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The Billionaires Playground - 1890 - The Last Time the National Wealth was this Unbalanced

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Friday, May 29, 2015

HOME IS THE HERO

I hate misplacing things. No matter what you have misplaced, the cost of finding it is always double. First there is the cost of the thing. Then because you go crazy looking for the thing, you lose your train of thought about the other thing you were thinking about before you lost the first thing.. As anybody with OCD will tell you, it quickly becomes more about the crazy than either of the things. I think it's better to avoid the crazy entirely and just assume I lost the thing years ago and it will eventually turn up on its own. I learned this lesson from John Paul Jones, the pugnacious and self centered Scotsman who founded the American Navy, and Teddy Roosevelt, the pugnacious and self centered American President who found Jones after he got lost.
John Paul had the first requirement for greatness; luck. While serving as third mate on board a merchantman in 1768, both the captain and the first mate died of yellow fever, instantly promoting him. Over the following years Captain John Paul acquired a reputation for brutality. And just when the bad press had brought his career to a a screeching halt, luckily, his brother in the colony of Virginia dropped dead and left him a small fortune.
Having made the voyage to collect his inheritance, John Paul decided to stay in Virginia.  And to confuse any hounding lawyers Jones added a third name to his moniker. And when, luckily, the shooting started in Boston, Captain John Paul Jones packed up his resume and offered to fight for his new country as a privateer.
At first he did most of his fighting just to get a ship. But when he finally did, flying the American flag while sailing out of France, he at last justified his luck. He raided British ports. He captured British merchant ships in full view of the English coast. He lashed his ship to an English warship and fought it out until both ships were sinking. Offered a chance to surrender, he responded, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Then the British warship surrendered to him.
When that war was over John Paul Jones was out of work. So, with congressional approval, he hired on as an admiral with the Russian Navy. But that did not work out. Jones was pushy, and the Czarina did not trust pushy men.. "Catherine the Great"  told the American admiral  to "go mind your own business."
So in May of 1790 Jones returned to Paris, and took a third floor front apartment at #42 Rue de Tournon (above).  And it was here, over the next two years, that the self assurance and self promotion that served Jones so well in obtaining a ship and winning battles, now isolated him.  The Marquis de Lafayette, once an admirer, could no longer tolerate his "colossal egotism.". And the American Minister to the Court of Louis XVI,  Gouverneur Morris, grew so weary of his badgering demands, that after tending to the Admiral's pneumonia,  Morris retreated from Jones' sick bed for a dinner appointment. It was when he reluctantly returned 2 days later, on the afternoon of 17 July 1792,  that Morris found the 45 year old admiral lying face down on his bed, his feet still on the floor, but dead as a door nail.  Jones' servants and few admirers pickled the hero in rum, packed him into an iron coffin, and buried him in the old Saint Louis Cemetery, set aside for foreign protestants. The expectation was that he would be transferred home to America, as quickly as funds could be raised.
Unfortunately, three weeks after John Paul Jones was laid to rest, a mob descended on the Royal Palace of Tuileries, and captured the King and Queen. To achieve this, they first had to butcher his Swiss guard, which the mob did with relish. During the cleanup their bodies were dumped into a common grave,  right next to Jones' resting place. What with the revolution and the Napoleonic wars, by 1815 when peace finally broke out,  the cemetery was long abandoned and forgotten.
Over the next century,  John Paul Jones floated in rum and slowly pickled while the mundane world continued on with out him.  In time the land atop John Paul Jones came to be occupied by a grocery, a laundry, an apartment house (above) and their attendant backyard sheds, toilets, cesspits  and wells.
And there John Paul Jones might have stayed had not a lunatic shot and killed American President William McKinley in September of 1901.
That lunatic made Vice President Teddy Roosevelt (above), at 44, the youngest man ever to take the oath as President of the United States.
And when Teddy decided to run for his own term, in 1904, he was opposed by Republican National Chairman Mark Hanna (above), who portrayed his fellow Republican Teddy as a wild eyed lunatic, and called him  “that damn cowboy”. What Roosevelt needed in 1904 was anything that would make him look like a stalwart defender of tradition. Luckily, he found what he needed when his ambassador to France pointed out that one of our greatest Revolutionary War heroes had gone kissing in Paris  for over one hundred years. So the order went forth in typical Teddy Roosevelt fashion, “Dig up John Paul Jones! Whatever it costs!"
General Horace Porter (above) was a civil war hero and now the American ambassador to France.  And in 1897,  after reading a new biography of Admiral Jones, Porter had become obsessed with finding his body. After three years of research through old maps and confusing government records Porter found the cemetery where Jones had been buried, now adjacent to the Rue de la Grange aux Belles - or in the more prosaic English, Street of the Beautiful Barn.  Because of all the new buildings, the only way to recover Jones was to tunnel into the graveyard -  not a pleasant occupation, but a great plot for a horror movie.
Before he could dig, Porter had to get the current owners’ permission. It took him two more years to negotiate for a 3 month contract with all the local land owners. At the same time President Roosevelt submitted a special appropriation to pay the $35,000 estimated price tag to dig up John Paul Jones’ corpse. John Paul would not have been surprised to discover that a hundred years had not made the American Congress any more rational. On the evening of Friday, 3 February, 1905,  Mr. Porter started the work, on his own dime. Congress had tabled the President's request.
Heading the project was M. Paul Weiss, who had been trained as a mining engineer, and he was going to need all that training. Weiss sunk the first shaft 18 feet straight down in a back yard. It wasn't long before he hit his first corpse. That meant that luckily,  the bodies had not been moved.
Unfortunately, despite the construction over the graves, the ground was not well compacted, and a great deal of time and money would have to be spent shoring up the shafts, and supporting the walls of the buildings above.  Or at least that's what Ms Weiss told Ambassador Porter when he presented the bill.  Noted Porter, “Slime, mud, and mephitic (foul smelling and poisonous) odors were encountered, and long red worms appeared in abundance.”
Wrote Porter, “Two more large shafts were sunk in the yards and two in the Rue Grange-aux-Belles, making five in all.  Day and night gangs of work men were employed…Galleries were pushed in every direction and ‘‘soundings’’ were made between them with long iron tools,…so that no leaden coffin could possibly be missed."
The wooden coffins had long since corroded away and for the last century the bodies had been slowly decaying in the soil. Now the miners working for Ms Weiss (above)  had introduced waves of fresh air accelerated that decay. The stench was often overwhelming. Three lead coffins were found, the first on 22 February, 1905, and the second a month later. Those two had copper plates identifying their occupants. Neither was John Paul Jones.  Shortly there after they found King Louis' Swiss Guard, in their mass grave, stacked one atop the other. And now Weiss knew he was on the right track.
On 31 March, 1905, the miners hit a third lead coffin, this one without a copper plate The crew decided they needed more fresh air before they opened it. It was a lucky thing they did.
On 8 April, 1905 they finally pulled the coffin loose from the soil, and while still in the tunnels pried open the coffin lid. Ambassador Porter (above, left) was there,.as was Ms. Weiss (above, right) , to catch by flickering candle light the first glimpse of  the great hero since 1792.  The body inside was wrapped in tin foil. The stench of alcohol filled the tunnel. Rolling back the tin foil, they gazed upon the face of John Paul Jones, a physical connection with the American Revolution. His nose had been bent by the weight of the coffin lid, but the face was still recognizable. It was John Paul Jones. After a hundred years he needed a shampoo, but that was to be expected.
Doctor J. Capitan performed an autopsy and determined that the heart and liver were normal, but the left lung showed signs of “small patches of broncho-pneumonia partially cicatrized” He wrote that he had come to the conclusion that “the corpse of which we have made a study is that of John Paul Jones”.
Teddy Roosevelt ordered up a fleet of 11 battle ships to escort Captain John Paul Jones back to America, and the French threw in a few battle ships of their own.
On April 24, 1906, he was placed in a temporary tomb (above)  at the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland. It was temporary tomb because Congress had yet to pass the appropriation to even pay the cost to recover the body. They never did.
When the hero arrived home, Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech, in which he barely mentioned John Paul Jones. Instead Teddy talked a lot about his plans for the future of the American navy.
By now, Teddy had been re-elected without serious opposition in part because, luckily for Teddy, his Republican foe Mark Hanna had died of typhoid fever in February of 1904. So the the entire effort to rescue John Paul Jones from anonymity to save Teddy's political future,  had been unnecessary. And Teddy had already lost interest in the dead hero. It turned out Teddy's entire effort to recover John Paul Jones had been about Teddy - in much the same way that John Paul Jones efforts to create an American Navy had been about John Paul Jones.  And Congress never did pass the authorisation to pay for the effort because the members of Congress were under the impression that it was all about them.. Poor General Porter had to take up a collection. But at least, at last, the body of John Paul Jones had been found and was home.
I told you John Paul was lucky.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

AIR HEADS Part Ten

I ask you to imagine yourself as the engineer on a westbound freight on the El Paso and Southwest Railroad. It is November of 1911, and the big steam boiler in front of you is a living, soot spewing metal beast with a hot, coal fed craw your stoker has to constantly feed. You climb out of the Rio Grande valley, the empty copper ore cars behind you rumbling around Sierra del Cristo Rey mountain. Then you turn south, coming within yards of the Mexican border at Anapra, before the line swings north again, past “The Lizard”, a basalt dyke basking in the sun on a mountain shoulder (in the distance, above) high above the dieing mining town of Lake Valley. And then, after wending their way between lonely unnamed desert peaks and road cuts, the rails ramp down onto the high Chihuahuan desert floor and the siding and water tower at Mammoth, New Mexico. And that is when you see it. It looks like a giant insect speeding towards you at 40 or 50 miles an hour. But it can’t be. Can it?
In fact it can not. What you are seeing, at a time when most Americans had not yet seen an airplane, is the “Cole Flyer”, piloted by Bob Fowler, using a hand car as a catapult to become airborne, an aviation first. So the engineer can be excused for not recognizing what he saw, as it had never been seen before, ever, in the four billion year history of the earth. It was a desperate measure, tried after Fowler had been trapped in the sand for four days, 16 miles west of El Paso, Texas. The Mexican border was only three miles to the south. And staring head on at the steam engine bearing down on him, Bob Fowler said later he wondered if he was going to become the first pilot in history to crash into a locomotive. Bob lifted off the hand car at the last possible second and became airborne, missing the front of the oncoming locomotive he said, by “…no more than ten feet.” I doubt if the engineer comprehended what he had seen, particularly after it flew off over his head, followed by the shattering crash of the handcar against the breast of the huge iron beast. This makes Bob Fowler the world’s first UFO, if it really happened.
I had my doubts. But according to the New York Times, on July 24, 1904, three New Jersey teenager couples had borrowed a similar handcar for a Saturday night “joy ride”. After some drinking and dancing, at about 11 p.m., they found themselves pumping their way across a bridge over the Delaware River with a Lakawana passenger Express bearing down on them. It sounds like a turn of the century version of “Saturday Night Fever”. All the couples jumped to safety, with only one male, Albert Jones, suffering injury, a broken shoulder. According to the Times, the express “barely escaped being wrecked”, but it did escape. So I guess it could have happened the way Fowler tells it. Bob would use a handcar catapult to launch himself three more times on his journey to the Atlantic Ocean. But he would never again come so close to being killed by a locomotive.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angels, Cal Rogers was slowly recovering from his injuries. Propped up in a wheel chair, with both legs in casts, his wife hovering on his right, his mother perched judgmentally to his left and his brother standing back out of the line of fire between them  (above), Cal assured the doubtful reporters, “I’m going to finish this flight, and I’m going to finish it with the same machine.” It must have been a contentious press conference, since everyone in the photo looks as if one of them has just stepped in something very unpleasant. I wonder who that could have been?
Cal had, by my rough count, crashed 70 times in crossing the country, (23 times in Texas alone!) or about once every 43 miles. His sponsors must have been fed up with the repair bills. And with all the engine problems of late, Cal must have been a bit uneasy about trusting his life to the skills of the 17 year old Charlie “Wiggie” Wiggen, his new chief mechanic (with Cal, below), since Charlie Taylor had opted out of the little opera being staged aboard the “Vin Fiz Special” back in Texas.
Poor old Cal. One great-grandfather, Oliver Perry, had been the hero of the 1813 battle of Lake Erie. His other great-grandfather, John Rogers, had been captain of the USS Constitution. His great-grand-uncle, Matthew Perry, had sailed four warships into Tokyo Bay and opened Japan to trade in 1853. But Cal’s own father had turned away from the sea and became a cavalry officer, with a rather less distinguished record. He had fought bravely against the Cheyenne in the freezing rain at Slim Buttes in 1876, and even against the Nez Pierce in 1877. But his career had come to a shockingly less than glorious conclusion on August 23, 1878, when he was struck by lightening.
You might say his father's demise left the young Cal with a bit of a negative buzz about him. And then there was the deafness thing, and his mother’s remarriage. So his family history may explain why Cal was so determined to make it to Long Beach, no matter what the obstacles. He explained, in an interview he gave just after reaching Pasadena, “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it.”
On December 10, 1911 Cal hobbled out to the Vin Fiz one last time. He lashed his crutches to the wing strut, checked his lucky soda bottle and waited while Weggie primed his propellers. Then he rolled (Weggie having replaced the skids with wheels) across the Compton field where he had crashed weeks before, and rose into the air. Twelve miles later he settled down in front of 50,000 people in Long Beach.
After landing, Cal had his plane pushed forward until the wheels were in the surf. Cal Rogers had said he would reach the Pacific Ocean, and now he had. But whether it was in the same airplane was debatable. The only parts that remained of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” that had taken off from Sheepheads Bay, New York on September 17th. were one vertical tail rudder and the oil pan. Nobody was even willing to claim it was the same Vin Fiz bottle hanging off the strut.
On New Years Day, 1912, Cal made a few hundred dollars flying over the Rose Parade (above) and dropping rose petals. He needed the money. Cal and Mable Rogers were now flat broke. Congratulations, to the Winners!
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

THE GREATEST SPECTACLE

I know you think that 200 laps after the clinking, clanking cacophony of 40 iron behemoths, 5 to a row, roared under the red start flag of the first Indianapolis 500, Ray Harroun flew across the finish line first (above), collected his $12,000 check and became the most famous race car driver of all time, the wellspring from whom three quarters of a billion tourist dollars flow into Indiana every year. But the real winner of that first race was the promotional manic-depressive who had designed and built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However Carl Fisher was held in such disapproval by the straight laced devout denizens of Indiana, that more than a century later they still hold their noses when speaking of him.
Carl Fisher's first wife, Jane, (he lost most Hoosier Catholics, right there) described living with Carl as “a circus. There was something going on,” she said, “something exciting going on, every minute of the day. Sometimes it was very good. Sometimes it was very bad.” His friends called him “Crip”, short for cripple because the 6th grade drop out kept falling off his bicycle. 
Carl owned the best bicycle shop in Indiana, and was half owner of the “Prest-O-Lite” company, making headlamps for those huge, loud, clumsy, leaky, foul smelling cloud generating contraptions that had a tendency to break down, fall over, catch fire, or just turn into a one ton paper weight in the middle of the road.
As the first 500 began a huge cheer rose from the 40,000 spectators when “Happy” Johnny Aitken, drove his dark blue “National” into the lead at the first turn. Both driver and car were local productions. 
But one lap later Aitkens was passed by “Richie Rich” racer, silk shirt wearing 21 year old Spencer Wishart (above).
Spencer was driving his personal $62,000 “Silver Arrow” Mercedes (it was actually gray. Above). It would be a triple play newspaper year for the “charismatic” Spencer. In January his millionaire father George would be on the front page, indicted for stock fraud in Canada. All spring and summer Spencer was in the sports pages as a contender in auto races. And just after the Indy 500, he would announce his engagement on the society pages.
The 41 year old Carl Fisher and his four partners had spent $250,000 building the 2 ½ mile dirt oval Speedway. The first weekend of racing in August of 1909, produced a “Roman holiday of destruction” that killed five people, two of them paying customers. Rail birds labeled the track “Fisher's Folly”, and the Detroit News observed, “The blood of the Indianapolis Speedway has probably rung the death knell on track racing in the United States.” “No good”, an Ohio paper sermonized, “can come from making a mile in 40 seconds.” 
 But auto maker and Fisher friend Howard Marmon (above) argued in a letter to the newspapers, “It was not the track or the drivers who were not ready, but the majority of the cars.” 
 With that moral support, Carl and his partners spent another $180,000 resurfacing the track with 3,200,000 bricks. The dozen races held during 1910 at the Speedway were safer, but ticket sales plummeted as the track's novelty wore off. Carl decided to gamble everything on a single 500 mile race on Tuesday, 30 May, 1911 - Memorial Day.
Thirteen laps into the firs race, as 27 year old millionaire “man about town” driver Arthur Greiner and his 24 year old riding mechanic Sam Dickson (above), were approaching turn three at the north end of the backstretch, a balloon tire blew on their Number 44 “Amplex” car. The wooden rim skidded on the bricks, throwing the big machine hard left, into the infield. Hitting a drainage ditch, the race car slammed to a stop and for a second stood vertically on its square radiator, the tail lifted high into the air. 
 
Since none of the drivers or mechanics were restrained in any way, Greiner flew out of the cockpit “like a shucked oyster”, taking the steering wheel with him. He claimed later, “I was perfectly conscious when we whirled through the air,” except he was the only one flying. According to the Indianapolis News, Greiner landed 25 feet away, with a fractured skull and a broken arm. Mechanic Sam Dickson (above) stayed in the car, uninjured...until, after teetering for a second or two, the car fell forward, driving Sam into the ground head first, “like a tent peg”. He died instantly
The $50,000 prize money attracted auto makers from all over. There were two cars in the field built by the Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine, Wisconsin. Springfield, Massachusetts sent one car from Harry Knox's factory, and two “Pope-Hartford” cars driven to the Speedway from Colonel Pope's factory. Indianapolis sent a 2 car team from the “National Motor Company” and 2  “Marmon Wasp”s, 1 a single seater the other a standard two seat version,  and a “Stutz” from the Ideal Motor Company.
 There was also a pair of “Interstate” cars, manufactured in Muncie, a pair of smoke emitting 2 stroke “Amplex” cars from Mishawaka, Indiana, and a Westcott built in Richmond, Indiana. Detroit sent 2 “Buick” racers - one driven by Arthur Chevrolet – and 2 cars from Harry “Loizer”'s new factory. Columbus, Ohio provided a “Firestone”,  driven by Eddie Rickenbacker.  Germany backed a “Benz” team and a “Mercedes” team. 
And Italy sent “The Beast of Turn”, a Fiat s76 (above). All cars carried a riding mechanic for safety, to watch the oil gauge, tire wear and overtaking traffic. However one team was an allowed an exception to the rules.
The flimsy balloon tires were blowing all over the place, now. It took anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes to change a tire, depending on the design and the skill of the pit crew. The skills of the scoring judges was even more dicey. Popular sports columnist Crittenden Marriot noted, “The workers at the great score boards...keep very bad tally on the laps.” At about lap 30 the timing wire across the front straight broke (above-right) . It was fixed but kept breaking. Said the New York Times, “It was acknowledged that the timing device was out of repair...for an hour during the race.” 
The positions of the remaining 39 cars was now determined by the 100 local nabobs named as judges. Most saw their appointments as free tickets, and showed little dedication. The manual chalk scoring boards around the track quickly diverged from each other and reality. “Motor Age” magazine was downright disgusted, saying, “There are too many cars on the track. The spectator could not follow the race.” They added the race had become a mere spectacle. Not to be outdone the IMS would later take to calling the 500 “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” .
About the only person who seemed to know what was going on was 29 year old Ray “The Little Professor” Harroun, designer, builder and driver of the number 32, “Marmon Wasp”. Ray was a mechanical engineer by trade and temperament, in fact the primary engineer for the Marmon Motor Company and perhaps the greatest innovator in the auto industry before Henry Ford. 
Enticed back into the driver's seat by a large paycheck and a hectoring Howard Marmon, his boss,  Ray recognized he did not have the fastest car, but determined to save time by saving his tires with a steady 75 miles per hour. He carried no riding mechanic, instead borrowing an innovation used in urban horse drawn wagons – a rear view mirror (above). Pit row denizens called it his “dumb mechanic”, but Carl Fisher allowed it over numerous protests. 
As the race approached the midway point, (100 laps, 250 miles, 3 ½ hours) Ray had climbed up to 7th place on some scoring boards, third on others and 10th on a few. Then at lap 150 (approximately) he handed the yellow Wasp to his 25 year old relief driver, Cyrus Patschke (above). And Patschke hit the throttle. Said the Wasp's chief mechanic, Harry "Billy" Goetz,  “Ray paced around the pit area muttering to himself, watching every move the Wasp made.” 
Some time around lap 170 a suspension member on the Number 8 Case car, driven by 28 year old Austrian immigrant Joe Jagersberger, snapped. Somehow Jagersberger kept the car under control, but at 80 miles an hour it violently wobbled down the main stretch. Mechanic Charlie Anderson either “fell or perhaps jumped in panic” to the pavement, where his own rear wheel ran over him. Charlie started to get up when he saw another car coming at him and did the smart thing – he stayed put. 
According to the Indianapolis News, “Harry Knight (above- the number 7 car)...to avoid striking the prostrate (mechanic) skidded sideways at great speed” Knight slammed broadside into two cars being serviced at the end of pit row. “That several people were not killed was a mystery to the great crowd in the grand stands” said the News.
The stands in this case were the judges' stands, and almost all 100 of the spectator/jurists dropped everything they were supposed to be doing (scoring) and raced to the wreck to gawk, rubberneck and get a better view, offer useless advice, or (a few) to actually help. By the most generous judgment of the New York Times, “no one was keeping track of the timing and running order for at least (another) ten minutes.”
There seems to be general agreement that Ralph Mulford (above) was first to take the green flag, indicating a finished race. The Loizer team signaled Mulford to take an extra “insurance” lap, just in case the judges had miscounted. They had. Probably. But just which way and by how much it is impossible to say. After his insurance lap, when Mulford's Lozier tried to pull into victory circle, they found it was occupied by the Number 32, Marmon Wasp, of Ray Harroun.
The Speedway quashed all debate by immediately by declaring that Ray Harroun had won the first Indianapolis 500, while all other positions would be “under scrutiny” until morning. In the victory circle where speedway officials had directed him to park, the stoic "Little Professor" would say only “I’m tired—may I have some water, and perhaps a sandwich, please?” Then when reporters continued to shout questions at the engineer, he rasped, "It's too long a distance. It should not be repeated. This is my last race. It is too dangerous. That was the worst race I was ever in, see? Gimme something to eat.” Then he climbed out of his Wasp and wisely refused to discuss any details of the scoring until his death in 1968. His official time to cover the 500 miles was declared to be 6 hours and 46 minutes and 46 seconds. It was as good a number as any other.
Carl Fisher (above)  spent most of the 1920's promoting and building Miami Beach. He sold the Speedway to Eddie Rickenbacker in 1927. Then in October of 1929 Carl lost his fortune in the stock market crash. After decades of alcoholism, he died in Miami of a gastric hemorrhage, in July of 1939.
Ralph Mulford, was the national driving champion in 1911. He competed in the Indy 500 a total of 10 times, and never won. In fact, he never claimed to have won. At the age of 85, he eulogized the man who was awarded the race he likely won. "Mr. Harroun was a fine gentleman,”  said Ralph, “a champion driver and a very great development engineer, and I wouldn't want him to suffer any embarrassment.” Ralph pointed out that each year the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, “...send me something as a remembrance and to let me know I have not been forgotten." Ralph died in 1973.
The forgotten man of the first 500 was Cyrus Patschke (above), who “put the sting in the Wasp”   It was Cyrus who put the Number 32 in the lead. But after 7 years as one of the best “relief” drivers in America, with 3 wins, 1 second place finish and 2 thirds, he retired in 1915, to open a auto repair shop at 10th and Cumberland streets in his home town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, half way between Harrisburg and Reading. In 1948, a young driver stopped him coming out of a diner in Lebanon, and asked, “Say, didn't you used to be Cy Patschke?” Cy grinned and replied, “I used to be Cy Patschke, son. I used to be.” He died of a heart attack on 6 May, 1951.
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