JUNE 2017

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

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

SISSYSPHUS ON THE WABASH

I want to take you back to a time when there were just two million Hoosiers in the whole wide world, and yet Indiana had 13 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes. Today they have just nine,  and 11 electoral votes. Even more improbable to modern ears, this smallest state west of the Allegheny mountains was a crucial "battleground" state, oscillating like a bell clapper, clanging first Republican and then ringing Democratic, changing six times between 1876 and 1888, swinging each time at the whim of some 6,000 reasonably fickle independent voters.
As part of these rhythmic revolutions was the winter of 1885 when the dynamic Democratic Governor Isaac Gray (above), dreaming of being President of the whole United States, decided that after being Governor, he wanted to be a United States Senator. And since Senators were elected by the legislature, which was split pretty evenly along party lines, he came up with a clever plan to ensure himself  the stepping stone post of Senator. First he jammed through a gerrymander redistricting of the state legislative offices, re-designing ten traditionally Republican state assembly seats so they would more likely elect Democrats instead. This would prove to be such an outrageous power grab, a Federal court would declare it unconstitutional in 1892. But that was all part of Gray's plan, because he knew the voters would take their revenge far sooner than the courts.
So, in the summer of 1886, Grey convinced his Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Mahlon Manson. to take early retirement. Then he scheduled a mid-term election to refill that. And as Gray had expected, the Republican base was so energized by the Democratic gerrymander, that their party was swept back into power that November with a 10,000 vote majority, recapturing seven of those redistricted Assembly seats that were supposed to go Democratic.  (The state Senate, remained 31 Democrats and 19 Republicans.)  
But more importantly for Governor Gray, the newly elected Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, Robert Robertson. Thus, should Democrat Gray offer his resignation as Governor in exchange for being elected U.S. Senator, the Republican dominated Assembly would probably go along because that would make the Republican Robertson the new Governor. Now, it was not an impossible dream, as another Hoosier politician would shortly prove – one Benjamen Harrison.
Yes, Grey (above) had a nifty plan, clever enough to be worthy of Machiavelli. But it faced one insurmountable hurdle. Governor Isaac Grey was without doubt the most hated Democratic governor among Democrats, in the entire history of the state of Indiana. He was the original DINO -  a Democrat in Name Only.
Twenty years earlier, at the close of the Civil War, this same Isaac Grey,  had been the Republican Speaker of the state Assembly (above).  To pass the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, making ex-slaves American citizens, and giving black males the right to vote, Speaker Grey had literally locked the doors, preventing Democrats from bolting the building and thus denying a quorum to the Republican majority.  While the trapped Democrats sulked in the cloak room, Speaker Grey staged successful votes for the three amendments.  It had been a brutal scheme, again worthy of Machiavelli, like his latest plot..  But racists in the Democratic party never forgot Grey had counted them as "present but not voting",  even after he had switched parties and gave them the governorship. And as the Assembly session for 1887 opened, these hard liners were willing to set the state on fire if they could also burn up their Governor's Presidential dream boat.
The Indiana State Senate (above)  was about to come into session at  9:35 on the morning of Saturday 24 February, 1887, when Republican Lieutenant Governor Robert Robertson entered the second floor chambers to take his seat as the new President pro tempore of the Senate.  But a flying squad of Democrats physically blocked him from reaching the dais. Robertson shouted from the floor, "Gentlemen of the Senate, I have been by force excluded from the position to which the people of this state elected me.” But at this point the out going President pro tempore, Democratic Senator Alonzo Smith, ordered doorkeeper Frank Pritchett, to remove the Robertson,  “...if he don't stop speaking.”
As the doorkeeper and his assistants advanced on Roberts, he announced, “They may remove me. I am here, unarmed.” Smith testily responded, “We are all unarmed. We are fore-armed, though.” That belligerent mood was now general in the chamber. Republican Senator DeMotte from Porter county shouted something from the floor, and acting President Smith ordered him to take his seat. Responded DeMotte, “When he gets ready, he will.”
As the Lt. Governor was dragged toward the rear doors of the Senate Chamber a Republican Senator shouted that if he went, all the Republicans were going with him. President Pro tem Smith shouted back, “They can go if they want to. They will be back, ” he predicted. At this point Republican Senator Johnson challenged the chair directly, telling him, “No man will be scared by you.” “You're awfully scared now, “ said the Democrat. “Not by you”, answered the Republican. It sounded like five year olds had taken over the state senate.
A general fight now broke out in the Senate chamber, with the outnumbered Republicans giving such a good account of themselves that one Democrat drew a pistol and – BANG! - shot a hole in the brand new ceiling of the still unfinished statehouse. Into the acrid gun smoke and sudden silence this unnamed Democrat announced that he was prepared to start killing Republicans if they kept fighting.
With that, Lt. Governor Robertson was thrown out of the Senate and the doors were locked and bolted behind him. As the official record notes those were “...the last words spoken by a Republican Senator in the 55th General Assembly.”  The Senate then tried to get back to business, appropriately taking up Senate bill 61, setting aside $100,000 for three new hospitals for the mentally insane. It was decided it was self evident the state was going to need them, and the measure was approved by a vote officially recorded as 31 Ayes, 0 nays and 18 “present but not voting”. Ah, revenge must have seemed sweet for the Democrats – for about half an hour.
Outside in the central atrium, the gunshot had attracted a crowd, mostly from the Republican controlled House on the East side of the capital. Faced with a bruised and enraged Robertson, the Republicans caught his anger. Similar fights sparked to life in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and a “mob” of 600 angry Republicans descended upon every wayward Democrat in the building, punching and kicking them, and, if they resisted, beating them down to the marble floors of the brand new “people's house”.
Eventually, the pandemonium returned to its source; the Republicans laid siege to the Senate chamber. They beat against the doors, and smashed open a transom. Vengeful Republicans poured in and the haughty Democrats were assaulted in their own chamber and thrown out of it. By now Governor Grey, down in his offices on the first floor, had heard the ruckus upstairs, and had called in the Indianapolis Police. Four hours after the legislative riot had begun, order was restored to the capital of Hoosier democracy.  History and many newspapers would record it as the “Black Day of the Indiana Assembly.”
The following Monday the triumphant Republican dominated Assembly dispatched a note to the battered Democratically controlled Senate, that the Repubs would have no further correspondence with the Dems. Snap of finger dismissal. The Senate counter-informed the lower house, ditto, and same to you.. State government in Indiana had ground to a halt. Lt. Governor Robert Robertson never presided over the Senate, and Governor Gray never served as a United States Senator. He came to be known as the “Sisyphus of the Wabash”, after the legendary Greek king, renown for his avariciousness and deceit.  A few years later Hoosiers elected to choose their Senators by popular vote,  I suppose under the theory that the general population of drunks and lunatics could do no worse then the professional politicians had already done.  And they were most certainly correct.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

THE FIRST DISSENTER


I suppose someone had to be first, and John Billington was as  likely a choice as any other man. Rumor has it that John left England in 1620 to escape his creditors. That would not have been unusual in a time when debt was a crime.  And , if he was a Catholic, as others rumors indicate, that crime would also have driven John Billington to abandon the world he knew in England,  for the dangers of a distant, unsettled shore. But if John was seeking religious freedom, he did not find it, even on board the ship he took to America. Sixty-one of the passengers were either Anglicans or, like John, Catholics. But still they were despised by their shipmates, on board the "Mayflower", who were themselves the despised "Pilgrims Fathers".
John Billington was also middle aged, about 40 years old, rather ancient for an adventurer. He was accompanied by his wife, Eleanor, and their two young sons, John Jr. and Francis. And together their family was beginning a great adventure they were not welcomed upon. 
The voyage had been organized by a group who called (and saw) themselves as “The Saints”. And they were not pleased to find the financial investors in their dream had betrayed them. Not enough "Saints" had been willing to buy passage to America. so the investors had sold the majority of berths to what the Saints called "The Strangers". 
The 102 "Saints" and "Strangers"  found themselves stuffed aboard a leaky ship, just 90 feet long by barely 24 feet wide, giving them 2,160 square feet of living space (a moderate sized two bedroom house). Add a 20 man crew and "The Saints", seeking to escape the horrors of a multi-faith nation, found themselves imprisoned with and dragging it along with them. And they found the burden oppressive. They couldn't wait to get off this damn boat, and start oppressing "The Strangers". 
After two and a half months of living hell on storm tossed seas the Mayflower anchored at the edge of the New World, sheltered by a sandy cape. And it was here that "The Saints" faced what they called a “mutiny”. Through the myopia of history, we choose to describe it as "the birth of democracy in the new world".  The problem was "The Strangers" were not being landed where they had been promised, in the established colony of Virginia, but on unexplored and unprepared ground far to the north. And "The Strangers" were suspicious that this had been the intention of "The Saints" all along. And indeed that seems to have been the truth. Just to get "The Strangers" to disembark  "The Saints" were forced to compromise their faith, right on the edge of their religious paradise, and to sign the Mayflower Compact with "The Strangers", pledging to “…combine ourselves into a civil Body Politic…”
"The Saints" were not interested in any civic body. They sought the freedom to only live next to fellow saints.  Instead the had been forced to create a civil government in this new land, and not the mono-religious domain they had intended.  And one of the signatures bought by that accursed compromise had been that of John Billington. 
As if in punishment for this compromise of their religious purity, only fifty-three souls survived that first winter. Amazingly, John Billington’s family of "Strangers" survived intact – including Eleanor, who became one of only five adult women who lived to see the spring.  Both of John's sons also survived, another insult to the devotion of "The Saints",  many of whom had buried children and wives and husbands over the bitter winter.  The Billington clan had become a daily reminder that God’s Chosen had not been chosen. It must be they were being punished for the "Mayflower Compact".  More evidence was to follow. 
In the spring of 1623, the second full year the colonists were ashore, pressure from the "Strangers" forced the Governor, William Bradford (a "Saint", of course) to divide all property equally among the survivors, one acre per family member, no matter their religious affiliation. And thus the Billington clan received four acres of the best land, “…on the South side of the brook to the Bay wards”. It was yet another reminder of the success of "The Strangers".  These insults to the faith of "The Saints" would not be forgotten. 
Meanwhile, "The Saints" back in England had begun spreading rumors about the failure of the Plymouth Bay Colony, hoping to drive down the price of the stock,  making it easier for "Saints" to buy a controlling interest in the company.   And with each year they sent more "Saints" across the Atlantic, meaning to overwhelm "The Strangers" in Massachusetts Bay.  By 1624, the colony had grown to over 180 people. But two of the new arrivals, meant to build a Saint's majority, had in fact fed the growing tensions.

The Reverend John Lyford and Mr. John Oldham were both nominally "Saints". In fact Lyford had been sent out as the official priest for "The Saints" in the colony. 
But Lyford's willingness to conduct an Anglican baptism for the new child of "Stranger" William Hilton offended "The Saints".  These chosen by God saw no reason to tolerate religious tolerance for anyone but themselves. And Governor Bradford became convinced that Lyford and Oldham were both secretly corresponding with the stockholders back in England, contradicting the false rumors the English Saints had been spreading. 
Bradford was able to intercept some of those letters, and confront the traitorous "Saints" with telling the truth, catching them unprepared at a public hearing.  Both Lyford and Oldman were banished from the colony that very night. At the same meeting there was also an attempt to charge John Billington with being a member of the same "conspiracy",  but there was little evidence against Billington, and he was popular, (although it seems unclear how he could have been so, given the negative descriptions of him that survive) " The Saints" were forced to retreat and bide their time, yet again. 
The following year, 1626, James I of England died, and Charles I (above), a militantly devout Catholic, took the throne. The trickle of "Saints", escaping now from actual religious oppression in England, became a steady flow.  John Billington still had allies in Plymouth Colony,  such as John Cannon and William Tench, but the pressures created by the influx of new "Saints" drove both John's allies to leave the colony by 1627.
And in 1629 John Billington's eldest son died of an illness. With his death, some of the flame went out of the old man. He was fifty now, and weary of the constant fighting for his families' rightful place in the colony.  By January of 1630 there were almost 300 citizens in Plymouth colony, the vast majority of whom were now, finally, "Saints".  John Billington had become isolated. 
In the late summer of 1630 a man’s body was found in the woods near John Billington’s property. The body was identified in Governor Bradford’s correspondence only as "John New-come-er”. No rational for Billington to have murdered this mysterious man was offered on the record. Instead surviving documents allege that the motive was the result of “an old argument between the two men”. But this would seem unlikely, given that the dead man was, by every account, a literal “New-come-er”". 
Despite this glaring omission of motive, a Grand Jury was quickly convened and John Billington was charged with shooting the man in the shoulder with a blunderbuss, thus causing his death. 
But by this time there was little patience left in the colony for reason where the Billingtons were concerned. A trial jury wasted little time in finding John guilty of murder. And yet despite the singularity of this crime and possible punishment - Billington was the first Englishman in the colony charged with murder, and would be the first colonist to be executed - there is no record of any defense offered on his behalf. "The Saints" had won their war against John Billington, and they would write his history. And yet because there was a lack of any apparent motivation for the crime, Governor Bradford sought the approval for the execution of this "Stranger" from his own fellow "Saints" in the younger, larger and more purely Saintly Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered on Boston. Such approval was instantly supplied. 
On 30 September, 1630, fifty year old John Billington was hanged according to the methods of the day. He climbed a ladder. The rope was placed around his neck and the noose pulled tight. The ladder was kicked away. And slowly the life was strangled out of him as he danced at the end of the rope. The drop that quickly broke the neck would not become standard in hanging for another two hundred years. Plymouth Colony was thus finally rid of its most troublesome "Stranger" in a congregation of "Saints". The only even mildly generous epitaph written for John Billington came from the poison pen of Thomas Morton, another man who irritated "The Saints" who surrounded him. Morton wrote, “John Billington, that was chocked at Plymouth after he had played the unhappy marksman...was loved by many.” And that is a piece of information not even hinted at in the history written by "The Saints" - that John had been loved by many. 
Sixty years later the "Saints" would have to clean house again, this time in the village of Salem, and this time against their fellow "Saints" who were not saintly enough. Fourteen women and five men were hanged this time. Five others died in prison. All had been charged with being witches. What this re-occurrence of justice from "The Saints"  showed, was that even before there was religious freedom in America, there was religious hypocrisy.
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

AIR HEADS Part Twelve

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, suffered a great tragedy.  His wife Maude Mae died in a hotel fire,  and Jimmy was so devastated he lost his mind and never got it back.  Eventually Glenn Curtiss helped him get admitted to a Florida mental hospital. He died there in 1923, at the age of 37.  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.
Cal Rodgers was testing a new airplane on Wednesday  3 April, 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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