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Saturday, September 26, 2009

THE END OF THE WORLD

I believe the world came to an end on April 5, 1761. If you haven’t heard about it, well, your ancestors were just not paying attention. In a world where most still believed in the literal history of a real Adam and a real Eve, a certain William Bell, a trooper in the Life Guards, went about London, England telling anybody and everybody who would listen that doomsday was nigh. And thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people listened and believed him. And what is amazing is that Corporal Bell was right. The world did end on Sunday, April 5, 1761. But Mr. Bell was right for the wrong reasons. And reason made all the difference.February 8, 1761 dawned cold, as was to be expected in a world still in the grip of “The Little Ice Age”. Most winters the Thames froze over allowing people to cross the ice. And the great city was chocking on her own coal smoke to keep warm. This Sunday The “Picadilly Butchers”, as the members of the Life Guards Household Cavalry were called, were gathering for their parade, set then, as now, for 11:30 A.M. Then, from Greenwich below London on the south bank, to Richmond, on the upstream north shore, the entire Thames valley shuddered. In Hampstead and Highgate houses shook. Amongst the ship construction ways in Limehouse the chandler’s tools were vibrated off their frames. In the tiny village of Poplar across from the Isle of Dogs in the great bend of the Thames River, chimneys were shaken apart, their bricks crashing to the ground. In ‘The City’ itself pewter keepsakes slipped off mantles and chairs were upended. It was over in a few seconds. The dust settled. Nerves calmed. Normality returned.On Sunday, March 8, 1761, between five and six on in the morning, the Thames valley shuddered again. This time the shaking was stronger and lasted longer, roiling from north to south and back again.In St. James Park a section of an abandoned canal in the private gardens behind Buckingham House collapsed. In the churchs of London, words of reassurance offered after the first quake, now fell on deaf ears. Reason and logic were forgotten. All that people could think of was their fear. Panicked, the richest and poorest citizens of central London ran from their beds at the slightest suggestion of another quake, convinced their homes were about to collapse around their heads, as some already had. But the most well known collapse caused by the twin London earthquakes of 1761 was the collapse of sanity in the person of William Bel. He was one of the “Tinned Fruit”, a corporal in the Household Cavalry. And he became convinced that the shaking of February 8 (the first Sunday in the month) and March 8 (the first Sunday in that month), would be followed by a truly catastrophic shaker on the first Sunday in March - the fifth. Bell saw the earth split open. The mighty Thames River boiled and roiled. The bridges cracked and fell. The fires of damnation burst forth from the bowels of the earth. Sinners and Saints were cowed before the angels of the Lord. Spirits of the dead rose up. And the earth was laid bare, swept clean of the sins and works of man. Corporal Bell's visions became so intense and detailed, that he began to share them with any and all who would listen. He related them with such passion that Bell's visions took hold of the entire city like a fever. Charles Mackay’s excellent book, “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” (Harmony Books – 1843) records that, “…all the villages within a circuit of twenty miles …(were) crowded with panic-stricken fugitives, who paid exorbitant prices for accommodation to the housekeepers of these secure retreats. Such as could not afford to pay for lodgings at any of those places, remained in London until two or three days before the time, and then encamped in the surrounding fields…...and hundreds who had laughed at the prediction a week before, packed up their goods, when they saw others doing so, and hastened away. The river was thought to be a place of great security, and all the merchant-vessels in the port were filled with people, who passed the night between the 4th and 5th on board, expecting every instant to see St. Paul’s totter, and the towers of Westminster Abby rock in the wind and fall amid a cloud of dust.” One enterprising chemist even advertised pills which he claimed to be “good against earthquakes”, although exactly how the pills proposed to save the swallower, was never fully explained.Needless to say, the world did not end on Sunday March 5, 1761, at least not in the way Corporal Bell had anticipated. As Mackay recorded, “The greater part of the fugitives returned on the following day, convinced that the prophet was a false one; but many judged it more prudent to allow a week to elapse before they trusted their dear limbs in London.” Corporal Bell became a man scorned, a repository for all those angry with themselves for having believed his prediction. And although he tried his hand at other doomsday prognostications, Corporal Bell was soon confined for some months in an insane asylum. Edward W. Brayley recorded in his book “Londoninania” (Hurst, Chance and Company – 1829) that Bell “…afterward kept a hosier’s shop in Holborn Hill during many years, and …retired to the neighborhood of Edgeware where he died a few years ago”. Some things did change because of the twin quakes. His royal highness King George II picked up the damaged Buckingham House at a bargain price. He kept the gardens but filled in the collapsed canal behind the structure and turned it into the Parade for the Household Cavalry. He renamed the residence “The Queen’s House”, but over the years, as additional wings were added, the old name returned and it became known as “Buckingham Palace”.The channel between the Isle of Dogs and the hamlet of Poplar was bridged at two points and eventually became the East End of London. But something more fundamental had changed with the Earthquakes of 1761, and while the superstitions of William Bell were largely forgotten, another man was inspired to a vision that gave birth to a new world. His name was James Hutton, an ugly little man with a great big brain who was trained as a lawyer, a chemist, a doctor of Medicine, a businessman, and late in his life, a farmer. But the earthquakes of 1761 had awakened his curiosity as to what had caused them. He had already come to the observation that the forces of erosion he saw on his farm, (streams and rivers, wind and rain) must be have been working in the time of Adam and Eve. But how long ago was that? Hutton didn’t know, but he was curious and sure enough of his God given brain to believe that he could understand the process. He allowed the idea to percolate in his mind until 1788, when he went sightseeing with the mathematician John Playfair. And while walking at the cliff edge at Siccar Point in Scotland, Hutton saw a single formation of rock that utterly lifted the veil of superstition from his eyes.There, in front of Hutton, was a bed of schistus, (to the right) thrusting up vertically from below. And sitting directly on top of this was a bed of sandstone, (left side of picture) lying in opposition to the schist. The junction point between the two rocks came to be called an “Angular Unconformity.” They were different kinds of rock and they could not have been formed in the same place or the same time, or even close to each other in time or place. Something between them must be missing; that was the unconformity. Sandstone is produced by compressing desert sand under tons of more dessert sand. Any water present will chemically alter the rock, so we know it had to be formed when England was at the same latitude as the Sierra Desert is today, and looked very similar. Schist is created by lava cooling deep under water, then reheating the rock almost to the melting point and forcing it to cool quickly, but again under pressure. Each of these processes take millions of years by themselves. And the angular junction of the two beds was like the missing pages in a book, missing pages that tell a story of other mountains perhaps rising and wearing down but leaving no record behind; of seas and valleys and millions of years whose record has been destroyed; all lost between the crystals of the schist and the grains of the sandstone. The Angular Unconformity that Hutton stood over that day hinted at why earthquakes happen in England; not because God is seeking to destroy a sinful humanity, but because that is how God made the world, And how she is remaking it every day, out of the remains of the day before, a single grain of sand and a single crystal of schist at a time - the same way our minds were formed, and out of the same stuff.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

LAMBERT SIMMEL

I don’t know who Lambert Simmel was. I know he wasn’t who he said he was. The question is, was he who Henry Tudor said he was? As Gordon Smith has pointed out, his very name has a pantomime sound to it, “and a pantomime context.” I have my doubts. Lambert Simmel claimed to be the Earl of Warwick and there is a possibility that, in fact, he was the Earl of Warwick. And if that was true, then who the devil was Lambert Simmel? At the core of that mystery is King Richard III, a bundle of mysteries all by himself.Richard was the last of the legendary Plantagenent Kings of England. Legend says his ancestor Geoffrey often stuck the yellow flower of the ‘common broom’ in his helmet for identification; the Latin name for the plant being “planta genesta”. The dynasty produced Richard The Lion Heart and John who signed the Magna Carta. They commanded England and large parts of France for 300 years. But the Plantagenents came to an end on August 22, 1485 when Richard III was killed at Bosworth. He was the last English King who died fighting in battle, a death which puts the lie to William Shakespeare’s claim that he was a deformed limping hunchback. In fairness it must also be noted that Richard was probably responsible for the death of Edward V, the rightful king of England at the time.Edward V, the Prince of Wales, was only 12 years old when his father died on April 9, 1483. But, of course, a twelve year old cannot rule a country, and the usual system was for the boy’s adult supporters to divide up the kingdom and run it into the ground until the boy was strong enough to throw them out. That was what had happened with the Prince’s father, Edward IV. So Edward the Fifth’s adult guardians sought to reach a deal with the boy’s uncle, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. Richard invited them to dinner to talk over a deal. While they were still hung over the next morning he had them arrested and later executed. Prince Edward was never crowned King. Instead the Duke of Gloucester had him locked up in the Tower of London, to be joined within weeks by his eleven year old brother, Richard, the Earl of Warwick. The two boys were seen playing together in the courtyard of the Tower during June and July of 1483 and then they simply faded away. Shortly there after Richard the Duke had himself crowned King, Richard III. The assumption has always been that the Princes were murdered on Richard’s orders. And that would have been the smart thing for Richard to have done.Bones were found buried under a Tower staircase in 1674. But were those the remains of the two princes? When the bones were last examined in 1933, they were identified as a mixture of human and chicken bones. So the mystery of what became of the princes has kept an army of scribes and historians busy ever since, in the hope of explaining how, in God’s name, Henry Tudor ever got to be the a king of England. Unlike Richard, Henry Tudor was no warrior. Nor was he a lover. The only passion he ever displayed was for money and power. He was a voracious, avaricious, bloodless money grubber. In fact, his personality is not far from the lead character in the play "Rirchard III", just without the limp. He was the only child born to 13 year old Margaret Beaufort Tudor, two months after the boy’s father, Edmund Tudor, had died. Edmund had been the King’s half brother. Margaret was the granddaughter of the third son of King Edward III with his third wife; in short Henry Tudor’s royal blood was so watered down that it resembled lemon aid, and he kept it at about the same temperature. But because Richard III had been so ruthless in eliminating his competitors for the throne, his only competition left was his bloodless, passionless distant relative Henry Tudor; unless, of course, one of the princes still lived. Having defeated and killed Richard III at Boswell in August of 1485, the newly crowned Henry VII was given no time to rest on his purple cushions. He had to face down a rebellion in the spring of 1486. And then again, in March of 1487, yet another group of nobles crowned a rival King in Ireland, a 16 year old boy who claimed he was the Earl of Warwick, the younger of the two princes from the Tower. But was he? Most of the noble men who would have known Warwick from 1483, had long since been executed by either Richard III or Henry VII. And it would have made sense that Warwick, as the younger of the princes, would have been less closely guarded than the direct heir to the throne. So it might have been possible to sneak Warwick out of the tower and spirit him to Ireland; maybe, possibly. And it has been pointed out by historian A.F. Pollard amongst others, that, “Immediately Henry gained the throne he accused Richard of cruelty and tyranny but strangely did not mention the murder of the little princes. Henry did not announce that the boys had been murdered until July 1486, nearly a year after Richard’s death. Did Henry have them murdered?” The Richard III Society, dedicated to resurrecting the reputation so beautifully smeared by William Shakespeare, believes quite strongly that if anybody killed the princes it was Henry Tudor, and not Richard. Maybe, possibly. On June 16th , 1487 20,000 men met to decide the fate of England, yet again. (Henry Tudor was, of course, not on the field of battle.) When it ended, all the rebellions leaders were dead and half their troops. And Henry was able to announce that Warwick had been captured. And he was not Warwick, but an imposter by the name of Lambert Simmel, who was graciously granted a full pardon by Henry because the boy had been a mere tool of the real conspirators. The noble conspirators were all executed, and Henry siezed their wealth and land. But Lambert Simmel was retained as a spit turner in the palace kitchen, and later a falconer. Henry VII now had living proof always close at hand that the princes were dead. And all he required was that you believe that Lambert Simmel was the boy who had impersonated the Earl of Warwick. And that Warwick had been murdered by Richard. But could he have been anyone else? “Lambert” is ancient German for “Bright land”. And “Simmel” seems to come from the Hebrew "Shim’on" meaning ‘listening’. But neither name was common in England at the time and have become even less common since. However, Gordon Smith, in his essay “Lambert Simmel and the King from Dublin” has pointed out that “the maiden name of Edward IV's mistress...was Elizabeth Lambert." So it could be that Lambert Simmel was a code name for the illegitimate child of Henry VII's and his mistress. If so that would make the boy an imposter of an imposter, used by Henry to discredit the belief that he and not Richard had murdered a rightful King of England. Maybe. It could be. If you read enough history you come the realization that the past is like a hallway in the Tower of London. It leads past cell after cell. There may be scratches on the wall in each room, or personal belongings left behind. But the only way to know what really happened is to have been there at the time. History is what we suspect happened. It is always part fact, part opinion and part imagination. It is a story. It could be. It was possible. It might have happened that way. Or it might not have. In short, reading history is not for the faint of heart. Lambert Simmel was clearly an imposter. But whose imposter was he? He died around 1525, and left no record of his own. And everything else is just a fascinating conjecture called "his story".
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Monday, September 21, 2009

PROPHET AS A JOB TITLE

I am an admirer of the English philosopher Charles Chaplin, who observed that "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”. As an example I now present the life of Franz Edmund Creffeld, which began in 1871 with an extreme long shot, in the far off kingdom of Germany. 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 he eventually arrived, in 1899, in the little town of Corvallis, Oregon, wearing 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. The oraganization was revolutionary. William Booth, the Army's founder, often became so possessed by "The Spirit" that he writhed on the floor and babbled in tongues. Also the Army was one of the few social or religious organizations at the turn of the century in which woman could hold respected leadership position. Dispite these socially advanced positions, by 1903 the 29 year old Corvallis commander, Lt. Creffeld, was finding the doctrine and command structure of the Salvation Army to be too restrictive. Creffeld built upon his congregation, which already contained a majority of women and led them off the Salvation reservation. And in the summer of 1903, under Creffeld's direction and in an act of extraordinary sexual independence for the time, the two dozen women members built with their own hands a meeting house on Kiger Island, a 2200 acre wooded sancturary in 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. His Salvation Army commanders described Lt. Creeffeld’s adherents as “Come-Outers” but they described themselves as “Holy Rollers”. 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 told of naked rambles in the wilds of Kiger Island. And when the wooden skdewalks 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 the temptation represented by physical property, one of the local newspapers suggested “…a condition bordering on insanity”. Creeffeld’s 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 henceforth he was 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 in 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 is 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 and then chased into the woods, where later Mrs. Hunt and Maude were able to find and secretly escort the prophet back 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 Joshua's 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. But 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. The aggrieved party was George Mitchel, Esther's elder brother, even posted a $150 reward for the arrest of "Joshua". Franz immediately disappeared, and was not seen again in Corvallis again until August, when he was discovered, filthy, nude and starving, hiding beneath the Hunt household. Arrested and tried in Portland, Franz was found guilty of adultry 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 the real 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 and attraction of this man's lunacy. This was the little man all those women were swooning for? Jail could not restrain or reform Franz Creffeld. 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 now ready for his final 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 Hunt 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. And 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. George Mitchell was tried in Seattle. His lawyers skillfully put The Prophet's behavior on trial. On July 10th the jury came back after deliberating for just an hour and a half. To no one's surprise the verdict was “not guilty”. After celebrating for three days, George Mitchell was preparing for reconciliation meeting with his sister Esther 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” was correct. Maude had bought the gun and Esther had used it. While awaiting trial Maude took strychnine. Her father, O.V. Hunt, arrainged to have Franz’s body exumed and reburied next to Maude’s.At her trial Esther Mitchell was judged to be insane. For three years she survived in the Washington State Asylum at Steilacoom. She was released on April 5, 1909, and was according to the hospital staff, “thoroughly disgusted with herself”. That diagnosis would appear to have been incorrect. Mr. O.V. Hunt collected Ethe 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. Except there was to be a sequel. On March 26, 1997, outside of San Diego, California, some 40 members of the religious group “Heaven’s Gate”, committed suicide. It was, they believed, the price for a ticket aboard the space ship approaching earth behind the comet Hailey Bop. About twenty of those deluded unfortunates were decedents of the Franz Creffeld’s movement, who had been recruited from Waldport in September of 1975. Final fade to black. Fade in title card, which reads; Tom Stoppard, another Englishman wote, “The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means”.
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