"For heaven's sake, stop it."

“You are our last hope, Dear Friend,” whispered Major Whittlesey, “else all’s lost.”

The flyer that the battalion commander was addressing sat quietly on a perch of broken timbers, nodding his head. He was a Brit by birth but had been attached to the communications group of the American 77th Infantry Division out of necessity. A shell exploded a dozen meters from the pair and showered them with rock and mud.

The 77th was trapped by a German division at the base of woody precipice and already had suffered the loss of 300 men. When the command learned of their predicament, they fired shells randomly towards the Argonne, hoping to somehow clear a route for their escape. But the shells instead became a deadly barrage, whistling atop the beleaguered soldiers. Word had to be sent to redirect the fire.

The messenger took off through smoke and screams.

As he gained altitude and flew slowly over the enemy combatants, several sharpshooters took aim at him. He was hit in the eye. And then in the breast. And then a bullet ripped through his leg and left it dangling.

He faltered and began to dip, nearly going into a tailspin. But miraculously, he regained control and steered clear of the battlefield. He made it to his destination and fell unconscious onto his back, the important dispatch wrapped tightly around his separated leg. The note read: "We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake, stop it."

The remaining 200 men of the division were thus saved.

When he eventually died of his wounds the next year on June 13, 1919, Cher Ami, with his handmade wooden leg, became one of the most distinguished heroes of WWI – as a carrier pigeon.


"Everyone is more or less mad on one point"

“Good morning, Sam,” Rud said in a voice uncharacteristically cheerful for him since his arrival in San Francisco on May 29th, 1889. He was expecting some good news on this morning.

A door-boy was sitting at a desk, applying a coat of polish to a pair of wing-tips. He snapped up from his labor when he heard his name called.

“Yassir, what can I...”Sam began, but his voice caught in his throat when his eyes met Rud’s.

“Is your proprietor available?” Rud asked, jokingly formal.

Sam dropped his gaze to the floor as he replied, “Well... sir... I... I think your story is really good.”

“What? You’ve read it, have you?”

“Well sir, not exactly all of it. I been workin’ on it for five days now and I don’t, well I don’t read that fast...”

“Five days? I dropped it off only a week ago! Didn’t you give it to Mr. Hearst?” Rud was flabbergasted.

Tears formed at the corners of Sam’s eyes as he explained. “Well sir... they gave it back to me the day after they got it. They said to tell you not to bother makin’ no more submissions.” Sam started breathing a little harder as he continued, “But I think it’s the best story I ever read.”

He bent down below his desk to pick up the manuscript sitting by his shine-kit and handed it carefully, almost reverently, to the gentleman. The margins of it were covered with smudges of black polish.

Rud noticed the handwritten note from the editor of the San Francisco Examiner that was clipped to it. It read: "I'm sorry Mr Kipling, but you don't know how to use the English language."

Two years later, Rudyard Kipling’s The Light That Failed would be published, its author already becoming known the world-round.


Wonderful Things

Nature had thrust him into the world miserably incomplete. Uneducated, it was only through his stubbornness that his life had at least been interesting, remarkable even.

Forced to resign from his government post, he spent years struggling as a small-time antiquities dealer, selling drawings and watercolors on the side. Through his periods of doubt and difficulty, he somehow managed to maintain the support of the wealthy 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, that kept him busy traveling for months at a time.

And yet, at forty-eight years old, Howard seemed destined for obscurity. His benefactor was growing bored with the lack of successes and lately seemed more interested in his racehorses than in continuing their relationship. “Only one more year,” he said. “After that, I’ve got to find another hole into which I can throw my money.”

A few months later, on November 26, 1922, the Earl arrived in response to Howard’s telegraph regarding a possible discovery. He had brought his daughter and some friends with him, determined to at least make the trip a worthwhile vacation in the likely event that nothing else came of it. The little group met up with their host and huddled together by a decorative wall at the bottom of a flight of steps. A servant went chipping away at the upper left corner of the wall with a small chisel until a hole was made, large enough for an arm to reach through. He moved aside and Howard peered into the opening.

“Well,” the Earl asked, “can you see anything?”

By the light of a dim candle, Howard Carter whispered, “Yes... I see wonderful things...”

The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, in an area given up on by most experienced Egyptologists, continues to provide the world with “wonderful things” to this day.


The Wrangler

“Aristotle isn’t scripture,” the student said to himself. “Lord, I want to believe... teach me to believe...”

Watching from the upper gallery, his eyes followed two acolytes as they emerged from the sacristy and methodically began preparing for Mass. One cupped his hands over the taper at the end of a long brass lighting stick and followed his partner up the steps of the massive pulpit.

The teenager took his eyes off of the acolytes for a moment to look more closely at the pulpit. Nine reliefs were represented on it, beginning with the Nativity and ending in the Crucifixion. One of the depictions always troubled him, more so than even the portrayal of the Flagellation. There was a certain sympathy he always felt for those infants persecuted during the Massacre of the Holy Innocents and his mind began to drift, wondering how Herod could have been so barbarous.

He was snapped back to the present, sometime around February 26, 1583, when he noticed the acolytes standing at the edge of the rostrum. One leaned forward with arms outstretched, using a hook to pull the heavy chandelier above them a little closer so the other could light the candles.

When it was finally burning brightly, the chandelier was released and it swung freely. Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Something clicked in his mind as he stared at the swinging lights. It began to reach the center and as it did the swings slowed. He placed a finger over the artery in his neck and started to count. These observations made on the oscillation of the pendulum would later prove invaluable in the development of a more precise clock.

A soft murmur issued from young Galileo Galilei’s heart as he began his journey down the roads of faith and science.


Revenge is a Dish Best Served Serendipitously

“Still too soggy.”

Speck wiped the sweat from his brow with a quick sweep of the arm. This 24th day of August, 1853, was already sweltering but now his blood too began to boil. It was the second time the house specialty had been sent back.

“Okay...” Speck said as he peeked out the kitchen door at the fussy troublemaker sitting at table #3. He was sipping at a glass of iced water and fanning himself with a menu. “He wants ‘em thinner, I’ll cut ‘em thinner...” The waitress squeezed by him and went back out to the floor.

Speck flipped the plate of golden French fries over the garbage pail and tossed it into a soapy tub. He grabbed his sharpest knife and leaned over a large potato. Within two minutes, he had cut the potato into a pile of incredibly thin slices. He scowled as he scooped them up in his hands and turned to the waiting frying pan, already writhing with bubbling oil.

“Oh, Speck, he says they’s too bland too,” the waitress said through a half-opened door, “wants ‘em saltier.”

Speck looked up at her and winked.

He dropped the handful of potatoes back on the chopping block and reached for the salt-shaker. Then he stopped. Instead, he grabbed the big bag of salt on the shelf and poured it out on top of the spuds. He laughed quietly to himself. Each slice shone like a sliver of quartz as he pulled them from the crystalline mound and dropped them into the pan.

By the time the doors closed at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, not only had the fussy customer ordered a second serving, but every diner in the restaurant wanted to try George “Speck” Crum’s new culinary creation – the potato chip.


Better Late Than Never, But Never Late is Better

On the evening of November 27th, 1761, nine days out of Spithead, the Deptford’s navigator pulled up the chip log himself and scratched a few notes on a slip of paper. Some deckhands peered over his shoulder as he wrote out his equations. They nodded in approval of what they spied.

“What’s it say?”

“I don’t know, I can’t read. I thought you knew.”

“Blast it! All I bloody know is that if we miss Madeira, there’ll be nowhere else to restock our bloody beer and we’ll be stuck drinking nothing but bloody water all the way across the bloody Atlantic!”

“That cookie... I told him that beer was off when he loaded it. I’ve got a nose for that, you know...”

The navigator glanced at the pair and shook his head. Slipping the paper into a breast pocket, he made his way to the captain’s cabin and knocked at the door.

“Captain?” he queried and poked his head through the doorway.

“Ah, enter, sir,” a voice called, “Mr. Harrison here was just telling me that we’ll reach Porto Santo by sunrise... I’ve been trying to tell him that I’ve been sailing this route for years and we’re still a day and a half away. What say you?”

The navigator studied the chart and the dead-reckoning marks he had earlier laid out. He cleared his throat before he spoke.

“Mr. Harrison, I agree with the captain. Your father’s little clock there has put you in error of over some 100 nautical miles.”

At 6 a.m. the next morning, the alcohol-thirsty look-out’s “Land, HO!” awoke captain Digges from a restful sleep.

“I’ll be,” he mumbled.

This first test of the marine chronometer built by John Harrison was successful. Exact knowledge of longitude was now within the grasp of the modern seaman.


Comin' Through the Rye

Four G.I.’s sat in a jeep below the Eiffel Tower. It was August 25th, 1944, and the Americans were in Paris.

“I can’t believe you still carry that stupid typewriter everywhere, you’re gonna’ get killed.”

JD didn’t say anything but lifted the black metal case from his lap to show the sergeant. Several bullet holes marred the surface.

The sergeant shook his head and looked back up at the French tricolor flapping atop the tower for the first time in four years. “You ought to go see that writer,” he suggested over his shoulder, “he’s here you know.”

“Here? Impossible, “JD said.

“Really, he’s been here for a while; son-of-a-gun was leading some resistance-fighters... I heard he liberated the Ritz singlehandedly,” the sergeant joked. He sucked on a black cigar and laughed through his teeth.

“Hey, give me a ride over there, will you?”

A few minutes later, JD hopped out of the jeep and into the madness of the celebrating crowds. He ducked under the outstretched arms of an old woman looking to kiss him and slipped sideways around the children pushing flowers at him. His typewriter came in handy in forcing his way through the doors of the hotel.

He found the lobby packed with people, just as raucous as the mob outside. The lounge was off to his right and he scanned the faces there. His attention was drawn to a soldier that was banging out “Don’t sit under the apple tree” on the piano, an attractive young girl on his lap, teenaged probably but quite drunk. As he stared at the young, pretty coquette, he noticed behind her, at the bar, a tall bearded man with a gun in his belt.

JD hurried over to him.

“Mr. Hemingway? You don’t know me. My name is Salinger...”


A LIttle Kindness Goes a Long Way

When the captain departed and the hatch closed behind him, Cyril Evans leaned back on his stool and plopped his feet onto the counter. A long day was ending. One more message to send out and it was off to the Wild West for him. Before leaving port, Cyril had traded another sailor for a copy of Zane Grey’s new novel, Riders of the Purple Sage. With the boat stopped, for the first time all day he felt relaxed and was looking forward to an hour or so of reading before bed.

“Jane Withersteen, don’t go anywhere,” he said, staring down at the book.

Cyril slid an earpiece over his head, pulled the transmitter onto his lap, and began to tap out an informal message.

“Say, old man,” it read, “we are surrounded by ice and stopped.”

As he typed out the last character, the reply came immediately. He yanked the headphones from his ears and held them at arm’s length, and still he could hear the message clearly:


Cyril threw the headphones onto the counter and sat forward. “Fine, you dingbat,” he said out loud. “Try and be friendly...”

He grabbed his novel and accidentally tore the cover in half as he violently opened it.

“Dammit! You stupid blockhead, now look what you’ve made me do!”

His opportunity for relaxation had now passed; his heart was pounding with anger at the wireless operator on the nearby ship. He gave up on the idea of reading and instead secured the lights, went out the hatch, down the ladder, and fell into his bunk, still upset.

An hour later, at 12:15 a.m. on April 15, 1912, in the empty communications room of the SS Californian, the “CQD” (SOS) of the Titanic went unheard.

By the Demands of the Anti-Gun Lobby

Bill slapped a hammer into the palm of his hand a few times and looked down the stairs where his foreman was going over a stack of papers with an old woman. It was his first day on the job and he didn’t want to make any trouble, but he couldn’t help himself.

“You want me to do... what?”

The foreman glanced up from his plans and said in an irritated voice, “I want you to hang that closet door.” He shook his head and turned to the old woman, “I’m sorry ma’am. He’s new here.”

Bill turned around and whistled quietly through his teeth. He was standing at the top of a staircase that led precisely to nowhere. The steps rose sharply from the sixth floor of the mansion and ended at the ceiling where an ornate wooden frame had already been mounted. He shrugged his shoulders and set himself to the task, thinking he’d be at the employment agency by the end of the afternoon.

An hour later, Bill was sliding himself from under the newly-installed door on the ceiling when he heard footsteps on the stairs. It was the foreman.

Uh-oh, here it comes, Bill thought to himself.

The foreman looked up at the work and then, wide-eyed, back at Bill.

“Fine job,” he said. “Now I’ve got a chimney for you to install in the basement...”

For thirty-eight years, twenty-two carpenters worked twenty-four hours a day constructing this impossible home in San Jose, California; a home destined to be built until the death of its owner, Sarah Winchester, on September 5th, 1922.

Sarah had been compelled to build continuously by the restless and angry ghosts of those who died at the hands of her husband’s invention, the gun that won the west, the Winchester Repeating Rifle.


Gone but Not Forgotten

As the ship made its way along the outer banks, John stood atop the foc’sle, anxious. He was the governor of the little city of Raleigh but he had been absent for a long time. It was August 18th, 1590, exactly 1,085 days since he had left his family under the care of the other hundred-plus colonists in the New World. His granddaughter, Virginia, was only ten days old when he kissed her goodbye, the first child born on those distant shores.

“Are you sure this is the right spot?” the mate asked.

Even after his prolonged absence, it still looked vaguely familiar to John, but something wasn’t right. He sidled along the rail, straining his eyes, hoping to glimpse some movement.

“Something’s wrong.”

When the landing party finally walked up the beach, no one greeted them. But they did come upon what looked like a fort in the woods. One of the sailors pointed to a bald cypress tree incorporated into the palisade. The bark was scraped away and onto it was etched the word “CROATOAN.”

“It’s a message, they’re safe,” John said, hesitantly optimistic. “It means they’ve gone to live with the Indians to the south. We agreed they’d carve a Maltese cross into a tree if they were forced away by hostiles.”

Suddenly a flash of movement caught John’s attention. A white deer behind a distant tree raised its head and stared into John’s eyes for a moment before bounding silently away. Suddenly he felt sick.

The settlers had not gone south.

Except for that mysterious inscription, they’d simply disappeared. Without a trace.

John White would die back in England, alone, never having found out the fate of his family or the other citizens of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Four passing centuries have revealed little else.


Truth to Power

A man opened the flap to a crude tent and stuck his head out. “Rua!”

From behind a tree stepped a boy not yet seven years old, his face burning with a long fresh scar that ran from his temple to his chin. “Yes, uncle?”

“Go to the river and fill this with water!” the man shouted and tossed a copper cauldron that rolled through the grass and stopped right at the boy’s feet. The child stood staring at it.

“Go!” the uncle yelled angrily, “Your father is dead and now you must be a man!”

Rua hurriedly grabbed the bowl by the handles and dragged it backwards through the encampment. He could hear the cries of his mother as he moved off. The sound of her grieving was soon drowned out though by the wailing that issued from many of the tents he passed on his way to the river. For a year and a half, his people had pushed their way through Western Europe and now, in the north of Italy, malaria was devastating them.

As he neared the river, he noticed a group of horsemen slowly approaching from the other bank. He recognized some of them immediately; they were the King’s brothers. But the strangely-dressed ones that rode beside them filled him with wonder. The one in the white conical hat especially affected him. Their eyes met for a moment as they passed each other and Rua thought he recognized a rare look of sympathy.

It was at the end of a long hot summer, around September 16th, 452, and the man in the hat changed the course of western history, or more aptly saved it. Pope Leo, without an army, would turn back Attila the Hun at the river Mincio and secure the city of Rome.


The Day the Laugh Man Came to Town

He lost his job selling dry goods and then he lost his job in the bookstore. His dreams of becoming a doctor and a preacher weren’t working out either, but that was okay, his young fiancé loved him all the more. He went into partnership with his father but his promising start as an insurance salesman was cut short when he developed a mysteriously incurable case of laryngitis. Unable to speak above a whisper, he found work as a photographer’s assistant on Main Street in the little town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. And in doing this, he finally was beginning to feel himself finding a place in life.

All of the strange events that had characterized his childhood seemed to be fading into the past. Edgar was becoming, at last, “normal.” He began dreaming of the simple life, and he and Gertrude discussed their plans for a quiet, happy future together.

It was at this point that a man named Hart came to town. He called himself the Laugh Man, but his specialty was as a hypnotist. While preparing for his show at the Opera House on February 12, 1901, he was told about the young man who had lost his voice. He made sure that Edgar was in the audience that night.

Before a packed house, the Laugh Man placed Edgar into a trance.

“Edgar... do you hear me? I want you to answer me in a clear voice... a confident voice... because, Edgar... your laryngitis is gone.”

“I understand,” Edgar replied strongly, without a trace of the rasp that had plagued him.

By the end of the next month, Edgar Cayce began placing himself under hypnosis. The quiet life he had dreamed of was put away forever when he fathered America’s New Age movement and became the “Sleeping Prophet.”


The Poe Toaster

Upon a clouded and moonless night, at the quiet corner of Fayette and Greene, a man impatiently walked his wife’s miniature poodle. Ladybug had scratched at the front door until she had made her point. She needed to go. But to the chagrin of the unshaven man in robe and slippers, she still hadn’t gone.

Finally she stopped at the old Gothic church and sniffed her way through the grass. She circled twice and squatted.

“Thank God,” the man muttered sleepily.

He stood there holding the leash lazily between two fingers, waiting for the little monster to finish. He closed his eyes and swayed slightly in the silence. A tug on his fingers signaled that the dog had done her business. As he remained there blinking at the plume of steam rising up from the frosty ground, he suddenly felt that he wasn’t alone.

There is a sound that a body makes when it is nearby. An intangible sound that can nevertheless still be sensed. A vibration. A humming, not unlike a television that has its volume turned all the way down. A sound of a “presence.” From the graveyard behind the church, he heard that tell-tale sound. He whirled, fully awake now. Ladybug barked.

At first, in the pitch of the night, he saw nothing. But then slowly, unmistakably, he saw a shadow rise up from a large tombstone. He could make out the shape of a man, wearing a brimmed hat and a cape. As the figure became fully erect, it turned its scarf-covered face towards him and slowly backed away into a stand of trees and then... disappeared.

Every January 19th, since this one in 1949, this mysterious figure has returned to Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore grave to leave behind three roses and a half-bottle of Cognac.


From Where the Sun Now Stands

Tuekakas lay by a dim fire, his eyes half-closed and staring up at the twinkling stars. He was dying and had called for his son. Heinmot Toolyalaket approached and at first said nothing as he sat down beside him. He simply stared quietly at the wrinkled face. He was thirty-one years old, but next to his father he still felt and looked the boy.

Without moving his eyes from the heavens, the old chief began to speak.

“My son... when the white men first came, our people welcomed them as our brothers... Clark and Lewis they were called. And when I became a man, I accepted their banner of stars and stripes and learned their language and religion... I even took their name when they blessed me in the water... But no more! I wished to live in peace but they are thieves with their treaties. I’ve torn their flag and burned their book....”

Heinmot Toolyalaket remembered that day sixteen years ago. He remembered his father giving him long sticks with hawk feathers attached so as to forevermore mark the boundaries of the two peoples.

“My son, soon I will go to the Great Spirit and our people will look to you to guide them... The whites will come back again... This country will hold my body... Never sell the bones of your father! Never forget these dying words!”

The whites did come back, and chased them from Oregon’s Wallowa Valley.

It wasn’t until October 5th, 1877, that the little band of 800 Nez Perce Indians, pursued for 1,700 miles by 2,000 professional soldiers, were finally trapped – just forty miles short of the Canadian border, and their freedom.

Chief Joseph, exhausted from conflict, had to choose between the reservation and death. “I will fight no more forever,” was his decision.


The Wife of the Silversmith

Juan almost dozed off several times. It was easy to do with his eyes closed on that soft warm night in Valladolid and he struggled to keep his senses. Each time he caught himself drifting away, a cold shock would bring him back. The pin he pricked against his leathery thumb helped him too. It took three hours before he was satisfied that his household was finally asleep.

Just before 2 a.m., Juan slid off his feathered bed and crept into the hallway where he silently dressed. From there, it was out the rear door of Number 13 Calle de Platerias and through the garden to a shadowy path that ran inconspicuously several blocks before entering upon the plazuela of Saint Michael. He remained hidden behind a statue for a few moments, making sure there was no one about to see him sneaking around at such an hour. Satisfied that he was alone, he then ran the short distance in the open to the covered porch at the one-time residence of Doña Leonor de Vivero.

After three soft knocks, a slide opened. Juan placed his lips to the wicket and whispered. “Cazalla.” A bolt turned and the door opened just wide enough to allow Juan entrance. The bolt sounded again behind him.

But Juan wasn’t as quiet as he thought when he whispered the password. From below the railing, concealed behind a broad-leafed bush, the wife of the silversmith heard it very clearly.

She waited a moment before gathering up the courage to find out where her oddly-behaving husband was running off to in the middle of the night.

On May 21, 1599, 200,000 people gathered in the Plaza Mayor to witness Juan Garcia and fourteen other Lutheran conspirators burn. After a long lull, the Inquisition began again in earnest.


Never Too Late For a New Vice

“Won’t you have some whiskey?” K. B. asked, pulling a bottle of Bourbon from his satchel.

“I promised my mother when I was a baby that I’d never taste liquor,” James replied with a shaky awkwardness.

Several of his friends were gathered round and they all urged him on.

“I wish you would,“ one of them added, “I think that today merits an exception... after all, even the town across the woods is pointing out the irony of your predicament. It’s named after a tavern for God’s sake...”

James threw his hands into the air, resigning himself to the persuasive force of peer pressure. He looked over at his friend Andrew, with whom he had been through much.

“Tell me, Andrew... how do I look?”

“There’s a little flush to your face,” he said, “Why don’t you take it?”

“All right...”

James stroked his thick beard for a moment and let out a deep sigh. All eyes were on him as he reached forward and took hold of the bottle that K. B. was still holding out for him. He raised it up to the late afternoon sun that was filtering through the Virginia pines and inspected its caramelized color. Before uncorking it, he hesitated and looked over at a few soldiers standing nearby.

“Go do your duty for your country,” he said in a commanding voice. He pointed with the bottle, “Back to the front.”

The soldiers, sheepishly obedient, moved out of his line of sight.

It was May 11th, 1864, and Confederate Cavalry General James “Jeb” Stuart had little more than 24 hours to live, mortally wounded by a Yankee sharpshooter at Yellow Tavern.

The aroma of the sour-mash was shrill to his virgin sense, grown accustomed only to the smell of horses and gunpowder.

“Mama, forgive me...”


"It oozed rather than flowed"

Sparks spewed from the wheels of the train as it crossed the river bridge at Industrial Flats. Vibrations clickety-clacked their way down the steel trestle and into the water. At the surface however, there was no disturbance. Not a ripple.

No birds were to be seen floating on or flying above the water either. No fish broke the surface with their bubbles, for there were none. There were no bugs or plants to feed upon. There weren’t even any slugs or worms inching their way through the slime on the banks. It was lifeless. Anaerobic. The scant riparian vegetation that survived along the shore was poisonous.

The water hugging the base of the bridge supports was a thick goo, mostly black in color, but with sporadic patches of brown and orange and yellow. Oil and sewage and acids. The noon sun brought about a rainbow effect across most of it.

The top six inches of it were the consistency of pudding.

Suspended in the stagnant multi-colored morass was a plethora of flotsam. Timbers and beams poked out at varying angles, propped as much as ten feet high against the trestles. There were enormous globs of fat and grease discarded by the slaughterhouses upriver and the paint factories contributed a share of chemicals.

As the last car of the train cleared the edge of the bridge on June 22, 1969, one last flurry of sparks fell to the river. It ignited. Within minutes, the flames were five stories high. This wasn’t the first time that the polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio. The firemen in the boats took only thirty minutes to smother it. It was a small affair.

But this small affair was witnessed this time by national reporters. Changes in the nation’s environmental stewardship were soon underway.


An Empty Victory

The war-chief Katlian and his Shaman, Stoonookw, walked along the ramparts of the fort they had spent nearly two years constructing. The walls were nearly fourteen feet thick in some places, made of a thousand spruce trees. It was called the “Fort of Young Saplings” and it was built in expectation of the return of the Russians; the Tlingit Clan had slaughtered and expelled them from southeast Alaska with the help of British-made musketry in 1802.

It was now September 28th, 1804, and as the Tlingit warriors peered down across the rocky shoals of Indian River, the Russian naval forces lay still in Sitka Sound. Onboard the lead ship, the Neva, the chief manager of the Russian-American company, Alexandr Baranov, and Lieutenant Commander Yuri Lisyansky conferred upon their strategy.

Baranov held a downy eagle feather above his head and released it. It spiraled straight down to the deck.

“Not a whiff, captain. We can’t sail, let alone maneuver in those shallows,” he said to Lisyansky.

Lisyansky took a quick look down at the foc’sle where scores of Aleut Indians were lounging, waiting for orders.

“I don’t think we’ll need the winds today, sir.”

A few hours later, the Neva, along with her three heavily-armed escorts, was crossing the Sound. In one of the most spectacular scenes in naval history, the four massive vessels were being towed by hundreds of baidarkas; two-man kayaks powered only by the uncommon strength of Aleuts arms.

For four days, the Russians bombarded the “Sapling Fort” with canons. When a reconnaissance contingent was sent ashore to assay the fort’s condition, the scene shocked them. The Tlingits had silently abandoned their position during the cover of night, slitting the throats of their children and animals on the way, a trail of tiny corpses leading into the forests.


Unfortunate Coves

Before the anchor had even touched bottom, a launch was pushed away from the schooner and rowing madly towards the French fishing vessel working the waters of Noddy Bay, where France still retained some rights to the Newfoundland coast after the French and Indian War.

As the little shuttle approached, an English officer seated precariously on the bow raised a copper speaking-trumpet to his mouth and excitedly called out to the crewmen now gathering at the rail.

“Have you a surgeon aboard?!”

It was another hour before the surgeon stepped over the gunnel of the HMS Grenville. A crowd of sailors surrounded him and rushed him below towards the captain’s cabin. “His powder horn exploded,” they repeatedly told him.

As the doctor opened the door, he was greeted with moans of agony. A man lay drenched in sweat, all color gone from his face. He was being held down by the First Mate and his right arm was stretched out over the edge of the bed. It was wrapped in a crimson-stained sheet that was still dripping into a wooden bucket.

The doctor knelt by the arm and slowly peeled away the wrapping until a hand was revealed. A giant gash was ripped open at the base of the forefinger that stretched nearly to the wrist; the thumb dangled by a tendon.

“I think I can save it,” he told the Mate, “but the scarring will be terrific...”

Fifteen years later, on February 20th, 1779, a small boat was launched from an English vessel and rowed into another remote bay; this one in the Sandwich Islands. There it retrieved a small bag, full of body parts.

It was in this way that the dismembered body of the slain Captain James Cook was identified. By the scar on his right hand.


The Most Shot-At Man in America

A slave looked up towards the noon sun and saw a brown bulbous form descending on Pea Ridge, near Unionville, South Carolina.

“Das’ a devil!” he yelled.

“Mebbe’...” said Harman, the field-master, “but sho’ do look like a man in der’... got a campfire lit, too.”

The balloon slowly drifted overhead and came to land a few hundred yards away. Harman had run down to the road and gathered a few friends and together they hurriedly made their way to the aircraft. When the man in the balloon saw the group of armed men approaching, he opened the gas-valve wide and tried to make an escape.

The balloon only rose a few feet and he franticly began tossing sandbags over the side of the basket. A strong downward draft kept the craft from gaining any altitude though and it simply scooted sideways. The armed party walked alongside it, watching fascinated.

“I reckon you lost your luggage, mistah! Ya betta’ stay put!”

Eventually, the balloon touched down again and the men grabbed its tethers. Harman bent over and peered into the basket. At the feet of the aeronaut was a stack of newspapers. He grabbed one and looked at the front page.

“Cincinnati? Abolitionist news? Boys, dis’ ain’t jus’ no devil. Dis’ a damn Yankee devil!”

“Spy!” the others yelled.

It was April 20th, 1861, exactly one week after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, opening the “War Between the States,” and the unexpected arrival of the Yankee caused a stir. It took two days to convince the authorities that his presence was by accident and one of scientific inquiry; that he was not, after all, a spy.

When he made his way back north, Thaddeus Lowe volunteered his balloons in service to the Union army and became, after all, a spy.


The Last Nazi

At 2 a.m., in a quiet neighborhood near the University, four American officers carefully made their way through a narrow alley behind a large white house. The ground was slick from the January rains and their boots slipped as they approached the little well-lit staircase that led to an apartment below. Three of them shouldered their rifles and stopped at the top as the fourth positioned himself beside the doorframe and knocked loudly. When he heard a voice, he backed up and rejoined his partners.

The door opened and an interior light silhouetted the man they were looking for - a mountain infantryman in full uniform, a Gebirgsjäger, with a Mauser Kar rifle pointed directly at them, its bayonet tip sparkling in the porch-light.

Immediately, the four officers raised their gun sights on the young man and began shouting orders.

“Drop the rifle!”

“Put it down! Put it down now!”

Slowly, the rifle dipped towards the stoop and the cornered man looked up at his captors with glazed eyes. Accordion music could be heard coming from the open doorway.

“Put your weapon on the GROUND!”

“Do it!”

Instead, the Gebirgsjäger raised his rifle and took a half-step towards the officers, not saying a word; not taking his eyes off of them. They fired. Eight times. The Nazi fell. A few minutes later, the neighborhood was scoured and secured by assault teams looking for possible collaborators.

The “Nazi” killed by police that night was 22 years old. He was drunk – celebrating the New Year into the early morning hours - but he understood English. It was his native language. He was from Maple Valley, Washington.

He was born Miles Allen Murphy, on February 27th. February 27th of 1986. He was a student at the University of Washington and an historical re-enactor.


The Barber's Restless Night

“Just a little off the top,” the barber directed.

His apprentice dipped a sponge into the pot of egg yolk, rose oil, and turpentine. He dragged it across the surface of the mixture, picking up the floating vital portions.

“Is this enough?” he asked, holding it up to his tutor.

Ambroise looked helplessly over at the empty pot smoking in the coals. “Damn it, how could we have run out of oil?!”

Ambroise grabbed the dripping clump and rubbed it across the open pink flesh of the soldier on the stretcher beside him. He did the same for a dozen more that were brought to him in the mobile hospital, all victims of the new smoothbore rifles.

On March 31st, 1537, the Spanish and French were battling for control of Northern Italy. For months, the barber had been treating the poisonous arquebus wounds with the commonly-accepted medical procedure of the day, by cauterizing them with a boiling solution of elder oil. Ambroise believed wholly in its effectiveness, despite the additional agony that it caused.

When he was relieved for the night, he fell heavily into his bed. But he couldn’t sleep. The thought of those dozen men incorrectly-treated weighed heavily upon him. He could occasionally hear screams of pain issuing from the hospital. He lay awake all night. He expected to find those last patients mad with pain and infection in the morning.

At dawn, his apprentice ushered him to the cot of the first soldier he had treated with the new salve. He was sitting up, smiling. Across from him was another soldier, the last one he treated with the burning oil. He was writhing in pain.

The lack of “proper” supplies led Ambroise Paré, barber-surgeon, on a humane path that revolutionized the previously barbarous practice of battlefield medicine.


Take Five - Images from Three Hundred Words

"What more can I do here below?"

Late in the afternoon on September 17th, 1705, Anne ran a shaky finger across the deep lines that grew below her eyes. “If God had to give a woman wrinkles, he might at least have put them on the soles of her feet, don’t you think Francois?” she said to her accountant.

“Why, you don’t look a day over seventy,” he said to her with a wink.

Anne had been conducting more and more of her day to day business in her bedroom, often still lying beneath the covers. She was tired and had resigned herself to mortality.

“Francois, I don’t have much longer,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Nonsense, madam!” he quickly countered, “Why, you’re still strong as...” But Anne was in no mood to be argued with.

“Stop!” she ordered. “Anyone who can see can tell... Both the Jansenists and the Jesuits are arguing over my soul... and I intend to die at least in the grace of one of them, they can fight over my corpse later... Francois, I’m making a new will... My funeral will be simple; I’m only leaving ten francs for it. That ought to show them there’s a bit of poverty in my soul. But to your son, I want to leave a little too. He’s been such good company, putting up with my locutions.”

“He’ll make a fine lawyer,” Francois said smiling.

“No, Francois!” Anne said with concern. “His mind is full of ideas. I know you’ll be sending him to college soon. Don’t burden him with rigidity. Let him think! The joy of the mind is the measure of its strength!”

When the famed courtesan, Anne "Ninon" de l'Enclos, died at age eighty-three a month later, she bequeathed 2,000 francs to François-Marie Arouet, the nine year old “Voltaire”, for which to buy books.


"I thought I would sail about a little..."

The Acushnet and the Lima spotted each other on the squall-filled evening of July 22nd, 1841, but it wasn’t until after sunrise the next morning that the boats could be lowered.

On a speck of blue ocean nine hundred miles west of the Galapagos, precisely in the middle of nowhere, yet very near to the exact location of a horrific incident that occurred two decades earlier, two whaling men met for a gam. One was hardly a man, only sixteen, and the other was a bit older but hardly a whaler. Nonetheless, the two shared a pipe in the foc’sle of the Lima and eventually the talk turned to their experiences. Neither had much to retell, for both were on their first hunt, yet they swapped stories (and gripes, as sailors are wont to do) for a few hours until the call came that the boats were leaving.

“Well, William, it’s been pleasant, this visit. What’s your family name so that I might tell your parents I met you when I return?”

“Chase, sir,” William replied, “but you needn’t bother. My father still sails these waters, he’s almost never back east.”

“Chase? Not the son of Owen Chase?”

“That’s right,” the boy said in a distant tone. “I suppose you know?”

“... I’ve heard ...”

“Just a minute then, before you go,” he said and opened a small locker beneath his bunk and produced a ragged book. “Here, take this. I heard the mate say we’ll be hunting together for a few days, just return it when we part.”

Herman Melville returned to the Acushnet with an original copy of "The Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex" and absorbed half of the inspiration for what would become one of the greatest of American novels.


Uncovering a "Righteous Pagan"

Angelo swatted at the little wasp that kept hovering over his brush-hand. He winged it and it flew off in dizzying arcs until it crash-landed on a stack of parchments atop a bureau by the window.

It had been a long fruitless day for him and his eyes were tired. He rubbed them with his knuckles and rose and walked slowly towards the bureau. He looked down on the buzzing pest. It was on its side, one wing flapping manically; spinning. Angelo cracked the window and bent down to eye-level with the bug. He stared as it spun helplessly, for a minute feeling sorry for it.

“I know how you feel, little wasp… always going in circles …”

And then Angelo pressed his middle finger against his thumb and flicked the creature out the window.

He glanced down at the parchment from which he had launched the fly. It was obviously from a different subset than the group he had been working on. It peaked his interest.

“I suppose I have time for one more this evening,” he said to himself.

He dropped the parchment carelessly on his desk, sat down and dipped his brush into a little vial containing a mixture of sap and vitriol and beer. Sitting at the bottom was a yellowed oak gall. Noce di gallo.

As he lightly dragged his brush between the lines of an unfinished essay by Saint Augustine, some previously unseen letters suddenly rose to life –“DE RE PUBLICA.”

“It can’t be,” he said to himself and brushed a little more of the solution on and broke into a smile.

It was around January 5th, 1822, and the Monsignor in charge of the Secret Vatican Archives, Angelo Mai, had discovered through his relentless study of palimpsest restoration, the long-searched-for Republic by Cicero.


Broke, Alone, and Unpopular

The secretary came in and placed a newspaper upon the lap of the plum-colored man sitting at a small desk covered in wrinkled telegrams. He was hunched slightly forward and draping his shoulders was a mantle of red, black, and green. She turned to leave but was stopped by the man as he reached out and placed his hand on her arm.

The woman looked into his set of bloodshot eyes, barely visible below their drooping lids.


With some effort, he turned his whole body halfway across the chair and mumbled something softly to her. His voice trailed off several times before the secretary felt assured that he had finished his sentence. She didn’t understand a word he had said.

“I’ll check,” she said and walked towards the door. On her way out, she glanced at the two paintings that decorated the room. They faced each other on opposite walls. Both were of Napoleon Bonaparte, one recognizable as the Emperor of France. In the other though, the emperor was heavier, and he was a black man. He looked a lot like the pitiful man at the chair.

With one hand, the man took the newspaper from his lap and opened it. It was a May edition of the Chicago Defender. He slowly followed the right-hand column until he stopped at an obituary: “... died today; broke, alone, and unpopular.”

He crumpled in his chair.

On June 9th, 1940, in a small and dirty rental in West Kensington, London, Marcus Garvey – founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, owner of the Black Star shipping line, and deported “President of Africa” - suffered his second stroke, brought on by the shock of insults accompanying his premature obituaries. By the next morning, the papers would be able to accurately report his passing.


The Eternal Silence of Infinite Spaces

He was a man of pure reason. And when his father died and left him a fortune, he reasoned that a more comfortable life would better suit his pursuits. He took an extravagant home and filled it with servants. He bought a luxurious carriage pulled by a team of four expensive stallions. He took joy in himself and his promising life.

Inevitably, he surrounded himself with intellectuals who fed his pride, who listened to his theories. Libertines. Free in thought and free in morals. With them he chased the “Saphos” of Paris. Together they reveled in the freedoms permitted by a life of skepticism and doubt. He took to reading Montaigne and carried in his coat a copy of his Essays.

On a violently stormy evening in 1654, he was traveling by carriage through Neuilly-sur-Seine. As the horses started across the narrow bridge, a terrific bolt of lightning struck nearby and the team spooked and crashed into each other in fright. As if guided by an unseen master, they uniformly took to the right and the carriage tipped on two wheels. Just as the horses leaped over the low barrier and plunged towards the water, the carriage slammed down onto its side and the reins broke. The car lay precariously teetering halfway over the edge of the bridge. He looked down into the swirling river and fainted, asleep to the world for nearly six hours.

When the scientist, mathematician, inventor – the man of pure reason – died on August 19th, 1662, in his coat was found not a copy of Montaigne’s Essays, but instead a little parchment describing the vision that Blaise Pascal had during his blackout. The vision that led him to abandon his belief in reason and, like Paul sixteen centuries before, to instead wager his soul on faith.

... and rest under the shade of the trees.

Trickles of white light fell from the rising moon and dripped softly through the canopy of pines, illuminating the outlines of thirty mounted men that rode dangerously close to enemy lines. They were traveling in close-quarter and the horse’s hooves landed softly on the bed of needles that blanketed the forest floor. An occasional snap of a twig punctuated the silence. As they reached the Mountain Road, the group dug their heels in and the horses broke into a gallop. The sound of their charge reverberated like an advancing brigade.

“Halt! Who goes there?! Surrender yourselves!” came a cry.

But the whooshing wind across their ears kept the riders from hearing the warning. One rifle-shot crackled through the night, and then another.

“Pour it into them, boys!” a major yelled and a blind volley from the nervous regiment exploded upon the cavalrymen. Most of the balls whizzed harmlessly through the trees but there were enough on mark that a dozen horses fell and their riders skidded to their ends.

In the middle of the frenzy, Thomas whirled on his copper-red steed and made flight for the trees. He hurtled through the low-lying limbs and raised his arms to shield his face. A bullet ripped into his right hand and then two more through his left arm, one splitting the artery just below his shoulder joint. The intense pain blurred his vision and his head thundered as it smashed against the branch of a young oak. Still in his saddle, he crumpled forward and waited for the firing to cease.

Early in the morning on May 3rd, 1863, his left arm was amputated and subsequently buried. A week later, its owner, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, followed it into eternity, killed by his own men while returning from a reconnaissance mission.


The Modernizer

It was bedlam.

Alcohol arrived in endless quantities. The sound of hurdy-gurdies reverberated off the high ceilings. Jesters and clowns filled the hall, singing obscene songs. Goats and stags ran freely among the guests, knocking over servants and stealing food from the tables. Seventy-two dwarves burst forth from enormous meat pies that were strategically placed to throw the biggest mess upon the guests. They jumped from the dishes and rolled around the crowded floors in elaborate boat-costumes, punching and kicking each other as they reenacted the naval victories that brought about the official peace.

At the sound of trumpets the two main doors of the Winter Palace slammed open and the festivities paused. Gasps were quickly followed by thunderous laughter as a team of 24 harnessed bears strolled in, each mounted by a dwarf in a feathered cap. At the end of the train, tied to a wooden cart was a giant, nearly seven feet tall. A precursor to Gulliver captured by the Lilliputians. When he broke free from his restraints, the State Chancellor raised his flagon to toast him.

“All here in this Most Drunken Assembly of Fools and Jesters, join me in praying that Bacchus and Venus ensure a long and wine-filled life to our Tsar, and may he now forever be known as ‘the Great’ and ‘the Emperor of all the Russias!’”

The revelry stretched immoderately into the late hours of October 22nd, 1721, until Tsar Peter I, the man who violently dragged Russia into the modern world, decided to exhibit his knowledge of western dentistry by removing a juggler’s teeth with a set of pliers he kept in his pocket. As usual, only at the whisper of “Come home, little father,” by his beloved Katierinoushka, Empress Catherine, did he meekly consent to call it a night.


The End of the Affair

December 7, 1942 was frigid and the forecasters predicted temperatures below freezing for the foreseeable future. Snow flurries whipped by the wind iced the eastern sides of New York’s imposing skyscrapers. The cascading façade of the Hotel New Yorker was like a waterfall frozen in time. Thirty-three floors up however, the window to room 3327 was wide open and icicles hung from the eaves.

Inside, shivering in slippers and a bathrobe, a gray-haired old man sat eating a bowl of carrots. No lights were lit in the suite; his eyes had become too sensitive to it. All around him though could be made out the shapes and shadows of undecipherable contraptions; globes and boxes, pierced by wires and rods. Boxes were scattered and stacked in precarious little towers, spilling over with papers and books.

At the sound of the flapping of wings, he rose from his chair and drew open the bottom of the ice-stiffened curtains. A white pigeon poked its way inside.

“My love,” the old man said, “It’s so cold... where have you been?”

A cold sweat formed on his brow when he understood the message he heard in his mind.

“No! Please...” he began to argue, but the pigeon opened its wings and craned its neck forward towards him. Two powerful beams of white light blazed out from the bird’s tiny black eyes and dazzled him to the point that he had to turn away.

“Is that it?!” he yelled.

The light disappeared and he turned back to see the pigeon open its charcoal-tipped wings and fly back out the window.

He never saw her alive again. This was how he knew his work was over.

A month later, the inventor of Alternating Current, Nikola Tesla, died, penniless and alone, the work on his Death Ray uncompleted.


The Reincarnations of John J. Harvey

On February 11th, 1930, a life was lost.

Riverpilot John J. Harvey had just maneuvered alongside the German liner Muencheon in the lower Hudson when a series of explosions rocked the waterfront. Several of the firemen aboard were knocked into the river by the percussionary force. John was knocked into the river by the force of a flying steel deck-plate. He was dead before he got wet.

A year later, John J. Harvey was fittingly drafted back into service along the Battery Park seawalls – as the most powerful fireboat ever built and the first New York City fireboat to be named after a fallen firefighter.

For six decades the John J. Harvey battled the most infamous fires of maritime New York. She served her city with distinction and became a fixture of Manhattan’s West Side. But as the modern era of ships and seaways gradually sailed in, the city found fewer and fewer reasons to justify the Harvey’s expense. Her five powerful motors and centrifugal pumps were quieted and she was finally put away to rust in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, left for dead and almost forgotten. Almost.

Exactly sixty-nine years after the flesh and blood John J. Harvey died, his namesake was brought back to life once again by a group of locals who by some unseen guiding force, couldn’t bear to say goodbye just yet. By summertime, she was back in her old waters, peacefully cruising along and being lovingly cared for and restored. The spirit of John J. Harvey wasn’t quite ready for retirement yet though.

When the towers of the World Trade Center fell in 2001, every water main was destroyed. The John J. Harvey spent 80 straight hours pumping 20,000 gallons a minute onto the flames before finally being relieved of duty one last time.


Looking for Substance in the Style

Three periodeut huddled together at the base of a stacked-stone pillar, surrounded by cripples and old women. Leaning against it was a wooden ladder that stretched nearly 50 feet to its top. The youngest of the three asked about the tactics he was to use, again.

“So ... if he obeys?”

“If he obeys to come down, then he may stay.”

“And if he won’t come down ...”

“If he doesn’t come down then he must come down.”

A confused look crossed the face of the young priest and he hesitated as his foot stopped on the first rung of the ladder. Angry glares from his instructors propelled him upward.

Reaching the top of the column, he found himself staring into the boney face of a man standing bent in half, his head nearly touching his ankles. His eyes were closed.

“Christian! You have shown fierce pride in your humiliations and spiritual greed in your self-denial. The Bishop hereby orders you to retire from this charade,” the priest said with forced authority.

The man opened his dark eyes and simply said, “Yes, Abouna.” He slowly raised himself and turned to reach his leg over the side of the column.

The priest’s instructions raced through his mind and he quickly glanced down at his companions.

“Wait!” he yelled, “... no ... you may stay ...”

For thirty-six years more, he didn’t leave his pillar; praying, preaching, and performing severe acts of penance. Pilgrims from the farthest reaches of the nation visited him. Emperors consulted him for advice.

On the evening of August 30th, 459, seventy-year-old Simeon the Stylite bowed deeply in prayer as was his usual custom. At the end of three days without anyone having seen him move a muscle, a concerned devotee climbed the ladder and found him deceased.


Monkey Meets Turtle

He was an ugly boy. In feature and in temperament. He did whatever he wanted. “Monkey” they called him.

His poor mother and father, exasperated at his lack of discipline, sent him off to a school run by monks. It didn’t take long before they too, ran out of patience and expelled him.

“These bald fools have nothing to teach me,” he said.

Back home, he was apprenticed to one after another of the local artisans. Thirty-seven times he was dismissed before he decided to leave for good.

“I’m meant for more glorious deeds,” he thought.

He became a roadside bandit and filled his pockets with the coins of travelers. But he soon saw the limits to his illicit gains.

“There’s more gold and silver to be found within the law than outside of it,” he reasoned.

He became the servant of a powerful lord, proved his courage and brilliance, and ascended to leadership when the old man died. He controlled a third of the country but meaned to have it all.

“I’m ready for a long siege,” he said to his followers.

Within nine years, all resistance had ceased and the nation was his. Not satisfied, he turned his attention towards his neighbors.

“It’s time for my last triumph,” he said, “I will leave a great name behind me.”

For six years, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ugly peasant boy who became the great unifier of Japan, sent armadas of warships westward with the goal of conquering China.

When he died on September 18th, 1598, the “Monkey” had finally failed. All of his deployments ended at the bottom of the sea thanks to another man also famous for an animal moniker who never failed, Yi Sun-sin, the great Korean naval commander and inventor of the iron-clad ship he called the “Turtle.”


Affectations Can Be Dangerous

The evening was extraordinarily fresh and the small party beamed with smiles as they floated out into the courtyard. A cool breeze blew from the Riviera and ran a little chill across the necks of the bare-shouldered ladies that only invigorated their élan.

Benoît tenderly grabbed the scarf of the woman that was swirling around him and whispered into her ear. She brushed his hand away fluidly and kept her eyes locked upon him as she reeled beneath his arm.

“Buggatti!” she sang, “Be more caring with your rough paws! This was a gift from Chatov!” And then in a softer tone, “But, yes ... Get the car!”

Benoît blew a kiss into the air and jogged around the corner while the friends continued their lively display. A minute later the loud rumble of the Amilcar drowned out the gaieties. Benoît pulled in front of the group and revved the engine as he donned his driving-goggles.

Mary glided over to her friend. She was flinging the crimson scarf into the air.

“Isadora,” she said over the din of the unmuffled motor, “are you leaving us already? Where are you going?”

Isadora stopped her dancing, twisted the enormous scarf twice around her neck and bounded to the waiting car.

“Goodbye, my friends! I am off to love!” she exclaimed.

As Mary watched the little topless car speed off down the cobble-stoned streets of Nice on September 24th, 1927, she saw a red streamer flap in the breeze for a split-second and then whip back under the car. The car skidded to a stop a few seconds later.

Isadora Duncan, scandalous bohemian, mother of modern dance, lay conspicuously crooked against the door of the car, her neck snapped completely in half by the force of the scarf being sucked into the spoked-wheels.


Chief Falling Cloud

Just another drunken gambler. He’d spent the night in jail fifty times before. No police came tonight, though. Tonight, the card game ended as it usually did, with an argument and a scuffle. But it didn’t last long and he and Henry even sat and continued drinking together long after his brothers left.

Just another drunken fighter. He’d been halfway around the world and seen more than his share of carnage. He didn’t drink to forget it, though. He drank to remember it. He’d promised to remember it long after everyone else had forgotten it.

Just another drunken drifter. He’d bought a little hut for $50 from money he’d made picking cotton but he rarely slept there. He’d sleep where the night left him; on a barstool, under a table, or with his brothers. He’d left the bar only when the bartender begged him to find somewhere else to sleep. He leaned against the door as it was bolted behind him and he breathed in the freezing dusty air. With nowhere else to go, he staggered down the road, mumbling to himself, until he came to the canal that led toward his home.

Just another drunken marine. Sometime on the early morning of January 24th, 1955, he lost his balance and tripped down the berm that paralleled the ditch. He fell face-first into two inches of stagnant water and it was there he went to sleep, his dog-tags covered in vomit and blood.

When his lifeless body was pulled from the sole irrigation ditch on the Pima reservation in Bapchule, Arizona, he wasn’t just another drunken Indian. He was Ira Hayes, reluctant hero and late-arriving victim of Iwo Jima. He ironically died in the waters that the nation he fought for had deprived of his once-proud people for so long.


Ales Well That Ends Well

The crowd cheered with delight as King Henry VIII entered to the deafening blast of a canon.

There was no ball in the tube, it was only for effect. A great plume of smoke was ejected in a spectacular shower of sparks that reached high into the sky. Flaming bits of wadding floated down on the dazzled spectators. Some of the thicker pieces, however, landed on the rooftops and sat there smoldering. The play continued for another fifteen minutes before the first shouts of “Fire!” sounded in the theatre.

It was a tragedy waiting to happen. The entire building was constructed of aged timber. There were only two stairways leading up from the pit to the three tiers of thatch-roofed galleries.

The theatre was jammed to capacity with over 1,500 people.

There was only one exit.

At first, only those sitting in the balconies scrambled to their feet, making their way through the maze of benches. Those below moved with purpose but still maintained a semblance of order. As the fire leaped from section to section though, the smoke began to billow, and panic set in. Shouts and screams filled the air.

There was a bottleneck at the gate as the crush of people began to run for their lives.

Somehow, every single soul escaped from the inferno. The last to stumble out was a drunken stagehand. He fell to the ground with a bottle of ale in his hand, his pants on fire. A nearby Samaritan pried the bottle loose and extinguished the flames with the contents.

The structure burned to the ground in two hours.

On June 12th, 1997, when William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was reconstructed for the third time, it would be the first London building allowed to have a thatch-roof in nearly three-hundred and fifty years.



“You can do this,” Ricardo said.

Carlo looked up to his big brother. He trusted him. He was so smart and so gifted.

He peeked back towards the house and saw his parents standing at the window. His mother’s arms were folded and she turned away quickly when she noticed him looking at her. His father stood like a statue with his hands behind his back.

“Okay, Rico...” the seven-year-old said in his highest high-pitched trembling voice.

The two boys passed a handful of grazing ponies and stopped at a dead olive tree to which was tied a snorting grey mare. On her right cheek was a unique mark. The boys’ father insisted that it looked like a bass clef and it made her his favorite animal in the stable. She was a good omen for the future. He specifically picked her for the job that was about to be done.

Her front legs were secured by an iron chain that was wrapped around the stump. For two days, she had been left this way and was in an obviously foul temper. As the boys came alongside, she tried unsuccessfully to pull herself free and threw her head back to sound a loud whinny that mimicked perfectly a musical scale.

“Easy, Cantante...” Ricardo calmly said, “You’ll be freed soon if you do your duty.”

Ricardo put his hand on Cantante’s rear and stretched his other arm out behind her.

“Right here,” he said to Carlo.

The younger brother nervously stepped into place and, right on cue, Cantante kicked. A muffled thud was followed by an ear-splitting scream.

This intentional mutilation and subsequent castration ordered by the father of Carlo Broschi around July 15th of 1712, would make Carlo the most famous singer in the history of the world - Farinelli.


Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Caroline was staying at her family’s country home at Brocket Hall for the quiet distraction it offered. She had taken to bed with a fever on the day she received the letter confirming his death. The news was horrible enough for her without the admonition that was attached to it, “'Caroline, behave properly, I know it will shock you...”

“Behave properly?!” she screamed before fainting.

Her already delicate condition grew more precarious with each passing day. Rumors flew through the privileged circles in London about his demise. He was being celebrated as a hero of Greece. A credit to the crown. But his name was also being whispered less admirably in private among those who knew. A pervert. A disgrace. It hurt her to think that any of it was her fault. If only he hadn’t broken off all contact with her.

It was his fault, she decided.

“No... blame lies with him... he’d still be breathing if he’d just not spurned me... damn him! I cut myself for you, damn you!”

Caroline’s husband watched stoicly from the doorway.

By July 1st, 1824, she was still home-bound with fits and fevers but had resigned herself to love’s loss. That day, confirmation came that his body had arrived in London.

Over the next two weeks she gradually improved; enough so that she decided to take the advice of her doctors and get some fresh air. A ride. The thought of it brightened her spirits.

“A fresh start... and I’ll put him out of my mind forever,” she said.

As the carriage wound its way through the garden city of Welwyn, it halted for the passage of a long cortege. It was Lord Byron’s funeral procession.

This time, Lady Caroline Lamb’s nervous breakdown would haunt her for the rest of her life.


A Matter of Ownership

Anthony had no second thoughts about his petition before the court. It was nothing personal. This was just how life worked.

His mind wandered back over his own life.

He remembered his days as a boy in the Ndongo village in Angola, when the Imbangala warriors swept in, slaughtering his parents right in front of him.

He remembered being traded with his brothers to a Portugese merchant for a pair of matchlock muskets. This was the first white he’d ever seen. He thought he was seeing a ghost.

He remembered the day he was baptized by the Jesuits in Luanda. He liked them. They taught him about heaven and how to read and write. They impressed upon him the need to accept his lot in life. They renamed him Antonio.

He remembered being chained and herded onto a ship. He heard he was going to a place called Mexico.

He remembered listening inside the hot dark hold to the sounds of canons blaring.

He remembered seeing the name on the stern of the ship that took him aboard with twenty other of his tribesmen – the White Lion.

He remembered that last day of August in 1619 when the White Lion landed in the New World and his services were indentured for seven years to an Englishman for a dozen barrels of salted pork. He remembered hearing the name “Virginia” for the first time. Four days later he saw his future wife, Mary, for the first time as she was led off another ship.

The judge entered the courtroom and read from a scrolled paper.

“The court finds that John Casor, Negro, is indeed found to be the property for life of the petitioner, Anthony Johnson, Free Negro.”

The first African indentured-servant brought to America now became the first African-American slaveholder.


Los Hermanos de Sangre

He stumbled and fell for the last time.

He lay face down in the sterile dirt, crying spasmodically before a few hundred onlookers. A cloud of dust engulfed him and stuck to the blood and pus oozing from the stripes across his back. Little bits of loose flesh boiled out from his wounds attracting a swarm of hungry flies.

He was lifted by the arms and roughly turned over where hooded men fastened him to a crudely constructed cross. With the help of two ropes, the cross was raised up until it slipped securely into a little hole that was cut into a rock. Cries came from some of the women who were there to watch.

“I thirst,” he whispered, barely audible to the men below.

He was dehydrated and expending a tremendous amount of energy just to keep conscious beneath the blazing afternoon sun. A rag was dipped in a bowl of sour wine and raised to his lips. The smell woke his senses and the pangs of indignity and humiliation came rushing over him. He threw his head back and cried to heaven.

From about thirty paces away, a young man was watching; an obvious outsider to the event that was taking place. There were many in the crowd who didn’t want him there; who would have willingly taken his life had they not been stayed. Every instinct within him told him to run, to hide, but the urge to be a witness was too great.

The young man slowly descended to his knees.

From his knees, he adjusted the view of his camera.

Only after bribing the mayor on March 30th, 1888, did the young man, Charles Lummis, became the first to photograph the severe Holy Week rituals of Los Hermanos Penitentes of San Mateo, New Mexico.


Dearest Abigail

“Bringing your business to the tavern again, eh?”

John raised his eyes to find the bartender taking a chair at his table. He brought two glasses with him and set one atop the paper upon which John had been writing.

“We do seem to have made your genteel place our camp, haven’t we, Smith? By this day next year, I predict by God Almighty they’ll be bells and bonfires right in this very hall. But no, my friend, not tonight,” John sighed, “what I’m composing is just as important, though.”

The barkeep smiled knowingly, “Very few men have had the fortune to still be in love after so many years ... at least still with the one they’ve married!” He raised his glass, “To the lovely mademoiselle!”

John leaned back in his chair and took a swallow, “and to this fine Madeira you never seem to run short of.”

“Aye!” the bartender grunted and finished the last of his drink. “Well, I’ll not disturb your letter any longer ... you make sure and let me know of any new business so you won’t have to find me eavesdropping or reading over your shoulder!” He spoke from the side of his mouth and put his fingers to his lips, “I can keep it to myself!”

He then rose and moved on as quickly as he had arrived. John laughed as he watched him make his rounds about the rooms of Philadelphia’s City Tavern; he knew he was a Tory but secrets were useless anyway. Tomorrow it would be made public.

It was July 3rd, 1776, and John Adams continued the letter to his wife. He would only be off by a few days:

“...The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America ...”


And the Protector of Mexico

Willard knocked at the door of a boarding house at 624 Commercial Street and readied his clipboard. In his mind, he went over his prepared opening lines, “Good evening sir, in an effort to better serve and represent the people of the Republic of the United States of America and all of its settled territories ...”

He could hear the sound of dogs barking and a man yelling: “Bummer! Lazarus!” A moment later, the door cracked open and two snouts poked out and sniffed at Willard’s knees.

Willard wasn’t prepared to be greeted by canines and suddenly forgot his much-rehearsed speech when a bearded man in a feathered hat stepped onto the porch. Hanging from his hip was an ornate sword.

“Yes? I don’t have all day, young man, what is it?”

“Uh... census.”

“Ah! Get on with it then, I have affairs to attend to.”

Willard shrugged his shoulders and dove straight into his questions. He just wanted to go home.


“Norton, Joshua Abraham. The first.”

“Married? Children?”

“Never, sir. I have no heirs.”

Willard hesitated for a second before checking NO on his form. He then sped through the remaining questions and was just about to take leave when he realized he had missed the “Occupation” box on his questionnaire.

“And lastly, what do you do for a living?” he asked.

Joshua Norton cleared his throat and raised his chin as he replied.

“Pardon?” Willard said.

“... and the Protector of Mexico.”

Willard stared at the ground, his eyes glazed over.

“Okay, sir... thank you for, uh... “ he mumbled and turned and walked away mid-sentence.

On August 1st, 1870, the census-taker listed the occupation of Joshua Abraham Norton, the eccentric, beloved, folk-hero of San Francisco, as “Emperor;” of these United States; and the Protector of Mexico.



“It’s my turn tonight,” Abigail whispered, “it’s my turn.”

Four young girls and a servant sat huddled together around a warm stove in the kitchen of Reverend Parris. Dinner was over and a stack of pans and dishes sat on the cupboard waiting to be washed. A hungry dog scratched at the door, begging for his scraps.

“We have to hurry,” Betty said and rushed to the window. “Father’s walks haven’t been as long in this weather.”

The servant retrieved a small mirror from a drawer and placed it on a shelf by two dripping candles. She then produced an egg from her apron. Carefully, she cracked it and let the white seep slowly into a water-filled glass. The glass was placed before the mirror.

“What do you want to know tonight, Miss Abigail? The profession of your future husband, maybe,” the servant suggested.

“No,” Abigail replied, “I want to know my own future.”

The little circle of ladies stared intently into the mirror at a spot directly behind the glass. The atmosphere became tense as the cold wind howled through the cracks in the log walls and the candles flickered, almost going out. They all suddenly turned their heads to the door. The dog had become frantic in his efforts to get in and caused the bolt-latch to rattle violently.

Shivering, Abigail turned her attention back to the mirror. The eleven-year-old girl grew pale at what she saw.

“It’s a coffin!” she screamed. “I see my own death!”

Abigail collapsed to the floor, convulsing in seizures.

On February 29th, 1692, an arrest warrant was issued for Tituba, the Arawak slave of Samuel Parris. Her confession to dealings with the devil began a mass hysteria in Salem Village that resulted in the imprisonment of 150 and the execution of twenty.


A Procrustean Bed

The sunrise of January 30th, 1914, brought no warmth to the little town of Jujinetz. The temperatures had hovered around freezing for a week and smoke billowed continuously from the chimneys of the cottages at the edge of the Carpathian Mountains as everyone struggled to keep warm. All of the chimneys that is, except for one.

Inside that home, there was no fire. The front door was open to the elements and a freezing wind blew in, depositing a hard slippery frost across the first several feet of the foyer. Staring at an icicle-draped hearth sat Leon, dressed only in his long underwear.

His pupils were dilated. Deep ridges punctuated his orbitals, starting at both corners of his eyes and running almost straight down his cheeks to the edges of his whiskered mouth. The tracks allowed perfectly for the rivers of tears he had shed to be channeled effortlessly from his face to the floor.

The cartilage in his stiff joints crackled as Leon rose to his feet and walked absentmindedly out the front door. The far-off focus of his eyes never changed as he crossed the pasture, passed a bull that was mounting a cow, and waded into a livestock pond until it reached his sternum. His body shook involuntarily but he didn’t resist the painful sting of the frigid water. He stayed there for several hours before returning to his house.

Leon didn’t die from the pneumonia but he did eventually die from the tuberculosis that resulted.

When young Wilhelm heard of his father’s death, his transformation was at hand.

The discovery of his mother’s affair had confused him. Her suicide devastated him. His father’s ensuing depression had devoured him.

Sadly, Wilhelm Reich would take all of the ugliness he knew and try to make sense of it.