"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.