Wednesday, December 31, 2008

RIP Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard, energetic jazz trumpeter, dies at 70
By Peter Keepnews
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died Monday in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 70.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he had Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.

Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success - although rarely for the same projects.

He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" (1960), Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" (1964) and John Coltrane's "Ascension" (1965).

In the 1970s Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting a larger audience, with albums that featured electric instruments, rock and funk rhythms, string arrangements and repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and the Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly, Wow." His audience did indeed grow, but his standing in the jazz world diminished.

By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet.

After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.

Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music's premier talent scout.

Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him "one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the '60s."

After leaving Blakey's band in 1964, Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.

Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album "First Light" in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.

Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, Hubbard offered some sober advice to younger musicians: "Don't make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don't overblow."

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Memoriam 2008

In chronological order of their deaths, these are people with whom I was at least vaguely familiar who passed away this year:

Lee Dreyfus, former governor of Wisconsin.

Gerry Staley, former MLB pitcher.

Jimmy Stewart, former British racecar driver.

Phillip Agee, author and former CIA agent.

Jim Dooley, former Chicago Bears coach.

Johnny Grant, former honorary mayor of Hollywood.

Rod Allen, former lead singer of the Fortunes (”Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again”).

Sir Edmund Hillary, first mountaineer to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Johnny Podres, former MLB pitcher.

Bobby Fischer, chess grandmaster.

Ernie Holmes, former NFL player.

John Stroger, Chicago politician.

Lois Nettleton, movie and TV actress.

Lou Palmer, radio announcer.

Georgia Frontiere, owner of St. Louis Rams football team.

John Stewart, member of the Kingston Trio.

Eugene Sawyer, former mayor of Chicago.

Suzanne Pleshette, movie and TV actress.

Heath Ledger, movie actor.

Margaret Truman Daniel, author and daughter of Harry S Truman.

Ed Vargo, former MLB umpire.

Earl Butz, former secretary of agriculture.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, former guru to the Beatles.

Roy Scheider, movie actor.

Freddie Bell, R&B singer.

Tom Lantos, member of Congress and Holocaust survivor.

Robin Moore, author (”The Green Berets”).

Evan Mecham, former governor of Arizona.

Buddy Miles, rock drummer.

William F. Buckley Jr., author, political commentator, founder of the National Review magazine.

Mike Smith, lead singer of the Dave Clark Five.

Jerry Groom, former NFL player.

Buddy Dial, former football star.

Bob Purkey, former MLB player.

Ivan Dixon, movie and TV actor (”Hogan’s Heroes”).

Sir Arthur Clarke, author (”2001: A Space Odyssey”).

Richard Widmark, actor.

Paul Scofield, actor.

Neil Aspinall, former road manager for the Beatles.

Wally Phillips, Chicago radio personality.

Charlton Heston, movie actor.

Bob Pellegrini, former NFL player.

Joy Page, movie actress (”Casablanca”).

Al Wilson, soul singer (”Show and Tell”).

Paul Davis, pop singer (”65 Love Affair”).

Eddy Arnold, country music singer.

Arthur Burks, mathemetician and computer pioneer.

Utah Phillips, folk singer.

Jimmy McGriff, jazz and blues organist.

Dick Martin, comedian (”Laugh-In”).

Sydney Pollack, movie actor and director.

Earle Hagen, TV theme composer (”The Andy Griffith Show”).

Harvey Korman, actor and comedian.

Yves St. Laurent, fashion designer.

Paul Sills, co-founder of the Second City improv troupe.

Mel Ferrer, actor.

Bo Diddley (pictured above), rock pioneer.

Tim Russert, TV journalist.

Cyd Charisse, actress and dancer.

Dody Goodman, actress and comedian.

George Carlin, comedian.

Larry Harmon, actor (Bozo the Clown).

Evelyn Keyes, actress (”Gone With the Wind”).

Charles Joffe, producer of most of Woody Allen’s movies.

Michael DeBakey, pioneer heart surgeon.

Bobby Murcer, former MLB player.

Tony Snow, journalist and White House press secretary.

Les Crane, TV personality.

Jo Stafford, singer (”Jambalaya”).

Estelle Getty, TV actress (”Golden Girls”).

Anne Armstrong, Republican politician.

Skip Caray, baseball broadcaster.

Orville Moody, golfer.

Bernie Mac, comedian and actor.

Isaac Hayes, soul musician.

Gene Upshaw, NFL player and union executive.

Phil Hill, racecar driver.

Jerry Reed, country singer and actor.

Ike Pappas, TV journalist.

Richard Wright, keyboardist and songwriter for Pink Floyd.

Norman Whitfield, Motown songwriter (”I Heard It Through the Grapevine”).

Anna Langford, Chicago politician.

Connie Haynes, singer.

Dick Lynch, former NLF player.

Mickey Vernon, former MLB player.

Paul Newman, actor.

Nick Reynolds, former member of the Kingston Trio.

Lloyd Thaxton, TV personality.

Gil Stratton, sportscaster and actor (”Stalag 17″).

Tom Tresh, former MLB player.

Edie Adams, singer and actress.

Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops.

Ben Weider, bodybuilding enthusiast.

Richard Blackwell, fashion critic.

Tony Hillerman, mystery writer.

Delmar Watson, former child actor (”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”).

Studs Terkel, author and radio personality.

Yma Sumac, singer.

Michael Crichton, author (”Jurassic Park”).

Heather Pick, TV journalist.

Jody Reynolds, singer and guitarist (”Endless Sleep”).

Preacher Roe, former MLB pitcher.

Miriam Makeba, singer.

Herb Score, former MLB pitcher.

Odetta, folk singer.

Nina Foch, actress.

Beverley Garland, actress.

Sunny von Bulow, heiress.

Dennis Yost, lead singer of the Classics IV.

Robert Prosky, actor.

Betty Page, pin-up model.

Van Johnson, actor.

Sammy Baugh, former NFL player.

Paul Weyrich, conservative political activist.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, political activist and author.

W. Mark Felt, “Deep Throat” of Watergate fame.

Dock Ellis, former MLB pitcher.

Harold Pinter, playwright.

Eartha Kitt, singer and actress.

Delaney Bramlett, singer and songwriter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Presidential Controversies (From Swimming Nude to Getting Drunk)

By Gregory McNamee on History

When Barack Obama takes office on January 20, 2009, as the forty-fourth president of the United States, he will bear the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Apart from having the normal jitters, the new president, remembering recent events, will doubtless be uncomfortably aware that from then on his every move will be under the close eye of lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists, and citizens. One error, one gaffe, one small lapse of judgment, the new president might reasonably think, and I’m toast: just think of Bill Clinton. Just look at the last eight misbegotten years.George Washington

Small wonder that Franklin Pierce, who served as president from 1853 to 1857, remarked that all he wanted to do on leaving office was to get drunk. And small wonder that James Madison, our fourth president, was moved to reply to an admirer, “I would much rather be in bed.”

The new president might be cheered, though, to know that our presidents have from the very start been the subjects, and sometimes the authors, of controversy and scandal.

Our presidents, to put it another way, have always been in hot water—or, in the case of John Quincy Adams, in cold water. Adams was fond of swimming nude in the Potomac River. Respectable Washingtonians disapproved, but Adams kept bathing au naturel even after someone once stole his clothes as he swam, and even after a reporter cornered him in the river and refused to let him dress until Adams had given her an exclusive interview.

The first to discover how unpopular a president can be was George Washington, who, we tend to forget, was not universally well liked in his time. Ardent republicans in the first government of the United States accused Washington of wanting to establish himself as a new, homegrown king, especially after Washington took stern measures to force his fellow citizens to pay their taxes. Washington did have an imperious and sometimes impatient way, as he showed when he went to the Senate on August 22, 1789, to press for a new treaty with the Creek Indians. After Washington had made his argument for making this new treaty, a senator asked for clarification on one or two points. When Washington did not reply satisfactorily, the senator moved that the treaty be sent for further study to a committee. “This defeats every purpose of my coming here!” Washington cried. He swore that he would never again enter the Senate, and his successors have followed suit.

Washington touched off a minor scandal when he appointed a New York tavern keeper named Sam Fraunces to the new post of steward, responsible for keeping the president well fed and for arranging state dinners for visiting dignitaries. Fraunces took his duties seriously, saying, “While General Washington is president of the United States, and I have the honor to serve him as steward, his establishment shall be supplied with the very best of everything that the country can afford.” Fiscal conservatives trying to balance the new country’s books after an expensive revolutionary war were outraged by Fraunces’s free-spending ways, but Washington kept him on until, the story has it, he discovered that his steward had paid the outrageous sum of three dollars for a single fish. He fired Fraunces, and for the rest of his term budget-minded critics of the government had nothing to complain about.

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee had less refined tastes than George Washington’s. During his time in office (1829–1837) he was often criticized for hosting drunken parties in which his friends from the wild frontier showed their enthusiasm by breaking White House china and the occasional window. But Jackson came under more criticism still when he refused to recharter the Bank of the United States, a private corporation in which the federal government held a substantial block of stock. Westerners and populists detested the bank, and so did Jackson, who denounced it as an instrument of monopoly and special privilege, saying, “Our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress.” That may have been so, Jackson’s critics allowed, but even so the bank was well managed and kept the economy on course. When the bank dissolved after Jackson ordered that the federal government cease making deposits, panic ensued. Jackson eventually had to charter a new national bank under rules that, albeit with many changes, still apply today. Jackson wasn’t happy about the outcome. He threatened to hang anyone who opposed him.

Until recently, Andrew Johnson (1865–1869) was the only American president to have been impeached. Historians are now inclined to the view that Johnson did no wrong, but the politicians of his time hated the Tennessean, who served on the Union side during the Civil War. When the war ended, Johnson urged that the defeated Confederate states be readmitted to the Union without reparations. Many unforgiving congressmen felt otherwise, and they impeached Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanors” when he fired his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, for siding with so-called radical Reconstructionists who insisted on severely punishing the southern states. Those congressmen also insisted that only they could dismiss members of the cabinet, and they passed the Tenure of Office Act—which was later ruled unconstitutional—to make sure that this would be so. Johnson escaped conviction by just one vote, but to this day he is remembered, like Richard Nixon, largely for having touched off a scandal in government.

Calvin Coolidge, a taciturn New Englander, reasoned that by keeping his mouth closed he’d keep out of trouble. The technique usually worked, but Coolidge had a habit that Ronald Reagan shared, and that brought both presidents much criticism. Coolidge, it seems, loved his afternoon nap—which often lasted for three or four hours, on top of eight or nine hours of normal nighttime sleep. Coolidge had a sense of humor about his penchant for sawing logs, even if his political opponents did not; once, when an aide awakened him from a sound midday sleep, Coolidge asked, “Is the country still here?” Coolidge also argued that the country benefited from his nap habit—after all, he said, he couldn’t initiate any potentially costly federal actions while he was asleep.

But there is no time to sleep now. Godspeed, Mr. President. Controversy awaits—but also, it is to be hoped, so do glory and greatness.

Friday, October 10, 2008

8 Famous People Who Died in the Bathroom

1. Elvis Presley

On January 8, 1935, Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He was discovered in Memphis by Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who was looking for a white singer with an African-American sound and style.

Elvis catapulted to fame following three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 and 1957. Although he was pushed off the charts by The Beatles and the rest of the British invasion in the early 1960s, he still sold more than a billion records in his lifetime, more than any other recording artist in history.

His movie career kept him in the public eye until his comeback album in 1968, and in the 1970s, he sold out shows in Las Vegas as an overweight caricature of his former self.

Elvis's addiction to prescription drugs was well known, and on August 16, 1977, he was found dead on the bathroom floor in his Graceland mansion. A vomit stain on the carpet showed that he had become sick while seated on the toilet and had stumbled to the spot where he died. A medical examiner listed the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia caused by ingesting a large number of drugs.

2. Lenny Bruce

Controversial comedian Lenny Bruce was born Leonard Alfred Schneider in October 1925. Bruce was famous in the 1950s and 1960s for his satirical routines about social themes of the day, including politics, religion, race, abortion, and drugs. His use of profanity -- rarely done at that time -- got him arrested numerous times. He was eventually convicted on obscenity charges but was freed on bail.

On August 3, 1966, Bruce, a known drug addict, was found dead in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills home with a syringe, a burned bottle cap, and other drug paraphernalia. The official cause of death was acute morphine poisoning caused by an accidental overdose.

3. Elagabalus

Scandalous 3rd-century Roman emperor Elagabalus married and divorced five women, including a Vestal Virgin (a holy priestess), who under Roman law should have been buried alive for losing her virginity. Elagabalus also may have been bisexual.

Objecting to his sexual behavior and his habit of forcing others to follow his religious customs, his grandmother Julia Maesa and aunt Julia Avita Mamaea murdered Elagabalus and his mother (Julia Maesa's own daughter) in the emperor's latrine. Their bodies were dragged through the streets of Rome and thrown into the Tiber River.

4. Robert Pastorelli

Born in 1954, actor and former boxer Robert Pastorelli was best known as Candace Bergen's housepainter on the late 1980s sitcom Murphy Brown. He had numerous minor roles on television and also appeared in Dances with Wolves, Sister Act 2, and Michael, as well as a number of made-for-TV movies.

Pastorelli struggled with drug use and in 2004 was found dead on the floor of his bathroom of a suspected heroin overdose.

5. Orville Redenbacher

Orville Redenbacher, founder of the popcorn company that bears his name, was born in 1907 in Brazil, Indiana. Millions came to know him through his folksy television commercials for the specialty popcorn he invented.

He sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods in 1976 but remained as a spokesperson until September 20, 1995, when he was found dead in a whirlpool bathtub in his condominium, having drowned after suffering a heart attack.

6. Claude François

Claude François was a French pop singer in the 1960s who had a hit with an adaptation of Trini Lopez's folk song "If I Had a Hammer."

On March 11, 1978, François's obsession with cleanliness did him in when he was electrocuted in the bathroom of his Paris apartment as he tried to fix a broken light bulb while standing in a water-filled bathtub.

7. Albert Dekker

Actor Albert Dekker, who appeared in Kiss Me Deadly, The Killers, and Suddenly, Last Summer, was blacklisted in Hollywood for several years for criticizing anticommunist Senator Joe McCarthy.

Dekker later made a comeback, but in May 1968, he was found strangled to death in the bathroom of his Hollywood home. He was naked, bound hand and foot, with a hypodermic needle sticking out of each arm and obscenities written all over his body. The official cause of death was eventually ruled to be accidental asphyxiation.

8. Jim Morrison

Born on December 8, 1943, Jim Morrison was best known as the lead singer for The Doors, a top rock band in the late 1960s. His sultry looks, suggestive lyrics, and onstage antics brought him fame, but drug and alcohol abuse ended his brief life.

On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in his bathtub in Paris. He reportedly had dried blood around his mouth and nose and bruising on his chest, suggesting a massive hemorrhage brought on by tuberculosis. The official report listed the cause of death as heart failure, but no autopsy was performed because there was no sign of foul play.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Attack of the Killer Balloons

During World War II, Japan had a secret weapon designed to spark a massive forest fire in the United States. Thanksfully, the device - which was partly made by Japanese schoolgirls - was a dud. Here's the bizarre story of the Fugo killer balloons:

On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his wife Elsie, and five children from his Sunday school drove from the tiny southern Oregon town of Bly for a picnic on Gearhart Mountain. While Reverend Mitchell parked the car, his wife and the children explore. They came upon a device the U.S. government knew about but had kept secret. When one of them touched the device, it exploded: Mrs. Mitchell and the five children were killed. The six Oregonians became the only known fatalities on the U.S. mainland from enemy attack during all of World War II.


The exploding contraption was a Japanese Fugo balloon bomb, the brainchild of Major General Sueyoshi Kusaba of the Japanese Ninth Army Technical Research Laboratory. The balloons measured 33 feet across and 70 feet long from top to bomb. They were constructed (by Japanese schoolgirls) from bits of a tough paper called washi, made from mulberry trees, and glued together with potato paste. The bomb parts were made in a factory - not by schoolgirls.

Filled with hydrogen gas, the payload consisted of 36 sandbags for ballast, four incendiary bombs, and one 33-pound antipersonnel bomb. Launched to rise 35,000 feet, the balloons were designed to use the prevailing Pacific eastward winds to reach the west coast of North America. As the balloons leaked gas and lost altitude, barometric pressure switches caused the sandbags to drop off and the balloons to rise back to the jetstream. The trip took three to five days. By the time they reached the United States, the baloons, now out of sandbags, were supposed to drop the bombs and then self-destruct. The Japanese hoped the bomb would cause forest fires and panic the American public.


Between October 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched 9,300 of these balloons. Estimates are that fewer than 500 balloons reached the United States or Canada; the rest fell into the Pacific Ocean.

In November 1944, one balloon was discovered in the ocean off San Pedro, California. In January 1945, a balloon bomb landed in Medford, Oregon, without exploding. At some point, a rancher in Nevada discovered a balloon and used it as a tarp to cover his hay; police later discovered that two bombs were still attached to it.


Most of the balloons either exploded harmlessly or failed to detonate on impact. Approximately 90 of them were recovered in the United States as far east as Michigan. Strict censorship kept their existence out of the newspapers, and those who knew of their presence were sworn to secrecy. It was feared that news of the balloons arrival would encourage the launching of more balloons. They weren't seen as much of a danger, but the hush-hush handling of the situation worked: the Japanese abandoned the project because they didn't hear of any success.

But after the Mitchell family tragedy in Oregon, the public was warned. The last balloon bomb was found in Alaska in 1955; its bombs were still capable of exploding. Ironically, on March 10, 1945, one of the last paper balloons desceded near Hanford, Washington. The balloon landed on electrical power lines, shutting off the Hanford nuclear reactor for three days. The Hanford reactor, part of the top-secret Manhattan project, was producing plutonium for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, five months later.

The Fugo balloon bombs are considered a failure as weapons system. There were no proven bomb-caused forest fires, and they caused little other damage. Elsie Mitchell and the five children were the tragic exceptions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

6 Australians who caught lucky breaks

Australia is known as the “lucky country.” And while statistically Australians aren’t any luckier than anyone else, why split hairs? Here are a 6 examples of the Luck of the Aussies.
1. Bernhardt Otto Holtermann: Mining by Candle
Many prospectors descended on Australia in the nineteenth century, looking for gold. Nobody, however, did quite as well as German-born miner Bernhardt Holtermann and his business partner, Louis Beyer. Mining by candlelight outside Hill End in October 1872, they struck a gold nugget nearly five feet high, weighing 235 kg (630 pounds), and worth about US$21,000 (a lot of money in those days). At the time it was the world’s largest specimen of reef gold. They extracted the rock in one piece, and prepared to pose for photos, as thousands descended to the mountain to see “Holtermann’s Nugget.” While Holtermann regarded the nugget as his own, his company refused to sell it to him. Instead, the giant nugget was crushed with other quartz, yielding about 93 kg of gold – meaning that, even when his luck ran out, he was still a lucky guy.
2. Jack Buntine: Dodging bullets for a smoke

Eight thousand, one hundred and forty-one Australians died during World War I at the Turkish outpost of Gallipoli. Private Jack Buntine was not one of them – which is almost surprising. Jack was known for running over the tops of trenches (against regulations) to rescue wounded friends or swap cigarettes with enemy soldiers. “I suppose I was pretty lucky,” he later said, “but you know, I never worried about getting hit… We used to go swimming at Gallipoli and they would be shooting at us. You’d see bullets going in the water around you, but they didn’t worry me.”
After surviving a vicious bout with the flu, Jack survived the Great Depression by working as a trapper, shooter and gold miner. His first wife died of peritonitis at the age of 31, leaving him with two children, so he found a more regular job with the Post and Telegraph Department, climbing up telegraph poles and driving maintenance trucks on dangerous, unsealed bush tracks. He enjoyed this so much that he continued to do it until his retirement. He died peacefully in 1998 at age 103.
3. Hugh Jackman: On the strength of a publicity photo

The movie Mission: Impossible II (2000), filmed mostly in Sydney, co-starred a few Aussie actors. But it turned out to be a big break for one Australian actor in particular – and he didn’t even appear in the film! Indeed, it helped his career because he wasn’t in it. As the shooting schedule ran two months overtime, Scottish actor Dougray Scott couldn’t return to Hollywood in time to play his next role: Wolverine, an angry super-hero, in X-Men. The X-Men producers, forced to do a last-minute recast – selected Hugh Jackman on the strength of a mere publicity photo. Jackman, then unknown in Hollywood (and best-known in Australia as the star of stage musicals and light romantic comedies), was thrust into a completely different role, getting top billing over a distinguished cast. Overnight, he became a major Hollywood star, as the X-Men became a successful movie franchise. Not bad for a face in a publicity photo.
4. Ian Thorpe: Saved from 9/11, twice

If things had happened slightly differently, and according to plan, Ian Thorpe might have joined the 2,752 people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. The swimmer (at the time Australia’s most popular sportsman, and considered by many to be the world’s best swimmer) was visiting New York with his personal assistant, Michelle Flaskas. They were supposed to stay at the Tribeca Hotel, across the road from the World Trade Centre, but were forced to switch to another hotel, 15 minutes’ walk away, because of a double booking. On the morning of September 11, they had planned to go to a viewing platform near the top of one of the Twin Towers. Thorpe first went for a morning jog, then – while waiting for Flaskas to get ready – switched on the television to see that both towers were ablaze. He was perhaps half an hour away from certain death.
5. Victoria Friend: 20 minutes from death

It hardly seems right when an accident survivor is described as “lucky”, even if they’ve just lost friends or relatives. But within those parameters, Victoria Friend was extremely lucky. In 1999, Friend survived a light air crash in the New South Wales bush. The same crash killed her fiancé, Geoff Henderson, and left her lying alone for over 40 hours, with multiple fractures and severe burns to 40 percent of her body. After she was eventually rescued, doctors said that her vital organs were shutting down, and that she wouldn’t have survived much longer. One doctor estimated that she was a mere 20 minutes from death, and was rescued just in the nick of time. She briefly became a national celebrity, praised for her amazing ability to survive.
6. Steven Bradbury: Happy to skate on thin ice

At Salt Lake City in 2002, speed-skater Steven Bradbury won what television commentators called “perhaps the most incredible gold medal in Olympic history”. He was Australia’s first-ever Winter Olympics champion and, of course, the nation was celebrating. Others, however, were not so happy. Bradbury won his medal after his opponents (including the favorite, America’s Apolo Anton Ohno) had crashed in a heap in front of him. He simply skated around them, and cheerfully crossed the finish line first, to the jeers of the mostly American crowd. NBC commentators called it a farce, demanding a re-skate. Even foul play was suggested, as the umpire happened to be Australian. Ohno, meanwhile, picked himself up, continued to the end, and graciously accepted the silver medal.
Bradbury later claimed that he had won a strategic victory; he knew he couldn’t skate faster than his opponents, but he also knew that he could gamble on a crash. Whatever the case, he won – and by his own admission, it was due to luck more than anything else.

10 Victims of the Hope Diamond Curse

On this day in 1792, the Hope Diamond was stolen from the house that stored the crown jewels. It’s a pretty fascinating little bauble, if you’re the sort of person who is impressed by 45.52 carat gems (I am). But you probably wouldn’t want to own it – it’s cursed, you know. The story goes that the curse started from the Tavernier Blue, which was the precursor to several large diamonds, including the Hope Diamond. Take this with a grain of salt, because it’s never been proved: Jean-Baptiste Tavernier stole the 115.16 carat blue diamond from a Hindu statue, where it was serving as one of the eyes. Upon discovering it was missing, priests put a curse on whoever was in possession of the gem.

Which brings me to our Quick 10 topic: 10 people who have (supposedly) experienced the Hope Diamond Curse.

1. Jean Baptiste-Tavernier. The story is that he came down with a raging fever soon after stealing the diamond, and after he died, his body was possibly ravaged by wolves. However, other reports show that he lived until the ripe old age of 84, so… yeah.

2. King Louis XIV. He bought the stone from Tavernier and had it recut in1673. It was then known as “The Blue Diamond of the Crown” or the “French Blue”. King Louis died of gangrene and all of his legitimate children died in childhood, except for one. But that isn’t atypical of the times, I don’t think.

3. Nicholas Fouquet, who worked for King Louis XIV, is said to have worn the diamond for some special occasion. Shortly thereafter, he fell out of favor with the king and was banished from France. The Louis changed this sentence to life imprisonment, so Fouquet spent 15 years in the fortress of Pignerol. Some people believe that he was the real Man in the Iron Mask, but other accounts dispute this.

marie4. and 5. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis inherited the French Blue, Marie wore it, and I think we all know what happened there.

6. Marie-Louise, Princess de Lamballe, was a member of Marie Antoinette’s court and was her closest confidante. She was killed by a mob in a most horrific fashion – apparently hit with a hammer, decapitated, stripped, and disemboweled, among other things. Her head was impaled on a pike and carried to Marie Antoinette’s prison window.

7. Wilhelm Fals was a Dutch jeweler who recut the diamond again. His son ended up murdering him and then killing himself.

8. Greek merchant Simon Maoncharides owned the diamond. His curse? He drove his car over a cliff and killed himself, his wife and his child.

evalyn9. Evalyn Walsh McLean. Evalyn was a spoiled heiress who lived a charmed life… until she bought the diamond. She happily wore the diamond and there are stories that she would even affix the jewel to her dog’s collar and let him wander around the apartment with it. But wearing the Hope Diamond came at a steep price: first her mother-in-law died, her son died at the age of nine, her husband left her for another woman and later died in a mental hospital, her daughter died of a drug overdose at 25 and she eventually had to sell her newspaper – the Washington Post - and died owing huge debts. Evalyn’s surviving kids sold the diamond to Harry Winston. Nine years later, Winston mailed the gem to the Smithsonian for $2.44 in postage and $155 in insurance. Which brings us to number 10:

10. James Todd, the mailman who delivered the diamond to the Smithsonian, apparently had his leg crushed in a truck accident shortly thereafter. He also suffered a head injury in a separate accident. Oh, also, his house burned down.

There’s no doubt that Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and Princess de Lamballe were a tragic bunch; and Evalyn Walsh McLean definitely went through her share of hard times. But lots of these are probably exaggerated and twisted a bit to fit the tale and make the curse seem even more horrible. I wonder if even writing about the diamond can make you fall under the umbrella of the curse? After all, the Princess de Lamballe and the mailman didn’t have much to do with the gem at all.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Remembering Lewis and Clark, 205 Years Later

Two hundred and five years ago, on the morning of August 30, 1803, a 29-year-old Virginian named Meriwether Lewis, lately private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to journey down the Ohio River to its confluence with the Tennessee River and thence westward. Only three miles passed before a fellow traveler, eager to try Lewis’s newfangled hunting rifle, shot a bystander in the head (”she fell instantly and the blood gusing [sic] from her temple,” Lewis recorded in his notebook, adding, “we were all in the greatest consternation”). The victim revived, though, and Lewis and company went on their way, joining his friend William Clark and another party of soldiers and hunters 400 miles downstream.homeimage

Three years later, weather-beaten and weary, the grandly named “Corps of Discovery,” some 40 men strong, marched down the streets of St. Louis. There they were hailed as heroes, deservedly. Lewis, Clark, and their companions had, after all, traveled across 8,000 miles of largely uncharted territory. They had hauled two tons of equipment on their long journey from the Ohio to the Pacific Ocean: sextants and pistols, barometers and barrels, mirrors and knives to trade with the people they met along the way. They had described more than 300 plant and animal species new to science, among them the grizzly bear, which would ever after haunt Lewis’s dreams, and the prairie dog. And they had helped open the door to the American conquest of a vast interior recently sold to the United States by Napoleon Bonaparte, who had had no legal authority to do so.

Jefferson had instructed the Corps of Discovery to undertake several tasks. The first was to map the northern portion of those lands. The second was to determine whether the western rivers that drained into the Mississippi led to the Pacific Ocean; if they did, and if the fabled Northwest Passage really did exist, then American ships would be able to travel straight to China without having to skirt British-controlled shipping lanes in the Caribbean and South Atlantic. The third was to determine the location and strength of any Europeans the Corps might encounter along the way, and there were plenty afoot in the West, from French trappers to Russian whalers and Spanish missionaries—and, always, British agents.

Only farther down on Jefferson’s list of instructions to Lewis did American Indians figure. Were they friendly or hostile? What wealth did they possess? How were they organized politically? Could they be enlisted as allies?

Heroes they were, but not for long. Within a generation, the men of the Corps of Discovery were all but forgotten. The record had no need for them: the logic of Manifest Destiny had begun to unfold even before they returned to St. Louis. A century would pass, at the dawn of another American empire, before Lewis and Clark again took their place in the national pantheon. Through the efforts of historians and writers such as Elliot Coues and Reuben Gold Thwaites, archives were thrown open, dossiers dusted off, maps redrafted, and editions of the expedition’s mountainous journals prepared.

089-meriwether-lewis-memorial-1.jpgThose journals tell us much: they speak of hardship, of constant sickness, of danger, of bad weather and beasts, of Clark’s many preoccupations, of Lewis’s gnawing loneliness. But often we must often between the lines to get at what the circumspect authors truly had on their minds. Does Toussaint Charbonneau, the trapper and boatman who joined the expedition at Fort Mandan, North Dakota, deserve our remembrance as an intrepid guide and skin-saver, or should we see him as one of the most cowardly, feckless, and useless humans to have drawn breath? Was Sacagawea, the teenaged Shoshone girl who came along with Charbonneau as wife or as property, and whom the men called “Janey” as they would any camp follower, a help or a hindrance? Were the soldiers under Lewis and Clark’s command worthy comrades, or a constant reminder that the categories “civilized” and “savage” were both fluid and misapplied?

Depending on which page you turn to and which voice you heed, the answers will vary. That ever so deliberate ambivalence complicates the work of anyone who would regard the men (and women) of the Corps either as heroes unalloyed or as destroyers unleashed in an American Garden of Eden. Both threads are common in interpretations of American history, and neither is complete.

Other questions remain. What happened to York, Clark’s slave, whom the Indians they encountered found more mysterious, and more attractive, than the leaders of the expedition? Did York return to the Plains to become a Crow warrior and elder, as some believe, or did he fall to cholera in Tennessee? What of Sacagawea, or Janey, or Porivo, as some called her? Did she, too, die of illness in 1812, or did she run away from Charbonneau to find safe haven among the Comanches, then return to live among her own people until her death as an old woman in 1884? Did Meriwether Lewis commit suicide along the Natchez Trace in 1809, or was he murdered?

Three million words of firsthand history cannot tell us, but historians have made some reasonable and altogether fascinating guesses over the last 200-odd years—work of scholarly detection that will go on for years to come.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Turk Chess Automaton Hoax

"Tis a deception! granted, but such a one as does honour to human nature;
a deception more beautiful, more surprising, more astonishing, than any
to be met with in the different accounts of mathematical recreations."
[Karl Gottlieb von Windisch 1784]

To impress the Austrian Court of Empress Maria, the Hungarian polymath, Wolfgang von Kempelen, designed an ingenious chess playing mechanical device in 1770. The machine consisted of a cabinet with a chess board on top, doors that concealed brass cogs and gears, with a carved torso dressed up like a Turkish man attached to the back of the construction as it faced the audience. One of the turban wearing dummy's arms was moveable and the hand was of course able to pick up and move the chess pieces. It came to be known as 'the Turk' and exhibition chess matches against a host of challengers made it one of the most popular and enduring automaton shows of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The internal design included false clockwork pieces that moved in concert with the hidden operator's (a chess master) seat movement and helped him stay concealed - he moved around to avoid detection when the host (Kempelen in the beginning) opened doors and invited the audience to peer through to the other side - creating the illusion of a humanless automaton. Magnetic chess pieces allowed the board layout to be seen by a simple reciprocal system inside; ventilation pipes provided air for the operator and other pipes diverted candle smoke out through the Turk (who also smoked a pipe). A pegboard laid out the chessboard inside the cabinet and pantographic controls (a dual, fixed movement system, often used for drawing - see computer schematic above) worked the arm and hand on the main chessboard, moving chess pieces around as pegs were moved inside by the chess master/operator. There is more to it obviously but this was the basic set-up.

After its debut before royalty, the device took a back seat in Kempelen's life and it wasn't until the 1780s that he was persuaded to take the Turk on a tour of Europe. A succession of opponents (including chess champions and the likes of Benjamin Franklin) vied for the opportunity to play the increasingly popular magical machine. As might be expected, skeptics emerged and there were at least a couple of books (the illustrations above are from one of these) that claimed to explain the illusion.

Kempelen retired the device before the end of the decade, and in 1808, the Turk was brought back into service under a new (and fairly mercenary) master, Johann Mälzel. He would attract the Turk's most famous opponent, Napoleon Bonaparte, who, from varied accounts, was said to have been defeated once because of illegal moves and again when he laid down his King. Many more exhibitions followed, as did profits, bankruptcy, tours of America and Cuba and eventually, while in semi-retirement, the Turk was destroyed in a fire in Philadelphia 1854.

Since that first European tour in the latter stages of the 18th century, a veritable industry of academic enquiry has blossomed (and continues) attempting to analyse and explain the specific mechanisms and peculiar characteristics associated with the Turk. Perhaps the most famous publication is the 1789 book by Joseph Racknitz, 'Über den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung' (something like: Overview and illustration of Mr Kempelen's chess playing machine). The coloured engravings above are all from this book in which Racknitz claimed to have deduced the tricks - including of course the stowaway human brain inside - behind the Turk's elaborate design, and he assembled the first reconstructed models of Kempelen's machine. As best I can tell, the majority of illustrations of the device on the web are black and white copies of some of these figures - these coloured versions* from the original book have only appeared on the web in recent times. *[now online at Wikimedia]

* There is a wealth of material to read online about all of this but wikipedia is probably the best resource - it's a very detailed article.
* The computer graphic comes from this 1999 pdf article by Glaeser/Strouhal - 'Kempelen's Chess Playing Pseudo-Automaton..'
* The photograph of the Turk (courtesy of Marc Wathieu) is from an exhibition on the automaton from this year. There is a fairly good website associated with the event.
* Chessbase have some alternative illustrations plus a number of photographs from a rebuilt modern version of the Turk (Ernst Strouhal from a Vienna Arts University was also involved here).
* 'The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine' by Tom Standage, 2002: non-fiction. [CompleteReview]
* 'The Chess Machine' by Robert Löhr, 2007: fiction. [review]

Monday, August 4, 2008

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Olympic Games

1. Ancient Olympic Athletes Competed in the Nude

Milo of Kroton, one of the greatest Ancient Olympic champion. He won
the wrestling event 6 times, over the span of 34 years!

Yes, that's right - ancient Olympic sportsmen (all men, by the way) ran, wrestled, and fought buck naked. The ancient Greeks had a tradition of doing things nude (they walked around in the buff in the bedroom and at parties called sympsia*, and they exercised without any clothes on) - indeed, the word gymnasium came from the Greek word gymos, which means "naked."

Why naked? Well, to appreciate and celebrate the male physique, of course, and as a tribute to the gods. Participants regularly anointed themselves with olive oil to enhance their looks ... and to keep the skin smooth!

In the sixth century, there was an actually attempt to make athletes wear loincloths, but this proved to be unpopular and soon afterwards nudity regained its status as fashion in athletics.

*Great trivia for the next time you're in a boring symposium: the original symposium is a nude drinking party (sympotein is Greek for "to drink together"), complete with courtesans (basically sophisticated prostitutes).
2. The Prudes Wore Penis Restraints

Did I say all athletes competed naked in the Ancient Olympics? Silly me - actually, not all of them were naked.

Some wore a kynodesme (literally a "dog leash"), a thin leather thong used as a penis restraint:

[The kynodesme] was tied tightly around the part of the foreskin that extended beyond the glans. The kynodesme could then either be attached to a waist band to expose the scrotum, or tied to the base of the penis so that the penis appeared to curl upwards.

3. A Chef Won the Very First Olympic Games

The very first recorded Ancient Olympic Games took place in 776 BC. The event was a stadion race (a foot race equivalent to a 190-m or 208-yard dash). The winner was a humble baker from the Greek city state of Elis named Coroebus (also spelled Koroibos).

For the first 13 games, the stadion race was the only competition. At the 14th Ancient Olympic Games, a double race was added.
4. ... and He Won ... An Olive Branch!

An Olympionike or a winner of an event receiving an olive wreath and red ribbons
(Epiktetos Painter, 520 - 510 BC - from

Yup - that's because the Ancient Olympic Games didn't have any medals or prizes. Winners of the competitions won olive wreaths, branches, as well as woolen ribbons. Oh, that and the all important honor.

They did, however, come home as heroes - and got showered with gifts there. Many victors subsequently used their fame to endorse products and to get paid posing for sculptures and drawings (just like today, huh?)
5. More than Just Running: Wrestling and Boxing Added to the Ancient Olympics

Tired of all the running, a new game of wrestling (called pale) was added to the 18th Olympics in 708 B.C.

Greek wrestling was a bit more fun than your regular high school wrestling. For one, submission holds were allowed (actually, they were encouraged) and that a referee could punish an infraction by whipping the contestant with a stick until the undesirable behavior stopped!

Later, pygme/pygmachia or Ancient Greek boxing was added. Now, some historian believed that boxing was originally developed in Sparta. Being the original tough guys, Spartans believed that helmets were unnecessary in battle. Instead, they boxed themselves in the face to prepare for battles!

In the Ancient Olympics, there were no rounds - boxing was done when a fighter was knocked out cold (if the fight lasted too long, then they each took turn punching each other in the head until one collapsed).
6. Pankration: Ancient Greek Mixed Martial Arts

In this Pankration scene, the pankriatiast on the right is trying to gouge his opponent's eye and the ref is about to beat the living tar out of him with a stick
(Photo: Jastrow [Wikimedia])

If you think that Ancient Greek boxing was violent, it's more like knitting when compared to pankration, the ancient form of mixed martial arts.

How violent was pankration? Let's just say that there were only two rules: no eye gouging and no biting (the referees carried sticks to beat those who violated the rules). Everything else - including choke holds, breaking fingers and neck - was legit. There was no weight division or time limits: the fight continued until a combatant surrendered, lost consciousness, or died.

In 564 BC, Arrhachion of Philgaleia was crowned the pankration victor ... even after he had died:

Arrhachion's opponent, having already a grip around his waist, thought to kill him and put an arm around his neck to choke off his breath. At the same time he slipped his legs through Arrhachion's groin and wound his feet inside Arrhachion's knees, pulling back until the sleep of death began to creep over Arrhachion's senses. But Arrhachion was not done yet, for as his opponent began to relax the pressure of his legs, Arrhachion kicked away his own right foot and fell heavily to the left, holding his opponent at the groin with his left knee still holding his opponent's foot firmly. So violent was the fall that the opponent's left ankle was wrenched from his socket. The man strangling Arrhachion ... signaled with his hand that he gave up. Thus Arrhachion became a three-time Olympic victor at the moment of his death. His corpse ... received the victory crown. (Source)

Lastly, just to prove that they're bad asses, the ancient Greeks then decided to start a pankration event for the paides or youth (boys aged 12 to 17) Olympic games!
7. The Olympic Games Weren't the Only One

Those Greeks sure did love their sports! The Ancient Olympic games were actually just a part of four sports festival called the Panhellenic Games:

- The Olympic Games, the most important and prestigious game of them all, was held in honor of Zeus every four years near Elis.
- Pythian Games was held every four years near Delphi in honor of Apollo
- Nemean Games was held every two years near Nemea, in honor of Zeus
- Isthmian Games was held every two years near Corinth, in honor of Poseidon

The games were arranged in such a way that there was one going on (almost) every year.
8. Heraea: Ancient Olympics for Women

Married women were banned at the Ancient Olympics on the penalty of death. The laws dictated that any adult married woman caught entering the Olympic grounds would be hurled to her death from a cliff! Maidens, however, could watch (probably to encourage gettin' it on later).

But this didn't mean that the women were left out: they had their own games, which took place during Heraea, a festival worshipping the goddess Hera. The sport? Running - on a track that is 1/6th shorter than the length of a man's track on the account that a woman's stride is 1/6th shorter than that of a man's!

The female victors at the Heraea Games actually got better prizes: in addition to olive wreaths, they also got meat from an ox slaughtered for the patron deity on behalf of all participants!

Overall, young girls in Ancient Greece weren't encouraged to be athletes - with a notable exception of Spartan girls. The Spartans believed that athletic women would breed strong warriors, so they trained girls alongside boys in sports. In Sparta, girls also competed in the nude or wearing skimpy outfits, and boys were allowed to watch (to encourage gettin' it on later marriage and procreation). (Photo:
9. Ancient "Computer" Used to Set Olympics Date

In 1901, a Greek sponge diver discovered the wreck of an ancient cargo ship off the coast of the Antikythera island. One of the item recovered was an ancient mechanical computer that became known as the Antikythera mechanism. Scientists estimated that it was created in 150 to 100 BC

For over a hundred years, scientists debated the true purpose of the Antikythera mechanism and marveled at the intricacies of the device (mind you, the mechanical clock didn't appear in the West until about a thousand years later).

Recently, scientists believed that they've finally cracked the mystery:

Tony Freeth, a member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, said he was "astonished" at the discovery.

"The Olympiad cycle was a very simple, four-year cycle and you don't need a sophisticated instrument like this to calculate it. It took us by huge surprise when we saw this.

"But the Games were of such cultural and social importance that it's not unnatural to have it in the Mechanism." (Source)

10. Christianity Killed the Ancient Olympics

The Romans, who conquered Greece, viewed the Olympics as a pagan festival.

So, in AD 393, Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned the Ancient Olympics in part to institute Christianity as a state religion. The Olympics was no more ... until it was revived 1,500 years later in 1896.

6 Historical Snitches

1. Anna Sage: Dillinger’s Deadly Date

Picture 9.pngThe Tale: Anna Sage was a Romanian immigrant who came to America in 1909 and found work in a brothel in East Chicago, Ind. Although she was successful in this venerable and established field (she opened several of her own houses of ill repute in Indiana and Illinois), the Department of Labor sought to deport her as an “alien of low moral character.” But when famed bank robber John Dillinger—whom she met through mutual gal pal Polly Hamilton—asked her to a movie, Sage thought she’d found a way to stamp her Green Card. Dillinger was wanted in five states, and Sage hoped that if she turned him in, the good karma would translate into an invitation to stay in the U.S.
Picture 10.pngThe Tattle: To stage the arrest, Sage called her ex-boyfriend, Martin Zarkovich, at the East Chicago Police Department, and was put in contact with agent Melvin Purvis, who was working the Dillinger case for the FBI. Sage told Purvis about her upcoming date with Dillinger at the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. (O.k., maybe she didn’t specify the year…) In order to be identified in the crowd, Sage agreed to wear a white blouse and orange skirt that night, even though history would later dub her the “Lady in Red.” (Historians believe the lights of the marquee made her outfit appear red, spawning the moniker.) As she, Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton exited the theater, Purvis confronted the group. Dillinger tried to run, which worked pretty well until four FBI bullets put a hitch in his stride. He died at the scene.
The Aftermath: Sage collected $5,000 for information leading to Dillinger’s “capture,” but was soon sent back to Romania. According to most sources, agents at the FBI told Sage they couldn’t prevent her deportation because of the organization’s lack of influence over the Department of Labor, but recent research suggests a more devious motive. In Jay Robert Nash’s book Dillinger: Dead or Alive, the author suggests the whole episode was a setup. Because the FBI’s failure to capture the elusive Public Enemy No.1 was a source of considerable consternation, Nash believes the scene outside the theater that night was the shooting of an innocent man staged by Sage, Zarkovich, and the FBI. The goal? Alleviate pressure on the FBI and help keep the “Lady in Red” in the country. Nash claims Sage’s hasty deportation was part of the cover-up, and also points to discrepancies between the body of the dead man and Dillinger. John Dillinger was widely known for his blue eyes and missing upper tooth. The body from the scene, however, had brown eyes and a full set of teeth. Adding further credence to Nash’s theory is the disappearance of local criminal John Lawrence the night of the shooting.
2. Aldrich Ames: Soviet Mole and CIA Rat

Picture 15.pngThe Tale: Aldrich Hazen Ames was pretty much born a CIA agent. His father spied for the CIA in Burma during the 1950’s, and at age 16, Aldrich went to “The Farm,” a CIA training facility, to learn the ropes himself. Despite his pedigree, it seems unlikely that Ames will win CIA Employee of the Year. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Why? Because Ames was the most damaging mole in CIA history. Beginning in 1985, he sold out every spy the CIA and FBI had in the then-USSR, and we doubt a “my bad” will cover that.
The Tattle: Ironically, Ames started out at the CIA recruiting Soviets to spy on their government, but he soon discovered he wasn’t very good at convincing people to snitch. Luckily for him (and his career), his next assignment was with a Soviet Diplomat to Colombia named Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik. Ogorodnik had already been convinced to spy for the U.S., but he didn’t prove very useful until he was transferred to Ames’ CIA department. In Ames’ hands, Ogorodnik (code-named Trigon) was reassigned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he developed a knack for photographing sensitive documents and files. Although Ames had never successfully recruited a single spy, his handling of Trigon earned him a promotion. He became the Counterintelligence Branch Chief of Soviet Operations, where he had access to information on every aspect of U.S. operations in Russia. Life was looking swell for Ames until he ran into some girl trouble. Ames was having an affair with a Colombian woman named Maria del Rosario Casas. He brought Rosario to Washington, D.C., and it wasn’t long before she started making trouble. She demanded Ames divorce his wife, which he did, wiping out almost all of his savings and assets. Rosario also spent money like it was going out of style, calling home daily and swiftly digging Ames nearly $35,000 into debt.
Ames became so desperate for funds that he considered robbing a bank. But then he remembered that the Soviets paid $50,000 for the names of U.S. spies working in their country. He arranged a meeting with Sergei Chuvakhin of the Soviet Embassy and gave him the names of three CIA spies. In exchange for this information, Ames received $50,000. The story could have ended here but for the arrest of another tattletale, former Navy Warrant Officer John Walker, Jr., who was caught selling information to the Russians. Ames got so freaked out that he, too, would be exposed that he decided to beat all possible blabbers to the chase. He contacted Chuvakhin and gave him the names of every single “human asset” the CIA had in Russia. To make the deal sweeter, he also reportedly gave up a British spy and nearly seven pounds of documents that he’d carried out of the CIA office in his briefcase. For his generosity in “playing the game,” the double agent was made the world’s highest-paid spy, with an annual salary of $300,000.
The Aftermath: Ames named 25 spies. All of them were caught, and at least 10 were executed. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting CIA transferred him to its office in Rome. Ames felt Rosario would be happier there and wanted to distance himself from all his mischief. He did not, however, distance himself from the cash the Russians were paying him, and he and Rosario lived lavishly. Although his CIA salary was $70,000 a year, he wore a Rolex watch and drove a Jaguar to work. It only took the CIA nine years to notice that something didn’t quite add up, and the couple was arrested in 1994. Today, Ames is serving out a life sentence, and Rosario was shipped off to Colombia after serving a five-year jail term.
3. Doña Marina: Dictator’s Translator

Picture 16.pngThe Tale: To this day, Doña Marina remains a controversial figure in Mexican history. To some, she’s the embodiment of treason for her role in helping the Spanish conquer the Aztecs. Others believe she was simply a victim. To still others, La Malinche (as she was called) is the symbolic mother of the Mexican race who saved hundreds of Aztecs from the conquistadores.
This is what we do know: Doña Marina was born to a noble tribal chief in the southeast part of the Aztec Empire. As firstborn, she was to become her father’s successor. After her father died, however, her mother remarried and had a son whom she wanted to rule the tribe. To make sure La Malinche didn’t make too much trouble over the deal, her parents sold her into slavery. She spent several years as a slave in the present-day state of Tabasco. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés invaded the country, she became one of his servants.
The Tattle: Although described as intelligent, forward, and ambitious, La Malinche’s most important attribute was her linguistic skill. A native speaker of the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, her years in Tabasco also left her fluent in Mayan. This was of tremendous help to Cortés, who was negotiating with Mayan tribes as a means of usurping power in Mexico. Her talents were discovered when she began speaking in Mayan to a member of Cortés’ party, a friar named Gerónimo de Aguilar. It was unusual for a Spanish monk like Aguilar to know Mayan, but as luck would have it, he had been shipwrecked in Mexico in 1511 and spent seven years living among the Mayan tribes and learning their language. Before long, Aguilar was translating La Malinche’s Mayan into Castilian for Cortés. This was a major breakthrough in communicating with the Aztecs, but the process was slow and cumbersome. Fortunately, La Malinche quickly achieved fluency in Castilian, converted to Christianity, took the name Doña Marina, and was promoted to Cortés’ personal staff. Soon, she became Cortés’ constant companion (read: mistress) and played an essential role in the Spanish conquest.
The Aftermath: Aided by Marina (not to mention his superior weapons and military tactics), Cortés subdued the Aztecs in 1521, marking the official fall of the Aztec Empire. Amid all of his conquering, Cortés and Marina had a son who, as the product of Native American and European ancestry, is recognized as the first official Mexican citizen.
Today, much of the Hispanic world sees La Malinche only as a woman who betrayed her people. In fact, her name eventually coined the term malinchista, which describes a Mexican who favors and/or imitates the language and customs of another country. Some modern Mexican feminists even claim that the stereotypical disdain that Mexican men display toward their women is rooted in their anger at Marina’s betrayal. Is all this anger misplaced? There’s evidence to suggest so. Many historians contend that Marina’s diplomacy saved Aztec lives and brought civility to an otherwise barbaric society. Still, to this day, the house Marina and Cortés shared in Mexico City is not even adorned by a plaque. Current resident Rina Lazo explained, “For Mexico to make this house a museum would be like the people of Hiroshima creating a monument for the man who dropped the atomic bomb.”
4. Mordechai Vanunu: Paying the Price of Going Public

Picture 14.pngThe Tale: Mordechai Vanunu was a Moroccan who immigrated to Israel in 1963 with his parents and his ten siblings. Upon arrival, Vanunu served in the Israeli army before finding employment at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in the Negev desert. Happy to have a job, he worked there from 1976 to 1985 before concluding that Dimona was a secret nuclear weapons production plant that was covertly producing military warheads. That’s when he started to feel a smidge uncomfortable. The “research facility” housed an enormous plutonium separation plant that rendered the Israeli nuclear arms program vastly more advanced than the international community suspected and operated entirely without the knowledge of the Israeli people. Fully aware of the harsh repercussions he could face, Vanunu felt it was incumbent on him to share this information with the world.
The Tattle: Despite having signed an “Official Secrets Pact,” Vanunu brought a camera to work one day and stealthily photographed the facility. Soon thereafter, he fled Israel and went public with his information. On October 5, 1986, The London Sunday Times headline blared, “Revealed: The Secret of Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal.” The cat was out of the bag, and it was sharing Israel’s secrets with anyone who’d listen.
The Aftermath: Even before the Times story ran, the Israelis knew what Vanunu was up to. Agents from Israel’s intelligence institute, Mossad, lured him to Italy, where he was kidnapped, drugged, and cargo-shipped back to Israel. (Details of this abduction were made public when Vanunu inked them on his hand and allowed quick-thinking news photographers to snap pictures.) In Israel, Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage. Despite international outcry, the closed-door trial led to an 18-year prison sentence, the first 11 of which he spent in solitary confinement. In 1998, Vanunu was allowed to join the general prison population, and in 2004, he was “conditionally” released. While currently “free,” the Israeli government still refuses to let Vanunu leave the country, and he is forbidden to speak with the international media. He remains an unrepentant whistleblower and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
5. Elia Kazan: Snitch To The Stars

Picture 13.pngThe Tale: Between 1945 and 1957, Elia Kazan enjoyed a hot streak few in Hollywood could even dream about. He directed 13 acclaimed motion pictures (including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “East of Eden”) and was nominated for four Best Director awards. Kazan was riding high when Hollywood entered the blackest period in its history (barring the second and third installments of the “Matrix” trilogy): the Communist witch hunts of the 1950’s.
The Tattle: A philosophical and politically passionate man, Kazan had been a founding member of the leftist Group Theater in New York and, for a little more than a year, was a member of the Communist Party. In 1934, however, Kazan’s ideals began to diverge sharply from those of the Party, and he soon found himself a zealous anti-Communist. Wanting names, the government pressured Kazan to spill the beans, even threatening to have him blacklisted by major Hollywood studios. After wrestling with the question of whether or not he should sacrifice his career for people whose ideals he disdained, Kazan decided to share his knowledge of Communists in Hollywood with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952, he went before the Committee and named eight of his Group Theater buddies who had been members of the Communist Party with him.
The Aftermath: After Kazan’s testimony, the government was fast on the tails of those he’d named, pressuring them for yet more names, and it was officially witchhuntin’ season! Many actors, writers, and directors were blacklisted, and scores of careers were ruined. The era remains one of the least tinselly in Tinseltown history.
Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone not already in the business of rooting out Commies reviled Kazan. His longtime friend and confidant, Arthur Miller, explained his feelings on the matter in his allegorical play “The Crucible.” Not to be outdone, Kazan shot back by crafting a sympathetic informer character in his film “On The Waterfront,” which Miller rebutted in “A View From The Bridge.” (Jeez, guys, just pick up the phone or something.) But the controversy surrounding Kazan was yet to abate. In 1999, Kazan was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, and more than 500 people showed up to protest. Writer and director Abraham Polonsky, whom 20th Century Fox had fired and blacklisted for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, said of the event, “I’ll be watching, hoping someone shoots him.” Um, Mr. Polonsky, do you think you could put that in the form of a play?
6. Sammy “The Bull” Gravano: Blabbing on the Boss

Picture 12.pngThe Tale: Probably the world’s most notorious hairdresser-turned-hitman, Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano was the highest-ranking Italian Mafia member ever to break omerta, the mob code of silence. Born in Brooklyn and nicknamed “The Bull” for his short stature, thick neck, and ruthless fighting tactics, Gravano rose to the position of underboss in the Gambino crime family. Allegedly responsible for 19 murders, Gravano was no angel, and no tight-lips, either. Sammy’s damning testimony sealed the fate of many in the organization, including his former boss, John Gotti.
The Tattle: The reason Gravano snitched varies depending on whom you ask. Some claim he did it to receive a lighter prison sentence, while others say he got mad after hearing Gotti badmouthing him on a wiretap. But in Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano’s Life In The Mafia, Gravano says Gotti needed to be taken down because he was addicted to publicity, and all the attention was harming the mob. Either way, Gravano delivered such damaging testimony in court that lead Gotti prosecutor John Gleeson described him as having rendered “extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government.”
The Aftermath: Information provided by Gravano created a ripple effect throughout the Mafia underground, and numerous corroborating witnesses came forward. Dozens of luminaries in the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate were convicted, jury-rigging schemes were exposed, mobsters already in jail had their sentences extended, and high-ranking members of the Gambino, Colombo, DeCalvacante, and Lucchese families were imprisoned. In 1995, Gravano got a cushy five-year sentence for his 19 murders, and was later placed in the Witness Protection Program. After his release, Sammy made the most of his second chance by teaming up with some neo-Nazis and getting busted for selling Ecstasy. Not so bright, Bull. He got 19 years in the slammer this time, a sentence he’s still serving.

10 Most Decisive Ancient Battles

53 BC

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC was a decisive victory for the Parthian Spahbod Surena (try saying that 10 times fast!) over the Roman general Crassus near the town of Carrhae (now the present-day ruins of Harran, Turkey). A Parthian force of 1,000 cataphracts and 9,000 horse archers under general Surena met the Romans at Carrhae. Crassus’ cavalry was screening ahead of the main force when they were engaged by the cataphracts, and the weapons his cavalry employed were not capable of piercing the cataphracts armor. His cavalry was soon surrounded and routed, and his son Publius killed. Rome was humiliated by this defeat, and this was made even worse by the fact that the Parthians had captured several Legionary Eagles. It is also mentioned by Plutarch that the Parthians found the Roman prisoner of war that resembled Crassus the most, dressed him as a woman and paraded him through Parthia for all to see. The capture of the golden Aquilae (legionary battle standards) by the Parthians was considered a grave moral defeat and evil omen for the Romans. It required a generation of diplomacy before the Parthians returned them. An important and unexpected implication of this battle was that it opened up the European continent to a new and beautiful material: silk. However, the most immediate effect of the battle was that Carrhae was an indirect cause for the fall of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire. [Source]

168 BC

The Battle of Pydna in 168 BC between Rome and the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty represents the ascendancy of Rome in the Hellenic/Hellenistic world and the end of the Antigonid line of kings, whose power traced back to Alexander III of Macedon. It is often considered to be the classic example of the Macedonian phalanx against the Roman legion, and generally accepted as proving the superiority of the latter over the former. This was not the final conflict between the two rivals, but it broke the back of Macedonian power. The political consequences of the lost battle were severe. The Senate’s settlement included the deportation of all the royal officials and the permanent house arrest of Perseus. The kingdom was divided into four republics that were heavily restricted from intercourse or trade with one another and with Greece. There was a ruthless purge, with allegedly anti-Roman citizens being denounced by their compatriots and deported in large numbers (300 000). [Source]
301 BC

The Battle of Ipsus was fought between some of the Diadochi (the successors of Alexander the Great) in 301 BC near the village of that name in Phrygia. Antigonus I Monophthalmus and his son Demetrius I of Macedon were pitted against the coalition of three other companions of Alexander: Cassander, ruler of Macedon; Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace; and Seleucus I Nicator, ruler of Babylonia and Persia. The battle opened with the usual slowly intensifying skirmishing between the two armies’ light troops, with elephants eventually thrown into the fray by both sides. Efforts were made by both sides to hamstring the enemy’s elephants, but also had to hang back to protect their own. Demetrius’ superior right-flank cavalry drove Antiochus’ wing back, but was halted in his attempted rear blow by Seleucus, who moved the elephant reserve to block him. More missile troops moved to the unprotected Antigonid right flank, as Demetrius was unable to disengage from the elephants and enemy horse to his front. At the beginning of the day, Antigonus had not been able to wear plate armor; this disadvantage was unexpectedly used by an anonymous allied peltast, who killed him with a well-thrown javelin. Without leadership and already beginning to flee, the Antigonid army completely disintegrated. The last chance to reunite the Alexandrine Empire had now passed. Antigonus had been the only general able to consistently defeat the other Successors; without him, the last bonds the Empire had had began to dissolve. Ipsus finalized the breakup of an empire, which may account for its obscurity; despite that, it was still a critical battle in classical history and decided the character of the Hellenistic age. [Source]
331 BC

The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great of Macedonia and Darius III of Achaemenid Persia. The battle, which is also inaccurately called the Battle of Arbela, resulted in a massive victory for the Macedonians. While Darius had a significant advantage in numbers, most of his troops were of a lower quality than Alexander’s. Alexander’s pezhetairoi were armed with a six-meter spear, the sarissa. The main Persian infantry was poorly trained and equipped in comparison to Alexander’s pezhetairoi and hoplites. After the battle, Parmenion rounded up the Persian baggage train while Alexander and his own bodyguard chased after Darius in hopes of catching up. As at Issus, substantial amounts of loot were gained following the battle, with 4,000 talents captured, as well as the King’s personal chariot and bow. The war elephants were also captured. In all, it was a disastrous defeat for the Persians, and possibly one of Alexander’s finest victories. At this point, the Persian Empire was divided into two halves – East and West. Bessus murdered Darius, before fleeing eastwards. Alexander would pursue Bessus, eventually capturing and executing him the following year. The majority of the existing satraps were to give their loyalty to Alexander, and be allowed to keep their positions, however, the Persian Empire is traditionally considered to have fallen with the death of Darius. [Source]
490 BC

The Battle of Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars took place in 490 BC and was the culmination of King Darius I of Persia’s first full scale attempt to conquer the remainder of Greece and incorporate it into the Persian Empire, which would secure the weakest portion of his western border. The longest-lasting legacy of Marathon was the double envelopment. Some historians have claimed it was random rather than a conscious decision by Miltiades - the Tyrant of the Greek Colonies. In hoplitic battles, the two sides were usually stronger than the center because either they were the weakest point (right side) or the strongest point (left side). However, before Miltiades (and after him until Epaminondas), this was only a matter of quality, not quantity. Miltiades had personal experience from the Persian army and knew its weaknesses. As his course of action after the battle shows (invasions of the Cyclades islands), he had an integrated strategy upon defeating the Persians, hence there is no reason he could have not thought of a good tactic. The double envelopment has been used ever since, such as when the German Army used a tactic at the battle of Tannenberg during World War I similar to that used by the Greeks at Marathon. [Source]

197 BC

The Battle of Cynoscephalae was fought in Thessaly in 197 BC between the Roman army, led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus, and the Antigonid dynasty of Macedon, led by Philip V. This Macedonian defeat marks the passing of imperial power from the successors of Alexander the Great to Rome. Along with the later Battle of Pydna, this defeat is often held to have demonstrated that the Macedonian phalanx, formerly the most effective fighting unit in the ancient world, was now obsolete, although in fact the phalanx was able to force the legions back and held their own with swords until twenty maniples fell upon their rear (due to the weak Macedonian flanks and the Roman elephants routing the disordered Macedonian left flank). As a consequence of his loss, Philip had to pay 1,000 talents to Rome, as well as disband his navy and most of his army. He also had to send his son to Rome as a hostage. The battle in many ways determined the subsequent history of the Mediterranean. It also was a major turning point in how wars were fought. The image above is the site of the Battle of Cynoscephalae today. [Source]
31 BC

The Battle of Actium was the decisive engagement in the Final War of the Roman Republic between the forces of Octavian and those of the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. It was fought on September 2, 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the Roman colony of Actium in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, while Antony’s fleet was supported by the fleet of his lover, Cleopatra VII, queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. The victory of Octavian’s fleet enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its domains, leading to his adoption of the title of Princeps (”first citizen”) and his accepting the title of Augustus from the Senate. As Augustus Caesar, he would preserve the trappings of a restored Republic, but many historians view his consolidation of power and the adoption of his honorifics flowing from his victory at Actium as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. The political consequences of this sea battle were far-reaching. As a result of the loss of his fleet, Mark Antony’s army, which had begun as equal to that of Octavian’s, deserted in large numbers. In a communication breakdown, Antony came to believe that Cleopatra had been captured, and so he committed suicide. Cleopatra heard the news about Mark Antony and, rather than risk being captured by Octavian, committed suicide herself, on August 12, 30 BC. She allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp that was reportedly hidden for her in a basket of figs. [Source]
Siler River
73 BC

The Third Servile War, also called the Gladiator War, The Battle of Siler River, and The War of Spartacus by Plutarch, was the last of a series of unrelated and unsuccessful slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Servile Wars. The Third Servile War was the only one to directly threaten the Roman heartland of Italia and was doubly alarming to the Roman people due to the repeated successes of the rapidly growing band of rebel slaves against the Roman army between 73 and 71 BC. The rebellion was finally crushed through the concentrated military effort of a single commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus, although the rebellion continued to have indirect effects on Roman politics for years to come. The Third Servile War was significant to the broader history of ancient Rome mostly in its effect on the careers of Pompey and Crassus. The two generals used their success in putting down the rebellion to further their political careers, using their public acclaim and the implied threat of their legions to sway the consular elections of 70 BC in their favor. Their actions as Consuls greatly furthered the subversion of Roman political institutions and contributed to the eventual transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. [Source]
48 BC

The Battle of Pharsalus was a decisive battle of Caesar’s Civil War. On August 9, 48 BC, the battle was fought at Pharsalus in central Greece between forces of the Populares faction and forces of the Optimates faction. Both factions field armies from the Roman Republic. The Populares were led by Gaius Julius Caesar (Caesar) and the Optimates were led by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey). In addition to Pompey, the Optimates faction included most of the Roman Senate. The victory of Caesar weakened the Senatorial forces and solidified his control over the Republic. Pompey fled from Pharsalus to Egypt, where he was assassinated on the order of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. The Battle of Pharsalus ended the wars of the First Triumvirate. The Roman Civil War, however, was not ended. Pompey’s two sons, the most important of whom was Sextus Pompeius, and the Pompeian faction led now by Labienus, survived and fought their cause in the name of Pompey the Great. Caesar spent the next few years ‘mopping up’ remnants of the senatorial faction. After finally completing this task, he was assassinated in a conspiracy arranged by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. [Source]
480 BC

The Battle of Salamis, was a decisive naval battle between the Greek city-states and Persia in September, 480 BC in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens. The Greeks were not in accord as to how to defend against the Persian army, but Athens under Themistocles used their navy to defeat the much larger Persian navy and force King Xerxes I of Persia to retreat. The Greek victory marked the turning point of the campaign, leading to the eventual Persian defeat. The Battle of Salamis has been described by many historians as the single most significant battle in human history. The defeat of the Persian navy was instrumental in the eventual Persian defeat, as it dramatically shifted the war in Greece’s favor. Many historians argue that Greece’s ensuing independence laid the foundations for Western civilization, most notably from the preservation of Athenian democracy, the concept of individual rights, relative freedom of the person, true philosophy, art and architecture. Had the Persians won at Salamis, it is very likely that Xerxes would have succeeded in conquering all the Greek nations and passing to the European continent, thus preventing Western civilization’s growth (and even existence). Given the influence of Western civilization on world history, as well as the achievements of Western culture itself, a failure of the Greeks to win at Salamis would almost certainly have had seriously important effects on the course of human history. [Source]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What You Didn’t Know About the Lincoln Assassination

I’m reading Assassination Vacation right now, a book by Sarah Vowell about her trips across America to visit destinations involved with Presidential assassinations.
The Lincoln Administration Assassination?

If everything went as planned, it wouldn’t have been just the Lincoln Assassination – it would have been the Lincoln Administration Assassination. At the same time John Wilkes Booth was offing Lincoln, two accomplices were supposed to be doing the same to Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Booth thought he could also kill General U.S. Grant, who was supposed to have been attending Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater with the Lincolns. Johnson’s assassin chickened out and didn’t even attempt; the Seward attempt was unsuccessful. He was stabbed a number of times but survived. U.S. and Julia Grant declined the Lincoln’s invitation, so Henry Rathbone and his fiancee Clara Harris went in their place. Rathbone was a military officer and Harris was the daughter of U.S. Senator Ira Harris. In a weird side note, Rathbone’s mother married Harris’ father, making them step-siblings as well as husband and wife when they eventually tied the knot.
The Kidnapping Plot
Actually, before it was an assassination plot, it was a kidnapping plot. Booth wanted to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Southern Prisoners of War. In 1865, Booth spent about $4,000 of his own money to arrange the kidnapping. There are couple of reasons why the plot failed. At one point, Booth was lying in wait to kidnap Lincoln, but he didn’t show up at the right time. Then, a couple of days after Robert E. Lee surrendered, Booth was in attendance when Lincoln gave a speech about giving black people the right to vote. Infuriated, Booth decided a mere kidnap attempt wouldn’t do – assassination was the only answer.
His Name is Mudd

People will still debate this point today – did Dr. Samuel Mudd have a part in the assassination, or was he merely a doctor doing his duty? Here’s the story: After shooting Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth jumped off the balcony to escape. The spur of his boot got caught in the flag hanging on the balcony and he fell to the stage rather ungracefully, breaking his leg.

He somehow managed to escape on horseback anyway, and went to Dr. Mudd’s house in southern Maryland on his way to Virginia. Mudd set Booth’s leg and even had a carpenter make him a pair of crutches. Mudd never contacted authorities, not even when he went to town the next day and saw the news of Lincoln’s assassination (if he had not heard of it before then). A couple days later, he finally asked his cousin to tell the Cavalry what happened. Mudd was questioned and didn’t tell the whole truth, thus making him suspicious. He said he had met Booth before, but only once, and only coincidentally. The truth was, the pair had met at least twice before the fateful night in April when Mudd fixed Booth’s leg. The first time, Booth was scouting out the area “for real estate” and was introduced to Mudd. Some people believe he was there to recruit Mudd in the assassination plot. The second time, Booth, Mudd, and two other men who had roles in the murder had drinks together in Washington. Mudd accidentally (or not) forgot to mention the second meeting.

Mudd was convicted for being part of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln, and he served nearly four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles from Key West. After one escape attempt, Mudd was an outstanding prisoner who saved the lives of many inmates when Yellow Fever broke out at the Fort in 1867. When prison doctor died, Mudd took over his duties.

Both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan wrote letters to the Mudd family during their administrations stating that Samuel Mudd had only been performing his duties as a doctor, and was clear of all suspicion.
John Wilkes Booth’s Mummy

Most people believe that John Wilkes Booth died when soldiers caught up to him at the Garrett Farm in Virginia. When Booth refused to surrender, the barn he was hiding in was set on fire, and Booth was fatally shot in the neck. I guess the soldiers wanted to cover their bases. But of course, some people believe it wasn’t really Booth in the barn. Supposedly, Booth escaped, and a look-alike died in his place. Here’s how that story came about: In the 1870s, a man named Finis Bates became friends with a man named John St. Helen. St. Helen became very ill and thought he was on his deathbed. He confessed to Bates that he was John Wilkes Booth. St. Helen recovered and denied ever saying it, then skipped town. Then, roughly 30 years later, a man named David E. George died and had confessed to someone else that he was John Wilkes Booth. Bates traveled to Enid, Oklahoma, where George had died, to see if it was the same man he knew as John St. Helen. It was. The body was mummified, sold and toured for a while, including at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Its whereabouts today are unknown.
The Robert Todd Lincoln Curse

Robert Todd Lincoln might have been the kiss of death for Presidents. He wasn’t actually at Ford’s Theater when his father was shot, although he was invited to go. He was informed that the elder Lincoln had been shot and made it to his deathbed. A little more than 16 years later, in 1881, President James A. Garfield invited Robert Todd (Garfield’s Secretary of War) to accompany him to his alma mater, Williams College, to give a speech. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau at the train station on his way to the speech, with Robert Todd standing right there. Fast-forward another 20 years and you’ll find Robert Todd at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. You know who else was there? President McKinley and his assassin, Leon F. Czolgosz. Although Robert Todd didn’t witness the shooting, he was definitely present when it happened. In Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell says that when Robert Todd was asked to attend some White House function later in life, he declined and grumbled, “If only they knew, they wouldn’t want me there.”

A few other tidbits about the Lincoln Assassination:

• Later in life, Henry Rathbone lost his mind and tried to kill himself. Although that attempt failed, he succeeding in shooting his wife, Clara, before stabbing her to death. He went after his kids, too, but that didn’t pan out. His son, Henry Riggs Rathbone, later represented Illinois in the U.S. Congress.

• Like Robert Todd Lincoln, maybe Ford’s Theater was cursed. The government bought the theater from owner John Ford, then gutted it to create an office building. In 1893, the inner structure of the building collapsed and killed 22 people. The building was then used as a warehouse for a bit, and then remained empty until it was reconstructed to look like the original theater. It reopened in 1968.

• You can find one of John Wilkes Booth’s legacies in Central Park. Well, a legacy of sorts. On November 25, 1864, Booth performed Julius Caesar with his two brothers at the Winter Garden Theater in New York. Proceeds from the play went to buy a statue of Shakespeare for Central Park, and it’s still there today.

10 Failed Assassination Attempts

1. Andrew Jackson, 1835. I love this one, because when house painter Richard Lawrence’s shots misfired, Old Hickory beat him with a cane until he could be apprehended. Dude was tough.
2. Teddy Roosevelt, 1912. Teddy was giving a speech in Milwaukee when he was shot once by saloon-keeper John Schrank. Unperturbed, Roosevelt announced that he had been shot but insisted on finished out his speech anyway. His thick speech and his glasses case stopped the bullet from being fatal. The bullet was never removed.
3. Franklin Roosevelt, 1933. Giuseppe Zangara shot five times at Roosevelt. He wounded four people and killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. The shooting happened on February 15; Zangara was executed in Florida’s infamous Old Sparky for Cermak’s murder on March 20.
4. Harry Truman, 1950. Two Puerto Rican pro-independence activists walked right up to the Blair House, where Truman was staying, with intent to assassinate Truman. One of the men distracted Secret Service while the other approached a guard booth and killed the guard inside. President Truman looked out his bedroom window; one of the activists was only 31 feet away. Both men were killed by gunfire – one at the hand of the other, and one by the Secret Service.

5. JFK, 1960. Years before Lee Harvey Oswald, 73-year-old Richard Pavlick intended to crash his car, loaded up with dynamite, into Kennedy’s car. Pavlick saw Jackie and Caroline saying goodbye to the President and decided to call the operation off. When he was pulled over for a moving violation a few days later, he still had dynamite in his car and the Secret Service nabbed him.
6. Richard Nixon #1, 1972. Arthur Bremer intended to shoot Nixon when he was visiting Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. He was unable to get a good shot and there was too much security due to Vietnam War protests. When he gave up on that attempt, he settled for shooting Democratic Presidential Candidate George Wallace a month later instead.
7. Nixon #2, 1974. Samuel Byck, a former tire salesman, hijacked a plane at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. He shot both the pilot and the co-pilot and told a passenger to fly the plane. Byck was shot through the glass of the aircraft door and ended up finishing himself off before the police could make their way into the cockpit.
8. Gerald Ford #1, 1975. Charles Manson devotee Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Ford when he was shaking hands in a crowd in Sacramento. She tried to fire on him when he reached to shake her hand, but the firing chamber was empty.
9. Gerald Ford #2, 1975. Just 17 days later, on September 22, Sara Jane Moore fired at Ford in San Francisco. The guy standing next to Moore saw what was happening and jerked her arm away, making the shot miss the President. She was paroled just last year.
10. Jimmy Carter, 1979. Carter was in L.A. to give a speech when a man was arrested with a gun. His story was that he was only there to distract Secret Service; other hit men with sniper rifles were waiting in the wings to assassinate Carter. The man, Raymond Lee Harvey, escaped conviction because there was a lack of evidence.