Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dead Men Tell No Tales....

Musket balls are flying. Grenades are exploding. Pirates, screaming and snarling, board the merchant ship, swinging cutlasses cutting men down wily nily. No, we are not trapped in yet another sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. We are aboard the ship of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Her name, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Now I know that Blackbeard isn’t technically American History but in a way he is. Blackbeard made his home base in North Carolina (Of course it was around 1716 so North Carolina was still a British colony but cut me some slack. Pirates are cool.)

Teach was born in Britain around 1690. As a young man he served on a privateer ship that was based in Jamaica. Privateers are basically pirate ships with the government of one country supporting them. Teach’s ship was British which meant they were backed by Queen Anne (Who was known as Brandy Nan because she was a bit of lush and according to a very funny tour guide I once had in London built a little bit like a box. Four feet tall and four feet wide.) That meant they could loot and plunder French and Spanish ships. By the time Teach left the Navy at the end of the War of Spanish Succession he was an experienced sea robber.

Blackbeard soon rose to the rank of Captain aboard the ship he sailed, one he had stolen with the help of fierce Caribbean Pirates (Pirates of the Caribbean? Been to Disneyland one too many times Captain Ron?) As his power and reputation grew…so did good old Blacky’s beard and hair. He took to calling himself Blackbeard, braiding his beard and tying it with black ribbons. He stuffed burning rope under his hat to make himself fiercer, and to have his own personal fog machine I guess. (Pirate fashion sense was not that great. You know, since they tended not to bathe all that much)

By the fall of 1718, the townspeople of Virginia, and probably just about every other person except his crew on the face of the earth, was tired of his murdering thieving ways. Blackbeard was the most feared, most dangerous, and most deadly pirate to every live. Seriously NOT A NICE GUY. When he returned to his base off of Orcacoke Island, Blackbeard planned a huge pirate party. (I would hate to have been a chick anywhere near this shindig. It would have been bad.)

The Governor of Virginia spent the next two weeks plotting how to stop Blackbeard. He sent two sloops to the island commanded by Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy. The sloops chased Blackbeard and his ship down a narrow channel between the beach and an almost invisible sandbar. One sloop crashed into the sandbar because they had no idea it was there. Blackbeard and Myanard’s ships edged close together, with the British soldiers hiding below decks with weapons drawn. (Think a seaworthy Trojan Horse.) Blackbeard ordered his men to lobe grenades at the ship, thinking it was deserted. Then he ordered her boarded. When the pirates boarded the ship, Maynard’s men rushed from below and the battle began.

Maynard and Blackbeard faced off mano-e-mano. Both fired with Teach missing but Maynard’s shot hitting his mark. Teach managed, despite, having a hole in his chest, to swing his cutlass and snap Maynard’s blade. As Blackbeard raised his arm to finish off the British commander, a sailor came up behind and slashed Blackbeard’s throat.

As a warning to other pirates, Blackbeard’s head was cut off and suspended from the bow of Maynard’s sloop. The secret location, if there even is one, of Blackbeard’s treasure has never been revealed.
Two interesting trivia bits about Blackbeard (at least I think they are and this my freaking blog)

1. His ship has never been found. Researchers have searched and searched for the Queen Anne’s Revenge but it has never been confirmed that any of the wrecks they have found have been her. I think she’s still out there somewhere.
2. He was not the most successful pirate. That would be Black Bart Rogers, a contemporary, who captured hundreds of ships. Also Henry Avery took a single treasure ship worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in 1695, which was more than Blackbeard took in his whole career.

See sometimes real life is way cooler then the movies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Presidental List Fun!

I like lists. Yes, I am a huge freaking dork. I get it. As if the history stuff wasn't geeky enough I can hear all now "Oh Mistress of History, you like lists? Weirdo." Well I do...especially cool, history related ones.

So for a change of pace let's play the cool presidential list game. (There is no prize other then I might sing you a jaunty little ditty if you win...most likely I won't though)

Did you know there are 5 presidents who have issued the most vetos? You didn't? Well let me tell you who they are:
FDR (Probably because he had 3 terms)
Grover Cleveland
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
U.S. Grant

How about the presidents who saw the most states join the union? That would be:
Benjamin Harrison with a total of 6
George Washington with the original 13 colonies and 5 after the war
James Monroe with 5
James Polk with 3
James Buchanan with 3, which werer the last three states to join before the Civil War.

We have had five presidents who have served the shortest terms:
William Henry Harrison - He only lasted 31 days. He caught pneumonia on the day of his inaugration and died. Bummer
James A. Garfield - 199 days. He was shot by Charles Guiteau - who was a certified nutball
Zachary Taylor - 1 year and 127 days. He ate cold meat with ice and milk which led to a bout of gastroenteritis which led to coronary thrombosis. Yep I bet you will NEVER do that now.
Warren G. Harding - 2 years and 151 days. He got food poisoning which turned into cerebral thrombosis - I'm not sure how that happens but I guess it does
Gerald Ford - 2 years and 164 days. He is the only one who didn't die in office. He was Nixon's successor when he resigned. What set him up to NOT be reelected is good old Fordy pardoned Nixon, which sealed his fate.

Now for some fun Lincoln and Kennedy comparasion facts, You know you love this shit as much as I do.

  • Both presidents were elected President in '60.
  • Both presidents were elected to the Congress in '46.
  • Both were runners-up for the party's nomination for VP in '56.
  • Both their Vice Presidents and successors were Southern Democrats named Johnson who were born in '08.
  • Both presidents were concerned with the problems of black americans and made their views strongly known in '63. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which became law in 1863. In 1963, Kennedy presented his reports to Congress on  Civil Rights.
  • Both presidents were shot in their heads.
  • Both presidents were shot from behind.
  • Both presidents were shot in presence of their wives.
  • Both presidents were shot on a Friday.
  • Both presidents were accompanied by another couple.
  • The male companion of the other couple was wounded by the assassin.
  • Both presidents had a son die during their presidency.
  • Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre; Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford.
  • Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who told him not to go to the theatre; Kennedy had a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln who warned him not to go to Dallas.
  • Both presidents' last names have 7 letters.
  • Both presidents have five syllables in their full name (which counts Kennedy's middle initial).
  • There are 6 letters in each Johnson's first name.
  • Booth ran from a theatre to a warehouse; Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theatre.
  • Both assassins were killed before they could be put on trial.
  • Both assassins have 3-word, 15-letter names.
  • Both assassins were born in the late '30s.
  • Both assassins sympathized with Southern organizations.
  • Both assassins were killed within the same calendar month before they could be put on trial.
  • Both assassins were killed in states located immediately west of the states of their births.

  • Pretty cool stuff I know.


    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Hot Toddy

    I was surfing the TV the other night in a fit of rampant insomnia and I ran across a movie called "White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd" starring Loni Anderson. This was not the first time I'd seen this made for TV 1980s gem but it had been awhile. (If you haven't seen this film, check it out. It is a fun flick with Loni looking gorgeous and over acting)

    Thelma Todd was a movie star in the Silent Era. She was known as the "Ice Cream Blonde" and Hot Toddy to her friends. She was in several movies, 119 in all, during the course of her career and starred with some of the best comedic stars of the Silent Era. For example, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and Laurel and Hardy.

    She had an affair with her director Roland West of the movie Corsair.

    In August of 1934 she opened a successful cafe in the Palisades called of course "Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe." She attracted a diverse clientele of Hollywood elite, tourists, and..... (Drum roll please) gangsters.

    Toddy had a penchant for drinking and dangerous men. She had so many drunken car crashes going from party from party; the studio demanded she have a chauffeur. After opening the cafe and moving into the apartment above with West, Todd began an affair with Charles "Lucky" Luciano.

    Lucky got Toddy hooked on  amphetamines in order to keep her line. He kept pressuring our Ice Cream Blonde to let him use one of the upstairs rooms as an illicit gambling den, but she flatly refused. After one such row with the notable gangster, Toddy shouted in the middle of the Brown Derby "Over my dead body!" Supposedly, Lucky responded "That can be arranged"

    Sure enough on December 16th, 1935 Thelma was found dead by her maid, May Whitehead, slumped over the steering wheel of her convertible. The ignition was on, but the engine was not. There were two gallons of fuel inside the car, and a smudged handprint on the door. She was 29 years old. She had blood on her forehead.

    The L.A. Surgeon estimated the time of death between 5 and 8 am on Sunday morning. He explained the blood as being a result of Thelma hitting her head against the steering wheel.

    No one really knows what happen to Thelma Todd. Some say that she was killed by Lucky and his men. Some say accident.
    Thelma Todd was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery and you can visit her grave if you ever visit.

    So who killed Toddy? Was it Lucky? Was it West? Or did she die of alcohol poisoning?

    We may never know. Toddy has simply become one of those unsolved Hollywood Mysteries. She lived her life close to the edge and as near the flame as she could, it was only a matter of time before she burned out