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

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Friday, June 05, 2015

FEET OF CLAY

I think it might be the most important two feet of clay in the entire world, 14 inches of clinging, grasping wet sticky ooze that made Teddy Roosevelt a two term President, inspired the effort that created the American century, and offers a lesson in the history of the world we live in - that we all have feet of clay.
The two feet had to be clay because clay holds water, and this particular clay was created over thousands of years by limestone being eroded by the dark acidic waters of a lake surrounded by a dense forest, such as in today’s Wisconsin Dells (above). This particular ancient dell has been called  "Lake Chicago", and if the clay it produced had been less than two feet high, then the clay would not have mattered.
If it had been thicker, then in 1674 Lois Jolliet (above) would have returned from his exploration of the Mississippi by a different route. Two feet was just thick enough to be difficult to overcome, but it could be over come. And although Ms Jolliet was the first European to see the clay, he did not really see it. He wrote to his superiors back in France that there was a simple way to connect the great lake now called Michigan with the Mississippi River  "We could go with facility to Florida in a bark (canoe), and by very easy navigation, " wrote Jolliet.. "It would only be necessary to make a canal by cutting through but half a league of prairie."  But Jolliet had arrived at the edge of the ancient "Lake Chicago" when most of the clay was hidden from view by the spring runoff. So the obstacle and the advantage of the clay would have to wait over a century to be revealed.
In the summer of 1818 fur trader Gurdon Hubbard, retracing Jolliet's route for the American Fur Company, made his first trip up the south fork of the ‘Shikaakwa’ (or skunk weed) River from the village of “Chicago” on the western shore of Lake Michigan (above) . Hubbard followed the river upstream until the open water gave out. From there, like Jolliet,  Hubbard was forced to  portaged for another seven miles. But Hubbard was traveling in the summer, when the water was low.
“Our empty boats were pulled up the channel," wrote Hubbard, "...until the Mud Lake (above)  was reached, where we found mud thick and deep, but only at rare intervals was there water….”
Fighting off schools of leeches and clouds of mosquitoes, it took Hubbard three days to cross the 7 miles of clay and mud before reaching the clear flowing water of the Des Plaines River.  But as Jolliet had said, the Des Plaines River ran into the Illinois River, which joined the Mississippi River, which carried Hubbard and his bateau’s 12 tons of trade goods into the very hinterland of the continent. And perhaps this might be a good point to pause and explain why this was where the clay was on the surface..
Three times over the last 300,000 years glaciers have ground southward across North America, successively plowing the landscape bare and then recreating it on their retreat. When the penultimate of the glaciers paused here 25,000 years ago, they bulldozed a 10 foot high north-south ridge of clay (above, foreground) from the bed of the  ancient Lake Chicago into the “Valparaiso Terminal Moraine”. 
Chicago writer Libby Hill has noted this moraine is not a mountain range, but  "a very slight rise of maybe about 10 feet that...in times of low water... would be a subcontinental divide"(above).   The  24 inch high clay was the cap on the moraine ridge which kept the present Lake Michigan from draining to the west and south down the Des Paines River into the center of the continent.  Instead the waters of Lake Michigan were forced to find a another path to the ocean , eastward,  toward the Saint Laurence River, and giving birth 12,000 years ago, to Niagara Falls.  But from the moment Hubbard clawed his way through the sucking, engulfing clay, Americans were anxious to dig through it. 
The dream of breaching that moraine was first achieved by the 96 mile long "Illinois and Michigan Canal", begun 1836, discontinued in the panic of 1837,  and not completed until 1848. It drained the Mud Lake and provided locks (above) to lift the narrow canal boats and their 100 ton loads 35 feet up to the level of the Des Plaines River at Jolliet.  From there another series of locks provided an easy journey so Michigan apples could be sold in St. Louis and New Orleans. That first canal established Chicago as a transportation hub.
But the growth of Chicago presented its own challenges. By 1867, the 300,000 citizens of Chicago had so fouled their Lake Michigan shoreline that to reach clean drinking water they were required to tunnel two miles out under the lake. 
The success of such "big government projects", like the water tunnels and the "I and M" canal,  encouraged the locals to dream of breaching the moraine in a more grand fashion,  and of converting Chicago from a mere lake port into a seaport. 
To sell the plan to conservative voters, politicians  also pitched the idea of reversing the flow of the Chicago River, to carry Chicago’s waste away from the lake, which was the source of the cities’ drinking water. Pumps would draw lake water into the Chicago River, and then send it up and over the "Valparaiso Moraine" before sending it down the Sanitary and Ship Canal. 
So on Saturday, 3 September, 1892, Frank Wenter, President of the new Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago, turned the first ceremonial shovel of earth in the village of Lemont, Illinois, which was to be the central point of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, because it was the highest elevation between the rivers and a good source of stone, for lining the canal.
The new canal, built in the name of progress and “clean water”, would excavate 44 million cubic yards of clay and stone...
...to create a passage 28 miles long, 202 feet wide and 24 feet deep, which would terminate, for the time being, in a dam and lock at a new town named Lockport, Illinois. Here the lock could take ships and barges up to 600 feet long and 110 feet wide. It would take eight years to finish the initial work and the final cost would prove to be $45 million.
The New York World newspaper examined the social changes this ‘progress’ brought to the sleepy village of Lemont (below). Out of the town's 9,000 residents, wrote the paper,  “…4,000 are gamblers, thieves, murderers or disorderly women. There are 100 saloons, 40 gambling houses, 20 dance houses and three theaters…Everything is running wide open and licensed...Within three months 30 dead bodies have been found…and no one has been punished…"
The paper then added, "Every Sunday excursions of the worst classes go to Lemont from Chicago.”
The Mississippi River town of St. Louis had already lost the race to become the rail center of the nation to Chicago, and now the new canal would allow Chicago grain and livestock markets to set prices for Missouri farmers. When the Missouri business interests finally awoke to the threat,  they realized a purely monetary argument against the canal lacked a sense of urgency.  So, as the Sanitary and Ship Canal got ready for an official opening in the spring of 1900,  Missouri threatened a lawsuit, claiming, to quote the Missouri Attorney General  “The action of the Chicago authorities in turning their sewage into the Mississippi River for the people of St. Louis to drink is criminal, and Chicago knows it.”
Yea, maybe they did. But in response, in December of 1899, the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago released a "scientific study" which "proved" all sewage had been removed by the time the Chicago waters reached Peoria, even before it joined the Mississippi.  And besides, the Chicago lawyers argued, St. Louis drew most of its drinking water from the Missouri River, not the Mississippi. And besides that, the city of St Louis even had their own a sewage drain into the Mississippi River, above their own water intake on the Mississippi.  If anybody was forcing the citizens of St. Louis to drink sewage, it was St. Louis, not Chicago! 
In an attempt to present the United States Supreme Court with a faite accomplie on this issue, on 2 January 1900,  Chicago opened the new northern locks connecting Lake Michigan with the canal.  Not to be deterred,  on Wednesday, 17 January, 1900, Missouri filed a request for an immediate  injunction from the Supreme Court to stop the canal from being opened at the southern end. And suddenly the Chicago lawyers and politicians did not feel so certain about their case. 
To forestall the Supreme Court, on Sunday, 21 January, 1900, the directors of the Sanitary District tried to quietly produce another fait accompli (above). The Chicago Tribune explained why that did not prove a simple thing to achieve.
“…B.A. Eckhart was the first to reach the narrow watershed at Kedzie Avenue and Thirty-filth Street...a dredge was already hard at work throwing up the clay from the cut…. Less than eight feet (of ice and frozen clay) separated the waters of the lakes from the waters of the Mississippi…It was exceedingly slow work, for the clay was (frozen) like a rock…Four large charges of dynamite were placed in the ridge…A few fugitive pieces of clay did fly into the air. But as a grand opening it was a failure…."
"Then the ambitious trustees, armed with their shovels, descended into the cut and began to push away the pieces of clay and ice which held back the lakes…With the regularity of a pendulum the arm of the dredge swung back and forth….The ice from the river rolled in and blocked the channel…"Push the ice...away with the arm." shouted the foreman…The (dredge) arm dropped behind the ice gorge and then with resistless motion swept the whole of it into the Mississippi Valley. .... "It is open! It is open!" went up from scores of throats as the water at last (flowed)…Like school boys on a vacation, the drainage officials waved their arms and shouted.”
It was done.  On 2 May, 1900 Admiral George Dewey, hero of the battle of Manila, dedicated the official opening. But it would not be until 1907 that a lock and power plant would be built (above) to control the 36 foot drop from the southern canal level at Lemont to the level of the Des Plaines River to the north, and complete the dream of ocean going ships reaching the Mississippi via Chicago.
Within a decade after the canal opened the construction techniques for the locks used to raise and lower ships over the Valparaiso Moraine (above)....
...would be used by many of the same engineers in the construction of the Panama Canal (above). It was that endeavor, championed by Teddy Roosevelt, which ushered in the American Century. The lesson here is that no infrastructure construction, be it the creation of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, or manned space flight, or the creation of the interstate highway system, or a national Internet access system, is ever a wasted effort. It is the lesson learned from the endeavor that make the future possible. 
And the Chicago canal proved something else as well. As recorded by William C. Alden in the 1902 “Chicago Folio” for the U.S. Geological Survey Atlas of the United States (volume #81), excavations for the canal and its locks unearthed the history of the entire continent.Beneath the clay and beneath the limestone was the bedrock of Chicago; “Potsdam Sand stones”. That sequence explained the history of the place. Chicago ultimately sits upon beach sands, the bottom of an ancient shallow sea. We know it was shallow because above the sandy bottoms corals grew, and left their lime rich skeletons (above) hundreds of feet thick embedded in the sand stones. Over millions of years that sea had been replaced with a freshwater lake, surrounded by trees,  whose leaves fell into the waters, turning the waters acidic, and converting the top layer of the limestone into clay.And then the glaciers had come, and scrapped across the clay, piling it up in a terminal moraine, which prevented the glacial melt waters from finding their way to the Mississippi river, until humans arrived and stood upon their own two feet of clay and thought, "I can do this. I shall do this". And it was done.  It was not done without a paying a price, but there is a price required to doing anything. Even nothing.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

AIR HEADS Part Eleven

I wonder how many people worked in the advertising department at the Cole Motor Company in Indianapolis in 1911? Besides supporting Bob Fowler’s “Cole Flyer” transcontinental flight, they also had a big balloon that made appearances at county fairs, and they contributed a share in the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As their slogan went, “There’s a Touch of Tomorrow in All Cole Does Today”. Well, the touch was not to last forever. Joe Cole (above) had built a fortune in horse buggies before he borrowed enough cash from Harvey Firestone to start his auto company in 1909. He ordered the parts from other manufacturers and assembled them in the Cole building. “A man’s car any woman can drive.”
Joe offered such innovations as “adjustable door glasses” (i.e., removable windows) a 15 foot long dashboard light and a speedometer that read up to 75 mph; unfortunately the car only went up to 45 mph. Bigwigs at General Motors wanted to buy out Cole, and when Joe wouldn’t sell they just bought up his suppliers and gradually cut him off. With the post war recession of 1920-21 Joe realized the jig was up and began a careful liquidation of his company. In 1924, after he closed up his firm, Joe died suddenly. His family rented out the building (above) in Indianapolis and kept the name, "the Cole Building" into the 1970’s; thus fared the man who sponsored Bob Fowler's flight. 
After he reached El Paso in 1911, it took Bob Fowler(above) a month just to escape Texas. He crash landed in a rice field outside of Seixas, Louisiana, on Christmas Eve. He landed in New Orleans at about 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. It took him until February of 1912 to reach Florida. He landed on the sand at Jacksonville Beach on 12 February 1912 -  not that anybody noticed, what with the Titanic going down just two months later.
Bob would later observe with understatement, “I was the first to start and the last to finish.” It had taken him 116 days and 72 hours of actual flight time to cover the 2,800 miles across America. The very next year Bob Fowler made the first non-stop transcontinental flight – and the shortest. Just 36 miles across the Isthmus of Panama. Bob Fowler was a pretty crafty fellow.
Bob sold The “Cole Flyer” in 1912, and after being used in the movie business for a few years, it was sold again, this time for scrap. The engine is still on display at the Exposition Museum in Los Angles. In 1916 Bob started the “Fowler Airplane Corporation” in his home town of San Francisco. He modified and sold Curtis JN-4’s (“Jennys”) to the U.S. Army as trainers, and after WWI he started Bluebird Airways, a passenger service. He retired to San Jose and died in 1966, at the healthy old age of 82.
Jimmy Ward (above), the ex-jockey who had the good sense to drop out of the Hearst race, died in Florida sometime after 1917, allegedly of stomach cancer. He was buried in an unmarked paupers grave. Some of his fellow aviation pioneers collected money to give him a more respectful funeral, but I can find no record of that ever happening. Perhaps somebody down in Florida can correct my mistake.
Cal Rodgers was testing a new airplane on Wednesday April 3, 1912, just off shore of Long Beach, California, when he ran into a flock of sea gulls. The plane banked sharply 45 degrees and slid into the surf, crashing just feet from where Cal had posed grinning in the surf with the “Vin Fiz” the previous December.
The engine broke loose from its mounts and crushed Cal, breaking his neck. He was still breathing when swimmers pulled him from the water, but he died soon after. Cal Rodgers was the 127th death since the Wright Brothers flight in 1903, and the 22nd American aviator killed. Considering the number of people flying in 1912, those were still terrible odds.
Cal's mother, Maria (Rodgers) Sweitzer, took procession of her son’s body and had it shipped back to Pittsburgh. There Calbraith Perry Rodgers was buried in Allegheny Cemetery under an elaborate tombstone (above), marked with the words “I Endure, I Conquer.”
Cal’s brother John took procession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” and had it shipped back to Ohio, to the Wright Brother's shops, to be repaired. He offered the Flyer to the Smithsonian, but they already had a Wright B, so instead, in 1917, the Flyer was donated to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In 1934 the Smithsonian changed their minds and bought the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. Refurbished and rebuilt, that is the plane that hangs from the ceiling in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
And little Maude was determined to endure and conquer as well. After lengthy court battles with her ex-mother-in-law in California, Maude was awarded legal possession of the “Vin Fiz Flyer”. How could this be? Wasn’t the Flyer back in Ohio, being rebuilt? It was. But the contents of the repair car of the “Vin Fiz Special” contained enough spare parts, many of which may have actually flown sections of the transcontinental voyage, to construct a second “Vin Fiz Flyer” and still claim it as an “original.”
Two years after Cal’s death, and after the court battles with Maria had finally been settled, Maude married Charlie “Wiggie” Wiggin, who had shown such faith and devotion to her Cal; two lonely souls who shared an adoration of another man. “Wiggie”, had, by this time, acquired his own pilot’s license. And Maude and Wiggie made a living for a few years barnstorming their “Vin Fiz Flyer” around the country. And then they quietly faded out of history.
It would be ten years later when Jimmy Doolittle would cross the continent in less than a day - 21 hours 19 minutes, with just one stop for fuel. And as you sit in your tiny passenger seat, crammed four to an aisle, held prisoner on the tarmac for endless hours, forced to use a toilet designed for a diminutive Marquise de Sade, charged extra for a micro-waved “snack”, a pillow, a blanket, a soda or a thimble full of peanuts, even the privilege of using the rest room...
...consider the sacrifices of those who suffered before you; landing in chicken coops, landing in tree tops, landing in barbed wire fences, landing in Texas for day after day. And remember the immortal words of Cal Rodgers; “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it.” It has become the mantra of every airline passenger world wide.
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Sunday, May 31, 2015

THE CURSE OF BEING BOB

I am tempted  to label the late Robert Lincoln as a "shlimazel", but its a Yiddish term and not generally well known. Most people would probably call him a Jonah – but that would not be entirely accurate. See, according to chapter ten in the Qur'an, God gave Jonah a dangerous job, and to avoid the assignment he jumped ship for someplace else. God sent a terrible storm to swamp the boat, and when Jonah confessed his sin to the the terrified crew, after a few moments of theological discussion, they threw the wayward prophet overboard. That is when, in the words of the Christian hymn “...A whale came up and swallowed him whole.” During the three days Jonah was inside the great fish he prayed for forgiveness, and guided by God, the fish “threw Jonah out on a bar of sand.” Every year on Yom Kippur Jews read the Book of Jonah and ask for God's forgiveness. And now you know why Christians, Jews and Muslims have spent the last 2,000 years slaughtering each other; its because they share so many stories like this one, which differ only in the details. But as Mitch McConnell can tell you,  its the details that can cost you an election. But I digress...
Anyway, a Jonah is somebody you don't want on your boat, or babysitting your 401K. A Jonah is cursed, and he drags his curse around with him, rubbing it off on unsuspecting victims who are drowned because God is actually trying to punch the ticket of the guy in next stateroom. And a "shlimazel"  is just like a Jonah, except that God is not involved. Thus I think of the very late Robert Lincoln as a "shlimazel". Allow me to explain.
On the day President Abraham Lincoln died, his eldest son, the late Robert Todd Lincoln, (above), called Bob by his father,  had just gotten back from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was late, of course, and when his parents invited Bob to go to the theater with them, Bob begged off and stayed home. He went to bed early and had to be awakened when word arrived that his father had been shot. He made it to the bedside before his father died, but then Bob had to share his private grief with the grief of millions of strangers. And maybe that was what infected Bob, and turned him into a "shlimazel"..
As the son of Abraham, it was inevitable that Bob Lincoln would be drawn into Republican politics, but he resisted as long as he could - late again. He never stood for election, and when President Rutherford B. Hayes offered him the post of Assistant Secretary of State, Bob said “No, thanks”. But, finally in 1881, he accepted the position as Secretary of War under President James Garfield. That job lasted barely six months, because that was only as long as his new boss lasted..
Just after nine on Saturday morning, 2 July, 1881, at the very beginning of another disgusting hot, humid Washington three day holiday weekend, Bob Lincoln was pacing around the central waiting room of the Gothic eyesore that was the Potomac and Baltimore railroad station (above), at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 6th street. The late Bob Lincoln was early this morning, I guess because he himself wasn't going anywhere. He was there to log-in a little suck-up time with his boss, President James Garfield, who was about to leave for a two week vacation on the 9:15 train to Baltimore.
Yes, Garfield had only been on the job for about three months, and it seemed a little quick to be taking a vacation, but he was the boss and the rules are different for bosses. So here was poor Bob, wandering around this cavernous hothouse, pathetically hoping to make some headway against his biggest rival in the cabinet, the even bigger suck up, Secretary of State James Blaine, known about town as the “monumental liar from the state of Maine”. Blaine at this very moment was walking into the station arm and arm with President Garfield. And that was when Charles Guiteau fired off two rounds of a Bulldog .44 caliber pistol right into Garfield's back.
Bob was not a cop. He did not run to the sound of the gunfire. But when he heard people shouting that the President had been shot, Bob ran toward the Constitution Avenue entrance. Once again he was late. He found Garfield lying on the floor of the “Ladies Waiting Room”. Guiteau had already given himself up, eagerly confessing to everyone and anyone within earshot. Bob and Blaine and Garfield's two sons helped the President to his feet, and escorted him up stairs, away from the lookey-loos. Here he was examined, and since the wounds did not appear to be life threatening – because he was not already dead - it was decided the President should be taken back to the White House. Bob left him there, and returned to his own weekend.
It had all the makings of an obscure footnote in history, until the doctors showed up. There were sixteen of them, and several of them shoved their dirty fingers into the President's wounds, looking for the bullets. They did not find them, but within a few days Garfield found he had a raging infection. What finished the poor schmuck off, on 19 September, 1881, was a heart attack, which is what kills you after two months of fever and diarrhea. Bob Lincoln was not at the death bed. He had already done his part.
Bob left government service after that and went back into private industry, as a lobbyist for the railroads. And it was as President of the Pullman Cars Association that he was invited to a Presidential reception at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on the afternoon of 6 September, 1901. Bob was late again, and as he was just running up the short steps of the Temple of Music Pavilion (above - X marks the spot), he heard two quick gun shots.
William McKinley, the third President of the United States to be assassinated, had just been assassinated. Bob raced into the exhibit, in time to see McKinley drop to the floor. He needed to rush, because thanks to the advances in medicine in the intervening quarter of a century since Garfield's murder, McKinley suffered for only eight days, before the doctors helped him to die on 14 September, 1901. Bob Lincoln slink-ed out of town, determined to avoid contributing to any further bloody historical events. It would be the last time an American President would be assassinated until 1963, and who can say that was not because Bob Lincoln chose to be circumspect about being near another President. When it was suggested Bob might wish to attend another Presidential speech, Bob responded, “No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” But it turned out Bob's affliction not only affected Presidents.
Six years later, on Tuesday. 9 August, 1910, Bob and his family boarded the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, in Newark, New Jersey. They were looking forward to a few weeks holiday touring Europe when in the midst of the bon voyage celebrations an angry ex-city worker took a shot at brand new New York City Mayor, William Gaynor – shades of Garfield's shooting!  Gayner was hit in the throat, and in the famous photograph taken just seconds after the shots (above), the old man in the white hat rushing to assist Mayor Gaynor, is none other than the late Bob Lincoln - and thus we  have photographic proof that Bob was a "shlimazel"!  The doctors largely left Mayor Gaynor alone, and he died of his wounds, three years later.
The only other public occasion which involved a living President and Bob Lincoln was on Memorial Day, Tuesday, 30 May, 1922. Bob (above, on the right) was 78 years old by then, when he attended the dedication of his father's memorial in Washington, D.C.  In fact there were three Presidents present at that ceremony. The fat man, (above left) was Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President in 1911 when he signed the bill authorizing the construction of the Lincoln monument. He survived his close encounter with Bob by another eight years. Vice President “Silent Cal” Coolidge was also there (not shown). He would become President, after the death of President William G. Harding (above center), who gave a rousing speech at the dedication. But Harding would not die until August of 1923, fifteen months and a day after rubbing shoulders with Bob – which seems like a rather extended time frame for an effective curse. And Coolidge would last another nine years before he died. The curse, it seemed, had been either broken or maybe it was just exhausted. Bob sure seems to have been. 
In fact, Bob Lincoln himself (above) would die sooner than any of his final potential victims. He suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage in the summer of 1926. When he died Bob was the last surviving member of the Garfield cabinet, having outlived his rival James Blaine, who did not even make it out of the nineteenth century (he had died, January 1893) . Bob Lincoln was also the only man in American history to have been present at the murder of two American Presidents, not to mention his relation to a third -  his own farther. Bob  was also the only child of Abraham Lincoln to reach adulthood, and to have children of his own.  But sadly his last heir - and thus Abraham Lincoln's last blood relative - died in 1985.  The line of Lincoln is no more. Bob could not be blamed for any of the unusual coincidences that marred his life, but neither could they be ignored. To call them bad luck seems a pathetic explanation. To call Bob a Jonah seems over-wrought.  I think he was just an innocent "shlimazel".
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