AUGUST   2020


Friday, October 03, 2014


I don't say you have to be crazy to be a politician, but displaying a little screwball logic - “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”  or  "Mexicans...they're rapists" - can solidify your base. On the other hand you don't want voters suspecting you might be completely loony - like Queen of the loonies, Michele Bachmann.  Now, navigating a path between those two alternatives can be tricky at times. For example, in the 1980's a 5'1” tall combative fire cracker named Ruthann Aron used her obsessive-compulsive drive and her pugnacious combative nature to make a fortune in real estate development.   She didn't make a lot of friends, of course. Her urologist husband Barry admitted, “She gets in people’s faces in a very straightforward way and doesn’t tap dance too much.” Still the lady had big dreams, even of becoming a United States Senator. Ruthann's first attempt resulted in defeat, but that was not unusual. She could have recovered. But then she became the first candidate on record to actually sue her opponent for slander. Equating political mud slinging with slander - that was when Ruthann went from being odd to being out to lunch, And then she went from erratic to homicidal. Perhaps we should review the details of her story, so any would-be politicians out there can take notes.
Our lesson begins in the “D.C.” adjacent enclave of Montgomery county, Maryland, one of the richest and best educated counties in America. Everybody here, it seems came from some place else – the county was even named for a Revolutionary War hero who never set foot in the state. This is one of those big ponds where little fish either get eaten or grow big  And it has not voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan retired. And, as Barry Rascovar noted for the Washington Post in mid-August of 1994, “...the last time there was a truly contested GOP Senate primary was in the early 1960s.” It was here that our diminutive mother of two faced her first test when, after just two years on the County Planning Board, Ruthann Aron decided to run for the United States Senate as a Republican.
It was a clever move. The dysfunctional Maryland G.O.P had little hope of beating the popular Democrat, Paul Sarbanes who had held the seat since 1976 and seemed a shoe-in for re-election .But even if she lost the primary, Ruthann could still lay a foundation for a future in politics. The only drawback was that there were seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination, so Ruthann decided to stand out, to concentrate in attacking her best known opponent, multimillionaire candy heir and ex-Senator from Tennessee, the handsome Bill Brock III.
Ruthann spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of her own money buying radio ads, in which two “hillbillies” laughed about the way Maryland voters were being fooled by the “tax-raising, carpetbagging, career politician”, Senator Brock.   The ex-Senator chose to not even mention Ruthann in his few radio ads. No since giving the little lady free publicity. Then, a poll released Labor Day weekend found Brock leading, as expected, with 23% of the vote. But in second place and well within the margin of error for a tie was Ruthann, at 20%.
With just two weeks to go before the primary, Brock decided he could no longer ignore the tiny upstart, and called an afternoon press conference for Thursday, September 8, 1994, on the Rockville courthouse square. As the Baltimore Sun noted, “The minutes preceding yesterday's news conference had the feel of a mock thriller....About 2 p.m. the (Ruthann) Aron camp entered...About 10 minutes later, Mr. Brock arrived with his contingent of sign-wavers.” The Washington Post observed, “As reporters and photographers soaked up the awkward silence, the two camps stared mutely, and the whirring of (film) cameras was all that was heard.”
According to the Post, the biggest bomb shell at the press conference was dropped by a Brock supporter, former U.S. representative Marjorie Holt, who mentioned “...the aura of fraud and breach of contract that constantly surrounds the other candidate.” After that,  the press conference devolved into two competing impromptu press conferences, during which Brock built on Holt's charge. According to the Post, “She has been convicted by a jury of fraud, more than once," (Brock) told reporters, who bounced between the two candidates like pin balls.” Brock backed up the theatrical press conference with $220,000 in new radio ads, claiming that Ruthann had been convicted of fraud “more than once”, and had to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines”. Said his narrator, "Before Ruthann Aron starts attacking anybody, maybe she ought to look in the mirror.”
On Tuesday, September 13, Ruthann lost the primary by 50,000 votes. Even worse, a poll released just before the election showed that rather than laying a foundation for her future, her campaign style had left her in a hole by raising her negative ratings to 16%. Her reputation was not even helped when Block was easily beaten by the Democrat Sarbanes in the November general election. So, finding herself in a hole, Ruthann decided to keep digging. She sued Brock for defamation of character. No politician had ever done that before.
It took over a year for what the Sun called Ruthann's “frivolous lawsuit” to work its way to trial, which it did in early 1996. “Jurors have been schooled”, wrote the Sun, “in subliminal suggestion...the role of Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in an effective campaign commercial....harked to the tonal difference between a major chord and a slamming jail door, listened again and again to the definition of "Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment" (Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican) and been told that staff members look at members of Congress the way undertakers look at corpses.”
Chief witness for Brock was Arthur G. Kahn, lawyer in a 1984 suit against Ruthann's real estate company, Research Incorporated. Kahn testified his clients had invested in a shopping mall Ruthann was promoting. The mall had never been built, but she still sold the rights to buy the project to a third party for $200,000, and kept the money herself.  The jury awarded her partners $175,000, which Ruthann paid only after Kahn agreed to request the judge vacate the verdict from the record. It had been a civil suit, and she had lost, but there was no conviction, and the verdict had been vacated, so technically there was no record, so technically what Brock had said at the press conference had been untrue ...but the new jury decided that was splitting hairs, and, besides, they just did not like Ruthann very much. Who did? They found for Brock. Ruthann had lost again. And now she was really, double-dog-done in politics
And that should have been the end of Ruthann's public activities, unless she had thrown herself into charity work or earned a Nobel Peace Prize or something. Instead, on June 7, 1997, Ruthann Aron was arrested for hiring a hit man to murder her old nemesis Arthur Kahn, and, as an afterthought, her own husband Barry Aron, as well.  They had her on tape with an undercover cop spelling out the victim's names. They had video of her dropping the down payment off at a hotel. It was an open and shut case.
Ruthann insisted at both of her trials (the first jury hung, 11-1 for conviction) that she was crazy. And it's hard to disagree with that. The why and whereof is irrelevant for purposes of this discussion. Let's just say she was nuts and let it go by saying the jury found her guilty anyway. At her sentencing Ruthann's lawyer pointed out what her career in politics had cost the little lady. "She's lost her credibility, her reputation, her family as she knew it, her dignity, her lifestyle, her husband, almost everything she had”, he said She also got three years in jail with a suspended sentence of ten more years hanging over her head.
Barry the urologist not only filed for divorce, he sued Ruthann for $7.5 million, and she counter-sued him for $24 million. Some people never learn. But it could have been worse. Just before her arrest, Ruthann had been considering a switch to the Democratic party. And wouldn't that have been an interesting second career. And the lesson from our little tale is that if you sleep with a politician, you may not find love, but you will defiantly get screwed. Those people are nuts.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2014


I know that two years of campaigning had hardened private Marcellus Jones to the small discomforts, like sleeping through the night in “a drenching rain”, under a wet woolen blanket, with only his McClellan saddle as a pillow. But it took a toll, and an officer now, at 31 his body was beginning to protest the mornings after. Waking just before dawn, to drizzle and fog, he rode forward to check the 35 men scattered along the ridge in skirmish positions. But Marcellus found himself hungry for the warmth of comradeship. So after making certain that Privates Kelly, Hale, Heim and Dodge stationed in front of the blacksmith's house along the pike were alert and ready, and sending Sargent George Shafer to check with the New York and Hoosier boys on the flanks, Second Lieutenant Marcellus Jones then trotted his horse 300 yards down the Chambersburg Pike across the Willow Run bridge and then another 300 yards up Herr's ridge, to the company headquarters in the tavern.
Marcellus Jones (above) was proof that American lives do indeed have second acts, and even thirds. At 17 the blue eyed 5'7” seventh child of a Vermont wagon maker worked his way across upstate New York and Ohio as a carpenter. By 1854 he had established his own factory in the Wolf River village of Weyauwega, in Wisconsin territory . He met with success and on May 1, 1856 he married Sara Reese. Then, two years later, the factory burned down leaving him $4,000 in debt, and soon after Sara died in childbirth. Marcellus was not yet 30.
Seventy-six year old Fredrick Herr had bought his two story brick tavern at a sheriff's sale, 35 years ago, expecting the Chambersburg Pike to bring business to his door. But Herr was forced to rent his basement to a felon named “Louie The Robber”, who shaved the silver off silver dollars, and renting the second floor to prostitutes. But, Louie was arrested, Fredrick lost his liquor license, and the upstairs ladies moved on. By the time Marcellus scrapped the mud off his boots on the front steps, the hotel was up for sale again. Inside, Lt Jones was greeted by his friend and E company's commander, Captain Elishas Kelly. The familiarity and the coffee were free, but Marcellus had to pay Mrs. Herr for a hot biscuit.
After Sara's death, Marcellus made a new life for himself as a builder in Danby, Illinois, and became a respected member of the local Republican party. In the spring of 1860, after Lincoln called for Volunteers to defend the union, Marcellus joined with his friend Elishas, fellow builder William Gamble and Congressman John Farnsworth in forming the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry, also known as “Farnsworth's Big Abolitionist Regiment” When offered an officers ' commission Marcellus said he wanted to learn the trade as a private. And thus began Marcellus Jones' second life, as a trooper in the federal Army of the Potomac.
Marcellus had just bitten into his breakfast when Private George Heim came pounding up the steps. He announced that Sargent Shafer (above) needed the lieutenant at the picket post at once. Stuffing the biscuit into his blouse, Jones ran for the door, while Kelly sent the regiment's battle cry of “Tally Ho” after him Somebody looked at their watch. It was just twenty after seven in the morning. Marcellus mounted his horse, and then he and Heim splashed through puddles back over the Willow Run bridge at a gallop.
The infantry were fond of saying they never saw a dead cavalryman. In fact private Marcellus Jones and the Illinois 8th were in constant contact with Jeb Stuart's rebel cavalry, probing for weaknesses and information, studying the bloody trade for “twenty long, weary months”, back and forth across “the God-forsaken soils of old Virginia.” But they learned. And on Tuesday, June 9. 1863, the union First Cavalry Division (including the 500 men of the 8th) surprised and embarrassed Stuart at Brandy Station, Virginia. At the end of June, at Hanover, Pennsylvania, union cavalry even shoved Stuart aside, leaving Robert E. Lee's advancing rebel Army of Northern Virginia vulnerable and groping blind. That same day union troopers had ridden into Gettysburg, and by chance the 8th was assigned to picket the ridge lines to the west and north of town. Ringing in their ears was the prediction of their craggy Division commander, General John Buford: “Within forty-eight hours a great battle will take place on a field within view.”
As they approached the crest, where the Knoxlyn Road ran into the Chambersburg Pike, Lt. Jones and Pvt. Heim pulled up their horses in front of the two story brick home of blacksmith Epharaim Wisler and his family (above). Handing their reins to private Dodge, Hiem and Jones joined Sgt. Shafer behind the split rail and stone (above, mid-distance center) fence along the crest. The Sargent handed Jones a spyglass, and explained, “There's that old familiar flag.” Seven hundred yards down the gentle western slope, Marcellus could make out the indistinct form of men in column on the Chambersburg Pike. And they were coming directly at him.
The third corps of the Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac River beginning on Tuesday, June 23rd, but despite outward appearances this was not an invasion. It was a 73,000 man foraging expedition, each disconnected part searching for supplies no longer available in war ravaged Virginia. On Friday, June 26th a brigade of rebels under Major General Jubal Early had entered Gettysburg  via the Chambersburg Pike (above), frightened off some Pennsylvania militia and confiscated 2,000 rations from railroad cars. But the next morning the rebels had to move on, looking to feed and clothe themselves for another day. When Buford's cavalry trotted into Gettysburg two days later, there were no rebels present, and the union First Cavalry division was now in the very middle of the disjointed Confederate army.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jones realized Sargent Shafer had lifted his Spencer carbine to his shoulder. Marcellus knew the carbine had no chance of hitting anything over 150 yards, and the Marsh Creek Bridge was about 700 yards away. But the sound of the shot would carry back to Herr's tavern at 640 miles an hour, and from there word would quickly be sent up the chain of command - Rebel soldiers are coming down the Chambersburg Pike. And just as quickly it would tell the rebels they were facing armed men. Without cavalry, the enemy infantry would have to deploy, and probe, slowing their advance to a crawl. Marcellus Jones held out his arm. He told the sergeant, “'Hold on, George. Give me the honor of opening the ball.” Reluctantly Sargent Shafer handed over his carbine.
Laying the weapon in a crook of the rail fence, Lt. Jones aimed at what he took to be “an officer on a white or light gray horse”, just beyond the Marsh Creek bridge. The troops in column were 105 Alabama rebels under Colonel Birkett Davenport Fry, lead element of General James Pettigrew's brigade, advance party for Major General Henry Heth's 7,500 man division. Needing shoes for his men, Heath had come down this road foraging for shoes. Without cavalry, Heth had no way of knowing his own third corps had learned three days earlier there were no shoes in Gettysburg. But when Lt. Marcellus Jones pulled the trigger on the Spencer, the CRACK snapped everyone to attention. And Marcellus' second shot confirmed the shock.
Expecting they were faced by untrained militia, Fry's rebels crossed the Marsh Creek bridge and spread out in a skirmish line on either side of the Chambersburg Pike. That took twenty minutes. When they then advanced, they were forced back by rapid fire from the 35 breech loading Spencers of Jone's concentrated skirmish line. In the pause that followed, Epharaim Wisler stepped out of his house to judge if his family was in greater danger staying or running. As he stood in the middle of the Pike, two Parrot guns from Willie Pegram's rebel battery fired at the ridge line, expecting the militia there to scatter and run.
The first shell was long, but the second was right on target. Wisler (above) saw it leave the gun 1,000 yards beyond Marsh Creek, watched mesmerized as it sailed directly at him, and saw it plow into the road ten yards in front of him. The concussion knocked Epharaim down, and showered him with broken earth and stones. The 31 year old farmer, blacksmith, husband and father of two young boys was physically uninjured. His scars were emotional. He staggered to his feet and back into his house. He took to his bed and never left it until he died a month later. He was the first casualty of the coming apocalypse.
When the reinforced rebel infantry advanced again, an hour later, they were met by 275 veterans under William Gamble. The federals did not run even though outnumbered, but kept up their rapid fire . Again the rebels were thrown back. More rebel artillery was brought forward. More rebel infantry was thrown into line. Another hour was bought, while the First Cavalry division was concentrated, and federal infantry marched closer. 
This time, as the rebels advanced in greater numbers, the federal cavalry fell back toward Herr's ridge, where the process would be repeated, with larger numbers. And after Herr ridge came McPherson's ridge, where union infantry under General James Reynolds would slam into the rebel lines and throw them back. And after McPherson's ridge would come Seminary Ridge, and then Missionary Ridge and Cemetery Hill and ridge, Culps Hill and Little Round Top.
Over the next three days some 7,863 men would be killed outright, 14,146 would be wounded, and another 11,199 men would be taken prisoner or reported missing from their units. It was the greatest single man-made disaster to have ever happened in North America. It was the Battle of Gettysburg. And it all began with the first shot that hit nothing, by Lt. Marcellus Jones, fired at about 7:30 in the morning of Wednesday, July 1st, 1863.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014


I doubt anyone in the court room on Monday, 10 June, 1895 was surprise that the first words James Reavis-Peralta, Baron of Arizona spoke when he stood up. He asked for a delay, while he tried to find a new attorney. When Mathew Reynolds, lawyer for the government, objected, Reavis counter punched, and made a motion to have the case dismissed entirely. Despite being the plaintiff - he was sueing the government,  his motion was dismissed. But he was granted a one day continuance. And when the trial reconvened on Tuesday, June 11th,  the Baron of Arizona announced that he was going to be doing a single: lawyer, plaintiff and witness. He spent most of his direct testimony by describing his dealings with Huntington, Crocker, various Senators and cabinet members. If the jury was impressed by his name dropping, they had little time to be, because Reynolds began his cross examination that very afternoon.
No matter what question Reynolds presented to him,  Reavis' answers were endless and rambling. Did he not notice that the documents he claimed to have discovered in the San Xavier record books, were on a different paper than the other pages in the book, and at right angles to the standard pages? What about his marriage contract with his wife? And what about the questionable testimony regarding Sophia's noble birth? Did he pay anyone to lie in  their testimony?  But no matter how long Reavis talked, no matter how many twist and turns he made in responding, Reynolds just kept attacking. By Wednesday, June 13, Reavis had been forced to admit that even he had doubts about some of his documents. His explanation was that he just filed them, he wasn't vouching for them.
On Monday, June 17, the Baroness Sophia Reavis Peralta took the stand. She admitted she had no knowledge about any of the documents filed supporting her noble birth. Perhaps it was the paternalistic Victorian machismo at play, but the courtroom was convinced the lady was telling the truth, as she believed the truth to be. Presented with convincing evidence that she was in fact the daughter of John A.Treadway and an Indian squaw named Kate Loreta, she broke down in tears, but still insisted, through her sobs, that she was the wife and granddaughter of the Baron of Arizona..
Having put his wife through this emotional torture, on Tuesday June 18th,  Reavis introduced a portrait he claimed was of Don Miguel Nemecio de Peralta de la Cordoba (above), and noted the facial resemblance to his own two sons (below).
After that he just ran out of gas, and was reduced to rants about grand conspiracies and lunatic explanations and justifications. During his closing Reavis did not even bother arguing his case, but rather entered a list of 52 objections to rulings the court had made. They would be ignored.
The government did not even bother to present a final argument. Ten days later, the Court of Private Land Claims, created by political allies to control the Peralta Grant case, found “the claim is wholly fictitious and fraudulent”, and dismissed it entirely. That was, of course, not the end. James Reavis (above) had gone too far for that to be the end of the affair.
Reavis was arrested as he left the courtroom, and charged with 42 counts of forgery, presenting false documents to the Land Court and conspiracy to defraud the United States Government. Bail was set at $500. And although the court allowed him to telegraph his connections in California and Washington, D.C., nobody stepped up with the cash. James Reavis-Peralta  spent the next year in jail, awaiting trial. It finally began on Saturday, June 27, 1896 and ended on Tuesday June 30, with a verdict of guilty. Two weeks later, on Friday July 17, James Reavis-Peralta was sentenced to two years in jail – one year of which he had already served – and a $5,000 fine –about $130,000 today.
To pay the fine, the mansion in San Francisco was sold. Arizola, the fortress that represented the single reality of the Peralta grant, was seized by the U.S. government. It was later used for a barn.  When James Reavis was released from prison in April of 1898, he and his family lived in Denver, where he tried for many years to find investors for his various schemes and plans. But all that any one was interested in buying from him was copies of his book, “The Confessions of the Baron of Arizona”, which had been serialized in his old newspaper, "The San Francisco Call".  He may not have even written it himself.
But whoever the actual author, it was presented as a classic Victorian morality tale. “The plan to secure the Peralta Grant and defraud the Government out of land valued at $100,000,000 was not conceived in a day. It was the result of a series of crimes extending over nearly a score of years. At first the stake was small, but it grew and grew in magnitude until even I sometimes was appalled at the thought of the possibilities. I was playing a game which to win meant greater wealth than that of a Vanderbilt. My hand constantly gained strength, noted men pleaded my cause, and unlimited capital was at my command. My opponent was the Government, and I baffled its agents at every turn. Gradually I became absolutely sure of success.”
"As I neared the verge of triumph”, wrote Reavis, “I was exultant and sure. Until the very moment of my downfall I gave no thought to failure. But my sins found me out, and as in the twinkling of an eye I saw the millions which had seemed already in my grasp fade away and I heard the courts doom me to a prison cell. Now I am growing old and the thing hangs upon me like a nightmare until I am driven to make a clean breast of it all, that I may end my days in peace.”
No where in his “clean breast” account did James Reavis mention Mr. Huntington, or Charles Crocker or any of the other wealthy and powerful men who had financed his scam. It seemed that Reavis had learned something from the affair, after all. Sophia had certainly gained in knowledge. In 1902, she filed for divorce on the grounds of “nonsupport”. And the old forger who began his career at 18, faking passes for his army buddies, died alone, at the age of 71 on November 20, 1914, in Denver Colorado. Cause of death was listed as bronchitis, but I suspect he just ran out of ideas. He was buried in paupers grave. Sophia, once the child of royalty and then just the daughter of an Indian squaw, lived the last years of her life under the name Sophia Treadway Reavis.  She died on April 5, 1934. Her obituary in the Rocky Mountain News failed to even mention the Peralta Grant. That was probably not an accident.
In 1963 the National Park Service decided that it was not financially feasible to save the the fortress south of Casa Grande. The ten room mansion of Arizola was allowed to slowly decay and collapse into the desert. The next year they erected a maker on Arizona route 84 at milepost 181, to explain the significance of the spot to passersby. It reads (inaccurately), “James Addison Peralta Reavis was a brazen forger who claimed over 12 million acres of Central Arizona and Western New Mexico as an Old Spanish Land grant. He and his family lived here in royal style until his fraud was exposed. From the barony he went to federal prison in 1895 “
And that is all most people will ever know about this story. But now,  you know better.
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