Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

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.

A Dirty Ring Around the White House Bathtub
December 28, 2010

Rub a Dub Dub, Big Bill Taft's Bath Could Hold Four Men In a Tub

I Don't Know if Big Bill is Right because I don't think being Secretary of War counts as part of the legislative branch. Either Way, the Tub story is more fun

On This Date in History:   According to H.L. Mencken, the first bathtub was installed in the White House in 1851 by President Millard Fillmore. Mencken wrote in a New York newspaper that the first bathtub in the United States was an “elegant mahogany contraption” installed in the home of a Cincinnati businessman in 1842. He said after that point, that the practice of bathing became popular with the wealthy. He said when word reached the masses a public outcry against the “epicurean and obnoxious toy from England” was “designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the republic.” Mencken added that it was Fillmore was responsible for the public’s acceptance for the habit of regular bathing. On this day in 1917, Mencken was basking in the glow created by his article in the New York Evening Mail titled” A Neglected Anniversary.”

He was probably still chuckling the day after his work was published because it was an elaborate hoax. December 1917 was a time of great sadness around the world due to World War I. He decided that a spoof on bathtub history would be a good way to raise the spirits fo his readers.  And who better to include in the hoax but the historically hapless Millard Fillmore.   Mencken’s joy turned to shock when he learned that his words were taken as Gospel. In 1926, he was so uneasy with the fact that his fiction was considered to be real history that he wrote a public confession of his hoax. But, no one listened and the result of his little tale have continued to this day with some sources claiming that Fillmore did indeed install the first bathtub in the White House. The real truth is that copper bathtubs and a shower were installed in the Executive Mansion on the first floor in 1833 or 1834. A permanent bathtub was put in the second floor of the White House in 1853. Mencken would have been better off publishing a true story about the White House bathtub. President William Howard Taft was 6’2″ and weighed a rotund 300 pounds. He had once become stuck in the normal presidential tub. So, he installed a tub that was 41 inches across and 7 feet long. It is said that it could hold four regular size men. The truth was stranger than fiction and this little story may be a good example of how if a lie is told enough times by enough people, then the lie becomes the truth. It also may be a good example of how we should not necessarily believe everything that we read.  And then again, perhaps it is telling that William Howard Taft is best known for being the fattest president, having a huge bathtub, standing up in the middle of the 7th inning to begin the “7th inning stretch” tradition and splitting the ticket with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign and vaulting Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.  The fact that he was the only person to serve as President and Supreme Court Chief Justice gets lost.   He was also Secretary of War.  Maybe if he’d done something more interesting while holding the important jobs then he wouldn’t be remembered as he is.  But, it could be worse, he could be remembered like Millard Fillmore who is but a footnote.  Besides, its more fun this way.

Abraham Lincoln Authorized the Largest Mass Execution in US History
December 26, 2010

Largest Mass Execution in US History Was Authorized by Abraham Lincoln and it had little to do with the Civil War

On This Date in History: The conflict between the American Indians (aka Native Americans) and European (White) settlers goes back to the original landing of Europeans at Roanoke Island and Jamestown. Just about every time the Indians tried to flip a deal, that deal was broken, most often by the Whites. Sometimes it was by design. Other times, it was not from a formal governmental policy but instead from the fact that White settlers just ignored the treaties. When the British won the French and Indian War, a policy was implemented that prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians. Settlers went into the Ohio Valley anyway. Whether it be British or later American governments, they either had no ability or no desire to enforce the treaties. Many times, it was a combination of government policy, government indifference and settler behaviour that resulted in the fracture of any given treaty. In the end, the result was the same: the Indians got screwed.

In 1851, the Dakota in what is now the northern plains states figured that their only chance for survival was to make peace. On July 23, 1851 the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux called for two bands of the Dakota to cede a big chunk of the southwestern part of the Minnesota Territory (including present day parts of South Dakota and Iowa) to the United States for $1.665 Million. A few months later, two more bands of Dakota gave up a big chunk of the southeastern part of the territory for $1.41 Million. That’s a lot of money today and was an enormous sum back then. Remember, Alaska was purchased for $7.2 Million and about 1/3 of the continental US was had for $15 Million with the Louisiana Purchase. The French and the Russians accepted a check from the US Treasury but the Indians were basically given a promise in the form of future payments and annuities. Hmmm….guess what happened?

White Refugees Escaping the Battles

The Dakota was removed from their lands to reservations but the payments were not as forthcoming. The US government decided it was best to disperse payments over time through Indian Agents. It’s hard for me to ascertain but it appears that those agents, more or less, sub-contracted out some of the work to traders. I believe that, as far as the government was concerned, payments were being made. But, the agents and traders tended to either pocket much of the money for themselves or use it for other purposes. Agents often used monies intended for the Indians to pay claims made against the Indians by White settlers. Over time, the poor guys on the reservations began to starve. As they say, the natives became restless. In 1857, a group of Dakota had an uprising that resulted in the deaths of 40 settlers in what was known as the “Spirit Lake Massacre.” A year later, the Indians tried to make nice by ceding part of their reservation lands to the settlers. That didn’t get them anything except a smaller reservation.

Harper's Weekly Somewhat Propagandized the Affair

By 1862, the Civil War was raging and the Dakota was starving. Confederate agitators were providing some supplies to the Indians and encouraging them to rise up. Johnny Reb wasn’t so much concerned with the plight of the Native Americans as much as they were hoping that they would cause such a problem that it would divert attention and resources from the Union War effort. In any event, I don’t think that the Dakota needed much encouragement. They were getting fed up and their families were starving. Rumors that the payments were not going to be made in gold due to the war really got them going. And the deceptions of the White men involved were numerous and had a long history. So, on August 18, 1862 they staged a huge uprising. Well, that’s what many histories call it. Ultimately, what the Indians were doing to leaving the reservation in search of food and if some Whites got in the way, well that was too bad. At least one group went to a settlers chicken coop and grabbed some eggs.

To make a long story short (er), the Indians were defeated and several hundred Indian males were captured.  They had military trials and were sentenced to death.  The trials weren’t exactly fair but it also wasn’t the total case for murder that some sources cite.  See, if the crimes of violence were indeed violations of the law, then punishment was justified.  BUT…the trials were considered to be part of a military commission and the commanders decided that the defendants therefore were not afforded counsel.  Then, the level of criminality suitable for the death sentence seems to have been pretty liberal.  If someone were to have been shown to have provided ammunition, or fired a single shot or done anything to help, the sentence was death.  And the evidence provided even for those types of charges was pretty thin in many cases.  No doubt, some of the accused had done acts of violence that resulted  in death of combatants or innocent victims.  But, the standards for trial would not have come close to passing muster in a modern courtroom; military or civil.  They took the word of some Indians and “half-breeds” who turned states evidence in return for lenient sentences, but they refused to consider testimony related to those who were said to have prevented murder and rape.  So, 303 men faced the gallows.

Lincoln's order authorizing the execution of 39 men

Well, President Lincoln had a dilemma.  If he allowed the executions, then European nations may take a dim view of the Union and in 1862 things weren’t going so well for the North and there was a real fear that France, England and Russia might come to support the South.  So, Lincoln made a compromise.  He reviewed some cases and determined that 39 executions could take placeOn this date in 1862, the largest mass hanging in US history took place when 38 Dakota Indians were hanged for their “crimes.”  One lucky soul at the last moment was given a reprieve by the military commander.  It’s a little known and sad episode in America and one that is often lost in the historiography of Abraham Lincoln.  It seems to contradict the notion as “Father Abraham” being the “Great Emancipator.”  In fact, it is somewhat ironic that Lincoln had already announced his Emancipation Proclamation that would take effect just 6 days after the execution of the Dakota.  But, it’s difficult to make judgements using present day sensibilities and try to transport them back to the 19th Century.  It was  different time.

 Also, Lincoln’s main objective was preserving the Union and so he probably didn’t take the time to review the situation as much as he might have otherwise.  But, the story itself is an interesting example in how the injustices done to the Native Americans of this nation seem to take a back seat to the injustices done to African-Americans or other minorities or immigrants.  Even today, as the Indians figured out how to take advantage of their status and open up Casinos beyond the reach of the IRS, state governments have tried to use courts to force them to break the treaties of the past and force them to pay taxes.  Some things don’t change…then again…some do because the courts of the late 20th century have told the state and federal governments that they cannot get their hands on the pocketbooks of the sovereign nation.  But, that’s little consolation for the 38 who swung at the end of the rope.

Weather Bottom Line:  The cold stretch is about to come to an end for awhile.  I see most forecasts call for temps to get to the 50’s as we head to the new year.  But, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out because I’ve seen some modeling data that wants to create a huge ridge that takes warm, moist gulf air all the way to the Great Lakes and Louisville pushing 70 degrees on New Years Day with a line of very strong storms approaching.  Hmmmm….probably wont be 70 but don’t be surprised to ring in the new year with some thunderstorms,which I suppose at this point is a nice break from rain.  I think we could do without the severe stuff though but we’ve had tornadoes in January in the past few years.  Not predicting that, but it’s not totally out of the question.  After that (I hate long-term forecasts) but it looks like we fall back to seasonal levels but nothing overly brutal temperature wise but again, i”m talking 10 days out and the models tend to trend toward climatology that far out so we’ll see.  Nevertheless, expect a thaw to end 2010.

First in War, First in Peace: A Eulogy For the Man Who Transcends the Ages
December 19, 2010

General of the Armies Forever

General of the Armies Forever

On this Date in History: General George Washington was eulogized on this date in 1799 with words that have come to describe him in American lore ever since. The ailing former president had died at his home, Mount Vernon, on December 14, 1799 and Congress chose a Virginian to deliver the eulogy. The man had been a close associate of Washington for much of his life and served with distinction under Washington’s command in the Continental Army. The eulogy went as follows….you’ll recognize the beginning:

Different Writing But Words Last Forever

Different Writing But Words Last Forever

“First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere—uniform, dignified and commanding—his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. . . . Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.”

Who was the man who delivered those memorable words? “Light Horse” Harry Lee, who served as a general during the American Revolution who had a son named Robert. Robert E. Lee went on to establish quite a legacy himself. The mourning period for Washington went on for a couple of months (click here for details) with “mock” funerals and processions held in cities all across the fledgling nation. The official day of mourning was what would have been Washington’s 68th birthday, February 22, 1800. If you’ve been a consistent reader of this here blog, then you can tell the high regard that I have for General Washington. We often hear of lists of the “greatest presidents” and most often, you find Washington’s name at the top, even above Lincoln. People tend to forget that, without George Washington, we would probably not have a country. Many of the traditions and policies, even today, of the nation can be traced to George Washington, whom in 1976, President Ford posthumously appointed George Washington General of the Armies of the United States (history of title) and specified that George Washington would forever be considered the highest ranking American General Officer, past and present. Nobody does it better…not even Bond.

Try Reading This

Try Reading This

Prior to that, in 1663, the Indians were brought to Christianity. The Massachusetts Bay Colony founded the first college in America in 1636 with a primary purpose being to educate Puritan ministers. Two years later, it was named for John Harvard who had left the college his personal 400 book library and half of his estate. Harvard’s first president had a dream of educating Indians to preach Puritanism to their fellow Indians. Several Indians were chosen to attend Harvard’s “Indian College” but only four attended as the others died of “hecktick fevers.” Joel Iacoomis was returning from a trip to Martha’s Vineyard when he became shipwrecked on Nantuckett, where he was done in by the natives who apparently didn’t appreciate his education. One, named simply Eleazer, died after he wrote a elegy in Greek and Latin. John Wompas didn’t die but instead quit after a year and bought a house on Boston Common. He got thrown in jail for not paying his debts but escaped to be an interesting real estate agent…he sold an entire town he didn’t own! It’s unclear if he brokered the deal for Manhattan. It must be noted that John Harvard’s Journal in 1997 said that Wompas became a “mariner.” I like the real estate story better. Only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated. He spoke Greek and Latin. But, then he died of tuberculosis when the next spring rolled around. I suppose that the Indians figured that attending Harvard was not a recipe for a long life because no one else signed up.

The Indian College sat vacant for many years, housing just a printing press. It was on that press that John Eliot produced the Algonquian Bible. Eliot’s work was the first bible produced in America.  It was 1200 pages and was called, “probably as good as any version that has been made…in a previously unwritten and so called barbarous language.” It took three years to print and its no wonder considering the english word “begat” translated to “wunnaumonieu” in Algonquian. A rare first edition turned up and was sold at auction on this date in 1986 for $220,000, which seems like a paltry sum to me for something so rare…but then again, there’s probably no one left who can speak Algonquian so it’s really just an expensive conversation piece.

The Factual Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Flowed Like an Orchestra
December 5, 2010

Rosa Parks Was More Than a Simple Seamstress Who Wanted to Ride the Bus

Real story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott is Lost in Many Historical Narratives

On This Date in History:  Often times, when history becomes part of the popular lexicon, facts get obscurred in a sanitized or abbreviated version.  In some cases, the blurring of facts is done intentionally.  In other instances, it is a result of lazy or ignorant members of the media or simply from an effort at brevity.  Most of the time, the ultimate storyline remains true at the expense of accuracy.  The process often concludes with the creation of a mythology that raises some figures to great heights while diminishing the efforts of others that history may otherwise lift to the champion pedestal.  The story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 provides an example of a historical events that involve all of the elements mentioned.  Many narratives incorrectly mark the start of the 381 day boycott heard round the world.

Robinson May Have Been the Original Force Behind the Boycott

The general story is that a seamstress, Rosa Parks, got on a public Montgomery bus and sat in a seat toward the front and was arrested for doing so and that sparked the boycott that many people point to be the initiation of the Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But, there was much more to the story that really had its roots many years before.  You see, all the way back in 1943, Rosa Parks had an issue with the bus service when she paid her fare only to see the bus drive away before she could board through the back entrance as the  driver had instructed her to do.  However, there was another incident in the 1940’s that involved a woman who has been lost to history but whom Dr. Martin Luther King described in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom  as “indefatigable”  and whom he acknowledged was “perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.”   The person of whom King referred was Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson who in 1949 boarded a sparsely occupied bus and inadvertently sat in the front seat.  The driver unmercilessly screamed at her until she fled the vehicle in tears.  Her response was to attempt to start a protest boycott.  But, when she approached her fellow members of the Woman’s Political Council with her story and proposal, she was told that it was “a fact of life in Montgomery.”  A year later, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church pastor Rev. Vernon Johns, whom is referred by some as the “father of the Civil Rights movement,” refused to give up his seat for a white passenger and was subsequently evicted from the bus.  He asked other African-American riders on the bus to leave with him in protest.  The other passengers rebuffed his urging by  telling him that he should have known better.  It’s worth noting that Jo Ann Robinson was part of Vernon Johns’ Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation.

At 15, Colvin Could Have Been Parks Before Parks

So, you see, many historians suggest that the Montgomery Bus Boycott had its origins well before 1955 and it actually involved persons of some prominence.  The circumstance also was not just happenstance.  After the US Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in public education, Robinson, who had ascended to the position of president of the Women’s Political Council,  informed the mayor of Montgomery that some 25 local organizations were considering a bus boycott to protest the city bus system policies.  The following year, the same Women’s Political Council that told Robinson in 1949 to forget about a bus boycott,  decided to listen to the call of their president and determined that  such a protest was in order.  But, leadership in the African-American community recognized that they needed a catalyst that would outrage Black bus riders enough to the point that they would respond affirmatively.  They wanted to find a person who was “above reproach” and who would agree to challenge the segregation laws in court.  They thought that they had found their person when 15 year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in early 1955 for refusing to give up her seat.   Miss Colvin was active with the NAACP Youth Council and  NAACP Montgomery Chapter President Edgar D. Nixon thought that Ms. Colvin would be the perfect person to get a boycott plan started.  His hopes were dashed, however, when it was learned the teenager was pregnant.  That brings us back to Rosa Parks. 

Photo Part of Effort to Portray Parks as a Simple Seamstress When In Reality She was Very Involved With the Organizers of the Boycott

Miss Parks was not just a simple seamstress.  In reality, she was a well-respected, educated woman with an unassailable record who had attended the laboratory school at Alabama State College; the same college for whom Jo Ann Robinson was a professor.  Parks was a seamstress but only because she could not find a job that fit her skill set.  However, for many years, Miss Parks was also working for the NAACP, serving as the volunteer secretary for President Edgar Nixon since December 1943.  She and her husband became members of the Voters League in 1944 and, for a brief time, she held a job at Maxwell Air Force Base where there was prohibited.  She often rode a desegregated Trolly on the base and she told her biographer that “Maxwell opened my eyes up.”    By the end of 1955, she had returned from Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN where she completed a workshop on race relations.   That trip was encouraged and sponsored by a politically liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr,  for whom Parks worked as a seamstress and housekeeper.  When the young Colvert was arrested early in 1955, Parks took a keen interest in her case.

Nixon Also Was Arrested During the Boycott

Many narratives suggest that, since it was known (and Parks had experienced first hand) that the bus driver on Park’s chosen route had strong racist tendencies and used harsh measures to enforce Montgomery segregation policy, Parks was encouraged to create an incident that would serve as a catalyst for a planned boycott.  Other narratives imply it was simply a coincidence that it was Parks who got arrested.  In any event, on Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks found herself on the 5th row of a crowded bus.  The rules were that Blacks and Whites could not share a seat and that Blacks could only sit from the 5th row to the back of the bus.  The first 4 rows became crowded with Whites and a white man was left standing in the aisle.  The driver instructed the Blacks on the 5th row to move to the back of the bus.  The other riders on Parks’ row complied but Rosa did not.  She was arrested and NAACP President Nixon called to find out on what charge his secretary was being held.  After has was told to mind his own business, Nixon called a white lawyer who was sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans in the hope that the Civil Liberties lawyer would help.  Nixon probably knew that the lawyer would give his assistance since the lawyer was none other than Clifford Durr, Rosa Parks employer and benefactor. 

Parks' Arrest May Have Been Part of the Plan All Along

Professor Jo Ann Robinson that night pushed for a one day bus boycott on the following Monday to protest the arrest of Parks.  She persuaded her students to distribute flyers on Friday announcing the boycott  all over town.   A group of ministers and Civil Rights leaders met to discuss the boycott but the meeting quickly fell apart and many attendees left.  Those who remained decided to spread the word of the planned boycott through word of mouth and from the pulpit.  Initially, it was thought that the boycott would be a one-day affair but they decided to meet again on Monday night to determine the effectiveness of the protest and to determine what their next move would be.  So, on this date in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.  Dr. Martin Luther King, who by that time had succeeded Vernon Johns as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, determined that a 60% participation in the boycott by African-Americans would be considered a success.  To his surprise and that of others, the busses on Monday that  rolled by his house were nearly empty.  King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom that it was a miracle and that “The once dormant and quiescent Negro community was now fully awake.”  Many leaders wanted to end the boycott and declare victory but Nixon addressed the crowd at the Monday night gathering quite forcefully.  The vote was unanimous to continue the strike. 

There Were Many Players in the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean.  There was violence and bogus arrests.  Edgar Nixon’s home was bombed, dozens of Blacks were arrested under on old city ordinance that prohibited boycotts.  Blacks who rode the bus suffered threats of violence and violence from other African-Americans.  But, on November 13, 1956 the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the desegregation laws of the Montgomery Alabama bus system and on December 21, 1956, African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama returned to the city busses.  While the Supreme Court ruling actually stemmed from Colvin’s arrest,  the story of Rosa Parks was born and soon hers would be elevated to mythical levels and while the myth perpetrated in popular culture got the end correct, the created perceptions leave the uninitiated to believe the story was something that it was not.  The truth is that the story surrounding Rosa Parks revolved around the NAACP, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Women’s Political Council and the Voters League and the principals were all connected through these organizations.  It’s pretty clear  that the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the story of Rosa Parks was largely orchestrated and not a case of a simple woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus.   Nevertheless, I suppose the outcome is all that really matters.

Snowfall through 8pm 12.4.10

Louisville Weather Bottom Line:  It would appear that I was pretty prophetic.  Over in Frankfort, snow totals ran over 4 inches while around Louisville it was more like 1-2 inches and in Southern Indiana it was more like 1 inch.  Now comes the cold, which will be the story for the rest of the week.  We may not get above 40 until the end of the week with wind chills wreaking havoc through Sunday.  By next weekend, we could be talking snow again because the pattern will be generally the same and another system should be diving down from the northwest.

1st Thanksgiving Had No Pilgrims and Was More Famine than Feast
December 4, 2010

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

FDR Wanted Everyone to Cut the Turkey A Week Earlier Than Abe Proposed

On This Date in History:  Thanksgiving has come and gone and Black Friday is in the record books.  I”m not sure how the day after Thanksgiving has turned into such a big deal.  I suppose that its been coming for some time.  Previously, I had outlined the genesis of Thanksgiving and related how President Franklin Roosevelt had once tried to move Turkey Day to a week earlier in an attempt to add an extra week to the holiday shopping season.  Sorta a disguised depression era stimulus plan. It didn’t work and the experiment was scrapped after one year.  I’m not sure what is taught now, but when I was a kid, we were taught in school about how the Indians hooked up with the Pilgrims near Plymouth Rock to have a big feast in 1621.  Today, we sit around stuffing ourselves with Turkey (not the vegetarian Snow White) and watch football games with our eyes closed and belts loosened.   Trouble is, the Puritans on the Mayflower didn’t call themselves Pilgrims; they referred to themselves as “Saints” which seems a bit presumptuous considering not too many years down the road they were burning “witches” at the stake.  The other thing is that the real first Thanksgiving was on this date in 1620 and it was in Virginia.

1st Colonists in Jamestown

The first permanent English settlement in the New World was Jamestown in 1607 in the Virginia Colony and it wasn’t doing too well. The settlers didn’t know what they were doing and the winters were harsh…remember this was during the mini-ice age. Anyway, by the spring of 1610, the colonists were coming off a tough winter and only 60 of the original 409 were left. Sounds like a good time for prayers to me! And that’s what they did and when help arrived in the form of a ship with food and supplies from mother England, they gave thanks with a prayer service. I guess they weren’t a sentamental lot because they never did anything to commemorate the event.

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Two other groups came to Virginia. They were supposed to arrive in Virginia but one(the Mayflower) ended up in Plymouth in 1620. The other (the Margaret) made it to Virginia on December 4, 1619 and their charter read “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” On December 4, 1620 they commemorated their first year in the colony, not with a feast, but instead they did the opposite and fasted as they prayed. Guess we got that part wrong too. The colonists who landed at what they called Berkeley Hundred didn’t get a chance to mark their second anniversary…some were all killed by Indians and the rest retreated to Jamestown. Maybe they were upset that they weren’t invited to the First Thanksgiving.

ETA Thinks You May Need a Snow Shovel

GFS Thinks It Will Just Be a Pretty Weekend

Weather Bottom Line:  We have another pretty good shot at some snow and this time it will probably be more substantial than what we got on Thanksgiving night.  The long wave pattern is such that there is a dominant and persistent trof in the Eastern half of the US.  The reason why its persistent is because there is a big fat high, or ridge, in the middle of the Atlantic.  There is also a big trof on the front side of that ridge.  That forms a pattern that looks like the greek letter Omega, which is why its called an Omega Block.  Typically,  the Omega pattern is one that puts the breaks on progressive change in the long wave pattern; hence the name Omega “block.”    So, England has been getting slammed with big time snow along with much of the rest of western Europe.  And on this side of the pond, there is the persistent trof with the storm track running from the northern plains throgh the Ohio Valley to the Carolina Mountains.  So, we have another strong shortwave zipping down the storm track through the area.  We have some moisture to work with too.  The heaviest snow will be to the left of the core of that shortwave or “upper low.”  It will be impossible to forecast exactly who gets the biggest snow until about 12 hours before its arrival.  The ETA advertises some 4-5 inches for our area.  The GFS has the track about 50 miles farther east or northeast and so it only has about 1-2 inches.  Take your pick.  My guess is that both will be true for the area, but not for everyone in the area with folks over toward Frankfort having a better chance of 4 inches than the people in Lanesville, Indiana.  After that, the cold air will spill in behind and it will remain chilly for the forseeable future until the Omega Block decides to move.

When War Closed the NYSE for Nearly 5 Months
November 28, 2010

Silent Cal Knew About America's Business

On This Date in History:  When World War I first broke out, the United States was officially neutral.  Calvin Coolidge would later say as President that the business of America was business and that idea had already taken hold at the outset of the Great War.  America not only wanted to stay out of the war, but also expected the beligerants to adhere to international law and allow Uncle Sam to conduct business as usual.  That meant allowing the United States to continue to participate in free trade.  Well, the Brits weren’t about to give up their advantage on the high seas by allowing Germany to get supplies, even food, from overseas.  Any supplies that Germany got would add to its ability to make war.  So, the Royal Navy used its huge numerical advantage to use with a naval blockade.  The US was not happy that its ships were being stopped and searched or its ships were denied entry to certain ports.  But, typically, American merchants were simply escorted to British ports by the navy and their cargo was searched.  A process was also set up for damage reparation claims.  Fearing that good were getting to the Axis powers in an indirect way, the British expanded the blockade to include neutral Baltic states.

Sinking of Lusitania Changed American Attitude

The Germans did not have a surface fleet sufficient to blockade goods from the Allies so they went below the waves.  The Germans used their U-Boats, or submarines, to sink ships that were supplying the Allies, mainly through England.  The difference between the two was that the U-Boats dispensed with the dangerous, more acceptable practice of stopping and searching ships and simply began torpedoing ships without warning.  If the ship was suspected of supplying the Allies, the fish went in the water and down went the ship.  Activity such as this began to gain the ire of the Americans with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

Solid Line Nominal Prices; dashed "real" prices

Most of the time, people think that war is good for business.  But, in this case, a compelling argument can be made that both before and after US entry into World War I, American business was adversely affected.  One casualty of the war was the stock market.  When war first broke out in 1914, the financial world was fearful of what would happen in international markets;  perhaps European stock holders would sell their equities and the market would crash.  So, in July 1914, the New York Stock Exchange closed and stayed closed for about 5 months.  The thinking was that, with the major stock exchanged closed in the US and others overseas disrupted by war, then it would be much more difficult for anyone to dump their stocks.  But, almost immediately, a curb or street exchange developed with traders working about a block from Wall Street matching up buyers and sellers for securities.  It provided some much needed liquidity and was referred to as New Street.  However, Uncle Sam ran into a problem.  The government needed money and raising taxes wasn’t enough.  They needed to sell bonds but without a market to sell its debt, then it was in trouble.  So, on this date in 1914, the only US exchange reopened on a limited basis.  Equities were still not traded but bond markets were re-opened.  A few days later, stocks resumed trading.  And, there was no crash.  But, there also wasn’t a war boom.  For the most part, the stock market went sideways except when one figures in the effect of inflation.  In that case, the real stock value was decidedly downward. 

Most of the time, we think of the US as being a wild west show when it came to financial markets prior to the Great Depression; that before 1929 there was no government regulation.  But, as this story illustrates, the Federal Government was indeed involved in trying to control market results.  In this case, it had the largest exchange in the world shuttered until the government needed it.  Talk about insider trading.  But, it was all about business and the declaration of Silent Cal was true before he was president and 80 years after his administration.  The business of America is business.