Archive for the ‘Bob Symon’ Category

Frederick Douglass: American
February 28, 2011

A Truly Great American With a Life that Stands on Its Own

Dr. Woodson Ultimately Is Responsible for Black History Month and Started It Partly With Douglass In Mind

Black History Month:  Some time ago, February was designated as Black History Month.   I have mixed emotions about that particular designation.  I think it’s always a good thing to focus attention on history, particularly American history since so many Americans really don’t know a lot about their nation.  I suppose the whole idea rose from the notion that the school system in this country didn’t really mention much about African-Americans except in the context of slavery.  However, I have a problem with a focus on a particular group of Americans. I am not saying that it’s wrong to have such a month; I guess I really think that its too bad that it was a necessity.  You see,  those individuals who are discussed in February are part of American history and I believe that they should be seen simply as Americans because all citizens, past and present are, in my view, my American brother and sister and my fellow American.  Race, religion or ethnicity does not add or dimish their position as an American.  Another thing that bothers me is the a grand oversight.  I’ve gone to some Black History Month presentations and they always quite properly include Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr.  Sometimes they talk about the contributions of George Washington Carver at the events of which I have attended.  Typically following the discussion of such well-known luminaries, they go off into some modern rappers or sports stars.  If it’s a good presentation, then it will rightfully include Jackie Robinson, but Mr. Robinson sometimes loses out to other Americans whose acheivements really don’t measure up to that of Robinson or Carver and certainly not even in the same neighborhood as Dr. King.  But, almost every time, they leave out someone whom I believe to be one of the most important Americans in our history.  His name is Frederick Douglass and all Americans should know about the man.

Slave Cabin probably not unlike one Douglass shared with his grandmother for a few short years

Even though Douglass often is left out of the Black History month discussion, his life was actually part of the reason why February has the designation.  The foundation of Black History Month dates back to the 1920′s when a Harvard doctoral graduate and former slave chose the month of focus since both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in February and Douglass also died then as well.  Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in February 1818.    Douglass often suggested that his mother, Harriet Bailey, conceived Douglass following the advances of white man who was not his mother’s husband.  It may be for that reason that Douglass did not live with his mother but instead was put in the cabin of his grandmother Besty Bailey by owner, Captain Aaron Anthony.  Even though he lived with his grandmother, it didn’t take long for Douglass to be hired out and so his familial ties were not strong.  In 1826, he went to Baltimore to work and live in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld.  Sophia was Capt Anthony’s daughter and Douglass lived with the couple for 7 years from 1826 to 1833.  During that time, he watched the Auld’s young son and also was taught to read and write by Sophia…that is until Hugh told her to stop.  But, the seeds were already sewn.

Frederick Douglass Broke the Chains and Headed into History

Douglass continued to teach himself to read and write on his own.   He secretly helped organized schools for slaves.  He resisted his position as a slave.  He tried to escape and was imprisoned for awhile and was sent to a plantation where slaves who needed to be “broken” were sent.  But, he never bowed.  In 1838, he broke his bonds and escaped to New York.  He got married and had children.  He fell in with abolitionists.  He had read books related to oratory and taught himself to make public speeches.  At the age of 23, he gave a speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and caught the attention of many abolitionists included renown abolitionist William Garrison.  Now, Douglass given name was really Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey but he realized that if he were to go on the speaking circuit, then he’d have to change his name to Frederick Douglass.  Afterall, he was officially a fugitive slave and could be returned to slavery.  So, he adopted the last name of Douglass. 

Click on Image For Information Regarding Book that details relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

On two occasions, Douglass fled to Europe to avoid recapture.  On one of his trips, sympathetic Europeans who heard Douglass speak raised money and bought his freedom.  By the time of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass finally was safe in the land of the free and home of the brave.  His autobiography that detailed his life in slavery was a huge hit and the words  he wrote and the words he spoke were significant contributors to the ultimate destruction of slavery.  Not only for the general public, but also for President Abraham Lincoln who consulted with Douglass regarding Lincoln’s policies and thoughts concerning slavery and the emancipation issue.  That included an idea Lincoln had about creating a colony in South America where freed  slaves could live.  Lincoln for a time had  the notion that Blacks and Whites were never intended to live together nor was it possible.  While he did  not believe in equality of the races, Lincoln also felt it was morally wrong for take what was earned from “the sweat of another man’s brow.”  Douglass impressed him as a tremendous mind and thinker and also took into consideration Douglass’ admonition that America was as much his country as it was the President’s.  Remember, Lincoln was born in the country just 9 years prior to Douglass.  Lincoln knew that Douglass had a very good and strong point.

Douglass' marriage to Helen (sitting) Was Not Popular with White or Black late 19th century America

Frederick Douglass was a proud man.  He was a tough man.  He was a smart, self taught man and great thinker.  He was bold and fearless.  Not only did he contribute to the rights of  Blacks, he also lent his name and effort to the equality of women.  He even was on the ticket for an early feminist presidential candidate.  Age did not diminish his courage though.  After his first wife died, he married a white, feminist woman and that, he said, brought condemnation and scorn from both Blacks and Whites alike.  His story is absolutely remarkable and one that every American should know and be proud to be able to say that Frederick Douglass was our American brother.  So, as Black History month comes to a close  just remember that the legacy and life of a great American, Frederick Douglass,  deserves as much recognition and acknowledgement as any American.  In my view, there is no other adjective beside “American” is needed to describe Frederick Douglass.  As he did in life, he can stand on his own for  the ages.

Disaster Comes When Men Go To the Wrong House
January 26, 2011

pinkerton_eye

Pinkerton Logo Coined the Term "Private Eye"

On This Date in History: A few years ago, Snow White and I were walking from Papa Johns Stadium and some event,,,probably a football game. We were walking back to the car and crossed the railroad tracks. Well, we were supposed to do that but I decided it would be faster walking the tracks. I started walking down the tracks and Snow White stopped, telling me to come back that it was against the law. Out of the darkness came a figure. It was a Pinkerton Man! Pinkerton Security provides the security for the railroad and he wrote me up. Snow White was right again.

Jesse and Frank James

Jesse and Frank James

Well, on this date in 1875 the Pinkertons got it wrong. The Pinkerton Detective Agency had been on the trail of Frank and Jesse James when it was hired by the railroads to catch the train and bank robbers. It was not an easy task. See, the James gang also had members of the Younger family and both the James’ and the Youngers had lots of friends and family in Missouri. Many of their relatives and friends had been partial to the Confederacy during the Civil War and considered the big railroads to be nothing but a bunch of Yankees. They thought the same of the Pinkerton Agency.

Allen Pinkerton Provided Security For Abraham Lincoln

Allen Pinkerton (left) Provided Security For Abraham Lincoln

Now, the men of the Pinkerton Agency were not too fond of the James Gang. Seems that one of their men, John W. Witcher, was found with a bullet hole in his stomach and much of his face eaten off by hogs. They thought for sure the culprits were members of the James Gang. The Pinkerton Agency must have let their animosity for the James’ get to them because, even though they weren’t entirely positive that it was the James Gang who killed Witcher, they went after them anyway. They had heard that Jesse and Frank often returned to their family farm. So, the Pinkertons waited until the sun went down and surrounded the James home. They threw some smoke bombs or flares into the home. To there surprise, there was a huge explosion. Jesse and Frank’s young half-brother was killed and their mother had her arm blown off. When the smoke had cleared, the Pinkertons found that Jesse and Frank were never there. Guess they should have knocked first.

Jesse's Mom Missing an Arm

Jesse's Mom Missing an Arm

After their keystone cops episode, the Pinkertons backed off a bit but they kept up the pursuit. They never got Frank and Jesse. Instead, Jesse was shot in the back of the head in 1882 by one of his own men, Bob Ford, who collected the reward money. Frank turned himself in shortly thereafter but no jury would ever convict him. He remained a law-abiding citizen until his death in 1915. As for his mother…she had quite the cottage business. Tourists could come by her house and for a small fee, they could hear of how the nasty railroad men and their disgusting Pinkertons persecuted her poor, innocent boys. Bet that performance was worth the price of admission.

Is This Floodwater?

Is This Floodwater?

On This Date in History:

On This Date in 1962, Jeffery Gordon Riley came into the world. Since that time he has come to be known as Flood Water, F-Water, Floods, F-Ditch, F-Dip, effrey and just plain F. Jeff Riley is a lot of things…and one of those things is a good friend to all who are fortunate enough to be able to call him a friend. Happy Birthday F.

The Prospect of a Cold Guarantee is a Stone Cold Lock
January 23, 2011

Does This Look Like the Coldest Place in the United States?

Alaska Jan. Mean Min Temperatures 1971-2000

On This Date in History:  At this point in the winter season, data from the National Snow Analysis reveals that 49% of the nation is covered in snow.  Last month, that total was 44.8% but, in between, I’ve noted some days where the snow cover was as high as 70%.  We are in a weather pattern that has been persistent with a general ridge in the west and a trof down through the front range of the Rockies or through the midwest.  While there have been some big storms on the West Coast, most of the action seems to be riding up the northern part of the Rockies and then down deep, often way deep, into the South with the base of the mean trof generally in the heart of Dixie.  The mean long wave has been such that it tends to take storms just off the East Coast.  The East Coast has dodged a bullet for the most part because, while there have been a couple of big boppers nail New England, much of the Eastern Seaboard has missed out on several systems that, had they been about 100 miles further west, would have buried the I-95 corridor from North Carolina to Maine.  It’s pretty cold now but a super cold outbreak has for the most part been avoided.  While some records have no doubt been set, certainly no one has come close to all-time low temperatures recorded  in history.

Back in late 1970, there was a big high pressure ridge situated over Hawaii but, by early 1971, that big ridge shifted to the East.  A new mean ridge set up over the Bering Sea and created a strong blocking pattern over the Central Pacific. Northerly flow across the Bering Sea remained persistent but the southern part of the December trof moved east to set up a strong, broad cyclonic circulation across the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic.  All of Alaska was much colder than average that January with Fairbanks, Alaska not getting above 22 F degrees below zero for 18 consecutive days, which is a record for such cold of such duration.  The record-setting cold month in Fairbanks resulted in an average temperature for that month in that city of 31.7 F degrees below zero. 

The Prospect Creek Camp was located down this road at the bottom of the valley

About 200 miles Northwest of Fairbanks and 25 miles Southeast of Bettles, AK, one will find tiny Prospect Creek, Alaska.  It was first settled as a mining camp in the gold rush days.  Most notably, a camp was built there for the builders of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1974.  The near ghost town was transformed into the residence for some 27,000 workers and to serve pipeline station number 5.  There is not much at the location and the camp was little more than housing with some washrooms.  When the pipeline was completed in 1977, Prospect Creek was once again abandoned, though in 1992 it did serve as a base of operations for some people working on the rebuilding of a bridge along the Dalton Highway.  Not only did it serve to house workers but also their families and I’m sure that mom was happy to bring the kids along to live in the wilderness north of the Arctic circle at about 67 degrees North Latitude.  It’s so far north and so cold that it’s really more or less a desert as it only gets between 0 and 10 inches of precipitation per year.  June and July aren’t too bad with average highs of 71 and 73 respectively.  But, January and February average highs are 2 and 10 degree respectively and 6 months out of the year, the average high is below freezing.  In spite of the cold, you can find Black and Brown bears in the area as well as Bald Eagles.  But, you probably won’t find Sarah Palin wandering about as it’s about 530 miles North of the former governor’s home town of Wasilla.

Airstrip at Snag, Yukon Territory Where Lowest North America Temperature was Recorded

Aside from all of this, it’s tough to find much about Prospect Creek and most likely would not be found anywhere on the internet or in encyclopedia’s if it were not what happened there on January 23, 1971.   The big fat ridge that parked itself over the region in January 1971 and brought Fairbanks such frigid conditions affected the entire state.  I suspect that the center of the high pressure ridge must have moved directly over Prospect Creek because, on this date in 1971, the mercury at Prospect Creek, Alaska fell all the way to 79.8F degrees below zero, giving it the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in the United  States.  For all of North America, the low that day is second only to Snag, Yukon Territory, Canada that hit minus 81F degrees on February 3, 1947.  But, Snag’s elevation is 2100 ft while Prospect Creek is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 feet above sea level. 

It's Cold at Amundsen Scott but the Aurora Can Make It Worth the Trouble

 Mt. Washington, NH has the distinction of having the lowest annual mean temperature of 26.5F and the lowest mean summer temperature (51.6F) in the lower 48.  In 1954, a big old 1070mb high settled in over Montana and on January 20, the temperature at Rogers Pass in Lewis and Clark County fell to -69.7F to set the coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states. Rogers Pass sits about 150 feet below the Continental Divide at around 6000 ft in elevation.  It’s interesting that just 11 days before, the lowest temperature on the Greenland Icecap was recorded at -86.6 degrees. That is nothing compared to the all-time planet low temperature of -128.6F on July 21, 1983 at the Amundsen-Scott Station,which is just a few hundred yards from the geographic South Pole in Antarctica.  With all of this, it’s no wonder that Prospect Creek has zero population today.  But, you can mail a letter there, if you like.  The zip code is 99726.  I suppose the postal carrier that gets that mail-route is being punished because “nor rain, nor snow, nor dead of night” does not include “nor 79 degrees below zero.”  By the way, in case you are interested, you can take a tour that includes Prospect Creek.  I might suggest June or July.

Weather Bottom Line:  Well…after reading all of that, you should feel down-right warm.  Maybe not.  We have a hint of a warm up in the week ahead but it’s not much of a hint and it won’t last long.  First, we have a little disturbance wandering across that is damping out, or weakening so we may have some snow showers today and tomorrow.  Then another system comes across the south and an accompanying disturbance coming out of the midwest will also get damped out so we may have some snow showers Tuesday and Wednesday too but I don’t think it will be all that terrific.  We warm up slightly to the mid 30′s by the end of the week and may even hit 40 on Saturday but that’s about it because on Sunday, we’re back down to highs in the 20′s.  Break out the tanning butter on Saturday.

Falkland Islands: Nothing More Than a Symbol of Pride
January 22, 2011

May 14 1979 Time Magazine Proved To Be a Prophecy...but for what?

On This Date in History:  In the early 1980′s, there was a much publicized war between Argentina and Great Britain over a tiny group of islands off the southern tip of Argentina.  It became known as the Falkland Islands War.  Britain had long maintained sovereignty over the islands and Argentina suddenly had laid claim to them.  Very few people had heard of the islands before and most in Great Britain probably had no idea that it was British property.  The islands really had little value but the honor of Britain was at stake.  As it turns out, it was really a repeat of history. 

Sir Thomas Cavendish

The Spanish had been the lords of the sea for much of the 18th century and therefore had been able to do the most exploring and exploitation of the new world.   When the Spanish Armada was routed by the British in 1588, that opened up the New World to other European nations.  Now, Sir Thomas Cavendish was an English explorer and sailor known as the “navigator” for his sailing skills.  While Magellan, Loaisa, Drake and Loyola all had circumnavigated the globe, apparently none of them set sail with that intention.  Cavendish is credited with being the first to make such a voyage as his primary, intended quest.  He achieved this at age 28 after a two-year journey in 1588.  For some reason, that was not enough because he tried it again in 1591.  By 1592, Cavendish was dead of unknown causes and the attempt has been labeled a disaster.   However, it is thought that, on this voyage, one of Cavendish’s ships was captained by a man named Davis who, either by design or bad weather, got separated from Cavendish near the Straits of Magellan and is thought to be the first to have seen the islands.  However, he did not explore then or otherwise make any observations.  While that seems nebulous on the surface, it would prove to be important for centuries. 

Over 200 years later, Falklands still good for sheep

In 1771, a man named Samuel Johnson wrote a detailed history of the Falkland Islands up to that point.  Johnson seems to be opining of the uselessness of the islands.  After Captain Davis, several other people saw the islands but never bothered to stop.  When they were mapped, it was found that the islands had lots of water but no wood.  It had a good harbor and only had a benefit perhaps as a military outpost to support colonial operations.  But, even that was a dubious distinction because there was no way that the islands could ever be self-sufficient.  Spain had nominally laid claim to the islands as part of its Argentina colonization but the Spanish never did much with it.  The British did set up an outpost and provisioned it regularly and also found that sheep and cattle seemed to be more suitable for that environment than agriculture.  Around 1870, the Spanish showed up and asked the British to leave.  Mainly out of pride, the British refused.  The exchanges between the commander of the British garrison and the Spanish frigate captain is remarkable in that it is civil.  It’s as if both of them were doing their duty but really didn’t want to spill blood over something of such little value.  The Spanish eventually landed with a far superior force and the British left.  But, that wasn’t the end of it. Again, pride shows up and the crown just  couldn’t allow their claims to be challenged.  Their claim of possession was  basically that they had found it first.  The courts of Spain and England negotiated and discussed and, in the end, the King of Spain disavowed any knowledge of the actions of the governor of Buenos Aires, who apparently had directed his naval forces to take the island without orders  or permission from the King.  So, on this date in 1771, Spain ceded what was known as the Falkland Islands to the English, to the British Crown. 

Falklands More Suitable To Penguins Than People

Johnson opined on what all of this got the crown:  “… a restitution of our settlement, maintained the honour of the crown, and the superiority of our influence. Beyond this what have we acquired? What, but a bleak and gloomy solitude, an island, thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter, and barren in summer; an island, which not the southern savages have dignified with habitation; where a garrison must be kept in a state that contemplates with envy the exiles of Siberia; of which the expense will be perpetual, and the use only occasional; and which, if fortune smile upon our labours, may become a nest of smugglers in peace, and in war the refuge of future bucaniers.”  Johnson hammered the point of the lack of utility of the island when he points out that, after the Brits gained the concession, they abandoned the island.  He does note, however, that “the Spaniards have stipulated, that the grant of possession shall not preclude the question of prior right, a question which we shall probably make no haste to discuss, and a right, of which no formal resignation was ever required.”  This perhaps was the underlying excuse for hostility by the Argentinians 200 years later.

Falkland Islands Map

Falkland Islands Map

On the other hand,  it is not unusual for a government in turmoil with a risk of collapse from within to create an international incident in order to unify the country against a common foe besides the government. In the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, Argentina had been ruled by a military dictatorship that had once been popular but was rapidly losing support from the people as they grew weary of the number of political prisoners that had been taken as well as people who had simply disappeared. The economy was shrinking at 6% per year and inflation was running at 160%. The unions began to join forces with political opposition groups and the military Junta knew it was in trouble. Then, they thought a gift had been delivered to them.

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

The Harrier Proved Its Meddle in the Falklands

While the Falkland and the South Georgia Islands had long been part of the British empire, the general global feeling of the 20th century was that empires needed to come to an end. However, perhaps due to the same pride that caused the British to want to keep the islands in the 18th century,  numerous attempts through the United Nations by Argentina to get Britain to cede the islands to Argentina failed. In 1979, an Argentinian businessman (Constantino Davidoff) purchased a former whale slaughterhouse on the South Georgia Islands from an Englishman(Christian Salvensen). The new owner wanted to dismantle the plant and sell the metal for scrap. The HMS Endurance was in the vicinity and the Argentine owner asked the Brits to loan him the use of their naval vessel to help him haul off the scrap. The crown denied his request. So, he went to his own Navy which obliged. This was the perfect set up for the Junta. It knew that the people of Argentina supported the idea of the nation gaining sovereignty over the islands off its coast and, if the Junta could use the situation properly, it could perhaps regain public support.  Besides, the Spanish never did acknowledge that the British had rightful claim when it ceded control in 1771.

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

Aluminum Ships Like Destroyer HMS Sheffield Proved Vulnerable To Missiles

So, in March 1982 when the Argentine Navy ship showed up at the South Georgia Islands, residents there complained to London that there was a warship with the Argentine flag floating in their waters. So, the British sent the HMS Endurance to the scene to prevent any landing by any Argentinians. Argentina responded by sending the military transport Bahia Parasio to the islands with the hope of occupying the islands peacefully. Now, the Junta had a plan for invading the Falkland and South Georgia Islands on the shelf for a couple of years. The nation had a pretty decent military and the battlefield would be 7500 miles from England. Also, they figured that they could use the weather as an ally by staging their invasion between June and October, which is the winter time in the Southern Hemisphere which would make things more difficult for England. The advantage really was with Argentina.

War Was The Big Headline in London

War Was The Big Headline in London

But…the people at home were getting restless and protests were growing quickly against the military leaders. So, they made the mistake of moving up their time-table. On April 2, 1982 Argentine ground forces of landed on the South Georgia Islands. The Falkland Islands War was on and the Argentine government appealed to President Reagan for support. The Rio Treaty of 1947 called on all nations of the Americas to come to the aid of any nation that was invaded by foreign forces. The Junta told Reagan that they were enforcing the rights of Argentine workers to legally do the job of removing the whaling slaughterhouse. I guess Ron didn’t agree because he didn’t lift a finger. After all, England was not your ordinary foreign invader. It had been our pal throughout the 20th Century and Reagan had established a strong bond with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who earned her reputation as the “Iron Lady” by calling the Argentine bluff.

Sinking HMS Conventry and other ships highlighted limitations and vulnerability of naval assets

Instead of quietly negotiating away the islands, she sent a task force of ships, submarines, sailors and over 10,000 troops all the way from England. The task force left on April 5, 1982…just 3 days after the Argentine invasion. The first encounter of the Brits and Argentines happened on April 25 and by the middle of June, the war was over with an Argentinian surrender…just before the winter got going. Many historians agree, the biggest mistake of the Argentine Junta was to attack in the fall instead of sticking to their plan of a winter assault. In the eyes of many, the Argentinians had a good case for obtaining the islands but, the military might and determination of Margaret Thatcher rendered any legitimate points moot. A little more than a year later, the Argentinian Junta was out of office and any hope of ever getting to the negotiating table with Britain over ceding the islands was doomed. They never should have neglected the weather forecast.  Or maybe they should have just agreed that the islands were of no value.  As it stands, many people died and treasure spent on a bunch of islands that no one really found  much use for except express misappropriated pride…but at last, that pride is redeemed…you see, oil was discovered a few years ago near the Falkland Islands and, once again, Argentina is claiming and Britain ain’t listening. 

Weather Bottom Line:  Yes, it’s cold.  Is your street clear of snow?  I think the Mayor is in Washington DC so maybe he’s not aware of the snow on the streets in your neighborhood.  Then again, perhaps the delay is just a money-saving tactic since it’s the weekend and they’ll just clear everyone’s road by Sunday night for the Monday start to the work week.  See, there is a model out there that just keeps throwing snow over the area for many days.  That would be the GFS.   Its been consistent in that assertion from last Thursday through early Saturday morning. I suspect that it will change its mind because it’s the outlier as most models do not have a low traversing the Ohio Valley and conspiring with one to the South to bring lots of snow, or at least several days of light snow.  Instead, most damp out the midwest low and make the southern low the dominant feature and routes it through Dixie and up the east coast.  The weather service still has a chance of snow in the forecast from Sunday night through Wednesday, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, while it will remain cold for the forseeable future, we will come out of the ice bucket after the weekend.

A Case of Cherry
January 21, 2011

cherry1

Sample of Gong Show Acts

Sample of Gong Show Acts

On This Date in History:

Some of you may remember The Gong Show. People came on the show and the judges would give them a score. If the acts were really bad, a judge would stand up and bang a gong that meant the act was off the show. I think the winner of the show got something like $32.98 or some such odd, low number. America loved it for awhile as they loved to watch the stupid, crummy acts, not the good ones. We love competition but sometimes we seem to gravitate to the most preposterous or bad performances. One of NFL Films most popular team biopic is on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that lost 26 games in a row and every game in a season…the only team to do so in modern times until the Detroit Lions joined them this year. And of course, there is American Idol and the infamous William Hung. He is probably more well known than most of the winners.

This is not new with America.

William Hung

Before the Gong Show and the Buccaneers and William Hung, there was the Cherry Sisters. They were so bad, they became a smash hit. The Cherry Sisters first took to the stage on this date in 1893 in Marion, Iowa. They received $250 for a one hour show. Pretty good money. In Marion, the folks must have been kind because it was in Marion that they got their only good newspaper review. When they took their act to Cedar Rapids, the local Gazette referred to their performance as “ultimate gall.” The paper also mentioned that people threw overshoes at the ladies. See…Iraqis did not invent the act of throwing shoes at people on stage. Not to outdone by their neighbors, the people of Dubuque tossed a tin wash boiler, turnips and sprayed them down with a fire extinguisher. I’m not sure what a tin wash boiler is but, who brings turnips to a show? The newspaper in Davenport, Iowa issued a warning to would be concert-goers. Rocks larger than two inches would not be allowed in the theatre! I guess Constitutional rights only go so far….one inch rocks were okay but two inches? Forget it!

Addie and Effie (One In Middle Not Jessie)

Eventually, the act was so bad, it became popular and the “The Celebrated Cherry Sisters” made their way to the big time of the Big Apple. Yup…they went to Broadway in 1896 under the guidance of none other than Flo Ziegfeld himself. People came to the theatre in droves just to hurl insults and garbage at them. Much like the Blues Brothers, the stage manager stretched a fish net across the stage to protect them from hurtling objects. But, it finally went too far.

These ladies were indeed modern women determined to move ahead the process of jurisprudence when they did a very late 20th century thing. They sued. The Des Moines Leader wrote a review that called “Addie” a “capering monstrosity of 35″ and sister “Effie” “an old jade of 50 summers.” Not true…Effie lived until 1944. It was kinder to “Jessie” referring as a “frisky filly of 40.”

Hideous Creatures?

The truth is that Jessie died of typhoid in 1903 at age 31. It also called the sounds the sisters made “were like the wailings of damned souls.” I don’t know why they sued the Leader because Billy Hamilton of the Odebolt Chronicle in western Iowa called the ladies “three hideous creatures surpassing the witches of MacBeth.” I guess being a hideous creature and people throwing rocks and garbage was one thing but telling the public that Effie was 50 was too much. So what did the judge do? He had them perform in court and the case was closed. He ruled in favor of the newspaper saying that “Freedom of discussion is guaranteed by our fundamental law.” This was not just any court though…it was the Iowa State Supreme Court and, while the Sister’s act may be long forgotten, the case has become a textbook standard citation of First Amendment law under the moniker, the Cherry Case. I don’t know how much money the ladies made but if they pocketed $250 in Marion, Iowa they must have done pretty good in New York. Nevertheless, I doubt if they planned on being remembered in history for a lawsuit against a newspaper that ridiculed them mercilessly. Another case of unintended consequences.

Weather Bottom Line:  Told you there would be snow and the rest of the forecast will hold true as well with pretty cold temperatures through the weekend.  Snow White was driving to Louisville on Thursday and I told her that she would probably not get snow until about the time she it Lexington.  She reported that at the 75/64 interchange, she saw her first snowflake.  She took some issue with the conditions of I-64 on Thursday afternoon from about Shelbyville on in. Not sure why the road was not addressed since this storm was well known in advance.  On Monday, there is another chance for snow but this one probably won’t be as significant as the system is southern in nature and will be traversing the Dixie states well to our South.  Nevertheless, some over running moisture will bring at least some snow showers if not light snow  We may get back above freezing on Thursday afternoon.

It’s National Nothing Day; Celebrate in Earnest
January 16, 2011

You can even get a wristband (click image) for National Nothing Day!

Doing Nothing Meant Alot to Bon Scott and Angus Young

This Date in History: Everyone says that they are so busy these days, or at least we act like we are. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone tells me that they are too busy to do something. Do you think that you could just do nothing? There is an AC/DC song called Down Payment Blues with a line that says “I know I ain’t doin’ much, doin’ nothin’ means a lot to me.” My friends and I in high school always liked that song. I guess Bon Scott liked doin’ nothing. After a bunch of poor grades on a test, a bunch of my students’ excuse was that they didn’t have time to do the reading assignment. A few days later, I tricked them when I asked if they had seen the UL-UK football game, the VH-1 Awards or Dancing with the Stars. When they all said that they had, I told them to never tell me that they don’t have time to do the reading assignment. We use the excuse that “I don’t have time” to do a given thing when, in fact, we choose not to use our time in that way. We say that we don’t have time to visit a co-worker in the hospital but have plenty of time to watch that favorite TV show. So, the question on the table might be, could you do nothing or are you too busy?

I think that everyone’s life is an interesting story. But, I suppose society doesn’t much think so. The lives of everyday people tend to go by the wayside while instead we turn our attention to people who yearn for attention even though they didn’t do anything to really earn that distinction. Think of all of the celebrities in the spotlight today who really have done nothing except be in the spotlight. So, maybe we do like to celebrate nothing. If that is the case, then today is your lucky day. It would seem that the life of a newspaperman would be interesting but, in the case of Harold Pullman Coffin, apparently that was not the case.

One cannot find anything about the life of this journalist; not even the name of any newspaper for which he worked. Children Come First have a writing contest for the day but the link to the Smithsonian it features leads nowhere. But, you will find that he was described as a “newspaperman” and he managed to leave his name for posterity and history simply by decided to celebrate nothing. On this date in 1973, newspaperman Harold Pullman Coffin designated January 16 as National Nothing Day. I’m not sure of his motivation but he wanted to “to provide Americans with one national day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing, or honoring anything.” Beyond that quote and the assertion that he was a newspaperman, there is nothing more. It’s too bad that Congress doesn’t recognize Coffin’s day for about half the year, then the nation might be able to get something done.

Abolitionist Coffin Related To Harold Pullman Coffin?

Anyway, I”m forced to speculate regarding Mr. Coffin but I have found that the University of Nevada at Reno is the holder of the E.B. Coffin collection. It is a set of personal papers and photographs derived from the Edward Baker Coffin family. Edward Baker Coffin was born in 1861 in California. His family was from Nantuckett, MA and his uncle or great uncle was probably aboltionist Levi Coffin as his brother was named George Levi Coffin. Edward B. Coffin married Ida Pullman of Elko, Nevada. They had 4 children, including Harold Pullman Coffin. Now, that is a rather unusual name so it’s probably our National Nothing Day founder or at least a relation. Now, the listing of Harold Pullman was fourth in the list of the children so we may presume that he was the youngest. But even so, if we assume that Edward Coffin was 30 when Harold was born, then Harold Pullman Coffin would have been 82 when he designated National Nothing Day as an Un-Event.

Andy Rooney Doesn’t think much of Birthdays

Andy Rooney just celebrated his 92nd birthday so, it’s possible that Coffin could have been still working as a newspaperman. (Rooney Bio) But, it seems more likely that the founder of National Nothing Day was the grandson of Edward Baker Coffin. But, we know nothing of the birthday of Harry Pullman Coffin and Andy Rooney says that Unhappy Birthday is a better greeting or none at all for someone looking at another year on the planet. Besides that, it’s probably better that we know nothing about the founder of National Nothing Day because, if we knew more, than that would be something.

Weather Bottom Line:  Today may be nothing…and the Seattle Seahawks seemed to have taken the day seriously…but tomorrow is something of note as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are lots of events around town but, unfortunately, the weather will not be very cooperative.  The good news is that we will be dancing with the 40 degree mark.  The bad news is that its going to be wet.  I would much rather have a bunch of snow than cold, dreary rain.  Well, we can’t have everything and I suspect that after the cold and rather snowy winter we’ve had so far, many of you would take the rain.  But, alas, the pattern does not change too much and it would appear that we’re in store for another pretty cold stretch after Tuesday as, after again being around 40 or so we fall below freezing Tuesday night and do not rise above 32 through next weekend.  In fact, several days will feature highs in the 20′s.  Snow returns to the forecast for Thursday behind which arctic air spills down.  At this point, the morning golf game next weekend may be tough as we’ll probably be in the single digits each morning.  Hope you’ve been nice to LG&E.

Being Covered in Molasses Seems Like a Lousy Way to Die
January 15, 2011

100 Years Later, Some People Still Claim that the Area Smells of Molasses

On This Date in History:  In Boston, MA near Kearny Square at 529 Commercial Street you will find the New England Aquarium, which is now located officially at 1 Central Wharf.    But, nearly 100 years ago, that was the location of a Molasses production factory.  On January 13-15 1919, local temperatures rose from near zero into the 40′s.  Perhaps the locals might have called it a “false spring” or maybe they were just happy to have a typical brief winter warm up to have a day or two to thaw out.  But, it apparently wasn’t such a good thing for the Purity Distilling Company.  It is thought that their 50 foot tall, 90 foot in diameter holding tank was poorly constructed.   The man who oversaw construction of the tank, Arthur Jell, determined that there was no need to perform basic safety checks when he built the tank as he never even filled the tank with water just to check for leaks.  It is said that the tank leaked so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks.  One would think that the owners would do more than just slap on some paint.  I mean, if I had all that money invested, I’d want to avoid the cost of a cleanup and disruption of operations.  But, obviously, they preferred to try to pull the wool over the eyes of any pestering bystanders.  Passers-by may have been fooled but it didn’t solve the problem.    

This Train Would Not Be Running on Time For Quite Some Time in 1919

In the early 20th century, the primary sweetner in the United States was molasses.  It also could be fermented to produce rum and ethyl alcohol which was quite important in pre-prohibition America.  Beyond that, ethyl alcohol was a key component in the production of munitions of the day.  Now, the tank had been in use for a few years and over that time it had been filled to capacity 8 times.  On the one hand, that might suggest that proved the tank was sturdy.  However, on the other hand, the filling and emptying also would have caused the tank to expand and shrink, which would tend to increase the liklihood of fatigue on the hoops holding it together, much like metal fatigue is a concern on a frequently used aircraft.   On that warming winter day, fermentation may have been causing a buildup of carbon dioxide inside the tank.  The exact cause of what happened next might never be known but what is a fact is that on this date in 1919, a manhole cover near the base of the tank ruptured, perhaps caused by a fatigue crack.  A wave of molasses cascaded through the neighborhood at 35 mph taking the lives of 21 people and injuring 150.  It is known as the Boston Molasses Disaster.

It's Amazing What Happens When You Release Tons of Molasses

The 8 to 15 high wave of molasses had sufficient force to break the girders of the Atlantic Avenue portion of the Boston Elevated Railway.  A train was lifted off the tracks.  Buildings were swept off their foundations and city streets for blocks were left with 2-3 feet of molasses.  I’m not sure if a Humvee of today could make it through that.  Apparently, the molasses itself wasn’t the sole killer that day as the Boston Globe reported that people “were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet.”   The Globe also told the story of  “Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his sisters staring at him.”  A truck was tossed into the Boston Harbor.  Aside from the deaths and injuries from people being crushed by the force of the air, flying debris and drowning in molasses, people continued to suffer from the after-effects.  Family pets and horses were counted among the dead and injured which brought grief and economic despair for their owners.  Fits of coughing were common among the residents of the area for days after the disaster. 

When Visiting the Aquarium in Boston, Sniff for Molasses in the Air

It has been speculated over the years that the Purity Distilling Company had overfilled the tanks in late 1918 in an attempt to produce as much ethyl alcohol and rum as they could in anticipation of Prohibition.  While it is true that the 18th Amendment was ratified the day after the disaster,  it must be noted that President Woodrow Wilson opposed the Volstead Act because it did not exempt industrial alcohol and that was needed for armaments in World War I.  Beyond that,  the Volstead Act was the legislation that actually enforced the 18th Amendment which was not to take effect until January 20, 1920 and it was not passed by the Congress, after over-riding a presidential veto, until October 1919.  State prohibition laws of the time exempted industrial alcohol and the final version of the Volstead Act  eventually exempted such useage.  So, it was possible the company wanted to sell as much booze as possible but it’s not like the company’s viability rode on Prohibition.   Either way, getting taken out by a flood of molasses is a crappy way to die.  Wonder what those 21 tombstones say?  And it’s foolish, arguably criminal, behaviour by companies of yesterday that has led to the regulation of corporate America today.  Some of those regulations are probably un-necessarily constraining, are politically motivated, cost companies and shareholders money and also cost jobs.  But, one has only to look at the results of foolishness by companies like the Purity Distilling Company to lead one to conclude that the fault can be found corporate America’s mirror and those ghosts found in the background.

Nebraska School Kids From the Past Could Tell You that Winter Blizzards Happen
January 12, 2011

Blizzard Before Global Warming

Blizzard Before Global Warming

Blizzard Before Global Warming

Nebraska School Kids January 1888

On This Date In History:  Last year, the East Coast, most famously the Washington DC area, had a few giant snow storms.  Some folks blamed Global Warming.  Around Christmas this year, the northeast got slammed by a big old system that dropped 20 inches on Central Park and gave the mayor a big headache.  Now, there is another similar system that has dumped a bunch of snow and ice in the South and promises to adversely affect the northeast again.  My bet is that New York will get a significant amount of snow but I suspect that Boston will be closer to the target of the 2-foot-type snow totals and blizzard warnings.  In between these events, we had a tornado outbreak in the Ozarks and parts of the Midwest.  Ironically, parts of Arkansas that got whacked with twisters a couple of weeks ago have now had to deal with the snow and ice.  I have fully expected Global Warming articles but haven’t seen much yet.  But, you know what?  It is not unprecedented.  I recall a January  tornado that caused fatalities in Owensboro not too many years ago.  This is a La Nina year and that may have more to do with the persistent pattern we’ve had and when you get a change in the pattern, well, then severe weather can occur in between the wintry stuff.  At this point, the models way out are suggesting another potential severe outbreak in the Ozarks in a couple of weeks.  Not sure if it will happen, but its out there.

While its been snowing in Atlanta, its been in the upper 70′s to near 80 in South Florida, that is about normal. As I alluded, it’s not out of the question that we get a warm up for a few days in the South in a couple of weeks.   Winter weather is not unusual and neither are warm ups, which are  so common that it is known as a “false spring”.  In the Midwest, January 11,888 had been unseasonably warm as had the morning of January 12. A cold front came barreling down with air that dropped temperatures well below zero with high winds. Some reports of the day say that the mercury fell 100 degrees in 24 hours. ..while its possible, that may be an exaggeration.

You Can Read The Book

You Can Read The Book

You Can Read The Book
When the mercury fell, the snow began to fall. Most likely a shortwave blew up from the southwest and grabbed all of the warm moist air to the south and threw it over the cold air. People who had gone to work and especially school children had not dressed for the extreme cold as the whole thing was a total surprise. 235 people died that day, many of them school children trying to get home. Hence, on this date in 1888, the Midwest of the United States suffered from what is now known as either the “Schoolhouse Blizzard,” “The Big Brash Blizzard of 1888″ or the “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard.” One story holds that a teacher was trapped in her schoolhouse with 3 children and by 3 pm they had run out of heating fuel. She tried to lead them 82 yards to her boarding house. Visibility was so poor that they got lost in the short distance and the 3 kids died. She survived but lost her feet to frostbite. There are many other tales of rescues using rope to tie children together as they tried to get to safety.  The meteorological details surrounding the 1888 blizzard are interesting and the individual stories quite harrowing.

Extreme weather changes have gone on in this country in the winter for a long long time….long before anyone thought of global warming. Its just that now we have better forecasts to be able to prepare.

Wall Street March 1888

Not A Good Trading Day on Wall Street

It was a tough winter in 1888. In March, New York City had one of its greatest snowfalls and blizzards. From March 12-14, about 50 inches fell and wind drifted the snow to up to 40 feet. The city came to a standstill.  The storm adversely affected cities all up and down the East Coast, including Baltimore, which had temperatures in the mid 40′s the day before the storm hit.   And that winter of 1888 was well before anyone suggests that climate change had any effect on the weather.

Weather patterns really haven’t changed all that much, it’s just that forecasting has gotten so much better as well as communications.  But, snow forecasting remains very difficult and the TV honchos who aren’t on the air insist on public relations campaigns that elevate their tv weather folks to mythical proportions.  Even if a station has a top shelf Meteorologist like Jay Cardosi or Matt Milosevich, Kevin Harned or Marc Weinberg, it’s far from perfect.  It doesn’t help when a tv outfit hires a broadcaster and then labels them as  a Meteorologist. It’s really not fair to that person. Either way, snow/sleet/ice forecasts can be really beyond human abilities and so they change.  The difference between an inch of snow and 5 inches is not much.  And when you throw in ice potential, it really creates a challenge.  Be thankful for what we have today.  Those kids in Nebraska in 1888 could only dream of having someone alert them to the potential danger as did the people along the East Coast later that year.

FBI origins date back to Teddy’s Roosevelt’s attempt to keep in eye on Congress
January 8, 2011

Did Teddy Fancy Himself More Than a President?

Did Teddy Fancy Himself More Than a President?

Teddy Like Napoleon?

Teddy Like Napoleon?

On This Date in History: President Theodore Roosevelt had many crusades during his presidency and one was against corruption. He weilded power by liberally using the investigave arm of the Treasury Department, aka the Secret Service. Apologists of the practice suggested that the Secret Service was the federal government’s only trained investigative agency. Remember, this was prior to the creation of the FBI. But, opponents decried this use of federal resources as presidential thuggery, comparing the service to the secret police of Napoleon!

Livingstone Had His 15 Minutes

Livingstone Had His 15 Minutes

That little comparison probably came about since Roosevelt’s Attorney General was none other than Charles J. Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Great Nephew. Now, Congress was atwitter with rumors that President Roosevelt, in his zeal to crush corruption, used the Secret Service to create files on the private lives of Congressmen and that he meant to use them. Does this sound familiar? Remember the 900 FBI files that showed up in the Clinton White House and it was blamed on the former bouncer working in the White House, Craig Livingstone?

Anyway, Congress decided to take action and tried to restrict the reach of the Secret Service. Members of the House and Senate blasted away, claiming that Roosevelt was developing despotic powers by creating his own secret police force. Teddy fired back that he was simply using tools to fight corruption, even if the trail led right up to the doors of the Congress. The two side tossed verbal grenades at one another until on this date in 1909, Congress decided to defend its “maligned integrity.” (Is it only Congress thinks that Congress has integrity?) The House voted 212-36 to table, or formally ignore, that portion of the president’s annual address that assailed any restrictions on the Secret Service. It had not been since the days of Andrew Jackson that a president had received such a rebuke from the legislative body. It took a few years but eventually, it all got worked out. Congress restricted the use of the Secret Service but, partly due to Teddy’s use of the bully pulpit and big stick way of pushing for what he wanted, a bureau of investigation was formed in the Justice Department which later became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more commonly called simply the FBI.  While many histories point to Bonaparte’s creation of the Bureau in 1908 as the beginning, it was not until March 1909 that it officially came about as Congress, for its part, had staked out its position against any form of domestic spying.

J Edgar Hoover Confused?

J Edgar Hoover Confused?

Now, the funny thing about this is that the man who became the first head of the FBI was J. Edgar Hoover and he held the post until his death in 1972. After 40 years at the helm, he had amassed so much power and had so much dirt on so many people, many people have suggested that Hoover actually held more power than any person in the United States. Presidents were afraid of what Hoover might have in his files. It has been revealed the the FBI pressured Martin Luther King, Jr during his Civil Rights protests with many historians suggesting that the pressure put on King was directly linked to Hoover’s own private prejudice. So, in effect, the very thing Congress was afraid of came to pass except the power was not so much in the hands of an elected official, the President, but instead on the man who led the agency.

It is partly for this type of abuse of power why the framers of the Constitution did not allow for a provision for a federal police force. Well, after Hoover’s death, it was determined that no one could ever hold that type of power again and so the FBI director cannot serve for life any more but instead is limited to a ten year appointment. So, it could be said that Congress didn’t get it close to right until some 65 years after it wrestled with Roosevelt about domestic spying….keep in mind that Congress’ concern was not so much with the feds spying on your average joe….no…it was concerned with spying on them! The public certainly cannot be privy to the skeletons in the closet of its elected officials. This link will also tell you of Hoover’s own closet full of secrets that may have made him thankful that there was not a bureau of investigation for investigating the bureau of investigation. This link claims Hoover’s closet was clean…mostly….you be the judge if you care.

Weather Bottom Line:  Believe the forecasts Louisville…looks cold with snow off and on for the next 5 or 6 days.  Most models toss out a few inches total through Wednesday but I could create a scenario for more than that.  Either way, I’m not so sure that the mercury doesn’t go above freezing nearly a week.  I love it when all that ice that forms on the rocks along the freeway, like on 71 just in side the Watterson.  Looks like frozen waterfalls.

Edison Didn’t Invent the 1st Light Bulb, Just the best. And No One Remembers the Other Guys
December 31, 2010

Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Edison Invention Factory

Edison Invention Factory

On This Date in History: In 1876, Thomas Edison did perhaps the smartest thing he ever did. He created an invention factory. He moved his staff of 15 people into a large clapboard building filled with all sorts of scientific equipment and chemicals in Menlo Park, New Jersey which was then just a small rural hamlet. I’m not certain but it may have been the first research laboratory ever established and Edison proclaimed that he would produce “a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” At the time, many thought the claim was preposterous but 10 years later, Edison had been granted 420 patents…that averages out to one every 3.5 months.

First Edison Light Bulb

First Edison Light Bulb

Perhaps his most famous invention was the first practical incandescent light bulb. Note the word “practical.” See, other people had applied for patents for lights but they didn’t last too long. They tried to “sub-divide” electric light or somehow make it weaker. Edison for his part kept trying to use a filament to electrify and make glow. He kept trying platinum but it kept burning up. So, he used a sort of cardboard covered in carbon but that didn’t work so well either until he created a vacuum in glass. The filament didn’t burn but instead glowed brightly. On this date in 1879, Thomas Alva Edison lit up the new year by demonstrating for the first time publically his incandescent light.

Southern Exposition 1883

Southern Exposition 1883

A couple of other items. First off, by June 1882, Edison had demostrated how the light could be used in a system and wires were laid and a small area of New York was illuminated. But, on August 1, 1883 20,000 incandescent lights burned brightly in the largest display ever seen in the world. I believe that represented more lights than existed in all of New York City. The place of this display? Louisville, Kentucky at the Southern Exposition. The building was a huge palacial area that stood for five years during the time of the exposition. It stood where you will find St. James Court today. Now, Edison gets all of the credit for the electric light and a whole slew of other inventions. But, he had an entire staff working for him. I’ve always wondered how many of those inventions really came about due to the ideas and work of his staff. Certainly it was Edison’s inspiration, but I wonder about the rest. I suppose it may be a case of those who have the gold makes the rules.

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