Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Most Evil Woman In New York City History...Ever.

Today, when we see the word "madam" in the headlines we think of a few names, specifically Anna Gristina. But what if the word "madam" had a different meaning in the mid 1800s. The word would be used as an aliases of one of the most hated and despised woman in New York City. Her name was Ann Trow Lohman, but to the citizens of New York City she was Madame Restell. The work of Madame Restell was well known during her times and would be targeted by every group in the city. But what could this "madam" have been doing? It is still one of the hot button topics in America today, and she was in some cases a pioneer in this field, but still public enemy number one.

Let me start out by just clarifying something, I am in no way supporting the actions of Madame Restell, or expressing my opinion on the subject. I genuinely find the Madame and her story as an extremely obscure, sinister and unmatched piece of history. Ann Trow was born in 1812 in Painswick, England. At 16 she married Henry Summer and in 1831 immigrated to New York. Her husband passed away and Ann was left to fend for herself in this new city making a living as a seamstress.The Madame wouldn't come into existence until her second marriage in 1836 to Charles Lohman, a freethinking radical.Now theres two more pieces to the puzzle that would turn Ann into the most hated woman in perhaps New York City History. The influence from the books, Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question by Robert Owens and Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy; or, The Private Companion of Young Married People both influenced Ann as both books where pro birth control. This coupled with her brother working in a pharmacy, sparked Ann's interest in women's health especially in birth control and the practice of abortions.

The Madame Restell was the best at her work. So good she was, she was the go to for women's contraceptives and well, smushsmortions. The problem for the Madame was she had no problem flaunting the profits from her questionable business. She placed ads in newspapers for "Preventive Powders" and "Female Monthly Pills." In fact these "preventive measures" were known to cause miscarriages amongst the clientèle. Yet regardless, selling her birth control was not the problem but it was the ending of unwanted pregnancies that really made her the biggest villain in the city. She serviced women of every class of New York City society, from the poorest of the poor living in the overcrowded slums to the richest of the rich living up and down Madison and Fifth Avenues. She was also known for having a secret maternity ward in the basement of her 52nd Street Mansion, which when a pregnancy was too far along, she would let a woman give birth and then the Madame would make a lucrative profit by selling the infant to some of New York's wealthiest childless couples. However, the end of the road was around the next corner for the Madame.

There was an ever growing opposition to the work of Madame Restell. From law enforcement groups, the Catholic Church & other religious organizations to your everyday 19th century do gooder groups, people were out to end the Madame's work and growing bank account. What really pissed off the residents of New York was her flamboyance. The Madame had no problem showing off her wealth. Form her home to her clothes, her cash flow seemed endless. She was even known to have taken an illustrious, four horse drawn carriage complete with personal driver and doorman. But in July of 1841, the Madame became public enemy number one. The body of Mary Rogers was found on the banks of the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey. Now Mary Rogers is a story in herself, she would inspire an Edger Allen Poe story and become one of New York City's greatest murder mysteries, but those are stories for another day. Reports from both the police and local newspapers made claims she had died due to a botched abortion, so you can see how the blame landed squarely on Madame Restell. The Madame was then put on trial several times for the murder. She was even jailed once in 1848 and her imprisonment was nothing short of then a 19th century version of the Goodfellas dinner in prison scene. It was such an embarrassment to the New York Penal System that she was released from prison. However after the Rogers case was solved, she was murdered by her finance, Restell's business was on a downward slope. Her career and her life where nearing an end.

New York outlaw abortions and the practice Restell built her empire on. Even the public tried to erase the stories of  and abortions and laws were made that also  made it illegal to report stories or place advertisements in relation to the subject of abortion or any of its "tools." Seeing the end of her career and potential threat of real prison time or even worse death, Madame Restell had to make a choice after an arrest in February of 1878. That choice was suicide. In the April of 1878 Madame Restell was found with her  in her bathtub, where she had slit her throat. In one last display of diffidence or just sheer ostentatiousness, Madame Restell adorned herself with not just a pair of diamond earrings, a diamond necklace and three diamond rings but also her nightgown was held together, I kid you not, by diamond studded buttons. It was estimated at the time of her death that Restell was worth upwards of $600,000 which today is close to $14 million dollars. Madame Restell has gone down as the most evil, wicked, terrible, immoral woman in the history of New York City. But today she is nothing more than barely a footnote in Women's History, or Herstory for my feminist readers. The debate of abortion still rages on today, as it has since the practice was created. Yet it is important that Madame Restell's story be told as she is a key part of the History of Women, especially in the story women's health and its history.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The USS Maine and Why She Is Still Imoprtant.

The Spanish American War is one of the most overlooked wars in American History, perhaps second only to the War of 1812 but not by much. The war with Spain doesn't really register with many when talking about American military history, or American History in general. The only event people mention about the war is the sinking of the USS Maine. The sinking would ultimately lead the U.S. into a war with Spain in both the Caribbean and Pacific. But the Maine has a lesson to be learned from her sinking, a lesson sometimes never discussed.

The USS Maine was the second battleship to ever fly the stars and stripes. Congress ordered her construction in 1888 in response to the growing naval power of Brazil. Chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee Hilary A. Herbert argued "if all this old navy of ours were drawn up in battle array in mid-ocean and confronted by the Riachuelo (A Brazilian battleship) it is doubtful whether a single vessel bearing the American flag would get into port." In short Herbert is saying the U.S. navy was 20 years behind the worlds navies and needed a kick in the pants. That kick in the pants was the Maine. She was built in the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn and was a top of the line, get our of her way battleship. Roughly 325 ft long and 6,700 tons. Her armament could destroy a small nation,  2-10 inch and 6-6 inch guns, along with 7- 6 pounders and 4-1 pounder Drigg Schroeders, 4-1 pounder Hotchkiss guns and finally 4-18 inch torpedo tubes. The Maine hit the high seas in on the 18th of Novermber 1889, however she wasn't full operational until the 17th of September 1895. It would only be a matter of three years that the Maine would lead the U.S. into an international conflict.

The Maine steamed into Havana (above) in January of 1898. The reason, the Maine and her crew of 355 men, went into the port of Havana was to protect American interests during the Cuban War of Independence. The Cuban War of Independence had captured the attention of Americans as it closely paralleled the American Revolution. You had the underdog good guys who wanted freedom and liberty against the brutal, evil empire, that was oppressive and  unfair. The Maine was sent in to flex some muscle and protect American citizens in Havana, after a Cuban Spanish loyalist rioted and destroyed several Cuban newspapers, all which exposed the actions of the Spanish in Cuba. It would be a month later that the Maine would spark the Spanish American War.

The USS Maine would "mysterious" explode on February 15, 1898 and the Spanish American War was on. The Maine's crew was enjoying some down time at the time of the explosion so casualties were high.Of the 355 man crew, 266 men died in the event leaving only 94 survivors. Almost immediately the US Naval Court of Inquiry was on the scene and claimed a naval mine struck the Maine and caused the explosion. The reports that reached the states was of the caliber of FoxNEWSish. The New York Journal and New York World exaggerated the event, causes, explosions, casualties and so on. It was from this that the myth of sabotage and an attack by the Spanish on the Maine comes from. It was this coupled with the American publics anger over Spanish atrocities that turned public opinion to taking up arms to avenge the Maine. In the next two months, the "attack" on the Maine, and American's interest in Cuban Independence caused a wave of anti-Spain sentiment in the U.S., with the slogan "Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!" being the rally cry would ultimately lead to the U.S. declaring war on Spain in April of 1898.

With any event that causes the loss of life, investigations and inquires quickly follow. The Maine was particularly important because of the rumors surrounding her sinking. Both the Americans and Spanish conducted their own research. So as you can guess there were two different results from these investigations, surprise surprise, right? The Spanish claimed it was an internal explosion, based on four reasons all based around the lack of evidence a mine explosion would leave in its wake. While the Americans found that the explosion was caused by a mine as the majority of witness claimed there were two explosions, however they did not place the blame "upon any person or persons." Yet, two months after the war was raging in both the Caribbean and the Pacific and the U.S. and Spain stood toe to toe and duked it out. It would be during the Spanish American War that the legends of the Rough Riders & Teddy Roosevelt, The Battle of Manila Bay & Admiral George Dewey and all the battles in the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Today the Spanish American War is nothing but a paragraph in a history text book or a brief lecture. But there is something that we should have learned from the sinking of the USS Maine, something that shows us today how History will forever repeat itself.

Wars are always taught in great detail. Every battle, every general, every weapon and every aspect of the actual war are examined, reexamined and then the findings are published or made into a documentary. What is often just merely a footnote is what starts the war. Just a few lines are often dedicated to these events and are often quickly forgotten because of the events of the war. For instance the USS Maine, is related to such other events like the Battle of the Alamo, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of September 11th as they are all the start of bigger event, one that will one day over shadow it. I have written before about how 9/11 will follow suit with the Alamo and Pearl Harbor as they have all been followed by major wars and so is the case of the USS Maine. The Maine sinking was followed by America's first international multi-front war with a major world power. So its easy to see how the Maine and the inquires were soon forgot. More importantly it shows how what starts a war is just a small piece of the puzzle and often summed up in a few sentences, outside of topic pieces. Today the Maine is memorialized across the U.S., from the state of Maine, to New York City, and as far south as Charleston, SC. There is even a monument to the Maine and her crew in Havana. The Maine is a key part of American History, it shows how one event can with enough public influence gain momentum and lead to a declaration of war.  The wreck of the Maine now sits only three miles of the coast of Cuba in about 1,200 meters of water. In the end we see that the Maine is still shrouded in mystery with its sinking still debated today. But more importantly it is a key piece of American History that deserves to be remembered, its men honored and it legacy to live on. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Its a Real Tug of War Out There

Every four years the world gathers to compete in the Olympics. Spectators are captivated by the world's top athletes. We watch as the participants run, jump, swim and do things we can only imagine doing half as amazing as they are able to do. Over time the Olympics has gained and lost events. The newest events added to the Olympics are the BMX (2008), Mountain Biking (1996), Trampoline (1996), Beach Volleyball (1992) and Badminton (1992). But with the adding of sports, there is also the loss of sports. Such sports that have been bumped from the Olympics are Baseball/Softball (2008), Lacrosse (1948), Polo (1936) and Rugby (1924) just to name a few of the ghosts of Olympic past. But there was one sport that was scratched in 1924 that was a true test of strength. A way that nations would face off in an exhibition of brute strength and really show who had the strongest athletes in the world. That event was, the Tug of War.

I know what your thinking, Tug of War? The first thing that usually comes to mind is grade school gym class which is followed closely by the annual family picnic, but once upon time, the Tug of War was a major Olympic sport. For twenty years, or five Olympic games, the Tug of War was an active and competitive sport. It was first used in the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris France. There were only three teams competing in the event, the United States, France and a mixed team made up of Danish and Swedish athletes. It did come down just between the French and the mixed team as the U.S. withdrew due to a schedule conflict. However, the game went on. The two teams took to the field on July 16 and faced off in the classic six on six, best of three format Tug of War. The team of Scandinavians wiped the floor with those Frenchies and beat them almost effortlessly 2-0.

At the 1904 St. Louis games the Tug of War was dominated by one country and one country only. The United States fielded four out of the six teams involved in the event, the two other teams were the Boers (South Africa) and a Greek team.  The U.S. would not only win Gold, Silver and Bronze but would also take the runner up spot as well. The Gold went to the Milwaukee Athletic Club as they defeated the New York Athletic Club. The NYAC went home sore losers and did not partake in the in second or third place games. As a result of that the Southwest Tuernverein of St. Louis No. 1 took Silver and  Southwest Tuernverein of St. Louis No. 2 took Bronze. The 1904 games would be the first and last time the U.S. would win medals in the event. During the III Olympiad the format of the game changed a bit, teams would face of in a five on five format but still was a best of three. The game would continue and a new powerhouse  in the sport would emerge to dominate the game for the remainder of its existence.

The 1908 Olympic games were held in London and the English reigned supreme. Initially seven teams were scheduled to compete, the Germans, Greeks, Swedes, U.S. and three English teams. The Germans and Greeks withdrew due to scheduling, leaving the Swedes and Americans to take on the home team. Those tea drinkin' Brits dominated the game just like the Americans did in '04 games The three English teams took all three medals, the City of London Police took Gold, the Liverpool Police took Silver and the Metropolitan Police "K Division" took Bronze. Every match resulted the same 2-0 in favor of the English. In 1912 Stockholm games the Tug of War competition had only entries (as the Austrian, Bohemian and Luxembourg teams all failed to show up), the reigning Gold medal winners the City of London Police against the Stockholm Police.  The Swedes destroyed the Brits in the first round. As the second round began it was a tensely contested match. However, as exhaustion set in the returning champs forfeited as the Swedes seemed to be to strong for them. The Tug of War and the Olympics would be postponed in 1916 due to WWI, but the game would reach its peak at the next summer games.

After the dust had settled from the Great War, the VII Olympiad was held in Antwerp, Belgium. The Tug of War had the largest contest with five nations competing. The nations of Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Great Britain all faced off that August. Again the Brits crushed everyone before them, sweeping the Americans and Belgians to reach the finals. The Dutch blew past Italy and then faced the Brits in the finals. The U.S. then lost to Belgium twice, in the Silver and Bronze medal rounds, forcing them to leave Antwerp without any hardware. The Italians followed suit as well. The Belgians would leave with the Bronze. As the English and Dutch faced each other, the English decimated their opponents and took home another Gold for the jolly ol' Queen. However, 1920 would be the finest and last year for the Tug of War contest. But why get rid of such a test of strength? And more importantly should it return to the Olympics?

So what happened? The Tug of War symbolizes everything the Olympics stand for. Team work, competition and a true test of mind and strength. The Tug of War goes back to being held at the first Ancient Olympics in 500BC. The sport was bumped from the Olympics after 1920 due to conflict and protest from losing teams. The disputes were over shoes, hand grips and other appeal worn by the opposing teams.Another reason was the International Olympic Committee stated Tug of War had no "international governing body" and therefore could no longer be an Olympic sport, however that is no longer the case So don't be sad, the game is not just played by small children or your drunk Uncles at the family reunion.. There is hope for the Tug of War to return to the Olympics, that hope comes from the TWIF or the Tug of  War International Federation. The TWIF governs over all Tug of War events, the two biggest being the International World Games and then every other year a Tug of War World Championship. The TWIF is made up of 53 nations from the U.S. and England to Zambia and Nigeria down to the smallest nations like Malta and Brunei. The art of the Tug of War is still alive and kicking and just comping at the bit to jump back in the Olympics. I think the IOC needs to take another look at the Tug of War and make room for its return. I mean you can only watch people swim the same race or run the same track for only so long. Olympic Historian Bill Mallon says that the Tug of War "was a crowd favorite. It's actually a great sport to watch." Hello IOC your historian is even telling you to bring it back. I am willing to bet that if the IOC reinstates the Tug of War it would be the most watch Olympic sport as it is a sport everyone can relate to and would showcase what the Olympics is truly about. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Abondon Ship! The Powhattan Sinking

For every year of my life my family has packed up the car and headed down (that's south for my non New Jersey readers) the Turnpike and Parkway to Long Beach Island, and eighteen mile long sandbar off the coast of New Jersey. The island has a long history of being the main destinations for a true Jersey Shore experience, devastating storms, shark attacks, epic mini gold games and ship wreaks. But there is one ship wreak that stands out amongst the rest. In 1854, a typical nor'easter ran wild up the Atlantic coast. The storm tore up the eastern seaboard and wreaked havoc on any and all ships on the water. One such ship which would become part of LBI lore is the Powhattan.

There really was nothing special about the Powhattan. She was an averaged sized vessel for the times, 132 ft in length, three masted wooden schooner and used to transport  people across the Atlantic. She was built in 1837 in the Baltimore Shipyards. Between its launching in 1837 and sinking in 1854, only ten known trips were made between the states and European ports. The Powhattan transports immigrants from England, Ireland, Holland, France, Switzerland and Germany to the ports of New York and Baltimore. It would be the trip the Powhattan made in March/April of 1854 that would be the end not only of the Powhattan, but for all those on board as well.

The Powhattan left the port of  Harve, France in the beginning of March 1854 under the command of Captain James Meyers. Captain Meyers was a skilled captain and commanded 25 crew members and was entrusted with the lives of about 350 souls. As the ship reached the New Jersey coast she had sailed right into the midst of one of the worst storms of the 19th century. The storm was described as a "hurricane-like snowstorm." Mother nature proved to much for the crew and the Powhattan as the ship was forced closer and closer to shore until finally slamming into the Barnegat Shoals. The Powhattan was being pounded by thundering surf, wave after wave and finally was slammed so hard into the shoals the bow was busted open. As she took on water and continued to be tossed around the sea she quickly fell apart, tossing everyone into the water. A small crowd watched from the shore helpless, as a rescue attempt, from Harvey Ceders Lifesaving Station 6, was impossible due to the heavy snow and storm conditions. But as the bodies washed ashore, a rescue attempt would have been proven futile as most of the Powhattan's passengers were already dead.

The Mansion of Health was the main building on Long Beach Island. The mansion was a hotel and was run by Edward Jennings. The state of New Jersey had appointed Jennings and many others along the shore as "wreakmasters" who were responsible for dealing with the aftermath of an event like the sinking of a ship. It was Jennings job to collect anything of value that many wash ashore but more importantly he was to gather the bodies of the victims until burial arrangements were made. When the corner arrived to gather the bodies something didn't seem right. Upon inspecting the bodies he noticed none of the immigrants had any money, jewelry or items of value. Now this stuck out to him because immigrants would usually have their life savings with them as much or as little as it would be. Jennings was the immediately suspected of foul play, but he staunchly defended his innocence. It wouldn't be until several months later, after the burials that the truth would come out. After another storm, empty money belts and wallets were found under a tree stump next to the mansion. Jennings fled LBI and would die a few years later in San Francisco during a bar fight.

Out of the 300 or so passengers on the Powhattan only 140 bodies washed ashore and they would be buried in mass graves in Manahawkin under a monument that readers "Unknown from the Sea." So the story is said and done, the the Powhattan was caught in a storm, crashed, sank and all those on board were lost to the sea right? Wrong, this disaster would go on to develop into one of the greatest New Jersey legends of all time. After the sinking many guest of the Mansion of Health complained about hearing sobbing and people walking through the halls at night. There was even a recurring story of seeing a woman standing on the balcony looking out to the sea. Surely enough after the rumors of the mansion being haunted, people stopped going to LBI. Yet the most famous story comes from the summer of 1861 and from five young men's time at the mansion.

Hearing the story of ghosts five young men from the area decided to test their manhood and stay at the abandoned and haunted Mansion of Health. To their surprise nothing first. In the middle of the night a young woman was seen walking through the halls, the men then chased after her checking every room in the mansion. As the reached the balcony they found her there, looking out towards the sea with an infant in her arms. The men then terrified ran from the mansion back to the mainland. For the rest of the mansions existence sightings had been reported by those who dared to check it out. In 1874 the mansion burnt to the ground so it's pretty obvious the haunting stopped by the stories lived on. It is not only one of the top ghost stories of New Jersey but of the nation as well.

As a result of the sinking of the Powhattan and 64 other ship wreaks between 1847 and 1856 the Absecon Light House was built.  The lighthouse would then be responsible for keeping ships far enough from shore and prevent future sinkings. It operated until 1933 and stands almost as a monument to those who it helped guide to safety over its career. But as for the Powhattan, the legend lives on. For every new generation that hits the sands of Long Beach Island there is always a night when the legend of the Powhattan and the Mansion of Health is told. Even though there is nothing left on LBI to mark the sites of these tragedies it is still the most infamous legend. LBI has a long history of shipwrecks, storms the 1916 shark attacks  and hell it was almost whipped of the map during the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. But she still survives all 18 miles of her with her stories and legends never fading to history, including the Powhattan and her victims.