Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Brewery on the Palisades: The White Brewery

In today's world, craft beer has taken on a life of its own. Anyone with a passion for beer can brew themselves a nice homemade batch, like I have done, or with enough capital can start a venture in the brewing business. This last weekend I visited the New Jersey Beer Company in my home town of North Bergen, New Jersey. I had their Hudson Pale Ale and the seasonal, Wheat Heavy, both very excellent beers. But while I was there enjoying some finely crafted beers, good conversation, plenty of laughs and the ambiance of the brewery I noticed, cover by a jacket or 2 a familiar poster on the wall. The poster was an old advertisement for the Hudson County Consumer's Brewery, which was once located where present day Union City High School is. During its heyday it was the probably the most successful brewery in the area, only the William Peter Brewery Company, which is now the American Self Storage building in Union City, could have been a close second. Seeing the poster got me thinking, what about the breweries before Hudson Consumer's and William Peter? I know Hudson County has a long history of brewing, which the NJ Beer Co. is now continuing, but which brewery could be called the first in Hudson County?

Weehawken Ferry (1875) by Andrew Melrose
Notice the White Brewery in the upper left area.

I will give credit where credit is due, the first actual brewery in Hudson County was Aert Teunison Brewery of Hoboken, which began operation in roughly 1648. However, after that the idea of what we'd call a brewery died out and only small home brewers would supply the public and basically 17th and 18th century brew pubs would be the only place you could grab a cold one...coldish one. However, that would change in 1855. Otto Kohler of Hannover and Andrew Finck, of Munich, opened the first major brewery in Hudson County in the area that would become Guttenberg, White Brewery. However, Finck would leave in the mid 1870s to from his own brewing business in New York City, the White Brewery accountant Woltze Kamena, would then become Kohler's partner for a brief time. Finally it would be run under the name Kohler & Son, as it became a family run endeavor after 1876, with his sons Frederick and Peter. The brewery was between the area known as Belle Vue, now the area of Guttenberg between 68th and 71st and Park and Boulevard East, and Bulls Ferry Road. The brewery was quite impressive, standing at eight stories high and perched on the edge of the Palisades, it was the major landmark atop the the cliffs at the time.

The brewery was also home to an outdoor beer garden, obviously, and a dance hall. The brewery also sponsored and housed a sporting club. Wrestling and boxing matches were held weekly and even a cock fight or two were known to take place there, I know, it was a different time. The brewery also sponsored medicine shows, which Kickapoo Indians were brought in and gave examples of Native American medical practices. The brewery was not only used by residents of Hudson and Bergen county, but by Gothamites as well. Every weekend the brewery would be filled to capacity with people from all over and from all social classes. 

The White Brewery circa 1862
History of West New York

Aside from being an extensive building the brewery also dug deep into the Palisades. Remember this brewery was built in 1855, and the idea of modern refrigeration was still a long ways away, but they had the next best thing, the Palisades. The blue stone of the Palisades provided for a cool place to store the barrels of beer produced.  Under the brewery 2 storage rooms were kept, both 60 feet high. Tunnels were also dug at the base of the Palisades to keep beer cool as it waited to be ferried to New York City, which if your old enough may remember them before the Galaxy and river front was developed. Most of the lager produced at the White Brewery made its way to New York City. However, for sometime, Kohler had his bottle beer shipped to distant ports, mainly in England, Germany and Holland as many shipping lines from these countries called New York Harbor their American home port. Even though the brewery was a success the White brewery was not destined to be in operation forever.

Stock Photo

Otto Kohler would pass away in 1880, and is buried in the famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and with him ended not only Kohler & Son, but the White Brewery as well. The brewery was sold several times and each new brewing company failed to have the success of Kohler. From 1880-1884 Hauenstein & Weiss Brewery operated in the building followed by Alois Kremer Brewery (1884-1891) and finally August Hammersen Brewery (1891-1896). After the August Hammersen Brewery closed the building was left vacant. It burnt down in October of 1896. Today, the memory of Kohler and the brewery are practically gone. Kohler was a great man, an intelligent business man but a man of the people as well. With any venture he partook in, he was always interested in how it would affect the people of Guttenberg. He was influential in the creation of the Guttenberg school system. He was frank, open and outgoing. When he wasn't in the brewery or working to make Guttenberg better, he tended to his grape vines and cacti, that's right the man grew cactus in Guttenberg. Kohler was kind of an unofficial representation of Hudson County. His brewery stood proudly atop the Palisades as a welcome sign to those in New York City looking to escape to the "country" for the weekend, while at the same time was a community gathering place for locals, as the first annual Guttenberg Ball was held there on October 29, 1866. That is why, as I sat in the New Jersey Brewing Company building, enjoying more than a few drinks, I found it amazing that the brewing industry is returning to the area and in almost an unchanged manner. Locally brewed beer, people coming to enjoy it, and it's shipped elsewhere. So even though Kohler and his business are long gone from the memories of Guttenberg, it is important to remember the man for what he contributed to the newly forming town, and that at one time in the town's history, it was home to Hudson County's own King of Beers

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Revolutionary War Comes to North Bergen

The Revolutionary War is a huge part of New Jersey History, especially right here in Hudson County. The British held a fort in Bergen Neck, now present day Bayonne. At the time, the Continental Army used the area for spying on British held New York City. Even George Washington was known to travel along the top of the Palisades to observe British activity in New York harbor. The Battle of Paulus Hook was fought in Jersey City in 1779 so the county was a hot bed of activity between Patriots and Tories. However, one event always seems to fall through the cracks of history. Perhaps it has been overshadowed by the victories at the Battle of Monmouth and Stony Point, both turning points for the Americans in the war, it could also be overlooked due to the arrival of the French, or it could be the the Baylor Massacre took place only a year prior in River Vale. The war itself also started to move south, as the Siege of Charleston began only 3 weeks before, and was an utter disaster for the Americans. The main reason it's been forgotten is because it was not an American victory, even though it would later be proved successful in its own right. The event at hand is the Battle of Bull's Ferry, yes, as in Bulls Ferry Road - and no, it was not a battle to beat that red light at the top of the hill! It put one of the greatest American generals (perhaps in our nation's history), "Mad" Anthony Wayne and his troops against staunch Loyalists whose goal was to support the crown and keep the colonies as is, in the last major skirmish in the North Campaign.

A little background information on Bull's Ferry is need first to understand why the battle took place. First, Bull's Ferry is named for the Bull family that first operated the ferry. It was the second-most used ferry to get to New York City during the Revolution, first was Burdett's Landing in Edgewater. It was accessible from every major road way the time and was the link between the farms, forests and other resources the British desperately needed to supply New York City during the occupation. The main reason Bull's Ferry became a target for the American's was due to the harsh winter of 1779. The unbelievably harsh winter that year caused New York City to literally burn through their supply firewood to keep themselves warm. Some reports even claim people took to dismantling sections of their homes for firewood and even taken wood from the British fortifications throughout the city. British general Henry Clinton was in charge of the city and responsible for keeping it a safe, happy and fully functioning during the war. During the winter a blockhouse was built near Bull's Ferry, which some say was actually on the border of present day North Bergen and Guttenberg as the site of the Blockhouse is not clear based on different histories and maps, some placing it a top the Palisades, others right on the river and some with it placed in between.  The Loyalist  there would use it to gather lumber from the woods Hudson County, starting with the woods in the Woodcliff area of North Bergen and send it into New York. The British placed Captain Tom Ward there with seventy men to fulfill the task of supplying the city. As you could imaging, George Washington was not very happy General when he learned about this, so on July 20, 1780 he order Anthony Wayne to take care of the any means necessary. (Not his exact words! I may have just added that for some dramatics.)

The next day the attack began. Wayne commanded the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Brigade, which had 4 pieces of artillery and the 4th Continental Light Dragoons. The offensive began with an hour long cannonade, lasting about an hour. However, due to the locations of the blockhouse, which according to Wayne's battle report was nestled strategically along the Palisades, most of the American fire missed. The blockhouse was also well protected with a protective stockade and ditches to slow the American's advancement. Some men from Wayne's force did make it to the stockade but found it impossible to break through. The fight continued for most of the day with the British Loyalist, about 70 of them under the command of Thomas Ward peppering the attacking Americans with musket fire from the safety of the blockhouse. Wayne attacked with roughly 2000 men, 50 of which would be injured and 15 would fall during the attack. It is rumored that as the Americans pushed to take the blockhouse, the Tories were quickly running out of ammo and about to surrender. However, word reached Wayne that British Regulars were being sent from New York City to reinforce the despaired Loyalists, which made Wayne hasten and wisely get out of town.

The attack on the blockhouse may have not been a direct victory for the Americans but the attack would result as beneficial to the Americans in the area for the remainder of the war. First, the blockhouse was abandoned. The damaged caused by the Americans during the attack was enough for the Clinton to leave it and send his men to Fort Delancy in Bergen Neck (Bayonne). Second, with the blockhouse unusable, lumber supplies to British occupied New York City would have to come from somewhere else. Also during the attack, Wayne had sent the 4th Continental Light Dragoons, lead by "Light Horse" Harry Lee to Bergen Neck to round up cattle and horses that the British kept there. However, Wayne's reputation was tarnished, for the time being. Matters were not made any better due to the British Major John Andre's poem, The Cow Chace, mocking Wayne and his failed attack. The lash back was so bad Washington himself had to defend Wayne to the Continental Congress. Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, and on a complete side note, when John Andre was taken to the gallows for his actions in relation to Benedict Arnold, he was accompanied by no other than Anthony Wayne. But we all know what happened from there on out. The colonies win their independence, the United States is born and our history had begun to be written. But what happened to the blockhouse?

The blockhouse was last use by the British in 1780. After the Battle of Bull's Ferry, the house fell into disrepair. The area then became a lumberyard and mill in the mid 19th century. The door of the blockhouse was salvaged around the close of the 19th century and placed in a museum near Hasbrouck House, Washington's Headquarters at Newburgh. The foundation of the blockhouse was still visible until the late 1920s, but then covered due to the ever changing nature of the Hudson County waterfront. Today, there is no marker where the blockhouse once stood or the events that took place around it. Today, the door to the blockhouse sits in a storage room on Peedles Island State Park, as a relic of the past. It is a piece of forgotten North Bergen History, and I feel as a resident of this great town, the door should be returned.  So as the waterfront continues to develop, new homes and businesses will be added, but it is important the Battle of Bull's Ferry be remembered, and the it's legacy be a milestone in the town's history.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Forgotten Officer Down of West Hoboken

Hudson County, New Jersey is perhaps one of the most historical areas in America. The Lenape Indians had a history in the area long before the arrival of Henry Hudson (Weehawken). The Dutch settled the land and created Bergen (Present day Hudson and Bergen Counties). The Revolutionary War was fought in Paulus Hook (Jersey City) and at Bull's Ferry (Guttenberg). The Burr and Hamilton Duel took place at the Weehawken Dueling Grounds. The spot along the Underground Railroad (Jersey City). The Guttenberg Racetrack which would later turn into a testing ground for early flying attempts (North Bergen). Millions of immigrants from across the globe have continually made every town in Hudson County home, from the Germans and Irish of the 19th century to the Italians of the early 20th century up to today's Hispanic immigrants that now add a new chapter to the areas history. The towns of West New York and Union City were giants of the embroidering industry. The political powerhouse that was Mayor Frank Hague (Jersey City). The shipping industry that once dominated the Hudson River (Hoboken). Hell the film Rocky is based on Chuck Wepner (Bayonne). There is so much history in this area it is easy to see how some of it can fall into the cracks. Recently, I found myself walking past the Union City Town Hall. Outside there is a small monument to the police officers who lost their lives protecting Union City.One name that stuck out was the first name on the list, Charles Harm. I felt the need to write about Harm and keep his story of service and duty alive. The story of Charles Harm will take us back to 1922. A very interesting time in, not only American History, but Hudson County. A time when Union City wasn't a town, North Bergen and Jersey City were still broken up into neighborhoods and a time in which Hudson County was a cross roads for many.

Just a little background information of the Lieutenant Detective. Charles Harm was born July 17, 1894 in Secaucus, NJ to John Harm, a saloon keeper who was also a former Councilman of West Hoboken and Freeholder of Hudson County, and Louisa, he was one of two children, the other his sister Frieda. They moved to West Hoboken around 1905  Harm joined the West Hoboken Police Department, badge number 41, in 1916 and was assigned to the motorcycle division. By 1920 Harm was promoted to Detective Lieutenant, for having an excellent service record and his physical prowess. In 1919 he married his wife Anna and had two children Louisa, born 1919 and Charles, born 1921.

History of West Hoboken

On Sunday January 29, 1922 Harm was assigned to escort a bank messenger from First National Bank of North Hudson, located at 141 Summit Ave., to the West Hoboken Post Office, at 402 Clinton Ave, present day 20th street and New York Ave. The bank messenger was sending $21,000 from the bank to the Federal Reserve in New York City. The bank messenger was 21 year old Secondo Gallo, a West Hoboken native. The job of escorting the bank messenger was routine, and a job traded between Harm and Captain Angelo Stanton. Harm and Gallo got on a trolley to Highpoint Ave., now 22nd St. and Clinton St., now New York Ave. As they walked towards the Post Office they were approached by 3 men, at Monastery St., now 21st St., not to be confused with Monastery Place. The trip took a total of about 15 minutes.

Clinton Ave, Between Stevens and Monastery 

As three very well dressed men neared, Harm warned Gallo “Look out for these guys,” and “if anything was to happen, run for the post office.” It was 1:30pm and snow had just begun to fall. As Harm readied to reach for his pistol, two of the men drew theirs and opened fire. Harm was first hit in the right elbow, then once in the torso. Harm then took out his .38 caliber Colt and opened fire, firing twice and then his pistol jammed. Now in between 20th and 21st St. with a jammed gun, Harm, with two bullets in him, stood up and started to push the robbers back. By the time they reached 21st St. they realized his gun was jammed. During this time Gallo was making a run for it. The robbers shot at Gallo, even with jitney bus passing by. As Gallo ran he dropped the money between the jitney bus, which was now stopped, and the curb. The robbers then picked up the bag even with the bus full of witnesses and made off with the money. They made off in a Dodge Touring Car, the model was never identified.

Stock Photo

Harm barely made it to Dr. John O'Conner, the town doctor's, home at 434 Clinton Ave, (New York Ave.) The doctor opened the door to find a bloody Harm, “They got me and got away with the money,” “Call up headquarters,” and then he collapsed. The West Hoboken P.D. Had already been alerted by numerous witnesses, since the Post Office was in a residential area. There was even an innocent bystander wounded. Mrs. Magnofio, who lived on the second floor at 401 Monastery St. (401 21st.) was hit in the face by a piece of bullet after if broke through her window and passed through the wall separating the kitchen and dinning room. She was having lunch and did survive. Witnesses included Joseph Arn, a retiree, William Leifer, manager of the Lincoln Theatre, William Baach and Henry Ebel, both Post Office employees.

North Hudson Hospital

Chief of Police George Rohrbach and Captain Stanton headed the investigation. They theorized that the robbers had inside information coming from the bank, as the escorts varied, in date, time and officer. They believe that the robbers waited outside the bank then made it to Monastery Pl. (21st St.) first and waited to see Harm and Gallo and cut them off in between the trolley and the Post Office. They took statements from witnesses, Gallo, O'Connor and Harm. There was never any suspicion attached to Gallo as “he told a straightforward story, which corroborated with Lieutenant Harm.” Harm was taken into surgery and operated on in North Hudson Hospital. The doctors involved were Dr. O'Connor, Dr. Louis Lang and Dr. H.H. Tyndall. They believed that Harm would make it through the surgery due to his physical stature. However, he'd succumb to his wounds the following afternoon, January 29th, at 5:20pm. His wife and 2 children, his parents, Chief Rohrbach and Captain Stanton were at his bedside. The bullet that killed Harm was the second bullet that struck him, it entered just under his heart, cut through his liver and exited his right side. Harm was laid out in Amsterdam Hall in West Hoboken. He was posthumously promoted to Captain at the urging of Mayor William G. Weller, in order for his wife to receive a an $1,100 dollar pension instead of $800. A relief fund started by Harm's friend also raised over $1,000 dollars for the Harm family. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery.

West Hoboken

On January 31st two men were arrested in connection to the murder/robbery. 27 year old Carl Rettich and 22 year old Benjamin Alberts, both of Hoboken. They were charged with highway robbery and murder. Alberts was arrested in his home, while Rettich was found at the Hudson Tube Terminal(Hoboken PATH Station) in Hoboken. Both were known criminals, Alberts for car theft and conspiracy to commit car theft, also they were both arrested in 1919 for holding up a drug store in Brooklyn. They bound, gagged and robbed the merchant, but the charges were dropped. Rettich was also tried for the murder of a man in Homestead, NJ (which is now in North Bergen, it would be the area between Schuetzen Park and the Five Points) but was acquitted. Aside from these charges, they've also been arrested several times for disorderly conduct. The arrest was made by Lieutenant Herman Bolte of the WHPD and charges were preferred by Chief Rohrbach. On January 31st, WHPD predicted 3 more arrested would be made shortly, as witness put 5 men in total at the scene of the crime, 3 shooters, a lookout and a driver.

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This is were it gets weird. After interrogating Alberts and Rettich, the WHPD concluded this was the work of professional gunmen, a gang. From the information they were given it showed the gang had some ties to the Baff murder several years early which grew out of problems with lower Manhatten poultry dealers, Carl Alberts' father was Morris Alberts, was Hoboken poultry merchant with ties to the crime. It was also believed that the gang worked for local bootleggers and gambling houses that need help. The police also issued a warrant for the arrest of Lawrence Garavanti aka “Babe Seiger.” He was a prize fighter and local roughneck with connections to multiple crimes, a hold up in Weehawken resulting in the death of a messenger, a Public Service messenger in Secaucus, the murder of Yung Wing Fong in Hoboken, and a hold up in Jersey City, as well as the Baff murder.

Stock Photo

Garavanti was arrested on February 2nd along with John Marthaler aka “Dopey Benny.” Both 22 and residents of Hoboken. A source told the Hoboken Police that they could be found at the Hotel York on 7th Ave and 36th St. in Manhattan. Police from Hoboken and New York City waited for the 2 suspects across the street at the Mills Hotel. The suspects were stopped outside the hotel and when one of the Hoboken officers were recognized, Garavanti swung at the officer and was taken to the ground, as was Marthaler after he struggled to make a run for it. Now with 4 men in custody, the police reviled that Harm, Gallo and several witness pick photos of Alberts, Rettich and Marthaler. Marthaler was the first to draw his pistol at the scene of the crime. Garavanti, however could not be placed at the crime.

Stock Photo

The four men would ultimately be released from custody and Harm's case would remain open for another 10 years. Of those 4, one died and 2 more were arrested and sent to prison on unrelated charges. Rettich was arrested for mail robbery in East Cambridge, Massachusetts and convicted to 25 year sin 1935. Alberts was also arrested in the mid 1930s and Marthaler died in the late 1920s. Garavanti would live the rest of his life out in Hudson County, passing away in 1978.

Harm's wife would remarry, his children would grow up and have families of their own. His son served proudly during WWII with The Big Red One and was awarded a Purple Heart. His daughter went on to become a teacher receiving her Master's from Montclair University. According to his grandson, Craig Harm, the actions of their grandfather on that snowy January day will never be forgotten by the family and the story of his heroism has been and will continue to be passed down from generation to generation. So, I wonder, why is Harm's actions reduced to just a name etched on a stone? Could Jose Marti Freshman Academy or Colin Powell Elementary not have been named for Charles Harm? Especially since both of those schools fall in what used to be the town of West Hoboken. Could the stretch of New York Ave between 21st and 23rd streets not be call Charles Harm Way? Or the intersection of of 21st street and New York Ave be called Charles Harm Plaza? I know a new page of history is written every day, but does that mean we have to forget the past and the sacrifices made by everyday citizens? I know the family and the descendants of Secondo Gallo don't and certainly not the family of Harm. I guess what I am trying to say is, it is important to preserve our areas History, while we continue to write the next chapter of it. History is a reflection of ourselves, so what does it say when we forget someone like Charles Harm.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Have The Valet Bring My Zepplin Up.

The Empire State Building is perhaps the iconic skyscraper. It has stood the test of time as a classic piece of art deco architecture, and has continued to dominate the city's skyline ever since its completion. Recently, the Empire State Building has gotten an update. There has been a new antenna put on and most notably are the new LED lights that illuminate the New York Skyline every night. So it got me thinking, what is something most people don't know about the Empire State Building. I could talk about the Astoria Hotel, which once stood where the Empire State Building sits now, the beautiful five story lobby, how a B-25 crashed into the building in 1945, that the building has been visited by numerous celebrities since 1931 including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, Fidel Castro and Queen Elisabeth II to name a few, or that at the cornerstone laying, only one man in New York City declined to go, Walter P. Chrysler. But then I thought, I need something better and bigger. So I looked to the higher floors of the building, and did you know, when the Empire State Building was completed, it was fully equipped with a zeppelin mooring station, aka a parking spot for a blimp.

The idea of making it possible for zeppelins, blimps, dirigibles or whatever you like to call them docking at the Empire State Building came in 1929. The theory came from the investors who backed the building and were, well looking for more investors and money, a 1250 foot and 2 inch building doesn't come cheap you know. They even had an image produced of the US Navy's airship Los Angeles docked on the antenna (shown above), using the 1929 version of Photoshop. Now the building itself was originally supposed to be only 1050 feet high, but the idea of docking a blimp forced the designers to add an addition 200 feet, also they really wanted to dwarf the Chrysler Building, which in my opinion is a much better building, but that's another story. The idea was also brought up thinking trans Atlantic travelers would be much happier "landing" at the Empire State Building, hop in an elevator and be on the city streets in just a few minutes, instead of landing in New Jersey. the funny thing though is, no zeppelin, blimp or dirigible company even asked for this, and the market for those traveling across the Atlantic on airships was still just a small number, as travel by sea was more affordable. So you really have to ask, why even bother?

BIG DREAMS! That's why even bother! It's New York City at the onset of the Great Depression and if anywhere in the US was not going to be affected by poverty it was going to be New York. We all know this not to be completely true, but the Empire State Building was a huge deal back in 1930. It was setting a president for which all future skyscrapers would be measured to, so of course it needed a dock for airships. But here is what really happened. I think it was a grand dream of the designers and an even bigger venture by the owners to do something not only different but unique and that would generate tons of cash for the building. The idea of people flying into New York, getting out and being in their hotel, or business meeting or whatever they were doing there in a matter a minutes was an idea that would change the construction of buildings forever. But sadly it would never happen, and mainly because the dominating airship companies found it to be not practical. Dr. Hugo Eckner, of Graf Zeppelin the world leader in airship travel at the time, pointed out numerous flaws and found that trying to connect to a building would be impossible. So the dream of zeppelins landing at the Empire State Building was dead...or was it?

We all know that when American's have an idea we stick to it, I mean Americans invented the light bulb, the Colt Revolver, the internet, the rainy day cigarette holder, the curved barrel machine gun and the Slap Chop. So certainly they could figure out how to attach a zeppelin to a building. They never did. They made several attempts but nothing ever proved to be successful. The Naval Airship J-4, the Goodyear Blimp, the airship Columbia and several other tried. The most success came from a smaller blimp owned privately which connected for only 3 minutes and unloaded no passengers or goods. The problem was, first, the winds. Wind gusts at the top of the Empire State Building reach between 40 and 50 MPH. Second, it takes more than a few ropes to hold a blimp in place. Third, no airship company wanted it. And lastly, it was too dangerous, I mean we all know what happened to the Hindenburg, now imaging that, over New York City, not a good idea. In theory docking an airship there may be one of the coolest ideas in history. But it would never happen.

The idea of getting off on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, walking on a small ramp to the observation deck that gives you a sensation of being pushed off the building, doesn't sound like something people would sign up for. I know I'd need to be blindfolded and guided off with a safety harness on in order to do something like that. But I don't think that is what stopped the venture from happening. I think it was just viewed as impractical by the airship companies and simply easier to land in a field than to risk attaching to a building. Today building engineers look back at the daring idea and see that it was possible, with a little tweaking. The idea was a grand one and is pretty sad to see that it never came to be. Today we are left with some doctored photos and some records of what could have been. The Empire State Building has always been viewed as before it's time and the idea of docking a blimp to it just adds to the buildings legacy and the allure of  the Empire State Building. A mooring station would have paved the way for the city of tomorrow, well a city of tomorrow in the 1930s sense, but image the impact it would have had on the Big Apple today.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Hope You Don't Mind, I am Bringing My Friend Tisquantum To Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving, the day which almost every American family gathers together to give thanks for what they feel blessed to have, but mainly all we do is stuff our faces and watch football...and there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows the story of Pilgrims, the Mayflower, the landing at Plymouth Rock, the inviting of the Native Americans and so on. Then Americans know more contemporary History about the holiday, Congress passed a law in 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, the Macy's Day parade has been bringing in the Holiday season since the 1920s, Abe Lincoln set the first Thanksgiving in 1863 and so on...ok well most people don't remember that stuff. But the one often forgotten part of not just Thanksgiving, but the first Thanksgiving is my main man Tisquantum, or as he is better known as, Squanto.

The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School

Squanto, what do we know about him? Well not much. Everything we know about him is second hand and kinda legendy. For instance, historians aren't even sure when his birthday is, which is why there is no Squanto Day holiday. They also have no idea where he was born, so instead of continuing to research it, they take an "educated guess" and say he was born somewhere around present day Plymouth. What is know about the young Squanto is he was abducted by Captain George Weymouth. But believe it or not, they aren't to sure about the year, best guess is 1605, and better yet they are not sure where the captain found him, some say along the coast near Plymouth, others say somewhere along the coast of Maine. It was after this that Squanto was taken to England, taught English and trained to be a guide and interpreter for future English expeditions to the New World. Ok, so Squanto experts know two things for sure, I wonder if they know if Squanto liked tea and cricket as well.

The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School

Squanto was supposed to return back to his people in 1614. He should have but a man by the name of Thomas Hunt, abducted Squanto and several other Native Americans and planned to sell them in Spain. Luckily for Squanto and the others, some local friars caught wind of Hunt's plane and helped the Natives escape. The friars then intended to teach the Natives about Christianity, Squanto on the other hand was more interested in getting home. So he made his way from Spain to London and then hooked up with John Slany, a shipbuilder, who taught Squanto more English and then stuck him on a ship heading to the New World...well it would be Squanto's Old World...he was going home in 1617. However, when the ship reached Newfoundland, Squanto was informed he'd need to receive permission in order to go back to his native lands. So he hope back on a ship to England, go the permission need and finally was able to return home in 1619. The home coming was not the kind of fairy tales however. Squanto learned that after he left, his people were killed off by the settlers, either through warfare or disease. It is here that Squanto falls out of the scope of written history, but don't worry he comes back again.

In 1621, Squanto had been living with the Wampanoag Indians. When fellow tribesman Samoset made initial contact with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Squanto was called up to be the middle man between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag. Squanto then acted as an ambassador for both groups. It is believed by Squanto historians that if not for his help that the Pilgrims would have never survived their first harsh New England winter. Again, this is where fact means legend, but it is believed that Squanto taught the pilgrims how to farm the lands of Plymouth Rock and how to fish the waters around it. Squanto basically retaught a group of city slickers how to live in the untamed wilderness, he was basically the 17th century Les Stroud. This of course is what Americans today celebrate as the first Thanksgiving, even though that isn't the first Thanksgiving.  Squanto was a diplomatic statesman by this point, having allegiance to his people but feeling morally obligated to helping the new settlers survive, he was more or less a 17th century Henry Kissenger. Towards the end of 1621, he acted as a guide and translator for Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow. He was even kidnapped by his own people, in which Myles Standish responded by getting a posse together to rescue Squanto if he were alive or, if he had been killed, to avenge him. He was found alive and well, but because of the rescue attempt by Standish, Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoag lost trust in Squanto and sent Hobomok to keep an eye on him and be second in command.

Squanto continued to work closely with the Pilgrims, as a guide, translator, diplomat and so on. In November of 1622 while returning to Plymouth after a meeting with the Wampanoag, Squanto fell ill and developed a deadly fever. To make the story of Squanto even more interesting, a few days before he fell ill, while planting corn, his nose began to bleed, something Natives viewed as a death omen. he died on November 30, 1622 in present day Chatham, Massachusetts at the age of 37. It is believed by some Squanto experts that he was poisoned at the meeting by the Wampanoag, as they viewed Squanto as more of a traitor everyday he helped the Pilgrims. To the Pilgrims, the death of Squanto was devastating, as Governer William Bradford wrote, "His death was a great loss." But what is most important about Squanto is his selflessness. He was taken from his home at a young age, returned to a "New World" and then torn between two peoples. The life of Squanto is something Americans should look back on for inspiration. He faced countless trials and always overcame. He worked to make his changing world better. He acted a a bridge to peace, as even after his death the diplomatic works he arranged last from another 50 years. So today after reading this maybe it's time to give Squanto his due, even  though some of the piece of his life are missing the parts that are known make him a true hero. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Who Needs A Skyline Filled With Skyscrapers Anyways

There are two things most major American cities have in common, silly laws and skyscrapers, among other things as well, but that is another topic. For example, New York City's tallest building is One World Trade Center at 1776 feet, and the city has a law, which has probably never been enforced, were a fine of $25 can be levied for flirting. In Chicago, the tallest building is the Willis Tower, aka the Sears Tower, at 1451 feet and a city ordinance that kites may not be flown within the city limits. In Los Angeles the tallest building is the U.S. Bank Tower standing at 1018 feet and just in case you were wondering it is still illegal for dogs to mate within 500 yards of a church. I think you are getting the point, but could there be a major American city that set a height limit on its buildings? Doesn't that sound kind of un-American? Well, there is such a city and that city is ironically, Washington DC and it's Heights Building Act of 1910.

Most people have heard that buildings in Washington DC can not stand higher that the Capital Building. This is where fact meets myth. It is true there is a height restriction but the limit is not the Capital Building. In reality the law comes from the previous Heights of Building Act of 1899, that and the construction of the Cairo Apartment Building. The Cairo was built in 1894 and was 12 stories higher than the surrounding buildings, and stood at 164 feet tall. This caused two things to happen, first residents of DC freak out and dub the build "Schneider's Folly," after the buildings designer, Thomas Franklin Schneider. Second the upset residents petitioned Congress to stop other potential "skyscrapers" from being built. The Heights Act of 1899 was passed and enforced under the idea that the new technologies used in building these "skyscrapers' were untested and ultimately doomed to fail. Not wanting the nation's capital to become a chaotic scene of destruction from faulty construction the law stood and no residential building could pass 90 feet, while commercial buildings were allowed to be as high as 110 feet.

By 1910, Washington DC was growing and the city need more building space. Instead of scraping the Heights Act of 1899 they simply amended it. Section 5 was added in 1910 and made a few adjustments.I won't bore you with the measurement details but basically buildings in DC would now be allowed to be built a few feet taller and wider, but it depended on where the building was as well. Now, why did the city wait ten years later to change their building codes? Well, the building techniques were shown to be safe and the city wished to keep up with the architectural times of the 1910s. But it's been over 100 years since the Act was put into law, so why has there never been a push to build up the skyline of our nations capital?

There have been several attempts to change the Heights Act of 1910 since its enacting, but they have all been turned down. The most notable was in 1991 when Congress disapproved of a DC Council law that would amend the Heights Act. Most recently in 2012 there was the "Changes to the Height Act: Shaping Washington, D.C., for the Future" hearing. Once they hearing is completed, which should have been on November 14th of 2013, the finalized outline and documents will be given to the chairman Darrell Issa (R) of California for a possible update of the Heights Act. Along with lawmakers, developers have been licking the chops and can hardly hold control themselves when it comes to the idea of building in DC. The developers claim that amending the Heights Act will benefit the city and at the same time update it. But local residents beg to differ claiming that the law has made DC a unique place unlike any other nations capital and they also don't seem to mind the city being so short either.

The idea that Washington DC's skyline has been effected by the Heights Act of 1910 is just bunk. And the idea that buildings in DC can not be built higher than the Capital Building is also just silly. However, the idea has been spread by articles in the Washington Post, The American Surveyor Magazine and even the WE Love DC blog which just proves that these guys just don't know how to fact check. But, back to DC's skyline. The skyline of DC is something unique in America. Instead of being lined with buildings that are a testament to making money, the DC skyline is filled with buildings and monuments that are a testament to America. When you walk around the city and look up and see the Capital Building's dome, the Washington Monument or the National Archives Building you see structures that honor the spirit of America. Or if you see the Cairo Hotel, the Old Post Office Pavilion or  Healy Hall you can see architectural history come to life without straining your neck. The idea the DC needs to have buildings as tall as New York or Chicago or Los Angeles is wrong. DC is the nationals capital and should have a certain aesthetic to it, tree lined streets, open spaces, clear skies, a vibrant city that all, Americans and visitors, can enjoy and not just another concrete jungle. Sometimes simplicity is the best design.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Call The Ghost of Elva Zona Haester Shue To The Stand!

As you can see this post is published on October 31st and that means only one thing, its time for a creepy story about American History. No, I will not be talking about the 2000 Presidential election, but rather of an eerie yet interesting event that took place in West Virginia around the turn of the century. Everyone has watched a TV show that featured a climax in the courtroom, so one can picture all the crazy defenses and unexpected surprise witnesses. But this 1897 murder mystery takes the cake and no writer today could even imagine handing this type of story over to a publisher, well unless they work for the Fox Network. To most, it has been forgotten, but lets revisit the ever-so-spooky case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

The above photo is of Elva Zona Haester Shue. Not much is know about her except that she born in about 1873, lived in Richlands, West Virginia, had a child out of wedlock in 1895, married a drifter by the name of Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue in 1896. Her mother hated Erasmus and then in 1897 Elva is killed. So pretty easy case to close right? Wrong, see late 19th century police work in West Virginia wasn't top notch. The way it was recorded is that Elva's body was found by a boy, who sent to the Shue home by Edward. Upon discovery, the boy freaked out and ran to tell his mother. The mother then alerted the officials which then took well over an hour to arrive at the Shue home.  By then, Edward had moved Elva's body, cleaned her and dressed her. Now if you know anything about turn of the century funeral practices, this job mainly was done by women, so this was considered odd by the coroner. The coroner also noted that there was bruising around the neck but, due to the husband's "grief", he had to cut his examination short. The official report states Elva's cause of death as "everlasting faint" which was then changed to "childbirth" as a local doctor had been treating her for pregnancy. When the news reached her parents, her mother stated, "that devil killed her!"

Although the story can be considered weird and it seems almost like Edward committed the murder, he wasn't charged with anything. At the funeral, he started to lay it on really thick. He refused to leave the coffin, and acted with extreme sadness and then extreme happiness. He also did everything he could to cover her neck. First, he wrapped a scarf around Elva's neck claiming it was her favorite scarf. Second, he placed a pillow and rolled up sheet next to her head, and said it would help her rest easier. Finally, people paying their respects commented on a looseness in Elva's neck. It is pretty apparent to everyone that some type of foul play was involved in Elva's death, especially to her mother, Mary Jane Haester. She was convinced that Edward had killed her daughter. Supposedly, Mary Jane found a bloody sheet and saw this as a sign that her daughter was murdered.

Mary Jane did what any grieving mother would do, she prayed. She prayed asking for Elva to give her a sign that proved she was murdered, and after four weeks she got her sign. According to Mary Jane, Elva appeared in a dream and told her what a horrible man Edward was. He was abusive, a drunk and would attack her when he believed that Elva hadn't cooked meat for dinner. Now here is where the real evidence comes into play. Elva's ghost said Edward had snapped her neck, and to prove it,  she spun her head a complete 360 degrees. The ghost visited Mary Jane for four nights in a row and every time, she'd appear as bright as the sun and then eventually had away leaving the room in a freezing chill. Now, with the truth from beyond the grave, Mary Jane went to the authorities and demanded her daughter's body exhumed and reexamined. Edward tried everything he could to stop it but on February 22, 1897 Elva was dug up, examined and was found to be murdered by having her neck broken and windpipe crushed.

Cue the theme from "Night Court!" Get me the detectives from Law & Order! Send in the Perry Mason and Matlock and lets get this case under way! After the autopsy of Elva was published, Edward was quickly arrested and held in custody at the Lewisburg town jail. It was at this time that Edward's past came to light. He was married twice before, having his first marriage end in divorce due to extreme cruelty and his second ending with the mysterious death of his wife. The case got underway in June of 1897 and the star witness was the ghost of Elva...via Mary Jane of course. As the defense cross examined Mary Jane, she never faltered and ultimately cost the defense the case. They tried to have her testimony stricken from the record, but the jury and town seemed to believe in the ghostly evidence from the great beyond. In the end, Edward was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Edward died a few years later in prison from an "unknown" epidemic.
Today, the legend of Elva Zona Haester Shue lives on. The state of West Virginia has placed a historical marker in the cemetery which she is buried in, Sam Black Church in Lewisburg. There have also been, plays, musicals and books all covering the story of the Greenbrier Ghost. The legend of Elva is a great piece of American History. The first and only time a ghost was used as any kind of witness in a legal proceeding. Aside from that, it is a pretty cool ghost story, as it has everything a ghost story needs and more. So, I hope you enjoyed the read and please feel free to share it at anytime, especially at night and preferably on a creepy or spooky one.