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A couple months before its historic eruption on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens began to slowly awaken. Tourists toting binoculars went to the mountain to get a better look, but some experts warned them to not expect too much, predicting it very unlikely to be a major geological event. The experts were wrong. From the April 21, 1980 People magazine:

It was hardly Vesuvius or Krakatoa, but when Mount St. Helens—near Washington’s border with Oregon—began to gurgle seriously last month, geologists and thrill-seekers gathered from all over the world. They hoped to see one of the rarest and most spectacular of nature’s performances: a volcanic eruption. Not since Mount Lassen in California began seven years of activity in 1914 has a volcano in the lower 48 states put on such a show. Still, some watchers may be disappointed by Mount St. Helens. “People have this idea about lava from old South Sea movies,” says Donal Mullineaux, a volcanologist in the U.S. Geological Survey, “with everybody in sarongs hotfooting it away from this smoky, glowing stuff that comes oozing out of the crater and down the mountain like cake batter. Lava can be dangerous, sure, but that’s only a part of it.”

The rest of it—clouds of poisonous gas, searing hot winds and cascades of mud and rock—now seems unlikely at Mount St. Helens. Mullineaux, who had predicted an eruption in a scholarly 1975 article, is maintaining a vigilant calm. “The probability of a big, big eruption is very low,” he says. Asked if the gases already escaped pose a pollution threat, he smiles and says, “Any comment I could make would be facetious. I grew up in a paper-mill town.”•

The CBS News report three days after the volcano blew, with Dan Rather and his folksy whatthefuck subbing for Walter Cronkite.

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Most men (and women) lead lives of quite desperation, but from Brooklyn to Big Sur Henry Miller hollered. That resulted in some genius writing and some considerably lesser material. In 1961, the author explained in a Paris Review interview how he believed his tools shaped his writing:

Paris Review:

Do you edit or change much?

Henry Miller:

That too varies a great deal. I never do any correcting or revising while in the process of writing. Let’s say I write a thing out any old way, and then, after it’s cooled off—I let it rest for a while, a month or two maybe—I see it with a fresh eye. Then I have a wonderful time of it. I just go to work on it with the ax. But not always. Sometimes it comes out almost like I wanted it.

Paris Review:

How do you go about revising?

Henry Miller:

When I’m revising, I use a pen and ink to make changes, cross out, insert. The manuscript looks wonderful afterwards, like a Balzac. Then I retype, and in the process of retyping I make more changes. I prefer to retype everything myself, because even when I think I’ve made all the changes I want, the mere mechanical business of touching the keys sharpens my thoughts, and I find myself revising while doing the finished thing. 

Paris Review:

You mean there is something going on between you and the machine?

Henry Miller:

Yes, in a way the machine acts as a stimulus; it’s a cooperative thing.•

Robert Snyder’s deeply enjoyable 1969 documentary of Miller in his middle years, when he had befriended, among many others, astrologer Sydney Omarr, a relationship which helped the author indulge his curiosity in the occult.

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Wilt Chamberlain was a hybrid of topdog and underdog, fully aware that all his greatness could never make the public quite love a Goliath. To merely be himself was to be unfair. In Allen Barra’s 2012 Atlantic appreciation of the late NBA, volleyball and track & field star, the writer compares the legendary basketball player favorably with Babe Ruth, and recalls the humble environs in which he recorded the NBA’s only triple-digit scoring performance. An excerpt:

The celebration of Wilt Chamberlain’s career that accompanied the 50th anniversary of his 100-point game last weekend was too short and passed too quickly.

Wilt Chamberlain was the Babe Ruth of pro basketball. Like Ruth, he was by far the most dominant force in his time, and quite possibly of all time. Like the Babe, Wilt was the lightning rod for interest in the sport in a time when it was badly needed. In Chamberlain’s case, he was more important to basketball than Ruth was to baseball.

Contrary to popular opinion, baseball was doing quite well at the turnstiles when Ruth came along and would have survived the stink of the Black Sox gambling scandal with or without him (though the recovery certainly would have taken longer). But without Wilt, who knows if the NBA would have made it from the 1960s—when it was scarcely one of the big three pro sports behind baseball and football—to the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird boom of the late 1970s and the Michael Jordan tidal wave a few years later?

If you doubt this, consider one extraordinary fact: Wilt played his 100-point game not in New York or even in the Warriors’ home city of Philadelphia but in an odd-looking, plain concrete barn-like structure with an arched roof in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the Warriors played several games a year in order to increase a fan base that wasn’t showing them overwhelming support in Philly.

Try and imagine the equivalent in baseball: Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run in, say, Newark, New Jersey, at a Yankees “secondary” park in front of a handful of fans. If not for an unknown student listening to a late night rebroadcast of the game who thought to tape the fourth quarter on a reel-to-reel, we’d have no live coverage of the game at all.

Chamberlain’s triumph came at the Hershey Sports Arena. Today the HersheyPark Arena looks virtually the same, a practice facility for the AHL’s Hershey Bears and home ice for a local college that is also open for public skating. It’s easy to miss the notices that here Chamberlain played his landmark game: a small sign on a pole outside the main gates and a copy of the photo of Wilt holding up the handmade “100” in the back side of the lobby.

There is one primary difference between the careers of Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain: Ruth was—and is—regarded by most baseball analysts as the greatest player in his game. But basketball people have never quite been able to make up their minds about Wilt.•

Ed Sullivan interviews Chamberlain soon after his heroics in Hershey.

The problem with treating fledgling fascists like jokes is that’s what they all seem like, at least initially.

I’m sure Benito Mussolini originally appeared to be a vulgar cartoon too outlandish to be feared, until it was too late, his entire country perverted into something awful before his murderous gaze. One of the least-insane things he did: In 1933, Il Duce ordered all Italian newspapers to push aside current events and dedicate their front pages to articles about Julius Caesar. The message was clear, that Mussolini was a latter-day Caesar and would rule with absolute authority. Tragically, that’s how things went, until he found himself hanging from the business end of a meat hook from the roof of an Esso gas station in 1945. The odd decree was covered in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in September of that year.

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Lieutenant General James G. Harbord retired from the U.S. military not long after the conclusion of WWI and in 1922 assumed the leadership of a company, RCA, that was trying to win hearts and minds through technology. Harbord had a central role in setting up the company’s long-term success as he steered RCA for nearly a decade before giving away to business legend David Sarnoff. While serving as chairman, Harbord’s vision of the technological future was recorded in an April 17, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article. He could see the massive impact media was about to have and pretty much nailed portable, telecommuting, MOOCs, etc.

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By any standards, California’s Luther Burbank was a virtuoso botanist and horticulturist, mixing, matching and creating. Among the hundreds of exotic varieties he hatched from his experimental Santa Rosa farm, greenhouse and nursery–which included plants, potatoes, fruits and flowers–was the spineless cactus. Theplant wizard,” as he was called, was a beloved public figure until months before his death in 1926 when he created a furor by simply expressing his skepticism about an afterlife. “I am an infidel,” he asserted. Burbank was mocked openly in some quarters for such heresy. Twenty years before his dramatic, if abbreviated, fall from grace, he was the subject an admiring 1906 New York Times profile. The opening:

Every summer our transatlantic steamers are burdened with great throngs of travelers beginning their pilgrimages to the shrines of departed genius. In America, too, we may visit places made illustrious by the former presence of Washington, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Emerson, Poe, and other native men of genius. But, disguise it as we will, the visits are at last to cemeteries, where everything is described in the past tense.

But there is in America at this moment a man of the very greatest genius, just in the flower of his fame, a visit to whom not only emphasizes his genius and his leadership in thought and living things, but also enables one to see far into the future. There is a searchlight of truth in constant operation at Santa Rosa, Cal., and the mind and heart of Luther Burbank are the lenses through which the light is focused. Long ago I resolved to beg the privilege of standing near the searchlight and making a few observations as it illumined some of the peaks of knowledge I could never hope to scale.

Our so-called “Captains of Industry” are busy men, but many of their duties and responsibilities they may delegate to others. Luther Burbank is the busiest man in the world. I make that statement without fear of successful contradiction. His ship is alone on a vast sea of nature’s secrets. With him on the voyage of discovery are a few near relations to encourage him, a dear friend or two for protection and companionship, and several humble helpers to feed the boilers and oil the engines. But he is more alone than was Columbus, because he has no first officer, no second officer, no mate. Like Columbus, upon him alone falls the responsibility for the expedition; he alone knows why the vessel’s prow is kept always in one direction; he alone has faith that it must ultimately touch the shores of truth and reality.

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It’s not surprising someone in Louisiana shot Senator Huey P. Long, who had no end of enemies, but it was unexpected that his assassin would be a mild-mannered eye doctor.

Firebrand and lightning rod, “Kingfish,” as he was called, was the Bayou State’s de facto dictator, a populist who planned to run for President on the promise of ending the privations of the Great Depression with his Share Our Wealth redistribution plan. A month after he announced his intentions to face off with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, Long was felled by an unlikely gunman named Dr. Carl A. Weiss, a son-in-law to one of the Senator’s political enemies but not someone suspected by any relative or friend of having murder on his mind. Weiss was immediately killed by the spray of bullets sent his way as Long’s bodyguards returned fire.

In the annals of American assassinations, a sorrowfully long list, there was probably no killer who had a better attended or more solemn funeral than Weiss. A brief article in the September 10, 1935 Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the scene.

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When he retired from the Big Top, George Conklin, a celebrated animal trainer and all-around circus legend, collaborated with journalist Harvey Woods Root on a book about his career, which began in the raffish, hurly-burly circuit of 1866, carrying on through the more-corporate world of the early twentieth century. Conklin, an odd choice to work with four-legged performers given his phobia about horses, shared some trade secrets (e.g., the “Moss-Haired Girl” used alcohol to manicure her small, flowerless coiffure). The excerpt that follows is from a February 19, 1921 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the volume.

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Nine decades before the election of President Barack Obama, a mixed-race person who identifies as African American, Charles  Curtis, a mixed-race man who identified as Native American, was elected as Herbert Hoover’s Vice President.

A child of a French, Kaw, Osage and Potawatomi mom and an English, Scotch and Welsh father, Curtis was born in the Kansas Territory and raised on a Kaw reservation. He was known as “Indian Charlie” as a boy and was a spectacular rider of horses and an accomplished prairie jockey. His mother died when he was three, and Curtis was cared for at various times by both sets of grandparents, taking an education in Topeka. A career in law led to one in politics, the biggest horse race of them all, which he also mastered. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle profiled Curtis in early 1929, soon after he he was sworn into executive office.

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Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his fellow Futurists were sexist and fascistic and militaristic, not unique to them in Italy during the first half of the twentieth century. Some of their ideas were insane (sleep was to be abolished) and some neutral (tin neckties, after all, are no dumber than any other kind), but a few were worth thinking about.

One such political thought: The Futurists thought automation would eventually eliminate poverty and inequality, something that’s possible if not inevitable. A less-important though interesting cultural idea: Machines and industrial sounds should be be used to create dance music. It was very prophetic, if not initially appreciated. Their plan for reinventing boxing never came to fruition, however, as you can read in the following article about a Futurist exposition in Rome from the July 16, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Ten years before dying, Amiel Weeks Whipple came upon the most amazing thing, In 1853, the U.S. Army Lt. was leading an expedition of the new Southwestern territory of the United States when his party happened upon fallen, almost translucent logs in what later became known as the Petrified Forest. The “stone trees,” as Whipple dubbed them, and their shards were not just dazzling but had previously proven to have great utility. This rock-like wood had quietly spread across the continent for centuries as it served as an organic munitions plant of sorts for native peoples, providing arrow heads and the like, traded from one tribe to another. An article in the August 14, 1899 Brooklyn Daily Eagle (originally published in the Chicago Record) looked at the land less than a decade before it became a national park.

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No contemporary authoritarian ruler would think the Internet an ideal tool for propaganda. For all its deficits, it’s still too anarchic to be controlled. Kim Jong-un, for one, just blocks it. Cinema in another era, however, offered fascists larger-than-life spin-machine opportunities.

From early on, Benito Mussolini, Italy’s vulgar, murderous clown, knew film could be manipulated and controlled in a world of limited home technology. He planned to open a sprawling movie studio in 1937 which was to surpass Hollywood, and like his trains were purported to do, it arrived on time, turning Italy into an insane asylum with a studio system. After Il Duce met the business end of a meat hook atop an Esso gas station and the nation was defeated in WWII, the lots served briefly as a refugee camp. Later, Cinecittà, as it was known, became the backbone of a rebuilt Italy’s film industry, acting as the backdrop to American-produced epics like Ben-Hur as well as numerous Federico Fellini projects. 

An article in the April 16, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle covered the massive studio’s construction, among other things. An excerpt from it is embedded below.

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Thomas Pynchon has called Tombstone, Arizona, the “American Camelot,” and its first knight errant was prospector Edward Schieffelin, whose lucky strike made him fabulously wealthy, though he subsequently lost it all in other ventures that weren’t quite as fortuitous. Soon after Schieffelin’s death by heart attack in 1897, an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle recalled the town’s auspicious beginnings and told tales of some of Tombstone’s most colorful figures.

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It’s no small irony that Sigmund Freud died against the backdrop of one of the worst explosions of repressed rage the world has ever known. The Jewish “Father of Psychoanalysis” was hectored and hounded in his dying years by Nazis, who needed desperately needed the very inspection of self he encouraged. Freud ultimately fled Austria in a weakened state and died in London. Three Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles below tell part of the story.

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From March 22, 1938:

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From June 4, 1938:

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From September 24, 1939.

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Karl May, left, in 1904.

Karl May, left, in 1904.

Making complete sense of the perfect storm of hatred and insanity that enabled Nazi Germany is impossible, but still we try. Are there any clues in the elaborate personal library that madman Adolf Hitler assembled? Probably not, but for curiosity’s sake, he was particularly enamored with the work of Karl May, a writer of Westerns who never visited America. (In all fairness to May, Albert Einstein was also a fan.) During the heat of WWII, an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle looked at the titles on Hitler’s shelves, trying to make some sense of it all.

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Perhaps it was his background in biology that made H.G. Wells believe that the differences among us were smaller than politics made them out to be.

The author, who in the 1890s wrote a series of classic novels of science fiction decades before that genre was named, believed schools were using the teaching of history to instill a dangerous strain of nationalism. He called for a shift to a less ideological view of the past. A brief article in the September 5, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle recalls the marks that caused something of a sensation.

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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.

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