JUNE 2017

JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Friday, January 07, 2011

DRAMA QUEENS

I think I may have stumbled upon an historical explination as to why people would bring guns to a public meeting about health care. This story really starts with the sudden death of the Governor of the Colony of Virginia, Samuel Mathews, Jr, in January of 1660. He had been born in America, and there were high hopes he would be a brave new leader of a brave new world. Instead, on March 13, 1660 the Burgesses, members of the Virginia colonial assembly, decided to take a step back to the future by appointing “the honorable Sir William Berkeley” as their Governor, again.
Eight years before “Will” as his friends called him, had been a popular Governor. Now, at the age of 55, Berkeley again accepted the responsibility of leading the 35,000 English settlers in the “Old Dominion”. Will was a playwrite and a fighter, a Cyrano, who Mary Newton Standard has described as, “Every inch a gallant soldier, every inch a gentleman, yet haughty, unsympathetic and unlovable; narrow in mind and in heart.” (The Story of Bacon's Rebellion, Neale – 1907 ©, Jeffrey C. Weaver, 2000) She might have added he was also a drama queen.
His supporters were the FFV, the First Families of Virginia, including the bloodlines of Lee, Spencer, Washington, Randolph, Fitzhugh, Harrison, Custis, and others. And in 1674, there landed in the midst of this fraternity Will’s nephew, the impatient and ambitious 24 year old, Nathaniel Bacon.
Will welcomed his nephew warmly, giving him property and a trading concession with the Indians. Being a politician, Will also took the opportunity to shore up his own political support by naming his nephew to the Colonial Council, thus assuming he could count on the support of his family. However, Will did not appoint his nephew as a commander of the local militia, and it was the appointment he did not receive which Nathaniel took note of.
But why had this young man traveled to America? Well, Nathaniel had recently married and his new in-laws had quickly realized he was a pretentious pompous fraud. They promptly disinherited their daughter. And that was why Nathaniel had come to America. He needed cash.  Unfortunatly, Nathaniel had picked a bad time to make a new start.
Beginning in 1670 Virginia had suffered from a string of hailstorms, floods, and droughts. Years of bad harvests were followed by the ‘bitter winter’ of 1672-73 when half the colonies’ livestock starved to death. By the spring 1676 wheat and corn or so scarce that Will had to ban their exportation even to neighboring colonies.
In cash-poor Virginia colony, where debts and salaries were often paid in tobacco and crop futures, this created a credit crunch which hit the newer settlers, like young Nathaniel Bacon, much harder than their bankers, who were usually members of the FFV, and close friends of William Berkeley.
The newer settlers were known as ‘freeholders’, and these men, such as William Drummond, wanted more cash in the colony, and they didn’t like paying taxes, and they wanted a war against the Indians, which, of course, would have required more taxes.
Like his inlaws before them, the freeholders took quick measure of Nathaniel Bacon. But these men were not looking for family. They figured the boy didn’t know enough about Virginia (or Indians) to argue with them if they made him a general. So they did, without the Governor’s approval. Nathaniel immediately marched his little army off to butcher some local Indians. As the freeholders intended, that put the Governor in a bind, because the dead Indians had signed a peace treaty. It looked like the entire frontier would erupt in an Indian war. Will demanded an apology from his nephew, who proudly refused.
Then in June of 1676 Nathaniel arrived in Jamestown for the opening of the House of Burgesses and Will took the opportunity to arrest the little snot. Nathaniel was dragged in front of the council and required to apologize. Then Will magnanimously pardoned him. It was great theatre, but if the Governor thought he was directing this little melodrama he was mistaken. He was now facing an actor just as capable of historanics as himself.
Overnight, Nathaniel slipped out of town and returned the next morning in front of an ad hoc audience, er, army, of 300 freeholder militiamen. They marched into town, with flags flying and drums pounding. The members of the house hung out the windows of their parliment building, mesmerized by the preformance.
Never one to let an audience go to waste, Will came stomping out of the hall and ripped open his shirt. Baring his chest, or at least his ruffles, Will declared to the spectators, “Here I am! Shoot me before God! (It’s a) fair mark, a fair mark! Shoot!” Nathaniel calmly said no, thank you. Instead he wanted the Governor to name him overall commander of the entire Indian war. Since the Governor’s didn’t want any Indian war, he exited at once, stage right. Nathaniel, with no actor to play against, went over the top. He started screaming. He ordered his men to surround the meeting house, and announced he would kill everyone inside if he were not given total command at once. For a few minutes it looked as if there would be a wholesale slaughter just for the sake of a theatrical effect. But a touch of reality was supplied by the supporting players. Reason eventually prevailed. Will was persuaded to sign his nephew’s commission.
The lesson here I would say is that people who bring matchlock black powder muskets to public meetings have a “flare” for the dramatic. They are looking to attract an audience, i.e. , in an appropriately dramatic fashion, twenty-five year old Nathaniel Bacon had just overthrown the royal governor of Virginia. Curtain on Act One.
The curtain now rises on Act Two. On July 30, 1676 the boy General published a “Declaration of the People”. “If virtue be sin, if piety be guilt, all the principles of morality, goodness, and justice be perverted.” It might be poetry but Nathaniel was now addressing a skeptical audience. The declaration went on to demand the arrest of Will and 19 other FFVers as “traitors to the people”. Nathaniel then announced a general war on the Indians and demanded an oath of allegiance from all government officials. It was signed, Nathanial Bacon, General, “By the Consent of ye People”, and was made without any of ye people present. The paperwork thus complete, Nathaniel marched off with 1,000 men to butcher the nearest Indians.
About now it dawned on the more thoughtful freeholders that they had hitched their fortunes to a rather temperamental artist. But Drummond for one would listen to no such warnings. “I am in over (my)shoes”? I will be over (my) boots!” He soon was in over his neck. The governor gathered his own supporters at Jamestown, and counter-proclaimed his nephew a traitor.
Nathaniel marched his army back to Jamestown, and on September 19, 1676 Nathaniel burned the capital of Virginia to the ground. It was a sorry end for the “Old cradle of an infant world, In which a nestling empire lay” (Ode to Jamestown, James Kikke Paclding). But it was also the defining moment of Nathaniel Bacon’s performance. The very set he was preforming upon, the edifice painfully constructed over a century of painful effort, at the cost of thousands of lives, had been put to the torch in one adolescent thespian outburst. Curtain on Act Two. There was no third act. Forty days later the great actor was dead.
Nathaniel Bacon died of the “bloody flux”, which is the old name for dysentery, on October 25th, 1676. With him died “Bacon’s Rebellion", leaving Will free to hunt down the freeholders. When William Drummond was brought before him, the governor greeted him by saying, “I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia. Mr. Drummond, you shall be hanged in half an hour.” And he was. Twenty-four men in all were executed for their roles in the uprising. Charles II back in London would later observe, “That old fool (Berekely) has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father.” A year later the final curtain dropped on William Berekeky. He died in England, having been recalled to explain himself.
Historian Susan McCulley has noted, “Bacon's Rebellion does seem at first glance to be the beginnings of America's quest for Independence. But closer examination of the facts reveals what it really was: a power struggle between two very strong personalities.” Strong personalities? I would call them two of the biggest hams in American history.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

WHO'DA THUNK IT?

I’ll tell you the best Scottish joke in history; Mary Stewart (AKA Queen of Scots), and her husband, Lord Darnley (AKA Henry Stewart), produced a child who became the King of England. That may not seem like a great gag, but you have to remember that she was a fool and he was an idiot and Scotland in the 16th century was the Cleveland of Europe; their kid becoming King of England was a real life "Beverly Hillbillies".
Mary was a big girl, close to six feet tall, which in the 16th century made her a freak of nature, sort of like a sunny day in Scotland. She was a granddaughter of Robert the Bruce, and Henry VIII of England wanted her as a daughter-in law. But instead Mary’s mother sent her off to France, where the girl married the future King of France instead. That poor boy died of an ear infection a year after the was promoted to King, and a year later, on August 19, 1561, the 18 year old widow Mary returned to Scotland.
Unlike Queen Elizabeth to her south, Mary bowed under the pressure that she should wed. But the slub she chose in 1565 was her own cousin, Henry Stewart, the Lord of Darnley. Sir Walter Scott, a man who knew something about romance, described Darnley as “…remarkably tall and handsome…but unhappily destitute of sagacity, prudence…(and) extremely violent in his passions.” Another observer sketched Darnley as “shallow, vain, weak, indolent, selfish, arrogant, vindictive and irremediably spoiled.” And those were his good features. What was not to like about a guy like that?
So why did Mary marry this slub? Well, he was one of the few men in Scotland she could look up to, by a good two inches, they say. And you know what they say about a man with big hands and  feet. In any case, Lord Darnley did fulfill his role as a royal sperm donor. Mary became pregnant with a son. But I suspect that Mary chose Darnley mostly because Queen Elizabeth wanted her to marry somebody else. Mary was always competing with Elizabeth, and she was always losing. And boy did she lose this one. It is a bad idea to choose any mate just because they aren’t somebody else, even if they do have big feet..
That point was driven home for Mary a year later when, during a Saturday night card game, Darnley and a few thugs broke into the Queen’s chambers and murdered one of her favorite’s, a little Italian poet named Rizzio, right in front of the 5 months pregnant Mary. When they were finished turning Rizzio into sausage,  Darnley told Mary, “I beg your pardon.” Somehow that failed to convince Mary to give him more power; woman. Can't rule with them, can't rule without them. Disappointed with his experiment in playing court politics, Darnley returned to his primary occupation of providing employment for every prostitute in Edinburgh and Glasgow. This task provided him with many hours of diversion and amusement along with a vicious case of syphilis.
You can develop syphilitic ulcers on your genitals within three weeks of being infected, and about two months later it develops into the secondary form, with a red rash on your torso, arms and legs, including the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, accompanied by fever, sore throat, general malaise, weight loss, hair loss and a headache. Darnley suffered from all of those delightful symptoms, and ended up in a Glasgow room, confined to bed and feeling very sorry for himself.
But when she heard about his condition, Mary did something rather curious; instead of gloating, she journeyed to Glascow, and nursed Darnley until he was well enough to be brought back to Edinburgh. She even put him up in a little country house called Kirk O’Field right near her favorite church, where she visited his second floor room almost daily, washed his sores and read to him from the bible. Now why would she do that?
It was pretty clear by this time that she despised the schmuck, and she had not said a kind word about him since the Italian sausage-making incident. Either she was a saint or she had a plan. Well, you know what they say about the Scots- they feel badly when they feel good because they are certain they’re going to feel worse the very second they feel better. These people are pessimists supreme. And this time pessimism about Lord Darnley's health seemed called for.
In the middle of the night of February 13, 1567, the little house next to the church blew sky high. Ba-Boom!. The little house was demolished. The rubble caught fire. And while the neighbors were pouring water on the rubble, what should they discover but the body of Lord Darnley (and his servant’s body) lying in the courtyard of the little house. He was dressed in his nightshirt, and as d-e-a-d, dead as a doornail. But he had no wounds from the explosion, just a bruise around his throat. The autopsy confirmed he had been strangled.
Interviews with the surviving servants revealed that Darnley had heard men moving about in the rooms below him, rooms normally used by Mary when she stayed over. The servants had lowered Darnley in a chair to the ground, intending upon escaping into the night. Unfortunately Darnley had landed right in amongst the assassins who, instead of waiting for the fuse to reach the kegs of gunpowder stacked in the ground floor rooms, strangled the syphilitic slub and disappeared into the night before the explosion. The only question left was who did it?
There was no shortage of suspects. There were Darnley’s allies in the murder of Rizzio. Killing Darnley prevented him from spreading their names around. And then there the men to whom Mary had turned after the murder of Rizzio. They were just as rich and power hungry as Darnley was, but smarter. Killing Darnley made Mary an available widow again. And then there was Mary, herself
Mary was supposed to be staying with her husband that night. Instead, luckily for her, at the last minute she had decided to attend a wedding. Of course, that might have been an alibi. And few would have blamed her, if she had wanted to choke the life out of Darnley, or even blow him up. After all, it was possible Darnley and his buddies had intended upon killing Mary the same night he had murdered Rizzio, or maybe he just wanted her to miscarry their son. This slub was a big baby, and probably saw the child in Mary's belly as competition. Either way, you could sympathize with the lady, if she had wanted to kill her arrogant, unfaithful, diseased and idiot slub of a husband. But did she do it?
We will never know. Forty days after Darnley’s death, the new man in Mary’s life, Lord Bothwell, conducted a tradition Highland Scottish wedding. He kidnapped the Queen, dragged her off to Dunbar Castle and raped her. Mazal Tov!
A month after this ‘wedding’ Mary was forced to surrender her crown, and the nobles who may or may not have helped murder Lord Darnley, ran Scotland in her infant son’s name. Bothwell died years later, insane, in a Danish prison, and Mary escaped south of the boarder to England, where Elizabeth had her locked up in one castle after another for the next 19 years.
Finally, in 1587 Elizabeth got tired of feeding her poor Scottish relation and condemned her to death. It is alleged that it took from two to four blows to separate Mary’s head from her body, which was another joke, since the lady had done nothing but lose her head since she had set foot back in Scotland. But while the audience was still chuckling over this, Elizabeth died in 1603, and James, product of the most mismatched coupling since Lott dined with is family, became the King of England. 
Who’d a thunk it?
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

BUYING THE FARM

I have a bridge for sale, if you happen to know a fish. In exchange for a small taste (bribe), boatmen working the ferries between the immigration station on Ellis Island and Manhattan would alert ropers (outside men) when they spotted a rube with a crowded oakus (a new immigrant with a full wallet). After befriending the Bates (victim), the rope would allow himself to be convinced to share his inside info on some of the fabulous business opportunities available for any America with a little ready cash. And, as evening settled in, the rope might even be induced to introduce the fish to Mr. George Parker, the fabulously wealthy but temporally distressed owner of the Brooklyn Bridge.
George C. Parker (the inside man) confessed that during the early 1880’s he sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week. He had documents showing he owned not only the bridge, but also Grant’s Tomb, the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He sold them all, over and over again. According to historian Carl Sifakis, “Several times Parker's victims had to be rousted from the bridge…when they tried to erect toll barriers.” George’s fame stems not just from his invention of this classic American scam, but for his part in creating that other American institution, The Three Time Loser. After his third conviction on December 17, 1928, George received a life sentence in Sing Sing, where the old man was very popular.
George Parker was followed by Reed (The Kid) Waddell, Charles and Fred Gondorf (whose name was used in “The Sting”), William (“I.O.U. O’Brian) McCloundy, and finally, Peaches O'Day, who was convicted of selling the Brooklyn Bridge in 1901. By the time Peaches worked the scam, the bridge had been devalued down to $200, and the very idea of selling the Brooklyn Bridge had become a joke. And if they are laughing at you, they sure don’t have confidence in you. But before them all was Gregor McGregor, a Scotsman who managed to not only sell what he did not own, but he sold what did not even exist.
Everybody in England knew who Gregor McGregor (above) was. In 1820 the tall, thin Scotsman in a tight uniform, was welcomed home by the Lord Mayor of London, as a hero. He had spent the last three years laying waste to the Spanish Main, fighting in various South American armies. He’d been made a general by Simon Bolivar, himself. And now Gregor McGregor walked into the British Foreign Office and announced that he had been made a prince (or Cazique) of the principality of Poyais. Everybody from Land’s End to Inverness was absolutely gobsmacked.
Poyais was a gift from George Frederic Augustus I, King of the Miskito Sambu tribe, who gave their name to the Mosquito Coast of Central America. It was quite a gift; 8 million acres of virgin rain forest, chocked full of lumber, or, if cleared, crop land perfect for growing sugar cane, cotton or tobacco, according to McGregor. A small group of British adventurers were already at work, overseeing natives constructing the new capital city of St. Joseph. What was needed now, explained hero McGregor, were settlers not afraid of hard work and sacrifice, and, of course, a few patriotic investors willing to fund another expansion of the profitable British Empire.
McGregor secured his “in” with English social circles when in 1821 he named the very proper Major William John Richardson as his legate. Together they opened an embasy in London, and in Scotland they began offering Poyais farmland at bargin prices, as “…an asylum only for the industrious and honest.” Almost overnight they sold some 200,000 pounds worth of Poyais bonds.
The publics’ hunger for information on Poyais was fulfilled by Captain Thomas Strangeways, who penned a book describing the Mosqito Coast as free from tropical diseases, and blessed with fertile soil, which lay atop uncounted veins of gold and silver. In September of 1822, the Honduras Packet set sail for Poyais with 70 settlers, and a chest loaded with new Poyais currency. This was followed, in January, by the ship Kennersley Castle, with another 200 settlers, this time mostly doctors, accountants, and lawyers. Ah, if they only knew that Captain Strangeways was actually the non—plume of Gregor McGregor.
On March 20, 1822, the Kennersley Castle arrived off the mouth of the Coco River, dividing modern day Honduras and Nicaragua. What they found were survivors of the Honduras Packet. There was no city of St. Joseph, under construction or otherwise, and no farm land. However there was malaria, and plenty of it. The Kennersley Castle dumped the settlers on the beach with the first bunch and sailed away.
Many of the white collar crowd refused to even help build their own shelter, because they had been lied to. The remainder tried to scratch their survival out of the unhappy land. One, a shoemaker, just lay down on his cot and shot himself. And everybody began to suffer from malaria. A month later who should arrive but King George Frederic (yes, he was real) aboard an English ship. He now admitted he had signed away the land after Gregor McGregor had gotten him drunk. But he now announced that he was revoking his gift. And that was the end of Poyais - in reality. In October 50 survivors made it back to London, and reported the story in full – sort of. Some of the returning survivors even signed a letter saying that after it all they still believed in Gregor McGregor. Human beings are such messy creatures. However Mr. McGregor was not there to defend himself. He had already moved on to Paris, where, in August of 1825, he issued a new constitution for Poyais, and secured a new 300,000 pound loan through a British bank. He immediatly started selling more farms in this tropical paradise that sounded too good to be true. The non-existant citizens of Poyais must have been thrilled to learn they now lived in a Republic.
In December of 1825 Gregor McGregor (above) was arrested by French authorities. In January 1826, from his Paris prison cell, he issued a proclamation to his fellow South American potentates. It took two trials, but in July Gregor McGregor was found… not guilty. Only his compatriots in crime were convicted. I guess it always pays to hire the best lawyers, particularly when you pay them with other people’s money.
By the fall of 1826 Gregor McGregor was back in England, and he spent the next decade selling Poyais in one form or another. In 1836 the nonexistent residents of Poyais got yet another new constitution, a flag with a green cross on a white background, and some competition. Two other companies started selling Poyais bonds, but found it not profitable enough to press the scam. In 1839 an almost destitute Gregor McGregor left England and sailed for Venezuela. They granted him a modest pension, and he died there in December of 1845.
And if it seems that Gregor McGregor’s lonely death in Venezuela offered a moral to close out our tale, allow me to point out that most people die feeling bitter and feeling alone. It has something to do with age. At least Gregor McGregor got his name on a monument outside of Caracas. Still, I have to agree with Will Rogers, who once said, “They may call me a 'rube' and a 'hick, but I'd a lot rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it.”
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Sunday, January 02, 2011

COXEY'S ARMY; PART ONE

“You people with hearts,” he said, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful.” - The Tin Woodsman.
1900. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” L. Frank Baum
I must begin by pointing out that all good jokes have no prologue. “Two men” may indeed walk into a bar, and before they did, they had to be somewhere else, doing something else. But if you knew what they had been doing, it would, in all likelihood, deflate the punch line. Prologues all define drama's, not comedies.The reality is that everything comes from something else, and every beginning is actually the coda for another story.
As an example, Jacob Sechler Coxey came from Massillon, Ohio, a village founded by 150 Utopians, inspired by a similar effort at New Harmony, Indiana. But where the Hoosier experiment in perfection stagnated, Massillon was energized because the Erie Canal ran right through town. That infrastructure attracted industry, which brought in more infrastructure, specifically railroads. It was not much of a utopia, but it was a successful town. So much money was being made there, that the optimistic little town became known locally as the Port of Massillon. However the port was closed by the Panic of 1893. And that did not arrive from nowhere, either.
The 1849 California Gold rush proved so rich that by 1873 the U.S. government stopped issuing silver coins. Silver mining was still profitable, but corporate interests convinced Washington they needed price supports. So the politicians passed the Sherman Silver Act of 1890, which committed the nation to buy and stockpile silver. Silver shot up from 84 cents an ounce to $1.50. But the attendant inflation caused banks to cut back lending. That hurt troubled railroads. Over the next four years, failing railroads (156 of them) led to failed banks (almost 400 of them), which produced failed small businesses (almost 5,000 of them). And then incoming President Grover Cleveland made things even worse. He repealed the Sherman Act.
In just four days silver lost a quarter of its value. And the attendant deflation destroyed what little credit remained. Unemployment rose from an estimated 3% in 1892, to 11% in 1893, and, after repeal of the Sherman Act, to 18% in 1894. In Pennsylvania the level was 25%. In Michigan it was 44%. In Chicago 100,000 homeless men were sleeping in the streets. Editor John Swinton wrote, “…we have seen the growth of a horde of paupers, beggars and tramps.” Minister George Herron, noted that the richest nation in the world now “finds a vast population face to face with famine”.
The captains of industry, who had created this mess, expected the government to aid them with tax cuts and tariffs to restrict competition. But they were opposed to similar aid to workers, to the very idea of a safety net or by government investing in infrastructure. However that solution seemed obvious to those who had worked with their hands, men raised to believe that a better world could and ought to be built; specifically, men like Jacob Coxey.
At thirty-six years of age, this wing-collared revolutionary could have been the physical twin to Japanese Emperor Hirohito, with a round face framed by rimless spectacles and accented by a thin mustache. Jacob Coxey did not smoke. He did not drink to excess. He was the most successful businessman in Massillon, a millionaire. But he was working on his second marriage and rumor had it that his gambling had ended his first. To finance his addiction, Jacob owned a sandstone quarry outside of Massillon, which, by the way, carried two mortgages, the second held by his first wife, Carrie Coxey.
Jacob Coxey was a visionary, and like most, sometimes he was also a bit myopic. For while his “Good Roads Association” sought to mitigate the endless capitalist cycle of boom followed by bust, his belief in reincarnation sought to minimize the trauma of life itself. And then in the summer of 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair, Jacob found a kindred spirit for both of his visions, in a lunatic named Carl Browne.
Carrie Coxey called Browne “a deep-dyed villian” and it is easy to see what she saw. He was a natural born hucksture, a salesman in the extreme. He stood over six feet tall. His hair hung down his back and clustered about his face like a heavy snowfall. Carl dressed like Buffalo Bill, in a fringed buskin coat, buttoned with Mexican silver dollars and set off with thigh high cowboy boots. He rarely if ever bathed. His voice has been described as a foghorn. He had worked as housepanter, a cartoonist and a snale oil salesman, and now he was a labor organizer. And five minutes of talking with Jacob Coxey convinced Carl Browne that while he personally was the partial re-incarnation of Jesus Christ, Coxey was the re-incarnation of Andrew Jackson. And Jackson just happened to be one of Jacob Coxey’s heroes.
It was the meeting of these two personalities, the shy, confident thinker and the bombastic and profane huckster, which gave birth to the idea of a “petition with boots on”, a march on Washington to petition the government for a response to the staggering unemployment. It came to Jacob in a New Year Eve’s dream that the march should begin on Easter Sunday, March 25th, 1894. Jacob wrote a treatise on the subject, and Carl drew impressions of the glorious out come. And it was extremely unlikely if anyone would have paid any attention to the march whatever had not the editor of the Massillon Independent posted notice of Jacob Coxey’s grand plan on the national wire services. And just about every editor in America agreed, it would make a really good story .
“The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone. In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather.”
1900. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” L. Frank Baum
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