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 ...”