Sunday, November 27, 2011

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Teresa Oliver! She is the winner of a $25 dollar Gift Card to Ravenous Romance and a copy of my paranormal romance, Kona Warrior.
Thank you to everyone for hopping along with us for Black Friday!
Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Blog Hop!! Prizes!!

Let's talk Black Friday. In America we have this day called Black Friday that is the day after Thanksgiving where we shop until we drop. It is the official start of the holiday shopping season and a good day to get run over at the mall, or hit with bags, or smacked. Having worked retail in the past I can tell you...be careful. It's like a Wild Kingdom Special out there. But where did the phrase Black Friday come from? Well...I'm going to tell you right now, because honestly that's what I do here at History's Mistress. 
The term Black Friday didn't come about until the 1960s when retailers were trying to come up with new ways to get people into the stores. Prior to this retailers were frustrated with the shortness of the holiday shopping season due to Thanksgiving being held on the fourth Thursday of November. They even petitioned Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 when he was president to change the official date of observance of Thanksgiving to the second Thursday.
(He gave in to the Lobbyists and changed it) This actually was the case for two decades until  Congress was forced to step in and fix what FDR had done. The switching of the date had caused massive controversy and confusion.  
The term Black Friday did not come from the Black Tuesday Stock Market Crash of 1929 as many people believe. It actually comes from the Philadelphia Police Department. In 1966 the phrase was coined because that is when the shopping season would open up in the city center causing massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks, giving the boys in blue the run around from dawn to dusk. It is not a term of endearment to the Philly boys of the 1960s. 
And there you go, a brief history of Black Friday...now onto the fun stuff! 
Welcome to our Black Friday blog hop! See below for the huge list of prizes!
One random commenter (can be on any of the blogs) will win a Kindle Fire, along with all the prizes below! That’s the easiest kind of shopping I can think of…

Prizes:

Cassandra Carr: copy of either of my two current releases, Talk to Me or Head Games
Kristabel Reed: back list copy of one of her stories and then on her own blog a $10 GC plus a copy of her newest release, Risque, a Regency Menage Tale
Lucy Felthouse: back list copy of any of her single-title books
Cari Quinn: back list copy of one of her books
Leigh Elwood: two back list copies of her books
Natasha Blackthorne: copies of her two Regency era novellas: Grey’s Lady and Waltz of Seduction
Amber Kallyn: e-copy of Dragos 1
Camryn Rhys: Kindle copies of The Barn Dance and Off the Record – Foodie Erotic Romances
Lissa Matthews: two of her back list books
Misa Buckley: an e-copy of Ironhaven and To Reach the Dawn
Lacey Wolfe: a copy of Ambers Muse
Courtney Sheets: a $25 GC to Ravenous Romance and a copy of Kona Warrior – PDF
Sara Brookes: an e-copy of one of my back list books
Cynthia Arsuaga: a copy of an e-book, and on her own blog five book charm book tethers
Louisa Bacio: .pdf copy of my first book in The Vampire, The Witch & The Werewolf series, and on her own blog a $10 certificate to Ravenous Romance, and each commenter will also be entered to win a Goody Bag of new Orleans treats
Malia Mallory: one copy each of The ABC’s of Erotica and Santa’s Back Door Baby
Cynthia Eden: a copy of Angel of Darkness (either print or digital)
Carrie Ann Ryan: an e-copy of The Alpha’s Path
Jacquie Rogers: a Smashwords coupon for Faery Merry Christmas, plus on her own blog, a free copy of Much Ado About Marshals
KT Grant: a print copy of Sweet and Sinful and an ebook copy of her next release, Xavier’s Loving Arms
So what are the rules? Simple: visit as many of the blogs as you can and leave a comment for the blog owner. For every comment, you’ll get one entry into the grand-prize drawing. Be sure to leave your e-mail address with every comment so we can find you if you win! And don’t forget that several blog owners are giving away prizes specific to their blog, too!
One winner will be chosen on Saturday morning using random.org. Cassanda Carr will contact that person about the Kindle Fire and then each blog owner with a prize will contact the winner themselves to arrange delivery of said prize.
http://lissamatthews.com/blog/ http://carrieannryan.blogspot.com/ http://romanticwordsbycynthia.blogspot.com/ http://www.cynthiaeden.com/blog/ http://melissaschroeder.blogspot.com/ http://www.amyromine.com/ http://cariquinn.blogspot.com/ http://misa-buckley.blogspot.com/ http://louisabacio.blogspot.com/ http://leighwantsfood.blogspot.com/ http://www.sarabrookes.net/ http://kristabelreed.blogspot.com/ http://booksbycassandracarr.com/wordpress/ http://abcsoferotica.wordpress.com/ http://kbgbabbles.blogspot.com/ http://www.laceywolfe.com/blog.html http://natashablackthorneblog.blogspot.com/ http://lucyfelthouse.co.uk/blog/black-friday-fun/ http://jacquierogers.blogspot.com/ http://amberkallyn.wordpress.com/ http://elysesnow.wordpress.com/ http://camrynrhys.com/ http://kmnbooks.blogspot.com/

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In Honor of Thanksgiving

I blog will be coming about Thanksgiving but until then I thought you might all enjoy the words of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln (one of my personal favs) about Thanksgiving.

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surf's Up!

I love the new Hawaii Five-O. It is fun and sexy and filmed in Hawaii, the place I am determined to retire to in my old and hopefully rich age. It has guns and hot well muscled men. (My friends love to tease me for my lust of Scott Caan and Alex O'loughlin) Plus I just plain love Hawaii. All these things combined and I’m good. It also has a reoccurring character named Duke. Now I know what you all are thinking, what does a minor character on a TV show have to do with American History? Well I am so glad you asked. The character of Duke is so named for Duke Kahanamoku, the man considered to be the father of modern surfing.  

Duke Kahanamoku was born in Haleakala on the island of O’ahu in 1890. (At the time Hawaii was not a state nor was it a U.S. territory. In 1891 Queen Liliuokalani became the last queen of Hawaii. She ruled until 1893 when she was forcibly removed from her throne by some American Planters staging a coup– but that is a tale for another blog. ) He was named after his father, Duke Kahanamoku was in turn named after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Our Hawaiian Duke was one of nine children and spent much of his childhood on the shores of Waikiki. It was there he developed his surfing and swimming skills. Duke surfed on a board made of Koa wood that was sixteen feet long and weighed 114 pounds. Today’s surfboards are downright wimpy compared to old school boards.  That’s right all you surf loving boys out there reading this blog…you’re wimps.

In 1911 while competing in an amateur swim meet, Duke clocked in 100 yard freestyle at the time of 55.4 seconds, which was 4.6 seconds faster than the world record.  This was in the choppy saltwater of Honolulu harbor. (For reference, Michael Phelps who is arguably the fastest swimmer in the world can do 100 meter freestyle in 44.8 seconds)

Duke went on to qualify for the 1912 Olympics where he broke several more world records and won gold medal and silver medals. He also swam in the 1926 Olympics in Paris, winning a silver medal to Johnny Weissmuller’s gold. (Weissmuller for those movie buffs on the blog is well known for playing Tarzan for years. The standard Tarzan call used today in films and TV is actually a recording of Weissmuller) Duke also played for the water polo team in the 1932 Olympics. Interestingly enough, at this time Hawaii was still not a state but a U.S. Territory that is why Duke was able to swim for the American Team. Dude was a serious fish.

When not competing in the Olympics, and after he retired from competition, Duke traveled around giving surfing expeditions. These shows of surfing prowess helped to spread the sport around the world. You see blog lovers; Surfing did not start in California or in Australia. You hear me, Beach Boys? The world got surfing from those tiny islands in the South Pacific. Hawaii is where surfing began. In fact prior to about 1830, surfing had all but died off. It was considered as one of the “forbidden” vices by the Christian Missionaries who came to convert the Islands (Don’t get me start on this one, kids) His surfing exhibition at Sydney's Freshwater Beach on December 23, 1914 is widely regarded as a seminal event in the development of surfing in Australia. Duke carved the board himself from a piece of sugarpine he had found. He made surfing popular in mainland America first in 1912 while in Southern California.

My favorite of Duke’s amazing surfing feats was his “mile ride” in 1917. The coast of Japan had been wracked by an enormous earthquake and is often the case with oceanic earthquakes on the ring of fire, huge swells hit Waikiki beach. Our king of the surfers grabbed his 16 foot board and hit the waves while most everyone else was heading for the hills. Duke managed to stay upright on his board and surf the distance of roughly a mile and a half along the shoreline. Legend makes it out to be more like several miles, but it was really only 1.5, which is still darn impressive.

In 1940, Duke married Nadine Alexander and moved back to Honolulu permanently. He then served as sheriff for 13 consecutive terms. He became the first person to be inducted into both the swimming hall of fame and the surfing hall of fame.

In 1968, Duke Kahanamoku suffered a heart attack and died in Hawaii. A statue stands at Waikiki Beach in his honor. It is almost continuously draped in flower leis out of love and respect .

In 2002 a stamp was issued by the postal service honoring Duke. When the post offices on the mainland were asked for the Duke stamp many workers assumed the customer was asking for the John Wayne stamp.

Let’s say a hearty mahalo nui loa to Duke Kahanamoku for helping the world to get a little up close and personal with the sport of surfing. Surfing would have survived and thrived without Duke, but it would never have been the same.

There is a webcam focused on the statue, and Waikiki Beach, that is worth checking out.  http://www1.honolulu.gov/multimed/waikiki.asp


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hey, Pachuco!


           Who’s that whisperin’ in the trees? It’s two sailors and they’re on leave.  I’m betting there are quite a few of my blog readers and lurkers who have heard the song Zoot Suit Riot by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. But did you know that while the song is a fun homage to Swing’s heyday, it also tells the story of an actual event in American History in 1943? You didn’t? Well then, pull up a chair and throw back a bottle of beer and I will tell you all about the Zoot Suit Riots. The riots were a direct result of racial tension in wartime Los Angeles. The key players in the riots were White American servicemen stationed in SoCal and L.A.’s Mexican-American community.  
            The term “Zoot Suit” comes from the style of clothing adopted by the male Latino youth in the 1930’s. A Zoot Suit commonly consisted of a flamboyant long coat with baggy pegged pants, a pork pie hat, a long key chain, and shoes with thick soles. The men who dressed in this style referred to themselves as “Pachucos.” Like the teenagers of today, the Pachucos adopted their own music, language, and dress essentially creating a zoot suit subculture. As with anything that steps away from the accepted norm, the Pachucos and their dames worried the existing controlling culture, i.e. the old white people. The media had a field day painting the Zoot Suiters as evil, dangerous, and as menaces to society.
            On May 30. 1943 the riots started. About a dozen servicemen were walking down Main Street when they saw a group of women on the other side of the street. (Yes, the Zoot Suit Riots had a lot to do with racial tensions but the violence started because some sailors want to flirt with girls. Boys, are you listening? Don’t let your wieners lead you. Look what happens.) When the sailors crossed the street to flirt with the chicks they passed a group of Zoot Suit wearing Pachucos hanging out. One sailor, Seaman Second Class Joe Darcy Coleman, said as he passed he saw one of the men raise his arm in a “threatening” manner. So Coleman being a big tough sailor boy in dungarees (If any blog reader tells me what song that lyric comes from gets a prize) he turned and grabbed the other guy’s arm. Then Coleman was hit in the back of the head with something or by someone and he fell to the ground unconscious breaking his jaw in two places. (Seriously, if you’re going to pick a fight at least make sure the other guy is not simply picking his nose instead of a “threatening” arm gesture.)  A few days later several sailors also claimed to have been robbed and beaten up by a gang of Pachucos. Thus the Zoot Suit Riots began.
            On June 3, 1943 a mob of sailors, bored and fired up with bigotry, hired a fleet of cabs and rolled their way into East L.A and went on a violent spree. They robbed, beat up, and stripped any young Latino male they came across. The police, and the community, seemed to approve. A few arrests of sailors occurred at first but they were released relatively quickly. (To beat and strip again)  This only added fuel to the fire. The mob of sailors and soldiers swelled each night as they invaded the barrio, bars, and movie houses humiliating and beating any and all Latino males. Also young Black and Filipino males who happened to be in the area were also assaulted. The police department declared any man found to be guilty of public nudity could be arrested. They could also arrest you for being overdressed. So basically the boys who managed to get away from the mob with their Zoot Suits intact could be arrested, and those beaten to a pulp and stripped could be arrested. Hardly seems fair right? At the end of the riots more than 150 people had been killed or severely injured and over 500 Latinos had been arrested on charges of rioting and vagrancy.
            Finally on June 7, military authorities did what the civil authorities, i.e. the Los Angeles Police Department, wouldn’t do. Navy and Army Commanders declared the City of Los Angeles off-limits to their men in an effort to get control of them. Despite this intervention the Navy stance was the men were acting in “self-defense against the rowdy element.” Rigggghtt…
            First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt commented “The question goes deeper than just suits. It is a racial protest. I have been worried for a long time about the Mexican racial situation. It is a problem with roots going a long way back, and we do not always face the problems as we should.” The L.A times called her a communist. (Smart move, Times...call the First Lady a commie.)
             I bet you never listen to the song Zoot Suit Riot the same way again. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dark Lady, played black magic til the clock struck on the twelve.


            Marie LaVeau  was born a free woman color in 1794 or there abouts. (The records are very sketchy) She would become the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen, New Orleans and America had ever seen. Marie was the illegitimate daughter of a rich Creole plantation owner and his mistress Marguerite. Not much is known about her until she was about the age of twenty five when she wed another free person of color, a carpenter named Jacques Paris. Paris soon went missing and was presumed dead. Mam’zelle LaVeau  referred to herself as Widow Paris as was the custom. Our Voodoo Queen was a hot blooded Cajun miss and soon entered into a common law marriage with a gentleman by the name of Christophe de Glapion with whom she had fifteen children. (Yep, I said fifteen. Girls, how you feeling right about now??)  During her life she worked as a hairdresser and purveyor of spells. This will come into play later, I promise.
           
           Mam’zelle learned her craft from a Voodoo Doctor or witch doctor named Dr. John, John Bayou, and many other norm de plumes (Yes, I am doing a Creole accent as I type this. Accents help with research. I promise. It’s not just something fun for me to do…much.) By 1830 she was one of several Voodoo Queens working NOLA , New Orleans. However, Mam’zelle was not happy with sharing the spotlight and soon demanded dominance. She achieved this by taking charge of rituals held at Congo Square and distributing gris-gris throughout the social classes. (Gris-gris is more than just spells it can be a bag filled with essential items to the spell which may be worn on the person or maybe something to pass to another. Voodoo dolls fall under the category of gris-gris)

Because of her position as a hairdresser, Marie was given admittance to the homes of many of the affluent ladies in the Quarter, thus allowing her to spread her Voodoo magic to whites, blacks, and mixed races. (United Nations of Magic) It also gave her the ability to set up a network of informants throughout those same homes. The intel provided by housekeepers, scullery maids, chambermaids, and cooks allowed her “insight” into her customer secret lives. She could easily tailor the spells and gris-gris bags to their specific needs. She parlayed her knowledge into a position of great importance. She was the high queen of voodoo. “No event in any household in New Orleans was secret from Marie LeVeau” She told fortunes, gave advice on love, prepared custom gris-gris to effect cures, charm, or hex. (Side note the s is silent in gris-gris)
  
          If anything Mam’zelle LaVeau was a colorful show woman and astute businesswoman. At Congo Square she would stage ceremonies in which people would dance naked before bonfires under the thrall of loas(Voodoo spirits of high regard) She, herself would also dance with her snake, Zombi. Marie was also known for seeming to be able to stay perpetually young for over a century until she died in 1881. Historians explain this longevity in LaVeau’s life with the fact that her daughter, who shared her name and voodoo training, simply took over when the elder LaVeau died and pretended to in fact be her mother.

           There is much controversy surrounding her burial ground. Historians are not even sure if the body in her grave is truly Marie LaVeau. She is believed to be buried in St. Louis 1 cemetery. (There are three cemeteries bearing the name St. Louis in New Orleans) For many years after her death people left silver on her grave out of love and respect. To this day people still go there and put their hand on her grave which is marked with three red Xs on one side, and ask her spirit to grant a wish. The asker is to leave flowers as payment once the wish is granted. In my research for this blog I came across a copy of the spell used at Marie’s grave. I have not posted it here, but if you would like to see it, leave me a comment and I will email it out.

           Did Marie LaVeau truly have powers or was her magic a direct result of her brilliant network of spies in the upper echelon and good old fashion belief in the lower classes? Voodoo is a powerful and mystical religious tradition that has been shrouding in mystery for centuries. The power of any religion relies in the strength of its practitioners. For Mam’zelle’s clients they believed she had the power of the Loas and the Lagebas. Perhaps she truly did have magic in her veins. Either way, Marie LaVeau will always remain American’s Voodoo Queen and the ultimate witchy woman.

(If you have questions about Voodoo, drop me a line and I will point you in the direction of literature and blogs that can give you the needed info)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goodbye Norma Jeane



August gives us the anniversaries of the deaths of two cultural icons whose appeal goes beyond America. Of course I’m talking about the king himself, Elvis Aaron Presley and the blonde bombshell of all time – Marilyn Monroe. Today’s blog we will be talking about Ms. Monroe. (We’ll come back to Elvis later…I promise.)

On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her L.A. home, an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her side. Did she overdose? Was she murdered? Or was it simply an accident? Personally, my intrepid readers, this blogger believes she was 86’d by some nefarious outside element. But that’s the topic for another blog.  She was only 36 years old.  And the world still mourns.

Marilyn Monroe was born in Los Angeles in 1926 as Norma Jeane Mortenson. However, she was baptized and raised as Norma Jeane Baker. She did not have the easiest childhood. Her mother, Gladys, suffered from severe depression and was placed in an institution in 1932. For a while Norma Jeane was taken care of by a close friend of her mother’s Grace McKee. However due to financial constrictions and issues, when Grace and her husband had to move away from Los Angeles, they couldn’t afford to take Norma Jeane with them. She was placed in foster care and orphanages from 1935 to 1937 until she once again lived with Grace and her husband in 1941. It was there she met her first husband, Jim Dougherty, who was five years older.

Norma Jeane spent the next few years working as a print model and trying to break into Hollywood. Her marriage, which was more of an arranged situation then love, began to deteriorate. She filed and was granted a divorce in 1946, the same year she signed her first contract with Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. And Marilyn Monroe was born.

Technically her first film role was in the movie The Shocking Miss Pilgrim in which she played an un-credited telephone operator (Ain’t movies grand) Next she landed a few speaking roles in films like Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! and Ladies of the Chorus which lead to…nothing. She flitted from Fox to Columbia with little success to show for it. It was until John Huston (Yes..that John Huston…Angelica’s dad, the guy who directed The Maltese Falcon and other such Hollywood Classics) cast her in The Asphalt Jungle did her star power finally start to burn bright.

Several movies, and marriages, followed as Marilyn built up her career and began to solidify her place in the Silver Screen pantheon. 1952 however brought a bit of a snag to the rising star, this was when the notorious nude calendar pictures made their appearance. It was the same story as other movies stars, past and present. Marilyn needed money and took some nudie pictures. Of course the photographer realized the money he could make now that our blonde beauty was standing on the precipice of Hollywood domination. Marilyn made no excuses for the pictures and took full responsibility for them. Her co-stars on the movie Clash by Night which she was filming when the pictures became public were rumored to be rude and cold to her. (Who’s laughing now, you brats. Anyone besides me remember who was in that movie?)  

Now comes Niagara one of my favorite Monroe movies. Its film noir mixed with Marilyn. How can you not love it! She played a ruthless, seductive, conniving killer. Awesome sauce at its best.  Plus it has the best line about Marilyn I have ever heard. The husband asks his wife after they have watched Marilyn saunter by in an amazing red dress, why she doesn’t wear something like that. The wife glibly responds “For a dress like that you have to start laying the groundwork at about thirteen.”

This was followed by a series of films that any movie lover will know,  Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – with the famous Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number (Madonna, just because you put on a pink dress and dance around with red lips, doesn’t make you Marilyn. Never will) How to Marry a Millionaire- which paired her with the outgoing blonde bombshell, Betty Grable, the torch is passed in this film folks, and “The Seven Year Itch. White Dress. Subway Grate. Enough Said.  Some like it Hot – Jack Lemmon in Drag, and Marilyn getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The film is considered the number one comedy of all time. (It will make you pee with laughter. Trust me.)

Her last completed film came in 1961 with the amazing Clark Gable. It turned out to be the last completed film for both of them. Unlike any other film she had done up to this point, Marilyn played a more dramatic role and was, in my opinion, amazing.  The Misfits gives us a glimpse of what might have been had she lived.

I could write page after page about Marilyn, because frankly I love her. I have seen every movie she has even been in and read numerous books, and I’m not the only one. What is it about this petite, busty funny blonde that captivated a generation, and is captivating audiences to this day? Why is she still so popular? Look at her eyes. Look at her smile. Now you know.

A scene from one of my favorite Marilyn movies - There's no business like show business. Marilyn + Donald O'Connor = Court heart attack.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Saucy Jack is back.


Let’s talk about murder. Grisly, gruesome, and seriously bloody murder. Everyone loves a good murder tale. They’re like train wrecks and Disney Channel shows, you can’t look away.  I’m sure all of you have heard of Jack the Ripper. Now I know what you’re thinking…’hey hold up there Courts. Jack the Ripper ain’t American history. He’s British.’

Oh, really?

Suppose the reason Saucy Jack’s murders stopping happening in London was because our intrepid psychopath had crossed the pond. We will call this a speculative blog then. Because no one knows for sure who Jack the Ripper was or if the murder of Carrie Brown in a seedy New York hotel in 1891 was the handy work of Jack or some other nut job. That said many Ripperologists (That’s what they call us crazies who are obsessed with the knife wielding weirdo. I’m one of them.) believe the murder in America is connected to the Whitchapel murders.

Edward Fitzgerald was pulling double duty at the East River Hotel in New York on April 24, 1891 when he found the mutilated body of Carrie Brown in room 31. Poor old Carrie was completely naked, a deep gash extended from the lower part of the abdomen upward to the breast, which disemboweled it completely. (Grossed out yet? No...keep reading then. Yes, look away foolish mortals.) The entrails, yep all of Carrie’s stomach-y parts, were torn from her body and scattered over the bed. There were also two deep slashes crossing each other on her back, forming an exact cross.  According to the New York Herald there was a missing organ, most likely the uterus but the paper never said what it was specifically. 

News of the slaying spread through the city like wildfire. Now the murder of a prostitute, which little Miss Carrie was, or violent crime in general wasn’t all that strange of an occurrence in New York’s fourth ward. It was the violent nature of the crime that scared the city. Its striking similarity to the Ripper Murders had the police scratching their heads and the public screaming for safety.

There was a certain irony to the police involvement in the case. During the hunt for Jack in Whitechapel three years prior, Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York Police Department had made some comments via the papers, stating that if Jack the Ripper ever decided to leave London and come to NYC, he would be caught in two or three days.  Basically Thomas was being a man and having a pissing contest with Scotland Yard. Not in so many words he called them incompetent boobs. When Scotland Yard heard about the Carrie Brown case I can imagine they stood, pointing and laughing at Inspector Byrnes.

Some facts about the murder quickly emerged. Carrie and an unidentified gentleman entered the East River Hotel around 10:30 and 11:45 on the evening of the 23rd. Edward was busy tending bar so he asked a local prostitute, Mary Minter, who lived and worked out of the hotel to show the couple to room 31.

Mary quickly became the police’s prime witness. She stated the man was about five feet eight inches tall, about thirty years old, with brown hair, a moustache, sharp nose, and wearing a derby and a cutaway coat. She said the man had a strange accent.

Now here’s where things get tricky…or sloppy police work is more like it. Two suspects emerged commonly referred to as Frenchy 1 and Frenchy 2. The local working girls told Byrnes of two ‘cousins’ who liked to abuse the streetwalkers. Both men were questioned. Frenchy 1 was questioned at length and Byrnes seemed to determined to convince the press that he was the killer.  After much deliberation and searching, Frenchy 1 was arrested. However, Mary Minter kept repeatedly telling Byrnes Frenchy 2 was the man she saw entering the hotel with Carrie Brown. So desperate to be right and to say he had closed the case, Byrnes dismissed her calling her an opium fiend.

The press and the public weren’t as accepting as Byrnes would have liked, especially when some startling revelations about Frenchy 2 began to make the rounds. Frenchy 2 was noted for his physical strength and prowess. As a sailor of a cattle steamer he was constantly back and forth from London to New York. The other sailors on the ship told stories of how Frenchy 2 took unholy delight in slaughtering the animals that had obtained an injury that required they be dispatched. (Translation…he liked to carve up the cows that had hurt themselves.) Also the most damning thing was that Frenchy 2 had been arrested by Scotland Yard on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper. Yet, Byrnes never arrested La Bruckman – Frenchy 2’s real name.  Frenchy 1 was eventually released after public outcry of his innocence had worn away Byrnes.  Carrie Brown’s killer was never caught.

It was worth noting that La Bruckman’s ship was docked in London during each and every time Jack the Ripper stuck.

Historians can’t say the La Bruckman was Carrie Brown’s killer, nor can they say he was Jack the Ripper.  Because we will never really know who Jack the Ripper was. (No matter how many books are written or how many famous criminologists come along and say they have new evidence.) The mystery surrounding the man who is considered to be the world’s first serial killer is what has kept the story alive all these years.  It sure makes a tantalizing tale doesn’t it? 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tonight under the Big Top...

I'm just old enough to remember when the circus rolled into town and put up a huge striped tent in an open field or in the case of my hometown, the Sam Boyd Stadium. Now when the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus hits Sin City they perform in the college campus basketball arena. Also they compete heavily with the Cirque du Soliel crowd. (You know those wacky French Canadians with a show in almost every casino that leaves the audience goers equal parts confused and amazed.)

But what of the Circus? The real circus. The one with Elephants named Bertha and Bettina. Ones with six hundred clowns shoved in the back of VW Bug. The circus that smelled of sawdust and popcorn and peanuts. A place where women in glittery costumes flew high above the crowd with the greatest of ease. (They still do that here in Vegas..but we call them Drag Queens) What about lions and tigers and bears? Oh, my! The circus is not a solely American institution but two of the most famous circuses (kind feels like that word should be circi) of all time traveled the country in America's past, and still do. 

P.T. Barnum was a showman of the highest degree. He could sell you beachfront property in Arizona and you would be grinning like a monkey as you handed over the cash. There is debate as to whether he actually said "There's a sucker born every minute." But the phrase really sounds like Senor Flim-flam. Prior to starting Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum Menagerie, Caravan and Circus in 1872 (Try saying the five times fast...go ahead, give it a try. I'll wait...) Barnum had established himself as a purveyor of freaks. Barnum collected oddities like "The Feejee Mermaid" (supposedly the jar held the mummified remains of a mermaid), befriended overly hairy women (bearded ladies), and guys who liked to bite the heads off of chickens (The original geek. Seriously, the word Geek used to mean this, not just computer guys who haven't seen a naked girl in a decade.) Barnum started the Barnum's Grand TMMCC (I'm writing it this way because frankly that is a long damn title to have to type fifty times.) because he felt American audiences needed a really big show. In fact, he felt that the people needed "The Greatest Show on Earth."

The circus was the main form of entertainment for many Americans at the turn of the century. With over 100 circuses, big and small, traveling the country by train and cavern, a good show was never too far away. There were six men, including Barnum, who helped shape the modern circus. Phillip Astley, the father of the modern circus; John Bill Ricketts,  the founder of the first American circus; Pepin and Breschard, who took the circus out West, Barnum, who brought the sideshow into the spotlight; Adam Forepaugh, who brought the Wild West under the big top; and the Ringling Brothers., the undisputed kings of the Greatest Show on Earth.

In 1888, P.T. Barnum joined forces with Bailey to from the Barnum and Bailey Circus. They traveled the rails with such attractions as Jumbo, a huge African Elephant and an impressive sideshow. While B&B worked the crowds, The Ringling Brothers were making a name for themselves as well with their tented circuses. The official title was Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of trained animals. (Simplicity was not these boys strong suit when it came to naming.)

 
In 1907 Ringling Brothers purchased their largest competitor. You got it, good old Barnum and Bailey’s. Out of respect the two shows were toured separately until 1917 when because of war time shortages, they were combined into one show. They would travel the United States for another forty years or so.

By the late fifties times and preferences had changed. Hollywood had captured the country’s imaginations with film and television. The circus was in trouble. The financially strapped Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus performed its final show under the Big Top on July 16, 1956.

This however was not the end of the American Circus. In 1967, Irving Feld purchased the crumbling business and rebuilt. To this day Feld Entertainment tours the circus around the United States. But it’s not the same. It may still be the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus but without the sawdust and the red and white striped big top is it really the Greatest Show on Earth?

I miss Lydia the tattooed lady.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A black cat crossed my path, and I stopped to dance around it widdershins

Witches. Old wrinkled ladies with warts on their noses, flying on broomsticks, with pointy hats and stripy socks. Everyone has seen old melty face herself, The Wicked Witch of the West, zipping around trying to steal red shoes. That's what witches are like right? Not really. But Witches and Witchcraft have fascinated and terrified people for decades, no time more so then during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

Salem, Massachusetts was a simple, staunch Puritan community where life was governed by the Church. Music, dancing, celebrations of Christmas and Easter were forbidden because they were believed to have Pagan roots. (Christmas and Easter do in fact have a strong connection with the Pagan religion, but that's a different blog) Toys and dolls were forbidden as well because they were seen as a waste of time. Sounds like a really happening place doesn't it? 

Enter Cotton Mather. Mather was a  minister of Boston's North Church (Not the same church we talked about in the Adventures of Paul Revere. What can I say? We didn't name stuff with much originality back in the day. Probably because of the lack of singing.) Mather was a firm believer in that witchcraft was alive and well and abound in the New World. He felt it was his duty to put an end to all witches. 

In 1692 Betty Parris, age 9, and Abigail Williams, age 11, began to have "fits".The girls threw things, screamed liked wicked little banshees, and contorted themselves into strange positions while crawling under furniture. (Sounds like a frat party I went to in my college years) A doctor could find no signs of disease, because you know little girls can't have fun or demand attention, so they must be sick or possessed. These little demons, pun intended, led the charge to one of the darkest hours in American History. 

The first three people accused were Sarah Osborne, a woman who rarely went to church meetings, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar which means of course she's a witch, and Tituba, an African slave would belonged to the Williams family.  Remember midwives and any single woman who practiced herbal healing was considered a witch as well. So for some of them the activities that caused them to be accused of witchcraft were actually meant to help the community. For many it became a death sentence. 

There were 'tests' the accused had to go through to prove their guilt or innocence. (I can't say women because Giles Corey was also accused, convicted, and crushed to death as a witch.) The dunking is the most famous of all the test. An accused was dunked in water while strapped to a chair. If you floated, you were a witch. If you didn't, you were innocence. Of course if you didn't float, you drown. So that was the down side. Not guilty but dead as a door nail. A grand total of 20 people died in the trials, all because of the paranoia of men like Cotton Mather and the whims of a few attention starved young girls. 

Were these people 'witches' ? Probably not in the sense we know the word to mean now. They did not practice Wicca or Paganism as modern witches do. However, some may have been workers of herbal medicine. Most worshiped the Puritan religions,with most likely Tituba being the exception. 

Salem has began to embrace it's history as America's Witch Trial spot and has become the home to a large Wiccan Community, including Laurie Cabot one of the religion's superstars. Halloween is a huge affair there with an annual Psychic fair and other haunted magical events. What a great way to take a bad history and make something magical out of it. 

Blessed be my blog readers. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stop a bullet cold, Make the Axis fold

Who is the coolest comic book hero of all time? She is so cool she doesn't even get a new movie and David E. Kelley tried to turn her into a weeping PMS like chick in a plastic corset. She has an invisible jet. I'm serious...you can't see the jet. Don't ask me how she gets in it or finds it parked on the tarmac, because I just don't know. She has a lasso of truth and can stop bullets with some fancy jazz hands.

Did you guess Wonder Woman? You did? Then you're right. (Yes, I am a huge freaky Wonder Woman girl. So there) She is considered one of the D.C. Trinity.

Ok, I know what you're thinking. What does Wonder Woman have to do with American History? Well skeptical Sally, I'll tell you. Like Captain America and Superman, Wonder Woman was created during war times. She, like her male counterparts, became a symbol of truth, justice and the American way. (Too all the D.C. reps reading this blog sorry for the copyright infringement but come on there is no better way to put it.) Comic Books and some of the most popular heroes are an essential part of American History. Work with me here, people.

Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston. At the time the comic book market was dominated mainly by male superhores, The Caped Crusader (Michael Keaton for me please) and The Man of Steel leading the pack with Captain America coming in a close second. Green Lantern is in there somewhere but I never liked him anyway. Marston wanted to created a whole new type of hero, someone females could look up to. He wanted his hero to thrived off intelligence and love. Batman has a tendency to hang people of a build and Cap just blasts Red Skulls minions.

It was actually his wife who gave him the idea for that hero to be a woman. And so Wonder Woman a.k.a Diana Prince a.k.a Princess Diana was born. Marston wanted Wonder Woman's strength and brainpower to be something young girls could look at and strive for in their own lives. He wanted her to be "distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men." Not bad for a guy in the forties.

When Wonder Woman first appeared she was kicking Nazi butt, like ya' do. She was the Allied forces secret weapon, as secret as you can be in a red, white, and blue bathing suit. In the original comics she even had a skirt on that bathing suit bottom. Now she is clad in a blue jacket, red and gold top and dark pants. Personally, I think she looks like she held up a Hot Topic, but what do I know. I miss the bathing suit.

Ok so what is with the lasso of truth. Actually Marston also invented the polygraph. Yep, Wonder Woman's creator invented the lie detector test. He gave Wonder Woman the lasso as a type of polygraph for her to use on her enemies. Through his experiences on the polygraph Marston was convinced women were more honest and reliable than men. Thus Amazons on Paradise Island (No I am not making that up, in the early years of the comic book that was the name of Diana's homeland) had the power to extract the truth from their enemies utilizing the lasso.

One thing that separates Wonder Woman from her male counterparts is she has actually killed people in the comic books. Batman and Superman rarely ever kill, even if the villain deserves it. Wonder Woman never shys away from killing. She weighs the pros and cons but ultimately will do what is necessary.

In 1972, Gloria Steinem, famous feminist and champion of women's rights, placed Wonder Woman on the first standalone cover of Ms. magazine under the caption "Wonder Woman for President."

So you see how something that many people brush off as childish and a few silly lines of ink and color on some paper can really be an important piece of American Iconography. Wonder Woman was a champion for women's rights before the issue of women's rights ever really came into focus. What started as a way for every day Americans to defeat the Nazis and the evil lurking on their doorsteps, same with the boys of this club, morphed into something more.

In May of this year, IGN placed Wonder Woman 5th on their top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time. (For the record she beat out Captain America and Green Lantern) For me and many other young girls, she's number one.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I got bucked at The Mustang Ranch

Step right up boys and girls, it’s time for a little hometown history today on History’s Mistress. Nevada is a state with sweeping mountain ranges of blazing reds and startling browns and tans. It’s a state of wide open spaces and long stretches of desert plains. We have neon and glitter. We have coyotes and mountain lions. We have lakes and amazing blue vistas. We have sunsets that will knock you down on your ass with the sheer beauty of them. We also have legalized prostitution.

The Mustang Ranch, subject of the loosely based movie Love Ranch, is the oldest brothel in America as well as Nevada. It was opened in 1951 and called The Mustang Bridge Ranch. Prostitution was illegal in Storey County at the time but infractions were not always enforced. Most of Storey County, and sections of the state of Nevada for that matter, were and still are empty wide open spaces.

At this time the brothel was constructed of several double wide trailers. (When your intrepid blogger was on her way to college in Reno, My father and I passed a large double-wide in the middle of the desert painted pink with an enormous yellow chicken on its side. I asked my father, who was driving, what it was. He gave me an “are you kidding me” look and informed me it was a brothel. I was 18 at the time and despite living in Las Vegas for eight years I had never seen one before. I thought all brothels looked like Dolly Parton’s house in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. My education had begun.)

In 1967, Joe Conforte and his wife Sally took over the Mustang Bridge, renamed it simply The Mustang Ranch, and an infamous Nevada legend was born.  Storey County legalized prostitution in 1971, some say because of the influence of Conforte. Conforte owned a trailer park not far from the Ranch and kept the rents low as long as the tenants back any initiatives he might want support for. Also it was believed, but not proven, that he kept the local sheriff in his back pocket.  
In 1975, The Mustang burned to the ground. Most people believe it was arson. This did not deter Conforte at all who went ahead and rebuilt the ranch immediately. This time the building was not made up of double-wides and Conforte took this rebuild as a chance to introduce “theme rooms.” A safari room complete with Jacuzzi and its own sauna was one as well as the Italian room, an homage to Conforte himself, which was equipped with a $40,000 mirror. A princess room and a Jungle room were also available for parties. Elvis would have been proud.
In early ’76 the Washoe County grand jury investigate dgood old Joe and his madam wife Sally for unlawful influence but couldn’t find enough evidence to make any charges stick.
1976 proved to be an eventful year for the Confortes as boxer Oscar Bonavena was shot and killed outside the Ranch. The official report is that Joe’s bodyguard offed him, but general local consensus is that Joe himself shot the boxer in a rage for sleeping with Sally. Fun times at the Mustang.
After a series of court cases for tax evasion, bribery and extortion, Joe skipped the country and left the Mustang in the capable hands of Sally. Or so he thought. Sally filed for Bankruptcy in 1990. The Ranch was taken from the Confortes by the IRS, its doors padlocked and memorabilia sold off to pay the debt. The Mustang was sold to Mustang Properties, Inc then to A.G.E Enterprises. Both companies were found to be shell corporations owned by Joe Conforte.
It was opened once again at the end of 1990 but was padlocked once more in 1999.  Contrary to popular urban legend and strange email chain letter that was circulated at the time the Mustang was never run by the U.S. Government.
The Mustang Ranch is once again open for business in just outside Sparks, Nevada about 15 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe airport. It was bought by the current owners on eBay. No, I did not make that up and yes, you did read it right. They bought what is the possibly the most famous brothel in history on eBay.
Nothing is more scandalous, at least to some people, then a brothel.  So for fun let’s look at some of the rules the working girls had to adhere to back in the heyday of the brothel.
4. Girls are not allowed to read, knit, crochet, etc at any time in the parlor.
10. A man can have a 69 for $15.
11. No kissing and no butt.
18. No fidgeting in line.
Got to love Nevada!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Down on the corner of Hollywood and Crime...

Murder! Mayhem! Drunken Debauchery! No, I’m not talking about the Kardashian’s annual Christmas Party, I’m talking Hollyweird of yesteryear. Hollywood has always been a land of what’s going on and who’s doing it with whom. Seriously, modern day scandal-mongers have nothing on the days of old.

In the early heyday of Hollywood, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of Tinseltown’s favorite comedians. A large man, Arbuckle clocked in at 250 to 300 pounds and stood 5’10”. His stature helped to rocket him to success as he use it in his physical comedy. By 1921, Arbuckle signed a one million dollar contract with Paramount, the largest of its kind at the time.

In September 1921, Arbuckle took a break from his hectic shooting schedule and decided to get down and party with some friends. (It is worth noting that he was suffering from second degree burns on his butt from an accident on the set at the time. This has no bearing on the following scandal other than I think booty burns are kind of funny. ) He drove to San Francisco with two friends and rented three rooms in the St. Francis hotel.  

The party got started early with young starlets and dashing leading men, day players and questionable chaps from down the way all drinking bathtub hooch and dancing the hoochie-coochie. By three in the afternoon, Fatty excused himself in order to get dressed for sightseeing with friends.

Here’s where the story takes a nasty turn. One of the party guests happened to be a 26-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe. There are two conflicting stories as to what really happened to Rappe in those rooms. One story belongs to Bambina Maude Delmont. Delmont, a woman known for setting up celebrities in order to blackmail them(think of her as the precursor to paparazzi and Access Hollywood) stated she saw Arbuckle herd Rappe into the bedroom. She claimed he menacingly said, “I’ve waited for this a long time.”  A few minutes later Delmont claimed all the party heard screams coming from the other side of the door.  According to sister sledge, when Arbuckle exited the room Rappe was found naked and bleeding behind him.

Next up on wheel of honor, we have Fatty’s side of the tale. Fatty went into the room to change and found Rappe praying to the porcelain god in the bathroom. He helped clean her up and put her in bed to rest and returned to the party for help. Arbuckle claimed that when he returned with help, Rappe was tearing at her clothes. (This apparently was something she did when really hammered…which was often.) With others to “look after” Virginia, Fatty got dressed, headed out for sightseeing and then went home to La-La land.

Three days later Rappe was still experiencing stomach pains and was taken to the hospital. (She wasn’t taken earlier because her friends figured she was sick from the rot gut she had consumed at the party) She died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder, which was common in back alley abortions, and according to her friends Rappe had had such a procedure a few days earlier. Arbuckle was soon arrested and charged with the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe.

Those charges against Fatty spiraled out of control, thanks in part to William Randolph Hearst and his yellow journalism. The media portrayed Fatty as a gross lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent young girls and assaulted them. The newspapers first reported he tried to rape the girl by crushing her, then that he had had so much to drink he couldn’t get it up and had to utilize whatever was nearby. In some cases the papers said it was a champagne bottle. In other instances it was a coke bottle.

It took three trials for Fatty Arbuckle to be acquitted of all charges but his career never recovered. He directed some shorts under the name William Goodrich but rarely acted again. In 1932, he signed a contract to shoot two short films. After those were completed, he was signed by Warner Brothers in 1933 to a feature length film. The night he signed the contract, Fatty died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was only 46 years old.

The saddest part about Fatty Arbuckle’s tale is the sheer fact that no one really knows what happened. Some believe that Fatty was innocent as there was no evidence that Rappe was sexually assaulted. Fatty was known throughout the back lots as a gentle giant who was so shy he rarely raised his voice.

I guess we will never know what happened that day at the St. Francis and Fatty Arbuckle will continue to be a tale of murder and mystery to stand alongside the Black Dahlia or the death of Marilyn Monroe.

You can find the surviving films of Fatty Arbuckle on Netflix and Amazon. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Red, Reb, Rose

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…expect if you are Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow and you’re in a stinky Union prison.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a widowed woman from Maryland who was the toast of Washington D.C. society. She was also one of the Confederacy’s most renowned spies. Using her contacts in society, Rose exploited the fact that Union men spoke freely in front of her. Just another case of men discounting the intelligence and ingenuity of women. Southern President Jefferson Davis credited Rose with helping General G.T. Pierce Beauregard win the battle of Manassas. (Manassas is the Confederate name for the Battle of Bull Run.)

At the onset of the war our intrepid blog topic developed a close relationship with Lt. Colonel Thomas Jordan and the pair created a 26 symbol cipher that allowed Rose to pass information about the Union’s troop movements as well as any fortifications in Washington that might be able to be exploited by the South. In fact, Rose’s house was “within easy rifle-range of the White House” according to Beauregard. Now you have to remember that although Washington D.C. was the capital of the United States a.k.a the Union, the town is actually situated smack dab in the middle of the South. Richmond, the capital of the Confederate United States of America was right across the Potomac. Give or take a couple miles. (Trust me, if you say the name Beauregard in a faux southern accent it makes this blog even better.)

By July 1861 Alan Pinkerton, who was the head of the newly formed Secret Service, discovered Rose’s extracurricular activities and placed her under house arrest. Did that stop her? Heck no! Rose was not finished spying for her beloved Confederacy.  She continued passing any information she could glean to the other side of the Mason Dixon line. It was believed she was getting information from a powerful Massachusetts senator, Henry Wilson. He was an easy target because they were bumping uglies. Sex makes men stupid and chatty and Rose was hot, in that Civil War hoop skirt wearing kind of way.

Pinkerton decided to have her moved to the Old Capital Prison.  Most likely because he got frustrated with the inability to get her to stop spying and figured sticking her in prison would help. It didn’t. Rose still managed to send out information to the South, in many cases concealed in the bun of her female visitors. Lesson to the men reading this blog, chicks are really smart and we can fool you every time. Fed up with her, the Union banished Rose to the South, hypothesizing that she would do less harm to the Union cause if she was out of the North.

This sort of worked. Davis sent Rose to England to garner support for the Southern Cause. However on the way back to the United States, her ship was run aground in the Cape Fear River. (Not to be confused with the movie of the same name.) Rose and two other passengers attempted to escape via lifeboat, against the Captain’s wishes. The lifeboat capsized and Rose immediately sank, weighed down by the gold she carried, which was sown into the linings and layers of her clothing. Her body was rescued from the river the next morning and she was brought south for burial.

What is most interesting about Rose O’Neal Greenhow is the sheer fact that she was only a spy for a few short months before Pinkerton caught her. Sure, the intel she provided Beauregard helped him win Bull Run but in the grand scheme of the war, she really played a small part. But still, she was the South’s Wild Rose and will always be remembered as such.

See, chicks rock. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mr. Revere's Wild Ride

There seems to be a lot being said about Paul Revere and his wild ride in the news and on T.V. lately. What with Sarah Palin’s interesting gaffe on what Paul Revere actually did to Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers singing ‘Me and Paul Revere’ at a Capital Fourth in D.C. (I recommend to anyone listen to the song. It is told from the point of view of the horse and wicked Americana at its best.)

Good old Paul was a respected watchmaker and silversmith. That was his vocation when he lived, breathed, and worked in Boston. That’s not however what he is most known for. So what did Paul Revere really do? Did he ride through the town shouting The British are coming? Did he stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni?  Did his dance a jig in the middle of town in his smalls(underpants)?

In 1860 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem for the 100th anniversary of the crazy little horse bound jaunt of our blog topic today. Poems were what guys did back in the day to pick up chicks. OK not really but you can imagine it probably helped. “Hey baby let me buy you a drink…I wrote a poem about Paul Revere.” See, instant panty dropping stuff.

The most famous line in the poem is probably “If the British march by land or sea from the town tonight, hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the North Church tower as a signal light – one, if by land, and two, if by sea.” This line tells a little of what the heck Revere was really doing on the back of Larkin’s horse. In addition to being a silversmith, Paul Revere was a member of the Mechanics, a group of men organized to spy on those tea-drinking, crown lovers hanging out on our not-yet-free shores. Prior to the famous ride, Revere also worked as a courier of sorts carrying messages in 1774 and spring of 1775 up and down the colonies. (Some of you may remember this little line as being used to fool the bad guy in the movie National Treasure.)

Now here comes the fun part. On April 18th, 1775 Paul was sent for by Dr. Joseph Warren to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British Grenadiers were coming to arrest them. Paul borrowed a horse from a man named Larkin and lit out for Lexington. However he did not ride through the town shouting “The British are coming” because frankly he wanted to keep it low-key and not draw too much attention to himself or the people he was trying to warn. Shouting through the town would have been like waving a big red flag and shouting “Hey you big British meanie heads come and get me.” Not good.  He actually went door to door warning the people of Lexington.  When he made it to the house where Adams and Hancock were staying, he told by a sentry, aka a British soldier, to stop making so much noise. To this Revere cheekily replied “You’ll have noise soon enough. The regulars are coming out!” Translation…we are going to kick your British fanny.

After warning Lexington, Paul decided to ride off and warn Concord as well. On this leg of the tour he was joined by William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott. Unfortunately, the trio never made it to Concord as they were caught and arrested. Prescott and Dawes escaped rather quickly but Revere was held for several hours before he was ultimately let go.

So as you can see, there was no macaroni in any one’s cape. There was no shouting like a drunken baboon about the British coming; frankly at this point everyone was still British as we hadn’t declared our independence yet. There were no ringing bells or warning shots fired. Just a man, a horse, and some good old fashioned Fuller Brush techniques coming to the rescue.  Not bad for a silversmith from Boston. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My name is Andrew Shepard and I am the president...

One of my favorite places to visit is Washington D.C. and one of my favorite films set in Washington is "The American President" starring the amazing Annette Benning and the talented Michael Douglas. Whenever I watch this film I am always struck with thoughts of the presidents that have come before...and their first ladies.

My very favorite first lady is the indomitable Eleanor Roosevelt. How can you not love a woman who said such insightful things like "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission" and "A woman is like a teabag, you never know how strong she is until her put her in hot water."

Old Eleanor, nicknamed granny by her own mother for being a rather homely thing, may have not been the most glamorous first lady our snazzy little country has ever been graced with, she is in fact perhaps one of the most amazing.

The biggest scandal to hit Eleanor's life was her husband FDR'S affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. The affair happened over several years, most accounts place the beginning of the affair between New Deal boy and little miss hot pants at around 1914, and supposedly ended in 1918 when Eleanor found some love letters. Eleanor made him promise to never seen Lucy again and for that little consolation she would stay married to him. However, when FDR died in April 1945, he was with Lucy Mercer. So much for keeping his promise. Just another case of older man, younger woman getting busy and him dying of a cerebral hemorrhage. To add insult to injury, Eleanor found out that their daughter Anna was helping her father sneak around with "the other woman." Still, Eleanor did what was expected of a dutiful wife and stood beside the coffin. She is even buried next to him in the Roosevelt Hyde Park home. (FDR also had an affair while in office with his assistant Missy LeHand..."Mister President I don't want to push your wheelchair.")

Another speculative hanky panky scandal associated with one America's most formidable ladies is the thought she was in fact lesbian and was carrying on an affair of her own with journalist  Lorena 'Hick' Hickok. While there is not evidence that such an affair actually occurred, many historians look at Eleanor's busy schedule as evidence that she didn't have time for any kind of affair, Hick did in fact live in the White House for years in a room right across from Eleanor.

What makes Nell so great? Well, she was truly a woman ahead of her time. She was a champion  of Women's Rights and Civil Rights. In 1939 opera singer Marian Anderson was scheduled to sing a concert at Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the woman sing...because she was black. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her post immediately upon hearing the news. Now any other woman would have been happy to leave it at that. Not Eleanor. She went on to sponsor a concert for Anderson anyway...on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Go Eleanor and Go Marian!

Plus to top all that cool stuff, she served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England when they visited the White House. (For those of you keeping score, the King and Queen in questioned are the one portrayed with aplomb by Helena Bohman Carter and Colin Firth in 'The King's Speech')

So I hope this gives you a taste of one of the coolest ladies in American History and why I love her. She is a role model for the ages and one seriously bad-ass chick.

(Fun little side note, the theme from "The American President" was used at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.)