Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Knights of the Golden Circle

On July 4, 1854, Virginia general, George Bickley, gathered five men together to talk about the current state of affairs in the United States. The country was being divided internally and the southern slave holders were worried about what was going to happen.

The proposed circle of power
Source: Knights-of-the-Golden-Circle.blogspot.com
The men came up with an outrageous plan: they proposed a golden circle of slaves states, encompassing the southern United States, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. Mexico itself would be divided up into 15 new states. They would control the world's supply of cotton, sugar and tobacco and would tip the balance of power in congress. With their base of power in Havana, they would call themselves The Knights of the Golden Circle.

They would become the most powerful and influential secret society in American history.

Membership in the Knights grew quickly in the southern states and among southern sympathizers. Many well-known names to history became members, including Sam Houston, the outlaw Jesse James and even John Wilkes Booth.

With numbers swelling, the invasion plan moved ahead. Newspapers in 1860 began running stories about the Knights organizing an army in Brownsville, Texas, for the attack on Mexico.

George Bickley's calling card
Source: OurArchives
But somewhere along the way, the invasion didn't happen as planned, and the Civil War began to loom. The Knights made the decision to hold off the attack and creating the new Southern Empire, until after the seemingly inevitable war concluded. They were more than prepared. Before the war even started they had 62,000 soldiers from both the North and the South.

On February 15, 1861, when Ben McCulloch began marching on the Federal arsenal in San Antonio, his 550 men included 150 Knights of the Golden Circle, from six different regions, or "castles."Armies of Golden Circle soldiers forced the closing of every other Federal Reserve between San Antonio and El Paso. More Knights then joined Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor when he took over the New Mexico Territory.

Their influence continued to grow, with numbers reaching 300,000. In 1862, former president Franklin Pierce was accused of being a Knight, because of his opposition to President Lincoln. Membership began to spread to the North, even the border states. Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri all saw the growth of the Knights, mostly among those who saw the Civil War as a mistake and worried about the power of the Federal Government, which had just authorized the first military draft in American history. Cabinet members, congressmen, actors, judges and other politicians were reported to have been seen at induction ceremonies. (By the end of the war, the Knights had influence in every state.)

Seal of of The Knights of the Golden Circle
Source: OurArchives
Eventually the Knights decided to throw their full support behind the Confederate States of America. Most confederate military groups during the war were made up of knights. The group planned what the U.S. War Department would later call "The Northwest Conspiracy." This was a plan to use their great northern numbers to foster a revolt against the Union.

The conspiracy was broken apart, but the Knights continued their influence. They began to infiltrate Union forces. In Missouri, which was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, the Knights took over the Enrolled Missouri Militia, better known as the Paw Paw Militia.

The Knights had planned to kidnap Abraham Lincoln in 1860, before his inauguration. They continued to plot a kidnapping throughout the war. When it turned out this wasn't going to happen, long-time Knight John Wilkes Booth assassinated him.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the war, the Knights changed their name, first to the Order of American Knights, then to the Order of the Sons of Liberty. After the war, the Knights went underground again, but continued to use their influence to help salvage the south for many decades. Members spread out to remote locations, organized cities and prepared for a second war, should it be necessary.

The Knights continued to wield considerable influence in the newly reunited U.S., until they apparently ended operations in 1916, as the United States entered WWI.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Woman Who Carried Death

New York. In the summer of 1906, the Warren family decided to go on a vacation. As a banker, Charles Henry Warren was a wealthy man and spared no expense for his family, renting a summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, from Warren's good friend, George Townsend, the U.S. representative from New York. Oyster Bay is and was a historical town, first occupied in 1650 by new settlers, but originally occupied by Matinecock Indians over a thousand years ago. Many pivotal moments in the history of the colonies and the United States occurred in this town.

Mary Mallon, 1910
Source: Wikipedia
As they were planning on staying all summer, the Warren family also hired a cook: an immigrant from Cookstown, Ireland named Mary Mallon.

With eleven people living in the house, Mallon worked tirelessly and cooked for everyone. Then things began to take a strange turn. Between August 27 and September 3, six of the people living in the house came down with typhoid fever, even though the disease was not prevalent in Oyster Bay. Typhoid fever is caused by the Salmonella bacteria. It lives inside a carrier, is deposited in food or water by the carrier, and is then spread like wildfire. Washing hands before handling food, washing utensils with soap, and eating fully cooked foods helps to control the disease. It wasn’t discovered until 1880 and before 1940, one in ten victims died of the disease. By the 1920s, there were 35,000 known cases of typhoid fever in the United States. It was a feared disease, as it could be spread by simply touching something that had the disease on it, such as fruit. Those infected suffered from fevers as high as 105 degrees, massive headaches, numbing nausea, coughs, hoarseness, inflamed skin, and rashes. 

George Townsend feared for the future of renting the home and contacted George Soper, a sanitation engineer (and later managing director of the American Cancer Society) to come and investigate. As an expert in typhoid fever, he knew the disease spread through food and water contact. He suspected cook Mary Mallon, but she had departed the home soon after the outbreak.

Soper discovered that typhoid outbreaks followed Mallon wherever she went. From 1900 to 1907, 22 people became infected, all connected to the seven jobs Mallon had held during this time. In 1900 she started work as a cook in Mamaroneck, New York. Within 14 days of her starting there, residents began to come down with the disease. She moved on to work for a family in Manhattan in 1901, but members of that family began to come down with typhoid symptoms. It got so bad that even the laundress died.  Her next job was with a lawyer, until all but one member of his household developed the disease. This pattern followed her wherever she went: hired, worked, cooked, death.

Soper eventually found Mallon and approached her about spreading typhoid. She went crazy. Refusing to give urine and stool samples, fighting, screaming, yelling that she wasn’t sick. But what Mallon didn’t know, was that she was a carrier. In fact, she was the first asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever: she had the disease, was not infected by it, but spread it around like the air she exhaled from her lungs. After the confrontation, she disappeared.

Soper found Mallon again in March of 1907, working for another family. He tried to get her to provide stool samples. She refused and attacked him with a knife. Then, the New York State Health Department attempted to apprehend her with the aid of five police officers. Again, Mallon attacked and managed to get away. She was caught a short time later, hiding in a closet.

Once in custody, Mallon was sent to Willard Parker Hospital in New York. Tests revealed that her gallbladder was crawling with typhoid salmonella. She was sent to an isolated cottage, which was part of Riverside Hospital, on North Brother Island, near the Bronx. After two years of isolation, she sued for her freedom and lost. It wasn't until 1910 that she was released, on the promise to never work as a cook again. Mallon agreed to the stipulation, as well as agreeing to follow other hygienic procedures to protect others from the disease she carried and left the island. To protect her identity, she was given the name Mary Brown and given a new job as a laundress.

For five years, the woman known around the world as Typhoid Mary, disappeared. 

Then, in 1915, a new typhoid epidemic rushed through New York's Sloane Hospital for Women, infecting twenty-five people. Authorities investigated and found that one of the cook staff was an Irish woman named Mary Brown, and she was now missing. Mallon/Brown was found a short time later on Long Island. She was instantly sent back to the cottage on North Brother Island.

She stayed isolated on the island for the next 23 years. Eventually she suffered a stroke and died in 1938 at the age of 69.

The exact number of people she infected, and the resulting deaths associated with those infections, is still up for debate.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The (Almost) Second Civil War

In 1921, the United States was still feeling the sting of the Civil War when fighting erupted again in Logan County, West Virgina. For one week in late August and early September, 13,000 armed coal miners clashed with 3,000 law officials and strikebreakers on Blair Mountain. In what would become one of the largest civil uprisings in U.S. history, the event wouldn't end until the United States Army intervened.

In the early twentieth century, unions were trying to take shape. The coal mining industry was one occupation that the unions were trying to organize. Miners were treated poorly. They were forced to live in company towns where the mining company owned all the property. In 1912, at Paint Creek, the mining company drove a train through a tent city and opened fire upon women and children with a machine gun.

Blair Mountain, where the battle took place.
Source: Sierra Club
By 1920, northern West Virginian miners were organized by the United Mine Workers of America. However, in the southern part of the state, the mining companies still ruled and did everything in their power, including employing private detectives and local law enforcement to stop union organizers, even firing, blacklisting, and evicting workers who were found to be union sympathizers. They even tried placing machine guns on rooftops to keep the workers in line.

In nearby Matewan, 3,000 of 4,000 workers organized and were fired. When the mining companies came to town to deliver the eviction notices, the local sheriff, Sid Hatfield, the town's mayor, and deputized miners told them to leave. A fight broke out and nine people were killed, including the mayor. Sheriff Hatfield became a hero to the miners, and they began to organize themselves.

Shortly thereafter, Sheriff Hatfield was placed on trial for the murder of the mining company men. He was acquitted, but then placed on trial again after being accused of dynamiting a non-unon mine, after mines were being reopened with new, non-union workers and fighting had begun to envelope the entire region. On August 1, 1921, Sheriff Hatfield, his friend Ed Chambers, and both of their wives arrived at the courthouse. After talking to reporters, they began to advance up the steps when company agents opened fire. Hatfield and Chambers were riddled with bullets, in front of their wives. After the shooting, Chambers was still alive and company agents ran down and shot him point blank in the back of the head.

The mining companies army, preparing for battle.
Source: Coal County Tours
When word of the deaths of Hatfield and Chambers reached the miners, they armed themselves, tied red bandanas around their necks (thus the phrase 'redneck' was born), and decided to organize southern West Virginia by force. By August 25, the battle was in full swing, with 13,000 miners fighting against 1,000 law officials and the coal mining companies own personal armed force of 2,000 men, which quickly swelled to 30,000, and wore white armbands to recognize themselves from the 'redneck' miner army. When word came that union sympathizers were being killed in Sharples, the miner army marched to help. Only the 1,952-foot tall Blair Mountain and the mining companies stood in the way. 

As the miners advanced, the mining companies and their allies set up on the ridges above the miners and used rifles and sub-machine guns. They hired planes to drop homemade bombs and bombs leftover from World War I. President Harding threatened to send in the United States Army to break the union if the miners didn't cease their attack. The Army's 88th Squadron was used to provide aerial surveillance for the coal companies.

The miners refused to stop and pressed their attack onward. Five days later, they broke through the coal company's defensive perimeter just as the U.S. Army arrived, as promised by the president. The miners stood down, refusing to fight the newly arrived soldiers. 

In the end, 100 people were dead, 1000 miners were arrested for murder and treason, and over one million rounds of ammunition were fired. Not a single company fighter was charged with anything.

The union had been broken and the second largest civil uprising in U.S. history had finally come to a close.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Girl Who Gave Birth at Five Years Old

One day in 1939, in the tiny town of Pisco, Peru, a man carried his five-year-old daughter, Lina Medina, into the local hospital. Her abdomen was swollen and the doctors in his village had said it was a tumor; they had been unable to cure her. The man begged the doctor to help his young child.

The doctor, Gerado Lozada, examined her and determined that it was not a tumor. Upon pressing her father for more information, Dr. Lozada was shocked to hear that Medina had been having her monthly menstrual cycle since age three. Using a stethoscope, the doctor heard what he thought was a tiny heartbeat. He quickly performed an x-ray, which confirmed what he had heard.

Five-year-old Lina Medina was seven and a half months pregnant.

Lina Media
Source: The Telegraph
Dr. Lozada had the girl flown to a larger hospital in Lima, where she would have a cesarean to give birth to the baby. Several doctors in Lima confirmed that Medina was indeed pregnant. She even had the ovaries of fully grown woman. Upon further examination, it was determined that Medina was suffering from extreme precocious puberty, a disorder that causes sexual maturity to begin as early as 18 months of age. The causes are unknown, but it is thought to be linked to chemicals, stress, obesity, and lack of exercise. Some doctors think the disorder is linked to pituitary glands.

On Mother's Day, 1939, Medina delivered the baby. It was a healthy baby boy, weighing in at 6 pounds. She named him Gerado, after Dr. Lozada. Her father was investigated on charges of incest. When no evidence could be found, the charges against him were dropped.

Medina, her father, and her newborn baby returned to Pisco, Peru. The baby was raised as Medina's little brother. When he was 10 years old, he discovered the truth about his mother. Median eventually went to work for Dr. Lozada, with the doctor giving her an education and helping put her son through high school. When Gerado was 33, his mother married Raul Jarado. A second child was born in 1972.

Medina's son Gerado lived a healthy life, but died at age 40 due to bone marrow disease. Her second son currently lives in Mexico. Medina and her husband still live in Lima, Peru. To this day she has never revealed who was the father of her first child. She is still the youngest mother in recorded history.

There is only one known photograph of the pregnant five-year-old Lina Media. But because she is nude in the picture, Fanciful Truths will not post it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Explosive Sinking of the Unsinkable Rhone

For as long as man has traveled by ship, there have been shipwrecks, both big and small. Their names litter the history books: Titanic, Estonia, Carpathia, Mary Rose. But one of the most shocking shipwrecks was the sinking of the RMS Rhone, destroyed by a hurricane, its passengers drowned because they were tied to their beds.

The RMS Rhone, with her 40-foot masts
The RMS Rhone was a mail and passenger ship in the royal fleet of Great Britain, whose route routinely wound through England, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Built in 1865, the Rhone was a prized possession of England, measuring 310 feet in length and 40 feet wide, with two massive masts that topped out at 40 feet. The hull was made of iron and its propeller was made of solid bronze, only the second bronze propeller ever built. Inside, the Rhone was enriched with lavish cabins, 253 of the 313 them first class. The Rhone was the fastest and most modern ship of its time clocking in at fourteen knots. The British said it was unsinkable.

The Rhone proved her worth with several voyages to Brazil in 1865, where she weathered numerous storms.

On October 19, 1867, the Rhone rendezvoused with the RMS Conway near St. Thomas, in the former Danish Virgin Islands. Both vessels arrived to refuel, restock, and transfer cargo. While anchored, the clouds began to darken and the barometer dropped. The captain of the Rhone, Robert F. Wooley, was worried, since hurricane season was thought to be over. The Rhone and the Conway decided to stay in the harbor.

The storm that hit was a class-5 hurricane, a catastrophic-sized storm with winds over 157 mph. The ships kept their anchors down and remained at full steam, in order to combat the huge winds. The ships were tossed around, but managed to survive until the storm seemed to end. The Conway's passengers were transferred over to the Rhone, swelling the numbers to almost 300. Suddenly, Captain Wooley realized that the storm wasn't over; they were merely in the eye of the hurricane.

The Conway fled the harbor and got away safely. Inside the Rhone, Captain Wooley order all passengers tied to their beds, so they could avoid injury. Worried that she would be thrust against the rocks, the Rhone headed for the open sea.

Salt Island
Captain Wooley hoped to make it between Dead Chest Island and Black Rock Point on Salt Island, but as the eye moved on, the full force of the hurricane struck the vessel. The waves thrashed the Rhone, tossing it around like paper. Nearing the islands, the Rhone swung wide in order to avoid an underwater reef that could have been exposed during the storm. The route took the ship dangerously close to Black Rock Point.

A huge wave struck the ship so hard that Captain Wooley was thrown overboard, lost to the sea. The wave also knocked the Rhone into Black Rock Point. The sharp rocks spilt the ship in half. Ice-cold sea water flooded inside. When the water made contact with the smoking boilers, the boilers exploded.

The stern sank quickly in 30 feet of water. Passengers tied to their beds were helpless to do anything but drown. Four people were able to climb to the top of one of the forty-foot masts, and were later rescued. The aft of the ship floated away and sank in deeper water.

Of the 300 people aboard, only 23 survived: 22 crew members and one passenger. Eight bodies were recovered from the icy depths.

Her masts remained sticking out of the water for nearly 100 years. In the 1950s, the Royal Navy decided the masts were too much of a hazard and blew up the remains of the stern. Today, the rest of the wreckage has become a popular diving destination.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Tragedy of the Von Erich Brothers

Former pro wrestling superstar Kerry Von Erich stood in the wings of the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas, watching the night's matches unfold. It was February 12, 1993, and the man formerly known as the Texas Tornadao in the WWF (now WWE) found himself out of the national spotlight and back on the indie circuit with the Global Wrestling Federation.

Kerry Von Erich
As a member of the famous Von Erich clan of wrestlers, Kerry had achieved the greatest fame of all his brothers by signing and competing in the then World Wrestling Federation. From 1990 to 1992, he appeared on TV and at pay-per-views, even competing in Wrestlemania VII. But just as quickly as his star began to rise, he run ended. The WWF /WWE regulated him to a jobber, the wrestler who goes out week after week and loses to bigger-named stars. He asked for and was granted his release in 1992.

He returned to Dallas, Texas and the GWF, quickly winning and then losing the USWF Texas Heavyweight Championship. Nothing seemed to be going right for him. On the evening of February 12, he entered the ring for a tag team match, teaming with 'Gentleman' Chris Adams against Johnny Martel and Black Bart. The match was uneventful and Von Erich found himself having a hard time focusing. There was too much on his mind from his personal life. Drug charges, a marriage falling apart, his career flailing. The match ended in the pre-determined disqualification of Von Erich and Adams.

After the match Von Erich fled back to his father's ranch in Denton. Back in 1986 he had lost a foot during a motorcycle accident and had become addicted to pain killers. On February 17, he was indicted on drug charges for a forged prescription and was facing jail time.

The next day, on February 18, 1993, Kerry Von Erich committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a magnum revolver.

He was the fifth of six children to die before the age of 35:

  • First-born son Jack Jr. died in 1960 at the age of 6, when he was accidentally electrocuted. 
  • David Von Erich was a rising star in pro wrestling, when he overdosed on drugs while on tour in Japan, on February 10, 1984. 
  • Mike Von Erich had no real interest in being a wrestler, but was forced into the ring nonetheless by the family patriarch, Fritz Von Erich. While on tour in Israel, he suffered a shoulder injury and developed Toxic Shock Syndrome after his surgery. Never able to regain full strength, he retired from wrestling and committed suicide by overdosing on tranquilizers on April 12, 1987. 
  • Chris Von Erich was the youngest, smallest, and least athletic of the Von Erich brothers, but he had the most desire to become a pro wrestler. Despite years of trying, his career never took off. Severe depression set in and on September 12, 1991, he committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the chest.

The Von Erich wrestling clan. From left: Kerry, Fritz,
Kevin, Chris (front), Mike, and David.
Source: Wikipedia
After Kerry Von Erich's death in 1993, only second-oldest son Kevin Von Erich remained. He retired from the ring in 1993 and moved to Hawaii.

Fritz Von Erich lived into his late 60's until September 10, 1997, when he finally succumbed to lung cancer that had spread to his brain.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Drunk Vice President

On November 8, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln won re-election, defeating Geogre B. McClellan, former commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. The race was extremely lopsided, with Lincoln winning all but three states (Kentucky, New Jersey, and Delaware) and securing 212 electoral votes to McClellan's 21.

Four months later, on March 4, 1865, inauguration day arrived. It was raining heavily in Washington, but that didn't deter the festivities and the gathering of roughly 50,000 people. The day began, as it did back then, with the swearing in of the vice-president in the Senate Chamber. The room was packed with various House members, justices, diplomats, and other high-ranking governmnet officials, including President Lincoln himself, who sat himself down in the front row.

Andrew Johnson
At noon, the room was gathered into order, the doors opened, and Lincoln's first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, entered with Lincoln's second vice president, Andrew Johnson. Lincoln's decision to replace Hamlin with Johnson had been based on three factors: Hamlin had been a very ineffective vice president during Lincoln's first term; Hamlin had strong ties to the Radical Republicans, a group of politicians who strongly opposed slavery during the Civil War and now, after the war, distrusted ex-Confederates, demanded extremely harsh policies for the South, and strongly opposed Lincoln; Johnson was a southerner and having him on the ticket spoke volumes more for reconciliation than any speech by Lincoln ever could.

After Hamlin's remarks, it was Johnson's turn to speak, and it was obvious that he was drunk. The night before, Johnson had been drinking with the secretary of the Senate and this day had consumed three more glasses of whiskey before the ceremony, in an effort to cure an "illness."

With Lincoln simply closing his eyes and his jaw visibly tensed, Johnson's speech rambled on from topic to topic. Sometimes he whispered, other times he shouted. At times he seemed to forget where he was altogether. Hamlin attempted to get Johnson to leave the dais, but he refused, or ignored him. According to the US Senate website, Johnson said, "I am a plebian. I glory in it! I am going to tell you here today, yes today, in this place, the people are everything." At the end of the speech, he grabbed the bible and said, "I kiss this book in the face of my nation of the United States."

Later, President Lincoln would write to a cabinet member, who had concerns over Johnson and his ability to lead, and tell them that everything was just fine and that Andrew Johnson "ain't a drunkard."

A little over a month later, on April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became president. He is considered to be one of the worst presidents in American history.