JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Wednesday, June 06, 2012


I suppose you could call it the Melting Monarch's Mummy Trick, or the Ebbing Emperor Illusion – except this was no illusion. On June 11, 323 B.C. , Alexander III of Macedonia died in Babylon, probably after being poisoned since assassination was the normal recall procedure in Macedonian politics. But the death of Alexander the Great was just the prologue to the second greatest act of prestidigitation in world history, when the mummy of the most famous man since Adam vanished from the center of one of the largest cities in the civilized world, from one of the most famous and often visited mausoleums in the world. One day he was there, and the next – poof - he was gone, never to be seen again. And it wasn't that anybody forgot about him. The day his corpse went walk-about, he was still the best known conquer in history. He was “The Great” with a capital “G”, for heavens sake. And then he was gone. And he is still gone. It must be a mystery; right?
His body lay in his tent for three days, unattended. His loyal follows paid no respects to the man they had followed into the mountains of Afghanistan and the plains of India because they were too busy arguing over who should inherit what parts of his empire. Alexander himself thought the best way to enhance his image would have been for his body to be thrown into the Euphrates River, so he would simply disappear- very mysterious. Instead, eventually, he was mummified after the Egyptian fashion, and placed in a casket carved to bear his image. This was then placed inside a gold sarcophagus. The intent was to ship his body back to Macedonia, where he would be buried next to his father. But somewhere in Syria the procession was waylaid by cavalry under the command of Ptolemy, who Alexander had assigned to run his province of Egypt.
After slaughtering the funeral procession, Ptolemy hijacked the mummy to the Egyptian holy city of Memphis, about 160 miles south of his new capital which Alexander had ordered built, and had named “Alexandria”. Under Macedonian tradition, by burying Alexander's corpus delicti,  Ptolemy was laying claim to his empire. But after twenty years of fighting, Ptolemy gave up his dreams of world-wide glory and had himself just crowned Pharaoh of Egypt. And the late Alexander the Great took up residence in the temple of Ptah in Memphis.
He stayed there for about fifty years before the son, Ptolemy Soma , had him shipped down river to Alexandria, where he was given his own tomb inside the Brucheum, the Greek quarter of the city. Then in about 210 B.C. the grandson, Ptolemy Philopater, built a larger shrine, the Mausoleum of the Ptolemies (later called just The Soma), to house the mummies of his parents, grand and great-grand parents as well as Alexander. This is how you build an empire, with the foundation poured on top of the upper floors.
The new temple, designed to look as old as the ancient temples still dotting the landscape, stood at the corner of The Street of Soma and Canoptic Street – the 42nd Street and Fifth Avenues of ancient Alexandria. Down the street from this temple of the divine were the Royal Palaces, the famous Library of Alexandria and the Temple of the Caesar's. For the next five hundred years they dragged the corpse out for special occasion, and for viewing by visiting dignitaries, including a Who's Who of classical Rome - Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Caesar Augustus, and one Roman Emperor after another. This dressed-up desiccated carcass had become an object of veneration, made divine by the faith imparted in the cadaver by the thousands who prayed and offered sacrifice to it. To facilitate them, the ninth Pharoh to bear the name Ptolemy had the gold sarcophagus melted down, and Alexander's mummy case was encased in glass, the better for the tourists to see. The gold, went in the Pharoh's purse.
But it was not faith alone that persevered Alexander's corpse, it was also the tourist industry, which sprang up to serve the faithful and the curious who visited The Soma. There were hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops - everybody wanted souvenirs. When they caught Caesar Augustus trying to slip Alexander's nose into his pocket, he claimed it broke off by accident. They still made him leave it behind. The Emperor Caligula was brazen enough that he broke the glass and walked out with the breastplate ripped right off of Alexander's chest. In the second century A.D., to protect the taxes produced by this industry, the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus closed The Soma to all but the richest visitors. Average folks still came to look at the building, but not as many.
You'd would think it would be easy to locate such a famous spot, even 2,000 years later, but just after daybreak on July 21, 365 A.D. there was an 8.3 earthquake off Cyprus, 400 miles to the northwest. The shaking and tsunamis slammed into Alexandria, killing about 5,000 people, knocking down 50,000 houses and dropping the sea level of the entire coast about 20 feet. Needless to say, the morning after that morning, The Soma lost its importance to the city. Probably Alexander's mummy had slipped into the harbor and most likely the survivors had more important things to worry about other than the dried out carcass of a long dead heathen monarch.
The only reason to suspect The Soma and the corpse survived this temblor is the reprobate philosopher Libanius. He had resisted conversion to to the new political correctness - Christianity. For committing that sin he had been exiled from Constantinople. Yes, he was a pagan. But the dirty little secret of Christianity is that even pagans were appalled by the sins usually attributed by Christians to the pagans; sins like lust and greed. In describing greedy capitalists about 390 A.D. Libanius asked, “Who could be the friend of such as these? When they behave like this for money's sake, would they keep their hands off temple offerings or tombs?...And this evil...is universal, whether you mention Paltus or Alexandria where the corpse of Alexander is displayed..” And that alliteration is the only mention of the tomb of Alexander after the earthquake of 365. And since there is no record that Libanius ever visited Alexandria, I find this less than convincing, especially considering that Libanius died not long after writing this passage. Had he lived, maybe he would have corrected it.
There is a theory floating about that the corpse of Alexander was re-named as the corpse of the Christian Saint Mark, and The Soma as the Church of St. Mark. It just seems to me to be a lot of trouble to go to. After 365 the tourist industry of Alexandria certainly needed a new Alexander, but the two things ancient Alexandria had after the earthquake was dead bodies, and salvaged stones for building new temples. And while it might be emotionally satisfying to blame religious fanatics for the loss of the Alexander's corpse, and it might be appealing to suppose Alexander the Great still exists, buried under St. Mark's square in Venice, it is far more likely that he ended up in the harbor of Alexandria, soaking like a packet of old freeze dried coffee, slowly losing his effervescence.
The real magic trick of history is that in the face of overwhelming evidence each generation continues to labor under the delusion that they invented sin and mystery, or at least identified it better.
- 30 - 

Sunday, June 03, 2012


I think Guadalajara is one of the most surprising cities in North America. It's name has Arabic roots, wadi l-ijara, meaning “the valley of the stones”, which hints at the Medieval Moorish occupation of Spain, mother country to Mexico. At the same time Guadalajara's university, founded in 1791, helped make the capital of Jalisco province an economic power house. But when James Reavis, Cryil Baratt and Rufus C. Hopkins arrived in the winter of 1882, the town was struggling to recover from 60 years of racial bloodshed, during which Indian tribes rebelled against enslavement and oppressive government rule 27 separate times. It was only the Catholic church's obsession with order and precedent which saved the region's history. And that is what drew our trio of gringos to this cultural island.
Rufus C. Hopkins was probably not the worst man Surveyor General Robbins could have picked to send on this mission, but about his only qualification was that he could read the Spanish used in old landgrants. He was 70 years old, and Reavis and Baratt hovered around the old man, introducing him to the archivists, the priests and clerks, ever eager to point out important documents and even discovering a previously unknown copy of the 1748 cedulare approving the Peralta grant. This latest discovery was important, since nothing would discourage doubters looking closer into the grant than the threat they would only stumble over new evidence supporting it. The old man was clearly convinced. His report would support Reavis' claim. Unfortunately for Mr. Reavis, back in Tucson Arizona, things had taken a turn for the worse.
Hopkin's boss, Joseph W. Robbins, had died of tuberculosis while the trio was in Guadalajara. His replacement was his chief clerk, Royal A. Johnson, and he was healthy and had a healthy skepticism about Hopkin's report on the Peralta grant. He noted that tucked away in the back of Hopkins' report was the note that the only records in Guadalajara which mentioned the Peralta Grant, were those which specifically dealt with it. In discussing the need for troops to deal with the Apache, for instance, there was no mention of the grant, even though it was smack in the middle of their land, and it was claimed Don Miguel Peralta had been driven off “his” grant by the Apache. This was why Hopkins report, like all good historical scholarship, could only say that after a cursory examination there was nothing to disprove the legality of the grant.
James Reavis (above), of course, took much more forceful interpretation of the report. He and Cryil Baratt began spreading the rumor that the American government was about to offer him $100 million for the Grant. And given Huntington and Croker's political friends in Washington, that was not impossible. Reavis had already refused to sell another right-away, similar to the one Huntington's Southern Pacific had bought, to the competing Texas and Pacific Railroad, which was trying to fulfill James Gadsden old dream of connecting the southern states to the Pacific ocean. With land rights in Arizona now uncertain, the banks withdrew their support for the Texas and Pacific, and progress on that railroad ground to a halt
Meanwhile Reavis' bodyguard, Pedro Cuervo had recruited a small army of thugs who were shaking down every farmer, rancher, miner, home and business owner in Arizona for anything from $1,000 to a free meal for an immediate quitclaim on their properties. Many paid up. Those who resisted found their businesses vandalized, their employees beaten, crops and barns burned and wells fouled. There was even trouble from an activist newspaper man named Tom Weedin, editor of the Florence Enterprise” in Pinal County, about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix. Reavis offered him the standard bribe, and when Weedin said no, his offices were burned to the ground. But Weedin responded by forming an “Anti-Reavis” committee, to raise money to oppose his thugs in court. Other committees sprang up in Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe. To Weedin it felt like rowing against the tide. Cuervo's bandits squeezed an estimated $5.3 million out of Arizona in 1884. Organized crime had been turned loose on the libertarian wonderland of the Old West, where almost everybody carried a gun. And contrary to modern theory, the result was that citizens were left screaming for government activism – and immediately!
Reavis was feeling confident enough to build himself La Hacienda de Peralta, a fortress with a nine foot wall enclosing servants quarters, stables, barns, a well, and a ten room redwood and brick mansion (above), with running water. He laid it out just south of the ruins of Casa Granda, about 80 miles south of Phoenix and about 60 miles north of the Mexican border - should a quick escape be required. He called it Arizola, and began referring to himself as the Baron de Arizona.
The only trouble was a lawsuit filed by the Territorial Attorney General, Clark Churchill, claiming that Reavis had no right to property owned by the Territory of Arizona, because he lacked clear title to the grant. It was the weak point in Reavis' claim, and in May of 1885 the court granted clear title to the Attorney General. The Tucson Citizen newspaper headlined, “Reavis Nailed Up” In a letter dated May 2, 1885, The Arizona Land Commissioner, W.A. Sparks, wrote to Surveyor Royal Johnson, “The essential foundation of a recognizable claim under the laws of Spain and the treaties and laws of the United States does not appear in this case. It is my opinion that the futile work in which you have been engaged for a year...should forthwith be discontinued.” Johnson agreed, writing back that he hoped “...the many schemes concocted by bad men...will now cease....(and) we shall have no further connection with this grant.”
Almost over night, income from the shakedowns for quitclaims dried up and Cuervo's thugs returned to whatever they had been doing before Cuervo had hired them. Feeling the ground shifting under his feet, Reavis caught a Southern Pacific train for California. James Reavis was looking for more support t from his financial backers, Huntington and Crocker. Another ally did appear, when George Hearst, new owner of the San Francisco Examiner, and father to William Randolph Hearst, decided to back Reavis with favorable publicity in his paper. But Mr. Crocker warned that the weak point remained the 1864 bill of sale to George Willing. It had been written on a scrap of paper, and, frankly Mr Huntington had doubts it would stand up in any court. Didn't Reavis have anything stronger?
Once again, as had happened so many times before in this story, James Reavis did have something stronger. He had a little lady he had met on a train back in 1871. Reavis had stayed in contact with her, exchanging letters, and even sending her to finishing school. And now she was right where and when Reavis needed her to be, and she was even who he needed her to be; Sofia Peralta, sole surviving heir to the Peralta Land Grant.
- 30 -  

Blog Archive