JULY 13, 1865: GAY GUINEAS PIGS AND MIDDLE-AGED, SCHEMING MONKEYS

GAY GUINEAS PIGS AND MIDDLE-AGED, SCHEMING MONKEYS

Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and some western cities have buildings called museums, opined The New York Times, but they are mere theatrical attractions compared to Barnum’s American Museum in New York City.  Make that Barnum’s former museum, since the occasion for the Time’s ode, was the destruction by fire of the amazing structure at the corner of Broadway and Ann.  Forget that the Times also talked of its “ever patent humbuggery with which (it) coddled and cajoled a credulous people,” it was still an honorable institution.

The always staid Times ran the story of the fire under the following headline:

DISASTROUS FIRE.

Total Destruction of Barnum’s American Museum.

Nine Other Buildings Burned to the Ground.

LOSS ESTIMATED AT $1,000,000.

A History of the Museum and Brief Sketch of its Curiosities.

Scenes Exciting, Serious, and Comic at the Fire.

The Police Prompt and Vigilant—The Firemen Earnest and Active.

GREAT EXCITEMENT IN THE CITY.

Thirty Thousand People in the Streets

Pickpockets in the Crowd

Accidents and Incidents.

THE AQUARIA.

THIRD FLOOR FAMOUS PETRIFICATION, THREE MEN OF EGYPT,

THE FOURTH FLOOR, THE HAPPY FAMILY, ORIGIN OF THE FIRE.

SCENE WITHIN THE MUSEUM, COMIC INCIDENTS, A FEARFUL PANIC.

PROGRESS OF THE CONFLAGRATION.

ARRIVAL OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE.

THE FLAMES EXTENDING. CLOSING OF SHOPS.

THE FIRE CHECKED.

INCIDENTS.

THIEVES ARRESTED. ACCIDENTS.

LOSS OF CURIOSITIES.

THE SUFFERERS AND THE LOSSES.

DISASTROUS FIRE.

Leave the sensationalism to the Daily News and the Post.

From the Times Article:

On the floor above was a collection of “sassy” monkeys, subdued dogs, meek rats, fat cats, plump pigeons, sleepy owls, prickly porcupines, gay guinea pigs, crowing cocks, hungry hounds, big monkeys, little monkeys, monkeys of every degree of tail, old, grave, gray monkeys, young, rascally, mischievous monkeys, middle-aged, scheming monkeys, and a great many miserable, mangy monkeys. Those animals and other creatures may have been happy, but they didn’t smell nicely; they doubtless lived respectable, but their anti(c)s were not pleasant to look at, and, to tell the truth, they frequently fought fiercely, and were badly beaten for it. However, they are gone; all burned to death, roasted whole, with stuffing au naturel, and in view of their lamentable end we may well say, “Peace to their ashes.”

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 1: She’d Plucked Her Last Chicken

Haggard.

Gaunt.

Cadaverous.

Monty turned each adjective over in his mind, looking at it this way and that to see if it fit the woman who lay in the bed in front of him, wheezing rather than breathing, each little gasp seemingly her last. Yes, Monty’s 95-year-old Aunt Agatha looked pretty bad, and the doctor confirmed that she was pretty bad, dying actually. Within the week, he had said on Monday. It was now Friday and she didn’t look as though she’d see the weekend. Of course, one had to bear in mind that Aunt Agatha had looked gaunt, haggard, cadaverous for thirty years now. Farming had taken its toll.

Aunt Agatha was one of those farmers of the old school, toiling from dawn to dusk, sleeping when not toiling. Monty wasn’t. He was one of a new breed of PhD farmers, calculating crops rather than just growing things. He had come to the farm when his father had died. Aunt Agatha, his father’s older sister, couldn’t run the place herself, and Monty, having grown disillusioned with the corporate world, guessed he might give farming a go.

Now Aunt Agatha was ready to buy the farm, so to speak. She’d plucked her last chicken, milked her last cow. Monty wished she’d get on with it. Not that he disliked Aunt Agatha or anything like that. Her lasting into the weekend was an inconvenience, that’s all. He had important business that would take him to the city for several days. And she couldn’t be left alone.

He had thought about just leaving her alone but couldn’t bring himself to be quite that insensitive. He hated the idea, but guessed he would have to call that harpy, Bridget Berman. Bridget had once been, or at least claimed to have been, a nurse. For as far back as practically anyone could remember, however, she had made her living as a sitter for the dying, substituting for family members who were too busy or to squeamish to be with the departing. She stayed at bedside night and day, charging seventy-five dollars for each 24 hours of her deathwatch. She was a bent, used up old bitch, and many suggested that her sitting at your bedside could only hasten death.

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JULY 11, 1921: BATHTUBS OF THE PRESIDENTS II — SPLISH SPLASH, I WAS STUCK IN THE BATH

Former President William Howard Taft became the tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on July 11, 1921,  serving until his death in 1930. He was the only person to ever hold both positions. His long career also included stints as Secretary of War, Solicitor General, Governor of Cuba and Appellate Judge. The Almanac will, however, ignore all that stuff to concentrate on the burning question: Did Taft really get stuck in the White House bathtub?

 

Taft was a heavy-set fellow, weighing in at 340 pounds. Occasionally, chairs challenged his girth. He did have the White House bathtub super-sized during his presidency. That tub remained in taftthe White House until removed during renovation by a narrower president.  And, in an interesting coincidence (?), the Taft Justice Department was involved in breaking up the Bathtub Trust (aka the Loo League), a cartel of porcelain makers who were playing price-fixing games with bathtubs and toilets. Jump on that, conspiracy theorists.

Then there’s that telling photograph of four men sitting in the Taft Tub. White House plumbers, perhaps. Precursors of the Nixon gang?

Some stories have the entire Joints Chiefs of Staff extricating Taft from the tub. Others talk of lots and lots of butter. But is it true? Or was it a political dirty trick? Or a clever hoax?  H.L. Mencken maintains his innocence.

For further enlightenment see Part I of our  Bathtubs of the Presidents series.  And how many people share the bathtub of our current president?

Will we have a part III?

 

 

JULY 9, 1850: BATHTUBS OF THE PRESIDENTS I — OLD RUB-A-DUB-DUB

BATHTUBS OF THE PRESIDENTS I — OLD RUB-A-DUB-DUB

Millard Fillmore ominously assumed the presidency as number 13 when President Zachary Taylor, “Old Rough and Ready,” was ready to push up presidential daisies in 1850. As the Last of the Red Hot Whigs to hold the office of president, Fillmore had a rather lackluster four years in office before receiving the boot from his own party. He is consistently a cellar dweller in historical POTUS rankings (although not last, we all know who that is).

Fillmore’s most lasting legacy, trumpeted in a 1917 article, was the installation of a bathtub, a Millard-Fillmore-Covermahogany model, in the White House, giving the device an imprimatur that paved its way for wider distribution in the United States. This bit of sudsy statesmanship is frequently cited in reference to the Fillmore presidency. The whole story was of course a hoax, fabricated by one of the nation’s less reliable historians, H. L. Mencken. Even though the article was blatantly false and “a tissue of somewhat heavy absurdities,” it was widely quoted as fact for years.

My motive,” Mencken later explained, “was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously.”

Soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men…. The chiropractors and other such quacks collared them for use as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They were cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals and the transactions of learned societies. They were alluded to on the floor of Congress. The editorial writers of the land, borrowing them in toto and without mentioning my begetting of them, began to labor them in their dull, indignant way. They crossed the dreadful wastes of the North Atlantic, and were discussed horribly by English uplifters and German professors. Finally, they got into the standard works of reference, and began to be taught to the young.”

Moravia, New York, near Fillmore’s birthplace and where he was married, hosts an annual Fillmore Days celebration in July. One of the main events is a bathtub race down Main Street.  Never mention the bathtub hoax in Moravia.

JULY 6, 1189: IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING II

IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING II

Known as Cœur de Lion or the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior, Richard I became King of England on July 6, 1189, and ruled until his death ten years later.  He was the stuff of which legends were made, particularly in the story of Robin Hood, although he’s strictly an offstage presence, being held prisoner in a far-off land until the very end and his triumphant return. Robin, you will remember, battled the evil Prince John who was doing his best to usurp Richard’s throne in his absence. Eventually, Richard returns triumphantly to England, but in a bit of a slap in the face to Robin, he forgives John and names him his heir to the throne. Robin is abandoned to Sherwood Forest and his “merry men” (see Robin Hood – Men in Tights).

     In reality, Richard, it seems, was a rather lackluster king, spending only six months of his ten-year reign in England (“hates London, it’s cold and it’s damp”) preferring to spend his time on crusades, battling Saladin, and waging wars throughout the world (“who would Jesus invade?”).

     He died as a result of an arrow wound (live by the arrow, die by the arrow).  According to a 13th century bishop, Richard was required to spend 33 years in purgatory atoning for his many sins before finally being allowed into heaven in March 1232.

     Richard III also began his reign on July 6, nearly 300 years later in 1483.  He took the crown shortly after having his nephew 12-year-old King Edward V declared a bastard and sent to the Tower.  His only accomplishment as king seems to have been the murder of his two nephews (and a number of scholars would take that away from him too).  Bishops have not said how many years he had to spend in purgatory before joining his ancestors up above, but we can guess it was quite a few.

 

 

 

JULY 4, 1776: THE DAY WE MOVED OUT

THE DAY WE MOVED OUT

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . .

july4framed

JUNE 19, 1885: BEWARE THE FRENCH BEARING GIFTS

BEWARE THE FRENCH BEARING GIFTS

In 1885, the French ship Isere sailed into New York Harbor carrying 214 crates filled with 350 libertypieces of a 305-foot high jigsaw that had been crafted in France and would, over the next four months, be re-assembled on an awaiting pedestal on Bedloe Island (now called Liberty Island) – there to stand for the next 133 years (so far).

Once constructed, this would, of course, be the Statue of Liberty or “Liberty Enlightening the World,” to those not on a first-name basis. It was a gift from France to the United States back during the two countries’ honeymoon days.   Actually it was something of a joint enterprise, the French providing the statue and the U.S. the pedestal on which it would stand.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi began designing the statue in 1876, working with Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower. Richard Morris Hunt, designer of New York City’s first apartment building, designed the pedestal. Given his background, one might have expected his pedestal to house several luxury apartments, a missed funding opportunity: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to rent 3BR LUX APT, LWR FLR, UNF, HRBR VIEW.”

As it was, funding of the statue was a bit of an issue. Both countries faced challenges in getting money for the project. The French charged public fees, held fundraising events, and used money from a lottery to finance the statue. One notable fundraising method in the U.S. was a traveling arm. The statue’s torch-bearing arm was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  After the exhibition closed, it was transported to New York, where it remained on display in Madison Square Park for several years before being returned to France to be reunited with its torso. The French, in a bit of Gallic oneupsmanship, exhibited the head at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair.

The plan to display Lady Liberty’s breasts in Boston was banned before it got off the drawing board, and a nationwide tour of her feet failed to muster sufficient enthusiasm.

The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying, ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.’ She’s got a baseball bat and yelling, ‘You want a piece of me?’ Robin Williams

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people. –Donald Trump

JUNE 12, 1349: IF YOU OUTLAW BOWS AND ARROWS . . .

IF YOU OUTLAW BOWS AND ARROWS . . .

In a letter dated June 12, 1349, England’s King Edward III wrote how the people of his realm, archboth rich and poor, had in previous times exercised their skill at shooting arrows and how that practice had brought honor and profit to the kingdom. But, he continued, that skill had been laid aside in favor of other pursuits. Therefore he commanded sheriffs throughout the realm to proclaim that every able citizen in their leisure time use their bows and arrows, and learn and exercise the art of archery.   And furthermore, they should not in “any manner apply themselves to the throwing of stones, wood, or iron, handball, football, bandyball, cambuck, or cockfighting”  or any other such trivial pursuits (that includes golf).

A hundred years later, Edward IV continued the tradition, decreeing that all Englishmen, other than clergymen or judges, should own  bows their own height, keeping them always ready for use and providing practice for  sons age seven or older. Fines were levied for failing to shoot every Sunday.

Sir Wayne of LaPierre complained that the law did not go far enough, that it lacked a provision that citizens should carry concealed bows and arrows and quivers with more than a ten-arrow capacity.  And a ban on background checks for potential archers, of course.

 

Face Down in a Cranberry Bog: part 1: two bicycles passing

A person pushing sixty pretty hard probably has no business on a bicycle in the first place. Like skis, surfboards and roller skates, they are the dominion of those young enough to have more vigor than common sense. And if people pushing sixty are foolish enough to bicycle the six miles to ‘Sconset, they tend to tire about halfway. If they’re at all smart, they’ll stop and rest, rather than continue on until the bicycle just rolls to a stop and plops over sideways. Which is what I did, and why I’m in this mess.

There’s a particularly good resting spot that’s almost exactly halfway. You reach it about two minutes before your heart and lungs give out completely. It’s where, on the side of the road opposite the bike path, a dirt pathway takes off through the tangles of scrub oak and meanders a quarter mile to the bogs. And it’s also where, if you’ve timed it just right, she emerges from that very dirt path. She’s young enough that she probably doesn’t have to stop and catch her breath and pretty enough that she takes mine away. At least she did.

For the past week, she appeared and captured my fantasies. She’d cross the road, stop, her bicycle nuzzling mine, and devour me with big brown eyes and a seductive smile. We’d laugh, touch and – she didn’t really stop, of course; she gave me a quick smile as she passed me and headed off in the direction from which I’d just come.

Until today, that is. I arrived at the same time as usual and waited for her appearance. But it didn’t happen. I waited for five, ten minutes and, yes, I worried. I don’t know why. Obviously, I should have forgotten my disappointment and, with hope she’d be there tomorrow, just continued on to ‘Sconset. Instead I pushed my bicycle across the road, rested it behind a large bush and trudged off down the dirt path. I walked the full quarter mile without seeing anyone, and rounding a patch of heath, reached the first bog, an oasis of dark green foliage pregnant with bright red cranberries girded by a sandy dike. Every twenty yards a sign reminded me that the bogs were private property and the picking of cranberries illegal. Each bog forms the center of a man-made crater and the dikes between craters form a meandering path. At harvest time in October, the crater is flooded and with a little prodding the cranberries just float right up to the surface for easy scooping.

It’s a fascinating process, and I guess in my fascination my mind wandered off somewhere – they do that when you’re pushing sixty. I don’t know how long it was gone, but when it returned I was standing at the edge of the second bog. Looking down, I saw it – him. A man, clad only in red boxer shorts, lying face down in the cranberry bog.

continued

 

JUNE 10, 2000: ALL TOGETHER NOW, STEP TO THE RIGHT

ALL TOGETHER NOW, STEP TO THE RIGHT

An air of excitement certainly gripped London on June 10, 2000, as 90,000 people queued up to cross the first new bridge to span the Thames River in over a hundred years, a bridge for pedestrians only, stretching from the Globe Theatre to St. Paul’s Cathedral, aptly named the London Millennium Footbridge. It didn’t take long for the bridge to become more known by its nickname, the Wobbly Bridge.
     Seems the designers had not given enough attention to a phenomenon with the catchy title, synchronous lateral excitation. Even if you’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t sound like anything you’d want to be on a bridge with.
     People, according to engineers, sway when they walk. People walking and swaying cause sideways oscillations in lightweight bridges. These, in turn, cause the people (some two thousand on the bridge at any given time) to sway even more to keep from falling over. And they all sway at the same time. It’s as if two thousand Londoners were doing the tango above the Thames. Result? Wobbly.
     Access to the bridge was limited later in the day, and on June 12 the bridge closed for modifications It reopened in 2002 (with tango forbidden). It was again closed in 2007 because of strong winds and a worry that pedestrians foolish enough to cross might be blown off the bridge.
     The footbridge was not the only British millennial faux pas: a little number called the Millennium Dome elicited this derision from MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: “At worst it is a millennial metaphor for the twentieth century. An age in which all things, like the Dome itself, became disposable. A century in which forest and cities, marriages, animal species, races, religions and even the Earth itself, became ephemeral. What more cynical monument can there be for this totalitarian cocksure fragile age than a vast temporary plastic bowl, erected from the aggregate contribution of the poor through the National Lottery. Despite the spin, it remains a massive pantheon to the human ego . . .”

At the Zoo

Originally created as a royal herb garden in the 1600s, the Jardin des Plantes opened in 1793. During the following year a ménagerie was added, the world’s first and, still in existence, today the world’s oldest.  The 58-acre botanical garden and zoo is located in the center of Paris, next to the Seine.

The zoo was founded during the height of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The National Assembly decreed that exotic animals  in private hands – rare antelopes, tigers, Louis XIV, and the like — were to be donated to the menagerie or guillotined, stuffed and donated to the natural scientists of the Jardin des Plantes . The Jardin was free for all visitors and tourists right from its inception.

While the menagerie at first was just provisional it grew in the first three decades of the 19th century to be the largest exotic animal collection in Europe – as they describe it in France (or somewhere): monkey honnete, girafe pas sincere, elephant plein mais stupide, orang-outang sceptical, zebre reactionaire, antilope missionaire.

A well-run place, but this being France the menagerie gardiens are usually quite fond of their aperitifs.

Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo.Paul Simon

 

 

JUNE 5, 1850, 1878, 1895: THRICE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

THRICE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

When the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, resigned in 1880, the county appointed Pat Garrett, a former bartender known as something of a gunman to replace him.  Garrett was immediately given the task of apprehending a friend from his saloon keeping days, jail escapee Henry McCarty, aka Henry Antrim, aka William Harrison Bonney, but more widely known as Billy the Kid.  The Kid had supposedly killed 21 men, one for every year of his life, but no one could actually name more than nine.

Later that year, Garrett captured the Kid and his companions at the posh New Mexico spa, Stinking Springs, but the Kid escaped from the Lincoln County Jail, killing his two guards. Garrett learned that the Kid was hiding out at the house of a mutual friend, Pete Maxwell. Late one night, Garrett went to Maxwell’s house while the Kid was sleeping.  Accounts differ as to what happened next. Either the Kid woke up and entered Maxwell’s bedroom, where Garrett, standing in the shadows, shot him as he asked “Who is it?” (“It is I” or even “It’s me,” being the more gentlemanly response). Or Garrett went into Maxwell’s wife’s room and tied her up, and when the Kid walked into her room (for what purpose, we can only guess), Garrett blasted him with a single rifle shot. Either account pretty much tarnished Garrett’s reputation as a straight shooter.

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Billy the Kid was not killed at all and that Garrett staged it all so the Kid could escape. They also insist that Garrett was born (on June 5, 1850) in Kenya.

At about the same time (1878, to be exact) Pancho Villa was born on this same day a bit farther south in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. During the early 20th century, he pretty much ran the state.  He and his supporters played Robin Hood, seizing haciendas and land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. They robbed and commandeered trains, and printed their own money to pay for the 1910-20 revolution.

After Villa’s rather infamous incursion into New Mexico in 1916, U.S. Army General John J. Pershing pursued Villa for nine months unsuccessfully (probably because he refused to ambush him in a lady’s bedroom) before turning his attention to World War I. Villa retired in 1920 on a large estate where he could have spent a gracious hero’s retirement, sipping Margaritas in comfort, had he not decided to get back into politics, whereupon he was assassinated.

A few years later, back in the US, William Boyd (born June 5, 1895), was making a name for himself as a straight shooting, white-hatted good guy, that name being Hopalong Cassidy.  Hoppy, as his friends called him, eschewed the role of  a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler, opting instead to be the very model of a cowboy hero, one who did not smoke, drink or swear and who always let the bad guy strike the first blow (and never ever ambushed a bad guy in a lady’s bedroom).

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Boyd was not a real cowboy, that Hoppy was a fictional character. They point to the 66 Hopalong Cassidy films and the memorabilia such as watches, comic books, dishes, Topps trading cards, and cowboy outfits as proof.  Next they’ll say he was born in Kenya.

There’s always a man faster on the draw than you are, and the more you use a gun, the sooner you’re gonna run into that man. — Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

JUNE 1, 1869: TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC THINGUMAJIG

TOM SWIFT AND HIS ELECTRIC THINGUMAJIG

With over a thousand inventions, many of which have touched the lives of nearly everyone in the world, Thomas Alva Edison is considered by many to be the greatest inventor of the modern era. But it wasn’t always thus. Al, as he was known, was a lousy student whoserube mother finally decided to home-school him. Edison’s first job was operating a newsstand on a train that ran from Port Huron to Detroit. To make the trips more interesting, he put together a chemistry lab in a boxcar (On the Atchison, Topeka and the Kaboom!). Then working as a telegraph operator, he continued to do scientific experiments in his free time. In 1869, he decided to devote himself full time to inventing.

     His first invention was patented that same year on June 1, a voting machine for use by legislative bodies such as Congress. Having heard that both the Washington, D.C., City Council and the New York State legislature were planning to install electric vote recorders, he stepped up to the plate. Edison’s somewhat Rube-Golbergish system, started with a switch that each legislator could move to either a yes or a no position. The vote would then be transmitted by a signal to a central recorder that listed the names of the legislators in two columns of metal type headed “Yes” and “No.” A recording clerk would then place a sheet of magic paper over the columns of type and move a metallic roller over the paper and type. As an electric current passed through the paper, chemicals in the paper decomposed, leaving the imprint of the name in a manner similar to that of chemical recording automatic telegraphs. Dials on the machine recorded the total number of yeas and nays.

     A fellow telegrapher bought a stake in the invention for $100 and took it to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate it before a Congressional committee. The chairman of the committee, less than enthusiastically, told him that “if there is any invention on earth that we don’t want down here, that is it.” It seemed legislators liked the slow pace of voting which allowed them to lobby or trade votes or do those other fun legislative things. Edison’s vote recorder was never used.

     Edison persevered, resolving never again to invent something that would not sell. His next invention, an improved stock market tickertape machine, earned him a tidy $40,000. And he went on to invent such other clever devices as the electric light bulb.

And today in 1880, another inventor’s bright idea gone awry, the first pay telephone was made available to the public in the New Haven office of the Connecticut Telephone Company. No “deposit ten cents for another ten minutes” here. A proud attendant stood next to the phone collecting those dimes.