Archive for the ‘ Obscure Historical Information ’ Category

Or – a belated birthday gift for Jack.

My post yesterday debunked some Thanksgiving myths and brought about a question from Jack, a childhood friend.  Literally we’ve know one another since Primary Sunday School at First Baptist Germantown where Adda Belle Riley was the teacher.

Jack said in his comment, “Jack Frost How very different the original was from what we were taught in our youth. Makes me wonder what else might be suspect. Next thing ya know people will be saying old George didn’t actually chop down a cherry tree. Wait…. Happy Thanksgiving however you celebrate it! Woo hoo!

“Woo-hoo,” is Jack’s trademark tag line, FYI.

His comment of course, lead me to remember some previous research on our First and Greatest President – I’m a big fan – surrounding the anecdotal and apocryphal stories we hear.  You know stuff like, he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River, he had wooden false teeth, he wore a wig, that he’s secretly buried in a crypt beneath the Capitol Building in DC, that he hated black horses, and of course everyone’s favorite, the cherry tree story.

The story was relayed to history by Mason Locke Weems, an American book agent and author who wrote the first biography of George Washington immediately after his death.

#capitalist

He was the source of many of the unverifiable stories about Washington.

The tale of the cherry tree story is included in the fifth edition of The Life of Washington (1809 print, originally published 1800); a bestseller that depicted Washington’s virtues and was intended to provide a morally instructive tale for the youth of the young nation, who were apparently already going to hell in the proverbial hand-basket.

The story told by Weems and attributed to “… an aged lady, who was a distant relative, and, when a girl, spent much of her time in the family …” who referred to young George as “cousin,” goes like this…

“The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last. (Weems)

“When George,” said she, “was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! Of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

Quite a bit for a six year old, doncha think?

In 1896 Woodrow Wilson (about whom history has also misled us) wrote in his biography George Washington that the cherry tree story was a fabrication.

Following that auspicious moment, almost all historians of the period climbed aboard the no cherry tree train.

The story was never denied by Washington’s relatives.

And it was most notably not denied by Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1852), whom Washington raised as his own daughter, and who spent her life preserving his memory and debunking false stories.

So, I really don’t know.  It is of course doubtful that our nation’s first president pulled off this feat as a first grader. It is highly unlikely, but it’s not impossible.

George Washington was not simply a man “just like any other,”  his valor, greatness, and will to shape a new nation are gifts which continue to provide for us today.

Although it matters somewhat whether the story is true or not, the fact that Parson Weems possibly made it UP does not make Washington any less of a hero.

In fact, it says more about Weems than Washington.

The story was told to cement his place in history as the Father of Our Country.

Which it did, and he was.

Happy Belated, Jack!

The Summit: Crime On The Agenda.

I think the Godfather franchise may be, if not my favorite, at least one of my favorites.

I even like Godfather III.

Yeah, I know, I’m one of two.

#sofiagetsnocred

Pacino, Brando, Keaton, Caan, they were all great, realistic, believable and the movies stayed pretty close to the book; which I also like.

So, why are we talking about The Godfather when there’s so much going on in the world?

Well, I’m not really a social justice warrior, I realize I can’t do much about world events, and it’s my blog so I’ll talk about what I want.

Back to the Godfather.

Remember the scene where they have the big meeting in UP state New York and all the mafia dons and their henchmen show UP?

Although the Godfather is a work of fiction, the meeting portrayed in the film actually happened.

And it happened on November 14, 1957.

So, that’s why, it was 60 years ago today.

The meeting was a summit of the American Mafia and was hosted at the home of Joseph Barbara, aka – Joe the Barber in Apalachin, New York.

The agenda included topics such as loan-sharking, narcotics trafficking, gambling, prostitution, and extortion.  Oh, and the big item on the agenda was who was going to take over for the late Albert Anastasia who met his “untimely death” at the hands of two men with scarves over their faces who were probably members of either the Profaci, Patriarca, or Gambino families (every one hated him) as he relaxed in a barber’s chair in New York City.

An estimated 100 Mafiosi from the US, Italy, and Cuba were there.  The meeting was called by Vito Genovese on whom the fictional character of Don Corleone is loosely based.

Everything was going great until the cops showed UP!

Local and state police became suspicious when expensive car after expensive car with out of state plate started showing UP in the sleepy town.

Knowing that Barbara was a shady character and had a house full of shady friends, they set UP road blocks and raided the meeting.

Many of the Dons in $1,000 suits headed for the woods and escaped; but roughly 60 underworld bosses were detained and indicted following the raid.

Most of the charges were dropped, but 20 or so were eventually charged with obstruction, fined $10,000 and released.

So what was the big meeting all about and why risk it?

In the early 50s, Vito Genovese was working to take over the Luciano Family.  Frank Costello was running it at the time since Luciano was in the slammer.  Vito felt it was time to make his move, but in order to do so he had to take out Costello and his allies, so he teamed UP with Gambino and they hit Anastasia.

Costello barely escaped a hit and decided to take a down grade from Mafia boss to “some guy who’s connected” which left Genovese in control of his own family.

But that wasn’t enough.  He wanted the entire organization and to be the boss of bosses.

So Vito called for a national meeting of bosses and Joe the Barber was kind enough to lend his country estate for the event, again.

The 58 acre tract of land west of New York City was located along the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania state line.

It was remote, quiet, and relatively unknown.

And most of the folks there drove Chevys or Fords with the occasional Buick.

So when Joe went into town and bought enough steak for 100 people and Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Imperials rolled into town, the law got suspicious.

Hence the road block and the raid.

Rather than cement Genovese’s power as the head of the Mafia, the meeting was the beginning of his decline in power.  Most of the old guard blamed him for the new found attention on the outfit.

Prior to the meeting and arrests, the Cosa Nostra, Mafia, or Brotherhood was all myth, conjecture, and theory.

After Apalachin, it was real; so real the FBI established a team to go after the gang.

In 1959 Genovese was set UP by Luciano and went to prison for 15 years.  He died from a heart attack in 1969.  The real winner turned out to be Carlo Gambino who actually became “the Godfather” and took over the organization.

As to Joe the Barber, the summit brought its host nothing but aggravation and humiliation.  His home was raided, his “friends” were arrested – and really pissed at him.  What should have been a feather in his cap turned into a nightmare.

He had been reluctant to have the meeting at his home as he’d hosted one the previous year, and had warned the bosses that a local cop named Croswell disliked him and would cause trouble if he got wind of the meeting.

Which he did.

After the meeting, Barbara was under investigation, indictment, and eventually charged with income tax evasion and submitting fraudulent corporate tax forms.

His business interest waned, he lost lucrative contracts, one with Canada Dry, and his health declined.

He too died of a heart attack in 1959.

His estate was sold and for a short while the new owners conducted “sightseeing tours” and spoke about the Aplachin Summit.

The most significant outcome of the raid was the fact that it helped to confirm the existence of the American Mafia to the public.

Even the FBI and its director, J Edgar Hoover had refused to publicly acknowledge its existence. Hoover had denied the existence of a “national crime syndicate” for years and expressed no need to address organized crime in America.

After the Summit, he was forced to acknowledge the syndicate’s existence and its influence and control of crime.  Hoover created the “Top Hoodlum Program” and went after the syndicate’s leaders.

All because crime was on the agenda.

The Fed, Explained…

There are some things I just don’t know enough about to go into with any credibility.

But I do have friends who do!

The following post was a Facebook post.  It was not written by me, and is being posted today with the permission of the author who has asked to remain anonymous.

I’ll say this.  We’re not related, but he is related to folks to whom I’m related.

He’s a friend to whom I’ve always looked UP, respected, and appreciated.

A friend who’s a few years older, just a few, four to be exact.

#GHSclassof66

He’s a dad, a grandpa, a brother, an uncle, and a friend.

He was not a jerk in high school, and he was not a bully, but he did get in a fight at the Burger Chef in Miamisburg after a church youth outing.

He didn’t start it.

Frankly, this is the kind of stuff I wish I could write!

Having said that, here’s what he had to say about the Fed.

*****

I’m going to ramble a bit about the Federal Reserve (hereinafter the FR) and inflation. Some people think the FR is engaged in a grand economic experiment the outcome of which is uncertain. I think the outcome is certain, and that the outcome will ultimately be inflation.

First, the FR is the Central Bank of the U.S. It is authorized to exist by an act of Congress, but it is not part of the government. It operates independently, theoretically to be immune from political pressure. The FR is comprised of several banks, and operates like a private corporation with a Board of Directors. The FR has three responsibilities. One is to stabilize the prices of goods and services within the economy. A second is to establish policies to maximize employment.

Together, these are known as the “dual mandate.” A third goal is to moderate long-term interest rates. The FR believes that the economy operates on an equilibrium model.This means that if the economy is running too hot, they can dial it down by raising interest rates. If they think it is running too slowly, they can rev it up by lowering interest rates. In recent years, the FR has been trying to create inflation by various means.

The short-hand definition of inflation is “too much money chasing too few goods”, that inflation exists when there is a general increase in the price of goods and services while purchasing power of money is falling. This can happen for several reasons. It may happen because there is an increased demand for goods which causes prices to be bid up. It could be that the costs of production increases, so that producers must raise prices in order to maintain profit margins. Or inflation may arise because there was simply too much money created. This over-supply reduces the value of each dollar, so more money has to be spent to buy things.

In the last eight years or so, lots of money has been created out of thin air. Despite the huge injection of money, however, inflation has remained stubbornly below the FR’s target of 2%. This is because an increase in the money supply alone will not induce inflation.The money has to move around in the economy.The more times each dollar changes hands (is spent), the “velocity” of money increases.

Velocity of the money supply is essential to cause inflation. Say a bartender gets a $5 tip. She spends the $5 to take a cab home after work. The cab driver uses the $5 to buy gas for his cab. The gas station owner uses the $5 to buy more gas to sell. The more that $5 changes hands, the greater the velocity of the money. But say the bartender decides to walk home rather than to take a cab. Because her bills are paid up, she deposits the money in her bank. Because people are still recovering from the last financial crisis, no one wants to borrow money despite low interest rates. Because the banks are still recovering themselves, the bank doesn’t want to lend the money because that’s how they got in trouble before. So the $5 sits in the bank, creating no velocity. If this scenario occurs commonly, velocity is low, and despite the printing of money, there is no inflation, at least as measured by the government.

The U.S. economy is consumer-based, and its health depends on people spending money. The FR wants everyone to spend, not save, in order to create velocity and inflation. That’s one reason the FR has kept rates so low. They think that if people can’t earn bank interest, they may think they might as well spend it. Or, perhaps even better, the FR would like you to take your money out of the safety of the bank, and invest it in more risky assets like stocks. And people have done so, choosing risk over safety. As the value of stocks rises, the FR believes this creates a “wealth effect”, making people feel that as they become “richer”, they will be encouraged to spend.

The stock market is the main place in the current economy where inflation (of asset prices) is obvious. A second reason the FR wants to create inflation is to devalue the dollar. There are two advantages in this for the federal government. First, our exports become cheaper for foreigners to buy, and we gain competitive advantage over our trading partners. Also, imported goods become more expensive for U.S. citizens to buy, and the price increases are inflationary. In this way, if we can’t create our own inflation, we can import it. A third reason the FR wants to create inflation is so that the U.S. can make debt payments with cheaper dollars. This is a stealth default. Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s not that the FR wants to create inflation, it’s that they want to avoid deflation at all costs.

The short-hand definition of deflation is “too little money chasing too many goods.” In deflation, price levels fall, and they keep falling. This means the value of money increases.These are recessionary conditions that can become depressions. (There are almost no people alive that can remember living through The Great Depression.) In deflationary conditions, as prices fall, people will not spend their money today to buy something that will be cheaper tomorrow.People will hoard cash the value of which is creating more purchasing power. When people stop spending, corporate profits decline, there are lay-offs, and increased unemployment. (By the way, if the FR thinks we have now reached full employment, the unemployment rate has nowhere to go buy up.)

As people lose jobs, there is even less spending, and the economy goes into a downward spiral, perhaps into depression. Now, say that Employee A is living in conditions where inflation is absent. Prices are not increasing, He earns $100,000 per year.He gets a 10% raise up to $110,000 per year. His purchasing power has increased by 10%. Employee B is living in an economy where prices have fallen by 10%.He makes $100,000 per year, and he does not get a raise. His purchasing power has increased by 10%. Is either employee better off than the other in terms of purchasing power? No. They ended up in the same place. But the government likes Employee A’s circumstances better. They can tax his increased purchasing power. The government cannot tax Employee B’s incensed purchasing power. These are the reasons why the FR wants to create inflation slowly, so that it is almost imperceptible. In fact, until it gets out of control, inflation feels pretty good. The price of your house inflates.

You might get a decent return on bank deposits. You could even get a raise that will match the inflation rate, or maybe a little more. So, at first people don’t mind a little inflation. You can pay down your fixed rate mortgage with cheaper dollars. Right now, the economy is in the slowest, longest recovery on record, if we are in recovery at all. We are on a tightrope balanced between inflation and deflation. Even if we fall into deflation as some expect, in the end inflation will win. Even though the FR hasn’t been able to budge the inflation rate they will find a way, because inflation advantages the federal government. Deflation will destroy it.

Like I said, this what I wish I could write…

Today is Nat Turner’s birthday. He was born a slave in 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia.  The man who “owned” him was Benjamin Turner, and when he died, Nat became the “property” of Benjamin’s son, Samuel.

Little is known of Nat’s father, and it is believed that he escaped slavery when Turner was very young.

Born a slave with no last name, history failed to record whether Nat chose Turner as his surname or it was simply given him along the way.

Black History Month being decades away when I was educated at Germantown Elementary, Germantown Junior High School, and Valley View High, Nat was only mentioned in passing.  It was simply stated he “…lead a slave uprising in Virginia, and a lot of people died…”

I remember going to the World Book – our go to guide in pre-Google days – and reading UP on the guy.

At the time, he was regarded as a rebel, a revolutionary, and a murderer.

He was associated with fear, death, hatred, and troublemakers.

I don’t remember my teacher at the time being a big fan.

Although the facts of history never change, their interpretation sometimes does.

Turner and his rebels went from plantation to plantation in 1831, gathering horses, guns, and cohorts who wanted to join his band.

The “mob” consisted of runaway slaves and free blacks.  While the rebellion raged, Virginia legislators targeted free blacks with a colonization bill.

It allowed for funding to remove them from Virginia to a colony elsewhere, denied free blacks trials by jury and allowed for any free black convicted of a crime to be sold back into slavery and relocated.

Really, they had time for this while a band of revolutionaries roamed the countryside killing and burning.

Turner’s band cost the lives of roughly 65 whites.

In retaliation, organized militias and regular troops came out to suppress the rebellion and about 120 blacks were killed.  Some modern historians believe the number was higher.

Some say much higher.

Some of those killed were not involved in the uprising; they were just in the way and the wrong color.

The uprising was suppressed.  Might makes right and all, and Turner went into hiding.

The legislators got busy again passing new laws to control slaves and free blacks.  Education was prohibited, free blacks’ right to assemble was restricted in a direct violation of the U S Constitution, and their right to bear arms was taken as well.

In North Carolina where free blacks had been able to vote, that right was removed.

Oh, and just to keep an eye on things, black religious services had to have a white minister in the crowd.  Can’t have the black folks singin’ Go Down Moses and all that now can we?

Turner’s entire life was spent in Southampton County, most of it on the plantation of his owner.  The county consisted of many plantations where slaves made UP the majority of the population.   Turner was reported by his master as “…having natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension surpassed by few.  He learned to read and write at a  young age.  Deeply religious, he was often seen fasting, praying, or immersed in reading the stories of the Bible.”

None of that crossed the lips of any of my teachers nor was it in the World Book.  It was, however, recorded in plantation records.

Visions resulted from Turner’s deeply religious nature.  He believed they were messages from God, and at the age of 22, he ran away from the plantation but returned claiming a spiritual revelation told him to do so!

He was a Baptist and preached the Bible to fellow slaves who called him “The Prophet.”

He even had white folks at his sermons before the law required them to be there.

Many were reported to have “…turned from their wickedness…” after hearing him preach.

By 1828 Turner was convinced that he “…was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty…”

He heard a loud noise in the heavens, a spirit appeared and he claimed “…the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.”

Just in case, the Serpent represents the Devil, Satan, Old Scratch…umkay?

Turner believed he was on a mission from God.

Starting with a few fellow slaves whom he trusted, they created a way to communicate their plan without their owners finding out.

They used songs, stories, and folk tales.

Using knives to carry out their attacks to keep from gunshot noise alerting neighbors, the band went on a killing spree that did not spare anyone in the way; men, women, children.

Turner, when caught, confessed to killing only one person, Margaret Whitehead.  He killed her with a blow to the head with a fence post.

Before authorities could mobilize and respond, 60 whites were dead.

Turner’s band spared poor whites because they  “…thought themselves no better than the negros…”

Turner believed the violence would awaken whites to the reality of the brutality of slave-holding – it didn’t.

It took all of two days to suppress the rebellion.

Turner eluded the authorities and escaped.

On October 30, he was discovered hiding in the woods by Benjamin Phipps and was captured.

Thomas Ruffin Gray, an attorney, took Turner’s “confession.” Nat was tried for conspiring to rebel and making insurrection.  Convicted and sentenced to death, he was hanged 11.11.1831 in Jerusalem, Virginia and was buried in an unmarked grave.

He went to the gallows believing he was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.