JUNE 2020

JUNE   2020
He Has Dragged Us Back Forty Years.


Friday, November 06, 2015


I want to tell you something about fame and fortune. They beat the heck out of obscurity and poverty. As proof I give you the life of the “fearless frogman”, Paul Boyton, the Victorian era’s Esther Williams and a newspaper editor’s dream. He lived on adrenaline and publicity. One commentator described him as having a  “…gift for gab, lust for life, and the pluck to take great calculated risks.” And his life reads like a comic book adventure hero.
During the American Civil War Paul joined the U.S. Navy. He was just 15. Then he formed a life saving service on the New Jersey coast, and pulled 71 swimmers back from the brink of death.
Fifty years before the first swimmer made it, Paul paddled across the English Channel while floating on his back in an inflatable rubber survival suit. 
He met Queen Victoria and floated down most of the rivers of Europe. The Italians labeled him “L’uomo pesce” – the fish man. The government of Chile charged him with espionage. He wrote two autobiographies. 
He was a star in P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus. His image was used to sell cigars, calendars, music and playing cards – so many items that a new word had to be invented to describe his popularity; “Boyton-mania”. 
For some thirty years the “Captain”, as his friends called him, was the most famous man in the world. And ultimately, like all the other great forces of nature, Paul Boyton came to Coney Island.
In 1895, when Paul Boyton stepped off the train from Chicago, his sly but unapologetic mustache was still brown. But at 48, he was getting too old to risk his life four times a day for ten cents a ticket. But Paul had arrived in Coney Island with a new idea, something he had developed at the Chicago Colombian Exposition, in 1893. It was to be called an “Amusement Park”.
It is human nature to be attracted to novelty. And after the Civil War, as the population of New York City approached 3 ½ million, the occupants began to look for a way to escape, at least for a few hours.
Steam powered rail lines spread out from the city, carrying the wealthy to summer mansions and genteel racing tracks on the Long Island sea shore.
Luxury hotels sprang up in Brighton and Manhattan Beaches to house their middle class pretenders. The imitative working masses followed, and were transported at 35 cents a head by excursion boats from the Manhattan docks or the newly electrified rail lines from Brooklyn, (or “Breukelen” in the original Dutch).
In the spring of 1884, James Lafferty spent $65,000 to build a hotel on the empty stretch of sand known as Coney Island, just across Surf Avenue from the boat pier and the railroad terminals. When finished, four months later, the wooden and tin inn stood seven stories tall and was constructed in the shape of an elephant.
To enter you climbed a stairwell in a rear leg to reach the reception desk in the abdomen. Visitors could get an elevated elephant’s eye-view of the ocean for a penny. For the price of a full night's stay, a guest could sleep in the Shoulder Room, the Throat Room, the Stomach Room, or any of the other 27 bedrooms. The unusual structure quickly became an icon on Coney Island, a landmark, and people traveled all the way from Manhattan to be able to say they had “gone to see the elephant”.
But financially the hotel was a disaster. Within a few years Lafferty was forced to sell his poisonous white pachyderm of a public house to a Philadelphia syndicate. And the new owners were willing to switch to a more iconic business model.
The Elephant Hotel was converted into a bordello. And “going to see the elephant” acquired an entirely new iconic meaning. Still, it was a long train ride when you could “see the beast” a lot closer to home and save the 35 cents. So by the time the Captain arrived, although the Elephant hotel was still open, it was on its last legs.
Paul Boyton was attracted by the 16 cheap acres directly behind the failing hotel (the above photo was taken from the Elephant's hinie). There Paul  erected the greatest innovation so far in entertainment history; a fence - with a ticket booth at one end. By selling general admission tickets to his “Sea Lion Park”, which opened on Thursday, July fourth, 1895, Boyton kept his customers captive so he could sell them food and drink all day long, pulling in around $1,000 a day during the 90 day long season. And curiosity about the elephant behind the fence kept the customers lined up at the ticket booth.
Several times a day Boyton himself would appear to demonstrate his rubber suit, and to feed four dozen hungry sea lions in the park’s central lagoon. The performance was described by the Lubin film studios, who were selling a 30 second Kinetoscope of the show to nickelodeon operators, as “a decided novelty”. Once the pinnipeds were sated, the “Shoot-the-Chutes” took over the lagoon.
Designed originally by Thomas Polk, for Boyton’s Chicago exhibition, it was a short but exciting ride. A flat bottomed boat was released at the top of a long ramp. Near the bottom, the ramp curved upward. This sent the boat and its passengers skipping across the lagoon. When the boat slowed, the on board operator would then pole the boat to the landing. The passengers would be unloaded, before a cable pulled the boat back to the top of the ramp for the next joy ride.
In addition, inside the fence Boyton had the “Flip Flap Railroad”. This was a two seat two car roller coaster, and the first in the world to feature a complete 360 degree 25 foot tall loop. It was also the first to explore the physics of inverted amusements. Unfortunately the loop contained a minor design flaw. It was perfectly circular.
And it turns out that this perfection delivered 12 g’s to the passenger’s necks, equal to the maximum endured by the astronauts during a space launch. The unprepared customers, sitting upright, suffered whiplash, blackouts, headaches, nausea, tunnel vision, and loss of balance for hours afterward, not the mention the joy of losing your lunch at thirty-five miles an hour while upside down. People paid just to watch the more adventuresome ride through the loop of the “Flip Flap”, but because of injuries the amusement did not last into the Park’s second season.
That year, to replace the nausea loop, Boyton added a mill ride and cages of live wolves. But at the end of that second season the park lost its landmark. On the Sunday night of 27 September, 1896, the abandoned Elephant Hotel burned to the sand. Three years later, Boyton bought the property and replaced the elephant with a large ballroom. But he simply could not afford to add new rides year after year. And that was required to keep the curiosity level high enough to bring repeat customers behind the fence.
The breaking point for Paul arrived in 1902. That summer saw 70 days of cold rain out of a season just 92 days long. Business at Sea Lion Park that horrible summer has been described as "macabre". Over the winter Boyton was easily convinced to lease the park for 25 years to competitors, Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy.
They renamed the 16 acres “Luna Park”, built palaces and lit the place with electric lights (still a novelty to most people, even in New York City). And then Paul Boyton had retired from the limelight.
But his idea was developed by others, and soon Coney Island became crowded with amusement parks, fence touching fence, each competing with its neighbors for the customer’s nickels and dimes. Albert Bigalow Paine described Coney Island as where “the cup of gaiety and diversion overflows.” Thousands still went to the beach to frolic in the surf for free. But the high roller coasters, the parachute rides, the Ferris wheels and the joyful screams of patrons were a constant temptation for those masses to spend the quarter and go to “see the elephant” behind the fence.
Having spent half his life on such a quest, Paul Boyton was no longer curious enough to look. He bought a small home in Brooklyn and died in relative obscurity in 1924. He was 77 years of age. By then his invention had been passed on to future generations, who continued to build fences around elephants. You, see in the entertainment industry, the profit is all in the fence.
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Wednesday, November 04, 2015


I have an impossible mission for you. Should you decide to accept it, if successful you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. But fail and, if you are lucky enough to live, you will spend the rest of your life in the deepest darkest prison on earth. The object of this mission is a 48 year old male, being held prisoner on a remote volcanic island (above). It has no port and only one beach. The nearest land is another island, 800 miles to the northwest. The nearest port is 1,200 miles to the east. Your mission must be accomplished without using aircraft or balloons, motorboats, radio, or electricity of any kind, or high explosives. You see, it is 1817, and the mission is to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is hard to imagine today the terror Napoleon inspired in the British ruling class. He had not a drop of royal blood in his veins, and no privileged education. Yet as a lowly general the "Corsican Ogre" humiliated an Austrian Army in northern Italy. Then like a new Pharaoh, he conquered Egypt. He was elected Emperor of France in 1804, and six months later crowned King of Italy. For almost two years his Grand Army threatened an invasion of England, and then suddenly "Le petit Corporal"  spun about and almost without firing a shot, captured Vienna and an Austrian army of 30,000 men. A month later he was cornered in Czechoslovakia by a combined Russian and Austrian army of 85,000 men. He crushed them in a few hours. After surrendering, Czar Alexander was forced to admit, “We are babies in the hands of a giant.”
The famous quatrains of Nostradamus were quoted as predicting Napoleon's rise: “An Emperor will be born near Italy”. Everywhere he went Kings were overthrown, kingdom's collapsed, and fortunes evaporated. Napoleon closed Europe to all English trade, and cost English bankers vast treasure, not even counting the wealth they had to spend on ships and men of their own. He was the “bogeyman of Europe.” In 1814, after fifteen years and five million dead, Napoleon was finally cornered, forced to abdicate, and exiled to the tiny island of Elba, 12 miles off the coast of Italy. A year later he escaped, and in the famous 100 days reconquered France, recruited a new army of 72,000 men, invaded Belgium, beat a Prussian army of 84,000 men, and finally, at the “very close” battle of Waterloo, was stopped by sacrificing another 45,000 lives. This time the British were determined to lock “Boney” away where he could never escape.
The prison they picked in 1816 was St Helena, a wind swept tropical volcanic island rising 2,000 feet out of the south Atlantic, a third of the way between Africa and South America. Its arid coastal cliffs were cleaved by a half dozen V shaped canyons where rivers fell from the humid forested interior. The British Prime Minister assured his cabinet, “At such a distance and in such a place, all intrigue would be impossible.” But they were still taking no chances.
Ensconced in a single story mansion called Longwood (above) near the center of the island, Napoleon and his small retinue were watched round the clock by a battalion of 2,800 soldiers and 500 cannon. A British officer was required to set eyes upon Napoleon twice a day. He was not allowed out side after sunset, nor if there was an unidentified sail on the horizon. Eleven warships patrolled the seas around the island, and at sunset every boat was secured under guard and every bridge and gate was locked. Residents of the island's only village, Jamestown, were allowed out after 9 pm only with a signed pass. Escape seemed impossible.
But, of course, from the moment of his imprisonment there were those who wanted to set “The Thief of Europe” free again. A group of retired French officers, who had emigrated to Texas in America, were raising funds and plotting Napoleon's escape. His brother Joseph, one time King of Spain, had escaped to America with 20 million francs. And there were others, more surprising, such as the legendary British Admiral Thomas Cochrane, AKA “the Sea Wolf”.  Two years after this brilliant officer commanded the naval squadron that burned Washington D.C.  in 1814,  Cochrane was convicted of stock fraud, and forced to resign from the British Navy. Bitter, he sold his skills to Chile, where he founded their navy and helped win their  independence from Spain. And word was that Cochrane was planning to free Napoleon to lead the revolutionaries in South America.
But the man all the would-be rescuers sought out was a common smuggler named Tom Johnson (above). He'd been born to Irish parents living in southern England, and had become a successful smuggler by the age of 12. The revenue agents caught him twice, but after his second escape he somehow managed to reach France.Using his knowledge of the English coast Tom Johnson quickly again became such a successful smuggler that while Napoleon was planning his invasion of England, he met with Tom and offered him a command in the French navy. Tom said no, so Napoleon threw the smuggler into prison. After nine months Tom escaped yet again, and was later caught by a British warship almost within sight of America. But this time the Admiralty was desperate enough to grant Tom a pardon and put him on the payroll. And one of the first jobs they gave him was to review a new invention being offered to save England from Napoleon's invasion fleet - a submarine.
In 1800 American Robert Fulton (above) built a working prototype for the French revolutionaries. The four man crew of the Nautilus were supplied with air up to 25 feet under the surface via a snorkel. Underwater she was faster than a row boat on the surface, and while on the surface the Nautilus was powered by a sail which ingeniously popped up from a deck hanger. But Napoleon took one look at the leaky thing and decided Fulton was a fraud. He ordered the prototype destroyed. That was when the British offered Fulton the modern equivalent of $10 million if he could build one for England.
Maybe the Admiralty never thought it would work, and they hired Fulton just to keep him occupied. But the inventor still brought his experience and plans for an even bigger submarine. The Nautilus II would be 35 feet long, with a crew of six, two snorkels, a bigger sail and could remain at sea for 20 days. Tom Johnson went over the plans with Fulton at Dover, and they discussed them in detail. But after the British Navy destroyed the French and Spanish fleets at the battle of Trafalgar, they had no need of Fulton's submarine. Discouraged, Fulton took the offer to build a commercial steam boat in New York. But somebody knew the smuggler Tom Johnson was still interested in the idea. That, plus Johnson's reputation for audacity,  convinced some body that the old smuggler should be offered the equivalent of $3 million to rescue Napoleon.
The plan conceived by Johnson involved two submarines. The larger one would approach St. Helena at night from the leeward side, and then submerge at dawn. The next evening, she would surface and launch the smaller sub, which would land Johnson and another man at the foot of the cliffs on the north side of the island (above). Johnson would ascend the cliff, where he would install a bosun's chair. Then he would make his way to Longwood, where he would slip through the British cordon. The next evening, Johnson and Napoleon would sneak out and make for the cliff. Napoleon would be lowered in the chair, and be spirited away before dawn.
In 1818 the Times of London reported on rumors of a plot to rescue Napoleon, and ex-Admiral Cochrane's wife assured several people that such a plan existed. Cochrane was still working with the Chilean Navy. It might all be a fantasy, except we know from British Admiralty records that early in 1820 a commission of senior naval officers reviewed expense accounts for a submarine, built by Johnson. And leading that commission was Sir George Cockburn, the soldier who burned down the White House in 1814, while under orders from Admiral Thomas Cochrane. The records show Johnson was asking for 100,000 pounds, and the sailors gave him just 4,735 pounds. But clearly there was at least one submarine in existence in 1820, and Johnson had control of it.
What does not seem clear is that Johnson’s submarine could have accomplished the rescue mission.   More than likely, Johnson's plot was a scam to obtain money from Napoleon's supporters. But if Johnson had not intended upon trying, why, late one night in November of 1820, did Tom Johnson try to steal his submarine?He got as far as London Bridge, when the navy caught up with him. And according to a Thames boatman who witnessed the scene, “Captain Johnson...(was) threatening to shoot them. But they paid no attention to his threats, seized her (the submarine) and taking her to Blackwall, burned her.” Thus ended the impossible mission.
Was any of it possible? Were there really far flung plots to rescue Napoleon? Well, remember the island 800 miles to the northwest of St. Helena? Its name is Ascension Island, and in 1815 British marines were sent ashore to occupy it, in the unlikely event that some one would try to use it as a base to rescue Napoleon. And as they splashed ashore they reported some one had left a written a message in the beach sand; “Le mai l'Empereur Napoleon vit pour toujours”  It translated as, “May the Emperor Napoleon live forever!”
He did not. Napoleon Bonaparte died on St. Helena in May of 1821, possibly of stomach cancer, or possibly from arsenic poisoning: by whom is any one's guess. Tom Johnson was sent to debtors prison, and while there seems to have contributed to a fanciful retelling of his plan to rescue Napoleon. Upon his release Johnson was granted a comfortable pension, and retired to Southern England. In 1832 Admiral Thomas Cochrane was restored to his full rank in the British Navy, and was later even promoted to Real Admiral. He died in 1860.
Considering the entire tale from beginning to end, I have to say, it it had not involved Napoleon, I would have called it impossible. But with Napoleon, nothing was impossible.
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Sunday, November 01, 2015

MAKING PEACE - Seven - Doubts

I think of the 48 hours beginning at midnight Saturday, 12 August 1945 (Washington time), when the reply to Japan's surrender offer was dispatched, as a sort of geopolitical waltz. President Harry Truman was leading Emperor Hirohito across the ballroom floor, the pair trying to avoid the unpredictable choreography of the other spinning couples, some of whom had been set in motion by leadership on both sides . And now it was again the turn of the Japanese leadership to take the lead.
The American reply was received on Sunday, 13, August, Tokyo time. When an aide expressed concern about the lack of a clear statement guaranteeing the Imperial throne, Hirohito observed, “That's beside the point. It would be useless if the people didn't want an Emperor. I think its perfectly all right to leave the matter up to the people.” 
The young man raised in privilege, willing to support the privileged elite of army officers who murdered their way to power in the 1920's, invaded Manchuria in 1931, perpetrated the “Rape of Nanking” in 1937 and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, had at last come to the conclusion that the true salvation of the Chrysanthemum Throne depended not on the privileged elite of army officers, but on the nation. It might have been better if he had come to that conclusion in 1931, but humans are rarely if ever “better”.
Beyond the view of the privileged army officers, their wars were destroying Japan. Because of the bombing, most of the nation's urban residents were homeless, sleeping in subways, train stations or shanty towns. And so much food had been stockpiled to sustain a final battle that by August of 1945 most Japanese were clinically malnourished, receiving their full ration of 1,000 calories a day only half the time.
The domestic rice crop had first failed in 1943, but imports had prevented starvation. Still, the predicted harvest of 1944 was less than 10% of what it had been in 1937. And the actual harvest was barely 60% of predicted levels. In 1944 the police in the prefecture (county) of Osaka estimated half of all economic crimes involved the theft of food. Standard white rice had become so rare an item in Japan it acquired a new name - Silver Rice. By late summer of 1945, on any given day 15% of all civil servants were absent, looking for Silver Rice. Japanese bureaucrats expected 10 million to die of starvation during in the coming winter and spring of 1946, even without an invasion. 
Between 1940 and the end of the war, the average 12 year old boy, measured in preparation for induction into the army, had lost almost a foot in height and 9 pounds in weight. It would be “better” for Japan if the war ended. But the elite were not yet ready to admit that what threatened Japan was not the Americans, nor even the Soviets. It was them.
At the full cabinet meeting that afternoon, the military insisted the American reply was insufficient, and the war must continue. Again Prime Minister: Kantarō Suzuki was forced to ask the Emperor to settle the issue. 
Hirohito assured the room, “My own thoughts have not undergone any change.” Then he went a step further., saying, “In order that the people may know my decision, I request you to prepare at once...so that I may broadcast to the nation.” As soon as the Emperor left the room, Suzuki pressured all to sign a promise to support the Emperor's decision. And once again the hardliners were forced to sign, so as not to offend the Emperor. Only then, at 11 that Monday night, 13 August, did Suzuki issue the acceptance though the Swiss. Washington intercepted that message at 2:49 Washington time, Monday morning, 13 August..
It took most of the rest of the day to prepare the Emperor's statement, and at 10:00 that night, 14 August Tokyo time, a team from NHK radio recorded Hirohito's message onto a pair of gramophone disks.. So desperate was the Emperor to end the war quickly, and so worried about the loyalty of the social elite – the officer corps – that he entrusted the recordings to his court chamberlain, Yoshihiro Tokugawa. Without telling anyone, Tokugawa hid both disks in a safe in the office of a secretary to the Empresses.
A half hour before Hirohito began his recording session, Major Kenji Hatanaka (above), leading the 2nd Regiment of the First Imperial Guards surrounded the Imperial Palace, claiming they were reinforcements for the battalion already on duty. 
He then lied to the commander, Colonel Haga, telling him they were under orders from War Minister General Korechika Anami to seize the palace and protect the Emperor. Then using Haga's office Hatanaka called Anami at home, expecting the hard liner to support his actions. 
But Anami had decided to resolve the conflict between his own refusal to accept defeat and his promise to support the Emperor's decision, by killing himself. Anami chose to continue his ritual suicide, rather than either supporting the coup or ordering Hatanka to stand down.
It was after 1:00 in the morning of Wednesday, 15 April, when Major Hatanaka entered the office of the Guards Division commander, Lieutenant General Takeshi Mori, to urge him to join coup. Mori ordered Hantaka to return to his barracks. After arguing for a few minutes, Hantaka grew frustrated and drew his sword . The General's brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Michinori Shiraishi, jumped in front of Mori, to block the blow. Hatanaka's fellow conspirator, Captain Shigetarō Uehara, shot the colonel dead  Hantaka then cut General Mori down with several swings of his sword.
Over Mori's bloody coprse, Hantaka forged Order Number 584, authorizing the Guards division to seize the palace and the NHK offices and transmitters.  
After 2:00 a.m. Hatanaka's troops entered the palace grounds, disarmed the guards and barricaded the gates. Hatanaka and other officers then began a desperate search for the Emperor, and the wax recording disks. They arrested 18 palace staff members, but never found Hirohito (he was hiding in a bomb shelter), but they did arrest Chamberlain Tokugawa Hatanak, threatening to disembowel him if he did not hand over the recordings. But the terrified Chamberlain refused to admit he even knew where the disks were.
At the same hour an assassination squad burst into the home of Prime Minister Suzuki (above). But warned moments before the old admiral had escaped. So the assassins satisfied themselves by machine gunning the home and then burning it down. Another team sent to murder Baron Hiranuma Kiichirō found their target had also escaped. So they burned down his home as well..
About 3 that morning, Colonel Haga found out the truth about General Anami, and ordered Major Hatanaka to leave the palace grounds at once. And learning that troops were on the way to arrest him, the rebellious Major headed for the NHK offices. Pulling a pistol Hatanaka tried to force the staff to give him air time. 
But the workers were able to stall until they could connect the mad man by phone with a superior officer, who ordered him to leave. With no where else to go, and no one else to threaten, Major Hatanaka drove to the plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, where he shot himself, insisting, in his death poem, that he had nothing to regret.. By dawn of 15 April, 1945, the coup was all over. 
And at noon NHK broadcast the “Gyokuon-hōsō “, the Jewel Voice Broadcast. After it had ended, announcers were required to make it clear to the average Japanese citizen that the nation had surrendered.
The war had left 1,750,000 soldiers, sailors and Japanese civilians dead– 4% of their 1941 population.
The population was exhausted, physically and emotionally. Many, including 15 year old Kazutoshi Hando, now expected to be “taken to California or Guam as a slave,” It was also common to believe Japanese women would now be forced to become mistresses. They had been assured this would happen. And they were simply too exhausted to care anymore.
In his his private diary, General Hideki Tojo had nothing but contempt for those who had died fighting his war. The man who had launched the war against Manchuria, China,  America, Britain and France, confided to his diary, “The Japanese government has accepted the notion that Japan is the loser...Without fully employing its abilities even at the final moment, the imperial nation is surrendering to the enemies' propaganda...I never imagined such torpor in the nation's leaders and its people." Even at this moment he was refused to accept that the failure had not been the nation that bleed and murdered to support his dreams, but his own.. That night first year army private Michi Fukuda, witnessed “...many soldiers beating up several of the mean-spirited officers, who were screaming, “Forgive me, forgive me!" After ten years of militant fantasies, and brutality,  the long shadow of rebellion was frightening Emperor Hirohito.
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