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.