JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Saturday, December 29, 2018


I doubt few of us today could find a doctor so close or quick at such an hour. It was just after 5 in the chilly damp morning of Tuesday, 7 August, 1888. The constable dispatched first ran north on George Yard to Wentworth Street (above). He turned right and headed east for half a block, then crossed Osborn Street Then he turned left and headed north on Brick Lane for three blocks to the northeast corner of Henage Street. Not 5 minutes after beginning the task he was banging on the front door of 68 Brick Lane until Dr. Timothy Robert Killeen answered. The constable then waited in the hall while the doctor got dressed and grabbed his medical bag.
Dr. Timothy Killeen was living and working surrounded by his patients, who were mostly dying from malnutrition and its companions: typhoid fever, cholera, syphilis, tuberculosis, measles and food poisoning, to name but a few of the most prominent. They shared polluted water sources, unsanitary food, and breathed foul air. The yearly death rate in Whitchapel and Spitafields was 25 for every 1,000 residents. Many of London's slum dwellers were born, lived and died without ever seeing a doctor.
Timothy had graduated two years earlier from Kings and Queens College of Physicians, at Trinity College in Dublin. And if he were fulfilling a religious and moral obligation, he might have been disappointed. The Tower Hamlets of Whitechapel, Spitafields and Wopping,  which had once been occupied almost exclusively by Irish Catholics escaping the Potato famine, was filling now with Russian and east European Jews, running from the pogroms. 
But whoever his patients were, it is likely he had seen few as badly injured as this unknown woman on the landing between the first and ground floors of the Blackwell Buildings on George Yard (above). Setting his bag down on the steps, he took out a standard thermometer, which he set on the floor beyond the blood pool. Then he checked his watch, and recorded the time in his notebook. It was just 5:30 in the morning.
He found the victim (above) well nourished, and about 33 years old. His estimate showed he was familiar with the rapid aging a life in Whitechapel could produce. By his careful count the dead woman had suffered 38 separate stab wounds to her neck and chest, as well as one slash in her pubic region. But learning how deep these wounds were, and what internal injuries had resulted would have wait for an autopsy. Gently he lifted the fingers of her left hand. They moved easily, as did the elbow and shoulder joint. The absence of rigor mortis indicated she had died less than six hours ago. He recorded the air temperature as 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Then he inserted the thermometer in the dead woman's nostril.
He lifted her skirt and noted the faint mottling on the bottom of her thighs. By the color he estimated she had been lying here, on her back, for less than four hours. He placed his hand on her forehead, as if judging her temperature in life. She was still warm to the touch.  He examined her clothing – cap and jacket, shirtwaist , dress and petticoat, knee high stockings and ankle high boots. The clothing was old and thin, and Dr. Killeen figured his modifying number for this woman should be 1 or 1.10.
Meanwhile PC Barrett had awakened the building superintendent, Francis F. Hewitt. A retired painter, he lived in a ground floor apartment immediately adjacent to the stairwell, with his wife. Although Mr. Hewitt claimed to have heard nothing during the night, his wife, Amy, had heard a cry of “Murder” that evening. But, she added, "The district round here is rather rough, and cries of 'Murder' are frequent.” Francis said such shouts were heard almost every night. Asked to look at the body, still on the stairs, the couple were certain she was not one of their tenants.
Once the Hewitts had returned to their apartment, Dr. Killeen check the thermometer in the victim's nose. It recorded a body temperature of 95.4 degrees Fahrenheit, for a loss of 3 degrees since death. Following the standard formula given in his text books of a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit drop in body temperature for every hour after death, then multiplied by 1.10 to account for her thin clothing, Dr.Killeen could estimate the time of death to have been 2 ½ to 3 hours earlier than his 5:30 examination, or between 2:30 and 3:00 that morning. And that was the time he recorded in his notebook. Next, he told PC Barrett to send for a police ambulance, to transport the body up Wentworth to the Old Montague Street Mortuary, on the grounds of the Whitechapel Union Workhouse.
Being in debt had always been a criminal act in England, but the 1831 Poor Law created public institutions where the injured, the ill or the aged could reimburse the state for their crime of poverty at hard labor for 9 pence a day - the Workhouse. As crusading journalist Margaret Harkness noted, “The Whitechapel Union (above) is...the Poor Law incarnate in stone and brick.”
In exchange for “A little gruel morning and night, meat twice a week”, a cot and a roof, male inmates broke stone for 10 hours a day, six days a week, while the women and children unraveled rope for ships' caulking. They were allowed no privacy and no visitors. 
The amenities – uniforms and meager education classes, were intended to fulfill the state's Christian obligation to the less fortunate. A man sentenced to the Workhouse committed his entire family to the same punishment. 
Once behind the walls of the 5 story tall Whitechapel Union on New Charles Street, families were immediately separated by sex and age. Over time many families melted into the institution. And yet there were many so desperate they begged to be admitted.
On Thomas  Street, to the east of the Workhouse, the ill working poor lined up to be diagnosed  at the Casual Dispensary (above) -  men in mornings, women in the afternoons,  separated to maintain Christian propriety.
But through the Eagle Place  gate,  between those two brick buildings,  in a dirt and dirty courtyard was a bare, windowless dark  shed (above), where the inmates paid their final debt to society. They were dissected. It was to this place that the body of the unknown woman, found murdered in a stairwell on George Yard, was taken on the morning of Tuesday, 7 August, 1888.
By 8:00 that morning the body had been removed, and the police had returned to their beats and George Yard had returned to something described as normal.  There was nothing left to indicate that a woman had been murdered on the stairwell of the Blackwell Building, except for the blood still puddled on the landing. A few of the moribund came from the surrounding buildings look upon the spot and the blood. About 9:30 that morning, George Crow, resident of apartment number 307, came down the steps on his way to get breakfast.  He was a cab driver, and had been working the night before, arriving home just about 3:00 am. He paused upon seeing the blood, and realized it was staining just the spot on the dark stairs, where he had seen a figure sleeping the night before.
Later that morning, at the H division Metropolitan Police station on Leman Street (above), Divisional Inspector Ernest Ellisdon decided to assign the case to 42 year Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. It was an indication of Ellisdon's concern about the bloody murder. 
 Reid (above, front row center)  was a 12 year veteran of the MET, he was, when he joined, the shortest man on the force. But he eventually rose to head the Whitechapel Criminal Investigation Division for a time. A contemporary officer had called Reid, "one of the most remarkable men of the century"  He was an aviator - having set altitude records in a balloon - a published poet, a professional actor, a social activist and an accomplished magician. And he was a damn fine police man.  If any detective of 1888 could solve this murder mystery, it would be D.I  Edmund Reid.
- 30 -

Friday, December 28, 2018


I think the place to start is at 4:45 on the chilly morning of Tuesday, 7 August 1888. Mr. John Saunders Reeves has just left his rear 3rd floor apartment in the “The Blackwell Buildings”, on the narrow alley called George Yard (above), running between Wentworth Street and Whitechapel Road. The 23 year old was anxious to reach a dockside pub before the foreman there choose the work crew for the day. But John Reeves will not make it to the pub on time, he will not earn a salary this day, because on the landing, midway between the first and ground floors, he will step into a living hell too vile to remain hidden one moment longer.
In the shadow of the Tower of London,  the “Tower Hamlets” of Spitafields, Whitechapel (above) and along the Thames, Waping, had once seen nouveau riche Huguenot immigrants build great fortunes and mansions on silk weaving. 
But over two centuries the power elite of West London had swallowed this enterprise whole, also absorbing the hamlet's stinking tanneries, nauseating slaughterhouses, sour smelling breweries, and smoke belching factories. 
The mansions were now subdivided and crowded in by apartment hovels, “rotten from chimney to cellar, leaning together, apparently by the mere coherence of their ingrained corruption.”  Crowded 7 or 8 to an 8 foot square room, the 80,000 lowest of the working classes shared, according to the Reverend Andrew Means,  "....flimsy, filthy walls, ceilings and...a broken chair, the tottering relics of an old bedstead...the mere fragment of a table.”  Three years earlier newspaperman George Sims described the existence of these  80,000 humans - The walls are damp and crumbling, the ceiling is black and peeling off, the wind and rain sweep in through gaps that seem everywhere”  And Victorian activist Florence Nightingale had seen the same buildings 20 years earlier. “Old papered walls, carpets, furniture and sinks were all sources of dangerous impurity,  as bad as the dung heap in the basement, or the sewer under the house.". This was the Terra Incognita that were the backstreets of Whitechapel and the East End of London.
John Reeves was not surprised to see a body lying on the dark landing. There were 8,500 homeless men, women and children on the streets of Whitechapel every night - 1 in 10 of the citizens - who lacked even the 4 pence for what was in effect a topless coffin (above) in one of the parishes' 200 official  "doss" houses. And if you had only  "tuppance" - two pennies - you could lean against a rope strung between the walls.  But at least you were inside.
This elevated the value of the 48 apartments (above) of John Reeves's own “Model Apartment House" on George Yard.  This  "Philanthropic Housing ” had been built 13 years earlier to replace slums knocked down by construction of the London and Blackwell Railroad, and were supposed to be an island of Victorian sensibilities. The building manager, Mr Hewitt, turned the gas jets off at 11:00 each night, supposedly to discourage unchristian behavior by the tenants, although John's wife Louisa suspected it was more to save on the gas bill. 
But that just made the dark common areas (above) - stairwells  and hallways - more inviting to the weary and the enterprising. Such discarded souls were common enough in Whitechapel. And then, as he turned the banister corner toward the final flight of steps,  John's foot slipped on what he thought was the sleeper's urine.
John was a common member of the East End's working poor. The founders of the Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth, studied these unfortunates first hand and found 18% labored making clothing,  7% made cigars,  8% were street hawkers -  selling pins and needles and buttons, even  methanol cones to mitigate fevers.  Another 5% worked in small “sweat shops", such as  making matchbooks, which earned 2 1/2 pence for a gross of 144.  And these were the lucky who earned starvation wages. How the remaining 60% survived was beyond the Victorian imagination, but it was abundantly clear most, men women and even children, self medicated their misery with alcohol. 
The Metropolitan Police Service studied the Tower Hamlets in their own way, and estimated that in 1888 over twelve hundred young women worked in Whitechapel's  62 legal brothels, while the parish's older prostitutes, perhaps another 1,000 women,  were reduced to waiting outside pubs or walking the streets, selling their bodies for the price of a glass of gin, a crust of bread or a doss house coffin.  The arrogant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren,  warned the morally outraged that the more his police were used in “...routing out the brothels from the back slums and driving them into respectable places...the worse it becomes for law and order and decency...” And in June of 1887, when a 23 year old shop girl named Elizabeth Cass was falsely arrested for the "crime" of walking down Regent Street at 9:00 p.m.,  the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, was forced to issue a public apology to the girl. After that, the police in Whitechapel even stopped arresting the street walkers.
The abrupt loss of balance evaporated John's worry about missing his work call. And as he instinctively touched the wall to steady himself, he realized there was something not right about the sleeper on the cramped landing (above).  In the pre-dawn twilight, John could just distinguish the outline of a woman, lying on her back.
Her plump moon face (above) shown above her dark clothing.  Like most working class people of his age, John Reeves had seen enough death to recognize it instantly. And his anxious features contorted even more when he realized he had slipped not in urine, but in blood. A great deal of blood. Without coming closer to the body John Reeves hurried down the steps, crossing himself as he ran across the courtyard, in desperate search of help
Thomas Barrett, badge number 226 (H) Whitechapel division, was a 31 year old , 5 year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Force, and one of the 235 “Bobbies” walking a five block beat that Tuesday morning in Whitechapel.  Met officers put in so many miles on patrol that the department replaced their wooden soled boots every three months. 
His only weapon was the 12 ½ inch long wooden night stick, used to subdue suspects - ether pushed against pressure points, or with blows to the arms or legs.  On his head Constable Barrett wore the cork and leather helmet, covered in fine wool, which had been adopted in 1863. And for the last three years he also carried a brass whistle, to summon assistance. His uniform and training were designed to inspire confidence and respect. But all Bobbies also wore a thick band of leather around their necks should a garrote be slipped around their throat. Many beats in Whitechapel were covered by two officers, since the division suffered more assaults against policemen than any other in all of  London. 
PC Barrett was just beginning the last hour of his 8 hour shift when the short, dark bearded man came walking quickly up Whitechapel Road toward him. Seeing the man's disjointed stride, Barrett focused his hand-held whale oil “Bullseye Lantern” on the man,  more to distract him than to illuminate. From 40 feet away Barrett could tell he was a laborer. And although he was sweating, he did not appear to be out of breath. Combined with the rings piercing both his ear lobes, this suggested the man might be an addict. The docks were half a mile to the south, surrounded by pubs and opium dens. 
But after blocking the lantern light with his hand, the man came closer and in a quick high nervous voice, pleaded, “Itsa dreffle, jes dreffle. Yew must coom to ours hoom. I thought she was flessy, oroite flessy, know, but the second I clapt eyes on I could see thassa was a coald gal. Yew must coom”
Barrett recognized the accent as Suffolk, and he understood enough to know the man wanted him to follow. But to where or why, he could not understand. He asked as imperiously as he could, “Where is the trouble, here?” For a second he saw the little man's face flush with embarrassed. Then the little man said slowly, pronouncing carefully,   “George Yard.”  Then, “Please. Quick”. Then he added, "Murder."
Constable Barrett followed the man he soon knew was named John Reeves passed the "White Hart" public house,  and then right, through the arched entrance of George Yard (above). 
A London newspaper would later describe the cobblestone alley (above) as "...a narrow turning out... (which) leads into a number of courts and alleys in which some of the poorest of the poor, together with thieves and roughs and prostitutes, find protection and shelter in the miserable hovels bearing the name of houses.”  
They traveled half way up George Yard (above)  before turning left,  through a nondescript doorway (above, center),  into the courtyard at the rear of the “Blackwell Buildings”(above,  right BG). But the closer they got to the stairwell itself, the slower John Reeves walked  He waited on the ground floor while PC Barrett cautiously climbed the stairs. When his lantern illuminated the dead woman, Barrett understood Reeve's reluctance to see her again.
The middle aged plump woman lay on her back (above). There was a lot of blood puddled around her body, but none on her mouth or nose. Cradling her head was a black bonnet. Her jacket was thrown open, and pulled away from her shoulders. The collar and bodice of her shirtwaist had been so slashed and mangled by the frenzied attack, and so soaked in blood,  that it was impossible for Barrett to tell what color it had been. Her arms were straight at her sides, the hand's clenched. Her ankle length green skirt and brown petty coat were pushed up to her knees. Her stocking clad legs, though straight,  had been pulled apart so that Barrett assumed she had been engaged in sex at the time of her death.  And he noticed , for some reason, that the boots she wore were scuffed and dirty, the heels worn down on the right foot more than the left. And somehow he knew that small sad detail would haunt him. It did not matter, he forced himself to think. As the first officer on the scene, he had to confirm that she was dead, and probably murdered. That was enough to begin to do as he had been trained to do..
Constable Barrett ordered Reeves to stay where he was, and then strode back across the courtyard, stopping in the center of George Yard (above). Putting his brass whistle to his lips, Barrett found his mouth dry as dust. He had to work up a spit before putting the instrument back to his lips. He blew three times, the sharp shrill desperate comforting call echoing off the dark brick walls and cobblestone roadway. And then Thomas blew it three times again. 
When the first constable arrived in response, Barrett sent him to fetch the nearest surgeon, whom he knew was  Dr. Timothy Keleene, of 68 Brick Lane, just three blocks away. When the second officer arrived, Barrett ordered him to let no civilians into or out of the courtyard, and to use his whistle to call for more constables. The detectives of Whitechapel's Criminal Intelligence Division would need to be notified. 
As he walked back to begin what he knew would be a difficult interview with John Reeves, Constable Barrett realized he would miss morning breakfast with his wife Ellen and 3 year old son Albert. Suddenly seeing them safe and healthy was very important to him.
- 30 -

Thursday, December 27, 2018


I have two favorite Christmas chorals; the haunting Carol of the Bells, composed in 1904 by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych, and the seemingly nonsensical Twelve Days of Christmas, which is old enough that we have no idea who composed it. In fact, the Twelve Days of Christmas might even predate Christianity in France, where the song originated. And that makes this English carol more interesting - to me, anyway – because it speaks to the evolution of the holiday. Remember, it wasn't until 137 years after the death of Jesus, give or take a couple of years, that the Bishop of Rome ordered a “Christesmaesse” - Christ's Mass -  to celebrate Jesus' birth on the 25th of December.
You see, the twelve disciples did not celebrate Christmas, partly because they were Jewish, but mostly because until fairly recently anything from 60 to 80% of infants died within hours of their birth.
Nobody celebrated their birth day, not even Pope Julius I (above), who around 345 A.D. picked December 25th as Jesus' birth day.  For all humans, even for the Messiah, life did not officially begin until their epiphany, (meaning, according to thesaurus.com -the announcement, the display, the exhibition or the showing of the new child), which was not done until you were pretty sure the child was going to live. And Jesus' epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th – 12 days after Christmas.
This English Christmas Carol began as a medieval midwinter festival “memories and forfeits game”, a sort of musical chairs in a world without very many chairs. We know the game began in France because the Red-legged (or French) partridge, widespread in medieval Europe, commonly perches in trees, unlike the the English (or grey) partridges which, while common today, were not introduced to England until the 18th century, and prefer ledges or cliffs. And in all three medieval French versions of the song that we know of, and all surviving English versions, “a partridge in a pear tree” is the first and final present always received by the lead singer. So it all started in France with Red-legged partridges.
In the game the leader sings a verse, and each participant repeats what they have just heard, and everybody then takes a drink of wine or mead. Then the leader sings another verse, adding an item, the players repeat, and then everybody drinks again. The rounds we have inherited begin “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, a partridge in a pear tree.  On second day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The game continues (with variations) to three French Hens, four colly birds, five gold rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming, eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing, ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers pipping, and twelve drummers drumming. A player who forgets an item is eliminated and forced to offer a kiss to the leader, or eat a less than appealing food item. The game would continue until all 12 verses were done, or all the players but one had been eliminated because they were too drunk to remember their own names, let alone how many maids were milking. Sound familiar?  How many bottles of beer do you have on your wall?
And yes, the line is “four colly birds”, as in a colliery, meaning a coal pit or a mine. The birds referred to were as black as coal – the common European black bird. When this song was translated into English, crows and ravens were large enough to only be referred to as fowl.
But the 4 ½ ounce Turdus merula (the black thrush) (above), was small enough to be called a bird . In the winter black birds were easy to attract with seed and easy to catch with a net, and they were a common part of the diet. Peasants sang about “four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”, and they meant these cute little guys. It is a reminder that there are huge chunks of our culture based on now forgotten starvation times repeatedly suffered in each life time. And “break fasts,” like the midwinter festival, were fond memories, which Christianity had to adopt and adapt.
In fact, birds play a major role in this song, as if the leader was scanning the banquet table for the next noun to use in the next verse. The partridge is followed by turtle doves, french hens, the Colly birds, geese and swans. The five gold rings seem out of place unless they refer to the ring-necked pheasant, the male of which (above) has a golden brown plumage and a white ring around his neck. There would have been such a bird on any well stocked pheasants midwinter festival table, along with the other bird protein
There would also have been cheese (made from milk), and about the room, men and women dancing - but not in pairs, that would not become common until the 10th century. And of course there would be musicians accompanying the song-game with the world's oldest instruments, a flute (or a pipe) and a drum. Music was as vital a part of pagan religious and social celebrations, as they are of Christian services.
And that brings up the recent myth that this game was used to preserve Catholicism in a hostile Protestant England. That might be true, except there is not even of hint of that story until 1979. However, the success of this myth across the Internet since then, does offer an insight into the methodology Christianity used to snatch Christmas from the happy pagans getting drunk at their winter solstice break fast. I am not suggesting a conspiracy, but rather a well meaning application of religiously influenced logic .That is also probably how Mithra over came Apollo, and how Jupiter conquered Zeus. It would be wise for all born again Christian evangelicals to remember that religious practices never really die, they just become adopted and adapted.  That has nothing to do with the validity of any belief. It just means humans have always wanted to believe.
The same can be said about a certain odd mathematical aspect of the carol. If you add up all the gifts – 1 partridge, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, etc., etc. – they add up to 364 gifts in total. It seems there ought to be some connection between the gifts and the length of the year. The only problem is a year is 365 ¼ days long, not 364, and that length has been well known since, well, since forever. And while it seems the number of gifts, like some sort of Christmas carol kabbalah, ought to mean something, it really doesn't. And that seems to me to be the difference between religion and science. In religion the possibility of meaning is the meaning, while in science the possibility is theory and subject to testing. Religion gave us the pyramids and Michelangelo's "David". Science gave us a modern infant mortality rate in industrial nations of less then 1% and birthdays.
Which brings us to the Christmas Price Index, created in 1984 by the chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as “a humorous commodity price index to measure the changing cost of goods over time” using the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each year in late November, PNC analysts consult with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the National Aviary in Philadelphia to price most of the birds in the song. However, for some reason, rather than a European black bird, PNC uses the price of a canary at Petco. Gordon Jewelers, a division of Zale Corporation out of Irving, Texas, prices five gold rings for the Index, even tho, as I said earlier, the gift probably refereed to was the ring-necked pheasants. The maids-a-milking are assumed to be earning federal minimum wage, and the Philadelphia Dance Company and their Ballet Company provide the cost of leaping and dancing ladies and lords. The Pennsylvania Musicians Union provides the cost of the drummers and pipers, and the fruit tree was by tradition priced by Waterloo Gardens, an upscale Philadelphia plant nursery catering to the local top 1% of green thumbs.
In 2018, the partridge and the pair tree together cost $220.13, an increase of one tenth of 1 percent over last year. The price of the turtle doves was unchanged at $375 for the pair. The trio of French Hens was also unchanged for the second year in a row at $181.50. The 4 Colling birds (actually Petco canaries) also remained steady at $599.96.  The five gold rings lost about 10% less than the year before, down to $750.00.   The price for 6 geese a-laying - at  $390 - was up over 8%, while, the 7 swans - at $13,125 - ,was unchanged. The 8 maids a milking -  at just  $58.00  -  remained flat for the past 6 years - (which says something very depressing about women and the minimum wage), as did the price of 9 maids milking, at $7,552.84.  But the ten lords went up 3% and now cost  $10,000.00. The musicians union was able to secure  $2,808.40 for the wind instruments (up 3%) and $3,038.10 for the percussionists, also up by 3% .  The 2018 total was up $450.00 over last year, to $39, 094.93, an increase of 1.2% over 2017.   And the cost of the ease of buying the 12 gifts on-line was higher by over $2,700, mostly because of higher fuel costs. And although PNC does not endorse their index as a valid gauge of the economy, it does seem to confirm that capitalism had turned the internet into a rip off even after gutting net neutrality.
PNC admits they use the index to “engage clients”, which means they are trying to entertain bankers, a profession not known for their humor or their humility. But, PNC also admits this annual nonsense economic measure has become “one of PNC’s most popular and anticipated economic reports.” I suspect that is in large part because it is “filler” used by media types to add a Christmas hint to their newscasts.  However, there may be hidden a more significant meaning, if  you care to look.  In June of 2012, after 70 years in business, the “nationally renowned Waterloo Gardens” went bankrupt. It seems after the "Great Recession",  even the 1% were tightening their belts, which means their gardeners were beginning to starve. And that was in 2012, before the minimum wage was stuck for another 6 years.
In any case, please have a Merry, merry, happy Capitalist Christmas. If you can afford it this year.
  - 30 -

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