APRIL 2015

APRIL  2015
NOTHING EVER CHANGES IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, April 24, 2015

GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT

I want to tell you something about fame and fortune. They beat the heck out of obscurity and poverty. As proof I give you the life of the “fearless frogman”, Paul Boyton, the Victorian era’s Esther Williams and a newspaper editor’s dream. He lived on adrenaline and publicity. One commentator described him as having a  “…gift for gab, lust for life, and the pluck to take great calculated risks.” And his life reads like a comic book adventure hero.
During the American Civil War Paul joined the U.S. Navy. He was just 15. Then he formed a life saving service on the New Jersey coast, and pulled 71 swimmers back from the brink of death. Fifty years before the first swimmer made it, Paul paddled across the English Channel while floating in an inflatable rubber survival suit. He met Queen Victoria and floated down most of the rivers of Europe. The Italians labeled him “L’uomo pesce” – the fish man. The government of Chile charged him with espionage. He wrote two autobiographies. He was a star in P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus. His image was used to sell cigars, calendars, music and playing cards – so many items that a new word had to be invented to describe his popularity; “Boyton-mania”. For some thirty years the “Captain”, as his friends called him, was the most famous man in the world. And ultimately, like all the other great forces of nature, Paul Boyton came to Coney Island.
In 1895, when Paul Boyton stepped off the train from Chicago, his sly but unapologetic mustache was still brown. But at 48, he was getting too old to risk his life four times a day for ten cents a ticket. But Paul had arrived in Coney Island with a new idea, something he had developed at the Chicago Colombian Exposition, in 1893. It was to be called an “Amusement Park”.
It is human nature to be attracted to novelty. And after the Civil War, as the population of New York City approached 3 ½ million, the occupants began to look for a way to escape, at least for a few hours.
Steam powered rail lines spread out from the city, carrying the wealthy to summer mansions and genteel racing tracks on the Long Island sea shore.
Luxury hotels sprang up in Brighton and Manhattan Beaches to house their middle class pretenders. The imitative working masses followed, and were transported at 35 cents a head by excursion boats from the Manhattan docks or the newly electrified rail lines from Brooklyn, (or “Breukelen” in the original Dutch).
In the spring of 1884, James Lafferty spent $65,000 to build a hotel on the empty stretch of sand known as Coney Island, just across Surf Avenue from the boat pier and the railroad terminals. When finished, four months later, the wooden and tin inn stood seven stories tall and was constructed in the shape of an elephant.
To enter you climbed a stairwell in a rear leg to reach the reception desk in the abdomen. Visitors could get an elevated elephant’s eye-view of the ocean for a penny. For the price of a full night's stay, a guest could sleep in the Shoulder Room, the Throat Room, the Stomach Room, or any of the other 27 bedrooms. The unusual structure quickly became an icon on Coney Island, a landmark, and people traveled all the way from Manhattan to be able to say they had “gone to see the elephant”.
But financially the hotel was a disaster. Within a few years Lafferty was forced to sell his poisonous white pachyderm of a public house to a Philadelphia syndicate. And the new owners were willing to switch to a more iconic business model.
The Elephant Hotel was converted into a bordello. And “going to see the elephant” acquired an entirely new iconic meaning. Still, it was a long train ride when you could “see the beast” a lot closer to home and save the 35 cents. So by the time the Captain arrived, although the Elephant hotel was still open, it was on its last legs.
Paul Boyton was attracted by the 16 cheap acres directly behind the failing hotel (the above photo was taken from the Elephant's hinie). There Paul  erected the greatest innovation so far in entertainment history; a fence - with a ticket booth at one end. By selling general admission tickets to his “Sea Lion Park”, which opened on Thursday, July fourth, 1895, Boyton kept his customers captive so he could sell them food and drink all day long, pulling in around $1,000 a day during the 90 day long season. And curiosity about the elephant behind the fence kept the customers lined up at the ticket booth.
Several times a day Boyton himself would appear to demonstrate his rubber suit, and to feed four dozen hungry sea lions in the park’s central lagoon. The performance was described by the Lubin film studios, who were selling a 30 second Kinetoscope of the show to nickelodeon operators, as “a decided novelty”. Once the pinnipeds were sated, the “Shoot-the-Chutes” took over the lagoon.
Designed originally by Thomas Polk, for Boyton’s Chicago exhibition, it was a short but exciting ride. A flat bottomed boat was released at the top of a long ramp. Near the bottom, the ramp curved upward. This sent the boat and its passengers skipping across the lagoon. When the boat slowed, the on board operator would then pole the boat to the landing. The passengers would be unloaded, before a cable pulled the boat back to the top of the ramp for the next joy ride.
*
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXqeLGnP6wY
*
In addition, inside the fence Boyton had the “Flip Flap Railroad”. This was a two seat two car roller coaster, and the first in the world to feature a complete 360 degree 25 foot tall loop. It was also the first to explore the physics of inverted amusements. Unfortunately the loop contained a minor design flaw. It was perfectly circular. And it turns out that this perfection delivered 12 g’s to the passenger’s necks, equal to the maximum endured by the astronauts during a space launch. The unprepared customers, sitting upright, suffered whiplash, blackouts, headaches, nausea, tunnel vision, and loss of balance for hours afterward, not the mention the joy of losing your lunch at thirty-five miles an hour while upside down. People paid just to watch the more adventuresome ride through the loop of the “Flip Flap”, but because of injuries the amusement did not last into the Park’s second season.
That year, to replace the nausea loop, Boyton added a mill ride and cages of live wolves. But at the end of that second season the park lost its landmark. On the Sunday night of September 27, 1896, the abandoned Elephant Hotel burned to the sand. Three years later, Boyton bought the property and replaced the elephant with a large ballroom. But he simply could not afford to add new rides year after year. And that was required to keep the curiosity level high enough to bring repeat customers behind the fence.
The breaking point for Paul arrived in 1902. That summer saw 70 days of cold rain out of a season just 92 days long. Business at Sea Lion Park that horrible summer has been described as "macabre". Over the winter Boyton was easily convinced to lease the park for 25 years to competitors, Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy.
They renamed the 16 acres “Luna Park”, built palaces and lit the place with electric lights (still a novelty to most people, even in New York City). And then Paul Boyton had retired from the limelight.
But his idea was developed by others, and soon Coney Island became crowded with amusement parks, fence touching fence, each competing with its neighbors for the customer’s nickels and dimes. Albert Bigalow Paine described Coney Island as where “the cup of gaiety and diversion overflows.” Thousands still went to the beach to frolic in the surf for free. But the high roller coasters, the parachute rides, the Ferris wheels and the joyful screams of patrons were a constant temptation for those masses to spend the quarter and go to “see the elephant” behind the fence.
Having spent half his life on such a quest, Paul Boyton was no longer curious enough to look. He bought a small home in Brooklyn and died in relative obscurity in 1924. He was 77 years of age. By then his invention had been passed on to future generations, who continued to build fences around elephants. You, see in the entertainment industry, the profit is all in the fence.
- 30 -

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

AIR HEADS Part Five

I had to do some work to locate the starting point for Bob Fowler’s second attempt at a transcontinental flight. For one thing it has been buried under concrete and asphalt for a century. For another, some histories have mis-labeled it as “Wiltshire Field”, but that seems to have been a "spell check mis-correction" of the name "Henry Gaylord Wilshire". If you are familiar with Los Angeles at all you recognize that name. In 1895 Gaylord bought 35 acres around what would one day become MacArthur Park. Gaylord then humbly allowed the city of Los Angeles (above) to build a road right through the center of his property, on the twin conditions that they not lay down any street car tracks, and that they name it after him. Then he promptly packed up and moved back to New York. He left his name no where else in Los Angles.
Wilshire Boulevard’s beginnings were very humble indeed, bisecting mostly beet fields. In 1910 that made the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax Avenue an ideal location for an airfield, close to the budding metropolis of Los Angeles (above) - 320,000 citizens already - but open enough to allow pilots to crash regularly without killing the neighbors, because there weren’t any, except for a few deceased Dire Wolves stuck in the tar of the nearby La Brea Tar Pits (below), just down the street. (BTW: "la brea" means tar in Spanish - so the "La Brea tar pits" translates as 'the tar - tar pits').
There should be a plaque in the sidewalk or something at the corner of Fairfax and Whilshire, because not only did Bob Fowler re-start his transcontinental flight from here on 19 October, 1911, but it is also where, in 1921, Amelia Earhart took her first flight lesson, in a Curtiss Jenny. In fact, lots of aviation history  happened at that corner.
Movie maker C.B. DeMille (below) , in town to direct the first blockbuster “Squaw Man”, operated an airline out of there for a year or so (Mercury Aviation- above), until his airline went bankrupt. 
Then in March 1921 the air field was bought by pilot Emory Roger and his wife, and was renamed “Rogers’ Field”. Emory then started up “Pacific Marine Airways”, in partnership with Sid Chaplin, brother to Charlie Chaplin. They flew Hollywood vacationers to and from Catalina Island,  and sold Curtiss airplanes out of a showroom on the field - at least they did until Emory died in a plane crash in November of 1921. Then Emory’s widow ran the field until 1923,  when she sold out to developers, and the airfield disappeared. That is what happens to everything historic in Los Angeles, sooner or later.
But that was all in the future in 1911. On 19 October, 1911 Wilshire Field was just an open space out at the end of Wilshire.
Late on that October afternoon Bob Fowler, at the controls of his new Wright B Flyer, renamed the "Cole Flyer", lifted off and headed east. He made only 9 miles that first day, landing in Pasadena. But the important thing was that he was back in the race.
Bob’s financial backer, Reed Grundy, had always wanted him to start the race from Los Angeles because the mountains Bob had to cross here were so much lower that the Sierra east of San Francisco, and because the Los Angeles Board of Reality was coughing up a $10,000 bonus if Bob Fowler started from L.A. - okay, Grundy mostly liked L.A. because of the bonus.
In fact, early the next morning, on 20 October, as Fowler was preparing to take off from Pasadena, he was called to the phone. It was Grundy. He  had just been offered another paycheck if Bob made an appearance down Fairfax Avenue from Whilsire Field at the L.A. Motordrome with Barney Oldfield and other big name racer car drivers. But Bob put his foot down and said he’d rather give up flying all together than start this trip a third time. Grundy got the message and Bob flew on to Riverside, California, probably spitting and cursing all the way about what a jackass his manager was. I’m sure NASCAR drivers feel the same way about their sponsors, once in awhile.
In two days of flying Bob Fowler had covered only 69 miles. And the next day, 21 October,  1911, went even slower, because he was approaching the San Gorgonio Pass (above). The pass is only at 2,600 feet altitude, but it runs 22 miles long between the 9,000 foot tall Mt. San Gorgonio and the 11,000 foot tall Mt. San Jacinto, making it one of the deepest passes in the United States. For a cloth and wood airplane flying at between 2 and 400 feet above the ground, passing between the towering mastiffs meant dangerous cross winds. The Cole Flyer struggled to make progress, and Bob gritted his teeth and kept going.
Just as the 14,505 foot tall Mount Whitney stands just 76 miles west of Badwater, Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level, Mount San Jacinto stands less than 100 miles west of the Salton Sink, at 220 feet below sea level (far upper right in the above photo). The line from the Gulf of California, through the Salton Sea, Death Valley (and north to Mono Lake) is the hing along which California is being twisted, torn apart, bent and ripped  between the San Andreas Fault and a newly forming rift valley which, eventually, will fill as a new arm of the Pacific Ocean. Someday, in fourteen or fifteen million years, this is going to be the new west coast.
But having finally left this geological drama behind him, Bob Fowler was now over flat lands and flying in cool winter temperatures across the Arizona desert. On 25 October he landed in Yuma, Arizona (above). Finally, after almost sixty days of starting and stopping and starting and crashing, Bob Fowler had escaped California.
Two hundred miles later, following the Southern Pacific Railroad line, Bob landed at Tuscon, Arizona. And there had a brief encounter with a fellow traveler, the only other man on God’s green earth who truly understood what he was going through; Cal Rogers. They were together barely long enough to shake hands, and nobody had time to produce a camera. And then they separated without so much as a back slap or a pause to compare notes: so much for the brotherhood of the air. After all, there was a race on.
- 30 -

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A FORGONE CONCLUSION

I think Thomas Gage (above)  should have called the whole thing off, once the secret was out. And Lord knows it was out almost before General Gage ordered it be kept secret. Maybe the leak was his New Jersey born wife, and maybe it was the government's opponents back in London, and maybe it was just impossible to keep any secrets in a city of 6,700 civilians, occupied by 6,000 soldiers and sailors and their dependents. And maybe the truth is, Britain had already lost the war for American independence before the first shot was fired on 19 April, 1775.
Seven months earlier, on 1 September 1774, General Gage had sent 260 lobster backs 3 miles up the Mystic River to Winter Hill, where they seized the largest supply of gunpowder in the colonies (above). The audacity of Gage's preemptive strike had infuriated thousands of colonists who gathered in Cambridge with their weapons. It was weeks before things calmed down. Since then, Gage had canceled a number of similar expeditions, and pulled all his men back into Boston, abandoning the countryside except for occasional reconnaissance missions. He had warned his London bosses, “if you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty; if one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end.” What he got, in late February, were orders to get on with disarming the colonists.
Gage's plan was to send out a lightning strike to capture another large supply of powder he'd heard about, 30 miles to the northwest, in Concord. It was a full day's march to get there, giving colonists time to resist, but the expedition could succeed if security was tight and if the rebels were slow to react. So first, Gage wanted to arrest the colonial leaders. He would release them after the powder was safely in Boston, to give him someone to negotiate with. But on Saturday, 8 April, 1775, the two highest value leaders of the Committee of Safety still in Boston, smuggler John Hancock and his cousin, lawyer John Adams, slipped out of the city. Gage heard they had fled to Lexington, 25 miles out the Concord road. Hancock had been born in Lexington, and still owned his family's house there, which was currently occupied by his cousin Lucy and her husband, Jonas Clarke, who was the village pastor. So the first round went to the colonists
The following Monday, 10 April, Gage informed his senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel “Fat Francis” Smith (above), of his plan. Smith suggested a personal reconnaissance, and Gage agreed. So disguised as common travelers 42 year old Colonel Smith and 22 year old Sargent John Howe, who had made a previous reconnaissance, rowed across the Charles River to Cambridge, and started west on foot. After only six miles they stopped at a tavern for breakfast and information. But when Smith claimed to be looking for work, a black servant girl identified Smith by name, and told him he would find plenty of work up the road. Smith retreated back to Boston, but Sergeant Howe continued on. He returned on Wednesday, 12 April, telling Gage the country was so alert it would take 10,000 men to reach Concord and capture the powder and arms the Sargent now confirmed were in Concord.
Three days later, on Saturday 15 April, several companies of grenadiers and light infantry were relieved of their regular duties so they could resole their shoes, change out their canteens, mend their uniforms, and have their muskets serviced. About noon, Royal Navy row boats were seen being gathered in the harbor. At the Green Dragon Tavern on Union Street, one of the rebel leaders remaining in Boston, silversmith Paul Revere, kept the Committee of Safety fully informed of all these preparations..
At nine in the morning, Tuesday, 18 April, patriots in Concord moved their cannon and powder out of town. They already knew the British were coming, and that they were coming soon. About noon John Ballard, a stable boy on Milk Street, reported that a British officer had said there “would be hell to pay, tomorrow”. About two that afternoon, British sailors sent ashore to purchase stores, were heard talking of preparations to row infantry across the Charles River to Cambridge after dark. Doctor Joseph Warren was told by a British officer patient that Hancock and Adams were the intended targets of the movement. 
Around seven that night twenty mounted British officers and sergeants, under the command of Major Edward Mitchell, rode out of Boston, across the Roxbury neck, and headed north. Their mission was to intercept any warning coming from Boston, and to confirm the location of Hancock and Adams. The timing was telling, since most mounted patrols left after dawn and returned by dark. Just an hour later, in Lexington, militia posted a guard at the the Reverend Clarke's house, to protect Adams and Hancock.
About ten that night, under an almost full moon, 700 infantry were formed up in their encampment on the Boston Common, and then marched to the edge of the Back Bay. Boats rowed them across to the Cambridge farm of David Phipps, sheriff for Middlesex County.. The soldiers had to wade ashore through knee high water. Then, Lieutenant John Baker noted “we were halted in a dirty road and stood...waiting for provisions to be brought from the boats...” As the British infantry were stalled on the Concord road, Paul Revere was rowed across Boston Harbor to Charlestown (above), where he had stabled a horse. At about the same time tanner William Dawes managed to slip out of Boston via the Roxbury neck.
About 30 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, 19 April 1775, Paul Revere arrived at Reverend Clarke's house in Lexington. When the guards told him he was making too much noise, the volatile Revere yelled “Noise?! You'll have enough noise before long. The Regulars are out!” At that moment window shutters flew open and a very awake John Hancock invited Revere inside. Within the hour, Revere, joined by William Dawes, and local doctor, 34 year old Samuel Prescott, rode out together to spread the alarm to Concord and beyond. Just north of Lexington the three rebel riders ran into a detachment of Major Mitchell's scouts. Dawes and Revere were captured, but Prescott managed to jump his horse over a roadside fence and escape, taking the alert to Concord. Questioned, Revere told the British there were 500 armed men waiting for them on Lexington Green.

Meanwhile, back on the Phipps farm in the dark, Col. Smith's frustration was growing. It had taken the better part of an hour to get the march restarted, so Smith ordered 53 year old Major John Pitcairn to take the lead with 300 light infantry and marines, and force march until he had seized the bridges north of Concord. Smith would follow with 400 Grenadiers. By the time Pitcairn started it was after after two in the morning. There were only about 2 hours of darkness left. Musket shots and bell alarms were ringing all along the Concord road. Col. Smith sent a messenger back to Boston, requesting reinforcements be dispatched.
In Lexington, about 80 militiamen answered the alarm bell, reporting to 45 year old militia Captain John Parker, a veteran of the famous Roger's Rangers. Parker sent scouts down the road to Cambridge, then, as militiaman Ebenerer Monoe, recalled, “The weather being rather chilly, after calling the roll, we were dismissed, but ordered to remain within call of the drum. The men generally went into (Buckman's) tavern adjoining the common.” (above)  There, most fell asleep in chairs.
The sky had begun to lighten at about 4:15 that Wednesday morning when young Thaddeus Bowman galloped up to the tavern (above). He had been trapped behind Pitcairn's rapid advance, three miles down the road at “Foot of the Rocks.” opposite Pierce's Hill, but had managed to pass the British regulars by crossing fields. Bowman told Parker the regulars were just minutes out of Lexington, and Parker ordered his drummer, William Diman, to sound the “long roll” call to arms. 
 Some 70 militiamen formed a line across the northwest corner of Lexington Green, with Bowman the last man on the right. It is claimed later that Parker told his men, “Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” But because he suffered from tuberculosis, Parker's voice was raspy and thin, and few of the militia would have been able to hear Parker, if he said it.
In a soft half light, with a crisp chill in the air, it was approaching five in the morning. The sun has not yet risen over the horizon. But Pitcairn can see militia moving parallel to his march, and periodically even see muskets being fired to track his movements. In the past Major Pitcairn has said, “I have so despicable an opinion of the people of this country...I am satisfied they will never attack Regular troops.” But he now halted his men and ordered them to load their weapons and then fix bayonets. As Pitcairn dropped back to check the rear units of his command, forty year old Irishman Lieutenant Jesse Adair, ordered the 100 men in his command to “double step march” into Lexington.
Lexington Green is a triangle formed by the junction of the west trending Boston and Concord road, and the north trending Bedford road. At the apex of the triangle, where the Bedford Road meets the main road, and on the green, stands the village meeting house. The line of Captain Parker's 70 militiamen were anchored on the Bedford Road, about 75 feet from the northwest base of the triangle. This put them well off the Concord Road, so as not to threaten the British regulars marching to Concord. Parker means his little command as a statement of resolve, and nothing more. It makes the last part of Parker's supposed statement suspect at best.
But as Lt. Adair “quick marched” his command into Lexington the meeting house blocked his view of the militia. And he failed to follow the left curve of the Concord road, but angled to the right, up the Bedford road.  After a few yards the militia, almost equal in size to his own command, was suddenly revealed on his left flank. Startled, Lt. Adair ordered his men onto the green and into a “firing line”. As they did so the regulars let off a self confidence inducing cry of “”Huzzah!”, as they had been trained to do. It took, probably from first sight to the regular battle line, less than a minute.
Major Pitcairn was leading the next three regular companies in line, and guided them in quick step, correctly, angling to the left - west on the Concord road. But as he cleared the meeting house, Pitcairn suddenly saw the militia, and also Adair's company, spreading quickly out onto the green in a line 30 feet in front of the militia. It looked as if a battle was about to begin. Pitcairn ordered his column to halt, and galloped across the green directly toward the American militia. As he came up behind their line, the Major drew his sword and began shouting desperately,  “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels! Disperse! Lay down your arms!” 
Captain Parker, seeing his men outnumbered, and likewise not wanting to start a war, ordered his men to disperse. Few heard him, but those that did turned and begin walking away. But it was at this instant that somebody fired yet another musket, which set off first a hundred others, and then five thousand and then fifty thousand more, over 8 bloody years of war. It was the famous or infamous “Shot heard 'round the world”.
Of the approximately 200 muskets actually on the Green that morning, almost every loaded weapon was British. The regulars had far better discipline than the militia, but were exhausted, having not slept for 24 hours, and were strangers in a strange land. Everybody was on edge, frightened and caught in a rush of an unanticipated crises So, was the first shot intended to kill fired by a colonists or a British regular? In the end it does not really matter. Both sides had been playing with fire for a decade. It was inevitable a flint would spark a conflagration. And in the almost light before dawn on Wednesday, 19 April, 1775, Lexington Green was as good a place as any for that
It took, probably, from first sight to first shot less than 90 seconds. After that it was over, probably, in less than another minute. The regulars fired a ragged volley and then because they could not reload with bayonets on their muskets, charged the colonists. 
They stabbed at least two to death before Pitcairn had the drum beat to quarters, bringing Adair's company back into formation, and ending the melee. There were eight American – from this instant we can call them that - eight American dead. One British regular wounded, but by which side it is not clear. Major Pitcairn's horse was also wounded twice, but he was behind the American line, and those wounds were probably made by British lead.
Pitcairn had never intended on stopping in Lexington, and even now did not pause here for long. He had the entire command give a cheer and fire a volley into the air, but that was more to empty their weapons than anything else. In his mind the Major must have been feeling the weight of the reports he would have to write, and the endless second guessing by his superiors, as after the “Boston Massacare” five years before.But his orders were to seize the bridges north of Concord, so as quickly as he could, and without more than a perfunctory search for Hancock and Adams, who had fled before the shooting started, Pitcairn put his men back on the road, marching for Concord, now in the full light of the morning sun.
What Lexington made as clear as daylight was that America was too big to be controlled by any outside force. And by 1775, that is just what Britain was. What followed was 8 years of warfare, that killed 50,000 Americans and 25,000 Brits and their hired soldiers. But if he could have divorced himself from his obedience to orders, Thomas Gage knew Britain already lost her colonies, before the first Red Coat had crossed the Charles River in the early hours of 19 April, 1775.  So the American Revolution, was a foregone conclusion.
- 30 -

Blog Archive

NEWS ON THE MARCH!

Loading...

Amazon Deals