JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Friday, September 12, 2008


I would call it a “character flaw arch”: not in him but in us. In his beginnings the life of Charles Edward Coughlin was marked with omens and portents. In the end it was marked by farce and melodrama. And that may not have been entirely his fault. I suspect it was also and mostly ours. As for his own part, Charles Coughlin wanted to be a politician. Instead his mother pressured him to put on the collar and in 1916 Charles was ordained. Assigned as a teacher at Assumption College, in Sandwich, Ontario, on Sundays he crossed the border to preach at churches in Detroit.It was in Detroit that Charles used his God given talents for making political connections. His sermons impressed the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, who made certain the young man met the right people – rich and important people - like City Councilman John Lodge, and his niece, Evangeline Lindberg, and auto maker Henry Ford. In 1923 Bishop Gallagher offered the rising star his own parish, a new suburban church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower”, in Royal Oak. Initially there were only 25 members of the congregation, and Father Coughlin’s mother had to sell trinkets in the gift shop. Faced with empty coffers and pews, Father Coughlin used his connections with Mrs. Lindberg and her son, the flyer Charles Lindberg, to convince the management of radio station WJR to provide him with a free hour on Sunday afternoons. His first broadcast, on October 3, 1926 produced only eight letters in response. But it was a beginning.It is interesting to note in retrospect the commonality of the message supported by all those powerful and wealthy names from Detroit; religious certainty, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, and an affinity for fascism. Certainly all these threads came together in Father Coughlin, but clearly they were aleady present in much of upper class and Catholic Detroit in the 1920’s.By 1930 Father Coughlin’s audience numbered over 40 million and it was said you could listen to “The Fighting Priest” and his entire “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” through open windows as you walked down any residential street in America on a Sunday afternoon. Father Coughlin preached a practical Christianity with “…a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm,…A voice made for lies.” His magazine had 30 million readers. And the subscriptions that poured in built a magnificent octagonal religious edifice on Twelve Mile Road and Woodward, in Royal Oak, and paid for his network of broadcast stations.Coughlin blamed communism for the rising divorce rate and called for old age insurance for American workers, what would eventually become Social Security. He supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election (“Roosevelt or Ruin”), but by 1935 Coughlin was calling him “The great betrayer and liar…Franklyn Double-Crossing Roosevelt”. Coughlin renamed the “The New Deal” the “Jew Deal” and sent demonstrators into the streets to block the acceptance of any more Jews escaping Nazi persecution (and execution). He justified his anti-Semitism by claiming “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted” and promised, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” Some of the "art" from Father Coughlin's magazine is below. He preached the same strain of ugly hatred that underlay Henry Ford’s American publication of the Czarists fraud the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion”, and Charles’ Lindberg’s “America First” committee. It is also clear in retrospect that Father Coughlin was not above enlightened self interest. After Roosevelt took America off the Gold Standard, Coughlin campaigned strongly for substitution of the Silver Standard. Few knew at the time that Father Coughlin was one of the largest holders of silver in the country. But what really destroyed Father Coughlin was his support for “The Christian Front”.Coughlin’s association to "The Front" was not merely philosophical. He spoke at Front rallies, and allowed his name and image on Front advertising. Then in January of 1940 the F.B.I. swept into the Front's Brooklyn offices, arresting nine men and seizing 15 bombs, 18 cans of cordite, dynamite, fuses, incendiary chemicals, 16 rifles, 750 rounds of machine gun ammo and “one long sword”. At a press conference Director J. Edgar Hoover announced that "The Front" was plotting to blow up a Jewish newspaper, a movie theatre showing Russian films, a Post Office, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and thus spark a revolution (Oh, and they also wanted to assassinate President Roosevelt). The trial of "The Christian Front" conspirators was no easier than the conspiracy trials of the 21st century. The defendants were largely acquitted. But with the revolations and the debate, much of the public support for Coughlin evaporated.Lord knows, the Catholic church had long wanted The Fighting Priest to shut up. And with the coming of the war the U.S. government no longer felt the need to handle Father Coughlin with care. First his radio network was squeezed under new fairness rules, and then the Post Office deemed his magazines as anti-American. More "art" from it is presented above. And when Bishop Michael Gallagher, the primary support for Coughlin's attacks, finally died in 1942, the new Bishop of Detroit, Frances Mooney, immediatly ordered Coughlin to stop his public crusades. With the discovery of Hitler’s death camps in 1945, Coughlin's brand of virilent anti-Semitism was also finished as a mass movement in America, at least for a time. Thus the curtain finally fell on the career of the first priest who wanted to be a mass media star. This bitter, hate spewing little man died in well deserved obscurity in 1979.But for about ten years America seemed willing to go along with anything the “Fighting Priest” had to say. And the American electorate’s eventual rejection of “The Father of Hate Radio” may not have had as much to do with common sense or a sense of basic decency, as it did with the public's shallow, fickle changing tastes, and their fascination with the latest fad. When Father Coughlin was no longer a "curiosity" or "a fresh face" he no longer had as much power. It is an enduring truth about both politics and religion, and twice as true, twice as fast when the two are combined: today’s hotest fad, is usually the first to fade. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
You can see a little hope in that, if you wish to. It’s up to you.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


I would describe 1775 as a year of significant events; Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill; and then there was the hurricane. One random afternoon that summer, over the bone dry high pressure incubator that is the 3 ½ million square miles of the Sahara Desert, where the summertime temperature can reach 135 F (57.7 C), a monster was conceived.

But the Sahara alone, for all its hot breath, cannot produce a monster: it also requires a midwife, the Sahel, an Arabic word meaning “shoreline”, where the sands of the great desert meet the shrub and flat savanna. Every April to September, at about 16 degrees north latitude, (the Intra-Tropical Convergence Zone) the hot Easterly Jet off the Sahara meets the rainy season humidity over the Sahel, and waves of thunderstorms burst forth from thin air, one after another, with a new wave forming every three to four days.

Most of the storms that form over the great Niger River Bend, over Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote Diviore, fade and are forgotten like drops of water in a dry riverbed. But some cumulus towers collide with the cold air above 42,000 feet, forming anvil topped thunderheads. The anvils form because as the air rises the temperature and its ability to hold moisture drops. The flat lid marks the boundary between the humid troposphere and the arid stratosphere. And eventually this squall line of angry air passed yet another Sahal, this one the border between Africa and the tropical Atlantic Ocean.Some 300 miles to the west, what was then a Tropical Depression sailed passed the Cape Verde Islands like a stately fleet of wooden ships of the line. And now it was persistence that chose which storm would earn fame, as over time the friction between the troposphere below and the jet stream above would convert the vertical heat engine of the thunderstorms into a horizontal sweep, gathering the squals and driving them in a counter-clock spin. Sometime in mid August of 1775, as this storm set sail for the new world, it became a nameless Tropical Storm in the open sea.When Christopher Columbus first invaded the Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century he found people across the region who revered a capricious god of storms known as “Hunrakan”, “Hurakan”, or “Aracan”. Having barely heard of the Sahara or the Sahel, the residents of the Windward Isles of Martinique and Dominica, could not have imagined the source of the violence that assaulted them almost without warning on Friday, August 25, 1775. A report from St. Croix described how ships at anchor desperately slipped their cables, seeking the relative safety of the open sea. It was as likely as not that such gambles resulted in an enigmatic death. Fifty years later the British Admiralty would estimate that each year 5% of all ships in the Caribbean were lost to such storms, taking as many as a thousand sailors to watery graves.One such sailor, Captain John Tollemache of HMS Scorpion, fought this particular storm of 1775 as he crossed down the coast from British occupied Boston to Bermuda. A week later, on Saturday, September 2nd, the storm brushed across the outer banks of North Carolina, causing extensive property damage, taking 163 lives in the port of New Bern and destroying the corn crops of Parasquotank County. The Williamsburg, “Virginia Gazette” mourned that, “…most of the mill dams are broke, and corn laid almost level with the ground…many ships…drove ashore and damaged at Norfolk, Hampton and York”. The Britsh warship H.M.S. Mercury was forced from her blockade of Norfolk, “…and driven aground in shoal water.” Patriots picked her bones and liberated her cargo, a gift of the gale.With its center still off shore this unnamed hurricane swept up Chesapeake Bay. Philadelphia, under a heavy constant rain at 8am on the morning of September 3rd, saw the wind from the Southeast and a pressure drop to 29.5 inches of mercury. By three that afternoon the wind had shifted to the Southwest, and records speak of the “highest tide ever known.” At Newport, Rhode Island, the wind shifted from the Northeast to Southeast between 10am and 2:30pm. As September 3rd ended and the 4th began, the storm turned northwestward, and headed out to sea. There was only one landmass in the new world remaining between the hurricane and its ultimate fate over the cold waters of the Labrador Current; Newfoundland.There were thousands of fishermen on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. September was the peak season for the long finned squid (Logilo pealiei), used as bait for Cod fishing, and fishermen from all around the Atlantic basin came here every fall to take a share of the bounty. But this season the squid had made no appearance until late in the afternoon Saturday, September 9, when they suddenly descended on the jigging hooks in an ominous blizzard. The squid were even attacking each other while writhing on the hooks. What was driving these cephalopods to such as frenzy? As the fishermen happily pulled in their abundance they noticed that the dieing sun was blazing in an odd orange tint, and that the wind was freshening and gathering. As darkness enveloped the fishing fleets the more cautious captains made for Salvage Point or Ochre Pit Cove. But none of these anchorages were protected enough.That night the sea and the air conspired to murder men and their works. Ships which had thought they were safe were battered into rocky shores. In Northern Bay cove three hundred sailors and fishermen drowned by morning, their bleached and bloated bodies strewn across the rocks like beached dolphins. They now lie in a mass grave in the Provincial Park. Human bones would continue to wash ashore on this beach for years to come. At Harbor Grace, 30 miles to the south, 300 boats and all their crews were lost while at anchor.

In Placentia, dawn found the most substantial community in Newfoundland at the time, with almost 2,000 souls, awash in a six foot storm surge. Those who survived did so by climbing into the rafters of their attics. A fishing schooner was thrown up on the beach overnight. The only surviving crew member was a boy, lashed to the wheel. Off the Avalon Peninsula two navy schooners were sunk and dozens of fishing ships demasted and left adrift.

At St. Johns, on the west coast, the storm surge was 30 feet, and seven hundred boats, large and small in the narrow harbor were submerged and smashed to bits against each other and the rocks. Fishermen from St; Johns, pulling in their nets on Tuesday, the 12th of September, found between 20 and 30 bodies tangled in them.After it was all over a review of the losses listed by Lloyds would produce the startling figure of 4,000 dead, mostly Irish and English, in the fishing fleets off Newfoundland. Rear Admiral Robert Duff, Governor of Newfoundland, attempted to detail the disaster for his superiors back in London; “I am sorry to inform your Lordship that…the fishing works in those places…were in a great measure defaced…I cannot give your Lordship a very correct estimate of the damages sustained by this storm; but (you) should image…that the amount of it in shipping, boats, fishing works etc. cannot be less than thirty thousand pounds…” (about $2 million in 2007).

There was scarcely a house on Newfoundland with an intact roof or chimney, even if they had not been flooded out. The hurricane of September 1775 remains Canada’s deadliest natural disaster. For decades afterward the survivors on Conception Bay could still hear the desperate cries of the lost souls in the cold surf.

As for the storm itself, conceived over the Sahara and born of the warm equatorial waters, it could not simply die. Once over the colder currents of the North Atlantic the storm converted from a warm core to a cold one, drawing a diminished power not merely from air pressure variations but also from temperature divisions, becoming just another in the unending string of common “baroclinic” cyclones that march across Europe. But I like to think that this was the particular storm that passed over Carrickfergus castle, outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1775, which brought with it such violent and continuous lightening and thunder that it was said the Scotch and Irish fairies were doing battle in the heavens above. That would be a significant enough ending for a storm in such a significant year.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008


I am an admirer of the English philosopher Charles Chaplin. How could you not admire a man who could juggle while on roller skates, and who at the same time could observed that “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”. Keeping this philosophical approach in mind I would say that the life of Franz Edmund Creffeld began in an extreme long shot, in the far off kingdom of Germany in 1871. Franz trained for the priesthood but abandoned his mother country and Church in order to avoid military service. He immigrated to the United States, where, in 1899, he arrived in the little town of Corvallis, Oregon, in the uniform of an officer of the Salvation Army.
Corvallis was (and is) a farming community on the West bank of the Willamette River, about half way between Portland and Eugene. At the turn of the 20th century it was home to nine churches, an Odd Fellows Hall, a Freemasons Lodge and a small core of about 25 adherents to the relatively new Salvation Army. But by 1902 the 28 year old local commander, Lt. Creffeld, was beginning to find the doctrine and command structure of the Army to be too restrictive. By 1903 he had begun to seriously shift his preaching away from the dignified structured Victorian ideas of the Salvation Army to something with more of an American free spirit; his Salvation Army commanders described Creeffeld’s adherents as “Come-Outers” but they described themselves as “Holy Rollers”. Being so possessed by The Spirit as to writhe on the floor and babble in tongues had been a practice of the great William Booth, the Salvation Army’s founder, and the Army was one of the few social or religious organizations at the turn of the century in which woman could hold respected leadership positions. Creffeld built upon all of this. His congregation contained a majority of women. In the summer of 1903, in an act of extraordinary sexual independence for the time, the two dozen women built with their own hands a meeting house on Kiger Island, a 2200 acre wooded sanctuary between the Boonville Channel and the Willamette River, just south of Corvallis. That summer the sect was bursting with curious women and girls drawn to the power of Franz Creffeld and the forbidden hints of feminism. Come winter the revolution shifted back to town, into the home of prominent local businessman and convert, Mr. O.P. Hunt,, Mrs, Hunt and their young daughter Maude Hunt. Mr. Hunt hung a sign over his front door: “Positively No Admittance Except on God's Business”. The return to town brought increased scrutiny from the unconverted males of Corvallis, and they did not like what they observed. Even less did they like what they suspected. . Rumors made the rounds of naked rambles in the wilds of Kiger Island. And when the wooden walks around the Hunt home were torn up and burned, along with stacks of furniture and piles of kitchen utensils, all to cleanse the soul of as much physical property as possible, one of the local newspapers suggested “…a condition bordering on insanity”. His flock were encouraged to wear old clothes instead of new. Members were discouraged from having contact with family members who were not also followers. Indeed, Creffeld had begun referring to himself as a prophet. He announced that he as henceforth to be called “Joshua II” It was too much for a good Christian manhood of Corvallis to tolerate.On the night of January 4, 1904 a dozen or so self described “white cappers” (adorning themselves after the Klu Klux Klan’s white robes) set upon Franz Creffeld and dragged him to the edge of town. There they threatened Franz with tar and feathers. (I doubt they actually applied the treatment since the usual effect of hot tar on human flesh was serious burns, often eventually resulting in the victim’s death. No such injury was recorded on Creffeld.) More likely Franz was merely roughed up, frightened, stripped naked and then chased into the woods; where later Mrs. Hunt and Maude were able to find and secretly escort the prophet to their home. Shortly thereafter the town was appeased by news that “Joshua” and young Maude Hunt had been married. The sexual escapades of “Joshua”, real or imagined, would seemed to have been ended.Still it was clear that the locals had reached some sort of limit. A half dozen of his young female followers were committed to the “Boys and Girls Aid Society”, including O.P. Hunt’s son and his new bride, or were shipped off to relatives out of state. One or two women were even committed to the state lunatic asylum. A sullen quite catching of breath settled over the town that ended in April of 1904 when the Portland police issued an arrest warrant for Franz on a charge of adultery with a young adherent from that town, Esther Mitchel. In addition the aggrieved party, George Mitchel, the young ladies’ elder brother, even posted a $150 reward.Franz immediately disappeared, and was not seen again in Corvallis again until August when he was discovered, filthy, nude and starving, secreted beneath the Hunt household. Arrested and tried in Portland, Franz was found guilty and sentenced to two years in the state prison. And it was upon his arrival there that we get our first (and only) clear look at Franz Creffeld; five feet six inches tall, weight, 135 pounds. There is something mystical about his eyes, “hypnotic”, glaring defiantly, almost mockingly, into the camera. For the first time you can begin to get a feeling for the power of this man, and the power of his lunacy. Jail was not going to stop him. He was released, with time off for good behavior, in February of 1906. What he could not know at the time was that he had barely three months left to live. Franz Creffeld was ready for his close up.Out of jail, Franz immediately reconstituted his flock, especially the Hunt family, who sold their property in Corvallis and used the funds to purchase property near the small town of Waldport, where Alsea Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. The Hurt family had deep roots in Waldport, but even here the rather bizarre practices of Creffeld’s church caused friction, in particular when a young girl spied several female followers cavorting naked on the beach. Franz began to consider the advantages of moving to the more cosmopolitan Seattle.
It was in Seattle, on May 7, 1906, that Franz (Joshua II) Creffeld and Maude, out for a walk, paused in front of Quick’s drugstore on First Street. There George Mitchell, convinced his sister Esther had been and was still being violated by the prophet, shot Franz in the back of the head. The prophet died instantly. His killer was tried in Seattle, and skillfully put the victim’s past behavior on trial. On July 10th the jury began to deliberate. They were out for just an hour and a half before returning a verdict of “not guilty”. After celebrating for three days, George Mitchell was preparing for reconciliation meeting with his sister at the Seattle train station, when he was gunned down - by Esther. She told the first police to arrive, “Of course I killed George. He killed Joshua the Prophet, didn’t he? What else was there for us to do?” The Seattle Police Chief, Charles Wappenstein, complained, “I wish these Oregon people would kill each other on their own side of the river.” Esther’s use of the word “us” right after the shooting probably contributed to both her and Maude being arrested and charged with George’s murder. Maude had bought the gun and Esther had used it. While awaiting trial Maude took strychnine. Her father, O.V. Hurt, arrainged to have Franz’s body reburied next to Maude’s. And Esther Mitchell survived an attack of typhoid fever contracted in the Seattle jail. At trial she was judged to be insane and for three years she survived in the Washington State Asylum at Steilacoom. She was released on April 5, 1909, “thoroughly disgusted with herself” according to the hospital staff. O.V. Hurt collected the girl and took her with him back to Waldport. There Esther managed to find some peace, and in 1914 at the age of 26 she married. But three months later she too drank strychnine, just like Maude. It was time for the final fade to black. P.S.: on March 26, 1997, outside of San Diego, California, some 40 members of the religious group “Heaven’s Gate”, committed suicide. About twenty of those unfortunates were decedents of the Franz Creffeld’s movement, who had been recruited from Waldport in September of 1975.P.P.S.; Tom Stoppard, another Englishman, observed, “The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means”.

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