AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

LAST MAN



I want to tell you a heck of a story. As the autumn sun ineffectually rose above the eastern horizon, Private First Class Arthur Goodmurphy peered suspiciously across the Canal du Centre, which split the tiny village of Harve, Belgium in two.
At the tender age of twenty-one, Arthur was already a veteran. He’d been part of the slaughter on the Somme in 1916, and a witness to the horror of Passchendaele in 1917. And now, as the winter of 1918 waited just over the horizon, Arthur could sense that the war was almost over. The Germans were almost done for.
In the last three months the Canadian Corps had driven the German army out of the trenches, and then left the trenches, those symbols of slaughter and misery, far behind; along with their protective dugouts and tunnels.
The last month of the war, fought above ground, in the open, had seen the worst butchery so far in a war renowned for butchery. What kept Arthur Goodmurphy and his fellow Canadians fighting despite the lengthening causality lists was that they were finally winning. God only knew what kept the Germans fighting.Just at dawn the Canadian troops had fought their way into the Belgium town of Mons, where the British army had begun the war four long bloody years before. Arthur had been ordered to take four men and advance to the canal and see what the Huns on the other side were up to.
With his first sight of the canal, what worried Arthur was  the footbridge across the canal mined? Was German artillery zeroed in to cut his battalion down as they crossed the bridge? Or had the Germans just kept running this time? Arthur felt a long way from the open prairies of his native Saskatchewan. But he knew the way home lay across that canal. He stood up, and said to the young man beside him, “Come on, George. Let’s have a look.”As they took their first steps in the open the patrol spotted a German machine gun crew setting up in the attic of a house on the far shore. Experienced soldiers, they knew they had to cross the open ground before the deadly weapon could begin shooting. They dashed the hundred yards across the bridge, their hobnail boots pounding on the boards.
On the other side they ran up the narrow street, up to the door of the first brick house. Without pausing, young Private George Price kicked the door in, and the others followed him. Inside they found Monsieur Stievenart and his son, six year old Omer. Monsieur Stievenart explained that the Germans had just left by the back door. Immediately the four privates moved on to the next house, where they crashed in on an elderly couple, the Lenoirs. Again they were told the Germans had just run out the back door. But now they could hear a German machine gun firing somewhere in the village, and bullets chipping off the outside walls of the building they were in.Arthur realized the patrol had now accomplished its goal. The Germans had been forced to reveal their intention not to defend the canal. And now the patrol had to get back with that word. George Price led the way, out the door, and Arthur followed. As they stepped into the street the machine guns suddenly stopped. In that second of silence George turned as if to say something to Arthur, and a single shot rang out. George fell forward, into Arthur’s arms. A growing crimson  red stain quickly spread across George’s chest.
The squad struggled to pull their comrade back inside the house. From somewhere a Belgium nurse appeared and began to tend to George. But it was to no effect. Private George Lawrence Price died a few moments later on the floor of small house in Belgium. The Lenoirs provided a blanket, which the three Canadians used to carry their fallen comrade back across the canal. Strangely they had to dodge no fire on their ran back across the footbridge.
As they reached the western shore, they were met by Captain Ross, who informed them that the firing had stopped because the war had just ended; on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, of 1918. That made George Price the last man killed in World War One.It is a great story, and partly true. George Lawrence Price, serial number 256265, had been born in Newfoundland and enlisted in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a town of just 14,000 in 1918. He was "conscripted", meaning he was a draftee, and so was a perfect example of the sacrifices demanded by this war. He was officially listed as being killed by a sniper’s bullet at 10:57 A.M., just three minutes before the cease fire was to take effect.
The last Frenchman to die in the war which was mostly fought on their own soil, was forty year old Augustin Trebuchon, who was carrying word of the armistice to the front lines when he was killed at 10:45 A.M. Private George Ellison was supposedly the last Englishman killed, at 10:50 A.M. The last American killed in World War One was allegedly Private Henry N. Gunther, from Baltimore, Maryland, who died in an attack on the town of Ville-Devant-Chaumont, again at 10:50 A.M.
Of course none of the grieving families were told at the time their loved one had been the last to die. That would have held them up as an example of the futility and waste of the war. Instead most were told the deaths had occurred on November 10th.However, there is also the story of German Lieutenant H.G. Toma, who, after the cease fire, had disarmed his own men and was leading them across the lines when they were gunned down by American machine gunners who had not yet gotten the order to cease fire. Lt. Toma was so despondent and incensed at the senseless slaughter of his men that he shot himself. His suicide would seem to have been a poignant comment on the entire war.   Toma’s death was also said to be the inspiration for the final scene for the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”.From the cynics view the very idea of a “Last Man” killed in a war that killed 10 million soldiers (and another 10 million civilians) may seem an exercise in futility. In fact, the last day of this war, which lasted just 11 hours, saw almost 11,000 dead, wounded and missing; more casualties than in the 24 hours of D-Day, in World War Two. Worse, as an historian has noted, “The men storming the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on November 11, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won. Had Marshal Foch (the Allied Supreme Commander) heeded the appeal…to stop hostilities while the talks went on, some sixty-six hundred lives would likely have been saved… So,...the men who died for nothing when they might have known long life, ‘would all be forgotten.”Well, not entirely. We all die eventually, and we are all eventually forgotten, as our bones and reputations turn to dust. But the death of twenty million should mean something greater than the sum of their individual petty lives. And in that regard those millions who died in the “…war to end all wars”, require our respect, a memory, an image to keep their memory alive. And in that regard the face of George Lawrence Price (above) , staring out from the now distant past, does better many. His is the face of confident innocence: a confident time, familiar and distant, innocent, and yet no more innocent than your life today; George Lawrence Price was, officially, the last man killed in The Great War of 1914-1918. God rest his soul.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

THE NIGHT I PLAYED McBETH



"…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Macbeth; Act V, scene v
*****************************************************************
I wonder if there has ever been a good reason for a riot? The dictionary says a riot is “a violent disturbance of the peace by three or more persons”, but that definition doesn’t seem to really define the subject fully. The “Zip to Zap” riot of 1969 remains the only public disorder in North Dakota history, but the primary violation there seems to have been ‘group vomiting in public’. The Sydney Cricket riot of 1879 took less than 20 minutes from start to finish. And the English “Calendar Riots” of 1751 are the answer to the question, “What if they held a riot and nobody came?” But of all the stupid reasons to have a riot, the stupidest, the dumbest and the single silliest reason has to be because you found an actor’s rendition of Macbeth was “too English”."I bear a charmed life".
Macbeth: Act V, scene viii *****************************************************************************
This stupidity began in 1836 with a then 20 year old athletic rock-headed ego maniac from Philadelphia named Edwin Forrest. He was a sort of full-back version of the Michael Flatley, “Lord of the Dance”. Humbly, Mr. Forrest described himself as “…a Hercules.” As an actor, “…baring his well-oiled chest and brawny thighs…” Forrest milked every ounce of histrionics out of “Henry V” and every pound of pathos out of “King Lear”, bounding about the stage to liven up the "slow" parts of Shakespeare. By the time he was twenty, Forrest was earning $200 at day (today’s equivalent would be $4,000). Then Forrest decided to conquer the London stage, and parenthetically to study at the foot of the giant of Victorian Shakespearean over- actors, Edward Kean.“If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak”
Macbeth; Act I, scene iii
**************************************************************************** Forrest was a minor hit in London playing supporting roles. While in town he wined and dinned the other giants of the English stage, Charles Kemble and William Charles Macready, and paid them homage. And as a memento of his trip, Forrest took home an English wife, the lovely and wise Catherine Norton Sinclair.
Forrest's return to America was greeted with packed houses and raves by most reviewers. There were some voices of dissent, such as William Winter, who wrote for the New York Tribune that Forrest behaved on stage like a maddened animal “bewildered by a grain of genius”. But such discontent was drowned out in the applause from Boston to Denver. American audiences liked their actors larger than life in those days, and Forrest was just about as large as he could get. In fact, everything would have been perfect but for two small details. First, Edwin could not resist sharing himself with every woman who swooned over his manly thighs (the vast numbers of whom Catherine had a little trouble dealing with), and second, Edwin decided to make a triumphal return tour of England in 1845"Fair is foul, and foul is fair".
Macbeth: Act I, scene i. **************************************************************************** Forrest opened at the Princess’s Theatre in London, where he billed himself as “The Great American Shakespearean Actor”. That was his first mistake. Importing Shakespearean actors to England is like bringing coals to Newcastle; they don’t really need any more. And calling himself "Great did not go down well, either. When Forrest performed his Macbeth, the audience even had the audacity to “boo”. Forrest then made his second mistake when he decided that the negative reaction was a conspiracy hatched by of all people, William Macready."What 's done is done"
Macbeth: Act III scene iii
****************************************************************************
Oddly enough Macready (above) respected Forrest, even though their acting styles were diametrically opposed. Macready even thought of them as friends. Which made Macready all the more shocked when one night, during his “to be or not to be” speech in Edinburg, he discovered that the foulmouthed baboon hissing at him from a private box adjacent to the stage was none other than his erstwhile friend, Edwin Forrest. Forrest even wrote to the “London Times” to justify his gauche behavior as every 'audience members’ right to critique a performer on the spot'. That lit up the press from Leadville, Colorado to Inverness, Scotland. Every yahoo critic and hot headed fanatic had an opinion as to who was the more objectionable, the vulgar American, or the stuck up Limey.“Let not light see my black and deep desires”
Macbeth; Act I scene iv ********************************************************************************
In 1849, when Macready, “The Eminent Tragedian”, began what he intended as his farewell tour of America, he found that Forest had sown salt ahead of him. At every major city he played, from New Orleans to Cleveland, Forest was headlining in another local theatre, performing the same plays.When Macready opened on May 7th in “Macbeth” at the Astor Place Opera House in Manhattan (above), Forrest was opening in “Macbeth” at another theatre just a mile away. And the instant that Macready stepped onto the stage that first night in Manhattan,  it was, in the words of a modern critic, “Groundlings, grab your tomatoes!” The audience began to boo, and then to throw things. After a chair just missed beheading Macready, he took a quick bow and ran for the wings."...When the battle 's lost and won".
Macbeth: Act I, Scene i
********************************************************************************* If the troubles had ended there it would have been a mere footnote in theatrical history. But the next morning Washington Irving and Herman Melville stuck their gigantic egos into the mess. They circulated and published a petition signed by 47 ‘distinguished’ New Yorkers begging Macready to stay for just one more performance. Against his own better judgment, and facing threats of lawsuits from his producers if he quit early, Macready agreed to one more show.
“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.”
Macbeth; Act I scene iii
********************************************************************************* Overnight handbills blossomed on every lamppost in the Bowery; “Workingmen! Shall Americans or English rule this city?” The question was posed by something called “The American Committee”, obviously not a bulwark of artistic objectivity. But I still wonder who really paid for those posters? The city fathers ordered up 325 policemen, and called up 200 members of the 7th regiment, New York Volunteers, to guard the Opera House. And brother, they needed them.On Thursday, May 10, 1849 the troublemakers were kept out of the theatre, but perhaps 10,000 future New York Yankee fans gathered across Astor Place hurling first insults at the cops, and then moving on to rocks and bricks. Eventually the shower of stone shattered the plywood that protected the theatre’s windows and audience members inside were dodging missiles bouncing between their seats.“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”
Macbeth; Act II, scene i
******************************************************************************* Then the crowd charged the cops. The cops beat them back: twice. A handful of “Bowery Boys” tried to set the Opera House on fire. And the next time the crowd charged the 200 members of the 7th let loose a volley. When the smoke cleared, some 22 to 30 people were dead and more than 100 wounded, including some police officers. As at Kent State a century and a half later, many of those shot were innocent bystanders. But enough of the troublemakers had been scared enough to leave Astor Place, and rest of the mob followed. The Shakespeare Riot was over.
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
Macbeth Act V, Scene i.
********************************************************************************* It would be comforting to say that Edwin Forrest suffered for his ego maniacal gambling with other people’s lives. But he didn’t. He just got more famous and more popular. Which may explain why, in 1850 Edwin  had the utter gall to sue Catherine for divorce, charging her with adultery.Yes, the biggest horn dog in America was claiming his English wife had been unfaithful to him. She hadn’t, but who could blame her if she had?  The press - on both sides of the Atlantic - published every nasty innuendo and allegation leaked by both sides. In the end, New York Justice Thomas J. Oakley awarded Catherine her freedom and ordered Edwin Forrest to pay her $3,750 (the equivalent of $92,000 today) every year for the rest of her life. It doesn’t appear as if Edwin really missed the money because he never paid it. True to his character he simply avoided New York State and kept every dime of his fortune. And when he died in 1876, alone and forgotten in his Philadelphia mansion, most of his estate went to Catherine because of the unpaid alimony. At least she outlived the old jerk.“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”
Macbeth: Act I, scene iv. ********************************************************************************* It all brings to mind the old English music hall ditty, “…They jeered me; they queered me, and half of them stoned me to death. They threw nuts and sultanas, fired eggs and bananas, the night I appeared as Macbeth.”
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Sunday, November 04, 2012

GEORGIA PEACHES Part Eight

I seemed to have lost track of Patrick Henry in our story, but let me catch you up. After the original 1789 Yazoo Swamp-Land deal fell through, Patrick had sold most of his shares in the now almost worthless Virginia Yazoo Company to Georgia Senator James Gunn and the North American Land Company (Robert Morris, John Nickleson and James Greenleaf). They had renamed it the Northern Mississippi Company, and in 1795 completed the purchase of the same land (and more) from Georgia for 1.4 cents per acre. Patrick seriously considered suing Georgia, claiming he still had a legal claim to the land, but the suit was never filed. In the meantime he had developed stomach troubles, and was popping out children (11 in all) with his second wife, Dorthea Dandridge Henry.
And just as an aside; the sixth and last child of Patrick Henry's first wife, Sarah, the child whose birth had released Sarah's demons, had been named Edward, and he had grown into one of Patrick Henry's favorites. The proud father gave Needy 949 acres on the Smith River and Leatherwood creek, near the home of Patrick's sister, Martha Fontaine. Neddy had studied to be a lawyer, like his father, but in 1793, at just 23 years of age, and shortly after passing the bar, Edward Henry had died suddenly while visiting his aunt Martha. The last trace of Sarah's sacrifice was then laid to rest in sacred ground.
But back to our main story. First of the great speculators to succumb to the collapse of the North American Land Company was the young man who had promised so much and delivered so little, James Greenleaf. He was first I suspect because he just wasn't that bright. The fulcrum of his over leveraged lifestyle had finally dropped him like a sack of wet sorghum, and even unloading his personal debts on his business partners had not saved the young silver tongued seducer. Late in 1796 he was arrested, and thrown into Philadelphia's dreaded Prune Street Debtors Prison.
It was part of the larger Walnut Street jail, an imposing structure which housed 300 prisoners, but in the back, in a two story building originally designed as a work house, was the small debtors jail. All the prisoners were expected to pay for their own incarceration. It was a strange system considering the prisoners were in jail because they were broke. Those with wealthy friends willing to pay could receive better food or even a small private apartment. Still, one look at his new dismal surroundings, and a desperate Greenleaf had his lawyers petition for his immediate release. But Robert Morris' instructed his lawyers to intervene. They reminded the court that the young seducer had been granted a divorce in Rhode Island, which meant he was an out-of-state debtor, and the law required they remain in jail for at least six months. In fact James Greenleaf would remain behind bars much longer than that.
Morris may have preferred that Greenleaf was skinned alive, but actually, the debt left him and Nicholson by Greenleaf was a mere drop in a rising tide of unpaid promises. And if Greenleaf had lied about his contacts with the Dutch banks, Morris had wanted to believe those lies, and his used them as leverage in building his own empire. That empire, built by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, was collapsing with demands for payment from both. Morris' mansion in Philadelphia was so heavy besieged by creditors, that he retreated to the country estate he called “The Hills”.
He was most repelled by the idea of sharing a cell with his old partner Greenleaf. He wrote Nicholson, “I do not want to be under the same roof with such a scoundrel.” But at last, on February 15, 1798, one venal vindictive creditor named George Eddy, aided by a local sheriff, managed to lay hands on the great speculator. The amount owed to Eddy was small (by Morris's standards), but even this pittance the largest private land owner in North America could not pay. Morris wrote to a friend, “George Eddy is the most hardened villain God ever made. I believe if I had bank bills to pay him with he would refuse them on the ground of their not being legal tender. He was positively determined to carry me to Prune Street last night, but the sheriff humanely relieved me from his rascally clutches.” It was only an overnight stay of execution. The next day, Robert Morris, signer of the Deceleration of Independence, entered the Prune Street Debtors jail. Now living under the same roof, Morris refused to even acknowledge Greenleaf's presence, studiously avoiding him in all encounters.
John Nicholson held out for another year, until the winter of 1799 when the 43 year old joined his partners behind bars. There he lost not only his fortune (creditors squeezed $8 million from his estate), Nicholson also lost his mind. He still owed $4 million His wife and eight children were now destitute. And he died in the Prune Street Jail, on December 5th, . 1800. Robert Morris survived the humiliation, supported by his wealthy sons, but he died four years later, still $12 million in debt and occasionally harassed by creditors. And James Greenleaf, the despised debonair silver tongued seducer of women and money, survived as well. Shortly after his release he married Anne Penn Allen, a lovely and wealthy Washington socialite. But this lady was more careful than Greenleaf's Dutch bride. Before the wedding Ms Penn Allen put her sizable estate in a trust, where James Greenleaf was never able to reach it. Not that he didn't continually try, until his death in 1843.
Meanwhile, the North American Land Company lived on, as did the Yazoo Companies. Remember that the day the Georgia legislature had signed the Rescinding Act into law in February of 1796, James Greenleaf had unloaded the Georgia Mississippi Company for 10 cents an acre on a group of prominent Boston speculators headed by Judge William Wetmore, businessman Leonard Jarvis Sr and Henry Hampton . One year later Judge Wetmore's group re-sold the company to yet another group which included a Boston speculator named John Peck. In 1797 Peck's group renamed it the New England Mississippi Company. They also hired a Boston Law firm which offered the legal opinion that the “Rescinding Act” by the Georgia legislature had been unconstitutional. That made it legal to sell shares in their Yazoo lands for 33 cents an acre. By 1798 the New England Mississippi Company had attracted $2 million, mostly from small investors, including 1,200 in Maryland alone, all gambling that somehow the courts would approve the Yazoo Swamp-Land sale.
James Jackson was determined that would never happen. Elected Governor of Georgia in 1798 he ensured a substantial chunk of his Rescinding Act was written into the new state constitution. And in 1802 he oversaw the sale of all of the Georgia's claims to the Yazoo lands, everything beyond the Apalachicola River to the Mississippi, to the federal government, in exchange for $1.3 million. The fact this represented a defacto recognition of Federal power over the states was ignored by the Jeffersonian-Republicans who brokered the deal. Functional politics is never ideological. And to Jackson it was an absolute that the Yazoo Swamp-Land deal was an abomination, even refusing to pay the printer who published a codification of laws under the old constitution, because the volume included proscribed laws which mentioned the sale.
It wasn't as simple as that, of course. The publisher of the codification was Robert Watkins, son of a state Representative in the excommunicated 1795 legislature. Robert had even received land in the heinous deal, and his inclusion of the interdicted laws was probably no accident. Still, they had been laws lawfully passed by the elected legislature and the historical record required their presence. But Governor Jackson stubbornly refused to pay him.
One afternoon in 1802, in the new Georgia capital of Augusta, the ex-Governor and newly elected U.S. Senator James Jackson was confronted on the street by the infuriated printer. Robert Watkins denounced Jackson as a “pygmy general” and a member of a “damned venal faction which has disgraced Georgia.” Where upon Jackson whacked Watkins in the face with his cane. Watkins returned the favor by using his waking stick to hit Jackson on the head, drawing blood. Jackson pulled a pistol, but somebody knocked it out of his hand. Watkins lept upon Jackson, and tried to gouge his eyes out. Jackson bit Watkins fingers', causing Watkins to roll away, screaming in pain. And while everybody was trying to catch their breath, Watkins pulled a pistol with a spring loaded bayonet, and stabbed Jackson in the chest. The blade missed his heart by an inch. Friends were finally able to pull the two hot heads apart.
It seemed that even five years after the Yazoo Swamp-Land Deal had been “rescinded”, it was still trying to rise from the dead, like every good movie monster.
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