OCTOBER 28, 1913: PRESENT BRICKS

 

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PRESENT BRICKS

  The editors of the New York Evening Journal did not think it suitable for the comics section. The public didn’t much care for it. But publisher William Randolph Hearst liked it and gave it a permanent place in the Journal, beginning October 28, 1913.

   Krazy Kat was a carefree, simple-minded, gender-confused cat (sometimes a he, sometimes a she), desperately in love with a mouse. It isn’t just unrequited love; Ignatz Mouse, a rather despicable little rodent, positively hates Krazy and endlessly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head. Poor Krazy sees this as a sign of affection.

   Add a dog – Officer Bull Pupp, a police officer who dotes on Krazy and makes it his purpose in life to prevent Ignatz from throwing bricks and to haul him off to jail when he’s caught in the act. This peculiar love triangle takes place in a surreal Arizona (or is Arizona naturally surreal?), where the strip’s creator George Herriman had a vacation home.

   The premise was simplistic, the humor slapstick, but critics have loved it for 100 years. During it’s thirty-year run, it gained such admirers as H.L. Mencken, Jack Kerouac, E.E. Cummings and Willem de Kooning, and many modern cartoonists have cited the strip as a major influence on their work.

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OCTOBER 4, 1582: TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIT

Alice in Donaldland, Part 4: The Caterpillar’s Press Briefing

Read Part 1

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not a particularly encouraging beginning to a conversation.

“My name is Alice. At least I think I’m Alice. It’s been a rather confusing day.”

“Can’t you see you’re interrupting a very important press briefing?”

“But there’s no one here but you and me.”

“Where are your credentials?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any credentials,” Alice replied politely. “But I do have a couple of questions.”

“No credentials, no questions. Next.”

Alice watched as the Caterpillar looked around as if waiting for someone to say something. She was about to speak up herself when the Caterpillar bellowed: “How many times do I have to answer the same question? You might get some new answers, if you’d ask some new questions. Next! The Queen has addressed this many times, and I have no intention of addressing something the Queen has already addressed, and you have his address so go there or somewhere else. Next!”

Alice watched dumbfounded as the Caterpillar once again looked around. When the Caterpillar looked in her direction, Alice raised her hand. The Caterpillar stared at her angrily and said: “I answered that question on Monday. This is Wednesday and I’m not going to answer again on a Wednesday. Come back next Monday. Next!  The Queen has never grabbed anyone, although the Queen does have big hands.  Next!”

Alice raised her hand again, but the Caterpillar ignored her and continued: “I have a great deal of credibility. I’m sitting here taking your stupid questions. That shows the kind of press secretary I am as I try to provide information while you display hostility with your fake news and your fake questions. Next! Must you constantly bring up the White Knight and his horrific herd of 54 sniveling democreeps and their deplorable Witch Hunt. Why don’t you ever bring up the Queen’s many positive accomplishments that are making Donaldland great again?”

At that moment, the White Rabbit came running up, panting. “Am I late?”

The Caterpillar glared at the White Rabbit and said: “The Queen has no plans to fire the White Rabbit. Even though his recusal in the face of the White Knight Witch Hunt was a despicable dereliction of duty, the Queen remains very sort of confident in him.”

Incoming tweet: “White Rabbit is OUT!! Nice enough guy but not very smart. Tiny hands, big ears. SAD!!! But off with his head!!!!”

Part 5, Coming Monday

TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIt

In 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted for the first time with Poland, Portugal and Spain leading the way. The calendar was implemented by and named after Pope Gregory XIII . He didn’t like the Julian Calendar in use at the time because Easter kept creeping back to an earlier time of the year so that eventually it would fall in the middle of winter, even on Christmas Day (which wasn’t creeping) and really confuse Christians.

Jews didn’t care a whole lot because they were already up to year 5303. Muslims were back at 1001. The Chinese were celebrating 4278 (Year of the Horse). Certain scientists were way ahead of everyone else at 11582, having added 10,000 years to the current year to make the starting point the beginning of the human era (like they knew what day that was) instead of the birth of Jesus who they say wasn’t born in 1 BC but in 4 BC (lied about his age) and wasn’t born on his birthday (Christmas).

But back to the Christians for whom it was October 4, 1582, and also for whom tomorrow would be October 15, because Pope Gregory took ten days right out of the calendar to put Easter back where it had been when he was a boy.  calendarWell, you can just imagine how upset folks who had birthdays or special anniversaries or doctors’ appointments between October 5 and 14 were.

Some people just refused to use the new calendar. Many European countries fell into line later in the year. But many Protestant countries thought the new calendar was part of a Catholic plot . Britain (and its colonies) didn’t come along until 1752. The Greeks didn’t start using it until 1923. And a few malcontent members of the U.S. Congress refuse to adopt it until Obamacare is repealed.

Calling All Crimestoppers

An all-American, tough but smart, police detective arrived on the crime scene on October 4, 1931. Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip first appeared in the Detroit Mirror. The strip continues to run to this day, although drawn by others since Gould departed for that precinct in the sky back in 1985.

Along with police procedure and gadgets such as the two-way wrist radio, the strip featured a bevy of colorful characters. There’s Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s lady friend and eventual wife, his adopted son Junior and his wife Moon Maid (an alien), their daughter Honey Moon, Junior’s second wife Sparkle Plenty and her parents B. O. and Gravel Gertie. An almost endless list of villains: Abner Kadaver, Art Dekko, Breathless Mahoney, Cueball, Flattop, Gruesome, Junky Doolb (blood backwards), Littleface Finny, the Mole, Mrs. Chin Chillar, Mumbles and Pruneface.  You’ll find an exhausting list here.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Dark October nights are meant for ghost stories. Four old men get together to sit in front of a crackling fire, sip sherry, and tell each other tales of terror, but they will find themselves in the middle of their own ghost story, one that involves a dark secret from years ago and a present vengeance with horrendous accidents and ghostly encounters. The cast makes the movie: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman are the four old men in the 1981 film, Ghost Story.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

AUGUST 25, 1913: WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Starting his career as an anonymous young storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions on Donald Duck cartoons and other shorts, the cartoonist who would later be compared to everyone from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce to Aesop and Uncle Remus moved to the animation department in 1939. There, during the next five years he contributed to such Disney classics as Pinocchio (Gepetto in the whale), Fantasia (a drunk Bacchus riding a donkey), and Dumbo (the crow sequence).  Walt Kelly was doing pretty well at $100 a week.

During the 40s, Kelly devoted himself more and more to comic book art at Dell. The little possum with whom he is now most closely associated came on the scene in 1943 in Dell’s Animal Comics. Pogo would go on to star in 16 issues of his own comic book and 26 years as a syndicated newspaper comic strip.  Along with Pogo, there were  Albert the Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland Owl, Beauregard (Houndog), Porkypine, and Miz Mamzelle Hepzibah (a skunk).

Kelly’s liberal political and social views were rarely disguised as he used the strip to champion the powerless and the oppressed and to satirize political dogmas and figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Simple J. Malarkey, a gun-toting bobcat), Vice President Spiro Agnew, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Many newspapers dropped Pogo, and others moved it to the editorial page. Walt and Pogo were probably most remembered for their campaign on behalf of the environment and the battle cry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Walt Kelly died in 1973.

kelly

AUGUST 24, 1850: MEET ME AT THE FAIR

MEET ME AT THE FAIR

London’s Bartholomew Fair, a wild celebration on the eponymous saint’s anniversary, died not with bartha bang but a whimper after enduring for more than seven centuries, Although originally established for legitimate business purposes, the fair had become all eating, drinking and amusement (for shame!) and a bit of a public nuisance with rowdiness and mischief.

Serious pursuits, uplifting exhibits, and dramatic entertainments had given way to shows and exhibits catering to the lowest common denominator of British fair-goers tastes – conjurers, wild beasts, monsters, learned pigs, dwarfs, giants. A prodigious monster with one head and two distinct bodies, a woman with three breasts, a child with three legs. A mermaid with a monkey’s head and the tail of a fish. Puppet shows, pantomimes, and coarse melodramas. A pig-faced lady and a potato that looked like King Henry VIII.

Eventually the fair grew less curiouser and curiouser, and on August 24, 1850, when the mayor went as usual to proclaim the opening of the fair, he found nothing to make it worth the trouble. No mayor went after that, and in 1855 the fair rolled over and expired.

I went to the animal fair,

The Birds and the Beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey, he got drunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk, the monk?
The monk, the monk, the monk.

— Minstrel Song

JUNE 16, 1917: WHIPPING BOY

whipping boy

Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villainan evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.

face down in a cranberry bog, part 5: driving mr. corpse

We needed my car because she had asked me, and I had agreed, to mind the body for a few hours while she got a government car and fussed with the paperwork so that the vehicle would never have been on the island. I had agreed to this cloak-and-dagger enterprise only because I couldn’t come up with a better one and, face it, I was seduced. When I returned I found her standing at the scene of the accident, looking down into the bog. For a moment, I was afraid she’d moved him again. She smiled and took my hand as I reached her, then led me off toward the bushes, our arms swinging between us – a most romantic portrait, except for the corpse. He was still lying face down and I was happy for that. The red boxer shorts had been cloaked by a distinguished dark gray governmental suit.

“You dressed him,” I said.

“It was the least I could do,” she said, with a little laugh. “After all, I undressed him.”

We lugged the body out of the bushes and slipped it into the trunk of my car, keeping a wary watch for prying policemen until the deed was done.

We agreed to meet at my place – foolish, perhaps, but my garage is more private than most places. I slept for two hours – fitfully, even though the morning had exhausted me – and, once up, puttered impatiently, waiting for her arrival. Finally I turned on the TV and watched two senators calling each other names over an appropriations bill. The political repartee immediately brought to mind the politician in my trunk and I felt the need to check up on him – possibly afraid he’d disappear again. I went to the garage and, with just a little foreboding, carefully opened the trunk. Unwarranted foreboding, for he was still there. I never thought I’d be relieved to find a body in the trunk of my car. Unfortunately, he had shifted, and his ghostly face now looked up chidingly, suggesting that I was somehow unAmerican. I tried to push him back over and felt something hard in the jacket pocket. I reached in and pulled the object out – a knife, an ugly knife. Working almost mechanically now in the grip of this new fear, I unbuttoned the crisp white shirt and – to no great surprise – found a wound in his chest. Looking back to the knife, I was certain it was the father of the wound.

I returned to the house. On TV the smiling anchor paused to glare at me as though I had been holding up his news program and only now could he continue . . . “And boarding a private jet at Logan Airport, here is Prince Leopold, chief of state of this tiny but strategically important nation. No one has indicated why the Prince made this secretive trip to the United States, but rumors suggested that he was seeking financial backing to save his crumbling empire. Those rumors, and his own angry statements, suggest also that he is going home empty-handed. His companion, thought by many to actually be his mistress….”

And there she was, my bicyclist, my co-conspirator, my would-be lover, once again gazing at me. Even though she was getting on that plane and even though the smile wasn’t there, I could see it in her eyes – she probably still loved me.

The knife is sitting on the table in front of me. I’m sure mine will be the only prints on it. Did she seduce him for the cause, hoping to blackmail him, or did she kill him because he turned them down? Did she actually make love to him? Probably not. Probably just the promise of it, like the promise to me. I probably should feel sorry for myself. A lot of people bicycle to ‘Sconset, but I’m pushing sixty and had to stop halfway. And now there’s a knife on my table, a dead Secretary of State in the trunk of my car, and the chief of police doesn’t like me much.

The snarl at the other end of the line tells me I’ve reached him. “Hello there. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m the one who found the body this morning – you know, the body that disappeared. Well, you’re not going to believe this. No, let me put that another way. This is quite extraordinary, but I’m sure if you look at it logically and carefully, you will believe it. Anyway . . .”

 

This story is included in the collection Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.

APRIL 27, 1899: I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons, he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

APRIL 23, 1983: SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

Sick in de stomach, Part 2: What to give a man who hates everything

“So old Albert’s a sick’un, is he?” said Basil, downing his first rum of the day. Basil had always thought himself to be a descendent of the pirate, Sir Basil Ringrose, and as each day sailed toward sunset and the rum clouded his horizon, he metamorphosed into the pirate himself.

“That’s too bad,” said Mutton, Basil’s young protégé, whose mind was also clouded, even without the benefit of rum. “Being sick doesn’t feel very good.”

“Albert’s only sick for one reason,” Peaches declared. “Tomorrow’s his birthday.”

“Why would his birthday make him sick?” asked Christian, Peaches’ ward and the youngest and wisest of the three men who sat with her at one of the six tables on the open pavilion that was Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe.

“I don’t know,” said Peaches. “I guess it’s because he’s old and foolish, and birthday’s make him feel older and more foolish. And this one’s his seventieth so he’s really old and really foolish.”

“Old Albert ain’t so foolish,” said Basil, coming to his rescue, which was the proper thing to do since he was drinking Albert’s rum.

“He’ll get over it,” said Peaches. “By Monday, he’ll be himself – for better or worse.”

“Seventy years,” mused Basil, as he lumbered over to the bar and refreshed his rum. “Here’s to old Albert bein’ seventy.” He took a drink. “By rights, we ought to be givin’ the little frog a birthday present of some sorts.”

“What do you give the man who hates everything?” asked Christian.

“A watch,” suggested Mutton. The others had long since given up trying to follow Mutton’s thinking.

“Where would we get a watch?” complained Christian. “We’d have to go to Guadeloupe to get a watch. We don’t have time.”

“If we had a watch, we’d have plenty a’ time,” chortled Basil.

“Besides,” said Christian, not nearly as amused at Basil’s joke as Basil, “he probably would hate a watch.”

Basil chuckled on for a few more minutes, then said: “I know somethin’ Albert don’t hate.” He grinned, smug in his ownership of a piece of knowledge the others lacked.

“What would that be?” asked Peaches, the only one willing to give Basil his satisfaction.

“Turtle soup,” Basil pronounced. “Old Albert likes turtle soup a whole lot.”

“You’re right,” said Christian. “I’ve heard him say how much he loves turtle soup.”

“He loves turtle soup made in Paris,” said Peaches.

“Is turtles of the French persuasion somehow different than ordinary turtles?” Basil scoffed. “A seafarin’ man knows a turtle is a turtle.”

“Unless it’s a terrapin,” said Christian with a smirk.

“Isn’t that a canvas thing?” asked Mutton, looking bewildered.

“Ain’t no such thing as a canvas turtle, boy,” said Basil. “They’d be awful chewy.”

“Turtle soup would be nice,” Peaches mused.

“And medicinal,” added Christian.

“But we don’t know how to make turtle soup,” said Peaches.

“What’s to know?” said Basil. “You gets a turtle and puts him in a soup pot and cooks him up.”

“We can figure it out,” said Christian. “We cook the turtle in water. That makes broth. And vegetables. And bay leaves. I know bay leaves are important in soup. And Albert talks about sherry.”

“Sherry be a sissy drink,” said Basil.

“It goes in the soup, Basil. Albert says it complements the turtle.”

“It’s old Albert what oughtta compliment the turtle,” said Basil.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Albert compliment turtles or anything else,” said Peaches, not wanting the boys to be disappointed.

“What I meant was . . .” said Christian. “Oh, never mind. This afternoon we’ll go out and find all the ingredients.” Mutton gave him a lost look. “The things we just talked about that go into the soup. Then tomorrow we’ll start cooking, and tomorrow night, turtle soup for Albert’s birthday dinner.”

“Lead on, Cap’n,” said Basil, and the three of them marched off, leaving Peaches with profound doubts about the soup project but unwilling to interfere with their gift to the ailing Gallic gargoyle.

continued

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

APRIL 5, 1951: FIRST CAME THE WHEEL

FIRST CAME THE WHEEL

Inventors are born every day, and April 5, 1951, was no exception. Dean Kamen was an inventor as well as a master of hype. Among his inventions are the iBOT an all-terrain electric wheelchair and a device that uses compressed air to launch SWAT teams to the roofs of tall buildings in a single bound.  Interestingly enough, Kamen’s father was an illustrator for Mad and Weird Science.

The most famous of his inventions by far was a closely guarded secret that he claimed would change the world when made public.  Among those touting its revolutionary potential was Apple’s Steve Jobs. Unveiled in 2001, the Segway is an electric, self-balancing human transporter. It has two parallel wheels and is controlled by the shifting of the operator’s body weight. Its computerized gyroscopes make it almost impossible to tip over (although George W. Bush did in a test drive).

Consumer reaction was more a whimper than a bang. About the only groups it caught on with are mall and airport security personnel. Adding to the insult, Time Magazine included the Segway in its list of the 50 worst inventions.

British entrepreneur Jimi Heseleden bought the Segway company in 2010. He died that same year when he fell off a cliff while riding his Segway.

Back Before the Wheel

Another important invention made its debut on April 5, 1939 — Dr. Elbert Wonmug’s time machine. Oh, there had been time machines before this, but this would be the first to transport and honest-to-goodness caveman from way back in the Bone Age right into the 20th century. The caveman was none other than Alley Oop, beamed right in from the kingdom of Moo where for the past seven years he had been doing typical caveman things — riding around on his pet dinosaur in a furry loincloth, brandishing his big club at his many enemies, and courting the lovely Ooola.
But once in the 20th century with a time machine to beam him about, Oop was no longer bound by prehistoric limitations. He became a roving ambassador, traveling to such destinations as ancient Egypt, Arthurian England and the American frontier, rubbing elbows with such folks as Robin Hood, Cleopatra, Ulysses, Shakespeare and Napoleon. At one point he even visited the moon. Pretty impressive for a Neanderthal.

 

 

March 2, 1985: Accidental Ambassador

When he put down his pencil on March 2, 1985, Gus Arriola brought to an end a classic comic strip that had endured for 45 years, appearing in as many as 270 newspapers. During that span, Gordo meaning Fatso) had evolved from a Mexican version of Li’l Abner — a lazy, overweight bean farmer who fit the American stereotype of Mexicans (but not yet as rapist and murderer) — to an “accidental ambassador’ for Mexican culture.

Arriola wrote, illustrated and produced the strip throughout its run except during a stint in the army, although he regularly used tongue in cheek pseudonyms such as Overa Cheever, Liv Anlern, Kant Wynn, and Bob N. Frapples for his Sunday strips.

Along with Gordo, there were his nephew Pepito, poet Paris Juarez Keats Garcia, housekeeper Tehuana Mama and the widow hot in pursuit of bachelor Gordo, Artemesia Rosalinda Gonzalez. And pets Poosy Gato, Señor Dog, and Bug Rogers (a spider).

As Arriola became aware of the strip’s cultural influence over the years, he began to present Gordo as a more complex sympathetic character — more depth, less girth. In 1954, Gordo lost his farm and went to work as a tour guide, traveling throughout Mexico and presenting a more nuanced view of Mexican life.

Charles Schulz said Gordo was “probably the most beautifully drawn strip in the history of the business.” Arriola died in 2008.

Gordo strip for March 2, 1985:

Grave Intrigue in Heidiland

Swiss auto mechanics turned thieves, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev, had a great idea for a heist. They executed their bold plan with daring and cunning in the wee hours of March 2, 1978. Their target: a 300-pound oak coffin in the village of Corsier, Switzerland. Inside the coffin, was the body of the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, who had died on Christmas day of the previous year. The graverobbers phoned Chaplin’s widow Oona with their demand for £400,000 a few days later.

Oona was having none of it. “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous,” she said, refusing to pay. A cat and mouse game between police and the robbers ensued as the police set up phony payoff meetings. The robbers got cold feet, however, and contact was never made, although police and robbers continued to communicate in an effort to achieve their disparate goals.

So dogged were the Swiss police that they put 200 phone booths under surveillance. The robbers again called Oona, whose phone had been tapped. The call was traced, and the hapless thieves were arrested. The men led police to a cornfield where they had buried the body. Chaplin was buried once again in the same burial plot, surrounded by a thick layer of concrete where he has since rested in peace.

Other robbers have made attempts to steal notable remains, Elvis Presley for a supposed ransom of $10 million and Abraham Lincoln for a mere $200,000. Neither attempt got very far, but as a result the bodies of Presley and his mother were moved from a Memphis cemetery to Graceland and 24-hour security monitoring. The 16th President now rests in a steel cage ten feet below ground, covered by concrete.

 

January 13, 1404: Silver Threads and Golden Needles

On January 13, 1404, the British Parliament under the guidance of King Henry IV signed into law an act that would endear them all to millions of today’s schoolkids — the Act Against Multipliers. Oops. Turns out he wasn’t outlawing multiplication tables. Back then multipliers were what we know as alchemists.

Alchemy actually had a somewhat noble background. Alchemists sought to purify, mature and perfect certain things — an elixir of immortality here, a cure-all for disease there, perfection of the human body, perfection of the human soul. But what really got the alchemists’ juices flowing was the use of philosopher’s stone to transform base metals into “noble metals” such as gold and silver.

And that’s exactly what Henry was making illegal — the possibility of some commoner making himself very rich, causing a redistribution of wealth and income equality that would bring ruin on the state. It would be as if in the U.S. today any Tom Dick or Harry could own as large and garish hotel as a president.

Therefore “none from henceforth should use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Off with their heads, most likely.

Philosopher’s stone is available from Amazon.

Where’s a Henry IV When You Need Him?

On January 13, 1854, alchemist turned musical inventor Anthony Foss received a patent for his accordion, a strange device shaped like a box with a bellows that is compressed or expanded while pressing buttons or keys which cause pallets to open and air to flow across strips of brass or steel, creating something that vaguely resembles music. It is sometimes called a squeezebox. The person playing it is called an accordionist (or squeezeboxer?)

The harmonium and concertina are cousins. And, yes, there is a World Accordion Day.

M – I – C.  K – E – Y . . .

The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared on January 13, 1930: