AUGUST   2020


Friday, March 07, 2014


I should point out that when Martin Van Buren (above) was humiliatingly dumped into an Indiana hog wallow, ruining a very expensive pair of pearl gray trousers and coating his elegant frock coat with everything a happy swine leaves behind in a porcine sauna, he deserved it. Of course “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” was far too crafty a politician to admit he had been humiliated. That would just draw more  humiliation. As the venomous Virginia politician John Randolph observed, Martin Van Buren always “rowed with muffled oars.” But everybody knew this traffic accident had been staged as payback for Van Buren having insulted Hoosiers. What goes around comes around. And it was useless to point out that the insult had mostly come from Van Buren's predecessor, the still popular Andrew Jackson.
Even the frail shadow of federal authority which existed in 1828 was too much for incoming President Andrew Jackson (above). Over his two terms, Jackson did his very best to attack "big government",  in all its endeavors except the ones of which he approved. Jackson vetoed a new charter for the National Bank - precursor of the Federal Reserve - which left the entire banking system unregulated. He streamlined the sale of public lands, which energized land speculators and overcharged yeoman farmers. He cut entire programs out of the Federal budget, and insisted the states take over many others. And at the same time he backed the Seminole Indian nation into a war.
But it was not until three months after his successor Van Buren's inauguration in March of 1837 that these pigeons came home to roost. The massive real estate bubble suddenly popped. Over half of the nation's unregulated banks suddenly failed. And by January of 1838 half a million Americans were unemployed. Or to put it more simply, suddenly it was prom night and Martin Van Buren was dating Carrie. And like Carrie's date, Van Buren then made things worse by slashing out at everything in sight. Oh, he continued the unending expensive Seminole war. But he insisted on killing Federal funding for the National Road, which had reduced mail time between Washington and Indianapolis from several months to less than a week. Van Buren was so doctrinaire he even sold off the construction workers' picks and shovels. And for frontier farmers trying to get their produce to market, that made any economic recovery that much harder.
See, once across the Ohio border, the $7,000 a mile construction costs for the National Road was supposed to be supplied by land sales. But when the real estate bubble popped in 1837, that funding evaporated. Maintenance for the 600 mile road was paid for by the tolls of four to twelve cents per ten mile section (the equivalent of $2.50 today), paid by the 200 wagons, horseback riders, farmers and herds of livestock that used each section of the road every day. But after 1837 that $36,000 a year (almost a million dollars today) had to do double duty, finishing the road and providing maintenance for the road already completed  And it was not enough.
Particularly in Indiana, there were long sections beyond the two urban centers, ((Indianapolis and Richmond) where farmers using the road to drive their livestock to market faced forests of 14 inch high tree stumps. These provided clearance for the farmers' and emigrants' high riding Conestoga wagons, but between the stumps, the road bed was in such bad shape that constant repairs to their equipment bankrupted many of the 200 stagecoach lines trying to survive in Indiana. And every frontier farmer and businessman knew exactly who was to blame for all of this –“President Martin Van Ruin”.  As a result, in the election of 1840, in Hendricks County, (just southwest of Indianapolis), and along the National Road, Van Buren received 651 votes, while Whig candidate William Henry Harrison received 1,189 votes. Nationwide, Van Buren carried just 7 of the 26 states.
Normally this Hoosier hostility would not have lasted long, but just six months after taking office, the new President Harrison died of a pneumonia, and all previous assumptions had to be rethought . The Whigs had picked John Tyler as Vice President, mostly to get rid of him. Now, disastrously, he was the head of their party. The overjoyed Democrats began referring to Tyler as “His Accidency.” The adroit and dapper Martin Van Buren began thinking he could avenge his defeat and take the road back to the White House in 1844. All he needed was a cunning plan, which he just happened to have. 
In February of 1842, Van Buren (above) journeyed to Nashville, Tennessee, for an extended visit with his mentor Andrew Jackson, hoping some of Old Hickory’s popularity would rub off on him. It did not. Heading north, Van Buren then set off for a tour of the frontier states. He was well received in Kentucky, and the pro-slavery areas around Cincinnati, Ohio, but the closer he got to Indiana the more reserved the crowds became.
In early June he was met at the Indiana border by 200 loyal Democrats, and gave them a speech at Sloan's Brick Stage House on Main Street (the National Road) in Richmond, Indiana. But the vast majority of the local Quakers remained skeptical. And while Van Buren was speaking, noted the Richmond Palladium newspaper, “...a mysterious chap partially sawed the underside of the double tree crossbar of the that it would snap on the first hard pull…”
The next morning the stagecoach and its distinguished passenger headed for Indianapolis, the “Capital in the Woods”. But just two miles outside of Richmond, while bouncing over ruts and stumps, the carriage splashed into a great deep mud hole. And when the horses were whipped to yank the carriage out, the weakened cross brace snapped. Dressed in his silk finery, Martin Van Burn was forced to disembark into the foul waters and wade to shore.
There was no indication of any further sabotage on Van Buren's 74 mile ride across the mostly open prairie, which took the better part of three days. The ex-President and future candidate made it to the Hoosier capital in time to keep his appointments and make his speeches over the weekend of June 9-10. He took two more days to make political contacts, shaking hands and trading confidences, before, on Wednesday, June 13, he boarded yet another mail coach for the 75 mile journey to Illinois. But just six miles down the road, Van Buren had to pass through the Quaker bastion of Plainfield, Indiana.
The town earned its name from the “plain folk” who had laid out the town ten years earlier on the east bank of White Lick Creek. This Henricks county town was straddled by the National Road, which provided Plainfield's livelihood. Less than a quarter mile up Main Street from the  ford over the "crick", amidst a stand of Elms, the Quakers had built a camp ground and built a meeting house. And here, that Wednesday morning, were gathered several hundred Wigs and Quakers, in their “Sunday, go to meeting clothes”, to see the once and maybe future President ride past. The crowd may have even been increased because the driver of this particular leg of the President's journey was a local boy, twenty-something Mason Wright. Soon, the crowd heard the blast of the horn from Mason's lips, warning of the VIP's bouncing approach down the gentle half mile slope toward White Lick Creek.
The disaster occurred abruptly. The coach rushed into view, with Van Buren's arm waving out of the coach's open window, while Teamster Wright whipped the horses to move faster. Faster? Shouldn't he be slowing down to let people get a view of the President?  And then, just as carriage came abreast of the center of the campground, the coach was forced to veer to the right to avoid a large "hog waller" mud hole in the very center of the dilapidated National Road. And as if  it had been planned, the right front wheel bounced over the hard knuckle of an exposed bare Elm root. The carriage teetered for an instant until the rear wheel bounced over the same root. The teetering coach then careened past the point of no return.  Mason Wright leaped free while the coach crashed heavily onto its side into the very center of the smelly, sticky, hot black hog waller. Martin Van Buren had been dumped again.
A Springfield Illinois newspaper would note a few days later, “He was always opposed to that road, but we were not aware that the road held a grudge against him!” Wrote a more bitter Wig newspaper, “the only free soil of which Van Buren had knowledge (of) was the dirt he scraped from his person at Plainfield.”  The driver and witnesses blamed the Elm (above), which could not defend itself. Van Buren was uninjured, but once again had to extricate himself from his injured coach. After pouring the mud and other unidentified muck from his boots, Van Buren made his way on foot further west along the National Road to Fisher’s Tavern, at what is now 106 E. Main Street, Plainfiield. There, Mrs. Fisher helped the President clean up his pants and coat, and wash the mud from his wide brimmed hat.
Back at the campground. the honest Quakers helped to right the stage, re-attach the horses, and carefully and respectfully deliver the coach to Fishers to collect the President. But it is hard to believe that, as Mr. Van Buren splashed across White Lick "crick" many of those Quakers were not smiling with the sly satisfaction of a job well done. 
A few days later Teamster Mason Wright was awarded a $5 silk hat, although it was never explicitly stated it was for his skill in staging a stage crash - call it political slapstick. But the tree who's root had provided the fulcrum for the prank would forever more be known as the Van Buren Elm.  In 1916 (above) the Daughters of the American Revolution even gave the tree a wooden plaque of its own.
But the hard winter of 1926 brought the Van Buren Elm down, and a local doctor lamented, “The many friends of the old historic tree are loath to have it removed from their midst.”
Van Buren (above) made it safely to Illinois without further accidents. He was  met a few miles outside of Springfield by a small delegation of legislators, including the young Abraham Lincoln. But Mr. Van Buren was never elected to public office again. The judgement of Hoosiers stood firm.
The Quakers' Meeting House still stands among the Elms at 256 East Main Street (corner of Vine) in Plainfield.  After the original Buchan Elm fell, a replacement was planted, and it received a bronze plaque (above).  This inspired a local grade school to be named for the dapper Democrat who stumbled in their town, and a street was named after him as well. But in Plainfield the National Road (now U.S. Route 40), is still called Main Street. That is true of many Midwestern towns bisected by the National Road. It truly was America's Main Street. And Martin Van Buren had been wrong about that.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2014


I confess that my favorite nursery rhyme might be considered a bit morbid. Of course there is nothing unusual in that. Consider the harmless "Pop goes the Weasel” - "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel, the monkey stops to pull up his socks, and pops goes the weasel". Actually it tells the story of a gin addict, or a weasel. And gin is a product of the mulberry bush.  But my favorite is the rhyme known as “Burke and Hare”. It 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 (above) was an Irish immigrant to Scotland who worked as a “Navvy” on the Union Canal. In other words he was a digger with a pick and shovel. William married Margaret Laird, who ran a boarding house called "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 (above), 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 of the run down establishment (above, ) known to history only as Donald, died of “natural causes” – probably 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. After the funeral 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 to 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 (above) 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 an experienced 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 sophisticated capitalists (think, Bain Capital for the dead) who found a way to undercut their competition in both overhead and the 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 were the Irish transplants to Scotland, Msrs. Hare and Burke
In 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 (above) and then a woman beggar 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 (above) would be an easy profit. But the boy actually was evidently a socialist,  who did not appreciate the virtues of Burke and Hare's business model. 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 and remove his deformed feet, to calm those few squeamish students and to disguise the evidence. Things were now getting frustrating even for Dr. Knox. 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 (above). The Grays called the police. By the time the officers arrived, Ms Douchety had moved on. But a tip led the lawmen to Dr. Knox’s dissection class where the product (i.e. Ms. Douchety)  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 lucky lady was the last of 16 known victims of Burke and Hare. As best it can be figured, the business model produced about one hundred thirty pounds income. Not a bad return for the modest investment.
There was an added profit, in that the invention of "Burking" which had given rise to the company, had also so disguised the method of death that it might be impossible for the authorities to prove any murder had even occurred. And, amazingly enough, the corporation was not accused of robbing a single grave. The Authorities realized that if anybody was going to be punished for this crime spree the cops needed at least one of the conspirators to turn on their fellows.
The prosecutors  went to the smartest members of the corporation, offering them immunity in exchange for a full confession and testimony against their fellow. And that is why William Burke went up the stairs of the gallows in a downpour all by himself on January 28, 1829, in front of 25,000 people.  Everybody else, Helen McDougal, Margaret and William Hare, got a walk - or a run, actually. Mobs chased all of them out of Scotland. Rumor was that Helen eventually took ship for Australia. And William Hare was last seen being chased through a field near Loughbrickland, Ireland -  having abandoned his wife Margaret and their child in the road   And Dr. Knox, who financed the entire operation, escaped the angry mobs by moving to London, where he earned a good living as an lecturer in anatomy. He died in 1862. 
As part of his punishment, William Burkes’ corpse was cut down and removed to the Old College anatomy theater, where it was publicly dissected, as an abject lesson in sin and immoral behavior – not a very productive example when the profession was still seeking bodies to use in educating doctors. His skin was tanned and turned into, among other things,  a "business card" case for one of the doctors.

And to drive that pointless point home even stronger, Burke’s skeleton (above) remains at the University of Edinburgh's Anatomy Museum to this day, in a glass case, labeled as a "notorious 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 portrayed as "the thief". In fact, William Burke was the man who paid the price, of being remembered as a fiend, but whose real crime seems to have been that he was just not very nice.
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Sunday, March 02, 2014


I suppose he was the most famous heterosexual in the world. Originally trained as a dancer, he went into films because he'd been black balled on stage after having an affair with a rich producer's wife. He was now earning $10,000 a week ($120,000 a week today) as a film actor Rich, handsome, and single again after a bitter divorce, the 31 year old year old went into a New York City hospital early in August of 1926 to have his appendix removed, and two weeks later he died from an infection. Over 100,000 fans attended his funeral in Manhattan, and they gave him another one in Los Angeles. His corpse was temporarily slipped into a borrowed vault in a Hollywood mausoleum, but he's been there ever since, under his stage name, Rudolph Valentino.
Hooray for Hollywood
That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood”
At a time when the average movie ticket cost a dime, one of the first films to gross over $1 million was Valentino's 1920 “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. This year of 1926, the most popular film was Harold Lloyd's “For Heaven's Sake”. It had cost $150,000 to make (under $2 million today), and would gross over $2,600,000 (over $300 million today). With that kind of profit margin, the movie industry was growing up fast, and almost 90% of all films made in America were being shot in Hollywood. And it was here that a revolution was about to occur.
Where any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic
With just a good looking pan”
It was being birthed on Sunset Boulevard in the center of Hollywood, by Harry, Albert and Sam Warner (above). The investment house of Goldman Sachs had financed the growth of their studio, allowing them to branch out the year before into radio, with KFWB. But in 1926 Warner Brother's went $333,000 (over $4 million) into debt , to invest in an experimental short film called “A Plantation Act”, staring Broadway musical star, Al Jolsen. Eldest brother Harry thought it was a mistake, saying, “Nobody wants to hear actors talk.” But the final 89 minute film, released in 1927 as “The Jazz Singer” had only a little over 2 minutes of sound, cost less than half a million dollars to make, and sold almost $6 million in tickets. And between those two earth shaking events, the death of the biggest silent film star, and the death of silent films, almost as if the second act in a great drama, was the preliminary hearing for Aimee Semple McPherson. And like all second acts, this one had an unsatisfying curtain.
And any shop girl can be a top girl 
If she pleases a tired businessman.”
It was only a matter of time before the unstable Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff cracked. District Attorney Asa Keyes was hoping she would hold together long enough to convict Amiee, her mother and Kenneth Ormiston. Keeping her charged along with the conspirators she was testifying against was a way of keeping her under control. But it didn't work. Shortly after the hearing, Lorraine gave a newspaper interview in which she tweeked her story. It was not much of a change. Under oath she identified the man who had approached her with the $5,000 offer to lie for Sister Aimee as a mysterious “Mr. Martin”. But now she named him as Jack Wooley, working for his uncle, attorney and L.A. power broker, Roland Rich Wooley.
Hooray for Hollywood,
Where you're terrific if you're even good.”
Her story was, in all important aspects, the same as it had been under oath. And she was far from the only witness who placed Aimee and Kenneth Ormiston together in Carmel during the first week after her kidnapping. But for some reason, whenever Keyes was asked about the shift, he grew increasingly doubtful about the coming trial. On Wednesday, 29 December, he called the case “muddled”. The next day he insisted, “I will not drop this case.” He then accurately called the change “more of an elaboration” than a change. But after a weekend of thinking, on Monday 3 January of 1927, he began to shift himself, saying he would “take all the time necessary to make up my mind.”
Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple to Aimee Semple
Is equally understood”
A week later he had made up his mind. “Without (the testimony of Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff) proof of the alleged conspiracy is now impossible.” And that was the end of it. It was the ultimate anti-climax.
It was over. Wrote the Hearst Herald American, after 3,500 pages of testimony and half a million dollars ($3 million in 2014), all that was achieved was that “the McPherson sensation has sold millions of newspapers, generated fat fees for lawyers, stirred up religious antagonism...(and) advertised Los Angeles in a ridiculous way."
Go out and try your luck, you might be Donald Duck
Hooray for Hollywood.”
Within a week of Keye's decision, Aimee announced an 80 day evangelical trip, which the press immediately dubbed the “Vindication Tour”. Mildred Kennedy did not want her to go, but Aimee insisted, so her mother joined her on the tour. Also joining the church were new faces, hired to handle the press, people like Mae Walden (above left). She was not a fundamentalist, used make up and wore appealing clothes. And gradually, during the tour, Sister Aimee did so too (above center). The evangelist returned to a church in open rebellion, an uprising fermented by her mother.
Hooray for Hollywood
That phoney super-Coney Hollywood.”\
To remove Aimee from a position of power before she bankrupted the place, “Sister Minnie” set up a vote of “no confidence” by the temple's board of directors. But she miscalculated, and Aimee won the vote. Gldwyn Nichols, the choir director held a press conference to announce she was resigning from the Angelus Temple. Her justification was “Aimee's surrender to worldliness--her wardrobe of fancy gowns and short skirts, jewelry, furs, her new infatuation with cosmetics and bobbed hair, all specifically condemned by the Scriptures” The entire 300 member choir went with her. As did Mrs. Mildred Kennedy. Voted off the board, she left with a typically Christian thought for Aimee. “My daughter is like a fish on the beach when it comes to handling money,” she told the press.. “I don't believe if you put an add in the newspapers you could find anybody dumber when it comes to business. All they got to do is let her have her way for a year, and she'll bankrupt the place, mark my words.”
They come from Chillicothes and Paducas with their bazookas
To get their names up in lights.”
Mrs. Kennedy's scolding advice was replaced by more positive voices, urging new investments, a condominium tower (above), a cemetery.  And within a year Mildred's warnings were proven correct. The Four Square Gospel Church was almost bankrupt. Mildred came back for awhile, left again and returned again when the stock market crashed. But the fights were escalating, until Aimee finally punched her mother in the face, breaking her nose. In 1927, in exchange for a $200,000 settlement, Mrs. Mildred Kennedy officially resigned from the board of the Angelus Temple she had helped to build.
All armed with photos from local rotos
With their hair in ribbon and legs in tights”
In 1927, Dorthy Parker reviewed Aimee's autobiography. “Well, Aimee Semple McPherson has written a book..It is the story of her life, and it is called "In the Service of the King", which title is perhaps a bit dangerously suggestive of a romantic novel. It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.”
Hooray for Hollywood
You may be homely in your neighborhood
But if you think that you can be an actor, see Mr. Factor
He'll make a monkey look good
Within a half an hour you'll look like Tyrone Power
Hooray for Hollywood!”
Music by Richard A. Whiting.
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer 1937
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