MARCH 2015

MARCH  2015
Losing Your Head on Wall Street 1884 Nothing ever changes


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I suppose it seemed like a good idea in the beginning. There were three serious contestants, and a $50,000 first place prize. But in retrospect, it should have been obvious that nobody was going to collect a dime of that money. It was 1911; flying was still brand new and the world’s first two pilots were still flying - Wilbur and Orville Wright - and still learning The world's third pilot was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, and he had died on September 17, 1908, in a crash that also badly injured Orville. The second pilot to die was Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame), in a 1910 crash. Considering there were only about 100 men (and one woman) with flying licenses in America in 1911, two percent was an appalling death  rate, bad enough to make you wonder why anybody would have wanted to even try flying, let alone try it from coast to coast.
The world’s 49th licensed pilot was a shy, cocky, 6’4” thirty-something, cigar smoking, playboy and adrenaline junkie with a hearing loss and a speech impediment named Calbraith Perry Rogers (above -right). He was a romantic who favored action over words, as proven by the way he met his wife, 20 something Mabel Groves (above, left). He saw her slip off a dock and fall into the water. So assuming she was drowning, he jumped in and pulled her to safety. Within a few months he married her, despite the hat. He approached flying with the same spontaneity, but it quickly developed into a mission..
 Having seen his first airplane on a visit to Dayton, Ohio, in June of 1911, Cal took the full Wright Brother’s flight course (above),  all 90 minutes of it. Mabel explained that flying filled the hole in his life by his deafness which had excluded a military career. It was, she said "the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle". 
Then Cal talked his mother, Maria, into loaning him $5,000 so he could buy a Wright Model B Flyer “E-X”. The "X" was for experimental – which was a joke because every “airplane” was experimental in 1911. But Cal may also have been the origin of the phrase to “take a flyer”, because just two months later, in August, he entered his new Wright Flyer in an air show in Chicago and took home third prize, worth $11, 285.  Not bad: Cal had been a pilot for 60 days and already he had made six grand profit. He suspected there might be money in this flying thing.
And this was confirmed in October of 1910 when the Hearst newspaper chain had offered $50,000 to the first pilot to make it across the continent in 30 days or less. The offer was set to expire on 10 October. So with his self supplied confidence, Cal decided to go for it. Orville Wright tried to warn him. "There isn't a machine in existence that can be relied upon for 1,000 miles,  and here you want to go over 4,000. It will vibrate itself to death before you get to Chicago."  But Cal refused to give up the idea. He explained, "It's important because everything else I've done was unimportant."  Faced with that level of stubbornness, Orville tried to look at the bright side. At least the Wright B Flyer was so light, said Orville "six good men could carry it across the country."
 What Cal needed, as any NASCAR driver can tell you, was a sponsor. He found his ‘sticker sucker’ in  Mr. J. Odgen Armour, owner of Armour Meat Packing Company, and his new soft drink called “VIN FIZ”.  Allegedly it was grape favored soda water, but one critic thought it tasted more like  “a fine blend of river sludge and horse slop”  With a product like that Mr. Amour was going to need a heck of an advertising campaign. Enter Cal and his flying bill board.
With a guarantee of $23,000 from Amour, and a bonus of $5 per mile east of the Mississippi River, and $4 per mile to the west of the "big muddy", and a corporate three rail car support train complete with a reservoir of spare parts, fuel and mechanics, and sleeping car accommodations for Mable, Cal’s mother Maria,  his cousin, his head mechanic Charlie Taylor, two other mechanics, two general assistants and assorted reporters from the Hearst news service. Suddenly the flight looked possible..
Armour even threw in an automobile (above) to track down Cal whenever he crash landed . With that much corporate funding behind him, Cal figured he had it all figured out. The first problem was that, before Cal even got airborne, his "Vin Fiz" was already in third place.
First off, from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, was motorcycle racer Bob Fowler (above). There were 10,000 cheering people there at 1:35 P.M., on 11 September 1911 to see Bob takeoff.  Like Cal, Bob was piloting a Wright “B” Flyer, except his sponsor was Joseph J. Cole, founder and owner of the Cole Motor Company, of Indianapolis, Indiana. Cole supplied Bob with one of their engines and $7,500. The Cole engine was more powerful than the Wright engine, but it was also 200 lbs heavier. J.J. also gave Bob a support train, with spare parts and his own mother. But "The Cole Flyer" lacked the publicity support that accompanied the "Vin Fizz  Flyer..
Making an average speed of about 55 miles an hour, Bob reached Sacramento in just under 2 hours, and after schmoozing with California Governor Hiram Johnson, Bob flew on to the foothill town of Auburn, for a total distance on the first day of 126 miles. On 12 September he reached Alta, California, where he crashed into some trees. Bob was now out of the race until repairs could be made.
Second to start was James J. (Jimmy) Ward (above),  pilot's license #52, and previously a jockey. He was flying a Curtis Model D,  with floats. Jimmy took off from Governor’s Island in New York harbor on 13 September, 1911. He immediately got lost over New Jersey, and made only twenty miles before crash landing. Then he too had to wait for repairs. The basic tempo of the race had thus been set right from the start; take off, crash, wait for repairs, take off, crash, wait for repairs, and repeat as necessary for 3,000 miles. It was going to be very hard to finish this race, let alone win it.
Before starting himself, Cal Rogers tied a bottle Vin Fiz to one of his wing struts (white circle on the left), “for luck”. For reality, he tied a pair of crutches to another strut, in case he needed them later. He would.
Before a paying crowd of 2,000, a chorus girl poured a bottle of grape soda over the landing skids and proclaimed, “I dub thee “Vin Fiz Flyer””. Cal actually called his plane “Betsy” but he recognized the value of naming fees even back then.
Cal took off from the race course at Sheepshead Bay, Long Island at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, 17 September. And if anybody noticed that it was the third anniversary of the crash that had killed Lieutenant Selfridge, they were polite enough to keep it to themselves.
After take off, Cal buzzed Coney Island and dropped coupons for free Vin Fiz soda (above). Then he flew across Manhattan as the breathless reporters breathlessly reported, “…with its death-trap of tall buildings, ragged roofs and narrow streets”.  Cal landed safely in Middleton, New York that night to a cheering crowd reported as 10,000 – not to be bettered by San Francisco. He had made all of 84 miles that first day. His plan was to average 250 miles a day.
That night the reporters wrote that Cal claimed he would be in Chicago in four days. But Cal  rarely talked to reporters because he barely heard their questions, the byproduct of a scarlet fever attack in his childhood. And he spoke in the clumsy monotone of someone who never heard a human voice.  So it was easier if the the reporters just made up heroic quotes for Cal. They invented more heroic quotes for him the next morning when, on take off,  the "Vin Fiz" hit a tree and ended up in a chicken coop. The bottle of Vin Fiz was "miraculously" undamaged, as proved because it would have been impossible to find another bottle of Vin Fizz aboard a train car named "The Vin Fiz Special".  But now it was Cal’s turn to wait for repairs. The race was on!  It just wasn't going anywhere quickly.
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Sunday, March 22, 2015


I take it as a sign of how low a reputation George Hull had earned even before the Cardiff Giant, that he dare not let the public suspect he had any part of the 2 ½ ton precipitate lump. Hull stayed in the background, while his farmer/cousin William Newell, played the owner and sold a majority share to the Syracuse syndicate. But as December was approaching George decided the secret did not have much longer to live. So he instructed his cousin to sell their remaining ¼ share of the giant. The buyer was Alfred Higgins, the Syracuse agent for American Express, a 3 term alderman for the city of Syracuse, and a lifelong bachelor. It is unclear how much Higgin paid for his share in the unwieldy trinket.
The giant now belonged solely to citizens from Syracuse. Up to then the fame of the town of 40,000 rested on the brine springs on the south side. But now “Salt City”, which supplied preservative to the entire country, could also be known for the entrepreneurship of its most illustrious citizens, David Hannen, Dr. Amos Westcoff, Amos Gilbert, William Spencer, Benjamin A. Son, and now Alfred Higgins. Even the services of Ohio showman Colonel J.W. Wood, were dispensed with The Syracuse Six then proceeded to transport the Cardiff Giant by rail to the Yates Ballroom of the Geological Hall, at State and Lodge streets, in Albany, New York. But Barnum was not to be outdone..
Using the advertisements of the Syracuse Six as a guide, the King of hokum had a plaster giant of his own made and painted to resemble the stone behemoth. And then, because his own museum was still in ashes, Barnum offered his giant for public perusal in Mr. George Wood's (no relation) Museum and Metropolitan Theater, at 1221 Broadway. Barnum's newspaper ads did not, of course, admit to displaying a copy. Barnum asserted the “Albany Giant” was the copy, while Barnum's plaster man was the original.
Readers of the Buffalo Express on Saturday, 15 January, 1870, found an article under the title, “A Ghost Story, by a Witness ”. The author, in Manhattan and short of funds, had moved into an abandoned hotel on Broadway. He was terrorized by groans and apparitions all night long, until the ghost finally appeared and explained, “I am the spirit of the Petrified Man that lies across the street there in the Museum. I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no peace, till they have given that poor body burial again” To this sad tale the writer responded, “Why you poor blundering old fossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing -- you have been haunting a PLASTER CAST of yourself -- the real Cardiff Giant is in Albany!”
The inventor of all this, George Hull, must have been gobsmacked. How could this reprobate have ever imagined that his fraud, so carefully crafted and executed could be turned inside out - a humbug made of his humbug. It was unbelievable, incredible, absolutely amazing. It was a lesson from the old master himself. You think you know the “con” game, Barnum seemed to be saying You ain't seen nothing yet. The crowds that now jammed Wood's Theater and Museum and the Geological Hall knew their legs were being pulled, and were loving it.
And then a little purple pamphlet appeared for sale in Albany. The title page read, “THE CARDIFF GIANT HUMBUG—THE GREATEST DECEPTION OF THE AGE” The author was Benjamin Gue, editor of the Fort Dodge, Iowa, “North West”. Between the covers were names, dates, bills of lading, interviews and witness statements documenting the creation of the Cardiff Giant, from the 1867 appearance of Mr. Martin in Fort Dodge, through the July 1868 shipment of the stone from Boone, Iowa, to Chicago, to the studio of Eduard Burkhardt, to the giant's arrival in Union, New York. There were eyewitness memorials of the journey to within three miles of the Newell farm in Cardiff. Gue had even uncovered records of the fund transfers between Stub Newell and the evil genius, George Hull. The diligent Mr. Gue had even investigated Mr. Hull's career from marking cards, to selling cigars, to inquiring into Wisconsin Indian burial mounds, to the Cardiff Giant. Most of what we can now confirm about George Hull, we know because of editor Gue. It was a hull of a story.
The pamphlet was on sale for a few hours before someone bought out the entire edition. However, because Mr. Gue had contracted with a printer in Albany, the next day the newsstand was again fully stocked with “The Cardiff Giant Humbug...” The printer and the author didn't care if the pamphlets were being read or being burned. They were just interested in selling them. The Syracuse syndicate issued a statement denouncing the pamphlet as its own fraud. But the truth was, it didn't matter that the public took to calling the giant, “Old Hoaxy” As Barnum said, “Every crowd has a silver lining”.
The crowds in Albany did drop a little after the pamphlet appeared, but unless the giant expanded his repertoire by juggling or doing a soft shoe, once you had seen the Cardiff Giant, there was little interest in seeing it again. So the pamphlet revealing the fraud was just another revenue stream, like Mark Twain's ghost story in the Buffalo paper. Barnum knew the real craft in advertising, or humbug as Barnum called it, is what I call the “Pet Rock” paradigm. People will buy a “pet rock” as long as they know you know that they know its actually just a rock.
It appears the only person who failed to figure out that rule was the horse trader David Hannum (above), who demanded an injunction to stop P.T. Barnum from claiming that his giant (here after referred to as the “Albany Giant”) was the fraud, and not Barnum's giant. 
 The hearing on 2 February, 1870, was held in New York City, before Judge George G. Barnard (above), a Tammany Hall jurist so corrupt that in two years he would be impeached and bared from ever holding public office in New York state again.   On this day he heard the case presented by Hannum and then from Barnum's lawyers, and even from George Hull, who admitted for the first and the only time under oath that he had created the Albany Giant.  Judge Barnard told Mr. Hannum, “Bring your giant here, and if he swears to his own genuineness as a bona fide petrifaction, you shall have the injunction you ask for.” Baring that event, he said, he was out of the “injunction business”.
Leaving the courtroom, David Hannum was asked why he thought his original fake giant, which had moved to New York City in December, was drawing smaller crowds than Barnum's fake fake giant. He shrugged and then uttered the immortal words, “There's a sucker born every minute.”  Barnum was later blamed for the quote, but he never called his customers suckers. Hull and Hannum did. . But the day after Judge Barnard's decision, Barnum's fake fake drew a huge crowd,  while Hannum's original fake drew almost nobody. But on the second day, even Barnum's fake drew only 50 customers, and with that the high drama and farce of the Cardiff Giant was over. The two giants went their separate ways, never having met. And over time they were both reduced to appearing in county fairs, and side shows and finally in museums of fakes and frauds. But, it must be said, they both continue to produce a profit for their owners.
Not long after the lost injunction, David Hannum was on board a train when a man asked him to move over a seat. Hannum refused. Sharply the man demanded, “Do you know who I am? I am P. Elmendorf Sloan, the superintendent for this railroad., and my father is Sam Sloan, president of this railroad.” To which Hannum replied, “ "Do you know who I am? I am David Hannum and I'm the father of the Cardiff Giant."
Like the other investors in the “Albany Cardiff Giant”,  Doctor Amos Westcoff made money. But for whatever reason he rose from the breakfast table on 6 July, 1873 , went upstairs to his bedroom, and shot himself in the neck. He died quickly of blood loss. His partner, Alfred Higgins, never lost faith in the giant, and until his dying day remained convinced it was a petrified man, straight out of the pages of the Holy Bible. The Reverend Turk, blamed for inspiring the Cardiff Giant, died in 1895, in Iowa.  He carried no guilt.
George Hull made a small fortune from his fraud, and invested it in a commercial block in downtown Binghamton, New York. But his profligate lifestyle quickly ran through his profits, and within five years he was almost broke again. He conceived of an even bigger stone giant - this one with a tail. The “Solid Muldoon” was “discovered”outside Pueblo, Colorado on 16 September, 1877, and attracted crowds in Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming. But by the time the Colorado Giant reached New York City, the scheme had gone bust Gloated a Binghamton newspaper, “This would seem to stop the Giant Man...getting rich without working.” Shortly thereafter, the long suffering Hellen Hull died of consumption at 42 years old. The atheist George allowed her to be buried in a Methodist service. The evil genus himself died broke, living with his daughter in Binghampton on 21 October, 1902. Perhaps the most accurate thing he ever said was “I ought to have made myself rich, but I didn't.”
Barnum's Giant, the fake fraud, currently resides in Farmington Hills, Michigan, inside “Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum”. 
Since 1947, George Hull's original fake has been in Cooperstown, New York, reclining behind a white picket fence inside the “Farmers Museum”. 
And every fall, the folks at the LaFayette Apple Festival, in tiny Cardiff, New York,  provide a walking tour to the Newell farm, the site of the temporary grave for the Cardiff Giant.  They recreate his discovery and exhumation, and I urge you to visit this and the other sites, just to remind yourself to never pass up a chance to laugh at yourself. . It's very healthy. 
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Friday, March 20, 2015


I know that both Phineas T. Barnum and George Hull each possessed “the ingenuity to dupe, diddle, defraud and gull a whole continent.” But Barnum rebelled against those, like Hull, who held their customers in contempt. “I don't believe in duping the public”, Barnum wrote, . “but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.” He always tried, he said, to give them more than their money's worth in entertainment. On the day the Cardiff Giant saw the light again on Mr; Newell's farm - 16 October 1868 - the self proclaimed “Prince of Humbug” was trying to rebuild his American Museum in New York City, after it had burned down for the third time  The man who brought America and the world “Tom Thumb”, the Feejee Mermaid, Jenny Lind “The Swedish Nightingale” (above), and Chang and Eng, “The Original Siamese Twins”, was finding the revival harder every year.
That fall  P.T.  traveled to cast a professional eye upon the giant still in the ground. Barnum saw the road south from Syracuse “jammed with wagons, stage coaches, horses and people on foot, all bound for Cardiff to take a glimpse at the giant.”  And he paid admission into the tent to gaze upon the great stone face, and feet and over sized circumcised penis. Before boarding the train back to New York City, Barnum (above) told a reporter, “They must not call me the Prince of Humbugs after this. That beats anything I ever did in my life.” But was it the appearance of the giant which made Barnum wary? Was it the presence in Cardiff of his competitor, Colonel Wood? Or did it have something to do with the immoral amoral always black clad mocking presence of George Hull?
As the money began to roll in a member of George Hull's inner circle announced he wanted out.  H.B. Martin, the blacksmith from Marshalltown, who had suffered the month long 40 mile odyssey across Iowa with George, had suffered enough. Maybe he was experiencing an attack of morality, maybe the rising publicity made him nervous, or maybe his brother Frank needed financial help in opening a planned grocery in Ackley, Iowa. Whatever his reason, Martin asked George Hull to buy out his share in the giant, whereupon he disappeared back to Iowa, and was never heard from again in this giant tale
He missed getting rich by a week. The giant had cost Hull and Martin less than $3,000 (Fifty thousand in 2014 dollars). Originally George Hull had ½ share of the giant – it had been his idea - while Newell and Martin each had ¼ share. Buying Martin out had cut into George's profits, and he needed an immediate influx of cash. His cousin, “Stub” Newell still had physical possession of the stone behemoth, and every day increased the chance the farmer would realize the old axiom that possession was nine tenths of the law. Luckily for George, an entrepreneur from Homer, New York stepped up eager to solve his problem: the square jawed David H. Hannan.
He was one of the biggest land owners in Courtland County, New York. Our old friend Mr. Andrew White, described Hannan (above) as “...a horse-dealer in a large way...” (think used car salesman) “...and banker in a small way” (think loan shark). White described Hannan as “keen and shrewd...who had fought his way up from abject poverty, and whose fundamental principle, as he asserted it, was "Do unto others as they would like to do unto you, and–do it first.”.”
Hannan's partners were a whose-who of Syracuse society. Dr. Amos Wescott (above)  was a successful dentist who had served a term as mayor of Syracuse in 1860. Amos Gilbert's family had settled in the area in 1810, and remained powerful in the Baptist church, with the pentagonal rounded out by William Spencer and Benjamin A. Son. Each had invested $5,000 (ninety thousand in 2014 dollars) in the joint venture, and the second week of the exhibition they paid Hull and Newell $23,000 cash ($400,000 in 2014) for a ¾ share of the giant. It seemed a safe in vestment. In two weeks in the out-of-the-way village of Cardiff, the Giant had sold $7,000 in tickets, at 50 cents apiece.
On Sunday, 5 November 1869, the Cardiff Giant was winched out of his temporary grave...
...and loaded into a wagon for the 12 mile journey to Syracuse. He was greeted at the city limits by a marching band playing “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” by Handel. 
His new home was in an exhibit hall on Vanderbilt square, across the street from the open air New York Central Railroad station (above). The next day, Monday, 6 November, 1869,   6,000 people paid $1 each to stare down at the impassive great stone face, and feet and penis, profiting in one day what had taken an entire week to match in Cardiff. The New York Central railroad added a 10 minute delay to all trains passing through Syracuse, long enough to give passengers time to cross the street and gaze upon the impassive gypsum.
One poet wanted the giant to explain himself. “Speak out, O Giant! stiff, and stark, and grim, Open thy lips of stone, thy story tell; And by the wondering crowd who pay thee court. In thy cold bed, and gaze with curious eyes On thy prone form so huge, and still so human, Let now again be heard, that voice which once, Through all old Onondaga's hills and vales, Proclaimed thy lineage from a Giant race, And claimed as subjects, all who trembling hear. “ One whom the giant spoke to was Galusha Parsons, a lawyer of “most excellent character, sterling integrity, and with much aggressive force”. More importantly, Parsons was from Fort Dodge, Iowa.
The 41 year old Parsons (above) was returning from Washington, having made oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Beeson  v Johns.  He had also just been elected as a state representative for Webster County, Iowa.  Taking advantage of the ten minute stop over in Vanderbilt Square to visit the famous Cardiff Giant., Parsons recognized the stone as home grown. He immediately cabled his political ally Mr. Benjaman Gue, the editor of the Fort Dodge “North West”.  Parsons told Gue, “I believe it is made of that great block of gypsum those fellows got at Fort Dodge a year ago, and shipped east.”
Gue (above) quickly uncovered the truth. The 28 July, 1868 edition of the “Boone Standard” had contained an account of the curious 11 feet 3 inches long, 3 feet 2 inches wide, 1 foot by 10 inches thick, 3 ½ tons of gypsum, shipped to Chicago. But rather than rush into print, editor Gue dispatched reporters to Chicago, to hunt down the sculpture of the giant, and to New York state, to hunt for George Hull's fingerprints.
Meanwhile, over its six week stay in Syracuse, the giant maintained an average of 10,000 visitors a week, at a dollar each. The curious ranged from day laborers to miners, politicians, secretaries, and even Professor O.C. Marsh. The latter – joined by 24 year old Fillmore Smith, a mining engineer - had the audacity to put in print that gypsum was soluble in water, which meant the smooth features of the giant could not have laid in the damp ground behind Mr. Newell's barn for hundreds or thousands of years without dissolving. Marsh labeled the giant “A most decided humbug”.
Our old friend, Andrew White (above), who would one day help found Cornell University, had touched on a more prosaic reason not to believe in the giant. Back in October, he had pointed out, “there was no reason why the farmer should dig a well in the spot where the figure was was convenient neither to the house nor to the barn”  He called the giant “undoubtedly a hoax”. So why was anyone still believing in it?
In fact there was not one Cardiff Giant, there were many. In post revolutionary America, up state New York was the birth place of new religions and the revival of the Great Awakening for many others: the astounding Joseph Smith and his bookish Mormonism, the precipitate diurnal Seventh Day Adventists, the passionate celibacy of the Shakers, the faux spiritualism of the three Fox Sisters, the postponed second coming of the Millerites, and the coitus interrupters of the Oneida post renaissance utopians. These Christian sects had Genesis, 6:4 on their side, “There were giants in the earth in those days...”
To the religious the Cardiff Giant was a fossil, a petrified man, a physical validation of faith. The passionate poet Ralph Waldo Emerson called it “a bona fide petrified human being..” Another preacher explained, “This is not a thing contrived of man, but is the face of one who lived on the earth, the very image and child of God.”
A Yale Divinity student, Mr. Alexander McWhorter, viewed the giant in Syracuse and believed he was obviously a statue. As proof, he found several lines of Phonetician carved into his thigh. Luckily, Mr. McWhorter could read ancient Phonetician, and translate the tale of ancient sailors blown to a distant shore (and 400 miles inland) who had carved the giant to memorialize their survival. Nobody else who could read Phonetician could find any on the giant. But lots of people who could not, were willing to believe the ancient language was there.
At a gathering of “experts” in Syracuse, judged by an audience who paid $10 apiece to witness the debate, the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes drilled into the giant's head (behind the ear, so as not to disturb the esthetics) and found nothing but solid stone. The giant, said Holmes, was a statue, but “of great antiquity.” Holmes was followed on the platform by Eramus Dow Palmer, a sculpture. He declared the giant was indeed a statue, but a really bad one, done by a recent amateur. Before Palmer could finish his artistic destruction of the giant, Cyrus Cobb, a competitor of Mr. Palmer's, leap onto the platform and announced “Any man who calls this a humbug brands himself a fool!”  The lecture hall dissolved into shouts and accusations, and one man began beating the living daylights out of the art critic, Palmer.
Once the assailant was arrested, and the hall cleared, a reporter cornered farmer “Stub” Newell, and asked what it all meant. Was the giant a petrified man, an ancient statue, or a cheat?   Newell shrugged and explained, “You pays your money and you takes your chance. They got to see my giant. They got to hear four geniuses at two dollars and fifty cents per genius, and also saw a good fight. That seems like a fair value to me.”

To the Syracuse syndicate – horse trader Hannen, Dr. Westcott, et al -  the melee was delightful news. After tripling their investment, they were ready to take the giant on the road.
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