Mark Twain, America’s second greatest comic ever in my estimation (after George Carlin), died of a heart attack 104 years ago. He lived a life writ large, won fame and lost fortunes, and, most importantly, reminded us what we could be if we chose to live as one, traveling as he did from Confederate sympathizer to a place of enlightenment. I think of Twain what I thought of Pete Seeger and Odetta when they died: You can’t really replace such people because they have the history and promise of the nation coursing through their veins. He was eulogized in the April 22. 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle; the opening sections excerpted below follow him from birth to his emergence as a “stand-up” and his shift to author of books.
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Two years before piloting the flight that killed himself and the great comic Will Rogers, aviator Wiley Post completed a ’round-the-world trip that was solo save for a helpful robot, an autopilot device fashioned by Sperry. It wasn’t like he could sleep comfortably while his “co-pilot” took over the controls, but it did allow Post to journey the long distance navigator-less. An article from the July 15, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle published just prior to the mission.
Tags: Wiley Post
While I’m sure Adolf Hitler’s personal yacht, the Aviso Grille, had some historical value, it probably shouldn’t have been employed as a floating tourist trap, even if the proceeds went to charity. But that’s what happened during the end of the 1940s, soon before the craft was smashed up and sold for scrap. Judging by an article from the June 16, 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which uses some strangely admiring adjectives to describe one of history’s very worst villains, the Führer was unsurprisingly not a fun cruise director, at least according to his former staff, some of whom sailed with the vessel when it made its voyage to New York. Postscript: When the boat was sold in pieces, Hitler’s shitter wound up in a New Jersey gas-station bathroom.
Tags: adolf hitler
Before method acting, Lon Chaney had his own method.
A master of makeup and body contortion, Chaney would go to any end to transform himself for each role, a character actor who became a star, eventually earning the sobriquet, “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Like most people born in 1883, he had no reason to expect a long life and seemed in a rush, becoming a Pike’s Peak tour guide when he was only 12. The son of parents who could not hear or speak, he learned to be an expert mime at home, bringing this talent to the stage at 17, and, soon enough, the screen. A talented comic and singer, Chaney became best known for macabre roles in Hollywood, always disappearing into the performance. He was just as inscrutable off-screen, living quietly, even reclusively, refusing interviews, feeling he owed the public no twists beyond the turn. His grave was unmarked and remains so. The following is the report of his death from the August 26, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Tags: Lon Chaney
For John Wanamaker, being America’s first great merchant wasn’t merely about ringing cash registers. It was also about innovation in a number of ways, many of which weren’t directly reflected in the bottom line.
The owner and operator of a pair of humongous department stores, one opened in 1876 in Philadelphia and the other 20 years later in Manhattan, Wanamaker believed that rather than than looking at your customer as a short-term mark, you should cultivate a long-standing relationship based on trust and satisfaction–not the conventional wisdom at the time–and introduced the price tag and allowed money-back guarantees. He was the first to wisely exploit the power of print advertising, but he sold you what he’d promised.
He also turned his emporiums into experiments in communications and technology, having telephones in his stores as early as 1879, allowing his roofs to be used as launching pads for balloonists in aviation’s pioneering days and installing into his sprawling shops wireless radio stations (customers listened to live reports of the sinking of the Titanic). Having the world’s largest playable pipe organ in his on-site theater and a working train car suspended from the ceiling to carry children around the toy department were nice flourishes as well. Wanamaker didn’t spoil his customers by starving his employees: He paid them holiday bonuses and gave them medical care and athletic facilities and other benefits. His passing was reported in an article in the December 12, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an excerpt from which follows.
Tags: John Wanamaker
Harold Robbins would have bragged if nine female typists had quit in shock while working on one of his novels, but it was different story in a different era for James Joyce. Getting Ulysses past censors was an arduous task, and he might have tossed the pages aside for good if it wasn’t for the intervention of Shakespeare & Co. owner Sylvia Beach. She gambled her own money and prodded Joyce through many iterations of his work on the way to the printing press, bringing the novel to Parisians in 1922. The volume was a smash hit in France and was soon reselling for $700 a copy. An article about Beach follows from the December 24, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, timed to the belated un-banning of the book in America.
An article in the November 22, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle tells of technological unemployment coming to the kissing sector in the late 1930s, when Max Factor Jr., scion of the family cosmetics fortune and creator of Pan-Cake make-up which was favored by early film stars, created robots which would peck to perfection all day, allowing him test out new lipsticks to his heart’s content. Bad news for professional puckerers Joseph Roberts and Miss June Baker, of course, but such is the nature of progress. The brand-new robots were capable of kissing 1,200 times an hour. Ah, young love!
The top two photos show the senior Max Factor demonstrating his Beauty Micrometer device and touching up French silent-film star Renée Adorée. The last one captures two actresses wearing the make-up Junior created especially for black-and-white TV.
First William James Sidis amazed the world, then he disappointed it.
A Harvard student in 1910 at just 11 years old, he was considered the most astounding prodigy of early 20th-century America, a genius of mathematics and much more, reading at two and typing at three, who had been trained methodically from birth by his father, a psychiatrist and professor. It was a lot to live up to. There was a dalliance with radical politics at the end of his teens that threw him off the path to greatness, resulting in a sedition trial. In the aftermath, he quietly disappeared into an undistinguished life.
When it was learned in 1937 that Sidis was living a threadbare existence of no great import, merely a clerk, he was treated to a public accounting which was laced with no small amount of schadenfreude. He sued the New Yorker over an article by Gerald L. Manley and James Thurber (gated) which detailed his failed promise. He was paid $3,000 to settle the case by the magazine’s publishers just prior to his death in 1944.
Two articles follow from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle about Sidis’ uncommon life.
From the March 20, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
From the July 18, 1944 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
From the February 12, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
“After the death of the President, his body was carted about the nation in the world’s largest funeral march. A man was detailed daily to brush the dust from his face after he had lain in state in various cities.
His body was moved 19 times between the time of his burial and 1900.”
Tags: Abraham Lincoln
The Wright Brothers seemingly cease to exist the moment after the Flyer lifted off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, frozen forever in the moment of their greatest accomplishment, the height of their careers. Wilbur, the elder, died of typhoid inside of a decade. Orville, who manned the landmark flights, never handled the controls again after 1918. (Howard Hughes was the pilot for his last air trip as a passenger in 1944.) Perhaps because of competing claims to the title of “first flight” or maybe because the supersonic age had passed him by, Orville’s obituary in the January 31, 1948 Brooklyn Daily Eagle didn’t have the fanfare one might expect.
Just as talkies were announcing themselves across America, genius Russian silent film director Sergei Eisenstein was dejectedly departing Hollywood, no richer financially or creatively for his failed attempts at pleasing U.S. movie producers. An article in the May 1, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle made clear his disenchantment with the business end of show business and the automaton nature of the burgeoning studio system.
While the early twentieth-century mobster Arnold Rothstein has entered into American culture in everything from The Great Gatsby to Boardwalk Empire, he most infamously left his mark on major-league baseball. The “Brain,” as he was often called, transformed the often chaotic world of crime into a corporate-type affair, becoming the first “legitimate businessman.” One Rothstein deal saw him and other gamblers entice members of the 1919 White Sox to throw the World Series, a scandal which nearly killed the sport. And then there was the unintended consequence of the fix which occurred when Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis, a federal judge, was subsequently named baseball’s first commissioner with the imperative to clean up the game. In addition to other policies, Landis was steadfast in not allowing players of color to participate in the league, keeping the sport segregated. It’s no sure bet the game would have been integrated without Landis, but there was no way it was happening with him. The following article from the November 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on the murder of Rothstein, not shockingly a gambling-related crime.
Famed attorney Clarence Darrow was an extremist when it came to criminality, believing in circumstance but not culpability. He saw criminals the way the writer of a naturalist novel views characters, as prisoners of nature and nurture, incapable of circumventing either. Based on the remarks he made as reported in an article in the April 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Darrow would have treated all misdeeds as maladies, the perpetrators receiving treatment in hospitals rather than stretches in prison.
Tags: Clarence Darrow
A century ago, Gobi Desert dwellers didn’t desire dinosaur eggs for their historical value but for their utility, often fashioning from them jewelry or other trinkets to wear or trade. In 1923, a motorcar-powered expedition, which numbered naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews as one of its leaders, was the first to ever secure the prehistoric eggs and bring them back to America. It was a sensation, of course. Chapman, a showman at heart who was not immune to utility himself, parlayed the jaw-dropping find into international celebrity, the directorship of the American Museum of Natural History and a young trophy wife. It’s conjectured by some that he was the model for Indiana Jones, but most likely that character is a composite of numerous explorers. A couple years after his dino-egg windfall, the scientist returned to the Gobi and purchased an armful of shells from a Mongolian villager for a bar of soap (see caption of fourth photo from top). One odd thing about the October 29, 1923 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article below, which heralded Chapman’s discovery, is its surprise that dinosaurs laid eggs. It doesn’t mention what the prevailing theory had been.
Tags: Roy Chapman Andrews
Vladimir Lenin’s corpse has had a perplexing postscript, but one particular body part, his brain, may have had the most fascinating “afterlife” of all, as the Soviet leader’s adoring people sliced it and diced it, hoping to find the source of genius that propelled the Bolshevik Revolution. In an article in the February 24, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the paper underestimated the pieces the organ had been pulverized into, numbering it at 15,000 when it was actually more than twice that many.
Tags: Vladimir Lenin
At the time of his death in 1945, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s approval ratings were not at their highest.
Il Duce was executed by a firing squad and hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station for bringing ruin to the nation during World War II, his corpse later lowered into a pile with 16 other dead Fascists, where it could be further brutalized by an outraged citizenry. In an article in the May 30, 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mussolini’s astounding end was described in gory detail.
Tags: Benito Mussolini
Before he found religion in the non-profit sector, L. Ron Hubbard garnered some acclaim as a writer of pulp fiction, his first full-length work a Western. Below are the positive Brooklyn Daily Eagle review of that 1937 book; the paper’s dyspeptic 1950 take on Hubbard’s psychotherapy treatise, Dianetics; and a best-seller list from when the latter had begun to make its mark.
From the August 1, 1937 edition:
From the December 10, 1950 edition:
From the November 26, 1950 edition:
Tags: L. Ron Hubbard
Why fight ISIS and not Assad? It’s certainly not for humanitarian reasons. Way more Syrians have been tortured and killed by the nation’s blood-soaked President than have been murdered in Syria and Iraq by the thoroughly modern, Rolex-wearing jihadists. It’s obviously for two reasons. One is strategic: While the crisis in Syria is horrifying, it’s contained within the state and doesn’t threaten other countries. The other is because of the ISIS marriage of medieval brutality (beheadings and mass executions) with modern marketing technology (Youtube, social media and video games). It’s hard to avoid the terror, and that’s the point. They’re not flying into your towers but into your head. From Christoph Reuter, Raniah Salloum and Samiha Shafy at Spiegel:
“In recent months, Islamic State has become known for its adept video production and its fighters are widely present on all manner of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and SoundCloud. If their accounts get closed down, they just register under new names.
But the group’s marketing gurus do much more than simply repeat the same message ad infinitum on different platforms. They design each video and each message to correlate exactly to the target audience. For Western observers, they are cool, clean and coherent. For locals, they are bloody, brutal and fear-inducing.
Bringing People Together
When it works to their advantage, they exaggerate their own massacres. Sometimes they falsify the identity of their victims. The thousands of fellow Sunnis they killed in Syria were branded simply as ‘godless Shiites’ on television. They even market themselves to kids, manipulating popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto V so that Islamic State fighters and the group’s black flag make an appearance.
In short videos from the series ‘Mujatweets,’ an apparently German fighter talks about his supposedly wonderful life in the Caliphate. Such scenes, depicting the multicultural Islamic State brotherhood, are clearly meant for Muslims in the West. ‘Look here,’ the message is, ‘everyone is equal here!’ The images suggest that jihad has no borders; that it brings people together and makes them happy. Other blogs include women gushing about family life in wartime and the honor of being the widow of a martyr.
Islamic State’s propaganda offers something for every demographic — it is so professionally produced that al-Qaida looks old-fashioned by comparison. It is, as the New York Times recently dubbed it, ‘jihad 3.0.'”
Rust never sleeps, and Walt Disney, even with all his great success and grand imagination, wasn’t immune to the quiet terrors of life any more than the rest of us. Almost two decades before he built his first safe and secure family theme park in California, the Hollywood house he’d purchased for his parents was invaded by a silent killer. Two articles follow from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
From the November 27, 1938 edition:
From the May 16, 1954 edition:
F. Scott Fitzgerald, good novelist and great short-story writer, thought that women were beautiful when young and damned thereafter. The Jazz Age sexist aired his mind-numbingly stupid views in an article in the March 9, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Even if he was just being glib, some flapper should have punched him in the nuts. An excerpt follows.
Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, but he wasn’t alone. The automobilist will forever be crowned the inaugural winner, but fellow driver Cyrus Patschke also handled the wheel of his car, the Marmon Wasp, for a spell, a maneuver common to drivers in early auto races who wanted to take a breather. Ralph Mulford, another entrant who drove his vehicle all by himself for the race’s duration, was actually considered the more impressive driver, and protested Harroun being named winner. The complaint, though, wasn’t directed at Harroun employing a “relief driver,” but rather the fact that Mulford received the checkered flag first, and while he was running several extra laps just to be sure that he’d completed enough tours of the track, Harroun made his way to the winner’s circle. The historic moment had left Mulford in the dust.
In 1961, Harroun appeared on What’s My Line? fifty years year after his most famous moment:
Even by the oft-eccentric standards of your garden-variety cyberneticist, Warren Sturgis McCulloch was something of an outlier. Known for his purported diet of cigarettes, whiskey and ice cream, the MIT genius was the proud father of 17 adopted children. More than six decades ago he was extrapolating the power of then-rudimentary machines, concerned that eventually AI might rule humankind, a topic of much concern in these increasingly automated times. The below article from the September 22, 1948 Brooklyn Daily Eagle records his clarion call about the future.
In 1969, the year before McCulloch died, his opinions on the Singularity had modified.
Tags: Warren Sturgis McCulloch
I previously posted a 1955 New York Times interview which Thomas Mann sat for near the end of his life, and below I’ve put a piece from a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about him that ran in the April 18, 1937 edition, when he was living in America, an exile from Nazi Germany during the early days of World War II. He seemed confident about the fall of fascism. I never read before that he’d dined with FDR, though it makes sense given the writer’s Nobel stature and his social nature. The piece was written by Alvah Bessie, who a decade later was to be blacklisted and imprisoned by HUAC as a member of the “Hollywood Ten,” along with Dalton Trumbo.
Much of Sven Hedin’s life was lived in public, but the truth about him is somewhat buried nonetheless, strange for a Swedish explorer who spent his life unearthing the hidden. His expeditions to Central Asia just before and after beginning of the twentieth century introduced the world to invaluable art and artifacts and folkways and cities that had been lost to time.
Hedin was admired for these efforts in all corners of the world, including the one occupied by Adolf Hitler. The geographer perplexingly returned the Führer’s admiration, believing in the Nazi’s nationalistic and traditionalist tendencies, which was obviously a catastrophic misjudgement. He was highly critical, however, of the Party’s anti-Semitism. These protests brought trouble. Hitler seems to have blackmailed the famed explorer into publishing pro-Nazi tracts by imperiling some of Hedin’s Jewish friends still inside Germany. But it’s difficult to believe Hedin encouraged Sweden to ally with Germany during WWII to save a few friends. He just apparently didn’t want to recognize the evil. A disease of the eye caused Hedin to become partially blind in 1940, an apt metaphor for this period of his life.
Long before his dubious politics, Hedin penned an article for Harper’s about an unusual subterranean Tibetan custom, a piece reprinted in the September 17, 1908 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Even in the wake of the twin horrors of World War I and a global flu pandemic, the crimes of Nathan E. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb couldn’t be easily comprehended. In 1924, the gifted, wealthy sons of the best of everything Chicago society had to offer, kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Robert Franks for the “thrill” of it all. It was nothing personal–they knew and liked the lad–they just desired to commit the “perfect crime.” Once arrested, the pair confessed to the premeditated brutality and were defended by Clarence Darrow, who kept them from the death house. Loeb was killed by a fellow prisoner, while Leopold was paroled in 1958 and subsequently moved to Puerto Rico, where he worked in medicine and education. Theories abounded at the time as to what drove their heinous act: poor parenting, improper moral education, overindulgence, an infatuation with science, manic depression, paranoia, sexual perversion, even too much Nietzsche. But it was likely a confluence of factors forever bound in a knot. The below article is from the June 1, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle: