifixion by hours, if not by days.

Caesar lost his hair at an early age, about which he seems to have been self-conscious. It’s probably why we see him depicted with the wreath on his head, but baldness didn’t seem to bother the women in his life.julius-caesarjpg (1)He seems to have been a ladies’ man, fathering a son with none other than Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. One story has him being handed a note while speaking at the Senate. Caesar’s arch rival Cato (the younger) demanded to know the contents of the letter, loudly accusing him of complicity in the “Catiline Conspiracy” to overthrow the government. At last Caesar relented, reading out loud what turned out to be a love letter – a graphic one – written to him by Cato’s own half-sister Servilia Caepionis.

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Servilia’s History, portrayed by Lindsay Duncan

Caesar rose through the ranks, organizing a coalition of three to rule the Republic. It was the first such “Triumvirate”, combining the popular general Pompey “The Great”, Crassus, the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and the rising young general and politician, Julius Caesar himself.

The partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed on campaign in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, then on campaign in Gaul.  A string of military successes against Celtic and native Germanic tribes caused Caesar’s popularity to soar, posing a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey himself.

The Senate ordered Caesar to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War.  2,000 years later, to “Cross the Rubicon” still means to take a major step, which cannot be reversed.GW227H209Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

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“Lupercalia Incident”, February, BC 44.

In BC 44, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was elected co-consul with Caesar, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.  During the festival of Lupercalia, Antony twice attempted to place the laurel wreath on Caesar’s head, twice being rejected.  “The people give this to you though me” Antony said, as the stunned crowd stood silent.  Twice, Caesar removed the crown, saying “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.”

Many believed the episode to have been a “trial balloon”, engineered to assess the public’s reaction.

A month earlier, the soothsayer Spurinna had “predicted the future by examining the internal organs of sacrificial animals.” Spurinna said that Caesar’s life “might come to a bad end,” warning that “his life would be in danger for the next 30 days.”1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition, as Senators crowded around. Cimber grabbed the Emperor’s shoulders and pulled down his tunic. “Ista quidem vis est!” said the Dictator for Life, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned and caught him by the arm. “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Frightened, the Senator shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek “adelphe, boethei!” In seconds the entire group was striking at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing at him as he lay defenseless on the steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, 60 men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, though only one wound was enough to prove fatal.1024px-vincenzo_camuccini_-_la_morte_di_cesare-1Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the apocryphal warning to “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar’s last words, “Et tu Brute” were first introduced by William Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of the assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, my child?”

Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger) was the son of the same Servilia Caepionis, above. Brutus was 41 at the time of the assassination, Caesar 56. It is unlikely though not impossible, that Brutus killed his own father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.cropped-Ides_Of_March_by_veraukoion-e1426081847809

March 14, 1964 Skyline Lounge

Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar.  The Skyline Lounge.

Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a problem child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent in his adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.

As with Peanuts cartoonist Charles M Shulz, those who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”. Some say the nickname came from a resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip.4924951094_21a71fd652_bRubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that hot temper, that made the name stick.

Rubinstein spent the early 1940s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago before moving to Dallas, the following year.

Rubenstein managed a seedy collection of Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring such fine ladies as “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”.  Somewhere along the line, Rubinstein shortened his name to “Ruby”.g2011m11_26Ruby was a low-rent gangster, involved in typical underworld activities like gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante.

Not-so-honest members of the Dallas police force knew that Ruby was always good for free booze, free prostitutes, and other favors.

This was not a good guy.7fdd7be055bca87dc57f10f527755c4eToday, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians who played with Bob Dylan in 1965, later going on the road as “The Band” and performing such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight”.

In the early days, these guys were playing with a Canadian/American rocker named Ronnie Hawkins.  The joints these guys played were so rough they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats.   Robertson writes in a new memoir:  “We bought small derringer pistols, switchblades, black-jacks, brass knuckles, even tear-gas pens – whatever could be easily concealed and quickly accessed”.

In 1963, the group played a week in one “burnt out, blown up” dump in Fort Worth.  It was an enormous venue with no one there that first night, save for two couples, a pair of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer.  The band had yet to finish the first set when a fight broke out.  Some sort of weapon came out and a man was tear-gassed at point blank range.   Coughing and choking the band played on for no one, with teargas wafting across the stage and faces wet with tears.r1274_fea_robbie_b-6159b441-955d-4f3a-bcef-1a4d8f090b35Part of the roof had blown off this joint.  Either that or it burned off, depending on which version you believed.  Jack, the club owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money, calling this fine establishment, the “Skyline Lounge”.

Jack felt no need to pay for security, not even with the roof gone.  Jaws grinding from a seemingly endless appetite for “uppers”, Jack said “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall to steal their equipment.

Problem solved.

That November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy came to Dallas.  The Presidential motorcade departing Love Field the morning of November 22.  The open car  with the President in the back with First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.  Texas Governor and First Lady John and Idanell “Nellie” Connally, in the jump seats.   At 12:29, the Presidential limousine executed a right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street and entered Dealey Plaza. Kennedy Assassination: Kennedy in CarA minute later, shots rang out.

The President of the United States was shot, the first bullet striking the upper back and exiting his throat.  With mouth open in anguish and clenched fists rising to his face and neck, the stricken man turned to his wife as his head exploded, the second shot tearing into the right side of his skull.  The First Lady, splattered with the blood and brains of her husband and now screaming, crawled onto the trunk as Secret Service Agent Clint Hill scrambled on board the car, now speeding away.  Somewhere along the line, Governor Connally was also shot.  A spectator was wounded by flying debris.

The nation was stunned.  It was the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5 at the time and remember that day, like it was just last week.

Abraham Zapruder Film, European/French Copy, HD, stabilized and slow Motioned

An hour after the shooting, a former marine and a rare defector to the Soviet Union named Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.

By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit.  He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters, where an armored car waited to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. The scene was crowded with press and police.

Half the country watched on live television as a figure came out of the crowd, firing a single bullet from a .38 revolver into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lee-Harvey-Oswald-Is-Shot-By-Jack-Ruby-November-24-1963Five musicians were shocked to realize the shooter was the man they had worked for in those earlier months at that burned out dive bar.  The Skyline Lounge.

Lee Harvey Oswald was taken unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital.  The same hospital in which the president had died, two days earlier.  Within two hours he too, was dead.

On March 14, 1964, Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Ruby’s conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county than that in which his high profile crime, had taken place.  Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial.ea92d9a35a5e2889c5114510117ed161The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President.  What became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s Skyline Lounge, is unknown to this writer.

March 13, 1992 Friday the 13th

At least one psychotherapist asserts that 21 million Americans are literally afraid of Friday the 13th.

From the dawn of Christianity, faithful believers have traveled from the length and breadth of Europe to the Holy City of Jerusalem, to renew and affirm a lifelong faith in scripture.

Pilgrims-to-JerusalemThe Rashidun Caliphate captured the Holy City in 637, following a long siege. Except for one 88-year period following the first crusade in 1099, the Temple Mount in the old city remains under Islamic administration, from that day to this.

Regardless, the number of pilgrims increased over time. Many suffered robbery and even murder at the hands of Muslim fanatics, who considered it their Islamic duty to kill the “Infidel”.

The French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119, with a proposal. He would create a monastic order of warrior knights to protect these pilgrims, to be headquartered in a wing of the recaptured Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.

TemplarThese were monks and they were warriors, “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”. For 200 years, these “Knights Templar” provided for the safe passage of Christian pilgrims.

The original nine knights of the order lived up to the “poor knights” part of the name, relying on financial donations for their survival. So destitute were they that their emblem showed two knights riding a single horse.

That would change.

In time, the Templars gained favored charity status, their new-found wealth helping them to found an early banking system. Pilgrims to the holy land could deposit gold coins in Paris and take them out in Jerusalem, or vice-versa. The knights Templar achieved vast wealth in this manner, at their height running over 800 castles, every one of which ran as a full service banking institution, financing military campaigns and bailing out the treasuries of Kings.
Knights-Templar2-1Following wars with the Flemish and with English King Edward I, King Philip IV of France found himself deeply in debt.  Needing to wriggle out of it, Philip expelled the Jews of France, in 1306.  The following year he came after the Knights Templar.

It was Friday the 13th of October, when Philip sent out his arrest warrant.  Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested. Charges included everything from obscene secret rituals to financial fraud. “Confessions” were extracted by torture.knights-templar-gettyimages-526100152

Under pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” in November, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets.

8a3725e09bcde1dee419e5b25281d25a--spa-birthday-th-birthdayThousands of knights fled to areas outside Papal control.  Many were burned at the stake, some absorbed into the rival Knights Hospitaller.  Within a couple years, the order of the Knights Templar had ceased to exist.

Some will tell you that’s where the Friday 13th superstition began. Others say it goes back to the Friday when Eve offered Adam that forbidden apple, or the Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Ancient Egyptians and Chinese believed the number 13 brought good luck, but some actually fear Friday the 13th. It’s called “Friggatriskaidekaphobia”.

People in Spanish-speaking countries will tell you it’s the 13-part that brings bad luck, but for most, it’s Friday.  At least one psychotherapist asserts that 21 million Americans are literally afraid of Friday the 13th.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that fear of the number 13 costs the United States a Billion dollars a year in absenteeism, train and plane cancellations and related commerce.

Franklin Roosevelt avoided dinner parties with 13 guests. In France, there are professional 14th party guests called “quatorzieme“.

I wonder how you get that job.

Who knows, maybe Friday 13th really is bad luck.  On this day in 1992, the Erzincan earthquake hit 6.8 on the Richter and a terrifying max of VIII on the Mercalli scale of intensity.  13 steps lead to the gallows, where the condemned meets the 13 knots of the hangman’s noose. The guillotine’s blade falls 13 feet. Diana hit the 13th pillar at Place d’Alma. Tupac was shot on Friday the 13th, and Fidel Castro was born on one.unnamedSo knock on wood and cross your fingers. Watch out for black cats. Don’t look at the full moon through a pane of glass.  Be sure to throw salt over your shoulder and don’t mind the Wuhan plague.   You’ll be fine.

March 12, 1894 A Marketing Blunder for the Ages

Early focus group results were favorable, but for a minority of 10 to 12 percent. Angry and alienated at the very thought of a “new Coke”, these people insisted they’d stop drinking Coke products, altogether.  The way things turned out, the company should’ve listened to this group a little more carefully.

By the Colonial era, Europeans had long believed that natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored the beverages over often polluted common drinking water.  British chemist Joseph Priestley invented a means of carbonating water in 1772.  Jacob Schweppe’s Geneva, Switzerland company was bottling the stuff by the 1780s. The first soda water manufacturer in the US was Yale University chemist Benjamin Silliman in 1807, though it was Joseph Hawkins of Baltimore who secured the first US patent in 1809.

PembertonAt first sold for their therapeutic value, consumers increasingly bought carbonated beverages for refreshment.

By the time of the Civil War, “soft drinks” were flavored with ginger, vanilla, fruits, roots, herbs, and countless other flavorings. The first cola drink appeared in 1881.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash across the chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him to control the pain.  Unlike many wounded veterans, he possessed the means to do something about it.

A chemist in civil life, Pemberton experimented with painkillers to take the place of opiates, landing in 1886 on a combination of the coca plant and kola nut. Vicksburg, Mississippi pharmacist Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling equipment in the back of his soda fountain, selling the first bottles of Coca Cola on March 12, 1894.

coca-cola-bottle-historyThe most famous rivalry in the soft drink business began in the 1930s, when Pepsi offered a 12oz bottle for the same 5¢ as Coca Cola’s six ounces.

The Coca Cola Company’s flagship brand had a 60% share by the end of WWII, but that declined to less than 24% by the early 1980s, most of the difference lost to Pepsi and their “Pepsi challenge” blind taste test promotions of the late ’70s.

1221499-coke_vs_pepsiBy the ’80s, market analysts believed that aging baby boomers were likely to switch to diet drinks and any growth in the full calorie segment was going to come from younger consumers, who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Roberto Goizueta came to Coca Cola Company as CEO in 1980, saying that there would be “no sacred cows” among their products.  He meant it. Before long, the company launched the top secret “Project Kansas”, to test and perfect the flavor for a new version of Coke. The company’s marketing department fanned out, holding taste tests, surveys, and focus groups.

Early results were favorable, the newer, sweeter mixture overwhelmingly beating both Pepsi and Coke itself. Most tasters said they would buy the product, but a minority of 10 to 12 percent were angry and alienated at the very thought of it. This small percentage was adamant. These people would stop drinking Coke products altogether.  So determined were they that this small splinter group often swayed other members of their focus groups.

The way things turned out, the company should have listened to this group a little more carefully.

Redhead woman holding soda refreshment with angry face, negative sign showing dislike with thumbs down, rejection conceptOn an April Friday in 1985, Coke let the media know that a major announcement was coming the following Tuesday. Coca Cola officials spent a busy weekend preparing for the re-launch, while Pepsi Executives announced a company-wide holiday, taking out a full page ad in the New York Times, crowing that “Pepsi had Won the Cola Wars”.

Skepticism was high on the day of the Big Announcement. Reporters were fed questions by Pepsi officials, and Goizueta fumbled the ball, refusing to state the reason for the change. He certainly wasn’t going to give Pepsi any credit for their performance in taste tests and his explanation hardly met the standards for “the Real Thing’.  “[It’s] smoother”, he said, “uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…a more harmonious flavor”.

Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

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Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, left; New Coke, center; and President Don Keough, right. Source: Bettmann, via Getty Images, H/T Bloomberg News

The backlash was ferocious, closely tracking results from those earlier focus groups.  Atlanta based Coca Cola’s southern customers described the change as another surrender to the “Yankees”.  More than 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, including one addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company”.  Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history” would surely become a valuable collector’s item. One psychiatrist hired by Coke to listen in on phone calls, told executives some people sounded as if they were discussing the death of a family member.

Newcoke_maxheadroomNot even Max Headroom and his stuttering “C-c-c-catch the wave!” could save the company.

Ads for “New Coke” were booed at the Houston Astrodome while Pepsi ran ads in which a smiling first-time Pepsi drinker exclaimed “Now I know why Coke did it!”

Even Fidel Castro weighed in, calling the change a sign of capitalist decadence.

Company President Donald Keough realized it was over on a visit to the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco.   Coming to the diner’s table, the small restaurant owner proudly proclaimed that he had “the real thing, it’s a real Coke,” offering Keough’s party a bottle of the old stuff.

images (62)So it was that, in 1985, Coca Cola announced they’d bring back the 91-year old formula.  One reporter asked Keough if the whole thing had been a publicity stunt. Keough’s answer should be taught in business schools the world over, if it isn’t already. “We’re not that dumb,” he said, “and we’re not that smart”.

 

March 11, 1958 The Day the US, Nuked Itself

This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day.   The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings.  Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church.

If you’re ever in South Carolina, stop and enjoy the historical delights of the Pee Dee region. About a half-hour from Pedro’s “South of the Border”, there you will find the “All-American City” of Florence, according to the National Civic League of 1965. With a population of about 38,000, Florence describes itself as a regional center for business, medicine, culture and finance.

Oh.  And the Federal Government dropped a Nuke on the place. Sixty-two years ago, today.

maxresdefault (29)To anyone under the age of 40, the Cold War must seem a strange and incomprehensible time.  Those of us who lived through it, feel the same way.

The Air Force Boeing Stratojet bomber left Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, on a routine flight to Africa via the United Kingdom.  Just in case thermonuclear war was to break out with the Soviet Union, the B47 carried a 10-foot 8-inch, 7,600-pound, Mark 4, atomic bomb.

The Atlantic Coastline Railroad conductor, WWII veteran & former paratrooper Walter Gregg Sr. was in the workshop next to his home in the Mars Bluff neighborhood of Florence, South Carolina while his wife, Ethel Mae “Effie” Gregg, was inside, sewing. The Gregg sisters Helen and Frances, ages 6 and 9, were playing in the woods with their nine-year-old cousin Ella Davies as the B47 Stratojet bomber lumbered overhead.b47-7aAt 15,000-feet, a warning light came on in the cockpit, indicating the load wasn’t properly secured.   Not wanting a thing like that rattling around in the back, Captain Earl E. Koehler sent navigator Bruce M. Kulka, to investigate.  Kulka slipped and grabbed out for something, to steady himself.  That “something” just happened to be, the emergency release.

Bomb bay doors alone are woefully inadequate to hold back a 4-ton bomb. The thing came free and began a 15,000-foot descent, straight into the Gregg’s back yard.

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This hole 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep was made after an Air Force nuclear weapon accidentally fell from a B-47 and exploded in Florence, South Carolina, March 12, 1958. The home of Walter Gregg (background) was almost destroyed. Several members of his family were treated for injuries. (AP Photo) H/T Military Times

The Mark 4 atom bomb employs an IFI (in-flight insertion) safety, whereby composite uranium and plutonium fissile pits are inserted into the bomb core, thus arming the weapon. When deployed, a 6,000-pound. conventional explosion super-compresses the fissile core, beginning a nuclear chain reaction. In the first millisecond, (one millionth of a second), plasma expands to a size of several meters as temperatures rise into the tens of millions of degrees, Celsius. Thermal electromagnetic “Black-body” radiation in the X-Ray spectrum is absorbed into the surrounding air, producing a fireball. The kinetic energy imparted by the reaction produces an initial explosive force of about 7,500 miles, per second.

This particular nuke was unarmed that day but three tons of conventional explosives can ruin your whole day.   The weapon scored a direct hit on a playhouse built for the Gregg children, the explosion leaving a crater 70-feet wide and 35-feet deep and destroying the Gregg home, the farmhouse, workshop and several outbuildings.  Buildings within a five-mile radius were damaged, including a local church.  Effie gashed her head when the walls blew in but miraculously, no one was killed except for a couple chickens.  Not even the cat.

screen_shot_2016-05-11_at_60319_pmThree years later, a B-52 Stratofortress carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs broke up in the air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five crew members ejected from the aircraft at 9,000-feet and landed safely, another ejected but did not survive the landing. Two others died in the crash.

In this incident, both weapons were fully nuclear-enabled.  A single switch out of four, is all that prevented at least one of the things, from going off.

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One Mk 39 nuclear weapon from the Goldsboro incident remained largely intact, with parachute still attached. The second plunged into a muddy field at about 700mph, and disintegrated.

Walter Gregg described the Mars Bluff incident in 2001, in director Peter Kuran’s documentary “Nuclear 911”. “It just came like a bolt of lightning”, he said. “Boom! And it was all over. The concussion …caved the roof in.” Left with little but the clothes on their backs, the Greggs eventually sued the Federal Government.

The family was awarded $36,000 by the United States Air force.  It wasn’t enough to rebuild the house let alone, replace their possessions.  Walter Gregg resented it, for the rest of his life.

download - 2020-03-11T083015.786Over the years, members of the flight crew stopped by to apologize for the episode.

The land remains in private hands but it’s federally protected, so it can’t be developed.   They even made a path back in 2008 and installed a few signs,  but those were mostly stolen by college kids.

You can check it out for yourself if you want to amuse the locals.  They’ll know what you’re doing as soon as you drive through the neighborhood, the second time.  Crater Rd/4776 Lucius Circle, Mars Bluff, SC (Hat tip roadsideamerica.com)

A month before the Mars Bluff incident, a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in the ocean, off Tybee Island, Georgia.  Incidents involving the loss or accidental detonation of nuclear weapons are called “Broken Arrows“.  There have been 32 such incidents, since 1950.  As of this date, six atomic weapons remain unaccounted for, including that one off the Georgia coast.

Feature image top of page;  “C. B. Gregg looks at the bomb damaged home of his brother Walter Gregg who was injured after an Air Force bomb hit about 100 yards away on March 12, 1958, in Florence, S.C. (AP Photo) H/T Military Times