Archive for the ‘ Obscure Historical Information ’ Category

Who’s That Guy?

Today is Levi P. Morton’s birthday.

Few will care, and most people have never heard of him.

He was the 22nd Vice President of the United States, the first VP to President Benjamin Harrison of Ohio.

Ben had two, more on that in a few…

Born in Vermont, a PK, he grew UP there and planned on a business career.  He started by clerking in stores, relocated to New York City and became a banker.

Politics called.

He was Conkling Crony and was elected to two terms in the US House of Representatives.

In 1880, James A. Garfield pulled a Palin on the Party and tapped him for the second banana slot in an effort to win over the Conkling folks who were still smarting that their choice to lead the party had lost out to Garfield.

Morton declined the offer paving the way for Chester A. Arthur.

After Garfield won, he offered the plum position of Minister Plenipotentiary to France to Morton.  Morton jumped at the chance to spend a few years on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

In 1888, Morton accepted the offer for the Veep slot when Benjamin Harrison reached out to him.

They won.

But, all didn’t go well.

His big failure was the Lodge Bill.  The bill was an election law which would enforce the voting rights of African Americans in the South.  Morton was played “like a piano” by the Senate Democrats opposed to black suffrage and seemingly did “…little to support the bill against a Democratic filibuster…”

Harrison was ticked.

Harrison believed Morton showed too much favoritism to the “opposition party” and bumped him from the ticket.

Harrison then tapped Whitelaw Reid to replace Morton and lost to Grover Cleveland making Cleveland the first Democrat to be elected since the end of the Civil War.

Morton became the Governor of New York in 1895.

After his public service he became a real estate investor and got seriously rich!

His claim to fame, other than being booted from the ticket, is that he was the second longest living Vice President; he died on his 96th birthday in 1920.

I could find no surviving quotes.

His legacy is abysmal: there is a town named for him in Illinois.

Seriously, that’s it, well other than those righteous side-burns.

La Monte-à-regret

On April 25, 1792, Nicolas Jaques Pelletier was the first person to be executed by guillotine.

Now, this came as a surprise to me as I thought the device had been thought UP much earlier.

Think about it.  The blade de jour had only been used as a means of execution in France for 16 months when it’s most notable victim, Louis XVI was executed.

This, with as much as I’ve read about the Bourbons of France, had never dawned on me.

So, of course, I needed to investigate!

Pelletier was a known criminal, as were all his friends, but on the night of October 14, 1791 he, along with others attacked a passerby on the Rue Bourbon-Villlenueve in Paris and relieved said passerby of his wallet and several securities.

During the robbery the victim was killed.  Pelletier was accused and arrested that same evening when the cries of the victim were heard by nearby gendarmes.

Pelletier’s solicitor called for a fair court hearing, but Judge Moreau, France’s equivalent of a hanging judge, sentenced him to death and a few days later his appeal to the second criminal court was lost;  his sentence was confirmed.

The execution was delayed while the National Assembly debated whether or not decapitation should be the only means of capital punishment.  Other options included breaking at the wheel which King Louis VXI had banned and  fire, as well as other swell methods.

The Assembly decided that decapitation was the only humane way and at the urging of Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a new invention by surgeon Antoine Louis was adopted as France’s device de jour for execution.

Yes, kids, Guillotin didn’t invent the Guillotine as we’ve been taught all along, Antoine Louis did.

On March 23, 1972, the guillotine was decreed the only method of legal execution.

The Guillotine was placed on scaffolding just outside the Hotel de Ville where public executions had taken place for the last seventy years or so.

Thinking a large number of people might show UP for the first ever guillotine execution, the prison warden asked General Lafayette for a contingent of National Guardsmen to ensure order.

About 3:30 that afternoon, Pellleter was lead to the scaffold wearing a red shirt which matched the color of the guillotine.  As predicted by the officials, a large crowd was there eager to see the new invention at work!

The execution moved swiftly, and within seconds Pelletier was dispatched.

The crowd was disappointed, feeling it was too quick and clinically effective, thus not providing the entertainment value of previous executions.

They began changing “bring back our wheel” and “bring back our wooden gallows!”  “Not my guillotine.”

Someone started selling knitted red hats.

Okay, that’s not true…but

…did I mention that public executions in France were a form of family entertainment?

Sorry, should have included that.

Mom would pack a lunch and dad would load UP the kiddos in the cart and off to the Hotel de Ville they’d go for an afternoon of hangings, breakings, and burnings at the stake!

But then, they gave us perfume and dry cleaning, so I suppose we can forgive them, right?

And the metric system…ugh!

In 16 months, the Reign of Terror would take the life of the French King and his Queen, Marie Antoinette and thousands of others.

By this time, public executions were carried out at the Place de la Revolution, a former palace of the king now known as the Palace de la Concorde.

The executions drew great crowds as the heads of the French nobility rolled.  Vendors sold programs listing the names of those condemned to die as well as sweets, sandwiches, and other foods.

Aside from popular entertainment, the guillotine symbolized the ideals of the revolution; Equality, liberty, fraternity.

Prior to the revolution, there were separate forms of execution for the nobility and the common folk.

The guillotine evened things out, so to speak.

The device remained the official method of execution in France until the death penalty was abolished in 1981.

The last guillotining took place in 1977 when child murderers Christian Ranucci and Jerome Carrein were executed in Marseille just prior to the execution of Hamida Djandoubi’s , a torturer-murderer in September.

The device has had many names over time.  La Monte-à-regret, or the regretful climb being one.

You see, regardless of the method, executions back in the day included a climb UP 13 steps.

Dr. Guillotin’s family was so embarrassed by his association with the device they petitioned the French government to rename it.

When their request was refused, they changed their family name.

Dr. Guillotin, contrary to what many believe died in his sleep at the age of 75; he was not a victim of the device he encouraged as a more humane method.

There was a Dr. JMV Guillotin of Lyons who was, indeed, led to the scaffold and executed by the device.

That could have been where that little mix UP came from!

Don’t lose your head today! Okay?


Is it ironic that World Health Day and National Beer Day fall on the same day?

World Health Day is a global health awareness day.  Frankly, at this point of my life, every day is a health awareness day!

Old age is not for sissies!

In 1948, the World Health Organization started the celebration and chose April 7.  Why that day?  Well, it’s the WHO’s birthday, so it’s a good a day as any other!

National Beer Day is a US celebration.  It marks the day the Cullen-Harrison Act was enacted after FDR signed it into law.

The Cullen-Harrison repealed the Volstead Act.

When he handed the pen to the lucky recipient, he said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

The law went into effect on 4/7/1933 and allowed people to buy, sell, and drink beer containing 3.2% alcohol.  This may have been the last time anything was accomplished in Washington!

Folks lined UP outside breweries nationwide the night before and on April 7, 1933, 1.5 million barrels of beer were consumed.

BTW:  April 6 is known as New Beer’s Eve.

The Long and Short of It!

On April 4, 1841 William Henry Harrison became the first US President to die in office.

Now, the death of a leader is an enormous event at any time, but this was a really big deal.

Not much thought had been put into what the boys in D C would do if the POTUS were to buy the farm, and his death caused a short and not so sweet constitutional crisis.  Seems there wasn’t all that much in the Constitution should the President die, and the resolution chosen at the time left many questions unanswered.

As a matter of fact, we really wouldn’t nail it down until 1967 when the 25th Amendment to the Constitution was passed.

You know what they say about sausage and laws!

Harrison and his VP, John Tyler, defeated Martin Van Buren in the 1840 election and Harrison took office on March 4, 1841.  Note:  the January 20th thing wouldn’t come into play until later on.

Upon his death, John Tyler assumed the office and duties of the Presidency much to the chagrin of most of Washington who referred to him as “His Accidency.”

Politics is a mean game!

Harrison, wanting to show that he was A. still the hero of Tippecanoe,  B. wanting to prove he was better educated than most thought, AND C. because he was a windbag, gave an inaugural address to beat them all.

The 8,445 word speech took him nigh on to two hours to read.  He wore no overcoat, no hat, and rode to the ceremony on horseback and delivered the still to this day longest inaugural address ever outside on a cold, windy, and wet day.

He went on to attend three balls that evening.

22 days later, he “came down with a cold,” which everyone blamed on the bad weather three weeks before at his inauguration.

His doctors recommended he rest, but he was too busy making America Great Again after the mess
Van Buren had left.  Plus there were office seekers day and night trying to get positions in the government, and he being rarely alone, was unable to rest.

The cold turned to pneumonia.

Let me just add, pneumonia sucks.  I have fought it since the first of March, been to the doctor three times, and medical definitions aside, all I can say is, “it sucks!”

His doctors tried all modern medical science afforded:  applying opium to the chest, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed.

Shockingly, these only made things worse.  There is no doubt that Granny Clampett could have done a better job!

Nine days after pneumonia set in, he died and his cause of death was listed as pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung.

How they knew this I’ve no clue, the invention of X rays being 50+ years in the future.

In 2014, because we have nothing else to spend our tax dollars on, the government did a study and decided he probably died of septic shock due to enteric fever because the White House water supply was downstream from “night soil.”

Please don’t make me explain that.

And…This Just In…He’s still Dead!

His last words were spoken to his physician, but were probably intended for the VEEP.  He said, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government.  I wish them carried out.  I ask nothing more.”

After that, he promptly died.

To date, he holds the record for the shortest presidency in American History.

His funeral took place in Cincinnati’s Wesley Chapel and he was interred in North Bend’s William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial.

Mrs. Harrison, the mother of his 10 children, was not as his bedside when he died.  She was detained by illness and never resided in the White House, but she was packing for the move to Washington when notified of his death.