A Case of Cherry

January 21, 2011 - 2 Responses


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 - One Response

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 - Leave a Response

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 - 3 Responses
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 - Leave a Response
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 - 6 Responses
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.

Congress Once Funded an Expedition To Determine if the Earth Was Hollow

December 31, 2010 - 4 Responses
Harper's Weekly 1882 Symmes Hole Illustration

Harper's Weekly 1882 Symmes Hole Illustration

What Seems Idiotic Today Was Considered Fact in the Past

On This Date in History:   17th Century astronomer Edmund Halley  is more famous for the comet that bears his name but it is less well-known that he also suggested that the earth had four concentric spheres and that there was a hollow area in the center with small entrances at each pole. Inside the hollow earth, Halley said there was life and there was illumination. He thought that the aurora was caused by gasses being released from the openings at the poles. Well, this guy John Symmes carried on that idea and began a series of lectures designed to gain financial support for an expedition. He said, “I ask 100 brave companions…to start from Siberia…I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals…northward of latitude 82.” He wanted to sail over the curved rim of a polar hole into a hollow earth. Symmes must have been very convincing because after speeches given in Rossville and Hamilton, Ohio on this date (Dec 30) in 1823, the two towns passed resolutions the following day stating that the earth was hollow.  Later, Hamilton built a monument to their native son hollow earther Symmes, who not only convinced the people of the Ohio towns, but also some Congressmen who tried to get public funding for the expeditions. A hollow earth fellow traveler and newspaperman, Jeremiah N. Reynolds, joined the chorus by stressing the commercial potential of the eccentric expedition. Today, Congress might hide an earmark for the funding but in 1823, it showed fiscal restraint.

Reed's Version of Symmes Hole

Reed's Version of Symmes Hole

However, that restraint didn’t last too long because, 15 years later, the Congress actually appropriated $30,000 for Charles Wilkes to sail to Antarctica. In 1838, Wilkes set sail with 6 wooden ships to check out the South Pole. He first tried to nose in but was rebuffed when amidst strong winds, high seas and pack ice; one of his ships sunk taking the full crew with it. So, he decided on a different route, venturing into the South Pacific and charting Hawaii, Tahiti and Samoa. Sounds like Uncle Sam funded a nice vacation in island paradises to me. However, unlike Fletcher Christian, Wilkes did not get so enamoured by Tahiti and he sailed to Australia and then to the South Pole. He actually ended up making a pretty decent map of the frozen continent and today there is a 1500 mile stretch of coastline in Antarctica named Wilke’s Land.

John C Symmes II

None of that would have happened without the outlandish claims of Symmes and Reynolds, who planted the seed for Congress to fund an expedition to Antarctica to find the hole in the earth. Now, when Admiral Byrd flew over the poles(1926 and 1929), it should have put to rest the rumors of a hollow earth. But, like those who want to chase Chemtrails, hollow earth proponents refused to accept the facts and instead claim that Byrd actually entered “Symmes Hole” because Byrd had referred to Antarctica as the “Land of Everlasting Mystery” and said, “I’d like to see the land beyond the pole. That area beyond the pole is the center of the great unknown.” In 1906, William Reed took a different tact and said there was no north and south pole but instead there were entrances to the center of the earth and in 1913, Marshall Gardiner went so far as to say that there was sun 600 miles in diameter in the center of the earth. Of course, no one has reported any holes but…the claim was that the government was covering up the truth!  So, there you have it…it can’t be any more clear…Admiral Byrd has gone into the hollowed out earth and there is a government conspiracy to prevent anyone from finding out…I told you that it sounded like Chemtrails.  It’s a weird story from the past but perhaps its a good reminder that throughout history today’s facts of science sometimes become tomorrow’s silly stories.  Then again, there are those today who still believe the earth is hollow or that there is no proof one way or another regarding the center of the earth.

A Dirty Ring Around the White House Bathtub

December 28, 2010 - One Response

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 - 3 Responses

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.

A Christmas Thought

December 24, 2010 - 6 Responses


So, This is Christmas: This time of year, Christmas becomes a focus of attention. Sometimes, we hear about the scrooges out there. Sometimes we hear about the sad stories. Other times, we hear of heartlifting stories of people serving their fellow man, giving others a hand or stories of families making long overdue reunions. It used to be heard more often on public airwaves, but still we do hear the Christmas story of which the entire holiday has been based. Oh….there are the fights about communities and their “holiday parades” and the politically correct argument about saying “happy holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas,” or the annual fight about public displays. But, still the majority of Americans accept the basis of the holiday.

Does Snoopy Have it Right?

Does Snoopy Have it Right?

Now, some naysayers like to get to the root of the holiday saying that Christmas was really derived from pagan rituals and the ancient celebration of Winter. And you know what? There is some truth to that. If you read the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, you also find that the shepherds were in their fields tending their sheep, which suggests that it was not winter. So, it seems likely that the actual birth was not on December 25th, but since no one knows exactly when the birth occured, the early Church determined that December 25th was a good time. Perhaps it was an effort by the early Church to quash the pagan winter celebrations. But, to me, that is a poor excuse to dismiss the story of Christ’s birth as false. It is simply a history of the celebratory day.

Take a look at this.

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Now, there is talk that this passage from Isaiah is flawed in that the Hebrew word used in the original text is “almah” and that literally means “young woman” and not “virgin.” However, the bible never refers to an “almah” in connection with a married woman and the bible is clear that an unmarried woman is to be a virgin. Therefore, the use of “virgin” as opposed to “young woman” is completely logical.

But, all of that is semantics. Let’s get to the bottom line. Ultimately, this comes down to Faith and I fully accept that my Faith is not necessarily that of others and there is no reason for people to call each other names. But, consider that the words from Isaiah were written some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Some people are more likely to believe in the words of Nostradomus but not Isaiah even though it takes a little more imagination to create truths about the Frenchman.

As I can attest, things don’t always go the way we want them to go and we have set backs, obstacles and difficulties in life. Christmas time is not immune from that. For the past two years Snow White were in a bit of and unpleasant, unexpected circumstance.  It was tough (especially the second year) but were thankful for what we had and for each other. We feel blessed with our circumstance whether it be tough times or the many friends we have, our families and the fond memories we have and the memories still left to make. Christmas is a time of love and hope for the future.  Two years ago,  there is no way that I could ever have imagined that we would be where are we are today.  And yet,  here we are.  While I have many people to thank, I know that Providence was at work.  Nothing lasts forever and you never know what happens when you try.  Christmas is a time of gift giving.  It is ultimately the story of the ultimate gift to all who will receive.  I have found that, if I get out of the way and stop grabbing at gifts and instead let my heart be open to accept them and to give to others, then all of the issues and problems of our world suddenly aren’t so difficult.  Everything is not perfect right now but for the first time in 12 years, I get to spend 4 days in a row with just my wife and my kitty cat, and that is a gift in itself.  Snow White and I wish to extend to you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a blessed, happy new year.

Weather Bottom Line:  You know, for the majority of the dozen or so years I’ve been in Louisville, we had a White Christmas, if one considers a White Christmas as being one with snow on the ground.  Even if it has to snow on Christmas to fit the definition of the term methinks arose from the Bing Crosby movie and song, we had a number of those over the years.  This year will be no exception regardless of how you look at it. I don’t think you get snowed in on Christmas Eve but several inches will provide an opportunity for a snow angel or a snowman and then on Christmas Day look for flurries or maybe a snow shower.  Be careful on the roads and I’ll leave you with a weather Christmas story.  Whenever it snows, Snow White and I like to go out stomping about in it at about 3 AM.  We did that one time when there was about 10 inches.  When we returned to our driveway, we noticed two snow angels had been made.  By this time it was about 4 AM and we could not imagine who could have been out and about to make them.  So, I looked for footprints that might give a clue.    There were none.  I have no idea how those two snow angels got on our driveway…but I bet that it was not Nostradamus.