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Friday, August 11, 2017

THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY - 1920

I don’t know the truth of what happened to Andrea Salsedo. His fellow prisoner, Roberto Elia, testified later he had jumped through a window of the 14th floor of the Park Row Building, in Manhattan (above). Some claimed that he was pushed. Some believe, to this day, that he was dropped while being dangled by his ankles. But there could be no doubt that both men had been beaten by officers of the Justice Department in that building for eight solid weeks. The Federal agents suspected that the two printers had helped publish an Anarchist-Communist pamphlet entitled “Plain Words”. The pamphlet in fact explained how to build bombs. 
Roberto claimed that Andrea (above) had thrown himself through the window to avoid being forced to implicate his friends. This suicide plunge cannot be taken as proof that Andrea had anything real to confess. It may have been simply despair and a refusal to lie, or even just to stop the beatings, but it may have been an admission of guilt. All we know for a fact is that at 4:30 A.M., on Monday, May 3, 1920, the little man with the passive eyes was found dead outside the headquarters of the U.S. Justice Department in New York City.
Far to the north, in Braintree, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, May 5th, four men, Nicola Sacco, Mario Boda, Riccardo Orciani and Bartolomeo Vanzetti attempted to pick up Boda’s sedan from the Elm Street Garage. But it was past closing time, and the garage was locked up. The four men crossed the street, to the home of the repair shop's owner, Simon Johnson. He put them off by explaining that the license plate on Borda’s sedan had expired. Legally Johnson could not allow the car to be driven off his property without a valid license plate. While he thus delayed the men, Mrs. Johnson scurried next door to call the Bridgewater police. They did not arrive in time. Boda and Orciani rode off in tandem on a motorcycle, while Mrs. Johnson watched. The mechanic followed Sacco and Vanzetti as they walked to a nearby streetcar stop. 
At about 10:00 P.M., as their streetcar arrived in Brockton, Sacco and Vanzetti (above) were arrested by two police officers. Searched, they were both discovered to be carrying loaded pistols. Vanzetti was also found to be carrying shells for a shotgun. They both denied knowing Boda or Orciani. It was the first of a series of stupid lies they would tell. After that the only question for the Braintree police, was what crime to charge the two men with. 
Meanwhile, May of 1920 was proving to be a most profitable month for another Italian immigrant in Boston. Where his compatriots were frustrated with American Capitalism, and seeking redemption in revolution, this cheerful little man saw American Capitalism as the American Dream. 
In order to gaze upon his dream you had to merely find the arch along Washington Street in Downtown Boston, cross under it and enter Pi Alley, also known as Williams Court. 
The narrow cobblestone passage lead to School Street, near the old City Hall. And at 27 School Street,  stood the granite walls and steel frame of the Niles Building. Up the stairs you would find Room 227. The painted door identified it as the offices of the “Old Colony Foreign Exchange Company”, the most extraordinary and successful investment program in all of 1920 America.
In February “Old Colony” had attracted $5,000 in new investments. In March the investors had coughed up $30,000. This May investors were forcing $420,000 into the companies’ coffers. The reason for such success was obvious. Profits for those investors were guaranteed, a return of 50% of their original investment within 45 days, a 100% return within 90 days. After that, every dime was pure profit. 
“Old Colony” bought and sold International Reply Coupons, (IRC’s), a now defunct form of international postage. Bought in bulk in Italy for 11 cents each, they could be sold in America for 44 cents each. That was a 400% profit. The tellers in the Old Colony's offices were taking in cash from eager investors so quickly, there was no time to count it. The tellers would take the cash being proffered, hand over a preprinted receipt, and then drop the dollars into a large barrel, before moving on to the next investor. Periodically, some one would take away the cash filled barrels and would later return with empties. Hour after hour, day after day, the cash rolled in. Some days the line of people desperate to hand over their life savings ran down the stairs, across School Street, down the Alley and snaked back along Washington Street. And week after week, the investors were paid their dividends. Few dared to withdraw their original investments. The payouts continued, like clockwork, like magic, like sheer genius.
The magician at the center of this investment genius, was a smartly dress little Italian immigrant, who went by the name of Charles Ponzi, AKA Charles Ponei, AKA Charles P. Bianchi, AKA Carl or Carlo Ponzi. And Charles indeed had a secret at the core of his investment machine. He had never bought or sold a single IRC in his life. 
On May 13, 1920 Mrs. Mary Wilcox (above, in an earlier family photo) arose to discover that during the night her 21 year old son Cyril Wilcox (center)  had committed suicide. In what was a fairly common method for 1920, the one time student at Harvard Collage had blown out the flame on the gas jets in his room. Without the cleansing illumination, the poisonous fumes had filled the unhappy young man’s bedroom until he passed out from lack of oxygen, and suffocated in his sleep.
Mary Wilcox was heartbroken. Her eldest son George was angry. Suicide has those effects on the survivors. The grieving mother ascribed her son’s death to his failure at Harvard. Cyril had been suspended after managing only five F’s, two C’s, one B and a  “passed” on his sophmore finals. But George was convinced he knew the real reason for Cyril’s unhappiness. 
George had read a letter addressed to Cyrll, delivered the day after his death. George and had then tracked down the author, Harry Dreyfus. He was an older man who owned a bar on Beacon Hill called "Cafe Dreyfus", as well as a restaurant in Cambridge frequented by Harvard students. 
George confronted the older man and then assaulted him, beating him badly until Dryfus admitted that he and Cyril had once been lovers. 
Then, on May 22, 1920, George called upon Harvard Acting Dean Chester N. Greenough. George shared the information he had been beaten out of Harry Dreyfus; that the cause of Cyril‘s suicide had really been his "victimization" by a "homosexual ring" at Harvard College. The ring,  charged George, was made up of students  Ernest Weeks Roberts , Eugene Cummings, Kenneth Day and a non-student named Pat Courtney.  The next day Dean Greenough asked five professors and deans to form a “court” to root out these homosexuals in the college. In the modern vernacular, it was to be a witch hunt.
During the bottom of the 4th inning, in a game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park, on Thursday, May 27, 1920, New York Pitcher Bob Shawkey (above) had a melt down. With the bases loaded, Shawkey took offense when Umpire George Hildebrand called ball four and forced in a run. Shawkey shouted obscenities at the ump, who ignored the outburst. Shawkey then crouched on the mound and spent  five minutes tying his shoe. Again, Hildebrand ignored him. 
After striking out the next Boston batter (Harry Hooper) and retiring the side, Shawkey took off his cap and elaborately bowed to the umpire.  As Shawkey jogged to the New York dugout, Umpire Hildebrand quietly informed him that he had been thrown out of the game.  Shawkey then took a swing at the ump. The Yankees won the game, six to one. Shawky won a two week suspension and a $200 fine.  That was baseball, in 1920; class all the way - just like today.
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