Friday, February 25, 2011


I do not agree with the jury. Their verdict was that Daniel Sickles was temporarily insane when he murdered his good friend, Phillip Key. But the jury was never told what a whoring booze-hound Daniel really was. They were only told what a whoring booze-hound Phillip was. The truth was both men were (in the words used to describe Phillip by one of Daniel’s defense lawyers), “confirmed and habitual adulterer(s)”.  They also had the emotional maturity of a seven year old and the sexual proclivity of bunny rabbits.
Before he was even twenty, Daniel Sickles (above) had been indicted for fraud. Still, his criminal career didn't really get started until he was 26 and passed the New York State bar exam. He served a one year term in the State Assembly and then joined a N.Y. delegation tour of London, where he introduced his mistress, Miss Fanny White (under an assumed name) to the King of England.  The English were shocked, as were the Americans, but I'm pretty sure this was not the first working girl to meet an English King. Back in the United States, in 1852, Daniel met his legal lady fair, his personal Alice Alquist from “Gaslight”, Terresa Da Ponte Bagiolo.
Terresa Sickles (above) was the perfect political wife. She was pretty, sophisticated and charming. She had very wealth parents. She spoke five languages. However, all this merely proves that a smart woman is just as likely to have terrible a taste in men as a dumb woman. Terresa’s only excuse in marrying Daniel (against her parent’s wishes) was that the poor child was just 15, when the 34 year old Daniel seduced and married her. She was three months pregnant when, in 1853, she and Daniel were married a second time, at her parent’s insistence, this time by the archbishop of New York.
Not that the religious ceremony influenced Daniel’s piggish behavior in the slightest. In 1856 Daniel was elected to the New York State Senate, which shortly thereafter censured him for giving a tour of those august chambers to Miss White, who was at this time identified as the operator of a popular N.Y.C. bordello. And when Daniel was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1857, and he and Terresa  moved to Washington, D.C. , he still maintained a suite at a Baltimore Hotel for his assignations with Fanny White, and other "soiled doves" in her employ.
Shortly after the legal couple moved, Daniel was introduced to Phillip Key, and the two struck up a friendship of kindred spirits. Key was living proof of the old adage about fruit never falling very far from the sapling. Phillip’s father, Frances Scott Key, had been so familiar with a certain popular drinking ditty (so difficult to sing that it was used as an 18th century sobriety test), that on the fly he converted it into our national anthem, translating “And swear by old Styx, that we long shall entwine, the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’ vine” into “Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, Ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Phillip was forty-two year old widower at the time, with six children, and “the handsomest man in all Washington society”, according to Mrs. Clemet Clay, the biggest gossip in a town that still lives on gossip. At six feet tall, Phillip had “sad eyes and a languid charm” (according to Edward Pinchon who wrote a bio of Dan Sickles), and his “…fine figure, fashionable air, and agreeable address, rendered him extremely popular among the gentler sex”, according to Felix G. Fontaine, who wrote “The Washington Tragedy”. Key was also the Federal District Attorney for Washington, and thus a good man to know for anyone who might anticipate developing legal problems. Daniel had so far made a career out of developing legal problems, so he decided that Phillip Key was the perfect man to escort Terresa to Washington social functions while Daniel was “relaxing” in Baltimore with Fanny White, and others.
Friends tried to warn Daniel about Phillip’s reputation, and in March of 1858 Daniel had a confrontation with Phillip concerning accusations that were already bubbling up about his intentions toward Terresa. But Daniel came away from that meeting convinced that Phillip could be trusted. Evidently, Daniel assumed that Terresa could also be trusted. She could not.
Maybe the twenty year old girl was just fed up with Daniel’s philandering, and maybe it was payback. But whatever her motivation, according to Terressa’s own confession, “I did not think it safe to meet (Phillip) in this house, because there are servants who might suspect something….He then told me he had hired (a) house as a place where he and I could meet. I agreed to it.” The assignations took place at 888 Fifteenth Street in Washington, between K and L streets (above), in a run-down racially mixed neighborhood just around the corner from the Sickles’ rented home. “There was a bed in the second story, " wrote Terressa, "The room is warmed by a wood fire. Mr. Key generally goes first… I went there alone.” And there, confessed Terressa, “I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do” Occasionally they also took carriage rides to various cemeteries, where, according to the coachman, “They would walk down the grounds out of my sight, and be away an hour or an hour-and-a-half.” Whatever they were doing out of sight, it was not enough, evidently, to wake the dead, or Daniel.
The torrid affair between Terresa and Phillip was one of the best known secrets in Washington, which has always been, at heart, the provincial Southern village it started out as. And it was only a matter of time before some moralizing busybody felt the need to drop Daniel an anonymous letter telling the whole sordid truth.. The dreaded day came on Thursday, February 24, 1859. Daniel showed the note to a friend, George Wooldridge, who then watched the philandering husband sob with his head in his hands. 
On Saturday night, February 26th, Daniel confronted Terressa in her bedroom (they had separate sleeping arraignments, on different floors), and he forced her to write her confession in her own hand. This would later be reprinted on the front page of Haper's Weekly, a national newspaper. At about two the following afternoon, as Daniel was being comforted by another drinking buddy, Samuel Butterworth, he spotted Phillip Key walking slowly back and forth on the street in front of his house on Madison Place, waving a white handkerchief in the general direction of Terressa’s bedroom.
Daniel took the time to put on an overcoat, dropped a revolver and two derringers in the pockets, and went charging out onto the street. He caught up with Phillip at the corner of Madison Place and Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street from the White House. Daniel bellowed, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my bed. You must die!” Thereupon Daniel pulled a derringer and fired. Not surprisingly he missed. Phillip, who until that instant was unaware the affair had been discovered, grabbed for the gun, and the two men struggled for a moment while a dozen witnesses gaped in amazement. Phillip finally broke free and ran across the street, throwing a pair of opera classes to cover his retreat, and hid behind a tree.
Daniel followed, and produced a second derringer. This second shot hit Key in the thigh. The playboy dropped to the ground, begging, “Don’t shoot me”, and shouting, “Murder.”
Daniel finally pulled his revolver, and his third shot hit the tree. But the fourth shot, delivered point blank over the prone Phillip, blasted a hole in his chest as big as a silver dollar. The fifth shot misfired, and witnesses managed to restrain Daniel from delivering a ‘coup de grace.’ Not that it mattered; Phillip Key would soon be dead. Explained Daniel, when he was arrested, “He deserved it.”
It was the trial of the century! Again. The prosecutor spoke of the “echoes of the church bells” still lingering in the air” while Daniel pulled the trigger over and over. The eight defense lawyers reminded the jurors that Daniel was “…in a state of white heat, (which) was too great a state of passion for a man to be in, who saw before him the hardened, the unrelenting seducer of his wife”. After a twenty day trial the jury was out for only an hour. A hundred fifty people attended Daniel’s victory celebration. He had been declared, officially, temporarily insane.
The only hiccup occurred when Daniel publicly forgave Terressa. The public, which had supported the heel, now suddenly turned on him. Americans were not offended at the murder, but at the show of marital compassion. Washington and New York society cut him dead.  Daniel would have been condemned to die in obscurity, remembered only as the first defendant to use the temporarily insanity defense in America, but the outbreak of the civil war saved his reputation. Terressa barely survived that war, succumbing to tuberculosis on February 5, 1867, at the age of just thirty-one. She was buried with her parents, back in New York; free at last from her insensitive and violent husband.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sickles went on command one third of the Union Army at Gettysburg, a battle in which he lost a leg and almost cost the Union the war. He then proceeded to  to seduce a Spanish Queen, and to pilfer $27,000 from the funds raised to build a battlefield memorial at Gettysburg. There was talk of having the old reprobate arrested, but it would have been a public relations nightmare, and cooler heads prevailed. In March of 1914, there were rumors that Daniel had finally died. A reporter for the New York Times placed a telephone call to his home on Fifth Avenue. Daniel answered the phone himself. He had never felt better, he told the reporter, and denounced the rumors as a “damn lie.” Two months later he suffered a stroke and really died. He was buried with all honors. All past indiscretions were forgotten, if not forgiven.
And I believe that for every second of his 91 years of life , Daniel Sickles was totally and completely insane. There was absolutely nothing temporary about his mental condition, no matter what the jury said.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I confess that my favorite nursery rhyme might be considered a bit morbid. Of course there is nothing unusual in that. The harmless "Pop goes the Weasel” tells the story of a gin addict, gin being a product of the mulberry bush. And the rhyme known as “Burke and Hare” has a similar history, just a bit more bloody.
Try to imagine little red headed girls playing jump rope, keeping time by chanting this Scottish ditty, “Up the close and down the stair, In the house with Burke and Hare, Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief, Knox the man who buys the beef. Burke and Hare they were a pair, Killed a wife and didnae care. Then they put her in a box, and sent her off to Doctor Knox. Burkes the Butcher, Hares the thief, Knox’s the yin that buys the beef!” Of course it didn’t quite happen that way, but it is still catchy, isn’t?William Hare was an Irish immigrant to Scotland who worked as a “Navvy” on the Union Canal. He was a digger with a pick and shovel. William married Margaret Laird, who ran a boarding house, "Logs Lodging". She had inherited the business, in the West Port section of Edinburgh, when her first husband died.
In 1827 Margaret renewed her acquaintance with William Burke, another Irish emigrant, who was returning to Edinburgh after working as a weaver, a baker and a shoe maker. Burke had abandoned a wife and two children in Ireland, but in Scotland he had picked up a common-law wife, Helen M'Dougal. They became two more lodgers of Margaret Hare’s.In December yet another lodger known to history only as Donald, died of “natural causes” – alcoholism – leaving an unpaid bill of four pounds. Hare was so angry over the debt that he decided to take action. Enlisting Burke’s aid, a weight was substituted for the deceased in his coffin. And after dark Burke and Hare lugged the corpse down Infirmary Street to Surgeons Square, where the old man’s remains were sold to Dr. Robert Knox, a lecturer at Barclay's Anatomy School. The value of Donald’s corpse was set by Dr. Knox at 7 pounds 10 shillings, for a profit to Hare of three pounds ten shillings – a small fortune for men such as Burke and Hare.The market for selling dead bodies had been fairly steady in Edinburgh since the school of Surgeons had combined with the Royal College of Physicians to form the world famous University Faculty of Medicine in 1726.Dr. Robert Knox was not a member of the University, but since the University’s lecturer in anatomy was dull enough to bore students to death, the popular Dr. Knox made a nice living displaying brains freshly removed from skulls and explaining how the corpses’ medulla oblongata was just as highly developed as that of the Bishop of Edinburgh, or discoursing upon the ways an alcoholic liver reminded him of the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh. And all the students laughed. But besides a cutting sense of social humor, to remain in business Dr. Knox required a steady source of corpses. And there was one small problem with that.It was well known that the dissection of human corpses was essential for the training of doctors. People who were sick wanted a trained knowledgeable doctor to save their lives. But the family of the deceased wanted their loved ones to rest in peace, in one piece, pending the resurrection. The conflict between those two desires could get very nasty.In 1742 an angry mob whipped one John Samuel through the streets of Edinburgh after he was caught transporting the corpse of a young girl. The authorities banished Samuel from Scotland for seven years. The mob wanted him lynched. Unable to achieve that, they burned his house to the ground and attacked his family.In part this social rejection of "resurectionists" accounted for the high price required to attract entrepreneurs to the profession of grave robbing. But the principles of finance being what they are, it was inevitable that eventually the field would attract capitalists (think, a WalMart for the dead) who found a way to undercut their competition in both overhead and supply of fresh corpses.Instead of expending the effort required to unearth their raw material, these savvy investors simply harvested the wheat while it was still able to deliver itself to the reaper. And rather than waiting until the fruit ripened and fell into their arms, these master cultivators forced the crop into early maturity. And who were these agrarian managers of such foresight that they would have impressed Scotsmen like Adam Smith and David Hume? Those two Irish transplants to Scotland, Msrs. Hare and BurkeIn December (the off season for bodies, with the ground too frozen for excavations) another lodger named Joseph Miller fell ill. Burke put his hands over Miller’s nose and mouth while Hare sat on his chest. Afterward this technique, which left no visible wounds or bruises, would be called “Burking”. And the first product of the method produced a ten pound profit. Our new venture capitalists now had capital.In February of 1828 Abigail Simpson was “burked”; ten more pounds. Then Margaret Hare got into the act, finding investment number three, another old alcoholic woman; ten pounds more. Next, a prostitute named Mary Paterson and a woman begger named Effie made their contributions; ten pounds apiece. Business was booming!Not that there weren’t problems. College students of today are no more given to sexual escapades than those in 1829, and several of Dr. Knox’s 1829 students had been customers of Mary Paterson – some of them recently. They didn’t remember her coughing or showing signs of illness. So her sudden appearance in the dissecting theatre of Dr. Knox was troubling. But none of the students felt comfortable enough with their suspicions to raise the accusation against the eminent Dr. Knox.With the approach of the spring thaw however, competition drove the price down to eight pounds per corpse. To offset this fluctuation Hare and Burke simply increased production. An old woman and her grandson produced sixteen pounds. Then there was a Mrs. Ostler, followed quickly by one of Helen M'Dougal’s aunts, Ann. And then our budding business moguls made their first big mistake.They figured a mentally retarded 18 year old with a game leg named Daft Jamie would be an easy profit. But the boy actually was evidently a socialist,  who did not appreciate the virtues of Burke and Hare's capitalism. He fought back. It turned out to be a lot of work for a mere eight pounds. And on top of that Jamie’s mother came looking for him. Now it was embarrassing.There was worse to come. In the morning, when Dr. Knox unveiled his new corpse for his dissection class, several of the students recognized Jamie, having seen him quite recently - and in good health at that. Dr Knox was forced to dissect Jamie’s face first to calm those few squeamish students and to disguise the evidence. Things were now getting frustrating even for Dr. Knox. In an abundance of caution, he immediately removed the boys deformed feet, to avoid being accused of being a heel.There was no doubt, success had caused the stockholders and employees of Hare and Burke to put their foot in it. Shortly thereafter a couple named Gray came back to their rented room at Logs Lodging to find some of the inventory stored under their bed. It was an Irishwoman named Doucherty. The Grays called the police. By the time the officers arrived, the body was gone. But a tip led the lawmen to Dr. Knox’s dissection class where the product was found, waiting to do her service for the medical profession. And at this point the corpses hit the fan. All four members of the corporation were arrested.The invention of "Burking" which had given rise to the company, had also so disguised the method of death that it might prove impossible for the authorities to prove any murder had even occurred. And, amazingly enough, the corporation was not accused of robbing a single grave. If anybody was going to be punished for this crime spree the cops needed one of the conspirators to turn on their fellow conspirators.
The Lord Advocate went to the smartest member of the corporation, offering him immunity in exchange for a full confession. And that is why William Burke went up the stairs of the gallows all by himself in January of 1829. Everybody else, Helen M'Dougal, Margaret and William Hare, got a walk. And Dr. Knox, who financed the entire operation, was never even charged.William Burkes’ real crime may have been that he was always arguing with his business partners. In the end it was a capital offense. William Burke danced at the end of a rope, alone. His corpse was removed to the University anatomy theatre, carved up and used as an abject lesson in sin and immoral behavior – not a very productive example when the profession was seeking to encourage others to donate their bodies to medical science.And to drive their pointless point home even stronger, Burke’s skeleton remains in Edinburgh to this day, in a glass case, labeled as a notorious fiend and a serial murderer. His public image remains as a villain in films, plays, history books and a child’s nursery rhyme. He was William Burke the butcher, while William Hare, the brains behind the outfit, is usually protrayed as "the thief". In fact, William Burke was 
the man who paid the price, of being remembered as a fiend, but whose real crime was just not being very nice. 
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Sunday, February 20, 2011


I imagine that every one of the seven miles from Brightwood Park to the capital were very tense for Coxey’s Army. The now 500 man Army was swollen by supporters to 4,000, who were hoping, I suspect, to protect the marchers with their bodies, if necessary. They were further supported by 12,000 witnesses, among whom was Mr. L. Frank Baum, who the next year would pen the children’s book “The Wizard of Oz”.The crowds lined the route of the Army down 16th Street to Massachusetts Avenue, then across to Mount Vernon Square (to avoid passing the White House), south on 9th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, which they followed directly to the capital building.
"This is a great comfort," he said. "I have been holding that axe in the air ever since I rusted, and I'm glad to be able to put it down at last. Now, if you will oil the joints of my legs, I shall be all right once more."
So they oiled his legs until he could move them freely; and he thanked them again and again for his release, for he seemed a very polite creature, and very grateful. "I might have stood there always if you had not come along," he said; "so you have certainly saved my life. How did you happen to be here?"
"We are on our way to the Emerald City to see the Great Oz," she answered, "and we stopped at your cottage to pass the night."
"Why do you wish to see Oz?" he asked.
"I want him to send me back to Kansas, and the Scarecrow wants him to put a few brains into his head," she replied.
The Tin Woodman appeared to think deeply for a moment. Then he said: "Do you suppose Oz could give me a heart?"
"Why, I guess so," Dorothy answered. "It would be as easy as to give the Scarecrow brains."
"True," the Tin Woodman returned. "So, if you will allow me to join your party, I will also go to the Emerald City and ask Oz to help me."
By this time the crowd was so large, it was being led by 25 mounted Metropolitan Policemen, just to keep the Army moving. Ray Standard Baker, covering the march for the Chicago Record, noted that “Coxey’s carriage (stopped) near the “B” street entrance to the grounds…Rising from his seat, he stooped over and kissed his wife, as if realizing something of the terrible ordeal to follow”.
Jacob Coxey then “leaped nimbly to the ground, and in a moment he and Browne were swallowed up in a wild surging mob of men which lifted them from their feet and bore them bodily across the street to the Capital grounds. More than four hundred mounted policemen…rode into the crowd with the intention of capturing the two…but they might as well have attempted to arrest a cyclone. The mob forced one of them against a stone wall…and threw his horse violently to the ground. Coxey…lost his footing and in a moment he was at the bottom of a pack of writhing, struggling humanity.”
“The mounted policemen lost their heads…and began striking everyone within reach. Women and children were ruthlessly ridden down…All this time Coxey had been struggling through the crowd toward the central steps of the capital….Before anyone knew it Coxey was bounding up the East front…He was up to the tenth step before he was recognized. Then the officers closed in on him.”
Holding Coxey’s arm, Captain Garden of the Capital Police demanded, “What do you want here?” Coxey replied, “I want to make an address.” Gardner told him he would not be allowed to do that. “Then can I read a protest?” asked Coxey. The answer was no. It was all over in less than five confused minutes.
Jacob Coxey was not arrested on the capital steps, no matter what the history books say. He was ushered back to his carriage, and the Army, now under the command of his son Jesse Coxey, marched “like a funeral procession” toward their new camp, at the site of an old dump on M street, which they dubbed “Camp Tyranny”. However Carl Browne and another aide had been arrested in the melee.
On Wednesday, May 2nd. Jacob Coxey was in court to show support and pay the fines for his two friends. And then he was arrested. The charges laid against all three men were carrying banners illegally and walking on the grass. They were immediately thrown in jail. One week later, on Tuesday, May 8th, all three were tried in District Court, where it was revealed that the illegal banners they were charged with displaying were the three by two inch cloth lapel pins worn by every member of the Army. Coxey always maintained that he never stepped on the grass. It did not matter. All three men were found guilty, fined five dollars each and sentenced to an additional 20 days in jail.
Coxey’s Army stayed in Camp Tyranny for two weeks, playing baseball, drilling and attending rallies, until the D.C. Board of Health ordered them to move. They then returned to their camp at Hyattsville for another week. Then a hotel in Bladensburg, Maryland provided free rooms for the newly released Coxey and Browne, while the Army cramped in the back yard. Heavy rains in June drove the marchers to higher ground and this time they moved to Roslyn, Virginia. Finally, on August 11th their numbers had dwindled to the point that the Governor of Maryland dispatched Baltimore Police Officers to sweep in and arrest the remaining 80 men on charges of vagrancy. That whimper was the end of Coxey's Army of 1894.
In the speech Coxey had intended upon reading on the steps of the capital, was a desperate plea. “We choose this place of assemblage because it is the property of the people,” he had wanted to say. “We…say, help, or we and our loved ones must perish… we come to remind the Congress here assembled of the declaration of a United States Senator, “that for a quarter of a century the rich have been growing richer, the poor poorer, and that by the close of the present century the middle class will have disappeared as the struggle for existence becomes fierce and relentless.” That was what all he had wanted to say.
In the wake of Coxey’s Army, ex-President William Howard Taft was asked what a man with a family was to do when there were no jobs. The President replied “Lord knows. I do not.” He didn’t. Neither did he have any idea how to help revive the national economy. Two years later, the Denver News would still note, “There are millions of heads of families partially or wholly out of employment…In the agricultural districts wages have fallen one-half. In manufacturing…the aggregate of all wages paid is at the starvation point.” The depression would continue for yet another two long years, and during this lost decade, those with little imagination fiercely contended that there was nothing that could be done to mitigate the disaster; Nothing.
Then, in 1898 the United States went to war with Spain. We raised an army and invaded Cuba. And at about the same time the six year long depression came to an end. But conservative economists argue that this war could not have revived the economy. The budgets increases were far too small and it was far too short a war. Besides, increasing taxes and government investment in infrastructure could not revive a depressed economy. And that may be so. But if it is so, then the war spending and the end of the depression was one heck of a coincidence in 1898, and again in 1942.
I think the best memorial for those unnamed heroes of the spring of 1894 was provided by a bar fly in New York City named Feeb, who composed and preformed songs for his supper. “Come, boys, turn around the beer keg. And listen to my song, Great Coxey is among us, to right each grievous wrong. N'o more shall sorrow grip us, We're on the way to wealth…With a glass in every hand; Sing to Coxey and his army, And free lunch all in the land.”
"…and the Witch said to the Scarecrow, "What will you do when Dorothy has left us?"
"I will return to the Emerald City," he replied, "for Oz has made me its ruler and the people like me. The only thing that worries me is how to cross the hill of the Hammer-Heads."
"By means of the Golden Cap I shall command the Winged Monkeys to carry you to the gates of the Emerald City," said Glinda, "for it would be a shame to deprive the people of so wonderful a ruler."
"Am I really wonderful?" asked the Scarecrow.
"You are unusual," replied Glinda."
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