JUNE 2017

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

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Friday, April 03, 2015

AUTOMATIC GUN CONTROL

I hate to call it an average day, but it was. Just about a quarter past ten that gray Thursday morning, it was a bitter 18 degrees Fahrenheit, usual for Chicago in February. The day before an inch of snow had fallen, but as Elmer Lewis struggled eastbound through traffic on North Webster Avenue, his greatest obstacle was his own Nelson-LeMoon delivery truck. As he entered the intersection with North Clark Street (above), a four door Cadillac sedan heading south ran the light. Lewis swerved onto Clark, but the truck's solid rubber tires slid on the cold pavement and Lewis' truck tapped the steel bumper of the big passenger car. Seeing the Cadillac was a police car, Lewis pulled over in front of 2156 North Clark Street. But the uniform cop driving the big Cadillac just smiled, showing a gap in his teeth, and drove on. No damage done, Lewis proceeded to complete his delivery for the Beaver Paper Company, and the cop proceeded with the murder of seven men in less than six seconds.
When the technocrat Colonel John Thompson (above) resigned from the U.S. army in 1914, it was with the specific intent to get rich. He immediately found employment building factories for Remington Arms Company, but also found time to form a partnership with John Blish who had invented a unique breech system for an  automatic weapon. Together, as the Auto-Ordinance Company, they spent five years in raising money and development. Their final design was just under three feet long and just under 11 pounds in weight. It fired a heavy .45 caliber lead bullet at 935 feet per second. And it could fire one thousand of those rounds a minute. But the design was finished too late to profit from the First World War.
One block further south, the sedan pulled to the west side curb in front of 2122 North Clark Street (above). The bottom half of the front window of the nondescript single story building identified it as the SMC Cartage Company. A new driver slipped behind the wheel and left the engine running. Four men climbed out. The two in police uniforms were carrying shotguns. They were followed by two civilians wearing heavy overcoats. The uniformed officers purposefully strode through the unlocked front door. Past a tiny office was a second door, and through that was the 110 foot long garage. Parked head-in facing the west wall were three delivery trucks. Scattered beyond were three more trucks and two cars. A mechanic worked over one of the trucks, his dog, a German Shepard named “Highball” was tied to the bumper. Beyond, six men wearing overcoats, were smoking, drinking coffee and talking. The cops yelled for the men to put their hands up- this was a raid.
Initially Auto-Ordinance sold the guns for $200.00 each, with a standard 20 round “stick” magazine, or optionally circular magazines, of 50 rounds and 100 rounds each, for another $20 - $25. Because the gun was so expensive, at half the price of a new Model T Ford, police departments, government guards, corporate strike breakers and messengers, even the United States Marine Corps, could not afford many. Also war surplus weapons had depressed the market. The gun was heavy and was inaccurate at anything over 50 yards. The company also felt the need to provide buyers with a disclaimer: “Thompson-guns are sold you with the understanding that you will be responsible for their re-sale to those on the side of law and order.” By 1925 Auto-Ordinance was reduced to marketing the gun at $175 to western ranchers and farmers, available at gun shops, hardware stores, and by mail. Still, by 1928, sales were so bad John Thompson was replaced as Chief Executive Officer of Auto-Ordinance.
The police officers ordered the men, including the mechanic, to line up single file and put their hands against the north wall of the garage. While one officer held a shotgun on the seven, a second patted them down for weapons, tossing their handguns to the floor. The men peacefully complied probably because police “shakedowns” like this were common. The men in the freezing garage this morning probably assumed once these rouge cops realized who they were rousting, apologies would be offered. They probably thought that - right up until they heard the bolts on two Thompson machine guns being pulled back, in preparation for firing.
In November of 1925 Auto-Ordinance shipped one Thompson Machine gun with the serial number of #2347 to Mr. Les Farmer, a sheriff's deputy in Marion Illinois. He was a known member of a St. Louis mob called “Egan's Rats”. On Monday, March 28, 1927 two former “Rats” members, Fred “Killer” Burke (above), and Gus Winkler, used the gun in the ambush of three gangsters in Detroit, Michigan. At 4:45 that morning Frank Wright, Joseph Bloom and George Cohen knocked on the door of Room 308 of the Milaflores Apartments. Abruptly the stairwell door at the end of the hall swung open, and Burke blasted a machine gun down the hallway. Two of the men died instantly, literally cut to pieces. Frank Wright, died 20 hours later. His only comment was, “The machine gun worked. That's all I can remember.”
Standing about  ten feet from the wall, the two men in overcoats pulled Thompson machine guns. One gun had a 50 round circular magazine, the second a 20 round stick. When they they pulled the triggers, the two guns fired their 70 rounds within six seconds. Yes, it was that quick. In that frighteningly short time each of the seven victims received at least 15 wounds
On the first day of July, 1928, brutal crime boss Frankie Yale, aka “The Beau Brummnel of Brooklyn”, was caught alone on New Urecht Avenue when a Buick sedan pulled up next to him. From the front and back passenger seats gunmen opened fire with Thompsons. The body of Frankie's Lincoln coup was armor plated, but not the windows. Still, he was able to accelerate away from the gunfire. The assailants caught up with him at 44th street, where shotguns joined the volley of fire. Hit in the back of the head, Frankie crashed into the fence of the brownstone apartment building at 923 44th street. When examined by police, Frankie was adorned with a 4 carat diamond ring and a large hole in the back of his head (above)..
At the end of the line, 40 year old Pete “Goosy” Gusenberg staggered to his left and fell face down on the seat of a wooden chair. Forty-two year old James (Kachellek) Clark dropped forward onto his face against the wall. Optician Dr Reinhardt Schwinner, business manager Adam Heyer (aka John Snyder), nightclub manager Albert Weinshank, and 39 year old mechanic John May fell onto their backs. The final victim, 37 year old Frank “Hock” Gusenberg, dropped face down. One police officer then stepped forward and delivered two point blank shot gun coupe de grace to John May, obliterating his face. The four intruders then purposefully strode back out of the front door, pantomiming an arrest. The Cadillac sedan then continued south on North Clark. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was over. From start to finish it had taken less than five minutes.
On October 19, 1928, Auto-Ordinance shipped three Thompsons, (serial numbers #6926, #7580, #7699) with three 50 round magazines to Peter Von Frantzius Sporting Goods, 608 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. The shipment was recorded as received on October 23rd; and according to records trans-shipped that same day to a Railway Express warehouse in Elgin, Illinois, where it was to be picked up by a private customer, Victor Thompson, who resided at the Fox Hotel, in that city. However the package lay unopened and unclaimed in the warehouse until authorities opened it in the summer of 1929. The box which should have contained three Thompson machine guns and magazines, was filled with packing material and four bricks.
The first police officer on the scene, Sargent Thomas Loftus, found Frank “Hock” Gusenberg,
trying to climb into one of the straight back chairs next to his brother's body. Loftus had grown up in the same East Side neighborhood as Frank. His childhood friend was now bleeding profusely from 14 bullet wounds, but still recognized him. Loftus asked, “Who did it?” Gusenberg wheezed “I won't talk,” and then urged Loftus to take him to a hospital. Hank Gusenberg died three hours later in Akexian Brothers Hospital. Highball, the now abandoned German Shepard, was so excited and unruly, he had to be destroyed.
From the beginning it was called “The Massacre”. Eight months afterward deputy police commissioner John Stege told a reporter, “When a representative of the Auto-Ordnance company...said he wanted to help me in tracing the guns...I told him the help he could give me was to go back and close the gun factory. The weapons are absolutely of no value to...anyone other than criminals We would never dare use one of them,” he added, because “too many innocent people might be killed.” The Chicago Tribune interviewed Mr V.A. Daniels, who admitted reselling Thompsons to criminals for two hundred dollars profit apiece. “It's no problem to buy machine guns. All I had to do was to send to New York for them and they shipped them to me.” Auto-Ordinance was so eager to makes sales, that even after a $180 check from Daniels bounced, they allowed him to continue buying   Peter Von Frantzius, whose store had facilitated the transfer of at least three machine guns to Chicago mobsters, and charged just $2 to file down the serial number on any weapon, admitted under oath he felt no moral responsibility. He said all he cared about was making money. 
On December 14, 1929, 11 months after “The Massacre”, a minor traffic accident in St. Joseph, Michgan lead to the death of police officer Charles Skelly. The shooter's car was later found abandoned, and the registration traced back to a Fred Dane. When police searched his home they found Dane gone, but under a bed, in a large trunk, they found two Thompson machine guns, serial #2347 and #7580. They also found information indicating that Fred Dane was really Fred “Killer” Burke (above).
Peter Von Frantzius admitted selling the three missing Thompsons to Frank V. Tompson (above), who claimed to have resold them to James “Bozo” Shupe. Shupe refused to talk to authorities, and he and a friend were killed in a shootout on July 31, 1929, outside of a tobacco store on West Madison Avenue
Once Fred Burke was identified as the police officer who waved on truck driver Elmer Lewis, the two Thompson Machine guns found in Michigan were sent to Chicago to be tested by ballistics expert Calvin Goddard (above, left). Examining ejection markings on shell casings, Goddard proved both guns had been used in “The Massacre:, and that #2347 had also killed Brooklyn's Frankie Yale and was used in the 1927 “Milaflores Massacre” in Detroit. In addition, ammunition found at Burkes' home and produced by the United States Cartridge Company during 1927-28 was also proven to having been used in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Eight months after “The Massacre” the stock market crashed, and unable to effectively stop the Great Depression from engulfing the nation, the Republican dominated 71st Congress of 1929 -1930 was replaced by the divided “do nothing” 72nd Congress, (271 Ds to 271 Rs in the House and 48Rs to 46Ds in the Senate). This logjam produced the November 1933 Democratic sweep, propelling Franklin Roosevelt (above) into the White House, with the Democratic dominated 73rd Congress (311 D's -114 R's in the House, 60 Ds to 35 Rs in the Senate). And it is interesting to note the the first two pieces of legislation introduced by this public mandate were not geared toward solving the financial crises, but first the repeal of Prohibition, and second The National Firearms Act (NFA), the law that removed the Tommy Gun from the market place.  
It did not make the gun illegal. It simply taxed it out of existence. Under the NFA any gun that fired more than one bullet with one pull on the trigger, now carried a tax of $200 – thus more doubling the price of the weapon. When added to the Thompson's weaknesses – its inaccuracy and its weight – the tax drove Auto-Ordinance to the brink of bankruptcy. It is interesting that ten years after “The Massacre”, as the United States was gearing up for World War Two, a new company, Savage Arms, took a fresh look at the Thompson design. They discovered that by removing John Blish's ingenious breech system, the weapon remained fully automatic, but this significantly reduced the price of manufacture.
The garage at 2122 North Clark Street eventually became an antique furniture store, before, finally being torn down in 1967. Today it is a parking lot. Fred Killer Burke (above) died in a Michigan prison. And the gun he made infamous is still sold by Auto-Ordinance, who are still profiting from selling a weapon of mass destruction which in comparison to modern assault weapons is now seen only as a romantic anomaly.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

AIR HEADS Part Two

I believe Bob Fowler was confident on 23 September, 1911,  when the repairs to his "Cole Flyer" were finally completed, and he finally took off from Colfax, California, (alt. 3,306 feet) in the Sierra foothills. He certainly looks confident in this photo. His confidence was, however, seriously misplaced. Immediately that he reached six thousand feet up the Sierra Nevada mountains, Bob hit headwinds that his 40 horsepower Cole motor just not overcome. He was forced to return to Colfax.
That same day (23 September) back east, the little jockey Jimmy Ward was following the “iron compass”, as pilots referred to following railroad lines.  In this case he was tracking the Erie Railroad westward out of Middletown, N.Y.   Jimmy landed safely at Callicoon, New York (above) and refueled,at 10:05 a.m., as planned. He refueled again at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, and took off again at 2:15 P.M.
Two hours later, after avoiding crowds waiting for him at other landing fields, the shy James touched down on a farm outside of Owego, N.Y. Here the jockey hitched a ride into town, where he ate a quick dinner while a local mechanic refueled his plane. He wanted to make it to Corning, New.York. before dark. So he hurried his take off.  But as the jockey lifted into the air his engine coughed, his wheels snagged a fence and he was yanked to an abrupt halt. His lower left wing was bent, his wheels destroyed. Jimmy Ward was unhurt, physically, but it would take a crew from Curtiss Airplane almost two days to repair the damage.
 Back out in California, bright and early on 24 September, Bob Fowler tried again to get over the Sierra Nevada mountains. This time he got as high as as Emigrant Gap, just below the Donner Pass, 7,500 feet above sea level. But headwinds again forced him to retreat to Colfax.
On the 25 September,  Bob reached 8,000 feet before running into headwinds again. This time Bob decided to land at Emigrant Gap, in order to get a head start start the next day. But flying in the thin air at high altitude was a skill not yet mastered by anyone, including Bob, and while turning around his wings lost lift and he plowed into the trees. They had to send out a search party to locate him, and when they did he had two broken wings and and two broken propellers - I mean  his "Cole Flyer" did.  Bob himself was somehow uninjured, but for the time being his continental flight was… waiting for repairs, again.
Back in Owego, New York, the repaired Jimmy Ward’s Curitss airplane managed to limp into Corning and then on to the village of Addison, N.Y. (above) late on 25 September, 1911.  Jimmy was now 300 miles and 10 long days out of New York City.  But at this rate it could take him the better part of a year to reach California. Anxious to make up for lost time, at 7:18 A.M. on the 26 September, James took off from Addison.  And about five miles west of town he crashed again. He had to walk almost the whole way back to town. This was getting really hard.
Back at the hotel, waiting for her husband,  Jimmy‘s wife, Maude Mae, overheard some gamblers taking five-to-one odds that her husband would be dead before he reached Buffalo, New York.  Now, Maude May knew that Jimmy was not actually planning on heading to Buffalo, but she also knew that town was still 60 miles further to the west. And since,  at the rate Jimmy's flight was progressing,  he could have been out run by a Conestoga wagon and would not be near California by the middle of October. And at the rate Jimmy was crashing, Maude Mae figured the gamblers were being a bit optimistic at about her husband's lifespan.  So Maude Mae decided to be practical - leave it to a woman to destroy a daredevil sporting event with practical thinking. Maude Mae spoke to the shaken Jimmy that night. And after his long walk and his two crashes over the previous four days, Jimmy was inclined to listen.
Jimmy's manager announced his decision to the press the next morning. He was dropping out of the race. Later, Jimmy Ward would explain his decision in less than pragmatic terms. “It was a plain case of a jinx”, he said.  And then he went on to prognosticate. “Rodgers is a mighty fine fellow, " said Jimmy, "and I wish him all kinds of luck, but he won't reach the coast within the specified time.  To win that $50,000 he's got to complete his journey by Oct. 10th.  He can't do it.  He'll get through all right, but not by that date.” Given his skill at fortune telling,  I am surprised that Jimmy Ward had no inkling that just seven months later Maude Mae would have him arrested in Chattanooga and charged with bigamy. She had discovered that Jimmy was never legally divorced from his first wife.  Poor Maude Mae. Poor, Jimmy Ward. And  he may have been the pilot with the most brains. Without his brains, the race went on. 
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

APRIL FOOL


I don’t approve of practical jokes. I seen nothing humorous in having my shoes set afire while I am  wearing them. And dribble glasses are not only not practical they are also not funny - especially on “April Fools Day”, when every glass is a dribble glass and every shoe is a potential combustion chamber. And it turns out that this celebration of sociopathic behavior was invented by the French, a nation without humorous inclinations since Moliere slipped on a banana peel in 1673. But the story of April Fool’s Day began over a century before that comedic-tragic event, when in 1564 King Charles IX decided to follow Pope Gregory’s suggestion and begin the calendar on January rather than April. Why the French originally celebrated New Years Day on April 1st, I have no idea.
Now, in the 16th century, France had only one road. It came out of Paris, turned left, looped all the way around the city and re-entered on the other side of town. This tragic design error,(the world’s first Traffic Circle) made communication with the majority of the nation difficult (and introduced the phrase “Out-of-the-Loop”), and when combined with the French telephone system - which was in no better shape in the 16th century than it is today - meant that a lot of peasants never got the King’s memo concerning the calendar adjustment.
So as they had every year, thousands of these ill-informed peasants journeyed to Paris during the last week of March and on what they thought was New Year’s Eve, gathered in Bastille Square to say bonjour to 1565 and watch the guillotine drop on 1566. In unison they gleefully chanted, “Cing, quartre, trios, deux, un” and…No guillotine. No satisfying plop of a head into the basket. No Champagne corks popping. No red faced Anderson Cooper, no naked Kathy Griffith. Instead of cheers and shouts of glee, mass ennui broke out among the masses. Now anyone who has experienced the Parisian version of “good manners” can imagine what came next; the locals mocked the bewildered peasants and made them feel like complete Americans,…ah, I mean,fools. But the way they did it makes the word “odd” seem inadequate.
For reasons beyond understanding the Parisians snuck up behind their confused country cousins, surreptitiously stuck a paper fish to the bumpkin’s backs and then shouted in a loud voice, “Poisson d’Avril!”, which translates as “April Fish!”, and then collapsed in raucous laughter and shouts of “tres bien.”
Why would they shout “April Fish!”? I have no idea. But, perhaps the first Parisian to label his victim an "April Fool” immediately received a mouth full of fist, while calling the victim an "April Fish” confused him just long enough so that the prankster could escape.
I have long thought that this uncharacteristic outbreak of French “humor” was actually inspired by Charles’ Italian Queen, Catherine de Medici, who was already famous throughout Europe for her gastronomical gags,  such as her duck a la cyanide with a hemlock sauce. Only a Medici could see the humor in humiliating the people who handled your food.
But however it started, the Parisians knew a good time when they saw it and they sent peasants on “fool’s errands”, and tricked peasants with “fool’s tales”, until every April 1st, France reverberated with gales of laughter and shouts of “Poisson d’Avril!”  Ah, good times. But eventually the Parisian bullies grew bored with taunting the unresponsive peasants and in 1572 they shifted their attentions to the Huguenots. But by then the tradition of humiliating people for your own amusement on the first day of April had become generally popular. And like Disco music and Special Federal Prosecutors, once invented some institutions have proven impossible to stop.
This holiday for the humor-impaired spread around the globe with the new calendar like a fungus, infecting and evolving a little in each newly afflicted nation. The Germans added the “Kick Me” sign, and a second day which they called “Taily Day”, to further enjoy the frivolity of bruised buttocks. Ahh, those Germans.
In Portugal, today’s innocent victim is hit with flour, sometimes while it is still in the bag - the flour not the victim. In Scotland the target is humiliatingly referred to as an “April Gawk” (?!), in England as a “Noodle” and in Canada as an “American.” I would have expected mental health professionals to call for a stop to this public insanity but evidently they are too busy setting their patients’ shoes on fire.
Not even a war could snap the world out of this cruel insanity. In what may have been the first time a practical joke qualified as a war crime, on April 1, 1915 a French pilot buzzed the German trenches and dropped a huge bomb, which bounced. Four years later the citizens of Venice awoke on April 1, to discover their sidewalks littered with cow manure, the "gag" of a visiting Englishman, Horace de Vere Cole, with too much time on his hands and too much money in his pockets. But then what can you expect from a man who would honeymoon on April Fool's day? Bad humor moved into the electronic age in 1957 when BBC Television News broadcast a report about the successful and bountiful Swiss harvest of spaghetti.  On April Fool's Day in 1992, National Public Radio in the United States, broadcast the announcement that Richard Nixon was coming out of retirement to run again for President, under the slogan, "I didn't do anything wrong and I won't do it again."
Some years later, ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Company, carried a report that the nation was about to switch to "Metric Time". The next morning would begin at midnight, but each minute would be made up of 100 milidays, each hour of 100 centedays, and each day would consist of 20 decadays. It is alleged that  the following morning nobody in Australia showed up for work on time, but it is unclear if that was because the April Fools joke worked, or merely because everybody in Australia still had a hangover, mate  
Admit it; there is no defense against April Fool tomfoolery, except a preemptive strike. So button up your top button, zip up your pants, tie your shoes and look out for that cat. Load up your water gun, warm up your fart cushion and repeat after me; “Poison d’Avril, sucker!”
Funny, huh?
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