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File this February 19, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about Palestine under “Bad Predictions.” In addition to bemoaning that Palestinian profiteers were turning the land into a dusty tourist trap and a squalid one at that, it also openly scoffed at the notion that Jewish settlers, still a target of casual anti-Semitism, could ever be a power in the region. The new settlement of Hapharalm, or Israel, was singled out as particularly “laughable.”

Vladimir Bekhterev had a great brain, but he lacked diplomacy.

Joseph Stalin probably was a “paranoiac with a short, dry hand,” but when the Russian neurologist reportedly spoke that diagnosis after examining the Soviet leader, he died mysteriously within days. Many thought he’d been poisoned to avenge the slight. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. A cloud of paranoia envelops all under an autocratic regime, whether we’re talking about Stalin in the 20th century or Vladimir Putin today: Some deaths are very suspect, so all of them become that way. At any rate, the scientist’s gray matter became an exhibit in his own collection of genius brains. An article in the December 27, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle recorded the unusual series of events.

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If you thought the public mourning over Steve Jobs’ death seemed outsize, just imagine what went on when Thomas Edison, whose contributions were much more foundational, was at life’s end.

While Edison didn’t create the first incandescent lamp (that was Sir Joseph Wilson Swan whom he eventually partnered with), his 1879 invention and business acumen enabled the brightness of modernity. It was this accomplishment among his many that was celebrated with “Light’s Golden Jubilee” in 1929, a live celebration of the Edison bulb that was broadcast on radio. President Hoover was there in person, and Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Orville Wright and Will Rogers were a few guests who were patched in remotely. Edison reenacted his eureka moment and entire cities put on blinding light shows. It was a merry time that beat by just four days the arrival of the stock market crash that begat the Great Depression.

In 1931, when the inventor died, many American schools were closed and everything from lightbulbs to trains were turned off for a moment in Edison’s honor. A pair of Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles embedded below recall the elaborate expressions of gratitude.

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From October 20, 1929:

From October 21, 1931:

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Add George Bernard Shaw to the list of history’s perplexing anti-vaxxers, people who somehow believe inoculations, which have done immense good for humanity, are dubious. A lifelong critic of vaccines, Shaw carried his ludicrous theories into his dotage, and, eventually, his grave. When he was 92, a medical official appealed to him to see if the playwright had experienced a late-life apostasy. No such luck. An article in the August 25, 1948 Brooklyn Daily Eagle told the story.

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From the September 29, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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In a time of hysteria, justice is only the first casualty. Human lives often follow.

It’s hard to make sense in retrospect of the 1950s trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, accused Soviet spies, because there was very little sensible about the Communist witch hunt of that era. Charged with a crime that “jeopardizes the lives of every man, woman and child in America,” the couple certainly didn’t get a fair hearing.

I thought of this agonizing piece of our history when E.L. Doctorow, author of The Book of Daniel, a fictionalized take on the topic, died recently. As the novel reminds, it was an especially painful period for many Americans because the two Rosenberg children, Michael and Robert (later adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol), were collateral damage. Embedded is a January 4 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article which covers the boys visiting their parents six months before their execution.

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Col. William “Billy” Breakenridge was tossed into the belly of the beast in 1879 when he became Assistant City Marshal of the hell-raising, often-lethal city of Tombstone, Arizona. Somehow he lived to tell the story, which he did quite literally nearly 50 years later, soon before his death, when he published his autobiography, Helldorado. Even this literary effort, far removed from the gun-slinging madness, caused conflict, as Wyatt Earp, portrayed in its pages as a low-down scoundrel, protested its verity. An article about the book was published in the June 12, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Once Ernest Hemingway was dead and his cult of personality vanished, his stock as a writer fell precipitously, which was justice. It’s difficult to believe now that Hemingway was considered the greatest writer of his age by many while he was alive. He got somewhere with The Sun Also Rises, but the rest of his work was largely overrated, and he’s most interesting now for the era he lived in and for being representative of a particular type of damaged American male, one who marked his pages with symbolism of sexual dysfunction while boasting of a zeal for big-game hunting. What a douche. In an article in the April 25, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, he told report Guy Hickok about Depression Era safaris.

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Apart from E.L. Doctorow, no one was able to conjure the late Harry Houdini, not even his widow.

But she certainly tried. A famed debunker of spiritualists, Houdini made a pact with his wife, Bess, that if the dead could speak to the living, he would deliver to her a special coded message from the beyond. Nobody but the two knew what the special message was. When a poorly received punch to the abdomen in 1926 made it impossible for the entertainer to escape death, his widow annually attempted to contact him through seance. No words were reportedly ever exchanged. The following are a couple of Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles about the wife’s attempts to continue the marital conversation.

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From April 24, 1936:

From February 12, 1943:

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From the October 28, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

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That the early 20th-century demonstrations of Waterland, an insane boat-on-wheels by French inventor Jules Reveillier (alternately spelled “Ravaillier” or “Raviller”), were a great success didn’t much matter because there really wasn’t a market for an amphibious automobile. But that doesn’t diminish the wow factor of it all. On November 13, 1907, the New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle filed reports about the outlandish test run in (and around) the Hudson. The Eagle report is attached below.

From the January 22, 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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In a Washington Post editorial, David Ignatius tries to make some psychological, sociological and political sense of ISIS’s brutal acts, an auto-da-fé for the Internet Age. The only conclusion he can draw–and a very reasonable one–is that humans at different points in history use religion (or nationalism or race or anything else handy) to dehumanize others not because of the tenets of a particular belief system but due to a flaw deep inside us. An excerpt:

What is the root of these unspeakable actions? Philosophers and anthropologists have studied the question as a way of assessing human nature in its most raw and uncivilized form. Elaine Scarry, a Harvard professor of literature, explored in her 1985 book, The Body in Pain, a process she described as “the conversion of real pain into the fiction of power.”

In medieval times, the venue for this show of power was usually a gathering place that was almost literally a theater. The sense of theatricality continues. “It is not accidental,” Scarry writes, “that in the torturers’ idiom, the room in which the brutality occurs was called ‘the production room’ in the Philippines, the ‘cinema room’ in South Vietnam, and the ‘blue-lit stage’ in Chile.”

French philosopher Michel Foucault saw the level of brutality in punishment as an index of the evolution of society. Gruesome public executions were common in Europe until the late 18th century. Slow, painful deaths were often part of the spectacle. The guillotine, which we now regard as cruel, was seen at the time of the French Revolution as humane because it was a “machine for the production of rapid and discreet deaths.”

Foucault described in his 1975 book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the pre-modern penal ethic that now seems to have been embraced by the Islamic State: “Not only must people know [the punishment], they must see with their own eyes. Because they must be made to be afraid; but also because they must be the witnesses, the guarantors.” 

European societies became modern and civilized when they replaced these bloody rituals with penal statutes that regarded prisons as “correctional” institutions, or “reformatories,” or “penitentiaries,” which Foucault warned had their own repressive character.

With their weird mix of modern and pre-modern, the Islamic State has revived the old practice of torture as a public exhibition — and given it the sheen of a video game.•

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Announcing God’s death probably wasn’t a real consensus-builder back in the 19th century, so Friedrich Nietzsche was crucified in effigy by some newspapers when he died. This postmortem, originally published in the Springfield Republican and reprinted in the November 4, 1900 edition Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was a merciless takedown of the extremist philosopher.

Mollie Fancher didn’t exactly sleep through history, but she certainly reclined as it passed by.

The odd woman, known as the “Brooklyn Enigma,” reportedly suffered a pair of accidents in the 1860s while on the cusp of adulthood and repaired to her bedroom where she spent the rest of her life, saying that she could no longer walk. It’s not something you’d normally question, but doctors could never precisely figure out her condition, and Fancher became known for her strange claims that she could go years without solid food (a “fasting girl,” she was called) and that she was a clairvoyant. (It’s also possible she had multiple personalities.) Over the next 50 years (or 438,000 hours), some of which she shared with her parrot, Joe, the Brooklyn Bridge was built, streetcars and automobiles began replacing horses and the telephone was patented and proliferated. All the while, Fancher clung to her pillow.

One month before her death, she celebrated five decades of being bedridden with a party of sorts, as was recorded in an article the January 30, 1916 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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There was something rotten inside Robert Louis Stevenson, as there is in all of us, but he had a name for it: Mr. Hyde. Not to suggest the author’s voluminous and varied output can be reduced to one novella–I’m talking about the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, of course–but it’s rare that something can written about the human mind, in this case the subconscious, that will be true as long there are people.

The following article from the December 17, 1894 Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the sickly author’s death, which occurred two weeks earlier from a cerebral hemorrhage he experienced while living on the Samoan Islands.

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When I put up a post three days ago about the automated grocery store in Iowa, it brought to mind the first attempt at such a store, the Keedoozle, one of Clarence Saunders attempts at a resurgence in the aftermath of the Wall Street bath the Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly founder took while attempting and failing spectacularly at a corner. In his 1959 New Yorker piece about the Saunders Affair, John Brooks described the Keedoozle:

His hopes were pinned on the Keedoozle, an electrically operated grocery store, and he spent the better part of the last twenty years of his life trying to perfect it. In a Keedoozle store, the merchandise was displayed behind glass panels, each with a slot beside it, like the food in an Automat. There the similarity ended, for, instead of inserting coins in the slot to open a panel and lift out a purchase. Keedoozle customers inserted a key that they were given on entering the store. Moreover, Saunders’ thinking had advanced far beyond the elementary stage of having the key open the panel; each time a Keedoozle key was inserted inside a slot, the identity of the item selected was inscribed in code on a segment of recording tape embedded in the key itself, and simultaneously the item was automatically transferred to a conveyor belt that carried it to an exit gate at the front of the store. When a customer had finished his shopping, he would present his key to an attendant at the gate, who would decipher the tape and add up the bill. As soon as this was paid, the purchases would be catapulted into the customer’s arms, all bagged and wrapped by a device at the end of a conveyor belt. 

A couple of pilot Keedoozle stores were tried out–one in Memphis and the other in Chicago–but it was found that the machinery was too complex and expensive to compete with the supermarket pushcarts. Undeterred, Saunders set to work on an even more intricate mechanism–the Foodlectric, which would do everything the Keedoozle would do and add up the bill as well.•

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From the February 19, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The Keedoozle inspired a Memphis competitor in 1947:

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French aviation pioneer Robert Esnault-Pelterie, inventor of the joystick flight control, knew 41 years before “the giant leap” that a manned trip to the moon and back was theoretically possible. He believed we were “actually becoming birdmen” and thought atomic energy might aid us in reaching not only the moon but also Mars and Venus, a plan Project Orion scientists worked on in earnest in the 1950s. Below is an article from the February 12, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Camels are mostly associated with other parts of the world, but they originated in what we today call the United States of America. In the 1850s, Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, thought the desert animals might be useful for military purposes, scouting expeditions and as beasts of burden transporting goods and water across the Southwest, so he ordered a couple shiploads of camels to be purchased abroad and delivered to Texas. An article in the October 17, 1920 recalled the effort, which ultimately failed for several reasons, including that little thing called the Civil War.

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Despite choosing the dangerous profession of mountain climber, Annie Smith Peck somehow made it to the end of her life in one piece, even surviving accidents involving street cars and mules. The apex of her adventurous career was probably her 1903 ascent of Illampu in Bolivia, which she made with geologist Dr. W.G. Tight and two guides, a treacherous scaling reported on in the September 2, 1903 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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No one has ever come up with a bigger lie than F. Scott’s Fitzgerald with this whopper: “There are no second acts in American lives.” There have always been second acts and many more after that. I mean, not if you drink yourself to death, but for anyone who waits out the bad times with good humor. 

Bat Masterson was many things in his sixty-seven years–buffalo hunter, Army scout, sheriff, gambler, boxing manager, etc.–until he was one final thing in his dotage: a New York City newspaper sportswriter. He died an ink-stained wretch at an editor’s desk, not a gunslinger in a saloon. The report of his death from the October 26, 1921 New York Times:

William Barclay Masterson, better known as Bat Masterson, sporting writer, friend of Theodore Roosevelt and former sheriff of Dodge City, Kan., died suddenly yesterday while writing an article at his desk in the office of the The Morning Telegraph. He had been connected with the paper for more than ten years, and for the last few years had been one of its editors.

At one time Masterson was said to have been the best known man between the Mississippi and the Pacific Coast, and his exploits and his ability as a gun fighter have become part of the tradition of the Middle West of many years ago. He was the last of the old time gun fighters.

He was born in Iriquios County, Ill., in 1854, the son of a farmer who came originally from St. Lawrence County, N.Y. Little more than a boy, Bat, his rifle across his knees, left the farm and rode into the then Fort Dodge and joined a party of buffalo hunters. Then his actual career began, and probably more weird and bloodthirsty tales have been written about him than of nearly any other man. His fights, however, were in the cause of justice, and he was one of a group of gunfighters who made that part of the country unhealthy for the bad men of the period.

While in the frontier town Bat heard one day that his brother had been killed across the street. Bat headed over. What happened he thus told later on the witness stand:

‘The cowboys had been on the range for some time and were drinking. My brother was the Town Marshall. They were carrying six-shooters and he attempted to disarm one of them who was particularly mean. They shot and killed him and they attempted to kill me. I shot and killed them–one at any rate–and shot the other one.’

His second killing was a cowboy named Jim Kennedy, who had come to town seeking the life of the Mayor. Kennedy shot several times through the door of a Mayor’s house and killed a woman. Then Masterson started out to get him. And he did.

One of Masterson’s most famous exploits was the battle of Dobe Walls, when with nine companions he stood off 200 Indians in a siege of 29 days. The attacking force was composed of Arapahoes and Cheyennes. A fortunate accident–the fall of part of the dirt roof of a saloon in which the buffalo hunters were sleeping–prevented the party from being surprised by the Indians and murdered in their sleep, for the attack was not anticipated. In the gray light of a June morning, when the hunters were engaged in restoring the roof, the Indians descended upon them. The hunters abandoned the roof and took to their guns. Time after time the Indian attack was stopped and the enemy driven back to the shelter of a fringe of cottonwoods along the Canadian River.

Masterson was only 18 years old when he joined Lieutenant Baldwin’s civilian scouts under Colonel Nelson A. Miles. He participated in the battle of Red River, where the Indians were commanded by Geronimo, and in other Indian engagements. Masterson lived fifteen years in Denver. There he became interested in pugilism. He went broke backing Charlie Mitchell in his fight with James J. Corbett. He was an official in the fight between Fitzsimmons and Corbett.•

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Masterson officiating Fitzsimmons-Corbett in 1897:

Our visual understanding of prehistoric megafauna and other creatures is aided greatly by the work of Charles R. Knight, the painter who gained nationwide attention beginning in the 1920s for his interpretations of dinosaurs and birds long extinct. He certainly couldn’t work from life or memory or photographs, so he became a hunter of facts, an interviewer of scholars, a measurer of skeletons. For an article in the July 31, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reporter Frank J. Costello visited the paleoartist in his Upper West Side Manhattan studio and studied his process. The piece’s opening below.

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The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was situated in the American prairies, but the ramifications of the poor farming methods were wide, and the storms soon swept east and obscured the sun over the entire Atlantic seaboard. I thought of what was known as the “Black Blizzards” because I just read Michael Tennesen’s The Next Species, a very interesting book about the potential end of us. The author draws an analogy between the Depression Era dust storms and what may occur in Las Vegas if the crust of the nearby desert floor dissipates, something that’s possible because of the havoc we’re playing with the environment. The difference between boom town and ghost town can be decided by the tiniest particles. A year after the first wave of the storms in 1934, mayhem was still the order of the day, as this article from the April 15, 1935 Brooklyn Daily Eagle can attest.

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The phonograph was initially a disappointing technology commercially, even if Thomas Edison was something of a smash when he demonstrated his “talking machine” in London in 1888. One nineteenth-century Brooklyn undertaker, however, found a novel use for the new contraption during the funeral of young freak-show performer. An article in the August 18, 1895 Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the unconventional ceremony.

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Go mummy-hunting in the Aleutian Islands, you say? But I’m not finished tweeting yet!

Harold McCracken, arctic explorer and big-game hunter and magazine editor and inaugural director of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, was forever risking his hide on rugged fact-finding missions, hoping to recover one shard or another of the past. On the occasion of a spelunking expedition he was to make to search for preserved prehistoric corpses, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an article about the dangerous sojourn in its April 22, 1928 edition. The opening of the piece follows.

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