Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa Claus Pagan Origins of Everyday Christmas Traditions and Beliefs

By O. M. Spencer

The Christmas Tree
The angels in the Gloria in Excelsis have probably given us the best definition of Christmas, "On earth peace, good-will toward men." This Christian idea of Christmas, with its love, charity, and for­giveness, has probably found its most strik­ing realization in the Julafred, or Yule-peace of the Scandinavians — a custom, though ancient as the Runic stones, still existing in Sweden, by virtue of a Christian baptism, as a Christian institution. Extending from Christmas-eve to Epiphany, and solemnly proclaimed by a public crier, any violation of the Yule-peace is visited with double or treble punishment. The courts are closed; old quarrels are adjusted; old feuds are forgotten; while on the Yule-evening the shoes, great and small, of the entire house­hold, are set close together in a row, that during the coming year the family may live together in peace and harmony.

To this pacific, Christian conception of the Christmas-time not a few pagan elements have been added, which are clearly traceable, as we shall see, to the old German "Twelve Nights" and the Roman Saturnalia. Hence its mirth and festivity, its jesting and feasting, its frolic and license. The decoration and illumination of our Christian churches recall the temples of Saturn radiant with burning tapers and resplend­ent with garlands. The "Merry Christmas" responds to the "bona Saturnalia," and our mod­ern Christmas pres­ents to the dona amicis.

During the Sat­urnalia, which were intended to symbolize the freedom, equality, and peaceful prosperity of the golden or Saturnian age, all labor was suspended. The schools were closed; the Senate adjourn­ed; no criminal was executed; no war proclaimed. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, or, seated at the banqueting tables wearing badges of freedom, jested with them familiarly as their equals.

Doc Holliday – Frontier Gambler, Gunfighter, Sometimes Lawman

Doc Holliday
(public domain image)
Bat Masterson spoke admiringly about most of the big-name gunfighters of the old west, but he had a particularly low opinion of Doc Holiday. He said “I never liked him, and few persons did. He had a mean disposition and differed from most of the big gunfighters in that he would seek a fight…He had few friends anywhere in the west.” Virgil Earp told the Arizona Daily Star, “There was something peculiar about Doc…outside of us boys I don’t think he had a friend in the territory.”

Although Masterson didn’t come right out and call Holliday a coward, he did say, unlike Wild Bill and Wyatt Earp, who were as good with their fists as they were with their pistols, Doc Holliday was a “physical weakling.” His opinion was a fifteen-year-old could make easy work of him in a “go-as-you-please fist fight.” But, as soon as you put a gun in his hand, danger transformed Doc Holliday from a 98-pound weakling into a raging madman.

Like most legendary figures of the old west, so much of what has been written about Doc Holliday is contradictory at best. In the Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters (1942), Bill O’Neal credits Doc with just two kills in a total of eight gunfights, far from the dozens of kills and near kills most biographers attribute to him.

Doc Holliday was like a fish out of water in Dodge City, Tombstone, and the other cities he lived in. He was a dentist by profession, but a gambler, and a gunfighter by choice.

Not long after he graduated from dental school, Holliday took the equivalent of his first bullet when he learned he had contracted tuberculosis. Doctors informed him he had only a short time to live, and the best thing he could do would be to move to a drier climate. Doc took the news to heart, headed west, and set up a practice in Dallas, Texas. Not too many months after that he gave up dentistry. 

Apparently, patients didn’t appreciate his coughing spells. As word got around about the tubercular dentist, business dried up quicker than the weather.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Whiskey Insurrection – America’s First Organized Rebellion

Painted in 1795 by Frederick Kemmelmeyer
(public domain image - original portrait now in
Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Whiskey Insurrection was the first test of the Federal Government’s right to impose and collect taxes, and to call out the militia to enforce those laws.
Farmers in western Pennsylvania tottered on the edge of rebellion during the early 1790s. The Whiskey Tax threatened their livelihood. Eastern and western Pennsylvania, were separated by an almost insurmountable barrier called the Allegheny Mountains. The market west of the Alleghenies was limited. In order to sell their grains east of the mountains, growers had to load their crops on pack horses and transport them across dangerous mountain terrain. The problem was twofold: 1) Grains were difficult to transport, and a tough sell once they got them across the mountains. 2) Whiskey was easier to transport, and easier to sell.
Because of this, a large number of stills operated in western Pennsylvania, transforming grain into whiskey.
In 1791 Congress passed a tax on distilled liquors. It based the taxes charged on the capacity of a brewer’s still, rather than the quantity of spirits actually produced, and it required the tax to be paid in cash. That put small producers at a disadvantage. Because they produced less whiskey, distillers in western Pennsylvania effectively paid a larger tax per gallon than eastern distillers, who could increase their whiskey production, and in effect cut the tax they paid per gallon. The other sticking point was the tax was required to be paid in cash. Barter was the currency of the western frontier. Most distillers paid their bills in whiskey—not cash.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Preview: 1963 - Life at the Speed of Sound

When I first began kicking around the idea of writing a book about the events of 1963, the only sure thing that came to mind was the assassination of JFK. But the more I examined what happened that year, the more it struck me, 1963 was a pivotal year in modern history. It was the year that launched the sixties. It marked the end of our national innocence. It began a new era in the Civil Rights movement. The FAB 4 forever changed our perceptions of music, reality, and inner consciousness.

If you were alive in 1963, you're likely to remember three stand out events. The assassination of JFK, the beginnings of Beatlemania, and a rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement.

When JFK was assassinated, it was like the magic candle that lit up the nation was forever blown out. It opened our eyes to the evil around us. In those few short moments at Dealy Square, a lone gunman stole our innocence. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. polarized a generation of black activists like no one else could. His "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs catapulted him into the national limelight. He went from being a "black" leader, to being an "American" leader. The next day, JFK praised King's speech and the movement. The FBI had a different take on King. They designated him the most dangerous "nigger" in America. Attorney general Bobby Kennedy, authorized a series of wiretaps on King that would stay in effect until after his assassination.

Music brought the Civil Rights movement home to the youth of America. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a host of other musicians provided the background music to the March on Washington.

More than anyone else in the sixties, the Beatles changed everything. They brought a generation of youth together. 

Several years after their arrival in America, John Lennon would proclaim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." That line caused him a shitload of bad publicity, but he was definitely on to something. 

Kids around the world had had enough of the stodgy 1950s. They were tired of adults, politics, war, and parents telling them what to think, how to dress, and how to act.

Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other folk singers sang about political injustice and the coming revolution. The number one album in the country that year, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, contained no fewer than six protest tunes.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: If You Can Keep It, The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It, opens with a look at Benjamin Franklin just after the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The proceedings had been held behind closed doors - intentionally, to keep rumors from leaking out. Curiosity ran high. People lingered on pins and needles - wondering what the Convention had wrought.

     An old woman pigeon-holed Benjamin Franklin as he walked through the door. She asked him what the delegates had given the country. Franklin didn't need any time to think. Without a pause, he responded - "a Republic" - "if you can keep it."
     Franklin's response most likely baffled the woman. "If you can keep it..."
     The obvious response, would have been, "What's the catch?" "What do you mean?" or, "Why? Is there some chance we could lose it?"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killing Billy the Kid

Billy, the Kid
From The Authentic Life of
Billy, the Kid by Pat Garrett - 1892
Billy, the Kid, was nothing but a little squirt. He stood something like five foot, four inches tall (some say five foot, eight—he must have been wearing stilts when they said that), weighed about 140 pounds, and had a stringy muscular body. His hair was a sandy, brownish blond, and according to friends—he was a bit of a jokester, except when he was holding his pistol.

The only picture we have of him, shows a kid with a lopsided face, holding a shotgun by his side. But, that can’t be right. By all accounts, the Kid was a real ladies man. They liked him as much as he liked them, so that picture can’t be accurate. It’s more likely the Kid had a boyish smile, that broke into a wide, childlike grin when he was spinning a yarn.

And, by all accounts, the Kid laughed a lot. According to Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy ate “and laughed, drank and laughed, talked and laughed, fought and laughed and killed and laughed.”

And, that brings us to his real passion—six-guns, and shooting irons!

When he had his gun out—the Kid was deadly serious, and a sure shot.

New Mexico Governor, Lew Wallace, said Billy was “forked lightning with a shooting tool.” The Kid told him he never used a gunsight to take deliberate aim. “I just point my finger at what I shoot at, that’s all.” As he said the words, Billy raised his hand and pointed at the governor.

“Bang! Bang!”

The Kid let his finger do the talking.

Wallace continued.  "He simply permitted his forefinger to rest along the barrel of his pistol, and then, instead of attempting to point the pistol at his mark, he pointed his forefinger at the target, pulling the trigger with his middle finger.”

The idea was when a guy points his finger—it’s instinctive. Think back to the days when you played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers as a kid. Did your bullet ever miss its mark?

Of course, it didn’t—and neither did Billy’s.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Aftermath of the Dalton Gang Raid on Coffeyville Kansas

Emmett Dalton
(from Topeka State Journal. November 4, 1907)
Of course, after the gang was exterminated, there were rumors. Rumors that the ghosts of the Daltons would return to extract revenge from the citizens of Coffeyville. Rumors that the town would be burned to the ground. Rumors that the men would be killed. Rumors that the women would be raped and brutally butchered. And, rumors that the money—finally, would be removed from the banks.

Liveryman John Kloehr received a letter that rattled the entire community upon its publication. It said that “not all of the Dalton Gang are dead by a hell of a sight.” Five of the gang were still living. They had missed the raid because of a mix-up of dates. They would be in Coffeyville soon—to extract their revenge.

“You people had no cause to take arms against the gang,” continued the writer. “The bankers will not help the widows of the men who got killed there, and you thought you were playing hell when you killed three of us, but the time will soon come when you will have to go into the grove and pass in your checks for killing Bob and Joe Evans and Texas Jack. So take warning, and we will leave you in the hands of God for this time.”

Signed the “Dalton Gang.”[1]

Friday, August 5, 2016

Want to Know How to Rob A Train? Ask an Expert. The Dalton Method of Train Robbery

Emmett Dalton
(from The Last Raid of the Dalton Gang, 1892)
Any fool could rob a train, banks posed a bigger challenge.

Banks were located in the center of a city. Sheriffs and marshals were usually always nearby, a posse could be formed quickly, and one never knew about the townspeople—some were braver than they were smart.

Trains could be hit out in the open country at a remote and isolated spot. It could take hours, even days to raise a posse, and get them armed and on the road. By the time it took to get a posse started, the gang could make a clean getaway.

Another thing about trains was robbers knew exactly which cars to target—the goodies were always locked up in the express car, or sometimes in the mail car. Another bonus was few trains carried a squadron of armed guards. And, the express car wasn’t normally well protected. Against a gang of determined robbers armed with Winchesters, dynamite, and helpless hostages—an express man had little chance to defend his precious cargo.

He could pull a gun, but the consequences were most often fatal. He could stall for time, and try to hide some of the valuables before the inevitable stick of dynamite slid under the door and blew it open. Most often, though, the best move was to give it up and open the door. That way no one got hurt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Deal: Churchill, Truman and Stalin Remake the World by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

An interesting look at the beginnings of the Cold War. Strangely enough, Truman and Churchill come off as archvillains and Stalin as the good guy.

Could it be true?

"Churchill was to say, 'It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell....' The United States Strategic Bombing Survey said after the war, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.' 
It was no longer necessary to drop either the bomb-as-weapon or the bomb-as-doomsday-machine on Japan. However, if the weapon were not dropped on Japan, the doomsday machine could have no psychological effect on Russia. 
The bomb was therefore dropped on Japan for the effect it had on Russia—just as Jimmy Byrnes had said. The psychological effect on Stalin was twofold: the Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."

Friday, July 15, 2016

Abraham Lincoln As a Storyteller

From a cartoon (originally published in Harper’s Weekly Magazine, 
September 17th, 1864)
Abraham Lincoln is idealized as this tall, stoic, bearded giant who wore a black stove pipe hat and never smiled. The real Abraham Lincoln was nothing like that. He was a jokester. He enjoyed entertaining people with his stories and making them laugh. William Howard Russell noted in his diary, “Mr. Lincoln raises a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moves off in the cloud of merriment produced by his joke.”

His friend, Joshua Speed said, “humor was an integral part of the way in which Mr. Lincoln created and cemented friendships.”

From all accounts, Lincoln was folksy in the way he talked. His law partner in Springfield, William Herndon, described his voice as somewhat squeaky, maybe even high-pitched and shrill. It may have even occasionally cracked as he was speaking.

George Alfred Townsend in his book, The Real Life of Abraham Lincoln, says:

“No man ever told so many stories, and he was seldom known either to repeat one twice or tell one that was hackneyed. His long, variable and extensive experience with common native people made him acquainted with a thousand oddities, and he had a familiar way of relating them that was as piquant as his application of them. It is also true that some of these stories were more cogent than delicate.”

Lamon confirms this, saying “His humor was not of a delicate quality, it was chiefly exercised in hearing and telling stories of the grosser sort.” Lamon says “telling and hearing ridiculous stories was one of his[Lincoln’s] ruling passions…The most trifling incident reminded him of a story, and that reminded him of another until everybody marveled that one small head could carry all he knew.”

Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War

Chief Black Hawk by George Catlin
(from Letters and Notes on North American Indians
by George Catlin, 1913)
Abraham Lincoln’s real story begins about the time he was chosen as a Captain in the Black Hawk War.

Before I tell you about Lincoln, I should tell you about the Black Hawk War. It wasn’t really much of a war. It was more like a slaughter of the Sac and Fox Indians. From the years 1827 to 1831 squatters crossed over into Indian Territory in Iowa and Illinois. They destroyed the Indian’s homes and planted crops while they were away on their winter hunt. Each time Black Hawk complained to the authorities, they told him to let it be.

In 1831 authorities warned Black Hawk, if he crossed the Mississippi and returned to his village in Illinois it would be considered an act of aggression. In 1832 he crossed the Mississippi, intending to meet up with a band of Winnebago’s who offered his people shelter at the Prophet’s Town.

What followed was a mix-up of frontier madness, mayhem, and murder. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out the militia and raised thousands of volunteers. General Winfield Scott marched his regulars to Fort Armstrong. Zachary Taylor led a group of dragoons in the fighting.

Needless to say most of the Indians were slaughtered despite making numerous attempts to surrender.

Lincoln’s role in the war was minimal. He was elected captain of a regiment in New Salem. Later he became a ranger in Captain Elijah Iles’s company of Independent Rangers. After Iles’s company of rangers was mustered out of service in mid-June, he joined a group of scouts led by Captain Jacob M. Early.

The Last Raid of the Dalton Gang as Told By John J. Kloehr - The Man Who Killed Two of the Daltons

John J. Kloehr
(from The Dalton Brothers:
And Their Astounding
Career of Crime, 1893)
A Topeka correspondent writes to The Inter-Ocean that in the annals of the southwest there is no Incident so stirring, so full of bloody and dramatic feature, as the story of the last raid of the Dalton gang at Coffeyville, Wednesday, October 5, 1892, when that town was changed in an hour from a peaceful scene of commerce and pleasure, to bloodshed. The tale has been told many times, it has been made the subject of epic verse, it has furnished material for the author of the "penny dreadful," it has been told in many languages, but the author of the heroic deed that rid the world of the murdering band of criminals has never before told the story himself. This man is John J. Kloehr, Mr. Kloehr has now given his version of it, and says:

I don't like to tell this story. I have never told It before, that is, with anything like completeness.

Just a word or two about the Daltons before beginning the story of
their final raid. They were Kentuckians born and bred. They were cousins by marriage of the notorious Younger and Jameses. In them the lust of slaughter was inborn. In 1889 the Dalton family, father and mother and 18 children, among them the three who met their death here - Bob, Emmet and Grattan - came to Kansas. They settled on a farm in Montgomery county, where they remained until the opening of the territory. Then began the life of adventure that proved their undoing. First, United States deputy marshals, then train robbers, whiskey peddlers and bandits in the mountain passes of California; then, the final act, bank robbers.

On October 4, 1892, five men, Tim Evans, or Powers, Grant Dalton, Bob
Dalton, Emmett Dalton and Dick Broadwell, the last having been enlisted in the scheme a day or two before, rode up from the Indian Territory from that part known as the Cherokee nation.

They passed the night hiding in the wooded fastnesses along the banks of the Verdigris river on which this town stands. Early on the morning of the 6th they took up their Journey again, their blooded horses refreshed by rest and food.

For miles they followed one of the main roads into Coffeyville, the road
that becomes Eighth street when it enters the town.

As they neared the town they were noticed by many people riding to and
from the city. The Daltons, who were of course, well known in Coffeyville, were disguised by false beards and other means. Long cloaks concealed their weapons - Winchester rifles and heavy Colt's revolvers. They looked as they Intended, like a party of United States deputy marshals riding into the state on official business. This was an occurrence too common to excite wonderment or remark.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: The Promise of a Pencil, How An Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

Andrew Braun's life story reads like the Hero's Journey as portrayed by Joseph Campbell.

At age seventeen, he set sail with the (SAS) Semester at Sea program, headed towards India, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. Rough seas tossed the MV Explorer cruise ship to and fro, almost swamping the ship full of kids. For Andrew, the cruise was a game changer.

"I'm going to die today," he thought. "I'm going to drown in freezing waters within the next two hours. I was in a free fall. How was this possible?"

Knowing he was going to die, somehow brought out the hero in young Andrew. He found a new determination, a will to live. Surprisingly, the experience brought him closer to his fellow travelers.

On the ground again, he decided to ask one kid in every country he visited, what one thing they wanted most. The answers were crazy. They were totally unexpected. A girl in Hawaii wanted to dance. A girl in Beijing wanted a book. A boy in Hong Kong wanted magic. And, a boy begging outside the Taj Mahal wanted a pencil.

His face lit up like he was given a million dollars when Braun gave him a Number 2 pencil.

Who's to say who's life was changed more that day, the boy who could finally write, or the young man who discovered his life was changed by the power of a pencil?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Pat Paulsen The Last Honest Presidential Candidate

Pat Paulsen had a dream.

It was the same dream every kid growing up in the 1930s had, that maybe someday, if he applied himself, and tried really hard, he might become president. The presidential bug first bit Paulsen when he was attending elementary school in South Bend, Washington.

 From that day on, Paulsen knew he had a special purpose in life.

But, similar to other young adults in his situation, life got in the way. Swept up in the patriotic fury of the day, he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. He was shipped overseas, but escaped combat duty because the war had ended. Instead, he spent his days babysitting Japanese prisoners of war.

Marijuana The Other Rocky Mountain High, How Legalizing Weed Has Affected One State

Rumor has it a prominent fast food chain is developing a new product for the Colorado market – code name McBuzz. It’s a hybrid mixture combining the best properties of “a certain mint flavored shake” with a sprinkling of buds. Beta testers are calling it the real Rocky Mountain High.
It comes as no surprise that Colorado is the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. A recent survey noted that 27.26 percent of Colorado adults ages 18 to 25 admit to smoking marijuana. Nationwide marijuana use for that age group is 18.7 percent. Must be something in the mountain air that makes people there want to go green.

Marijuana use drops significantly after people reach the age of twenty-five. Only 8.19 percent of Coloradans over age twenty-six regularly dally with the weed, compared to 4.8 percent nationwide for that same age range.

Can Cartoons Predict the Winner of a Presidential Election - Cartoon Trump, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Candidate Donald Trump - Part 1

The creators of Family Guy got Donald Trump's
 dander up when they released this image in an
attempt to win the Emmy Award.
Are cartoons a good predictor of real life?

A 2000 episode of The Simpson’s foretold the election of Donald Trump, and the eventual bankruptcy of the country due to Trump’s spendthrift policies.

How’d it all happen?

During a drug-induced (?) hallucination Bart catches a glimpse of a weird alternate future, where he is a loser, musician wannabe, and Lisa is president.  Our first view of Lisa shows her decked out in her best purple outfit, as she gets ready to address the nation. Right off the bat, she clears the air, and lets everyone know she is the “first straight female president.” Then she gets down to business.

Secretary Millhouse stands on the stage next to Lisa. He displays a chart that shows the economy’s downward spiral, while he relates the bad news. 

Apparently, the Donald’s decision to invest in our children’s future was a humongous mistake.

In disbelief, Lisa exclaims, “The Country’s broke! How can that be?”

Sunday, July 3, 2016

John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, and a Few of Those Conspiracy Theories

Currier and Ives lithograph of Booth Assassinating Lincoln
John Wilkes Booth’s world was crumbling all around him. The Confederate government abandoned the city of Richmond, Virginia on April 3rd, 1865. Six days later General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

To the twenty-six-year-old Booth it appeared as if everything was lost. In his mind, the only hope left for the South was for someone to make a strike so bold, so daring, and so outrageous, it could turn the tide of defeat into victory.

What made it worse was the impromptu speech Lincoln gave at the White House on the night of April 11th, 1865. It confirmed Booth’s greatest fear—Lincoln was a crazed “nigger” lover. Why else would he advocate giving former slaves the vote?

After listening to the President’s talk, Booth edged closer to David Herold, and snarled, “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll run him through.”

It was unacceptable. It ran against every belief Booth held. Someone had to stop Lincoln before he made a total mockery of the country.

The only questions left to decide were—when, and where?

There has been a lot of misinformation published about John Wilkes Booth, and about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Fifty years after the fact, there was a rush of “so-called” eye-witness survivors, putting pen to paper to tell their stories of what they remembered of that night. Many of their accounts, no matter how stilted, have come to be accepted as gospel.

For example, Oliver C. Gatch, asserted he and his brother, rushed into Lincoln’s box shortly after the shot often. He said they laid the President on the floor so Dr. Leale could cut open his shirt, and then they helped carry the dying Lincoln across the street to Petersen House. He also claimed it was his brother who discovered the bullet wound on Lincoln’s head, not Dr. Leale. The only problem is, the original testimony documents only three surgeons on the scene that night, and Gatch was not one of them.

Creating a Nation of Addicts, The Strange History of Patent Medicines, Marijuana, Morphine, and Heroine in America

True, or false?

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you could walk into the corner drug store and buy a do it yourself druggie, kit complete with a hypodermic needle, and vials of opium and morphine? The original formula for Coca-Cola™ contained real cocaine? Bayer Pharmaceuticals aggressively marketed heroin beginning in 1899, touting it as a cure for headaches, tuberculosis, menstrual cramps, and more?

True, true, and true again.

Let’s try another one.

Drugs weren’t a real problem in America until the 1960’s. It was that damned Rock ‘N Roll music that spawned the Hippie movement, marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and heroin addiction. Before the 1960’s Americans didn’t do drugs, right?

Wrong again!

Here’s the real scoop on addiction in America.

Historians can trace the use of marijuana as far back as the writings of Chinese Emperor Shen Nung somewhere around 2700 BC.  According to the Emperor, marijuana was used as a cure for rheumatism, gout, malaria, and even absent mindedness.

The Spanish conquistadores brought cannabis to America with them in the early 1500’s, and records from the Jamestown Colony in 1611 show cannabis was the second largest crop grown there next to tobacco. Hemp was one of George Washington’s largest cash crops at his Mount Vernon plantation. But, he grew it to make rope, not for its medicinal uses—right?

For nearly 150 years, patent medicines were used, and abused, by a large portion of the American public. One of the most popular of these medications was laudanum. Laudanum was a potent mixture of 90% alcohol and 10% opiates. Famous laudanum abusers include Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Todd Lincoln.

Remember When: John Lennon Proclaimed the Beatles Were More Popular Than Jesus

March 4th, 1966 started out like any other day for John Lennon. He did an interview with his journalist friend Maureen Cleave. It was one of many they would do for a series of articles published in the London Evening Star, titled "How Does a Beatle Live?"

One section of the interview covered Lennon's take on religion. In it, Lennon said, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right, and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now: I don't know which will go first - rock 'n roll or Christianity."

In England, the quote went pretty much unnoticed. But in the United States, DATEbook, a teen fan magazine, got a hold of the quote, and printed it out of context, making Lennon, and the Beatles, appear to be a group of godless huns.

The front page of that magazine featured a picture of Paul McCartney, and a  series of pull quotes from Lennon, McCartney, and Timothy Leary, among others.

The cover quote from Lennon was, "I don't know which will go first - rock 'n roll or Christianity."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How America Got Its Name - Amerigo Vespucci, Richard Amerike - Will the Real Namesake Please Stand Up

Amerigo Vespucci
(from Christopher Columbus: His Life, His Work,
His Remains
by John Boyd Thatcher - 1904)
Naming a continent is a funny thing.

One man is the acknowledged discoverer of an entirely new world, yet by pure chance, it is named after another.

History tells us a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, scribbled America over the country of Brazil on a new map he was working on in 1507. He’d read Vespucci’s account of his discoveries, and decided it was a good way to honor the navigator and discoverer of that area.

According to Waldseemüller, he wrote the word America across Brazil on the new map because, “I see no reason why anyone should justly object to calling this part America, after Amerigo [Vespucci] its discoverer, a man of great ability.”

Over time, the name just sort of stuck.

In 1538, the famed mapmaker Gerardus Mercator extended the name to all of North and South America. From that point on, Amerigo Vespucci’s Novus Mundo, or new world, would bear his name.

Amerigo Vespucci was born March 9th, 1454, in Florence, Italy. As a young man, he worked as a clerk for Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 1492, he was dispatched to Cadiz, Spain, to serve as an agent in that branch. In 1495, Vespucci helped procure supplies for Columbus’s second voyage.

Vespucci switched allegiances in 1499 and began work for the King of Portugal. He participated in several voyages of discovery. Some say, he acted as an observer for the king. Other accounts contend he was a navigator on several of the voyages. Whichever account is true, Vespucci was present on several important voyages of discovery.

General George Armstrong Custer - Hero, or Fool?

(from the Cyclorama of General 
Custer's Last Fight, - 1892)
Mention the name George Armstrong Custer and tempers start to flare. Many historians have made Custer out to be a martyr. Others portray him as a monster who sacrificed his troops in the Civil War to satisfy his quest for everlasting glory.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Custer ranked dead last in his class at West Point. But, his timing for attending that institution couldn’t have been better. He graduated in 1861 at the start of the Civil War when the Union Army was desperate for new officers. Nearly 35 percent of his class resigned their commissions to return home and fight for the Confederacy.

Custer’s first assignment was as an aide to General McClellan. Not long after that, he received a commission as a cavalry officer, where he received a series of quick promotions due to his boldness in battle. After the Battle of Bull Run, the New York Tribune reported Custer had “most of the qualities which go to make up a first-class hero.”

What the newspapers didn’t report was Custer loved war. He was invigorated by the sights, sounds, and the smell of battle. While most officers kept to the rear of their troops, Custer led every charge of the Third Michigan—saber in one hand, pistol in the other.

He was reckless with the lives of his men. He didn’t plan; he didn’t scout out enemy positions. When others urged caution, Custer jumped in. During the Peninsula Campaign when McClellan stopped his troops to determine how deep the Chickahominy River was. Custer plunged in and rode out to the center. After proving its depth, he rode back to his place in line.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

1950s Nuclear Propaganda Films, or How to Not Panic, Duck and Cover, and Save Yourself From Nuclear Fallout

I've spent a lot of time on YouTube recently, employed on a search and destroy mission to uncover the best 1950s propaganda films concerning the nuclear menace.

Remember this was the period right after the war. Communism was spreading throughout Europe and Asia, the McCarthy Hearings were in full swing here in America, and companies were making a killing promoting portable bomb shelters for your backyard and basement.

It was a crazy, paranoid time. Many people expected the Red Army to come marching down your street at any moment. If you were a child of the fifties or sixties, one thing you're bound to remember is the "duck and cover" air raid drills. Students were marched out of the classroom, into the hallway, and forced to press their head between their legs. Like that was going to save you from a rogue Soviet nuclear missile.

One of the classic videos from this period is Duck and Cover starring Bert the Turtle. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Harvard Psychedelic Club, How Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Turned on the World

The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin is a fascinating look at how three Harvard University professors, and a graduate student came together in the early sixties to turn the world onto mushrooms, mescaline, and LSD-25. 

For Timothy Leary, the journey began on the afternoon of August 9th, 1960, when he ingested some psilocybin mushrooms. That trip changed his perception of reality and convinced him psychedelic drugs would soon become an essential tool in the psychologist's toolbox.

Huston Smith had literally written the book on world religions, The Religions of Man, later republished as The World's Religions. He was introduced to Timothy Leary by Aldous Huxley, another Harvard Man, who'd written The Doors of Perception, a book based on his experiments with mescaline. Leary introduced Smith to his "magic mushrooms" on New Year's Day in 1961. It was a bad trip, but it opened him up to the possibilities of what Huxley called these "heaven and hell" drugs.

Richard Alpert was late to the party. By the time he arrived in Mexico, the "magic mushrooms" were gone, and no one knew how to find more, so he had to wait for his conversion. He took his first "trip" in early February of 1961. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stamp Act Crisis - Catalyst to Revolution, and the Birth of the Sons of Liberty

Pennsylvania Journal, October 31, 1765
(From Samuel Adams: A Character Sketch by
Samuel Fallows, 1898)
Have you ever noticed how sometimes the littlest acts create the biggest consequences?

England found itself strapped for cash at the close of the Seven Years War (known in the colonies as the French and Indian Wars), and saw the Stamp Act as a way to generate some much needed revenue.

When members of Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765, they didn’t give it a second thought. The tax was actually quite minor. It was expected to raise roughly £60,000 pounds, less than one-fifth of what it cost the Crown to keep troops stationed in North America for protection of the colonies. And, in all fairness, the revenues generated by the tax were to be used in the colonies to maintain order, and keep peace on the frontier.

The Stamp Act required colonists to pay a tax on every printed piece of paper—newspapers, magazines, broadsides, legal documents such as business licenses, permits, college diplomas, and even playing cards. Most of the fees weren’t outrageous, many of them started at less than a half-penny. The devil was in the details. The law required the tax to be paid in hard-currency—gold and silver, which was always in short supply in the colonies. And, the penalties for evading the tax were harsh. The fine was £10 for each pack of cards or pair of dice sold without a stamp, and £20 for each newspaper or pamphlet that did not list the name and address of the publisher. Tax evaders were to be tried before a Court of Admiralty, because Parliament felt colonial jury’s would be too lenient on tax evaders.  It also stipulated counterfeiters would be treated as felons, and suffer the penalty of death without benefit of clergy.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Four Bad Men Who Made a Specialty of Carrying Guns

Wyatt Earp (Columbus Journal, January 27, 1897)
(This article on four western gunfighters—Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, and Wyatt Earp was published in the Omaha Daily Bee on March 13, 1887. It offers an interesting look at their life and times.)

An El Paso (Tex.) correspondent says: When Luke Short, a bad man with a record, shot Jim Courtwright, another bad man with a record, at Fort Worth recently, he reduced the professional killers of the west to a quartet. The list stands at present, in order of precedence, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, and Wyatt Earp. There used to be more, but the same wise Providence that disintegrated the Jesse James gang and distributed it among the cemeteries, penitentiaries, and dime museums of the land, has elected that bad men eventually kill each other. Thus the supply has been kept ahead of the demand. The interest that attaches to those men is purely transitory; a dead killer is as quickly forgotten as a knocked-out pugilist, but the qualities of nerve and desperation that brought them to the surface in a country where everybody carries a "gun" and people go to glory every day without a benediction or a bootjack stamps them as rather extraordinary characters. Bat Masterson first became a border celebrity through this paper, in which a correspondent rehearsed his pedigree some years ago. Since that time more has been written about him than all the other three put together. He is the Maud S. of man killers. Nobody has ever lowered his record, but he claims that the twenty-six or twenty-seven inmates of his private graveyard were all sent thither in pursuit of his duty as an officer.

All his life has been spent on the frontier. He was first a cowboy, then a scout in the United States employ, and afterward marshal in several western towns, notably Dodge City, Kansas, and Trinidad, Colorado. Personally, Masterson is the best extant specimen of the gentleman desperado, copyrighted by Bret Harte. He has trained the voice that erstwhile yelled for cows down to a low, gentle baritone; he always dresses in black, wears no jewelry save a slender gold thread of a watch chain; a white cambtic handkerchief peeps from the breast pocket of his four-button cutaway, and he is careful about his boots and ties. A friend who invaded his room when he was here recently found two six-shooters and a manicure set on his bureau. He never blusters. When he gets mad his mustache creeps up under his nose in a peculiar smile that has no merriment in it, and he reaches for his revolver, which he carries thrust in the waistband of his "pants," directly under the lower buttons of his vest. It looks like the irony of fate that such a man should gravitate into a theatrical husband. Such, however, was the destiny of Masterson. Not long since he married Nellie McMahon, a western soubrette; and now he carries the pug and wears fur on his overcoat collar. Mrs. 'Masterson (nee McMahon) is not troubled with mashers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Original Account of Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic

(New York Tribune, April 18, 1912)
Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg

Giant liner on maiden trip met with disaster
330 miles from Cape Race and went to the bottom.

New York. —The greatest marine disaster in the history of ocean traffic occurred Sunday night when the Titanic of the White Star Line, the greatest steamship that ever sailed the sea, shattered herself against an iceberg and sank with, nearly, 1,500 of her passengers and crew in less than four hours. The monstrous modern ships may defy wind and weather, but ice and fog remain unconquered.

Out of nearly 2,400 people that the Titanic carried only 866 are known to have been saved, and most of these were women and children. They were taken from small boats by the Cunard Liner Carpathia, which found when she ended her desperate race against time, only the boats, a sea strewn with the wreckage of the lost ship, and the bodies of drowned men and women.

Among the 1.480 passengers of the giant liner were Col. John Jacob Astor and his wife, Isador Straus, Major Archibald W. Butt, aid to President Taft; George D. Widener and Mrs. Widener of Philadelphia. Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Harper, William T. Stead, the London journalist; F. D. Millet, the artist, and many more whose names are known on both sides of the Atlantic. The news that few besides women and children were saved caused the greatest apprehension as to the fate of these.

The text of the message from the steamer Olympic reporting the sinking of the Titanic and the rescue of 675 survivors also expressed the opinion that 1,800 lives were lost. "Loss likely total 1,800 souls," the dispatch said in its concluding sentence.

It is hoped and believed here that this is unless the Titanic had more passengers on board than was reported. She carried about 2,200 persons, including passengers and crew.
Deducting 675, the known saved, would indicate a loss of more than 1,500 persons.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Giuseppe Zangara He Tried To Kill FDR Because he Had A Stomach Ache

Franklin D. Roosevelt was shot at by a man with a stomach ache and a grudge against rich capitalists.

Shooter Giuseppe Zangara was an unemployed Italian American bricklayer, some say an Italian anarchist. The shooting occurred at Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida on February 15, 1932.

Zangara was short - only five feet tall, and as such, was forced to stand on a wobbly metal folding chair to get a good view of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Five shots rang out that day. Five people were injured. Fortunately for Roosevelt, several people in the crowd attempted to grab Zangara after hearing the first shot, and threw off his aim.

Roosevelt escaped unharmed, but Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was with Roosevelt was shot in the stomach, and soon afterward died from his wounds.

At his trial, Giuseppe Zangara told authorities, “I decide to kill him and make him suffer [Franklin D. Roosevelt] … since my stomach hurt, I want to make even with capitalists by kill the President. My stomach hurt long time.”

Giuseppe Zangara died in the electric chair on March 20, 1933, just over one month after the assassination attempt.

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