JULY 2018

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


Friday, February 21, 2014


I blame the Democrats for what happened to James Gillespie Blaine (above). At least in part. The donkies had jumped the ideology shark with their "Southern Strategy" in the run up to the Civil War, and were not present in Washington to perform their nominal job of cleaning up any rotting fruit that dropped from the Republican tree when James Blaine was first elected to congress in 1862. Nor was it James’s fault that his brother-in-law, Eben C. Stanwood, was so greedy. There is always a lot of money floating around Washington during a war, the kind of easy money even a brother-in-law could get his hands on. And James Blaine would have been a saint if he had not been tempted by the money to be made by manipulating the stock in the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. Of course James did not have to jump in quite so enthusiastically
The Little Rock Railroad was supposed to have been completed before the civil war broke out, but it went bankrupt. And that was when Boston speculator Josiah Fisher convinced a group of investors (including the brother-in-law, Eben) to buy up the worthless stock. It was Eben - and another crooked “investor” named Joshua Caldwell - who dangled fat sales commission checks in front of the new Congressman James Blaine. And from the second he heard about the idea, James wanted in. In fact, the Maine Congressman wrote to Fisher on 10 September 1867, in a letter marked “Strictly Private”, “…my position will enable me to render you services of vital importance and value….I do not feel I shall be a dead head....Are you not willing to aid me (elsewhere) where you can do so with profit to yourself at the same time?”  Fisher did not reply to this crude solicitation, so evidently James paid him a visit in person. We know about the agreement they reached in private because Blaine was helpful enough to lay out the details in a second letter he wrote to Fisher, which he helpfully marked “Burn after Reading.”  Who wouldn't want to save  a letter marked that?
By September of 1869 James Blaine had sold over $130,000 in Little Rock railroad bonds (worth about $2 million today), mostly to other railroad barons, who, of course, did not need or want bonds they knew were worthless. But still, James was paid very handsome commissions for those sales. By then passengers could actually board the train in Little Rock. However the passengers were required to cover the last fifty miles to Fort Smith in a stagecoach, a 3 ½ hour living hell of dust, mud and potholes.  Not surprisingly, the railroad went bankrupt yet again, as the railroad barons knew it must. But despite the business having failed twice, Congressman Blaine was still demanding that he be “compensated” in addition to the commission checks he had already cashed. Fisher was ready to tell Blaine to drop dead,  until one of the other robber barons reminded Fisher, “…it is important that he should be conciliated…However unreasonable in his demand he may appear to you…he should in some manner be appeased.” So Speaker Blaine was “appeased” with loans he was not expected to repay. But Banker Fisher was not likely to forget he had been made to feel like one of the suckers of his own scam.
After serving three very profitable terms as Speaker of the House, James Blaine stepped down so he could concentrate on a run for the White House. Just think how much money he could make there! As the campaign season of 1876 approached, he was a serious possibility. However, things had changed in Washington by then. The Democrats were back, and had captured control of the House of Representatives. That gave them the power of subpoena, and they used it to subpoena a certain Mr. James Mulligan, who was a Boston bookkeeper in the employ of Banker Josiah Fisher. Remember him?
It seems that Mr. Mulligan had never burned an incriminating letter in his life. On 31 May, 1876, under the gentle guidance of Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democrat Proctor Knott  (I love that name!), Mr. Mulligan casually admitted that he had in his possession “certain letters written by Representative  Blaine to Mr. Fisher”.  Given the panicked high sign by Blaine, the senior Republican on the committee immediately moved to adjourn for the day.  That night  Blaine appeared at Mr. Mulligan’s door at the Riggs House hotel, and proceeded to chase Mulligan all over his room, begging and whining and reminding Mulligan what disgrace would mean to Blaine's poor children. Finally, because he was embarrassed and cornered, Mulligan allowed the Congressman to read the letters. But once he had his hands on them Blaine announced that since they were “his” letters, he was going to keep them, and he left with the letters safely in his own pocket.
On the floor of Congress over the next several days the Democrats demanded that Blaine hand the letters back over. Finally, on 5 June, James Blaine rose to respond in front of packed House galleries. He thundered, “I have defied the power of the House to compel me to produce these letters…but, sir,…I am not afraid to show the letters. Thank God Almighty, I am not afraid to show them.” As proof of his willingness to show the letters, he showed the letters. He waved them over his head. He did not allow anyone read them, of course. “These are they…and with some sense of humiliation,…with a sense of outrage which I think any man in my position would feel, I invite the confidence of 44 million of my countrymen while I read those letters from this desk.” And so he did, with commentary and asides in his own defense. The Republicans were persuaded, but the Democrats were not.
Having earlier read the letters himself, Chairman Knott (above) knew that Blaine had avoided reading certain incriminating sections of the letters, and he rose to challenge Blaine’s version. And that was when James Blaine pulled the rabbit out of his...I'll say hat. Suddenly changing the subject, he asked Knott if the committee had received a transatlantic cable from Joshua Caldwell (remember him?), supporting Blaine’s version of events. In fact Caldwell had sent such a cable. But Caldwell was a well known liar, and nobody in their right mind would believe anything he said - certainly Proctor Knott didn't. Still, that was not the question. Representative Blaine stomped right up to Proctor’s desk and accused him, nose to nose, of suppressing the Caldwell cable. Blushing, Proctor was forced to stammer that indeed they had received such a cable. The galleries erupted in thunderous applause for Blaine.
Chairman Proctor Knott himself described the challenge as “…one of the most extraordinary exhibitions of histrionic skill, one of the most consummate pieces of acting that ever occurred upon any stage on earth.” Blaine had so completely turned the tables on the Democrats that nobody except them seemed to notice that he had not, in fact, denied the basic allegations of bribery in the letters.
Still, the effort had extracted a toll on Congressman James Blaine. That Sunday he collapsed on the front steps of his church, and passed out. If he was stricken going into the church or coming out I have been unable to confirm.  Luckily, he was bedridden for several weeks, during which time the committee investigation faded until it simply evaporated. But James G. Blaine's dreams of the White House had to be put off for the time being. Of course, being one of the biggest egomaniacs of his age, he never said never. And come 1884 he would try for the White House yet again. Which is when those letters would resurface, again.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I can’t say she was beautiful, but then photographs are a poor record of personality. The newspapers called her “comely”, which the dictionary defines as “pleasing and wholesome in appearance.” But Dolly Oesterreich (pronounced "Ace-strike") (above) was not wholesome. She was, when our story begins, about 33 years old, an age at which a woman, so we are told, reaches the peak of her sensuality. However, I suspect that Dolly had always been skilled at seduction. Murder? Not so much.
For 15 years Dolly had been married to Fred Oesterreich (above), a man whose only selling point as a husband was that he was wealthy. He owned an apron factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was constantly berating his 60 seamstresses to work faster.
He pinched every penny and drove himself as hard as he drove his employees. Of course, he was better paid. As a result of his dedication to his job, the Oesterreiches grew richer. And Dolly grew lonelier. So it should have come as no surprise in 1913, when Dolly asked her husband to dispatch a particular repairman she had seen about his apron factory, to fix her personal sewing machine.
His name was Otto Sanhuber  (above) , and when our story begins, he was all of 17. Again it seems, the photographs do not do him justice, either. To the casual observer he looked like a mousy milk toast of a man. But Dolly must have recognized that, beyond Otto’s nebbish exterior, loomed an undiscovered Hercules of passion.
Dolly (above) answered Otto's knock attired only in a robe and slippers. She showed him to her bedroom, where she kept her Singer. She lounged on the bed while Otto adjusted her bobbin. Dolly brushed back her hair. Otto tightened her belts. Dolly lifted a leg. Otto greased her shuttle shaft. Dolly let her robe fall open. And according to Otto, he threaded her needle eight times that first afternoon.
They began by sneaking assignations in the Oesterrich home while Fred was at work, but a needling neighbor warned Fred about the man who was constantly coming and going from his house. Dolly was forced to hem and haw an excuse. Then the lovers substituted Otto’s depressing rooms, and then a hotel. But every rendezvouses ran the risk of uncovering their affair. Eventually, Dolly conceived a simple pattern for their love. Otto quit his job and moved into the attic of the Oesterreich home (above). A curtain was thus drawn and there would be no more comings and goings - none visible to the neighbors, anyway.
The thread of Otto’s life had found his spool. The hook of Dolly’s life had found her eye. For three years they pulled the wool over Fred’s eyes. For three years Otto slept above his mistresses’ marriage bed, slipping out of his hidden attic room by day to help Dolly with her housework, and once the dishes were done, to pump her treadle and spin her crank. There were loose threads, of course, that threatened to unfray the fabric of their affair. But with a little tacking, awl was mended.
Eventually Fred got the notion of moving his factory to Los Angeles, and in 1918 he bought Dolly a grand home on North St. Andrew’s Place (above)  in that city. Dolly made certain the new home had a tidy tiny attic room, so Otto would feel comforted too. Life was a perfect fit for Dolly and Otto. And Fred. As long as Fred never noticed how much it was costing him to feed and clothe one woman.
This happy scene unraveled on the night of Tuesday, August 22, 1922, four years after the move to Los Angeles. Fred and Dolly returned from a dinner party and a fight broke out. Fred lost his temper and actually struck Dolly. And that was when Otto, listening upstairs, rushed to the rescue from his hidden room,  carrying a .22 pistol. Now why did he have one of those? The two men struggled. Otto’s gun went off three times, and Fred went down. His string had run out. A few moments later the police arrived to discover an apparent house robbery gone bad. The husband was dead on the living room floor and the hysterical wife was locked in the hall closet. Still, there was something that made the police suspicious. When sweated by the cops, Dolly insisted the couple had never fought. The police, many of them married men,  knew that had to be a lie, but they couldn't prove it.
Dolly was arrested, and charged (above) with the murder of her husband. While she was in lockup Dolly pleated with one of her lawyers, Herman Shapiro, to do her a tiny  favor. Dolly claimed to have an addled half-brother named Otto who lived in her attic, and who must be running short of food by now. Already under Dolly’s beguiling influence, Herman agreed to deliver sustenance to the man.
When he tapped on the hidden attic door, a bespeckeled little face appeared and wolfed down the food, and talked; he talked as if he had no one to speak to for years. He was, in fact, explained Otto, a sewing machine repairman who had come to fix Dolly’s machine years before, in Wisconsin,  and stayed to be her “sex slave”. Otto said nothing about Fred’s murder, but Herman was no fool. Being a lawyer, he kept his mouth shut.
Without knowledge of Otto, the Police case against Dolly (above, center)  fell apart, and she was released. But Herman Shapiro found he now cottoned to Dolly, and he insisted that before anything happened between them, Otto had to go. 
So, in 1923, Otto moved out of the attic. He went to Canada and established his own life. He even married (above). But, eventually, in search of work,  he moved himself and his new wife back to Los Angeles. In L.A. he got a job as a porter in a hotel. And Otto might have lived there happily ever after with his devoted wife, if only Herman Shapiro had kept his big fat mouth sewn shut.
In 1930, eight years after Fred’s death, Herman finally realized the seductress (above) from Milwaukee was never going to marry him, after he discovered she was secretly seducing her business manager, Mr. Ray Bert Hendrick. Maybe the lady just couldn't help herself. A lawyer scorned, Herman went to the police and spilled the beans. He confessed the details of his encounter with the man in the attic. 
The police checked the long since abandoned Oesterreich homes in Wisconsin and Los Angeles and discovered Otto’s hidden abodes, and the veil was stripped from their eyes. Dolly's life quickly unraveled. 
Otto was arrested, and he made a full confession about the night he burst out of his hidden room to confront the violent Fred, and how he shot him dead.. 
And he showed (above) his tiny room where he hid while the police searched the night of the shooting.
And Dolly was arrested again. And charged with murder again. 
Otto was convicted of manslaughter. But, since the statute of limitations for manslaughter was eight years, which had just run out, Otto was released immediately after his conviction. He then faded from history. I wonder if his marriage survived the revelations.  
Dolly’s trial ended in a hung jury, the majority favoring her acquittal. She was never retried, and lived out the rest of her life over a garage, surviving on the meager remains of the fortune that Fred had amassed - which would have infuriated Fred, had he not been dead. In the end I guess Dolly was still needling poor hardworking unaware Fred.
Dolly did remarry in 1961, at the age of 75 (above, center). Her new husband was her long time business manager, Ray Bert Hendrick (above, left). She died just two weeks later.
It brings to mind the way that Leo Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.  And this family was surely particularly unhappy, because whatever it was that Otto and Fred and Dolly were doing together, they were doing it tailored to fit their very own odd shaped frames.
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Sunday, February 16, 2014


"I sat in the orchestra pit of the huge auditorium at the Angelus Temple...the crowd spilling into the aisles. Many were on crutches or in wheelchairs. Suddenly a figure with bright red hair and a flowing white gown walked out to the center of the stage. In a soft voice, almost a whisper, she said, 'Brothers and sisters, is there anyone here who wants to be cured tonight?'...One man said, 'I can't see out of one eye.' She asked. 'Do you believe, brother?' And suddenly, the man cried, 'Yes, sister, I can see, I can see!' And the audience went crazy. To a woman dragging herself across the stage on crutches she said, 'Throw away that crutch!' Suddenly, the woman threw away her crutch and ran into Aimee's open arms. I left that service exhilarated, renewed."
Actor Anthony Quinn, working as a musician in the Angeles Temple, 1925
Unlike the Grand Jury which had indicted Sister Aimee (above left), her mother Mildred Kennedy (above, right), her alleged paramour Kenneth Ormiston, and two others at the end of August 1926, the preliminary hearing before a judge to determine if there as sufficient evidence that the accused had committed the crime, would be held in public. The alleged crime, which H.L.Menken failed to recognize, was not that the lady had lied to defend her honor. She and her co-conspirators had paid others to lie under oath. McPhherson's affair was not a criminal issue, but the coverup implied that there was something of value that had been unlawfully gained, i.e. donations to the Angelus Temple. And that would be a criminal act. But Aimee realized she would be doing her fighting, not in court, but from the pulpit. As Menken predicted before the hearing even began, “...Aimee has the radio, and I believe that the radio will count most in the long run.”
This was her home turf. Reverend Shelton Bissel, an Episcopalian minister from Boise, Idaho, and author of the book “Unofficial Christianity”, described Aimee's usual services as “ A sensuous debauch served up in the name of religion.” In his article entitled “Vaudeville at Angelus Temple”, Bissel paid a Sunday night visit to Aimee's Church. He reported, “At 6:15 the doors swing open.... Within fifteen minutes the huge (5,500 seat) auditorium with its two flaring balconies is completely filled...Suddenly through a door far up on the wall...appears Mrs. McPherson. She is clad in white, with a dark cloak thrown loosely around her shoulders; her rich auburn hair, with its flowing permanent wave, is heaped high on her head....on her face is the characteristic expansive, radiant McPherson smile. She is a beautiful woman, seen from the auditorium...Assisted to her "throne," she gracefully seats herself, turns to her audience—and her microphone—and is ready to begin.”
Once she began speaking, said Bissel, the lady was transformed. “Without one moment's intermission, she would talk from an hour to an hour and a half, holding her audience spellbound.” Another observer added that her speech “... was hopeless as a sermon, but it was consummate preaching....She knew what she was after, and she got it.….She moves the microphone from time to time. She rests her hand lovingly upon it. She never shifts her position one step away from it. All her climaxes are enhanced to the listening thousands throughout southern California and near-by States who regularly "tune-in" on Sunday nights. Radio KFSG is as dear to her as the five thousand and more in Angelus Temple.”
But as Sarah Comstock wrote in Harper's at the time: “It is in what she terms 'illustrations' that she gives full vent to her showman's genius. These are her master effort, a novel and highly original use that she makes of properties, lights, stage noises, and mechanical devices to point her message. Heaven and Hell, sinner and saint, Satan, the fleshpots of Egypt, angels of Paradise and temptations of a bejazzed World are made visual by actors, costumes, and theatrical tricks of any and every sort that may occur to her ingenious mind - a mind which must work twenty-four hours to the day to pave the way for the lady's activities.”
And that mind was busy, writing 13 of her illustrated sermons, 175 hymns and even operas. In one “illustration” titled "The Green Light is On," Aimee rode down the temple aisle on a motorcycle dressed as a policeman (above). In a raging thunderstorm a dozen maidens held onto the Rock of Ages while sailors pulled them to safety in her dramatic sermon, “Throw Out a Life Line”. In another production, a live camel plodded onto the stage of her church as an analogy of overworked parishioners. She was, wrote a critic, “playwright, producer, director, and star performer in one...a complete vaudeville program, entirely new each week, brimful of surprises for the eager who are willing to battle in the throng for entrance.” And at the center of it all was Sister Aimee. When Wendell St. Clair was entrusted with leading a small portion of one “illustration”, he noticed the light on the pulpit intercom was blinking. “I picked up the phone and all I heard was, "Pep it up! Pep it up, pep it up!" I was so humiliated because there was no mistaking the voice... Aimee Semple McPherson."
When charged by cross- town evangelical competitor Methodist Robert Schuler with demeaning Christianity, Aimee replied, “Show me a better way to persuade willing people to come to church and I’ll be happy to try your method. But please . . . don’t ask me to preach to empty seats. Let’s not waste our time quarreling over methods. God has use for all of us. Remember the recipe in the old adage for rabbit stew? It began, “first catch your rabbit.” And as the trial began, Aimee had a new rabbit to catch
A quarter before ten that Monday morning, 27 September, outside the courtroom of Municipal Judge Samuel R. Blake, “A barrage of flash... "booms" in the corridor announced the entry of the famous religious leader and her mother ...All in black Mrs. McPherson looked fresh and apparently prepared for what the day might bring...A wide rimmed black hat...hid the wealth of bronze colored hair...cameramen sought positions on Judge Blake's bench from which to "shoot" the evangelist and her mother, flanked by attorneys as they sat at the counsel table. Smiling sunnily, Mrs. McPherson talked with her mother and the attorneys. Though she appeared in her usual happy mood, a close look seemed to disclose a suggestion of worry lines about her eyes.”
That first day Agnes Callihan, a maid at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, testified that while the Angelus Temple was under construction Aimee Semple McPherson had stayed at the hotel. And on one occasion Agnes had seen Kenneth Ormiston entering the preacher's room. That evening Aimee debuted a new program on her radio station, what she called her “daily bulletin”. It would be heard by 200,000 listeners across Southern California, parts of Arizona and Utah. She denounced the maid's testimony as “ dirty filthy, innuendo.”
“The vile insinuations which fell from the lips of Mr. Keyes during his examination today, “ began Aimee, “could not, in my opinion, exist in the mind of any pure man! He has subjected me today to the most exquisite cruelty and suffering that the human mind can conjure up. Asa Keyes—if you are listening in, you are a dirty, lecherous libertine!I urge every single taxpayer listening to my voice to contact your office and demand immediately an accounting of the money—thousands upon thousands of dollars—that you have been squandering...for what we are supposed to believe are investigations into my integrity.”
By weeks end the press had heard testimony from five witnesses found by Assistant District Attorney Ryan in Carmel, each of whom put her in a seaside resort during her “kidnapping ”. In her daily bulletin Aimee now took the gloves off. “Everybody knows that Asa has his hands pretty tight around my throat just now,” she told her listeners, “and wants to squeeze a little tighter every day until he chokes the life out of me...This is what is called a preliminary examination...Mr. Keyes’s office boys usually attend to such things. And I ask now...upon what theory does he need two able assistants to prosecute poor me in this preliminary hearing.” Behind the scenes Aimee had hired her own private detectives to investigate her opponent, telling them, according to one witness, “Get something on him that’ll stick”’ She signed a deal to syndicate a series of newspaper columns titled, “Saint or Sinner? Did I Go from Pulpit to Paramour?” Her own answer, of course, was no.
In her sermon that Sunday night, Aimee pointed out she had once considered District Attorney Keyes a friend -  that she had allowed him to address her congregation -  and that she had even endorsed his election in 1924. Why had he now become her enemy? She asked the 5,500 in the temple, and the hundreds of thousands listening in on the radio, “Did the overlords of the underworld who are fighting me, and who are heavily interested in Los Angeles, have anything to do with it?” Having reached the conclusion that they were, she continued, “Mr. Keyes means to do a-plenty to me right away! He has already blasted my name with trumpets across the world...if his word is the Gospel—that I am the worst ever.”
In the hearing, that was exactly what Asa Keys was trying to prove.  As if that mattered.
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