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Norbert Wiener’s worried vision for an automated America never was realized–until maybe now, that is. In an article in the August 18, 1950 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the cyberneticist and mathematician explained how the second Industrial Revolution might be a mixed blessing. The story:

Cambridge, Mass. — If Russia doesn’t ruin us the robots will, a noted scientist predicted today. Dr. Norbert Wiener, professor of mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Moscow and the new mechanical brains might even prove unwitting allies in driving the United States into a ‘decade or more of ruin and despair.’

Wiener is the bearded former boy prodigy who earned his doctorate of philosophy at the age of 19 and went on to develop the new science of ‘cybernetics’–the use of communication in controlling men or machines.

Will Take Over Tasks

He said the United States is on the verge of a ‘second industrial revolution’ in which robot factories operated by so-called mechanical brains will take over all the routine tasks of production from men.

‘Short of any violent political changes or another great war, I should give a rough estimate that it will take the new tools 10 or 20 years to come into their own,’ Wiener said.

But he added that the demands of a war with Russia would speed the development of robot factories and almost inevitably see the automatic man age in full swing within less than five years.’

What happen to humans when the robots take over?

May Be a Good Thing

Wiener has a word of warning about that in a new book, The Human Use of Human Beings, which will be published Monday by Houghton Mifflin Company.

If the new machines are used wisely, he said, it may in the long run ‘make this a good thing and the source of the leisure which is necessary for the cultural development of man on all sides.

But Wiener said the depression of the 1930s will look like ‘pleasant joke’ in comparison with what will happen if the nation misuses the new machines which can calculate, remember, pass judgement and even succumb to nervous breakdowns.

‘Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword,’ he said. ‘It may be used for the benefit of humanity, assuming that humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible.'”

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World War I, which started exactly a century ago, claimed 16 million lives, but there were many more casualties among the living. One of them was the brilliant baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. He emerged from battle having inhaled mustard gas and experiencing hearing loss, something akin to epilepsy and what we today would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A drinker before the war, he became a two-fisted one after the fighting ceased, sometimes taking the mound inebriated. So great was he, it took nearly a decade for alcohol to ground his career, but once his playing days were over, he found himself unemployable in the league he loved, no one wanting to trust a temperamental alcoholic as manager or coach.

A year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938, Alexander found himself an attraction in a raffish New York City dime museum, among the anomalies and curiosities, giving the same speech about his glory days a dozen times daily. The shell of his former self was all he had left to sell, and the press and public brought their cameras to capture a piece of what once was. From an article in the January 20, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about “Old Pete” in steep decline:

“Cameramen swarmed about the great pitcher as he stood there against the green background, both hands holding a baseball above his head as if starting a windup.

‘Hold it! Hold it!’ they chirped as they focused their cameras.

But the pitching immortal couldn’t ‘hold it.’ His arms came down and he almost dropped the ball. He tired that quickly. The great Grover Cleveland Alexander wasn’t weary from pitching a baseball game. He was starting a series of three weeks’ appearances at Hubert’s Dime Museum, on 42nd St., yesterday.

It’s a Different League

This series is in a world far different from the fresh air, sunshine and roaring crowds that the mighty right-hander knew in the old days. And the man is far different too. The posters outside the museum notify passers-by that the ‘Great Grover Cleveland Alexander’ is on exhibition within. But that’s not true. They’re exhibiting only what’s left of the man that was.

The tall man with the dusty brown hair, bulgy waistline, splotched complexion and somewhat bleary eyes is older and more tired now than you would expect of his 51 years. He is weary and bitter. He believes that the game of baseball didn’t do right by him. He feels that the pastime somehow should have warded off the necessity that is sending the great Alexander of Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame into Hubert’s hall of freaks and flea circuses and dancing girls. 

A year ago this month the Baseball Writers of America elected Alexander to the Cooperstown shrine where his name joined those of 13 other immortals. But on this January day the tall man in the wrinkled brown suit stands on a tawdry little stage downstairs in the smoky light and tells how he won the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. How he fanned Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and two out.

He gives this little talk twelve times a day, starting at noon and ending at midnight, to earn bread and shelter in this bleak twilight of his life. Between lectures he sits in a little wooden cubicle, below the stage–away from staring eyes. Into this little cubicle come reporters and former players to chat with ‘Ol’ Pete’ and to wonder.

It’s the same platform, cubicle and rigmarole that knew Jack Johnson, the Negro who was former heavyweight champion of the world. That was a year or so ago, when ‘Li’l Arthur’ was hard pressed.

First Time Here Since 1930

‘When the museum telegraphed me the offer of a job, I thought somebody was kidding me,’ Alexander said.  I hadn’t been in New York since 1930 and I thought a museum was a place where they keep skeletons and things. But, anyway, I took a chance, wired back and got the job.’

A reporter asked why it was that a man with his reputation never was offered a job in major league baseball after his pitching days were over.

‘Booze! I used to take a drink now and then when I played. Almost every player drank a bit then, and I guess they still do. But I made the mistake of taking my drinks openly. The word got around that I was a drunkard, which I never was. I believe that’s the reason I never even got a coaching job.’

When Alexander asked managers or owners for work, they told him he hadn’t kept pace with the game and they couldn’t use him because he didn’t know the ‘inside stuff.’

Old Pete laughs bitterly at this when he recalls his 19 years of education in the big time.

‘I was in the National League almost 20 years,’ he explains, ‘from 1911 through part of 1930–with the Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals and finally the Phillies again. I know the game inside and out.’

After his retirement in ’30 he managed the House of David team for three seasons. Last year he was out with a semi-pro club in Nebraska, but the going was tough because the farmers had been through a drought.

Despite his bitterness, Alexander seemed to get a thrill out of reliving the old days as he talked to the dime-a-toss listeners.

‘I guess my biggest thrill was in the 1926 World Series,’ he said. ‘I was with the Cardinals. We had won three games and the Yanks had won three. Jess Haines started the last game for us and along about the seventh inning he hurt his hand and they told me to go in. There were three on base and Lazzeri was up. I had pitched and won the sixth game the day before, but my arm felt fine. I only threw three times but I struck Tony out. He fouled my second pitch into the left-field stands. Then I threw him a hook and he missed it by about six inches. That proved to be the game and the series.

‘Yes, I could strike ‘em out in those days. But I kinda struck out myself after I stopped pitchin’.'”•

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When editors at the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle thought about the world’s technological future, they mostly imagined how robots would help them get drunk. That explains so much about that newspaper in those days.

In the October 30, 1927 edition, E.K. Titus wrote an article about Roy J. Wensley’s Televox robot, which received instructions via its built-in telephone. The Westinghouse inventor promised the mechanical man would be able to deliver to you bottles of scotch through pneumatic tubes, drive your car from your garage to your front door, spy on your children, vacuum your floors and warn you of plummeting stock prices. A couple of excerpts follow.

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“‘Peep, buzz, buzz, toot, peep!’ you say into the telephone transmitter, with your tuning forks, which translated, means:

‘It’s devilishly cold over here and I want a bottle of Scotch.’

These simple sounds which you have emitted put the mechanical man to work. It is over in the woods of your country estate somewhere, where you keep your stock for the sake of privacy. The mechanical man hears and acts. He moves a mechanical arm to the exact box where your Scotch is segregated from the rest of your drinks, lifts it into an air-pressure tube, closes the tube and in a moment your phonograph is turned on to say:

‘Here I am!’

You then open your end of the tube and there is your Scotch.

Dr. Edward E. Free, president of the New York Electrical Society, offers to install such a system for any Brooklynites provided they pay him enough money.

It Can Be Done

‘It can certainly be done,’ Dr. Free declared. ‘The mechanical man can be made fully as versatile as that. I will fix up such a system so that they can get their drinks from as far as a mile away without moving out of their apartments.

‘For $40,000 or so it would be possible to rig up an apparatus through the mechanical man that would make it possible for a person to call up his garage half a mile distant, give instructions to the mechanical man and have the car at his front doorstep in a few minutes. 

The mechanical man is an electrical fellow who can hear, take orders and do hundreds of things if he is only trained in advance. He is a radio turned inside out. Instead of receiving electrical energy and transforming it into sound, as the ordinary radio receiving apparatus does, he receives sound and transforms it into electrical energy.

Roy J. Wensley, 29-year-old engineer of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, is the inventor.

Has ‘Brain Box’

Wensley’s child does not look like a man, but he has a sort of head or small box in which is located a ‘brain,’ or directing apparatus, capable of performing 20 separate acts when he is ordered to do so. And what is better, he takes orders over the telephone!”

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“Delivering a motorcar from one’s garage to one’s home would be a more expensive performance.

Mr. Johnson would lift his telephone receiver and give Televox the signal for a car.

Steer Car by Radio

Televox would then electrically start an apparatus which would open the doors of the garage, start the motor and steer the car over the garage driveway to the house.

‘You have heard of cars being steered by radio, haven’t you?’ asked Dr. Free. ‘Well, once Televox was on the job the actual work of steering could be handled by radio.’

Televox, indeed, sounds like one of the ‘Fairy Tales of Science‘ that the poet, Tennyson, talks about.

When it is remembered the Televox only responds to noise in the same way that previous apparatus has responded to the pressing of buttons setting up electrical impulses, his work does not appear so much like a fairy tale.”

 

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“Pillsbury has for a long time been insane, becoming violent at times through blindfold chess playing.”

A great light of the nineteenth-century chess world who burned briefly, Harry Nelson Pillsbury was a brilliant player as well as an accomplished mnemonist capable of quickly absorbing and regurgitating seemingly endless strings of facts. Pillsbury never had the opportunity to become world champion because his mental health deteriorated, the result of syphilis which he contracted in his twenties. An article in the April 9, 1906 Brooklyn Daily Eagle assigned his decline to more genteel origins. The text:

“Harry Nelson Pillsbury, the greatest chess player since the days of Paul Morphy, is to be taken from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where he is at present, to a sanitarium at Atlantic City, N.J. Pillsbury has for a long time been insane, becoming violent at times through blindfold chess playing. The fact became known through a letter from William Penn Shipley, of the Pennsylvania Chess Association, to a friend at the Brooklyn Chess Club.

The game of blindfold chess requires intense concentration of the mind, and, according to the physicians who have been working on Pillsbury’s case, ultimately destroys the memory cells of the brain, if carried on to excess. A player is placed in a room by himself and plays the game, entirely from memory, while his opponent moves for him at the table.

One instance of Pillsbury’s remarkable skill was shown when he payed for thirteen hours, sitting all alone in the little anteroom which leads into the main rooms of the Brooklyn Chess Club. He did not stop even to eat, and bore in mind twenty-four games during that time. Blackburn and Morphy kept no more than fifteen games in their mind at once. Physicians state that the gift to play blindfold is a gift and cannot be acquired.

While Pillsbury’s case is considered practically hopeless, every effort that can be brought to bear to bring the former champion into the knowledge of the world again will be made.”

 

 

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Guglielmo Marconi may or may not have been the very first to create the wireless, as he’s often credited, but he was certainly a passionate supporter of Benito Mussolini, who was a real Fascist, and that wasn’t the inventor’s only strange idea. The text of the announcement of Marconi’s death from the July 20, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Rome–The Marquis Guglielmo Marconi, who invented wireless when he was only 21, died suddenly at 3:45 a.m. today (10:45 p.m. Monday, E.D.T.) at the ancient palace in downtown Rome where he lived and worked.

The 63-year-old conqueror of the ether died of heart paralysis. His widow, the Countess Cristina Bezzi-Scali, was at his bedside. She had been called back from the seaside resort of Viareggio when he began to feel ill yesterday.

Their daughter, Elettra Elena, whose godmother is Queen Elena, remained at the resort and will not return to Rome until time for the state funeral. Today is her eighth birthday.

Duce Pays Respects

Premier Mussolini, whose ardent supporter Marconi had been, was notified of the death immediately. He dispatched a telegram of condolences and later went to Marconi’s home in the Via Condotti and paid his respects beside the body.”

 

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Muammar Gaddafi got exactly what he deserved, but most don’t. Case in point: Wernher von Braun, complete Nazi and celebrated American hero, who was rescued from cosmic justice at the end of WWII by an accident of geopolitics. Hitler’s rocketeer knew as much about blasting off without blowing up as anybody at just the moment when the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union both wanted to rule the air, the Space Race on the horizon. He was deemed necessary and his slate wiped clean. The text of an article by John B. McDermott in the September 6, 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which laid out von Braun’s plans for a nuclear-powered mission to Mars:

London–Wernher von Braun, German rocket expert, outlined a plan today to land 50 explorers on Mars for a 13-month visit.

His proposal was the latest scheme for interplanetary travel laid before the international Congress on Astronautics.

Von Braun, designer of the mighty V-2 rocker bomb that plastered London late in 1944, submitted a paper to the conference detailing his proposal. He is in the United States.

Fifty men could reach Mars, he suggested, by traveling on space ships and rockets. They would stop over for refuelling at artificial moons fixed in space between the earth and Mars.

Would Take 260 Days

The journey to Mars, Von Braun said, would take 260 days. Ten space ships with 70 men aboard would take off from earth and stop at the first artificial moon for supplies. They would then travel to another man-made orbit closer to Mars.

From there, he said, 50 men would be selected to land on Mars in three 300-ton rockets.

Von Braun said the trip would be possible as soon as the artificial moons were built.

L.R. Shepherd, British atomic scientist, told the gathering later suspended moons were no longer ‘a remote possibility.’

Instead of just talking or writing about them, he said, the idea ‘should now be actively pursued in laboratory tests and on the proving range.’

If given vigorous development, the gap should be bridged in 10 to 20 years, Shepherd said.

225,000 MPH Speed Seen

Professor Lyman Spitzer of Princeton University told the conference space ships could eventually travel at 225,000 miles per hour. They would be propelled, he said, by uranium or plutonium converted into electrical energy.

While a voyage of many hundred million miles in space could readily be achieved by this ship, ascent of the first few hundred miles to a circular orbit (artificial moon) would definitely require a booster of some sort,’ he said.

‘In fact, the design and construction of a large launching rocket might well be more difficult than that of a long-range space ship.'”

 

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The “Fox” in Fox News is taken from the surname of pioneering film producer William Fox, whether he would be happy with the contemporary association or not. One of Fox’s great innovations was the launching, in 1929, of the Embassy Newsreel Theatre in Manhattan, as a showcase of continuous non-fiction fare, presaging around-the-clock cable by many decades. Newsreels–or “film newspapers“–had been popular since the beginning of cinema, but until Fox they were secondary to the main attraction in the United States. He redefined them as the attraction. By 1930, the proprietor had lost control of his film company and theaters, having been knocked out by a near-fatal automobile crash and the stock-market collapse. This reversal was followed by legal problems, a commission of perjury and a prison stint. Fox died in 1952, largely forgotten by the media he helped define. The text of a brief, understated article from the November 4, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, unwittingly announcing the moment when news in America–or something resembling it–became an infinite loop:

“If you are a newsreel fan (and the chances are that you are) the revised policy at the little Embassy Theater holds out promise of many fascinating hours through the dreary winter days to come. On Saturday the Embassy was dedicated to the showing of sound news reels and nothing else, becoming the first theater to be devoted to that purpose.

Hearst Monotone and Fox Movietone news pictures will make up its programs from now on, and the newsreel fan will have the rare pleasure of watching the parade of world events uninterrupted by feature photoplays and stage advertisements. It is a marvelous idea. One wonders why it hasn’t been tried before.”

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From the January 18, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Peoria, Ill.–Leonard Bliss, better known as “Baby” Bliss, at one time supposed to be the largest man in the United States, was brought from his home in Bloomington last night, to the Peoria Hospital at South Bartonville, hopelessly insane. Bliss weighed 525 pounds when placed on the scales at the asylum. During the bicycle craze he rode wheel over the United States and Europe as a demonstrator of the make of machine. He is 37 years of age.”

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Evan Meeker, 1921.

Showing his wagon train to President Theodore Roosevelt, 1908.

Showing his wagon to President Theodore Roosevelt, 1908.

With President Calvin Coolidge,

Meeting President Calvin Coolidge, 1924.

Evan Meeker, Detroit, 1828, last photo.

Evan Meeker, Detroit, 1928, last photo.

When Ezra Meeker passed away 86 years ago, he took with him a lot of institutional memory–and the institution was America. A pioneer who traveled the Oregon trail in his youth, he spent much of his dotage trying to ensure people would remember those who endured such treacherous crossings to open up the country. The article that announced his death in the December 3, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Seattle, Wash.–Ezra Meeker, 97, one of the last of the pioneers of the covered wagon era, died here this morning of after an illness of several months.

Meeker clung tenaciously to life until the end, holding on by sheer will power after physicians and relatives had given up. He had been at the point of death in a Detroit hospital for two months before returning here eight weeks ago. He had grown gradually weaker and when his condition became alarming it was impossible to move him to a hospital.

Last Thursday the pioneer was reported to have shown great improvement and hopes were held momentarily by his doctors that he would recover and live to reach his 98th birthday this month. He was in fine spirits over the weekend and his pulse and temperature were about normal. Late yesterday there was a turn for the worse and he sank rapidly.

Meeker was bitterly disappointed because illness in Detroit had prevented him from returning here in time to register for the recent general election. It was the first time he had missed since he voted in the first territorial election in Washington in 1854.

The pioneer, who brought his bride and a seven-weeks-old child West over the old Oregon trail by ox team in 1852, had intended to begin a second automobile tour of the trail when he was forced to enter the Detroit hospital in the first serious illness of his long and eventful life.

A son, Marvin J. Meeker, and three daughters, Mrs. Carrie Osborne and Mrs. Ella Templeton of Seattle, and Mrs. Roderick McDonald of Peshastin, Wash., survive him.

Meeker was born at Huntsville, Ohio, on December 29, 1830. After a boyhood there and an apprenticeship in a printing office in Indianapolis, her married in 1851 and struck out by ox team for Iowa to homestead a farm. A severe winter there induced the young couple to join a wagon caravan for Oregon and California in 1852. Months of hardship behind them, the Meekers reached Portland, Ore., in October of that year. Trail instinct kept the Meekers on the move until they settled at Fort Steilacoom, south of the present site of Tacoma, where Meeker kept a store from 1853 to 1862. Then the Meekers moved to Puyallup, where the pioneer became interested in hop growing, later going to London, England, for four years as agent of the hop growers of the Pacific Northwest.

Meeker was the author of several books on pioneer life, although he had but four months schooling in his life.

Meeker retraced the Oregon trail with an ox team in 1906 and four years ago flew over the route in an airplane piloted by Lieut. Oakley G. Kelley.

His last years were spent in obtaining recognition of the heroism of the Oregon trail pioneers by inducing communities along the route to erect suitable markers. In 1926 President Coolidge signed an act authorizing the issuance of a special half dollar to further interest in the building of monuments along the trail. Meeker was received at the White House by both Mr. Coolidge and President Roosevelt.”

 

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Wernher von Braun, center, with Willy Ley, right, in 1954.

Ley with daughter Xenia at the Hayden Planetarium, 1957.

Speaking of Nazis, the top photograph offers an odd juxtaposition: That’s Wernher von Braun, a rocketeer who was a hands-on part of Hitler’s mad plan, whose horrid past was whitewashed by the U.S. government (here and here) because he could help America get a man on the moon; with Willy Ley, a German science writer and space-travel visionary who fled the Third Reich in 1935. A cosmopolitan in an age before globalization, Ley only wanted to share science across the word and encourage humans into space and onto the moon. He knew early on Nazism was madness leading to mass graves, not space stations. When Ley arrived in America after using falsified documents to escape Germany, he worked a bit on an odd rocket-related program: Ley led an effort to use missiles to deliver mail. It was a long way to go to get postcards from point A to point B, and an early attempt failed much to the chagrin of Ley, who donned a spiffy asbestos suit for the blast-off. Here’s the story of the plan’s genesis in the February 21, 1935 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“It may be a long time before you can take a trip to the moon or to Mars in a rocket, but the time is not far off when rockets will be used to carry mail and to catapult airplanes from ships or from the ground.

This, according to Willy Ley of Berlin, who arrived today on Cunard-White Star liner Olympic for a seven-month stay in the United States, during which time he will work on the development of the rocket with G. Edward Pendray of Crestwood, N.J. Mr. Pendray is president of the American Rocket Society. 

Mr. Ley said that a friend in Austria had used rockets successfully in the delivery of mail between two towns, only two and a half miles apart, but separated by high mountains. In a very short time, he said, the rocket may supplant all other means of mail delivery.

Its use as a catapult for airplanes, he said would make it possible to equip planes with smaller engines, because airplane engines now require most of their horsepower to take off and can do without it in the air. By using rocket as a catapult, this extra horsepower would not be necessary, he pointed out.

Also on the Olympic were Dr. Walter Braun, young German physician, who has come to live with his brother, Fred Braun of 468 8th St., Brooklyn; William M.L. Fiske, recently chosen captain of the American bobsled team which is to compete in the coming Olympics, who has been in Europe on business; the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, who will visit friends in South Carolina. The ship was a day late due to terrific headwinds it met in the crossing.”

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In 1952, Ley being interviewed, preposterously, about flying saucers, and also about space travel:

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Rasputin must have been a complicated dad, huh? The Russian mystic’s elder daughter, Maria, had a wild and woolly life as you might expect, what with the political revolution and the circus-animal training and all. She died in 1977 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, having spent the final years of her life collecting Social Security checks and complaining bitterly about communists to Hollywood gossip columnists. Here’s a portrait of her at age 69 from the November 12, 1968 Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia:

“We had a pleasant encounter with history last week by taking the daughter of Rasputin, ‘the mad monk of Russia,’ to the Gaslight for a hamburger.

She was in town over the weekend with her friend Patricia Barham, a film and theatre columnist from Los Angeles. While here, they tried and failed to get the apparent Grand Duchess Anastasia to leave her Albemarle County farm for L.A. smog.

The apparent Grand Duchess is, of course, Anna Anderson, the woman who has claimed for 50 years to be the surviving daughter of the last Russian royal family.

If you missed the social news of the summer, Anna moved here from Germany in August and may settle permanently in Albemarle.

Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, has been in the U.S. since 1937 and in Los Angeles since 1965. As was reported during her earlier visit here in August, she came to this country as a circus animal trainer with Ringling Bros.

We learned this trip she was a member of the Hagenbach Brothers animal act, a job she took after several years touring Europe as a Russian folk dancer.

Making a living was a problem for Russian emigres during the 20s and 30s and Maria grabbed at an offer to go on the stage. Girls like Maria who spent their childhood having tea with the Czar’s children every Wednesday weren’t trained to make a living, but Maria had some talent and endless spunk, it appears.

For although Maria was mauled by a bear in Peru, Indiana, she stayed with the circus until the traveling show played Miami, Florida, where she quit and went to work as a riveter in a defense shipyard, she related Saturday night.

She stayed in defense plant work until 1955 when she was laid off because of her age, 66. Since then she has been working in hospitals and baby sitting for friends.

Since credibility gap had yawned intrusively into the conversation, we asked her how she got into the animal training game, and where she got the courage to whip up on lions and tigers. She learned in London, was her unelaborated answer though she noted, ‘After you’ve been the target of a revolution, nothing scares you anymore.’

Gregori Rasputin, her father, was tied in with the Russian royal court as religious advisor.

That lasted until personal enemies decided Rasputin-style religion was going too far and they ended him in a legendary assassination said to involve poisoning, stabbing, and drowning.

Maria said she had it rough in the Bolshevik revolution the year after her father was murdered and eventually left Russia for Berlin, Bucharest, Paris, London, and Miami.

Her English vocabulary isn’t all it might be, she readily admits. She says she speaks Russian best but also German and French. When the time came to write a book – and virtually every notable Russian emigre wrote at least one in the decade 1925-1935 – she dictated her memoirs and the result was, My Father, an anecdotal book on Rasputin published in 1932.

Her friend Pat Barham is in the throws of re-write on a second Rasputin book based on Maria’s recollections. She intends to call it, The Rape of Rasputin and described it as ‘sexsational and exciting’ but not funny.

Maria claims a leaning to be psychic and Pat affirms that on election morning two weeks ago, Maria said that Mrs. Richard Nixon had come to her in a dream and smiled. Maria has ‘signs’ like that often, Pat said.

‘Little Mother,’ Pat calls Maria for her continual worrying about handbags within reach of strangers in restaurants, suitcases open in hotel rooms, and columnists getting a comfortable chair for interviews.

Since being interviewed is an old game for Rasputin’s only legitimate daughter, she talks willingly and seemingly without reservation. This prompted Gaslight owner John Tuck to volunteer that the father of one of his boyhood chums was one of the band of assassins that did Rasputin in.

‘Why didn’t he like my father?’ Maria asked with genuine curiosity. John didn’t know, or at least didn’t say.

‘My father was a kind man,’ Maria later said when we returned to her hotel. ‘Once he was savagely attacked by the most powerful newspaper in Russia. Friends asked why he didn’t close the paper down since he could have done it like this,’ she said with a snap of fingers.

‘Let them write about me,’ her father reportedly said. ‘Let them make money.’ Maria described him as ‘a kind man who would never have closed the paper.’

Historians may not agree Rasputin was kind but there’s no doubt Maria is thoughtful. ‘When you leave the hotel, stop at the desk,’ she said as the interview closed.

We did and found waiting a pot of white chrysanthemums to carry home through the season’s first snow flurry.”

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Footage of Maria as an animal trainer:

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Melvin Vaniman, the voyage’s innovative aerial photographer, holds Kiddo. Vaniman perished two years later in the wreck of the Akron.

“Roy, come and get this goddamn cat” was, in 1910, the initial radio message ever transmitted from air to ground. The occasion was the attempt of Walter Wellman’s dirigible America to cross the Atlantic, the first time a flying machine ever tried to accomplish the feat. The ship was outfitted with a wireless, also a first for an airship, and the message it relayed was about Kiddo, the journey’s feline mascot, apparently taken along because a skittish animal with sharp claws and balloons go together so well. (Before on-board cats became a short-lived craze, stuffed teddy bears, a much saner option, were apparently the mascot of choice for air trips.)

Though the voyage failed roughly 1,000 miles from its starting point in Atlantic City, all six passengers–seven if you include the troublesome Kiddo–were rescued by a passing liner. Wellman, a working class Ohio kid with a public-school education who became a newspaper editor and, later, a bold aviator and explorer, lost a lot of “battles” in the air, but his work paved the way for others to win the “war.” From a story about Wellman and his kitty in the November 20, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“When Walter Wellman and his crew of adventurers climbed into the basket of the great balloon America, at Atlantic City, a few weeks ago, to make their now world-famous effort to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air route, there went with them a cute little gray kitten about two months old.

"Moisant makes few trips these says without taking along his little gray kitten named Paree."

“Moisant makes few trips these days without taking along his little gray kitten named Paree.”

Besides earning for itself the reputation of being one of the two cats to go up in the air so high, Miss Atlantic City Pussy did something else on that memorable voyage. She and another kitten–the one taken aloft by John B. Moisant, in his famous aeroplane trip from Paris to London–were the means of starting a craze that has every prospect of spreading to all quarters of the country. These kittens caused the cat tribe to be so noticed that cat worship is scarcely too strong a term to apply to the popularity that is theirs.

Moisant makes few trips these days without taking along his little gray kitten named Paree. A number of other aviators impressed by the fortunate end to the Wellman expedition are thinking of adopting the same sort of mascot.”

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William_Bushnell_Stout_with_model_of_his_aircar_(1943)

“Stoudt predicted it would go 70 miles on the ground and 100 miles an hour in the air.”

A flying car in every garage is a technological dream deferred and probably for good reason: They’re not necessary, and there are no economic forces driving the creation of a commercially viable model. But that never stopped the dreamers among technologists, including transportation designer William B. Stoudt, from attempting to realize such modes of transport. An article from the August 5, 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the beginnings of what was officially known as Stoudt’s “Skycar” series, a succession of hybrid vehicles that never reached the market:

“Thee new modes of travel that would provide the average man with a plane that would land in his back yard and two types of craft to either fly or run on the ground are being developed in the laboratories of the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, it was revealed today.

William B. Stout, a pioneer airplane designer, has designed for the company three vehicles for everyday use–the ‘helicab,’ a helicopter-type flying machine, the ‘aerocar’ and the ‘roadable airplane,’ both of which operate in the air and on the ground.

The ‘helicab’ has the feature of vertical ascent and the ability to land in a small space. The ‘roadable airplane’ has four wheels and folding wings which Stoudt believes would provide an ideal light delivery truck for a business man. It would be capable of going 35 miles an hour on the ground and 120 miles an hour in the air, with a flying range of 400 miles.

The ‘aerocar’ is designed along the lines of an automobile with detachable wings. Stoudt predicted it would go 70 miles on the ground and 100 miles an hour in the air.”

 

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Robots seem to have been capable of offering rudimentary salutations to Madison Square Garden conventioneers more than eight decades ago, but a Broadway speech and Q&A in the Roaring Twenties by a robot named Eric may not have been entirely legit. The bucket of bolts could certainly gesture and nod, but his “voice” may have come from an offstage confederate via remote wireless, though no such possibility was entertained in a report about the unusual stage debut in the January 20, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The story:

“Eric Robot, ‘the perfect man,’ made his first public appearance in America on the stage of the John Golden Theater, 58th St. and Broadway, yesterday afternoon.

Eric arrived from England with Capt. William Henry Richards, secretary of the Model Engineering Association of England, 14 days ago, and plans a tour of the continent. Eric is the mechanical man invented by Captain Richards after many years of private experimental work, and was exhibited before the public for the first time 17 weeks ago in London.

Eric is made of aluminum, copper, steel, miles of wire, dynamos and electro-magnets. His eyes are two white electric bulbs, and his teeth, or rather tooth, is a blue bulb which, on the command, ‘Smile, Eric,’ appears, accompanied by a sputtering sound. The upper half of Mr. Robot’s body, Captain Richards explained, is devoted to the speaking mechanism, and the rest to the movable parts. Eric made a five-minute speech yesterday, talking in an ordinary male voice. Eric was bombarded with questions by the audience, and having been posted with answers to hundreds of probable questions, made a fairly good showing.”

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Chicago–Joseph Mikulec, who claims that he left Croatia, in Austria, February 5, 1906, on a 25,000 mile walk practically around the world, for a purse of $10,000 offered by an Austrian magazine if he finished the journey within five years, will be the guest of the local Croatian colony on Sunday. He will leave Sunday night for Springfield, part of his task being to visit the capital of every state in the Union. So far on the journey Mikulec has worn out forty-four pairs of shoes and is nineteen days ahead of schedule.”

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Joseph Mikulec, globe trotter:

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"The young inventor, with sweeping gestures of his hands, 'drew music from the ether.'"

“The young inventor, with sweeping gestures of his hands, ‘drew music from the ether.'”

The creator of an 1920s electronic instrument that seemingly stole music from the air, Leon Theremin was considered the Russian counterpart to Thomas Edison for his innovations in sound and video. He also created ingenious spying devices for the Soviet Union when he returned to his homeland–perhaps he was kidnapped by KGB agents but probably not–after a decade in the U.S. The text of a January 25, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article reporting on the Manhattan demonstration of Theremin’s namesake instrument in front of a star-studded audience:

“In the not-too-distant future there is likely to be found in thousands of homes a simple and inexpensive device whereby music lovers may by a mere waving of the hands conjure from the air entrancing melodies.

This conclusion seems possible as the result of a demonstration last night in the Hotel Plaza of the ‘Theremin Vox,’ by its inventor, Prof. Leon Theremin, a slender, rosy-cheeked young Russian, the ‘Russian Edison.’

Musical celebrities, including Rachmaninoff, Toscanini and Kreisler, sat spellbound with amazement as the young inventor, with sweeping gestures of his hands, ‘drew music from the ether.’

By these same gestures he caused the colors of a spotlight played on his face to change in keeping with musical tones, thus creating a synthesis of color and harmony.

It was frankly described as crude by both the inventor and J. Goldberg, who assisted in the demonstration. They made it clear that they were not musicians and that far better results could be achieved by one possessing musical technique.

The apparatus is not a reproducer or transmitter, like the photograph or radio, but an actual originator of music, creating sound by the principle of applying different frequencies of an alternative current–the so-called ‘heterodyne’ principle.

Its novelty consists in the method of controlling these frequencies of current by turning the knob of an ordinary condenser or by moving the hand within an electromagnetic field set up in the instrument, thus converting ‘radio howls’ into music.”

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Nikola Tesla outlived a good deal of his fame, and he didn’t even make it to 140. Perhaps the greatest “electrician” ever, the one who knew a century ago that there would be drones and mobile phones, a man who dreamed so differently that he seemingly fell to Earth, Tesla’s scientific goals grew more outsize as he aged. He even announced in 1933, at age 76, that he would live at least 64 more years because he slept only once a year, for five or six hours, supplementing this rest with an hour-long nap now and again. 

When he died in Manhattan an octogenarian, he wasn’t forgotten, but the lights had dimmed because his ambitions had grown so far beyond comprehension, and because he didn’t have a coterie of associates to burnish his reputation. His obituary in the January 3, 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle was relegated to page 11, despite his front-cover, above-the-fold mind. The story:

“Nikola Tesla, 86, the electrical genius who discovered the fundamental principle of modern radio, was found dead in his room at the Hotel New Yorker, Manhattan, last night.

Tesla never married. He had always lived alone, and the hotel management did not believe he had any near-relatives.

Despite his more than 700 inventions, he was not wealthy. He cared little for money, and so long as he could experiment he was happy.

Thought Radio a Nuisance

He was the first to conceive an effective method of utilizing alternating current, and in 1888 patented the induction motor, which converted electrical energy into mechanical energy more effectively and economically than by direct current. Among his other principal inventions were arc lighting, and the Tesla coil.

‘The radio, I know I’m its father, but I don’t like it,’ he once said. ‘I just don’t like it. It’s a nuisance. I never listen to it. The radio is a distraction and keeps you from concentrating. There are too many distractions in this life for quality of thought, and it’s quality of thought, not quantity, that counts.’

Evidently, he did a lot of thinking that never materialized. It was his custom on his birthday–July 10–to announce to reporters the shape of things to come.

On his 76th birthday, he announced: ‘The transmission of energy to another planet is only a matter of engineering. I have solved the problem so well I don’t regard it as doubtful.’

Told of ‘Death Beam’

When he was 78 he announced he had perfected a ‘death beam’ that would bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy planes 250 miles from a nation’s borders and make millions of soldiers fall dead in their tracks. His beam, he said, would make war impossible.

Tesla was born at Smiljan, Croatia, when it was a part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He came to the United States in 1884, became a citizen and an associate of Thomas A. Edison. Later he established the Tesla Laboratory in New York and devoted himself to research.”

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Even in death, Tex Rickard knew how to give them a show. The “them” in this case would be the admiring public who showed up in the tens of thousands to the wake of the boxing promoter, which was held in the ring area of Madison Square Garden. He was most famous for being the honest fight promoter who wouldn’t allow fixes or mismatches, whose affiliation with Jack Dempsey helped create the first million-dollar gates and who, in 1921, brought boxing to American radio audiences for the first time, introducing sports to mass media. But Rickard’s life went far beyond organized fisticuffs. He built both MSG (the third iteration) and Boston Gardens, he was a Texas marshal, an Alaska gold prospector, a gambling hall and bar proprietor, a longtime friend of Wyatt Earp, and the founder and first owner of the NHL’s New York Rangers. The grand man was sadly felled by an appendectomy gone bad a few days after his fifty-ninth birthday.

From the January 9, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about his final “show”:

“In the center of the great arena of Madison Square Garden, that Tex Rickard’s showmanship built, the body of the fight promoter lay in state today while the thousands who had admired him in life filed by in silence for a final view of Tex Rickard in death.

Seventy-five or more a minute they passed the bronze casket under a blanket of red and white flowers. One line to the left and one to the right. One from the 49th St. entrance and the other from 50th St. Five thousand passed and looked in the first hour, 10,000 by noon, some 30,000 before the funeral service began at 2 p.m. The Rev. Caleb Moor, pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, officiated. The burial was to follow in Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx.

Actresses in sable coats, longshoremen, washwomen, policemen, bankers, lawyers, children in arms, millionaires, paupers, racetrack touts, Broadway hangers-on, ministers of the Gospel…it was a strange double procession that turned out toward the 8th Ave. exit or melted away in silence among the seats there to wait for the formal services later on.

Never before had this Madison Square Garden, Rickard’s own ‘temple of sports,’ seen such a phenomenon, and no doubt will never again.

Here had been skeptical crowds, enthusiastic crowds, cheering crowds, savage crowds that snarled and called for blood. Here had been lights and gongs sounding, jazz orchestras playing, the thud of leather against human jaws, the clink of skates on the hockey ice, the whirl of six-day bicycle racers. Today dim lights pierced the shadows up there near the roof, and from the tiny windows came streaks of shadowy daylight that only added to the dark.

$15,000 Casket

The body of Rickard, in immaculate evening clothes, lay in the $15,000 bronze casket on a slightly raised platform in the very center of what had been the prize fighting ring, the rink of the hockey players. From the shoulders down nothing was visible but the roses–roses, red and white. At the casket’s head stood Sgt. Timothy Murphy, longtime friend of the promoter, at a straight and stern attention, without moving muscle as the hours dragged by. Motionless as Rickard himself.

Clustered palms formed a sort of green cathedral nave around the altar on which were the remains of the man who had risen from Texas cow puncher to a world figure. And in dimness nothing else was visible except the spot of green, the dull, motley moving files, the flowers, the somber purple and the black splotches of crepe and here and there the bright blue uniform of a Garden attendant.

And for sound, only the shuffling feet of thousands of silent mourners.

Outside the crowd grew and grew. There had been perhaps 5,000 when the doors were thrown open shortly after 10 a.m. A bit of unruliness developed then when the mounted police in an effort to line the mourners up in twos rode up on the sidewalks. Soon this quieted down. By twos and twos they formed thereafter, beginning at the side entrances and extending gradually out to 8th Ave., to 9th and to 10th. Shortly after midday some 15,000 were waiting to follow those who had already entered.

Earlier in the morning the young Mrs. Rickard had come in with Jack Dempsey and Walter Field, assistant and close friend of the dead man. They sat down beside the casket. For a brief interval there, alone with these two men in the amphitheater, Mrs. Rickard wept over her dead. There was a gigantic piece of carnations and forget-me-nots from the employees of the Garden. The New York Rangers, Rickard’s own hockey team, sent a huge wreath, and their rivals, the Americans, offered another. … Many of the big dealers in New York found themselves stripped of flowers before midnight as a steady stream of orders poured in. Smaller dealers were asked to contribute and did. And all night long, even into this morning, huge pieces of floral offerings were being carried into the cavernlike old Garden, which had suddenly become a glimmering, brilliant bed of beauty.

Draped in Beauty

The Garden entrance was draped in black. Inside there were patches of black. Inside, however, were the flowers, and all the somberness of the crepe could not take away their brilliance. They said that even the Valentino funeral, which brought thousands of floral pieces, did not approach the Rickard ceremony.”

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As if the millions upon millions of fatalities caused by World War I and the Great Pandemic of 1918 wasn’t awful enough, that concurrence of tragedies struck another blow to humanity, thinning out the applicants for American circus freak shows. But sideshow scout Nicholas Sally trudged on bravely, armed with dubious knowledge about genetics, as he looked for fresh talent in Europe. At journey’s end, he provided details of his findings to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for an insane article in the February 20, 1921 edition. The story:

Berlin–Nicholas Sally, freak hunter for the Dreamland sideshows at Coney Island and the Ringling Circus, has discovered one family in Berlin that did not suffer for lack of food during the war. It is made up of four brothers and two sisters, all of whom are under 23 years of age and weigh nearly 50 pounds each. Sally has arranged to take one of the brothers to America, along with a dozen other freaks he has picked up in various European countries, for exhibition during the coming season.

‘They have been hard to find this season,’ he said, ‘for a great many died during the war. Human skeletons are the scarcest of all. I have combed Hungary, Austria, Poland and Germany, which head the list of so-called poverty-stricken countries, but have not found a single skeleton.’

A man with a revolving head from Austria, a little woman who has fins instead of arms and two giants from Germany, a pair of midgets from Hungary, an English dwarf and a dog-faced man from Poland are the headliners of the collection of freaks that will start for America as soon as passport difficulties are cleared up.

‘Europe is the place to come for the special sideshow attractions,’ said Sally, who believes that the intermingling of races and intermarriages within families here are partly responsible for their great abundance. They plead for a chance to go to America for a year, and possibly longer if they make good, and get passage paid both ways, but demand much higher wages than they are paid here, for they believe the United States is a land where gold flows freely. Some of the freaks will be exhibited in Philadelphia and New York until the circus and Coney Island seasons open.

E.T. Benson also is in Germany making arrangements to ship to the United States the animals and trainers John Ringling obtained from the Hagenbeck Menagerie at Hamburg a few weeks ago.”

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“I have my manias, and I impose them.”

Italo Balbo, Mussolini’s Air Minister, created an experimental office environment that was a technocrat’s dream, humming with gizmos, even if it shared some of the fascist tendencies of his politics. There was an Automat-style lunchroom and a tubing system that delivered coffee to desks, which was wonderful provided you weren’t aging, sickly or disabled. Then you weren’t allowed to work there. An article from the February 23, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Paris–Fascist Air Minister Italo Balbo of Italy, soon to fly to America with 20 planes, has hot coffee shot up to his office through pneumatic tubes. So in fact do all the 2,000 clerks and other personnel of his ministry.

This is but one of the fantasies that the 36-year-old, prematurely bearded air minister (possible successor to Mussolini) has incorporated in the newest of Rome’s government buildings.

In spite of his youth he is probably the dean of the world’s air ministers, since he is in his sixth year of office. To Claude Blanchard whom he showed around the building, he stated that he had deep dislike for ordinary government offices.

‘I have my manias, and I impose them,’ he laughed. ‘There is not a drawer in the building.’ He explained that his first four years in politics gave him a horror of desk drawers.

Blanchard describes the ministry as a combination of ‘factory, museum, laboratory, gymnasium, restaurant, bank, university and storehouse.’

Every desk has a telephone and a pneumatic tube such as department stores use to shoot change from customer to cashier and back. The elevators are endless chain affairs which never stop; and on and off which passengers leap while they are in motion.

No Gray Hairs In Sight

There are no paralytics or rheumatics in the ministry. Blanchard said that he did not see one gray hair. 

Balbo, while visiting Chicago, 1933.

Balbo’s own office is a wide bright room, the walls of which are decorated with huge maps painted in the seventeenth century manner. While they were talking something like a steamboat whistle blew; and the minister invited the guest to lunch.

After a descent in the non-stop elevators they came out in an immense stand-up lunch room, in which everybody from the minister down to the workmen in aprons and overalls eat at once. They all pay for it, the minister and upper ranks paying 32 cents and the men in overalls seven. Forty-five minutes are allowed for lunch. Blanchard, between Balbo and a high staff officer, lined up at one of the long nickel and porcelain shelves, opened the small nickeled doors in front of him. There, kept hot by electricity, was the whole meal.

It was not a completely standardized meal. The menu had been circulated earlier in the morning and everybody had shot back his order by pneumatic tube.

In fifteen minutes the lunch was over and everybody flowed around to a colossal bar filled with glittering coffee ‘espresso’ machines. Each made his own coffee; and it was there that Balbo showed with some pride the system by which the clerks get coffee in their offices without leaving their desks. A clerk shoots an order down the tube with his desk number on it; and in a moment a sealed bottle with the coffee in it plops out of the tube.

It is a good ministry to work in. It closes at a quarter to four.”

 

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“‘For the first time I am writing for money; now I am frightened that some quick accident might happen.”

Isadora Duncan never did learn to drive. Out for a car ride in France with a friend and a chauffeur who promised to teach her to operate an automobile, the free-spirited dancer was done in by her free-flowing scarf, which entangled in one of the motor car’s front wheels and yanked her into the next world. It was the end of a short life that felt like a long one. An Associated Press article that appeared in the September 15, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle on the morning after Duncan’s sudden death:

Nice, France (AP)–The body of Isadora Duncan, dancer, whose adventurous career terminated in an automobile tragedy here last night, was locked in her studio today. Police are guarding the door and will permit no one to enter until a Soviet consular official has signed the necessary papers allowing friends to take charge of the body.

Miss Duncan left no will, according to Mrs. Mary Desto Perks, British newspaper woman who was driving with the dancer when she met death. Mrs. Perks said that all the dancer’s friends would testify that she intended all her property go to her blind brother, Augustin. Although Miss Duncan was recently financially embarrassed, Mrs. Perks declared the royalties on her book of memoirs were expected to net many thousands of dollars. The draperies and pictures in the studio here were alone valued at $10,000.

Citizenship in Doubt

At an autopsy performed today the verdict of accidental death due to strangulation was returned.

The only identifying document found in the Nice apartment was a Soviet passport, and police in accordance with French laws notified the nearest Russian Consul, who is at Marseilles. He was asked to come to Nice by motor at once.

A search at the American consulate here failed to show whether Miss Duncan had claimed American citizenship since 1921.

Miss Duncan was killed last night as she was learning to drive her new car.

A silken scarf of red–the color of which she was fond, and which seems to have symbolized her radicalism–fluttered about the neck of the dancer as she sped along the Promenade des Angels. With her was a French chauffeur, who was going to teach her to drive, and Mrs. Perks.

Killed Instantly

“The idea of ‘interpretive’ dancing came to her.”

The end of the long scarf whipped over the side of the car, became entangled in the front wheel and jerked the dancer from her seat. The chauffeur jammed on the brakes and he and Mrs. Perks disengaged the scarf from the limp body. The drove frantically to the St. Roch Hospital, but in vain. The doctors said her neck was broken and that death must have been instantaneous.

At one time a stage idol, Miss Duncan had long devoted herself to the training of young dancers. Her affairs did not appear to prosper, and her Neuilly studio had to be sold to pay her debts.

Had Premonitions of Death

Of late she had given much of her time to writing memoirs of her career, from which she hoped great things. She seems to have had premonitions of her death as, in talking with a correspondent of the Associated Press on Tuesday, she said:

‘For the first time I am writing for money; now I am frightened that some quick accident might happen.’

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From a hesitant debut as a 15-year-old girl in California, Isadora Duncan’s dancing feet carried her across two continents to wealth, a certain degree of fame and a life crowded with adventure and tragedy.

Bare Legs Stirred Protests

Born in San Francisco in May, 1878, the daughter of Charles Duncan, a dancing teacher, she received early training in the art on which she was to leave an indelible impress.

The idea of ‘interpretive’ dancing came to her and she began to devise dance figures of her own. In development of her idea she discarded customary costumes, appearing in filmy attire and with bare legs, a daring innovation in those days and one which brought many protests.

One of her first successes in New York was a dance version of ‘Omar Khayyam,’ in which she interpreted the spirit of the classic poem while the verses were recited by Justin Huntly McCarthy.

She was teaching a class of children in the Hotel Windsor, New York, when the fire broke out on March 7, 1899, which leveled the structure. She saved every one of the pupils at the risk of her life.

In the same year she decided to go to Europe and made the trip with her mother and brothers on a cattleboat, the venture being financed with the aid of friends. Europe was quick to recognize a form of art in her dramatic dancing, and she established a ‘Temple of Art’ in Paris.

King Edward VII, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Ernst Haeckel, Gordon Craig and Rodin the sculptor were listed among the admirers.

In 1904, her first financial success came when she started a school of classical dancing in Berlin, where she trained the girls who came to be known as the Duncan Dancers, forerunners of many later dancing groups of this character.

The girls performed, as their teacher did, in flowing draperies and bare feet.

Back in Paris again, in 1913, she encountered opposition from the authorities when she appeared as a nude bacchante, and in order to continue her fetes without interruption she purchased a villa at Neuilly, where she gave her brilliant parties for nearly four years.

Two Children Drowned

"There tragedy overtook her."

“There tragedy overtook her.”

There tragedy overtook her. Her two children, Beatrice, 5, and Patrick, 2–she was never married and never revealed the name of their father–were drowned when the motorcar in which they were sitting plunged into the Seine River when it was cranked while in gear.

Of radical sympathies, her fortunes were adversely affected with the outbreak of the World War, and when the Russian revolution came in 1917 she immediately announced her adhesion to the Bolshevik cause. She went to Moscow some time later on the invitation of the Soviet Government to found a new school of dancing. Difficulties arose, and the plan was abandoned.

It was in Moscow that she married Sergei Yesenin, young Russian poet, in 1921. The next year she brought him to the United States and gave a series of dances. Later in Paris she announced that she had sent the young poet back to Russia, and eventually she divorced him, describing him as ‘really too impossible.’ He committed suicide in Russia in December, 1925.”

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Joy, peace and a vegetable diet are ingredients of a good life but not a prescription for an everlasting one. James B. Schafer, however, disagreed.

The leader of a Long Island sect, Schafer believed that positive thinking and vegetarianism from birth would not just delay death but defeat it. To prove his point, he and his followers adopted the baby of a struggling waitress in 1939 and announced that the cult’s child-rearing methods would make her immortal. The plug was pulled on the delusional plan a year later when the birth mother sued to regain custody. In 1942, the metaphysician was sentenced to a stint in Sing Sing for larceny. In 1955, Schafer and his wife guaranteed that they would definitely not enjoy days without end when they committed a double suicide.

From an article in the November 25, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle which detailed the short-lived immortal baby experiment (a story also covered by the New Yorker):

Oakdale--Chubby, red-headed Baby Jean, five-month-old girl adopted by the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians, gurgles complacently in her crib in the mansion-headquarters of the Fraternity completely unconcerned over the fact that she has been designated a candidate for immortality.

The baby’s parents, too poor to bring her up, asked the organization to care for her. Members of the cult, headed by James B. Schafer, have determined not only to bring her up–but to give her eternal life.

EMPHATIC IN BELIEF

Schafer, who, in his new role of foster-daddy, tucks Jean into bed each night, seemed to feel that the aims of the metaphysicians might be difficult for non-believers to understand, but he was emphatic that ‘immortality’ for Jean means eternal physical life as well as immortality of the soul and mind.

The metaphysician explained that illness and disease are the result of destructive thinking and destructive forces.

‘The child shall be raised in an atmosphere of complete joy, peace and happiness, where people do not talk of the destructive side of life, but the constructive,’ Schafer said. ‘Man has a right to immortality of body as well as of soul and mind. We shall work with Jean to express that right.’

70 HER GUARDIANS

The blue-eyed girl, meanwhile, has begun her apprenticeship in eternal life according to the rules of metaphysics. Cared for by the 70 students lodging at Peacehaven and supervised by a trained baby nurse, Jean each day attends classes in metaphysics along with her elders. When she is graduated from her present earthly formula of quite ordinary baby food, she will become a strict vegetarian, with eggs, meat, and fish barred from her diet.

The little girl’s playground is the luxurious estate which formerly belonged to W.K. Vanderbilt and was taken over as headquarters for the metaphysicians.

MYSTERY THROUGH AGES

The impulse to seek proof of immortality, or exemption, from death, has been the concern of philosophers from Socrates and Plato down through the ages, but most have been content to concede the inevitable dissolution of the body in reasoning immortality of soul and mind through reabsorption in the universal life, reincarnation, and continuance of the soul in the hereafter, the thesis upon which the Hebraic and Christian religions are founded.

The Orphic mysteries proclaim the body ‘in its limited and perishable condition is no fit organ, but a grave or prison for the soul.’ Through special care, according to metaphysical doctrines, the cult will attempt to solve the mystery of physical death, and give Baby Jean immortality of body as well as soul.”

 

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If you displeased the Doukhobors, you most likely were going to see their genitals. The anarchic religious sect, established in 17th-century Russia, was a serious lot that practiced Spiritual Christianity, pacifism and vegetarianism, and would accept the rules of no government. When they felt they were being encroached upon by ordinances not their own, off went the pants. A trio of stories follow about the mass-nudity protests of some of the Doukhobors who emigrated to Canada.

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Doukhobors Burn Clothes,” August 13, 1905, New York Times:

Winnipeg, Manitoba–Thirty Doukhobors, a Russian religious sect, marched to within half a mile of Yorkton yesterday, stripped, and burned their clothes. The police arrested all the men, women and children in the party and wrapped them in blankets. The Doukhobors had intended to march through the streets of Yorkton.

They refused all nourishment but raw potatoes. They said they were looking for Christ. Another party is reported to be heading or Yorkton from the Northeast.”

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From the July 4, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Winnipeg–The mounted police at Kamsizk, Sask., yesterday went to Veregin to quiet some Doukhobors who are on a rampage. When police were half a mile from the settlement they met thirty-five almost nude religionists. They chanted hymns for several days and yesterday in the center of the settlement took off their clothes, piled them in a heap with all their money and jewels and burned them.

The police locked them up while they made a search for more clothes. These the Doukhobors refused to wear and force will be necessary.”

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Do Nude Dance As Protest” December 2, 1921 New York Times:

Vancouver, B.C.–Three men from the Doukhobor, or Russian non-conformist, settlement, near Nelson, B.C., discarded all their garments in a waiting room at the Canadian Pacific Railway station here yesterday and paced off a protesting war dance when they were refused admittance to the United States. They were later arrested by the police for disorderly conduct.

United States immigration Commissioner Zurbrick had questioned them as to their fitness to proceed on their journey to the State of Washington as prospective settlers. He found their views coincided with the accepted definition of ‘philosophical anarchy’ and declined them the hospitality of his Government.

They are said to have threatened an undress parade in Vancouver by a large number of their fellow Doukhobors in protest against their arrest.”•

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First Madison Square Garden, 1879-1890.

First Madison Square Garden, 1879-1890.

When the world was slower, much slower, a quick gait could bring in a huge gate. Such was the case with pedestrianism, a sensation before automobiles were king of the roads, in which competitors would race-walk cross-country or do ceaseless laps around a track in an arena before bleary-eyed spectators who would spend up to a week mesmerized by the exhibition of slow-twitch muscle fiber. An excerpt from the March 4, 1882 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about one such six-day contest, a cross between a footrace and a dance marathon, before a large Madison Square Garden audience that alternately yelled and yawned:

“Popular interest in the race of the champions touched its highest point to-day. The opening of the last day of the walk was witnessed by over two thousand spectators. Fully one-half of these had lingered in Madison Square Garden all night. Drowsy and unkempt, with grimy faces and dusty apparel, they shivered behind their upturned coat collars, determined to see the battle out. The management’s order of ‘no return checks’ had far more unpleasant significance for them than hours of discomfort in the barnlike building. The permanent lodger in a six days’ match usually makes his bed upon a coal box, in a grocery wagon or beneath the roof of the police lodging room. Accordingly, it is his habit to come to the garden at the beginning of a race and remain for a full week, or until he is removed by the employees to make way for some more profitable customers. This contest had its full share of these persistent individuals. Beside them, many sporting men remained until almost daybreak, attracted by the enormous scores rolled up by the pedestrians and speculations as to what they would do in the way of the beating of the record. It was conceded that Hazael and Fitzgerald would surpass all previous performances. Hazael’s wonderful work was generally regarded as the marvel of the match.

When Hazael, the Londoner of astonishing prowess, retired from the track at 11:37 last night, he had rolled up the enormous record of 540 miles in 120 hours. To his enthusiastic handlers in walker’s row he complained of feeling tired and sleepy. His limbs were sound and apparently tireless as steel. He partook heartily of nourishment and then, throwing himself on his couch, caught a few cat naps. At 1:49:20 he bounded out of his flower covered alcove, and once more took up the thread of his travels. His rest of two hours and twelve minutes had greatly improved him. He had been sponged and rubbed, and grinned all over his quaint face at his enormous score. That he was yet full of vigor and energy was apparent from the work he immediately entered upon. He had not walked more than half a lap when he gave a preliminary wobble. Then he clasped his hands over his ears, pulled his head down until his slender neck was well craned, and shot over the yellow pathway at a rattling pace. The sleepy watcher pricked up their ears at the shout which greeted this performance, and a fusillade of handclapping shook the garden. Fitzgerald was jogging over the tanbark at this time, sharply working to draw nearer to the Englishman’s figures on the scoring sheets. He accelerated his speed as the Londoner resumed the task before him. Within a few minutes both men were running like reindeer. It is doubtful they could have made better time if a pack of famished wolves had been at their heels. Volley after volley of applause thundered after them from the spectators. The runners kept close together. Between the hours of 2 and 8 o’clock this morning, so swift was their movements, that each man had added six miles and seven laps to his score or within one lap of seven miles. The struggle became so intense that the spectators began to realize that something unusual was in progress. A stir was apparent all over the vast interior and wearied humanity pushed itself to the rail to see what was going on.”

 

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Rudolph Valentino wooed the world without a word. A gigantic star of the Silent Age–a pagan god, almost, especially to the ladies–Valentino’s early death at 31 led to one of the more raucous scenes imaginable at the public viewing of his body, a real day of the locusts that stretched into the night. From the August 26, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Crowds continued to clamor today for a view of the dead Rudolph Valentino although at midnight last night the doors of the Campbell Funeral Church, at 65th St. and Broadway, Manhattan, were finally closed to the waiting thousands and further display of the departed ‘great lover’ of the screen was barred.

The final scene of the ‘lying in state’ had been achieved amid rioting, charging of the police to disperse a remaining line of 5,000 still standing in line and counter-charging by some of those who complained that they were being deprived of a ‘last view’ of him whom they so much admired.

Ullman Firm in Barring Public

But S. George Ullman, who had been Valentino’s personal representative in life, continued in his determination that the sorry spectacle, a sort of vulgar circus affair to which the public showing of the motion picture star’s remains had been reduced, be stopped.

After a visit to the long line of persons waiting–and joking–in the rain yesterday afternoon, Ullman declared it had all become ‘sordid, disgusting, irreverent, morbid.’ Today he added:

‘I am greatly disappointed at the way the men and women acted when they were allowed to see Mr. Valentino’s body. They showed the most gross irreverence. I am sorry that they were allowed to see him at all.’

Many Bring Floral Offerings

Despite this, some 500, chiefly girls, were in line in front of the funeral parlors this morning in the hope that the edict would be reversed. Many of them brought floral wreaths to lay on the casket, in the expectation that they would thus be admitted to see the body. The flowers were accepted, but the donors were not permitted to go in.

By noon the hundreds had grown to thousands and 200 patrolmen were on duty in the vicinity informing the crowds that they walked in vain, scattered them, urging them to go home.

A great army of some 90,000 passed the silver and bronze casket which held Valentino’s body from 9 a.m. until midnight yesterday and from 4 in the afternoon to midnight the day before, and from all appearances other thousands were ready to take up the march for a fleeting glimpse of the ‘perfect lover’s’ remains, lying in state.

But what was intended as a solemn tribute to the young man who had been called the ‘sheik’ of the motion picture screen had turned into a spectacle of cheap, tawdry, even comic and, in the view of S. George Ullman, ‘irreverent.’

At Ullman’s orders, therefore, the long parade in the rain was ended just before midnight last night and the wan features of Rudolph Valentino were locked in a vault of the funeral parlor, never again to be publicly displayed.

Rioting Mars Solemnity

Rioting, disorder and an undignified scramble of those made livid by the sudden conclusion of the ‘tribute’ to the motion-picture star. Some 5,000 were still in line along Broadway and the side streets when, at 10 minutes before midnight, the mounted police made a concerted dash to send the crowd home. Taken by surprise, the line gave way, and scattered. In groups and individually, the thousands slopped through the mud, southward, east and west.

Then part of the mob, seeing its object frustrated, made a determined effort to turn back toward the Campbell funeral parlor, where the casket containing Valentino’s body was even then being hastily removed to the ‘gold room’ on an upper floor.

Police Retreat Temporarily

For a few moments the police, anxious to avoid bloodshed, had to retreat. They retreated but did not break. Presently, the organized men on horseback overcame the unorganized groups on the street and drove them away.

And then, when the situation seemed to be under control, a last dash was carried out by a wedge of about 100 men and women, who were able to gain past the police and into the Campbell Building. By that time, the Valentino casket had been hurriedly taken to the floor above.”

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“Impressive scenes of funeral of famous film star”:

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