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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How A Russian Czar Saved America

That's right America, if it wasn't for Russia we might not be a county today. Ok, so that statement isn't entirely true, but Russia played a key role in American sovereignty during the bloodiest time in American History. When the Civil War is discussed, as it will be as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, little is discussed about the global impact the American Civil War had. That said, the world had a lot to gain form a divided America and some nations wished to exploit that, I am looking at you England and France. But one man in a far away land, who was very much like President Lincoln, came to America's protection. Today we as Americans, some of us were brought up to fear this nation and others now see this nation as a threat on the horizon, but back in 1863, Russia came as a guardian angel of sorts to American shores.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

This imperial dressed fellow is Alexander II of Russia, better known as the Czar Alexander ruled over Russia from 1855 until 1881 and during that time he was quite the liberator, so much so he was dubbed Alexander the Liberator. Alexander took power in 1855, after his father Nicholas I, who died of pneumonia during the Crimean War. The Crimean War fits into why Alexander wanted to help out America, as the war was fought between Russia and an alliance of England, France and Turkey. Russia had lost the war and the country was on the verge of crumbling under the rule of Alexander. So he grab the reigns of the country and straightened them out how only a Russia Czar could, radical social reforms and a rebuilding the nation from within and being pretty much an awesome dude. During this time Alexander passed the Крестьянская реформа 1861 года, or for my none Russian readers, The Peasant Reform of 1861. In short he eliminated serfdom, or a version of Russian slavery, in which people were sold with the land and forced to work it by new owners for the bare minimum to survive.

The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

So we can see the Czar was a pretty stand up guy, he was no Stalin and he always had a pretty bad ass handle bar mustache side burn combo going on. But how does Czar Alexander, who was practically on the other side of the world, fit into the American Civil War? It is very rarely talked about but the American Civil War was somewhat of a global event. How is it a global event? Well, European governments and industries were very invested in the United States. Some saw the Civil War as a gateway to immense gains, both economically and politically. For instance, the French and English governments were officially neutral during the war. However, member's of those governments favored the Confederacy. Along with the government official's personal views, the social elites and business tycoons of the day also favored the Confederacy. The Confederates knew they had support from the two nations and actually was hoping for them to intervene in the war in their favor. But why? Well, cheap goods and a starving population that's why. The southern states supplied everything a growing French/English boy needed. And with the war raging production slowed and costs doubled. Not to mention, the southern ports were so heavily blockaded trans Atlantic shipping from the states was near impossible. So we can see it was simple economics that made these two nations favor the south and hope for a southern victory.

Enter the Russians. Fearing that their fellow European neighbors would stick their noses into the American Civil War, Czar Alexander sent both the Russian Atlantic and Pacific Fleets to winter in Union ports in 1863. Now this happened for two reason. First, the Czar dug Abe Lincoln's style. Remember Alexander was had freed the serfs and he saw Lincoln in the same light he held himself. Second, Alexander was gearing up for a possible war with France and England. The war brewing in Europe would have been set off had France or England intervened in the Civil War. With the Russian Fleet station off the shores of the United States, in New York and San Francisco, it offered a distraction from the war for some Americans, but mainly served as a warning to the world. At the same time it gave the Russians an advantage to attack both British and French ships on the Atlantic and not leaving them trapped in the Baltic Sea. So as we know from history, France and England never entered the war. France and English companies did support the Confederates very nominally, the north won and the Union was preserved. But do we owe a debt of gratitude to the Russians and Czar Alexander?

Did the Russians really save America? I think they did. Remember in 1861, the Trent Affair almost brought England into the war. The English sent diplomats to the south to establish ties. And it should be no surprise, that the English did have an attack and invasion plan if they ever decided to enter the war. As for the French, the blockades severely hurt their major industries. A French military force landed in Mexico in 1861, as a "peace keeping" force. And like the British, France also hosted Confederate diplomats and sent their own to the Confederacy. So even though the Russian Fleet was sent on its own agenda, it could have been the deterrent that France and England needed to stay out of the war. So a nod should be given to Czar Alexander for making a tactical move which may have ultimately stopped the first world war. I mean the Russian sailors on those ships sure must have enjoyed wintering in the states instead of some God forsaken, frozen, snow cover port in Russia. But whether we wish to give him credit or not Czar Alexander did send his fleets here to the United States, and they may have been the reason, or at least part of it, the British and French never entered the American Civil War.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Plot To Kill Lincoln, No Not That One, The Other One.

Now everyone knows about the Lincoln assassination. We all know the story of John Wilkes Booth along with Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell and John Surratt. The plans they hatched and acted out that fatefully April night in 1865. But what a lot of people don't know about is about the 1861 plot to assassinate Lincoln, The Baltimore Plot. Now of course, no one really talks about this because, first, it never happened and second, no one is really sure how much of a threat the plot was to Lincoln. However, what it did do was give critics of Lincoln a good amount of .

Now I don't know about you but this is exactly how I picture a Presidential assassination plotting session to look like in the 1860s. Now the plan was simply, Lincoln would hop on a train in his home state of Illinois, get to D.C and then deliver a kick ass inaugural speech. But there were others who had an alternate plan, a more sinister plan. Lets go back a bit before  all this came to light. Right before the Civil War broke out Maryland was an iffy border state. At the time it was still a slave state and home to many southern sympathizers. The state was also a hot bed of activity being stuck literally in the middle of a dividing nation. Due to this uncertainty of the President's safety the railroad company hired Allan Pinkerton, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to provide security before and during the trip. As Pinkerton began his study of the train route he became increasingly convinced an attack on the train would happen. He felt the attack would come between the Northern Central Railway's Calvert Street Station and the B&O Railroad's Camden Street Station as the train passed through Baltimore on February 23, 1861.

So, Pinkerton went to Lincoln and his people and pleaded his case. He claimed that when the President stopped at, oddly enough, at the President Street Station, several armed assassins would be able to get close enough to the train to attack the President as he did his wave by. Of course due to lack of solid evidence, the President really didn't see a need for worry, but after much discussion, and the disapproval of Ward Hill Lamon, a plan was hatched as a safety precaution. On a side note though Lamon wanted to arm Lincoln, with a revolver and knife but Pinkerton was much against the idea of an armed President on the eve of a Civil War entering the capital. So the night before Lincoln's train reached Baltimore, all the telegraph lines to the city were cut, while at the same time Lincoln switched trains in Harrisburg and arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the night. this was the tricky part and most unsettling for Lincoln. Due to a city ordinance, trains had to be pulled through the city after dark by horse, Lincoln's train would be no exception. As we know, Lincoln made it through the city that February night. To let those in D.C. know everything went according to plan, Pinkerton sent a one line telegram, "Plums delivered nuts safely."

The next morning Baltimoreans crowded the train stations only to be disappointing to find there was no Presidential train passing through town, or at least learned they missed it while it secretly crept through town while they were asleep. So, was there a reason to disappoint all these 1860s Lincoln-manics, even though they were most likely there to boo him. Looking back not really. There was never any actually evidence and most believe it was Pinkerton's fear of something bad happening on his watch. However, this overprotective move caused President Lincoln's image to take a serious blow. Papers on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line blasted Lincoln. Papers ran wild stories about how Lincoln slipped through the city, all exaggerated of course. From the President wearing numerous disguises to him hiding under seats or in trunks. In short the Lincoln was painted as a coward, and in most parts of the country he was the butt of many jokes.

When we look back at this decision it seems like it made sense to do it. Think about the way the President has traveled since WWII, always private and always under strict security. I know in my life time when Preseident have visited New York City it is a nightmare to get around, if a President visits the Empire State Building, don't even think of getting anywhere in midtown, let alone downtown or well any other part of the city in a reasonable time. Ok, I got a little off track there, but you get my point. Sure, now we know Pinkerton was wrong, but at the time he was convinced something would happen to the President and made a call to protect Lincoln. Not a lot of people know about what happened that February, like I said before, because nothing happened. Lincoln went on to become President with no assassination attempt, well at least that night in 1861. He led the country through the Civil War, perhaps the greatest threat to the United States in history. Cemented himself in the Top 5, maybe Top 3 POTUS of all time. The event was such an at the moment event, that top when Lincoln is discussed it is never even brought up, but now you can bring it up next time you talk about President Lincoln's presidency. Yet in defense of Pinkerton, when we look at Baltimore during the Civil War, we have the Pratt Street Riots, the constant argument of secession, the imposing of martial law on the city, Union Troops occupying the city and southern sympathizers, Baltimore was basically a city on a hot plate. So when looking back at the event, Pinkerton should not be viewed as an overcautious hired gun, but as a hero, a man who saw a city that was ripe for trouble and knew that with Lincoln passing through, it could have been the spark that ignited the city, with the President of the United States trip within in.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Yo-Ho-Ho, And A Bottle a Rum! Albert W. Hicks, The Last American Pirate

When we think of pirates, we think of peg legged bearded men, swashbuckling on the decks of ships, drinking rum, sailing the seven seas and plundering what ever they like. Or we think of pirates in a more modern day version, as men who attack ships and kid nap the sailors on board and hold them hostage. Either way, or era, we think about them they are one in the same. Pirates have a glorified place in history, even though they don't necessarily deserve it. We've all heard stories about Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Davey Jones, Francois l'Olannais, Jean Lafitte, Stephan Decatur, Black Bart and so on. These men today are viewed as rebellious outlaws who showed no mercy to anyone who got in their ways and for some reason have turned into heroes. But what is often highlighted is the fate of most pirates, death. Such is the case of one Albert W. Hicks. Sure, the name doesn't sound like a cool pirate name, but Hicks is an important figure in pirate history. How? Well, Hicks was the last person executed in the United States for piracy.


Now Albert W. Hicks was your average 19th century Joe Schmo. Born around 1820, Hicks was a life long sailor. He worked different ships and acted in many roles. However, all that would change in 1860. According to Hicks, he was out pounding some grog, you know a real all bender in the making kind of night. It was during that night he believes he was drugged. The reason? Well, he woke up on a ship the next day. Now this isn't an uncommon event to happen to men of the sea. During the 19th century, and even the early 20th century, there was a technique in which men was drugged, put on ships and forced to work for little or no money at all. This was done because, well lets face it, who wanted to be a sailor in the middle of the 19th century? This way of "recruiting" was known as shanghaiing and was quite affective, but this time they messed with the wrong sea dog.
So the following day, Hicks wakes up on board the A.E. Johnson. She was a small sloop heading down to Virginia. The ship would then pick up a shipment of oysters and head back up to New York City. However, Hicks had another idea. Once out of New York Harbor, Hicks was ready to enact his plan of escape. In the middle of the night, Hicks was given the wheel as the captain, Captain George H. Burr and an other mate, Oliver Watts caught some shut eye. While on at the helm, Hicks was accompanied by Oliver's brother, Smith, the acting look out. It was then that Hicks attacked Smith with a club, killing him. The noise awoke Oliver, who then met the same fate. Hicks then went down to the captain's quarters to finish Burr. However, Burr was a big guy, strong as all hell and probably beat up men tougher then Hicks in the past. Unfortunately for Burr, Hicks got the better of him and killed him after fighting for his life. Hicks then went through the captain's room in search of anything of value. He found about $500 (in 1860 money that's a boat load of cash...get it boat load?) and then dumped his victims bodies overboard about 50 miles out to sea. After all this Hicks then turned the ship around and headed back to New York. The ship was found several days later, and was the scene of a gruesome murder. The man hunt for the killer was on.

As officials searched for the killer, Hicks had made his way to Providence, Rhode Island. When the authorities caught up with him and arrested him, on his person Hicks was wearing Captain Burr's watch, a coat of one of the Watt's brothers and in the coat a photo of Oliver Watt. Once in custody, Hicks was questioned about the murders. Hicks admitted to not just those three murders, but close to one hundred others out in California at various mining camps, as well as killing men and stealing from ships in ports across South America. So needless to say this was pretty much a shut and close case, but not without one final twist. Hicks went for, what we'd call today, an insanity defense. Hicks claimed that the time of every murder he even committed he was possessed by, none other than, the devil himself. The trial was a real 1860s media circus. Newspapers ran stories of Hicks crimes, the police chase, the trial and the resulting punishment, which is when this case get a little weird.
Hicks' execution was set for  July 13, 1860. The execution would take place at Fort Wood, located on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor. For some this may be ringing a bell, the reason is Fort Wood is the base for the Statue of Liberty and Bedloe's Island is now called Liberty Island. But, back to Hicks. Since his actions and case received so much publicity, it is estimated that somewhere between ten and twelve thousand people surrounded the island, all in hopes of catching a glimpse of Hicks' last moments on this earth. Now I don't know about you, but people's fascination with watch executions has never made sense to me, seems like it's a morbid part of human nature, like slowing down to look at a car wreck today. Now, it was reported that the crowds watching the execution set a carnival like atmosphere, live bands were present, refreshment vendors and even beer stands, as if it were a Yankees or Knicks game. My thoughts are that the Civil War was right around the corner, starting in April of 1861, and people were looking for an outlet. Oddly enough their outlet was a mans execution, but to each their own I guess. The reason is, the Hicks trial pushed the news of war and secession off the front pages of the paper and out of the minds on New Yorkers. And as if this story couldn't take another turn, the day after Hicks was buried his body was stolen from his grave. This led to wild speculations that Hicks had fooled everyone and somehow survived the hanging. However, that was not the case. In fact, the truth is his body was dug up and then sold to a medical school. When looking back Hicks goes down as the last man tried and executed for piracy in America. But in reality Hicks was no pirate, just a guy who was drugged by a rival gang on the docks of 19th century New York City, but he will forever be remembered in American History as Hicks the Pirate, last pirate executed in the states.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

PROST!!! How The Germans Changed American Brewing

Zufrieden Deutsch-Amerikanische Erbe Monat! Or for my none German reading readers, Happy German-American Heritage Month! Every year between September 15th & October 15th German American communities around the states celebrate their German heritage. During this month long celebration, everything German is celebrated, culture, food, music, achievements, history and of course beer. There are a few things in the world that the Germans are renowned for, but beer is the number 1 recognizable German contribution to the world. I mean the country has had a purity law in place since 1516. Now, that beer making tradition spread as German people did, and one man, Johann Wagner would forever change the landscape of American brewing upon his arrival in the states.

Let me set the scene for you, picture it, Philadelphia in 1840, a bustling city full of people (128,139 to be exact), the second largest city in the United States, an inexpressive port filled with ships importing and exporting and a city with a very rich brewing history and full of even thirstier residence. Enter Johann Wagner. Wagner, a Bavarian immigrant, decided to pack up his belongs and make a new start in America. However, Wagner wasn't just packing the usual items an immigrant would bring. He had with his a fermenting yeast used in Bavaria for centuries, but unknown to those in America. Wagner arrived to a city, well nation of ale drinkers. But with the largest group of immigrants being German, he knew he'd be able to make a little money for himself with his a beer his country longed for.

Wagner set up shop around 3rd and Poplar St, there is a historic marker there today. Now, just a warning the marker is not on the exact site, as Wagner brewed from his home and the original street address is still...well missing. They know it was originally on St. John Street, which is now American, but the original numbering system is completely gone. It is believed that the original address was 455 St. John St, but no one can figure out where that actually is today. Either way, Wagner started using his new yeast and it was a big hit with the German citizens who could get their hands on it. Why was it such a big hit? Or more importantly, how did Wagner change the American brewing culture? Well, the yeast Wagner used was lager yeast, and in his tiny brewery Wagner would be the first person in America to produce lager beer. From his very small brewery Wagner was able to produce eight barrels of lager at a time and they'd be gone before you could say Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, actually don't try that. Wagner's operation was very limited, only producing eight barrels of lager was enough to support his small beer garden and that's about it. It is at this point that Wagner's story and American lagering get a little fuzzy.
 So according to Charles Wolf's "100 Years of Brewing" he is actually the first man to make lager beer in America in 1844. But first we have to examine his book and see he indirectly credits Wagner. The way Wolf tells it is as goes. he is awesome and made lager beer, the end. Ok, so that is not exactly the way it goes. In reality, Wagner sold some of his yeast to a friend and patron, George Manger. Manger himself  worked at Haas & Wolf Sugar Refinery, see how this is about to go down? Manger told Wolf and another employee Charles Engel how Wagner had brought tradition German brewing yeast to the states and that his fellow workers, mostly all German, would enjoy a nice cold one after work. Long story short, by 1844 Wolf opened the first large scale lager brewing company in America.  So when looking back on his career, Wolf credits himself with opening the first brewery to produce lager, but also tells how Wagner brought the lager yeast to the states, so when looking back we see that Wagner, not Wolf is actually the grand daddy of brewing lager in America.

So why is this important? Well if it wasn't for Wagner, and even Wolf and the others that followed, we'd still be drinking crappy, room temperature, English ales. Also it was from this moment that the United States found a new industry, brewing. When looking at the history of brewing, once lagering was made possible in the states, breweries popped up everywhere, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and so on. Every large city and small town seemed to have a brewery and business was good. And today there is one company left that in some way owes there some of their success to Wagner, Pennsylvania's own Yuengling Brewery. Yuengling adopted the lagering system and never looked back making them the U.S.'s longest and oldest running brewery. Even Pabst Breweing still get their yeast directly from Germany as another example of the long lasting effects Wagner caused on American brewing. Most of America's largest breweries today have their roots in German lagering. Today, in the world dominated by mass production, we can take what Wagner did and compare him to the micro brewers of today, carrying on a tradition that for sometime seemed lost in the brewing world. So to all those out there celebration German American Heritage Month, when sipping on a glass of your favorite lager, give a nod to Johann Wagner, because without him we'd have nothing to wash down our wurst and spatzle with. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Where In the World is David Fagen?

The Spanish-American War is often a under studied and unappreciated part of American History. Apart from a few key events, the sinking of the USS Maine, the Battle of Manila Bay, Teddy Roosevelt & the Rough Riders and the birth of an Imperial America.  But most often, the Pacific Theater, especially the war in the Philippines is rarely mentioned, with the exception of the aforesaid Battle of Manila Bay and the leadership of Admiral Dewey. But enough about what we know, I hear to write about what we don't know. Today's person of interest is one, David Fagen. Never heard of him? Me neither until Christopher T. Wood brought him to my attention, and like the clip says "he starts out good and then sucks," but we will see he is a hero in every sense of the word and actually doesn't suck at all.

So like I said before, the Battle of Manila Bay is usually, and hopefully, something people know about the Spanish-American War. What most people don't know about is the role of African Americans in the during the war, which would be the first war they'd be a part of since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. The Spanish American War would be a major event in the history of African Americans. Why? Well because, even though still segregated, they would be a major part of the American fighting force. Now, the Spanish American War didn't really sneak up on Americans, but what really fired Americans up was the attack on the USS Maine, in Havana Harbor. After the attack American men of every color and creed signed up to avenge the victims on the Maine, and David Fagen was no different. Fagen, a native of Tampa, Florida would have heard the news earliest and more rumors than any other part of the states due to his proximity to the attack. Not much is now about Fagen's early like, but what we do know is he enlisted in June of 1898 and made his way to the Philippines with the 24th Infantry Regiment in June of 1899. However, by this time the Spanish American War had ended and the U.S. was now an occupying force fighting a "guerilla" Philippine Army.

Now, if you thought the Spanish American War was under studied, try to find someone whose studied the Philippine-American War. In short it somewhat parallels the current situation America is facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. After the Spanish American War the U.S. failed to recognize the Philippine's claim to independence, talk about irony, and instead tried to control the island nation, remember the birth of American Imperialism? Fagen fits back into the story because he saw that fighting the Filipino's was, well wrong and drew similarities between the Filipinos and the treatment of African Americans back home in the states. It was after requesting a transfer out of the Philippines three different times, and not getting it, Fagen's view on his service in the Philippines changed. On November 17, 1899 David Fagen went AWOL and well disappeared.

Sometime shortly after this, and it is unclear how, but Fagen ended up in the ranks of the Filipino Army. Over the next year Fagen lived and worked with the Filipino resistance in the Pampanga Province. Fagen was slowly becoming a hero through out the Philippines, but a villain back in the states. He fought against American forces at least 8 times, the most important exploit was at the capture of a steam ship on the Pampanga River. It was during this time Fagen was promoted to captain but known as "General Fagen." At the same time the New York Times reported on Fagen somehow complimenting him, but at the same time vilifying him. Fagen's success did two things to the American Army occupying the Philippines, first, he pissed off the white commanding officers, and second he created a fear of mass African American defection, which would result in actually a total of 20 men, both black and white. Fagen was becoming a bigger fish then the actual occupation of the Philippines. A planned court martial and execution were planned and throughout the country reward posters were posted offer a whopping $600 for Fagen, dead or alive. Eventually, Fagen disappeared off the radar until Anastacio Bartolome brought the head of a man to American officials. He claimed it was Fagen as he came across his Fagen living with natives , but there is no evidence that it was really Fagen's head. So what happened to David Fagen?

What happened to Fagen? No one really knows. The file on Fagen even notes a supposed killing but nothing certain. What we can say is David Fagen's life after the war is just as shrouded in mystery as his life before the war. One theory is that Fagen started a family and lived the rest of his life out, peaceful in the Philippine country side, which sounds nice, but very fairy tailish. What is more important is that David Fagen she be held  in very high regards. In the Philippines, Fagen is remembered as a national hero, a man who worked to gain Independence for a foreign nation. Now, here in the states Fagen isn't even a blip on the America History radar. But I think he should be. Sure he switched sides during a war, but lets look back at that. He left an imperialistic and racist military to support a nation seeking Independence, liberty and freedom from an occupying army, as well as personal freedom from a segregated society. I think it is important when looking at David Fagen the whole picture is looked at, David Fagen embodies all the characteristics that America was built on, in reality he did what America should have done. So remember David Fagen when celebrating forgotten heroes of America. So where ever you are or what ever happened to you ''General" Fagen kudos to you and may your memory not be forgotten.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

FedEx'd to Freedom

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, there were many numerous and curious was that enslaved African Americans tried and did escape slavery. For example, William Craft crossed dressed his way into the north, Eliza Harris ran across the barley frozen Ohio River, Robert Smalls hijacked a ship, Samuel Burris was freed by a fund raiser and well you get the picture, by any means necessary. But my favorite story is about Henry Brown. But what makes his story stand out amongst the rest? Well, it involved a daring plan, a life risking move and was a pretty out there idea. The plan stick Henry Brown in a box, seal him up and ship him from a plantation in Louisa County Virgina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 234 mile journey.

So the 234 mile trip today, takes a little over 4 hours by car, 8 hours by public transportation, 25 hours by bicycle and 77 hours on foot. Unfortunately for Brown, his trip was a little more difficult even though it only took a little over a day. But before we get into the trip lets talk about how this plan came to pass. Brown was going through a perhaps one of the most difficult things an enslaved person could go through, the loss of his family. Brown's wife and children were all sold to a different slave owner. It was then that Brown began having "heavenly visions," to send himself to a place where slavery did not exist. He pitched these "visions" to James Smith and Samuel Smith (no relations). Together, the three put the plan together.

Brown had to pay $86 dollars for shipping and handling, half of his life savings. He was ship via the Adams Express Company and was addressed to James Miller McKim, whom was contacted by Sam Smith about the planned escape. On March 22 1849, Brown burned his hand in order to be excused from his daily schedule, it would be then that he'd make his escape and meet up with Samuel Smith. He was boxed up and sent out early on the morning of  March 23. Now even though the shipment only took a day, Brown was transported via,wagon, railroad, steamboat, than wagon again, another railroad, ferry, a third railroad and last yet again another wagon. Now as you could imagine this trip really sucked. Even though the crate was marked with the usual ''this side up" and "handle with care" it wasn't. Brown recalled several different times the crate was flipped upside down or tossed incautiously on or off the wagons, trains, or ferry. But, the crate and Brown survived and arrived in Philadelphia in one piece.

The crate containing Brown was picked up on March 24 in Philadelphia by McKim and taken to his home. There McKim along with other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee popped open the crate and out came Henry Brown. He didn't request anything but instead his first words were, "How do you do, gentlemen?", than hopped out of the crate stretched out and sang a psalm from the Bible. 

"I waited patiently for the Lord-
And he, in kindness to me, heard my calling-
And he hath put a new song into my mouth-
Even thanksgiving-even thanksgiving-
Unto our God!
Blessed-blessed is the man
That has set his hope, his hope in the Lord!
O Lord! my God! great, great is the wondrous work
Which thou hast done!
If I should declare them-and speak of them-
They would be more than I am able to express.
I have not kept back thy love, and kindness, and truth,
From the great congregation!
Withdraw not thou thy mercies from me,
Let thy love, and kindness, and thy truth, always preserve me-
Let all those that seek thee be joyful and glad!
Be joyful and glad!
And let such as love thy salvation-
Say always-say always-
The Lord be praised!
The Lord be praised!"
 -Pslam sung by Brown upon exiting the crate.
After the escape Brown began touring the north with the Anti Slavery Society. At the May 1849 convention, which was quite the rager, Brown was dubbed Henry "Box" Brown, a nickname that would stick for the rest of his life. Later that year he published a biography and numerous essays regarding slavery in the U.S. Unfortunately for Brown, he was forced to flee the U.S. after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. However, he was warmly welcomed in England. There, Brown toured the country speaking about the horrors of slavery in the U.S. He also gave lectures on how America could eradicate slavery: allow slaves to vote,  a new President and the North to speak out against the South. He became such a staunch abolitionist he even worked with  Frederick Douglass. However, Douglass was very vocal he wished Brown would have kept his story quite as it would have been a great tool to free more enslaved African Americans. Due to the publicity surrounding the story Samuel Smith was arrested when trying to free other slaves later in 1849.
 After the Civil War ended, Brown stayed in the English spotlight. He continued until 1875, to argue the issue of slavery and the bettering of life for newly freed slaves. During this time he also got in performing as a conjuror, under the stage name Professor H. Box Brown and The African Prince, even though he was born in Virginia. He also remarried a white English women and began a new family, even though he could have reunited with his first family back in the states. He did return to the states in the 1870s and toured the country with a family magic act. Brown died in the 1890s. Today there is a monument to Brown on Canal Street in Richmond, Va. In more recent times the story of Brown has been revived. He was the subject of a play at P.S. 122 in New York City, several books have been published, both for children and adults and there is currently a film in post production which  retells the story of  Box Brown. Brown was a very influential figure during the abolitionist movement, both in the states and abroad. He showed great courage and ingenuity in order to free himself from the bonds of slavery. He did something daring and never done before all in the quest of freedom. It is important to keep the story of "Box" Brown alive for future generations Americans to show not just the faults of America, but the creativity and quest for liberty and freedom that all Americans have always sought after.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams, At The Brooklyn Bridge!?

Yes, the Brooklyn Bridge has not just one, but two champagne cellars. Now, I know what your thinking, no way. But wait, I mean if a George C. Parker could continuously sell the Brooklyn Bridge over and over, why can't there be champagne cellars, I mean think of how much more he could have charged for the bridge if he knew they were there. But why would engineers leave massive gaps in the bridge to store champagne? And why the Brooklyn Bridge? And why have most people never heard about their existence, in such an iconic piece of architecture? So if you'd like pour yourself a glass of bubbly, put on your finest house coat and get ready to learn about the Brooklyn Bridge Champagne Cellars.

The Brooklyn Bridge was completed by 1883 and building it was no easy task, but why leave room for a champagne cellar? The answer, they were there before the bridge was built. Prior to the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, at the very spot where the anchorages were placed, stood Rackey's Wine (Brooklyn side) and Luyties & Co., (Manhattan side) another liquor company. So, the bridge builders worked around the business and incorporated storage spaces into the bridge. More importantly, the spaces were rented to the companies in order to help the city pay for the bridge's construction. For example according to city records, in 1901, Luyties & Co. was paying $1000 a year for renting out the Manhattan side, while renting the Brooklyn side was only $500 a year, sorry you had to read that New York business renters. But why keep your booze in a bridge? Temperature control of course. These business need a storage area that remained a constant cool temperature. Where better in New York than inside a vaults made of limestone and granite. But how could these vaults have been lost to history? Imaging how much you could rent these vaults out for today.

Stanley Greenberg

The reason these vaults were lost to time is because of three events. First, World War I. Due to WWI everything in New York Harbor, that includes the East River, was under lock and key, especially after the Black Tom Explosion. The second reason, or what I like to call the worst idea in American History, Prohibition. So from about the years 1916 to 1933 the vaults remained empty, tapped, dry, a very sad place. But as soon as Prohibition ended, the vaults were back in service, at;east for a brief time. When booze was allowed to flow free in the U.S. the vaults were reoccupied and reopened with a bang, well more like a pop. The Anthony Oechs & Co. would be the newest tenants. Only a few 100 New Yorkers were invited and witnessed the big to do. What do I mean by big to do? Well, the Alderman President, Bernard S. Deutsch, hand over the keys to the vault, live music was played, people danced and oh yea, people got pretty drunk. Even though there was a short revival for the vaults, they were closed again due to World War II. After that the city then took over the vaults and they have been almost forgotten ever since.

Now it is a shame what happened to the vaults. At one time known as the "Blue Grotto" the vaults were a sight to be seen. Throughout the vaults, the walls were decorated with murals of different vineyards from France, Italy and Germany. Also the vaults were labeled as French street names, also very intricately done, like, Sichel Bordeaux, Avenue Les Deux Oefs and so on. In other areas different mottoes, in French, Germany and Italian, graced the walls, most likely mottoes of the vineyard or liquor companies. The main focal point was a shrine to the Virgin Mary which was brought from the Pol Roger cellars in Epernay France. But after WWII the vaults were taken over by the city and used for storage. The murals have long faded and the walls stand bare. The vaults are still there, a testament to the construction of the bridge. The vaults are still even being explored, by city workers but also urban explorers. Most recently a cache of provisions from the Cold War era were found deep in the vaults. What may be most intriguing is the vaults are still not 100% mapped. So no one knows just how far, deep or where the vaults end up. Perhaps one day the vaults can be fully explored, and what would be better is if they let me do it, and a great discovery can be made about the use of the vaults during their champagne hosting days. Or who knows maybe it can be turn into some kind a beer garden, I'm talking to you Brooklyn Brewery, so don't forget the History Guy if you ever make that a reality.