The Great Race of Mercy

At first, Doctor Welch was sure it was tonsillitis. No one else in any of the surrounding villages was displaying any symptoms: fever; sore throat; exhaustion. But by the next morning, the two-year old child was dead.

Upper respiratory infections started to appear in more children over the next month. It would last from a few days to a few weeks and disappear. But then another child died. His mother wouldn’t allow an autopsy despite the massive swelling on his neck.

When a third child died a few weeks later, and then a fourth, Doctor Welch was finally able to confirm what he’d feared worst. The grayish lesions on the throat and nasal membranes pointed only to one thing.

A lot of far-reaching events occurred on February 2, 1925: a 6.2 earthquake rocked the northeastern seaboard from Quebec to Virginia; the French government met to renew its suppression of the Vatican Embassy; crowds packed theatres to see the first feature-length stop-motion film, “The Lost World”; and the American delegation to the League of Nations prepared its speech to propose action on the worldwide opium trade. All of these happenings would impact upon millions of people around the globe for many years to come. But in tiny Nome, Alaska, population 1,500, they were just waiting on the mail. With temperatures across Alaska dipping down to −70 °F that were accompanied by blizzards and hurricane-force winds though, it wasn’t likely to arrive at their isolated village in time.

At 5:30 am, Doctor Welch’s heart skipped at the sound of barking dogs on Front Street.

The relay team of 20 mushers and 150 sled-dogs had heroically covered 627 miles in just 127 hours to bring the first batch of antitoxin from Fairbanks to Nome via the Iditarod Trail, narrowly averting a diphtheria epidemic.


The Rival at the Revival

“New York? So what brings you to Iowa, Mr. Hull?”

“On my way west, Reverend, I hear there’s gold for everyone. Thought I’d stop in and see my sister before I strike it rich. I didn’t expect to find a revival going on here.”

“Watch that ‘root of all evil...’ Hmmm, New York... I know a good Methodist preacher there by the name of Titus Sinks. You don’t happen to know...”

“Let me stop you there, Reverend,” George said, holding his hand up firmly.

“I take it you’re not a church-going man, Mr. Hull?”

“No, Reverend, I’m not.”

“Shoulda’ guessed... New York after all... you ever even opened a bible, Mr. Hull?”

“Oh, yes indeed I have, Reverend.”

“And what did you find there?”

“I don’t want to offend, but mostly a load of superstition... sprinkled with some good advice here and there, I’ll grant you!”

“Superstition?! Good advice?! Why, every word is the word of God!”

“Now surely you don’t believe that, Reverend... I mean... every word?”

“Every word the truth!”

“Talking snakes? Two of every animal? Even the part about... giants?”

“I assume you’re referring to Genesis, Mr. Hull, chapter six, verse four: There were giants in the earth in those days... yes, yes I do. I’m sure it’ll eventually be proven, even to atheists like you.”

George believed him. Not about the bible, but he believed that the reverend believed. That he really believed. And the gears started turning in his head.

On October 16, 1869, workers digging a well in Cardiff, New York came upon an amazing discovery. The petrified remains of a ten-foot-tall man – a giant! The Cardiff Giant. And despite the laughing dismissal of every scientist who examined the gypsum carving, George Hull still collected over $30,000 in viewing fees from the unwavering public.


Duck on a Rock

James was under pressure. He’d only just begun as phys-ed director at the YMCA Training Academy in Springfield and the head of his department had already put him under deadline. He sat on a bench outside of the gymnasium watching the cold December rain soak the soccer fields in a nasty mud.

Two weeks. Two weeks to come up with some “distraction” to keep his students in shape during the winter months. Something fair for all the players. Something that won’t take up too much room. He turned and glanced into the gym to see his bloody-nosed students wrestling on the hardwood floors. Something not too rough.

The rain began to let up and James took a walk across campus. Stopping at a pond, he watched a little duck swim up and jump onto a rock to shake out his feathers. James laughed to himself as he remembered the game he used to play as a child back in Canada. Some passing teenagers noticed the bird and started throwing pebbles at it, trying to be the first to knock it off his perch. But all the boys’ hard-thrown pebbles were missing their mark and the duck nestled down and tucked his head under his wing.

James walked over to the boys. “Put a little more loft on your shots, fellas. Softer, with more loft.”

One of the boys tried out the advice and the stone followed a high arching path before it found its mark and the duck let out a startled quack as it plunged back into the water.

“Hey, I think you’re onto something, mister!”

On January 20, 1892, James Naismith nervously oversaw his Duck on a Rock inspired “distraction” played out for the first time - basketball. The peach baskets would eventually be replaced with iron rims.


The Water Carrier

He’d been running for an hour and a half; through the dirt and rocks and clouds of biting flies; across creeks and up hills. Crowds blocking his dusty track often delayed him and more than once he leapt the writhing bodies of fallen men. His throat parched and his legs cramping, he entered the town of Pikermi. A small inn by the roadside caught his eye and he ran straight into its open door.

An old woman was there to greet him with oranges in her hand and escorted him to a soft chair by the window. He kept a close eye on the events taking place outside and savored every pulpy gulp during his short respite. He rose to continue his run but a gentleman, smelling faintly of musk, stepped in front of him and blocked his way. He was holding a glass.

“Take this, son, and the gods will carry you to Athens.”

He swallowed it in one long draw and warmth spread out from his navel until it reached the tips of his toes. He was off again and he could hear the shouts of “Hellene!” behind him as he followed the road out of town.

When he reached Athens, he was greeted by royalty in celebration of Greece’s victory over the world. The King offered to grant him whatever he asked for. He asked for a new donkey cart to carry his water when he returned home.

Spyridon Louis’ time of 2:58:50 in the first Olympic marathon in 1896 wasn’t spectacular by today’s standards. It didn’t even hold up when two extra miles were added to the marathon on May 27, 1921. What makes it truly incredible is when you take into account the other stops Spyridon made along the way for beer, milk, and eggs.


Life IS Beautiful

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The Making of a State

On March 27, 1776, Father Fuster entered the temporary chapel at the presidio of San Diego and began preparing for Mass. A little reliquary holding some bone chips of Saint Didacus rattled against his chest as he moved, bequeathed to him by Father Jayme whose death was still horrifically fresh in his mind.

Working his way to the sacristy he was surprised by a human shape concealed in the shadows. His knees buckled and he reached out to brace himself on the altar but the altar cloth slipped off and he frantically reeled it through his hands as he landed hard on his back.

The figure slowly rose from his hiding place and revealed himself, a young naked man with long, filthy black hair. He was bone-thin and his eyes were sunken into the hollows almost to the point of disappearing.

“Carlos,” the priest gasped.

“I’m tired of running, Father. I turn myself in to you.”

“...But are you sorry, Carlos?”

Carlos had been on the run for five months since he’d led the revolt of some 600 Kumeyaay Indian warriors that looted and burned the Mission San Diego de Alcala in the Spanish colony of California. Miraculously, only two of the eleven people present died in the attack, one of them a Franciscan friar: Father Luis Jayme. At the time of the incident, there were only 170 Spanish soldiers in all of California. If the settlement had fallen, it was possible that the entire colony would have been abandoned.

Another smaller event also occurred which put a close to the incident. Father Fuster not only forgave Carlos and offered him sanctuary in the church but obtained pardon from the Governor for all involved; likely a vital reason San Diego became the nexus for all that California would later become.