Wednesday, October 27, 2010

America's Plan to Invade Canada (1930)

After World War I the British Empire was at the height of its world wide power. The rivalry between the United States and Great Britain during the 1920s and 1930s over who would control the world’s oil supply led American strategic planners to envision the day when America might be at war with Great Britain. War Plan Red ("Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red"), formulated and approved in 1930 and declassified in 1974, set out America’s plan to eliminate Great Britain as a significant economic rival. Most of America’s plans revolved around the annexation of Canada and the islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Bermuda. These were American imperial dreams dating to the time of the American Revolution, when American forces were repulsed in their attempt to conquer Canada. American attempts to annex Canada during the War of 1812 were similarly repulsed.

Plan Red contemplated the immediate seizure of Halifax to deny the British an Atlantic port from which they could reinforce Canada. U.S. forces would then launch a three pronged attack, (1) an attack from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, (2) an attack from North Dakota to seize the strategic rail center at Winnipeg, splitting the country, and (3) an attack launched against the province of Ontario from Detroit and Buffalo. Mopping up on the West Coast was to include the seizure of Vancouver and Victoria.

Canada, not unaware of America’s historical aggressive designs had earlier developed “Defence Scheme No. 1” which, in the event of hostilities, called for flying columns to quickly enter American territory. These small mobile forces were to capture such cities as Seattle, Minneapolis and Albany, and then fall back in a scorched earth retreat that would slow down the invading Americans, giving Great Britain time to re-enforce Canada.

The Invasion of Canada 1933

     Sticking as closely as possible to the real history of the period, making no radical leaps in terms of behavior, logic, or technology, the author paints a stunning picture of how the history of the world could have been radically different.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Englishman Fighting in the American Civil War

                                                              Bradford Smith-Hoskins

It was not unusual to find British officers visiting or even fighting with the opposing armies during the American Civil War. Colonel Sir Percy Wyndham, for example, commanded the 1st New Jersey Cavalry and was the arch nemesis of Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the “Grey Ghost” of the Confederacy. Another Englishman, Bradford Smith-Hoskins, “Late Capt. in her Britannic Majesty’s Forty Fourth Regiment”, fought under Mosby’s direct command.

Mosby described the engagement in which the thirty year old Englishman died. “Captain Hoskins, an English officer, was riding by my side. Hoskins was in the act of giving a thrust with his saber when he was shot….Hoskin’s wound was mortal. When the fight was over, he was taken to the house of an Englishman nearby, and lived a day or two.” The house in question was called “The Lawn” and was owned by Charles Green, himself an Englishman. Green preserved the house from occupation or destruction by the Union army by flying a British flag over the property throughout the war and proclaiming it neutral territory.

The grave of this British officer, buried so far from home, is in the small cemetery of the Greenwich Presbyterian church in the village of Greenwich in Prince William County, Virginia.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Werewolf as Urban Legend

How much have our thought processes changed since the werewolf scares of the Middle Ages? Sometimes one wonders.

In August 1972, the Ohio Crescent-News reported that police were searching for a “wolf-man” who attacked at night in the town of Defiance, Ohio on three separate occasions within one week. The attacker was described as tall with an "animal-like head". Witnesses said the werewolf was seven to nine feet tall, and wore blue jeans and a dark shirt. He was said to have hairy feet, fangs, and a caveman-like canter.

The Toledo Blade dispatched reporter James Stegall to the scene. Stegall reported, “Three persons have told police that they saw a large beast that resembles a werewolf lurking along railroad tracks near downtown Defiance in the last week. In each case he was spotted during the early morning hours, and one man, a train crewman switching trains, said that he was approached from behind and was struck on the shoulder with a piece of 2-by-4 lumber. But when he ran the "werewolf" also disappeared into some nearby brush. In the other reported incidents the "werewolf" was seen by another train crewman about 3 a.m. Police say the third report came from a motorist who said "it" ran in front of his car about 4 a.m. and then quickly disappeared. ‘We don't know what to think.’ Chief Donald Breckler said. ‘We didn't release it (to the news media) when we got the first report about a week ago. But now we're taking it seriously. We’re concerned for the safety of our people.’”

And thus an urban legend was born. Notwithstanding the fact that Chief Breckler said that he believed that the attacks were being made by a man wearing a mask, within the week at least three hysterical people sought protection from the police. Many people who had not actually seen the creature felt sure they were being watched or were in imminent danger. One woman told the police that every night at 2:00 a.m., something rattled her door knob. Another woman phoned the police to say there was something scratching at her door and she intended to shoot, if anything came through it. No more was heard from the creature after mid-August.

Urban Legends of Virginia

Mind bending stories from the Old Dominion. A collection of Virginia’s most notable Urban Legends, many include the true stories behind them.

Benjamin Franklin and Slavery

At the age of 81, Benjamin Franklin became the president of the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. The society, founded by Philadelphia Quakers was one of the first abolitionist organizations in America.

Franklin had not always been such an ardent abolitionist, and is known to have owned two slaves, George and King, who worked as personal servants.

Benjamin Franklin began life as an apprentice, legally bound to a master for a set term. He did not care for the restrictions and ran away from the master, settling in Philadelphia. As an up and coming businessman, however, Franklin had no problem with the institution of slavery. His newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette regularly ran notices regarding the purchase and sale of slaves.

Franklin’s views gradually changed as he grew older. After about 1770 his writings became progressively more anti-slavery, and in a letter to the London Chronicle he called slavery "a constant butchery of the human species by the pestilential detestable traffic in the bodies and souls of men."

By 1789 Franklin had freed his slaves and become a fervent abolitionist.

Who were the slaves of the Founding Fathers? What do their individual stories tell us about the Founding Fathers as men?

A Plot to Kill Martha Washington?

George Washington died on December 14, 1799. At the time of Washington’s death, there were some 317 slaves living on his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia (123 were owned by Washington outright, forty were rented from a neighbor, and 154 belonged to Martha Washington under the term of her first husband’s will). Under the terms of Washington’s will, his slaves (not including the forty who were rented or the slaves belonging to Martha Washington) were to be freed upon the death of his wife. Only one slave, William Lee was freed outright in Washington’s will.

The terms of the will created an almost immediate problem for Martha Washington. The only thing standing between 123 slaves and their freedom was her life. According to a contemporary letter, Martha Washington “did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their [slaves] Hands”. Martha Washington’s fears may or may not have been misplaced, but they certainly reflected the attitudes of slave owners of her day. The closeness of house servants to their masters, for whom they cooked and washed in the very house where the master slept, made the threat of poisoning terrifying. Nor was this fear groundless. The records of colonial Virginia document the trial of 180 slaves tried for poisoning. Martha freed Washington’s slaves within a year after his death. She never freed her own slaves.

Murder and mayhem at Mount Vernon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Berry Gordy: Did Motown Records Build Cultural Bridges?

In the 1960s, Berry Gordy (founder of Motown Records) stressed the creation of music that was, “simple, direct and emotional” with cross over potential. He established a factory like operation, complete with a “finishing school” that polished ghetto kid performers, and produced a consistent string of star performers and hits. Gordy’s emphasis on creating non-threatening performers made blacks and by inference the civil rights movement more palatable to whites. The scenario would play out like this: “I like the music, I like the performer, he/she isn’t so bad. I now have a cultural bridge (however narrow) to relate to other blacks. They aren’t so bad.” Whites begin to relate to blacks in terms of common humanity rather than stereotypes using the cultural bridge provided by the Motown sound. Television impresario Ed Sullivan summed it up when he said, “(The Negro performer) has become a welcome visitor, not only to the white adult, but to the white children, who will finally lay Jim Crow to rest.”

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Famous Marches on Washington

What do Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, the Vietnam War, the KKK, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gay & Lesbians have in common? They all inspired a march on Washington.

Americans have been pretty routinely marching on Washington since 1894. Before 1995 the government made estimates of the number of participants. In 1995 the organizers of the “Million Man March” were so critical of the National Park Services’ conservative estimate of 400,000 participants that the government discontinued making estimates of the number of participants at such events.

There is no effort at making an unbiased count of march participants today. Estimates of the “Restoring Honor” march on Washington range from 87,000 – 650,000. Estimates may vary by ideology.

Below are march numbers based on “conservative” government estimates of earlier marches on Washington:

Woman’s Suffrage March of 1913: 5,000

Ku Klux Klan March to protect America against Blacks, Jews, Catholics, labor unions, and communists of 1925 : Participants 35,000 (Overall national Klan membership reached 6 million paying members in 1924).

Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington of 1963 (during which King made the “I Have a Dream Speech”): Participants 250,000

March to end the Vietnam War of 1969: Participants 600,000

March to end the Vietnam War of 1971: Participants 500,000

National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights of 1987: Participants 500,000

Million Man March of 1995: Participants 400,000

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Cocktail History

The first cocktail known to history was described in an American periodical of 1816. The first British cocktail bar was opened in London by the great chef Alex Soyer (of the Reform Club) in 1851. It lasted five months before being closed down as a danger to morals. 

The American exhibition at the Paris Exposition of 1867 included a genuine American bar dispensing New World concoctions. A British journalist, George Augustus Sala, reported, “ At the bar…were dispensed…cobblers, noggs, smashes, cocktails, eye-openers, moustache twisters and corpse revivers.” Sala was amused and delighted. Not so two other English writers, Henry Porter and George Roberts, who deplored the, “…sensation drinks which have lately travelled across the Atlantic…We will pass the American bar, with its bad brandies and fiery wine, and express our gratification at the slight success which, ‘Pick-Me-Up’, ‘Corpse-Reviver’, ‘Chain Lightning’, and the like, have had in this country.”

Eventually, American culture triumphed and cocktails were adopted in Europe. One of the classic cocktails, the “Side Car” was invented at the end of World War I at the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Not to be outdone, an American variant of the “Side Car” called the “Cable Car”, was created by Abou-Ganim in 1996 when he tended bar at Harry Denton's Starlight Room in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

Few hotels in the country are as synonymous with the city they call home as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Known by locals as "The Drake," the hotel defines San Francisco. When the hotel opened its doors in 1928, the city had never seen anything like it. Although the city boasted a number of luxury hotels, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel was something else entirely: a sleek state-of-the-art marvel reflecting the dynamic spirit of a new metropolis emerging from the devastating 1906 earthquake.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

George Washington's Cook


Hercules, a slave at the Mount Vernon plantation, who had been George Washington’s long time cook was summoned to Philadelphia in November 1790 to become now President George Washington’s personal cook. Hercules was a self taught culinary artist, “as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States,” according to those who sampled his cooking. Washington was well pleased with Hercules and allowed him to make extra money by selling leftovers from the presidential kitchen. This extra money Hercules spent on expensive luxuries and fine clothing. “…his linen was of unexceptional whiteness and quality, then black silk shorts, ditto waistcoat, ditto stockings, shoes highly polished, with large buckles covering a considerable part of the foot, blue cloth with velvet collar and bright metal buttons, a long watch-chain dangling from his fob, a cocked-hat and gold-headed cane completed the grand costume of the celebrated dandy…of the president's kitchen.”

In November 1796, during a visit of the president and his entourage to Mount Vernon, Hercules’ son was caught stealing. Washington suspected that father and son were planning to runaway. When Washington returned to his presidential duties in Philadelphia, the once renowned Hercules was left behind at Mount Vernon reduced to the status of a common laborer on the farm. On February 22, 1797, George Washington’s sixty fifth birthday, Hercules made his bid for freedom, escaping from Mount Vernon forever.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

George Armstrong Custer: Hero or Half Wit?

History while it purports to tell the truth is, in fact, just an interpretive story of chronological events, a made up story that we have agreed to accept. This is why history so often changes. When General George Armstrong Custer was killed by the Sioux in 1876 he was heralded by newspapers as a “Christian knight martyred in the cause of civilization”. Today, many believe that Custer would be facing a war crimes trial for genocide. As would his commanding officer, General Philip, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’ Sheridan. History is a kaleidoscope, the view changes with the values of each succeeding generation.


or Half Wit?

Custer’s Last Stand: Portraits in Time

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

The Great Depression and the Great Recession

Unemployment During the Great Depression

Average rate of unemployment
in 1929: 3.2%
in 1930: 8.9%
in 1931: 16.3%
in 1932: 24.1%
in 1933: 24.9%
in 1934: 21.7%
in 1935: 20.1%
in 1936: 16.9%
in 1937: 14.3%
in 1938: 19.0%
in 1939: 17.2%

The highest national unemployment rate since the Great Depression was recorded in 1982 at 9.7%. The current national unemployment rate is 9.5 % and is projected to rise to 9.9% by the end of 2010.

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"Wall Street: Share the Wealth"

"It is impossible for the United States to preserve itself as a republic or as a democracy when 600 families own more of this nation's wealth--in fact, twice as much--as all the balance of the people put together....Here is the whole sum and substance of the share-our-wealth movement:

Every family to be furnished by the government a homestead allowance, free of debt, of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country....No person to have a fortune of more than l00 to 300 times the average family fortune....

The yearly income of every family shall be not less than one-third of the average family income....No yearly income shall be allowed to any person larger than from l00 to 300 times the size of the average family income....

Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life; to be regulated on the capacity of children to learn, and not on the ability of parents to pay the costs.”

Huey P. Long

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Friday, June 04, 2010

The Chinese Exclusion Act and American Labor

By 1870, the Chinese were the largest ethnic component of the foreign-born workforce in California, constituted some nine percent of the state’s total population, and made up fourteen percent of the total work force. The Chinese were viewed as workers who would work for meager wages and would accept any conditions of work no matter how minimal or oppressive they might be.

Most Chinese immigrants were men who had borrowed money to come to the United States and who were barred from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. They sent money back to China regularly to repay their debts and to support their families.

Chinese immigration did have a negative economic impact on American workers. By 1870, the Chinese were a highly visible segment of the San Francisco labor force (13.2 percent). The immediate consequence of this labor influx was a reduction of wages and the extension of the working day. Of all trades in San Francisco, cigar manufacturing was the most affected by Chinese labor. Ninety one percent of all cigar makers in San Francisco were Chinese. Cigar makers in California, because of cheap Chinese labor, averaged wages ten per cent lower than in twenty other states. Wages for Chinese workers averaged half those of white workers in the shoe and clothing industries. White workers blamed the Chinese for falling wages.

Chinese immigration became a national issue culminating in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which forbade any additional Chinese immigrants for ten years. The law was regularly extended each decade until it was repealed in 1943 when China was given a small annual quota of 105 immigrants which continued in effect until 1965.

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Greed and Slavery in Virginia

The development of slavery in Virginia set the pattern for the development of slavery throughout the South and laid the foundations for the development of race relations in America.

The population of England rose from three million in 1500 to four-and-one half million in 1650 without any corresponding growth in the capacity of the island’s economy to support the people. Colonization efforts were, among other things, an effort to alleviate demographic pressures in England.

At first, Virginia absorbed the new immigrants and appeared to be successfully creating a New World community on the English model. An emerging planter class, speculating in land, however, constrained access to good land in Virginia by the many.

The high price of free labor was incompatible with the profitable running of large plantations. The great landowners turned to slave labor, encouraging the first massive introduction of slaves from Africa. There was no precedence in England for enslaving a class of people for life and making that status inevitable, but non-Christian Africans were not thought to be naturally guaranteed the “rights of Englishmen”. A slave labor force without rights could be more easily controlled by brute force than a free labor force which was raised to believe it had “rights”

In pre-Civil War America two competing models for economic development emerged: (1) the plantation economy in which a few wealthy men and a mass of slaves produced raw materials for Europe, and (2) the independent producer mode with many small, independent farmers and artisans, all of whom were generally self-sufficient.

Link to: Why the South Fought the Civil War

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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Spoils of War: The Daiquiri - Cocktail History

In 1909 the USS Minnesota called at Guantanamo, Cuba. The skipper took the ship’s junior medical officer, Lt. Johnson, on a tour of Spanish American War battlefields. At the town of Daiquiri they met Jennings Cox, an American engineer, who treated them to a drink he had developed to temper the local rum. Cox called the drink a “daiquiri” in honor of the town.

On his return to the United States, Johnson immediately introduced the drink at the Army and Navy Club in Washington D.C. It was an immediate hit with officers who had served in the Spanish American War. When Johnson retired as a rear admiral he presented the Club with what is now one of its prized possessions, an account of how Jennings Cox made the drink: “He mixed in each glass a jigger of rum, the juice of half a lime, and a teaspoonful of sugar. He then filled the glass with a finely shaved ice and stirred it well. In that hot, humid weather the ice melted rapidly and the glass quickly became frosted.”
Link to: What Sherlock Holmes Drank

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The Martini is Born

The Martini is said to have originated in San Francisco just after the gold rush. It was invented by bartender Professor Jerry Thomas at the bar of the old Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. Thomas made the drink for a gold miner who was on his way to the town of Martinez, some forty miles to the east.

The citizens of Martinez deny this account. They say that around 1870 a miner from San Francisco stopped at a local saloon tended by one Julio Richelieu. The miner plunked a small sack of gold nuggets before the bartender, asked for a bottle of liquor, and as a bonus received an unusual drink in a small glass with an olive dropped into it. “What is it’, asked the miner. “That”, replied Richelieu, “is a Martinez cocktail”
Link to: What Sherlock Holmes Drank

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Historic Earthquakes: Washington D.C.

On March 9, 1828, an earthquake, centered in southwestern Virginia, attracted the attention of President John Quincy Adams as it rattled windows in Washington. President Adams reported the tremor felt like the heaving of a ship at sea. In March 1918, an earthquake emanating from the Shenandoah Valley broke windows in Washington and rippled over Northern Virginia. The tremor caused a terrifying noise and was commented upon by President Wilson at the White House. A White House staffer called a newspaper office to learn the cause of the terrifying noise.

Since 1977, Virginia has experienced some two hundred earthquakes, most of them small.Virginia is considered to be at moderate risk, with a ten to twenty percent chance of experiencing a 4.75 Richter scale quake. Quakes over 4.5 on the Richter scale topple buildings. Virginias’ most severe earthquake (5.8 on the Richter scale) occurred on May 31, 1897 in Pearisburg, the county seat of Giles County, in southwest Virginia. Closer to home, small earthquakes have startled local citizens. On September 29, 1997 a 2.5 Richter scale earthquake struck Manassas. One local resident reported he was "shaken, not stirred" after hearing what sounded like an unusually large sonic boom. On May 6, 2008 a so called “micro-earthquake” (magnitude 1.8) struck Annandale. Approximately one thousand micro-earthquakes occur everyday throughout the world and are only noticed if they hit high population density areas where they are most often noticed by people living in high rise buildings.

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Environmental Disasters: The Dust Bowl

The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not the first time that America has faced an environmental catastrophe of historic proportions. In the 1930s, Washington had to pay close attention to the disaster, however, because it arrived, literally, on Washington’s doorstep.

The most peculiar natural phenomena ever to hit Washington D.C. was a gigantic dust storm blowing in from the Great Plains. Years of environmental mismanagement on the Great Plains set the stage for a natural calamity. In 1931, a drought hit the Great Plains. Crops died and because the ground cover keeping the soil in place was gone, the naturally windy area began whipping up dust. Dust storms became problematic and continued to grow in intensity. In 1934 an enormous storm drove 350 tons of silt across the Great Plains as far as the East Coast. Ships three hundred miles off shore in the Atlantic reported collecting dust on their decks. In April 1935, a dust storm arrived in Washington from the Great Plains. A dusty gloom spread over the region and blotted out the sun. Meanwhile, in downtown Washington, conservationist Hugh Hammond Bennett was testifying before Congress about the need for soil conservation. Bennett explained, (pointing to the darkened skies over Washington) "This, gentlemen, is what I have been talking about." Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act the same year.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Nuclear Attack on Boston (Circa 1962)

Link to: Nuclear War 1962 (Alternate History)

In 1962 the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper describing the impact of a nuclear strike (20 megatons) on the Boston Metropolitan area.

Within 1/1000th of a second, a fireball envelops downtown Boston and reaches out for two miles in every direction from ground zero. Temperatures reach 20 million degrees Fahrenheit. People, buildings, cars, tress, everything within a two mile radius are vaporized. Winds in excess of 650 miles per hour roar outward to a distance of four miles, ripping apart and leveling everything. Ten miles from ground zero, the heat of the blast melts glass and sheet metal, and the 200 mile per hour winds flatten every house and business. The only things still standing are reinforced concrete buildings which are heavily damaged.

Sixteen miles from the center, the heat from the blast ignites houses, paper, clothes, leaves, gasoline, and heating fuel, starting hundreds of thousands of fires. The winds, still 100 miles per hour at this distance merge these fires into a giant firestorm thirty miles across that engulfs eight hundred square miles. The death rate is nearly one hundred percent. Thirty miles from ground zero the heat of the blast causes third degree burns on exposed skin. Even forty miles from the blast, anyone looking up at the sudden flash of light in the sky is instantly blinded. Ninety percent of the population would have been dead within one month of the attack.

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If the Nazis had Tactical Nuclear Weapons on D-Day

General Pliyev, the Soviet commander in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had twelve Luna Missiles in his arsenal. Each Luna had a range of 3l miles and a two-kiloton nuclear payload. Any tank or armored personnel carrier within 500 yards of the blast of one of these weapons would have been immediately destroyed. Un- protected soldiers 1,000 yards from the blast site would have died immediately. Those un-fortunate enough to survive the explosion and the winds would have suffered a painful death by radiation poisoning within two weeks. Had Luna Missiles been available to the Germans in World War II, the Nazis would have obliterated all five D-Day beachheads in 1944 with no more than ten of these weapons.

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American Nuclear Strategy (Circa 1960)

In the early 1960s both the size of nuclear stockpiles and available delivery systems, made decision makers think in terms of a “winnable” nuclear war. Nuclear war would have been horrible but survivable. It was not until the 1980s that “advances” in technology made the destruction of the entire human race one of the certainties of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baby Born During Battle of First Manassas


The Lewis family of “Portici” found themselves at the center of the First Battle Manassas. Confederate officers notified the Lewis family that a battle was imminent and that their house would be exposed to fire. They evacuated, taking everything they could with them, but left valuable and heavy furniture behind. The furniture was stored in a small room in an angle of the house, and the room securely nailed shut. The only shot that struck the house during the battle struck this room and destroyed all of the furniture. Furniture was a trifling matter however. Fannie Lewis was in her ninth month of pregnancy and went into labor as they began to evacuate the house. Servants found a nearby ravine and dug a small earthen hollow into the bank. They covered this with greens. It was here that Fannie Lewis delivered her first baby, John Beauregard Lewis.

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The British at Mount Vernon

In April, 1781 the British warship H.M.S. Savage anchored off George Washington’s plantation, Mount Vernon. The British raiders took seventeen of Washington’s slaves from the Mount Vernon plantation. Lund Washington, a cousin who was watching over the plantation during the General’s absence, went on board the Savage, took refreshments to the British officers, and tried to negotiate the return of the slaves. He failed. A week later Lafayette wrote General Washington criticizing Lund’s actions, “This being done by the gentleman who, in some measure, represents you at your house will certainly have a bad effect, and contrasts with spirited answers from some neighbors, that had their houses burnt accordingly.” The General sent the unfortunate Lund a stinging letter rebuking him for “ …communing with a parcel of plundering Scoundrels….”

18th Century Customs

Spanish Explorers in Virginia

Most people think that the English were the first Europeans to explore what is now Virginia, founding Jamestown in 1607. There is evidence, however, that the Spanish beat the English to Virginia by several decades.

An attempt at colonization was made in 1570, when Governor Pedro Menendez of Florida, authorized an expedition. At the time, it was believed that the Chesapeake Bay was the long sought short passage to China. Jesuit missionaries convinced the Governor to send their small unarmed expedition to the area as a forerunner to future colonization. On September 10, 1570, a small band of Jesuits headed by Father Segura, vice provincial of the Jesuits settled near a place the Native Americans called Axacan. The nearest surviving Indian word that suggests the name, is "Occoquan”. One historical school places the unfolding drama in a village located on the Occoquan River in Northern Virginia.

The Jesuits were convinced that they could gain the trust of the natives and willingly convert thousands to Christianity for one simple reason; they were accompanied by a prince of that country who had converted to Christianity in Spain itself.

Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 

Thursday, April 08, 2010

American Werewolves?


What are the explanations for werewolves? Hypertrichosis is a scientific explanation.

Hypertrichosis (also known as “wolfitis”) is a rare medical condition which results in the growth of abnormal amounts of hair all over the body. A number of people suffering from hypertrichosis became famous sideshow freaks working for American impresario P.T. Barnum. Fedor Jeftichew (picture #1), born in St. Petersburg, Russia, signed on with P.T. Barnum at the age of sixteen in 1884. Barnum made a point of pointing out how much Jeftichew resembled a dog and he was known as “Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy”. Jeftichew barked and growled for gawking crowds to enhance his image as a half man-half beast monster. “Lionel the Lion Faced Man”, was another victim of hypertrichosis who worked for Barnum. “Lionel”, actually named Stephan Bibrowski (picture #2), was born in Poland in 1891 and began appearing in the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in 1901. Bibrowski’s body was entirely covered by hair except for the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. Hair hung eight inches from his face and four inches from the rest of his body. In real life, Bibrowski was well educated and spoke five languages.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Did George Washington have an illegitimate son?

Did George Washington have an illegitimate son? Linda Allen Bryant, a direct descendent of a slave named West Ford (1784?-1863) points to correspondence between George and his brother, John Augustine, to argue that George Washington visited his brother’s plantation in 1784, and that a gap in Washington’s personal diary that year could account for a sexual liaison during this visit. According to an oral tradition passed down in the Ford family, a story first publicized in the 1940s, when confronted by her mistress, Hannah Washington, a pregnant slave named Venus confessed the paternity of her child, "The old General be the father, Mistress."

In all likelihood, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association argues, West Ford was indeed the son of a Washington, but not of George Washington. At the present development stage of DNA science, no direct link to George Washington can be established. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has pledged its cooperation with testing as DNA science progresses.

PBS video: "George and Venus"

Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

What did George Washington Eat?

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If you went back in time, you would soon discover that things sounded, smelled and tasted differently in the past. Consider food. In colonial Northern Virginia the cycle for meals was totally different from the modern cycle, as were the foods served. At Mount Vernon, at least three meals were served daily. Breakfast was served promptly at 7:00 am; dinner at 3:00 pm; and a light supper was served at 9:00 pm. George Washington once wrote to a friend, “A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready, and such as will be content to partake of them are always welcome.”

Certain foods likely to be found on George Washington’s table included carrot puffs, chicken fricassee, Virginia ham, pickled red cabbage, and onion soup. Even though these foods appear familiar, the seasonings were very different from those used in modern cooking. Colonial cooks liked nutmeg and especially enjoyed a sweet taste. Salt and pepper were not heavily used. Some foods would make the modern diner blanche, rabbits and poultry, for example, were not only prepared with their heads and feet still attached, they were served at dinner that way as well.

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