Petty Officer Kowalski stood atop one of the dry-docks at Philadelphia’s sprawling shipyard and marveled at the massive display of organized chaos. Fire and sparks were erupting from around the countless pockets of thousands of laborers and sailors hard at work putting America’s machinery into the war effort.

It was September 18th, 1918, and there was promise in the air. Hundreds of thousands of fresh American doughboys had been pushing the German army into retreat for over a month. The war would likely be over before the end of the year. Kowalski was proud to be wearing the uniform.

As he descended the ladder for afternoon muster, a thick puff of welders smoke drifted through his nostrils. He buried his face into the crook of his arm and coughed. It hurt his chest.

When he cleared the smoke, he pulled his face back away and noticed a few red stains on his crisp, white sleeve.

“What the ...”

Throughout the afternoon, Kowalski’s cough grew worse. He began to feel weak and lightheaded. Finally, as soon as liberty was granted, he checked himself into the base hospital.

By the next morning, 600 more sailors lay in agony at the hospital with searing fevers. Coughing blood. Suffocating.

By the end of that same day, all across the city of Brotherly Love, 1,700 people were dead.

A week later, all of the schools, churches, theaters and bars were shut. The streets were empty except for the lonely calls of the men in the motorized carts, “Bring out your dead ...”

When the plague finally killed itself off three weeks later, the city’s death toll was 12,191. Children again began returning to the streets, singing a new song:

I had a little bird,
his name was Enza.
I opened a window,
and in-flew-Enza.


A Prelude to a Life of Crime

It was June 5th, 1455, and a fine warm night in Paris. On a stone bench outside of the Church of Saint Benoit, Francois sat with Isabeau and Father Gilles laughing and enjoying a late dinner of bread and wine. Three empty bottles lay at their feet.

Father Gilles had spent the past quarter of an hour fumbling through an alcohol-tinged argument in favor of Francois becoming a canon lawyer and Isabeau giggled delightedly as Francois made gargoyle faces behind the priest’s back.

“… and besides,” Father Gilles concluded, “you are ever-so-smarter than me …”

His voice trailed off in a melancholic note. Francois cut his gargoyle act but Isabeau couldn’t stop laughing. Even with her hand over her mouth she continued, a few snorts escaping through her nose.

“Shh!” Francois hissed at her.

“I’m sorry!” she said loudly, “I can’t help it!”

“No! Shush! Someone’s coming …”

Two shadows appeared stumbling down the dark street, cursing. Francois recognized the drunken voices.

“Quo vadis, Father Sermaise?” he asked in a friendly voice, “Come sit here and rest with us.” He made a move to slide over on the bench.

Francois had his feuds with the priest but always let them rest. Father Sermaise was not in the forgiving mood though. He drew a sword from beneath his cloak.

“You’d better run, you rat!” he shrieked, “I’m going to run you through!”

Francois sat stunned as the priest charged and took a wild swing that sliced his lip.

A minute later, Father Sermaise lay unconscious, bleeding from the groin and head.

Francois Villon was on the run.

Although eventually pardoned, this was only the beginning of his troubles. Between escapades amongst vagabonds and criminals, he found the time to write a few memorable poems before walking off into history in 1463.


E Mare Libertas

Prince Roy and his beautiful wife surveyed their island fortress. It wasn’t much to look at but it was the heart of their Principality. For the time being, it was still called Roughs Tower, the second in the line of sea forts to fall to the Prince. He had taken Fort Knock John without a single fatality two years earlier in his rise to power, but Roughs Tower was special. Without it, the Prince may never have realized his dream of ascending to the throne. He would defend it in honor and to his death if need be.

The pair climbed to the top of the western wall and looked out over the North Sea. The enemy ships were within range. They were about to take on the powerful might of the British Navy.

A pair of canon blasts shook the floor beneath their feet.

“We can’t hold them off!” Joan cried.

“We have to, my love! Stand by me, the nation depends upon it! This is our test!” Roy implored, “Have faith!”

The shots flew across the bow of the RMA Golden Eye and two enormous white plumes spat up from the chilly water. The men aboard the Golden Eye scrambled below decks and the vessel suddenly turned hard to starboard and made way for the shelter of English waters.

Excited shouts came from the artillerymen, “They’re fleeing!”

“You see, my love?” Roy said to his princess, “We are here to stay!”

Over the next several decades, Prince Roy and Princess Joan would face down the standard array of intrigues that determined royal couples throughout history have always faced – wars, skirmishes, disasters, treason, kidnappings, diplomatic stand-offs, and competing bloodlines. But the Constitution of the Principality of Sealand that was established on September 25th, 1975 still stands to this day.

Our Lady of the Angels

“I’ve really got to go, now,” the ten year old boy said anxiously.

Ms. Tristano sighed, “Okay, take the pass and come straight back.”

The boy shuffled past the staring eyes of his classmates and out of the classroom, down two flights of stairs towards the basement where the boy’s lavatory was located. He dragged his hand along the heavily oiled wooden banister, making a high-pitched squeaking sound as he descended. Just outside of the bathroom door he stopped and looked around.

The muffled sounds of singing came from behind a door to one of the classrooms. He was alone in the hallway. No one knew he was there.

He didn’t go into the bathroom.

Instead he walked beneath the stairwell of the south wing and peeked into the window of the side door to the chapel. No one was there either. He went in.

Behind the altar and to the right of the sacristy was a small door that opened into the boiler room and the fifth-grader slid inside. It was very cold on this December 1st of 1958 and the heat from the boilers felt good on his flesh. He paced around for a minute rubbing his hands.

When he was sufficiently warmed, the boy walked down a few steps on the north side of the room and opened the heavy oak door that led into another stairwell. The girl’s lavatory was there. He wanted to take a look but another urge, stronger, overcame him. Right by the door to the bathroom was a large cardboard trash bin, full of paper.

It was irresistible.

He was alone...

By the time that Ms. Tristano pulled the alarm, Our Lady of the Angels was filled with super-heated gas and smoke. Ninety-two children and three nuns would perish in the inferno.


Three Hundred Words ...

... will be on vacation for a few weeks.


A Queens Tale

Nine-year-old Josephine Metzger took her time walking home from school. She was carrying a note from her teacher and wasn’t looking forward to presenting it to her mother.

It was a bright and sunny May 5th, 1911 in Corona, Queens, New York.

She dragged her feet as she neared her home. For a few minutes, she leaned against a street sign, just watching the customers at the hardware store. Naturally, they were mostly men, but there were a few women also. Just plain house-wives, Italian most of them. Nothing remarkable about them. But Josephine took note of their pale faces, lined as they were with wrinkles and scars brought on by the natural processes of age and motherhood.

“They really could be so much more beautiful,” she thought.

She was about to go and talk to one of them when she noticed her mother in the kitchen window above her father’s store. She was waving for her to come up. Josephine blushed and tried to hide the paper behind her back but was sure that her mother had already noticed it. She dashed across the street.

“Hello Papa!” she yelled to her father as she hustled through the store and up the rickety stairs.

“What have I told you about staying out of the sun?” her mother scolded as she entered, “and what have you got there?”

Josephine glumly gave her the note.

Her mother read it silently, shaking her head.

“Esty, you can’t bring your uncle’s creams to school. And when did your teacher start calling you by your nick-name? She spelled it wrong, too. It’s pretty that way.”

Josephine, “Esty”, became Estée. When she married, Metzger became Lauter.

And when she posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was Estée Lauder, depression-era cosmetics dealer turned worldwide icon.


Dapiek Absaroka

On January 22nd, 1899, a young nurse knocked on the door to the manager’s office at the Veterans Home and stepped inside. She had a clipboard in her hand and set it down on the desk.

“Good morning, sir. Just one signature this morning. A Garrison.”

General Barret was immersed in a stack of paperwork and didn’t look up at the nurse. He just held out his hand.

“Can you believe they’re going to change the name of this town to Sawtelle? “ he mumbled.

The nurse took the clipboard off the desk in front of him and placed it in his hand. He absent-mindedly put his signature next to the name without reading it.

“Thank you, sir. He’d only been here a month. And, no sir, I don’t care for that name at all. I think Barrett is much nicer,” she said and turned to leave.

Before she closed the door behind her, General Barrett looked up.

“What did you say his name was?”

The nurse stuck her head back inside the office and looked back down at the clipboard.

“Garrison. John Garrison. Second Colorado Cavalry. Went in his sleep yesterday evening. Anything else, sir?”

General Barrett stared at the door for a minute without moving.

“Sir?” the nurse asked.

“No ... nothing else. See he gets a good burial,” he said and turned on his chair to look out the window.

“Well, you finally get some rest, Mr. Johnson ...” he whispered.

Sailor, scout, soldier, gold-miner, hunter, trapper, moonshiner, constable, and widower. Mountain man. The Indians called him “Dapiek Absaroka” – Crow Killer. Others, “Liver Eater.”

When the body of Jeremiah Johnson was moved from Sawtelle National Cemetary 75 years later and reburied in Cody, Wyoming, before a crowd of two thousand, Robert Redford was one of the pall-bearers.


Citizen Kane in the White City

The great Columbian Exposition opened on May 1st, 1893. The sights, sounds, and smells were phantasmagoric. The world had never seen anything like it.

The rich and powerful rubbed elbows with commoners as they stood in line to sample new foods like Cracker Jacks, Quaker Oats, and Aunt Jemima’s pancakes.

John Phillip Sousa and Scott Joplin drew enormous crowds as their ragtime melodies echoed out onto Lake Michigan where replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were moored alongside a Viking longship.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan stood across from the Moorish Palace coaxing the Swami Vivekananda into trying a bowl of shredded wheat.

Annie Oakley and Susan B. Anthony shared a pack of Juicy Fruit gum beneath the still-unfinished Ferris Wheel.

“Ain’t no way I’m gittin’ up in that thing,” Annie kept repeating.

J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie were rumored to have been seen entering Little Egypt’s for a private showing of her exotic belly-dance called the “hootchy-kootchy.”

But amidst the ebullience, Samuel impatiently checked his watch. He could have cared less for all the enticements and diversions of the fair. He was here for only one thing.

He glanced up at the setting sun. It’s rays bounced brilliantly between the sharp white stucco buildings giving them a natural glow that betrayed the onset of the coming evening darkness.

“Not long now,” he said to himself.

As the sun dipped behind the Horticulture building, Samuel heard the generators roar into gear. He smiled broadly as the buzz of alternating current flowed through hundreds of thousands of incandescent bulbs.

It was an inspirational foreshadowing of what Samuel Insull, one of the models for Welles’ Citizen Kane, would soon bring first to Chicago and then to the rest of the nation – affordable electricity in the home of every family.


The Burnt Country

Eliza sat scrunched up against her little sister and a few soldiers in the back of a spring wagon, it’s four tired mules slowly pulling away down the muddy trail. The pair was shielded from the sporadic rain showers by a dirty blanket that was laid over a mesh of sticks. They were going to southwest Georgia, where their older sister was living with her two small children.

Eliza’s hometown had been bypassed so, strong-hearted as she was, she wasn’t quite prepared for what rose before her. The road was lined on both sides with the carcasses of horses, cows, pigs, and other unrecognizable boney animal forms. The sight was gruesome but the stench was horrendous and she found herself gagging. Her sister handed her a little bottle of perfume and she doused her hanky and held it over her face. It helped some.

“Them’s Sherman’s Sentinels,” the driver said, nodding ahead.

Eliza removed the cloth and looked out to see scattered stacks of bricks fingering up from the scorched earth. The chimneys stretched from horizon to horizon, marking the piles of ash and rubble where children once played.

“They’s all black and charred … jes’ like the Yankee hearts that torched ‘em,” the driver said through gritted teeth.

As the wagon bumped it’s way through the devastation, Eliza noticed the driver was slowing, and she jerked back and forth as the mules stutter-stepped.

“Galvanized Yankee!” yelled the Lieutenant beside Eliza, and the wagon stopped.


“A Yank that’s done changed sides. He looks ‘bout haff-dead. We betta’ take him in ‘fo the country folk “lose” him in the grape vines. He’al find hisself runnin’ in the air on nothin’.”

That evening, southerner Eliza Andrews found herself spending Christmas Eve of 1864 sharing her food with a Union soldier.


The Third Dimension

“Gentlemen, I’m glad you’ve decided to spend your day here, but what a waste of time this is! She has four skins to protect her and she’s broken down into countless secure and watertight compartments. It doesn’t matter how big the hole is, she was made to get home! Despite the enthusiastic unorthodoxy of our shiny general, the age of the battleship is still here and now. Quote me: That ship is unsinkable.”

Aboard the USS Henderson, off the Virginia coast, hundreds of newsmen and government officials from around the world listened as naval experts mercilessly ridiculed the general that brought them out on this sloppy July 21st of 1923 for a demonstration of what he called the “third dimension” – naval airpower.

A few miles away, listing slightly to port, was the SMS Ostfriesland, a German prize from the Great War. It had withstood several direct hits from bombs delivered by the NBS-1 bombers that began their runs the day before.

“It might be more useful for these toys to drop me a bottle of sour-mash,” former Navy Secretary Joe Daniels smarmily remarked as a new wave of sputtering planes passed overhead.

As each aircraft approached their target, they released their payloads early. Massive plumes of water shot into the air and the ship rolled heavily with every wave.

“Look! They can’t even hit what they’re aiming at today!” Daniels laughed.

But the pilots were following script. Their general, the pot-stirrer, heretic, prophet, had devised this tactic of the “water-hammer” for just such an occasion. Under the relentless pressure of the pounding waves, the Ostfriesland’s hull ripped apart. It sank in minutes.

Unfortunately, the Navy continued to resist the warnings of Billy Mitchell until they finally saw first-hand what airpower could do in the hands of a capable Japanese enemy.



Harry Truman was waiting it out. He sat by the window in his favorite chair, once a nice soft putty color when he bought it back in Virginia ages ago. Now it resembled the hordes of rats that had suddenly appeared from nowhere and scampered across Harry’s feet on their way to who-knows-where. They didn’t even stop to eat. “Hmph,” he snorted, “it’s rat-colored.”

The rats disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Gone, like everyone else on the mountain.

Harry slowly got to his feet. That was the only way he did things now – slowly. If there was one thing he learned in life it was to take your time and follow through. “Do it right,” he always said, “and don’t pay no mind to none who tells you that you wrong.” Some said that he was stubborn, hard-headed, but really it was just that Harry was 83 years old and in no hurry.

Harry retrieved a pack of cigarettes and a rumpled newspaper from the guest-lounge. The paper was dated May 11th, exactly a week old, the last time the deliveryman came. Harry squinted at the headline, “Ah, what da they know? Know-it-alls is all they are,” and tossed it back down. He glanced over at the old transistor radio. There was no point in listening though; news, if there was any, would come soon enough. Anyway, he was pretty sure he’d be the first to know.

Suddenly, Harry felt a jolt beneath his feet. A minute later, the entire lodge began to vibrate as if a train was passing through it.

Slowly, Harry R. Truman opened the front door and removed his John Deere hat.

“Sweet Jesus …” he said and was greeted by a 200 mph wall of molten rock and poison gas from Mount St. Helens.


La Pucelle

She was a good girl. Everyone said so. There wasn’t a single mark against her character. Poor. Humble. Pious. Obedient. She visited the sick in her little village of Domrémy. She helped her parents and her siblings. A very, very hard worker. She could spin wool until the cows came home. But her family could only afford a few cows so usually she just kept spinning wool. Spinning wool and going to church. It was her lot in life and she was content with it. She never even dreamed of leaving or doing anything different, despite the near-century-long intrigue going on in the rest of France.

In 1624, somewhere around the tenth of July, something told Jhenette to put aside her wool and take a walk. The cloudless noon sky was a strangely spectacular shade of blue and she didn’t think it unnatural for her to want to be outside. Her father and brothers were in the fields and her mother and sister were boiling the sheets out back. A few minutes enjoying the fresh breath of creation sounded delightful to her. So she gathered up a basket of seed and started down the garden path, tossing kernels here and there to the skinny chickens they let run behind the house.

“Jhenette,” a voice called.

The voice was unfamiliar to her and it came from nowhere and everywhere. Near and far at the same time. Somewhere off to her right though, from the direction of the little church of St. Remy.

Jhenette turned and was overtaken by a blinding white light.

“Jhenette,” the voice echoed again and she involuntarily fell to her knees.

Joan D’Arc,” the angelic voice spoke for the third time, “be good. Continue to pray. And you must go to the Dauphin. You must go to France.”