JUNE 2017

JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Friday, July 11, 2014

SISSYSPHUS ON THE WABASH

I want to take you back to a time when there were just two million Hoosiers in the whole world, and yet Indiana had 13 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes. Today they have just nine,  and 11 electoral votes. Even more improbable to modern ears, this smallest state west of the Allegheny mountains was a crucial "battleground" state, oscillating like a bell clapper, clanging first Republican and then ringing Democratic, changing six times between 1876 and 1888, swinging each time at the whim of some 6,000 fickle independent voters.
As part of these rhythmic revolutions was the winter of 1885 when the dynamic Democratic Governor Isaac Gray (above), dreaming of being President of the whole United States, decided that after being Governor, he wanted to be a United States Senator. And since Senators were elected by the legislature, which was split pretty evenly along party lines, he came up with a clever plan to ensure himself  the stepping stone post of Senator. First he jammed through a gerrymander redistricting of the state legislative offices, re-designing ten traditionally Republican state assembly seats so they would more likely elect Democrats instead. This would prove to be such an outrageous power grab, a Federal court would declare it unconstitutional in 1892. But that was all part of Gray's plan, because he knew the voters would take their revenge far sooner than the courts.
So, in the summer of 1886, Grey convinced his Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Mahlon Manson. to take early retirement. Then he scheduled to fill that post in the mid-term elections, midway through his four year term. And as Gray had expected, the Republican base was so energized by the Democratic gerrymander, that their party was swept back into power that November with a 10,000 vote majority, recapturing seven of those redistricted Assembly seats that were supposed to go Democratic.  (The state Senate, remained 31 Democrats and 19 Republicans.)  
But more importantly for Governor Gray, the newly elected Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, Robert Robertson. Thus, should Democrat Gray offer his resignation as Governor in exchange for being elected U.S. Senator, the Republican dominated Assembly would probably go along because that would make the Republican Robertson the new Governor. Now, it was not an impossible dream, as another Hoosier politician would shortly prove – one Benjamen Harrison.
Yes, Grey (above) had a nifty plan, clever enough to be worthy of Machiavelli. But it faced one insurmountable hurdle. Governor Isaac Grey was without doubt the most hated Democratic governor among Democrats, in the entire history of the state of Indiana. He was the original DINO -  a Democrat in Name Only.
Twenty years earlier, at the close of the Civil War, this same Isaac Grey, who was now a Democrat, had then been the Republican Speaker of the state Assembly (above).  To pass the 13th, 14th and 15th reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Speaker Grey had literally locked the doors, preventing Democrats from bolting the building and thus denying a quorum to the Republican majority. While the trapped Democrats sulked in the cloak room, Speaker Grey staged successful votes for the three amendments. It had been a brutal scheme worthy of Machiavelli, like his latest plot.. But loyalists in the Democratic party never forgot Grey had counted them as "present but not voting", even after he had switched parties.  And as the Assembly session for 1887 opened, these hard liners were willing to set the state on fire if they could also burn up their Governor's Presidential dream boat.
The Indiana State Senate (above)  was about to come into session at  9:35 on the morning of Saturday February 24th, 1887, when Lt. Governor Robertson entered the second floor chambers to take his seat as the new President pro tempore of the Senate. But a flying squad of Democrats physically blocked him from reaching the dais. He shouted from the floor, "Gentlemen of the Senate, I have been by force excluded from the position to which the people of this state elected me.” But at this point the acting-President pro tempore, Democratic Senator Alonzo Smith, ordered the doorkeeper, Frank Pritchett, to remove the Lt. Governor, “...if he don't stop speaking.”
As the doorkeeper and his assistants advanced on Roberts, he announced, “They may remove me. I am here, unarmed.” Smith testily responded, “We are all unarmed. We are fore-armed, though.” That belligerent mood was now general in the chamber. Republican Senator DeMotte from Porter county shouted something from the floor, and acting President Smith ordered him to take his seat. Responded DeMotte, “When he gets ready, he will.”
As the Lt. Governor was dragged toward the rear doors of the Senate Chamber a Republican Senator shouted that if he went, all the Republicans were going with him. President Pro tem Smith shouted back, “They can go if they want to. They will be back, ” he predicted. At this point Republican Senator Johnson challenged the chair directly, telling him, “No man will be scared by you.” “You're awfully scared now, “ said the Democrat. “Not by you”, answered the Republican. It sounded like five year olds had taken over the state senate.
A general fight now broke out in the Senate chamber, with the outnumbered Republicans giving such a good account of themselves that one Democrat drew a pistol and – BANG! - shot a hole in the brand new ceiling of the still unfinished statehouse. Into the acrid gun smoke and sudden silence this unnamed Democrat announced that he was prepared to start killing Republicans if they kept fighting.
With that, Lt. Governor Robertson was thrown out of the Senate and the doors were locked and bolted behind him. As the official record notes those were “...the last words spoken by a Republican Senator in the 55th General Assembly.” The Senate then tried to get back to business, appropriately taking up Senate bill 61, setting aside $100,000 for three new hospitals for the mentally insane. It was decided it was self evident the state was going to need them, and the measure was approved by a vote officially recorded as 31 Ayes, 0 nays and 18 “present but not voting”. Ah, revenge must have seemed sweet for the Democrats – for about half an hour.
Outside in the central atrium, the gunshot had attracted a crowd, mostly from the Republican controlled House on the East side of the capital. Faced with a bruised and enraged Robertson, the Republicans caught his anger. Similar fights sparked to life in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and a “mob” of 600 angry Republicans descended upon every wayward Democrat in the building, punching and kicking them, and, if they resisted, beating them down to the marble floors of the brand new “people's house”.
Eventually, the pandemonium returned to its source; the Republicans laid siege to the Senate chamber. They beat against the doors, and smashed open a transom. Vengeful Republicans poured in and the haughty Democrats were assaulted in their own chamber and thrown out of it. By now Governor Grey, down in his offices on the first floor, had heard the ruckus upstairs, and had called in the Indianapolis Police. Four hours after the legislative riot had begun, order was restored to the capital of Hoosier democracy. History and many newspapers would record it as the “Black Day of the Indiana Assembly.”
The following Monday the triumphant Republican dominated Assembly dispatched a note to the battered Democratically controlled Senate, that the Repubs would have no further correspondence with the Dems. Snap of finger dismissal. The Senate counter-informed the lower house, ditto, and same to you.. State government in Indiana had ground to a halt. Lt. Governor Robertson never presided over the Senate, and Governor Gray never served as a Untied States Senator. He came to be known as the “Sisyphus of the Wabash”, after the legendary Greek king, renown for his avariciousness and deceit. A few years later Hoosiers elected to choose their Senators by popular vote,  I suppose under the theory that the general population of drunks and lunatics could do no worse then the professional politicians had done already.  And they were most certainly correct.
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AIR MAIL

I believe the decision by the United States Post Office to leap into the 20th century of mail delivery was taken with all the alacrity and planning you would expect from the second oldest and most entrenched bureaucracy in the U.S. government. On 6 May , eighteen years into the new century (and 15 years after the Wright Brother's first flight), U.S. Army pilot Major Reuben Fleet was summoned into the office of Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. There Baker announced that Major Fleet was to be responsible for setting up the first Air Mail Service between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Further, the stunned Major was informed that the first plane of the new service would take off from Washington, D.C. at 11:00 a.m. on May 15th, just nine days hence.
Major Fleet was flabbergasted. This is the first he had heard of such an idea. He pointed out to the Secretary that the best plane in the Army’s inventory was the JN-4D, known as the Jenny, which was so under-powered that if you tried to execute a turn while flying without first dipping her nose, the Jenny would stall.
Worse, the Jenny was a two seat trainer, capable of barely 65 miles an hour and had a range of less than 90 miles. In other words, a Jenny could not reach the mid point of Philadelphia non-stop from either New York or Washington. The Secretary explained that whatever the difficulties were, they had to be overcome because - and this was the kicker - the Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson, had already issued the press release about the first flight. As any military officer in Washington can explain, once the press release has gone out, you are committed to the policy.
Major Fleet (whose personal motto was, "Nothing Short of Right Is Right") immediately called the Curtiss Aeroplane Corporation on Long Island and ordered the emergency conversion of twelve Jenny’s - replacing the front seat controls with storage for mail bags, changing the 90 hp engine with a 150 hp one, and adding fuel tanks to increase the range. Curtiss promised to deliver the planes to Belmont Park airfield on May the 13th.
But as Fleet overcame each obstacle it seemed two more popped up. Originally he wanted to start the Washington flights out of College Park, Maryland, nine miles north of the capital (and thus saving nine miles on the first or the last leg). But the Post Office insisted on using Potomac Park, on the Tidal basin, (top of the above photo), right next to the middle of Washington, and ringed by huge trees. The Department of the Interior was insistent that not a branch of those magnificent trees be touched. Fleet then asked for six of the most experienced pilots in America to fly the routes.
He got four; plus two political "ringers". The two ringers were Lieutenants James Edgerton and George Leroy Boyle. Both Edgerton and Boyle had just graduated from flight school in Texas (well, almost graduated), and so far their solo flying experience consisted of one cross country flight of 15 miles. In Texas. In fact they had just crossed the country by train in order to get to Washington in time for the first flight. It seems they had received their travel orders before Major Fleet had received his.
On the plus side, Edgerton was the son of a Post Office purchasing agent and Boyle was engaged to marry the only daughter of Interstate Commerce Commissioner Charles McChord (above, holding the bag). That made both young men politically if not avion-ically qualified for staring roles in the Air Mail drama. Major Fleet knew enough about the way Washington worked that he did not argue with their selection. Instead, after leaving instructions for the surreptitious removal of one particularly pernicious tall tree at the edge of Potomac Park, Fleet left Washington by train with what he judged were his best five pilots, headed to Long Island to pick up the planes. Fleet left his sixth pilot, Lt. Boyle, in Washington to entertain the lovely Miss McChord, and presumably her  father, Commissioner McChord, as well. Frankly, after having read the young man's record, and having met him, that was the assignment for which Major Fleet figured Lt. Boyle was best qualified.
At the aerodrome inside the Belmont Park race track outside New York City,  Major Fleet found his modified brand new Jennys had been delivered as promised – but still in their crates. The mechanics and pilots spent the next two days desperately lashing the required six planes together. Two newly assembled Jennys were flown to Philadelphia. Two more planes were ready to go from Belmont. And early on the fifteenth, Fleet, exhausted and bone weary, flew the last plane assembled (Number 38262) from Belmont to Philadelphia, and then on to Washington, landing at Potomac Park at 10:35 a.m., with barely twenty-five minutes to spare before the 11:00 a.m. takeoff deadline, as per the previously released press release.
The First Lady and President Woodrow Wilson, his hand still wrapped in a bandage, arrived. The previous day Wilson had rested his hand on a cannon barrel still hot from having fired a salute to him. Franklin Roosevelt, the under-Secretary of the Navy, arrived, as did the Postmaster General and the Secretary of the War. The makeshift airfield was filled with brass and political heavyweights and press. But where was Lieutenant Boyle? Fleet had just about decided to take the flight himself when a voice from the crowd boomed out confidently, “Never fear, because Boyle is here.”
Forward stepped the cocky young Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle (left), looking like a young Jay Leno, and followed by the lovely Margaret McChord, carrying a dozen roses she had gotten from somewhere. Boyle bravely tolerated the distribution of commemorative watches and nobly posed for official handshakes. Then , ignoring the photographers, Major Fleet attempted to coach Boyle on how to follow the railroad tracks north from Union Station. By now the photos of the Lieutenant give the impression of a man prone to motion sickness who has just realized that he has volunteered to be abandoned on a life raft in the middle of hurricane. As he struggled to keep Boyles' attention, Major Fleet was interrupted by a wail of sirens. A mail truck, carrying 140 pounds of First class (24 cent) Air Mail in four bags had arrived.
The photographers were momentarily distracted, getting pictures of the bags being loaded into the Jenny. The noise and excitement did not help the nervous Boyles' concentration, and eventually Major Fleet simply taped the road map to the now almost catatonic Boyle’s leg (below). Boyle was now starting to resemble a hunter on his way to meet a firing squad of well armed deer.
There were more photos taken as Boyle climbed aboard the unfamiliar airplane and set the switches to start the engine. A sergeant windmill-ed the propeller three times to pull fuel into the cylinders. Lt. Boyle yelled, “Contact!”, and the sergeant pushed the propeller through again, hard. The engine coughed and died. Twice more Boyle and the sergeant tried to start the engine. But the motor stubbornly refused to engage.
The President was getting annoyed. The crowd was starting to giggle. Boyle was beginning to look as if he might pass out in the cockpit. Finally a sergeant thought to look in the gas tank. It was bone dry. Fleet had been lucky to arrive that morning before he ran out of gas. And no one, amid all the hoopla, not even the exhausted Fleet, had thought to refuel the plane.
Fuel was borrowed from some planes in the nearby U.S. Naval Yard field (which raises the question why the army was not using their air field) and, 45 minutes late, Lt. Boyle turned his wings into the wind and roared down the open lawn. The crowd held its breath as he just cleared the trees at the end of the makeshift runway, by all of three feet. The U.S. Army was in the Air Mail business; sort of.
Meanwhile the flight from Belmont Park had gotten off on time, and arrived at Philadelphia two hours later. But after waiting for Boyle to arrive from Washington  for almost an hour, the New York bound Jenny took off from Philly without any mail and headed north. When it arrived on Long Island everyone there was so excited they forgot to ask where the mail was. But eventually somebody thought to ask "What happened to Lt. Boyle?" The answer to that question arrived an hour later.
After finally getting into the air, Boyle came to the depressing realization that he could not read a map to save his life, even one taped to his own thigh. He mistakenly followed a branch line of railroad tracks for 20 miles to the southeast from Washington, the approximate opposite direction from New York City. By the time Lt. Boyle had realized his error, he had almost run out of gas. On crash landing near Waldorf, Maryland, the chastised Lt. Boyle flipped his Jenny onto her top.
Boyles’ mailbags were eventually delivered to Philadelphia the next day by another pilot. And thankfully, in a swell of patriotism, the wartime press corps chose to bury the lead of the story. The failure to refuel the plane, and Boyle's inability to read a map, went unmentioned. And that should have been the end of that. But the Postmaster General was not inclined to let the story or Lt. Boyle fade into the crowded grey pages of history. Instead the Postmaster General urged Major Fleet to give Boyle another chance.
Which is why, on May 17th, Lt. Boyle took off from Washington, again. This time he was following another (more qualified) pilot, who guided the wandering pathfinder due north out of the national capital and up the four track wide main railroad line toward Philadelphia. Boyle faithfully followed the guide plane for fifty miles. But eventually the guide plane turned back. And that was when, finally alone in the air, headed in the right direction, somehow, someway, the dashing but incompetent Lt. Boyle managed to get turned around yet again. All he had to do was not turn. And yet he did. And evidently, he did so almost immediately. This time Boyle ended up flying for three hours and fifteen minutes the wrong way - due south. Not only could he not read a map, he couldn't read a compass. Eventually he set his ship down successfully, safely, landing on Cape Charles, on the very Southeastern tip of Virginia, barely avoiding an excursion out over the open Atlantic only because he ran out of fuel before he hit water.
Determined not to fail this time, and having missed the Atlantic ocean by a hair's breath and a pint of petrol, Boyle bought gasoline out of his own pocket, got directions from a farmer, took off again and this time actually made it to Philadelphia; well, close to Philadelphia. He crash landed on the Philadelphia Country Club golf course, sheering both wings off his Jenny and bending the landing gear.
When the Postmaster General Burleson asked that Boyle be given a third chance, Major Fleet replied, “The conclusion has been reached that the best interests of the service require that Lieutenant Boyle be relieved from this duty.” And so he was. But it would appear that Lt. Boyd was such an incompetent pilot that he somehow managed to cause the man who replaced him to suffer five forced landings over the next three months. Whatever affliction Lt. Boyle was suffering from, he was infectious.
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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A DEATH IN WARTIME

I admit, she was a sinner, and an experienced one at that. But was she responsible for the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers, as she was charged with?  In six short months of 1917 the arrogant and inept commander of the French armies General Robert Nivelle was responsible for throwing away the lives of 33,000 Frenchmen, and the wounding at least 182,000 more, while driving the French army to mutiny. During that same spring Margaretha Zelle seduced officers of the French, German and Russian Army, usually just one man at a time. If anything she improved morale, if just one man at a time. But she was the one they shot.
They came for her in the dark, before five on the morning of Wednesday, 15 October, 1917. They hoped to find her awake when they opened the door of cell number 12, but a nun had to touch her shoulder to wake Margaretha. The martinet who had prosecuted her, Captain Pierre Bouchardon, informed the startled woman, “Have courage! Your request for clemency has been rejected by the President of the Republic. The time for atonement has come.” Her first reaction was panic. She cried out, "It's not possible! It's not possible!” Then, luckily for her executioners, Margaretha got herself under control, whispering to a nun, “Don't be afraid, Sister, I shall know how to die.”
It took her thirty years, but Margaretha Zella eventually learned how to live. Adam Zelle's “little princess” was the only daughter in a Fisian speaking Dutch family with four sons. When she was 13 her doting father lost his hat shop and went bankrupt . Over the next three years her parents divorced, her mother Antje died and her father remarried. The siblings from the first marriage were scattered to relatives and Margaretha was eventually shuffled off to an uncle. Three years later Margaretha answered an ad in a lonely hearts magazine and married Rudolf MacLeod, a mustached Dutch Colonial Army captain, more than twice her age. A year later she gave birth to a son, Norman. The following year Rudolf was posted back to the Dutch East Indies. In 1898, now in Indonesia, the 21 year old Margaretha gave birth to a daughter, named Jeanne. That same year Margaretha began studying local culture, and in her native dance class adopted the Malay name meaning “Eye of the Day.”: Mata Harji.
She dressed quickly in the cold cell, in the few threads of respectability nine months of imprisonment had left her - a gray suit, a blouse and stockings, with a blue coat slung over her shoulders, and topped by a jaunty tri-cornered hat to hide her gray hair. In the courtyard of the Prison de Saint-Lazare (above), they hustled her into an automobile, with the windows blocked out. Before five thirty they drove her away from the River Seine, southward in the cold dark empty streets, past the palace of Palace o Versailles. Turning right on the Avenue de la Pipinere, and then right again onto the Avenue Mufs du Pare, the car passed through the stone gates of a cavalry barracks.
A year after their arrival in Indonesia , both children fell ill. Two year old Norman died, and the marriage drowned in recrimination. Ruldolf wrote his family that Margaretha was "scum of the lowest kind, a woman without heart, who cares nothing for anything". Margaretha told her family, “I prefer to die before he touches me again. My children caught a disease from him.” She dreamed of living “like a colorful butterfly in the sun.” Rudolf resigned from the army, and the family returned to Holland in 1901. In 1903, leaving her daughter with Rudolf, Margaretha moved to Paris, but the 5'10” olive skinned woman could only find work riding horseback in a circus, and as an artists' model. In desperation, she even sought work as an exotic dancer.
As the car pulled to a stop, an officer shouted out, “Sabremain! Presentez-armes!” and the twelve khaki uniformed Zouave Sergeants snapped to attention. None of them knew their intended target was to be a woman until Margaretha stepped out of the car. It is unlikely any of them knew who the 41 year old woman was even then, since her trial had been secret, and the peak of her fame was a decade passed. Quickly, efficiently, Margaretha was led to the chosen spot in front of an eight foot berm, which was to act as a backstop for the firing squad. Her coat was removed, while a Captain quickly droned through her death sentence, and a sergeant looped a rope around her waist, binding her to the execution post. He started to bind her wrists as well, but Margaretha told him, “That will not be necessary.”
The 30 year old Margaretha, with little grace or training, fashioned her image after the bohemian artist dancer, Isadora Duncan. One historian has written, “There can have been no more ludicrous spectacle...than the bogus temple dance with which ''Lady MacLeod, Mata Hari'' rounded off the dinner parties of Parisian high society. Audiences in evening dress peered approvingly... while ''Lady MacLeod''...gyrated to allegedly Oriental strains on the violin, removed a series of veils....and finally collapsed into the sacred, though clearly carnal, embrace of the invisible (god) Siva.” '
She was famous, featured in post cards, and lurid magazine stories. But within five years “anyone who was anyone in Europe had seen her dance at least once”, and she was competing with dozens of more talented and younger imitators of herself.. By 1908 her career had begun to fade, and she had become a professional courtesan , the mistress to millionaire industrialist Émile Guimet, who was followed by numerous other wealthy men.
A priest whispered a passage from the bible, while an officer offered Margaretha a blindfold. She asked, “Must I wear it?” The officer replied, “If Madame prefers not, it makes no difference.”  He turned on his heel and he and the priest strode away, leaving the lady alone, facing the twelve combat veterans (above). The young sublieutenant raised his saber, and shouted “Joue!”, or prepare! Twelve rifles were raised to twelve shoulders. It was just after six in the morning, Wednesday, 15 October, 1917, and through the damp cold clouds, the sun was struggling to rise over the horizon.
At the outbreak of the war in August of 1914, Margaretha was caught in Germany. Two days later, she tried to leave. German custom officials seized her fur coat. Once in Switzerland, the neutral bureaucrats were suspicious of her Dutch papers, and she was returned to Germany. There an army officer offered her 20,000 francs if she would be a spy  Margeretha saw the funds as reimbursement for her stolen property. The Germans assigned her the code name H-21.
Margeretha met the eyes of the young sublieutenant and loudly thanked him, but for what was unclear. Perhaps she saw pity in his eyes. Then she blew a kiss to her lawyer, 74 year old Edouard Clunet, and then did the same to the twelve men staring at her over their rifles. Witnesses saw her turn her head away from the guns and nervously smile. The officer's saber flashed down in the gray light. The twelve rifles fired as one. Eleven bullets slammed into her chest. Margeretha Zelle crumpled against the rope binding her to the post. Then, wrote British reporter Henry Wales, “...she seemed to collapse...slowly, inertly...her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face...gazing directly at those who had taken her life...and did not move”.
Margaretha contacted German intelligence only once, and then only at the request of Capt. Georges Ladoux, of French Intelligence. Then British Intelligence intercepted a German radio message about information obtained in Belgium from agent H-21. Shortly after, in February 1917,  Margaretha returned to Paris - while General Nivelle was planning his disastrous April offensive - and Ladolux ordered her arrest. Margaretha was charged with spying, but not tried until July - as British armies were suffering during the bloody muddy Passchendaele offensives (above), launched to distract the Germans from the French mutiny.
Prosecutor Bouchardon said that hanging on the post, Margaretha “ looked like a heap of skirts.” An officer strode up to the body, drew his pistol, and held it's barrel an inch from Margaretha's right ear. He pulled the trigger, and with a bang! a lead pellet plowed into her brain, demolishing forever whatever was left of the “little princess” and Mati Hari, and everything in between those two images.
At her trial Prosecutor Bourchard had blamed her for the failure of the Nivelle offensive. Her ex-lover Clunet had argued, “Mata Hari has been a courtesan, but never a spy.” But he was allowed to call only one witness in her defense.. After forty minutes of consideration, the six man military jury had sentenced Margaretha to die. The transcripts of her trial were ordered sealed, and will not be released to the public before October, 2017. But thirty years after her death, Bourchard would admit of the case against her, “there wasn't enough evidence to flog a cat”
Four days after Margaretha's death  in 1917, the man who had ordered her arrest, Captain Ladoux, was himself arrested, and charged with spying for Germany. He was not tried until after the war, when cooler heads acquitted him. The transcripts from his trial were also ordered sealed for one hundred years.
When Margaretha's ex-husband, Rudolf MacLeod, heard of her execution, he told the reporter, “Whatever she has done in life, she did not deserve that.” The same could have been said of every one, soldier and civilian, who has died in any war. Mata Hari: she died for our sins,
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