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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.”


Joseph Mikulec, globe trotter:


"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.”


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.”



“‘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.’


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.


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.’


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”•


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.”


“Impressive scenes of funeral of famous film star”:

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Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey was one of the biggest things going in America in the Roaring Twenties, in an age when boxing was the king of sports. He was as big a star as Babe Ruth or Charlie Chaplin or Harry Houdini. Like all public figures of those days, Dempsey had a brand new audience to please: filmgoers, who could see his every imperfection in newsreels projected on larger-than-life screens. The boxer had added reason to be concerned about his punched-up mug: He wanted to make Hollywood movies. So during a three-year sabbatical from the ring, during which time he made more than ten silent shorts and starred in Manhattan Madness, Dempsey decided to get his nose fixed. From the August 10, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Los Angeles–Whoever opposes Jack Dempsey in the next battle for the heavyweight ring championship will have an opportunity to test his marksmanship on a nice new nose.

The world’s champion has gone into retirement with a bandaged face after bowing to the filmdom fad of having one’s nose rebuilt to suit the cameraman.

Since Dempsey had been publicly connected with the motion picture industry all summer, there was no way out of it, and accordingly the plastic surgeon was given permission to cut away a piece of the boxer’s left ear and put it where it would make his nose look like Valentino’s.

It will be a week, the doctor said, before the new nose can be unveiled.”



Homer Collyer, 1939.


Langley Collyer, 1946.

One person can lose his mind, but nothing is madder than a couple. 

Two people can encourage each other to health and prosperity, but they can also nurture mutual insanity, creating a madhouse behind close doors, replacing bedroom mirrors with the funhouse kind. No living quarters in New York City history were likely crazier than the Fifth Avenue hoarder heaven that the reclusive brothers Homer and Langley Collyer called home sweet home. It contained, among many–many–other things, 240,000 pounds of garbage, 18,000 books, 17 grand pianos, eight live cats, three dressmaking dummies and two very damaged brothers. 

The following is a March 22, 1947 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the demise of the Collyers, published after the police had found Homer’s lifeless body seated in a chair but 18 days before they realized that Langley was just ten feet away, dead and buried under some of his favorite things:

“The junk-filled mansion of the mysterious Collyer brothers in Harlem today was boarded up following the discovery of the body of Homer Collyer but his brother Langley was nowhere to be found.

Homer’s body was found yesterday by police on the second-story brownstone house at 2078 5th Ave. The blind and paralyzed septuagenarian was found in a sitting-up position after a neighbor phoned police.

How anyone ever got in or out of the mansion, reported to be the repository of a fortune in cash, was a mystery to police. They found their way barred at every opening by piles of newspapers, tin cans and other assorted junk.

Walls of Junk

Patrolman William Parker of the 122nd St. station finally got in through a second-story window after a ladder was thrown up. He had to clear away a solid wall of newspapers, however, before worming his way into the house.

The body of the dead recluse was taken out in a khaki bag to the morgue where an autopsy will probably be made today. John R. McMullen, the Collyers’ attorney, said burial will take place in Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn. He was confident Langley would get in touch with him.

William Rodriquo of 1 W. 127th St., Manhattan, a Democratic co-captain in the 9th A.D. and friend of the Collyers, insisted that Langley was in a little room on the third floor of the house. But Inspector Joseph Goldstein, who ordered the place boarded up, said if Langley were around he would have come out.”

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A non-projection version of the Kinetophone that presaged the theater type. It was referred to as a “peep show.”

A 1912 Edison publicity still of a home version of the Kinetophone.

A 1912 Edison publicity still of a home version of the Kinetophone.

One persistent problem for Thomas Edison was the development of the talking picture. He thought he had the answer in 1913, when he exhibited a projection version of his Kinetophone in New York City to much acclaim. But it was still just another phonograph record-based model that had to be synced to the images by an operator, Unfortunately, these employees generally had butterfingers, and the new sensation soon lost its lustre. Before the close of the following year, all the Kinetophone images and sound masters were destroyed in a warehouse fire. True talkies would have to wait. A New York Times article about the initial exhibition, which touched on the technical issues to come:

“After Thomas A. Edison had invented the motion picture and the talking machine he dreamed of talking pictures, and the next morning he went to work again. For several years hints came from the Edison laboratory that the Kinetophone was in the process of development. Finally Edison spoke of his invention as a thing accomplished and yesterday, for the first time on any stage, the ‘Kinetophone’ was on the bill at four of the Keith Theatres, the Colonial, the Alhambra, the Union Square, and the Fifth Avenue. To judge from the little gasps of astonishment and the chorus of ‘Ain’t that something wonderful?’ that could be heard on all sides the Kinetophone is a success.

The problem involved was fairly simple. Mr. Edison was looking for perfect synchronization of record and film. The difficulty was to have a record sufficiently sensitive to receive the sounds from the lips of actors who would still be free to move about in front of the camera instead of being obliged to roar into the horn of a phonograph. But the difficulties have been overcome and the kinetoscope is actually in vaudeville and highly regarded there.

The first number of the exhibit was a descriptive lecture. The screen showed a man in one of those terribly stuffy, early eighties rooms that motion-picture folk seem to affect. He talked enthusiastically about the invention, and as his lips moved the words sounded from the big machine behind the screen. Gesture and speech made the thing startlingly real. He broke a plate, blew a whistle, dropped a weight. The sounds were perfect. Then he brought on a pianist, violinist, and soprano, and ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ was never listened to with more fa

scinated attention. Finally the scope of kinetophone powers was further illustrated by a bugler’s apoplectic efforts, and the barking of some perfect collies.

The second number was a minstrel show with orchestra, soloists, end men, and interlocutor, large as life and quite as noisy. It brought down the respective houses but the real sensation of the day was scored quite unintentionally by the operator of the machine at the Union Square Theatre last evening. He inadvertently set the picture some ten or twelve seconds ahead of his sounds, and the result was amazing. The interlocutor, who, by a coincidence, wore a peculiarly defiant and offended expression, would rise pompously, his lips would move, he would bow and sit down. Then his speech would float out over the audience. It would be an announcement of the next song, and before it was all spoken the singer would be on his feet with his mouth expanded in fervent but soundless song.

This diverted the audience vastly, but the outbursts of laughter would come when the singer would close his lips, smile in a contented manner, bow, notes were still ringing clear. The audience, however, knew what happened, and the mishap did not serve to lessen their tribute of real wonder at Edison’s intent.”


John Arbuckle’s dream stayed afloat far longer than many expected. The coffee magnate and humanitarian decided, at the dawn of the twentieth century, to combat the lack of affordable lodgings in Manhattan by converting ships into floating apartment buildings for single, working-class folks. For roughly three dollars a week, hundreds of renters would get room and board and motion sickness. It wasn’t meant to make money (and did not since it never became as popular as the proprietor had hoped) but to be a gift to struggling people from a kindly man who was known as both a capitalist and a trust buster.

There were problems from the start, and the New York Times even sank the plan prematurely, but the company continued to offer “water beds” for a pittance until 1915, withdrawing its gangplank for good soon after Arbuckle’s death. Just three dozen women were residents at that point.

From an article in the July 17, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the maiden voyage: 

“John Arbuckle will open his floating hotels, now organized under the name of the Deep Sea Hotel Company, for business to-morrow evening. This evening he will take as guests a number of his friends and a party of newspaper men on the inaugural trip of the Jacob A. Stamler. The tugboat John Herlin will leave the foot of Atlantic Avenue at 6 o’clock with the guests and take them over to the ship, which is anchored off the Statue of Liberty. The Stamler was towed over there this morning, in order to be in readiness to sail this evening.

The yachts Giana and Hermit are anchored off Thirty-ninth Street, South Brooklyn, and will be placed in commission when their services are called for.

The final preparations on the vessels are only just completed. Handsome carpets have been laid down in the saloons, smoking room and on the berth deck. Every stateroom is handsomely carpeted and fitted up. The lower deck of the Stamler is mainly occupied by bath and toilet rooms of the latest design. The awning deck has been fitted up with seats, which can be converted into comfortable beds. The main and women’s saloons are fitted with Pullman berths, and the seats can also be used as berths. These saloons are fitted with handsomely upholstered chairs, hard wood tables and lounging chairs. The smoking room is equally well equipped. The ship is remarkably cool below decks, the air being kept in constant circulation by a large fan driven by steam. The entire ship s brilliantly lighted up with electric lights furnished by a dynamo in the engine room. The engine is utilized for hoisting in the anchor, getting coal and supplies on board and it does much of handling of the sails as well.

The kitchen is splendidly equipped. There is an immense range of the latest design, a large broiler and several soup and vegetable kettles. A ten ton ice refrigerator occupies one section and a dumb waiter connects the culinary department with the pantry on the saloon deck. What is said of the Stamler applies equally, but in a smaller degree to the schooner yachts Hermit and Gitana.

Every precaution will be taken to prevent the semblance of rowdyism, as Mr. Arbuckle said to an Eagle reporter today: ‘I will have a couple of special policemen, big and strong enough to shake the toe nails of any one who attempts to cause annoyance on board, and pitch him in the blackhole of the John Herlin afterward. I sincerely hope there will be no need to call on their service, but nothing wrong will be tolerated for an instant.’

The floating hotels will open for business to-morrow evening.”


August Engelhardt, far right.

August Engelhardt wasn’t the only European thinker to run Kurtz-like into the heart of darkness, but he may have been the maddest of all. In 1902, the 25-year-old German health reformer, who believed in sun worship and a strict coconut diet, retreated from Bavarian university life to Kabakon Island in New Guinea, which he purchased from his mother country with an inheritance. Though he brought a library’s worth of books to keep him company, Engelhardt invited others from home to join him in “paradise.” Things did not go well, and it’s a marvel that Engelhardt was able to survive until 1919, though some of his acolytes weren’t nearly so “aged” when they expired.

Despite the title of this New York Times piece from the October 15, 1905 edition, as you can see in the top photo, some women eventually made their way to Engelhardt’s folly, but they were largely too bright to get caught up in Kabakon’s severe cocovorism and nudism. But the far larger error in the Times story is the fact that 1905 wasn’t nearly the end of his life or experiment; Engelhardt recovered from his serious illness and returned to Kabokon, unable to to depart from his radical lifestyle anymore than T.E. Lawrence could leave the sands, drawn again and again by some ineffable void inside.

I suppose the most generous assessment of Engelhardt came from an Australian captain after visiting the colony: “Could the world do without living examples in self-sacrifice–even if their ideals are wrong? And would we not all fall asleep, if it were not for a sprinkling of extremists?”

An excerpt from the Times article:

“August Engelhardt was at least sincere in his faith and in the observance of its tenets. For days he lived alone, eating nothing but bread fruit and cocoanuts, swimming in the sea or the still lagoon; studying in the fauna and flora of his island by day, or lying on the hot beach; by night sleeping in a hollow scooped out of the sand.

Occasionally he saw, or thought he saw, men moving in the cocoa groves, and once when he went to investigate he discovered for a certainty that he was not alone on the island. A number of lithe, naked, dark-skinned men and women ran hastily away. But the natives were few and harmless; apparently, too, they feared if they did not actually worship this great man with white skin and shaggy yellow hair who emerged glistening from the lagoon, or appeared suddenly in the cocoa groves. They kept away from him and were even more exclusive when his companions came.

It may be supposed that Engelhardt led a dreary life on Kahakua while awaiting the arrival of his disciples, but if one may judge the student’s temperament from his acts it seems more likely that this was the happiest period of his existence on the atoll. He had left the world behind him; he was free. Of the food of his choice he lacked none, and the balmy air of the Pacific, the warm sun of the tropics, and the cool spray of the ‘combers’ were his playthings. At dawn the nature feasted upon his eyes with beauty as the sun, his god, climbed over the horizon, tinted the palm crests with gold, the sea with amber and opal and crimson, and bathed the kneeling figure on the beach with a mantle that was his inspiration. By day Engelhardt’s joy was that of a dream realized. At sunset the lagoon clasped his god in a broil of molten lava; then came the night, with the great dome of stars, the breeze rustling though the cocoa fronds, and the Pacific chanting like a great organ, lulling him to sleep.


But there was an end to this, and a beginning to disillusion. The vessel which was to have brought his converts dropped anchor in the lagoon. A boat came ashore with four men in it, two of them sailors, the other two Engelhardt’s staunchest disciples. They were Max Lutzow, at one time director of the well-known Orchestra of Berlin, and Heinrich Eukens, a student of Bavaria and a native of Heligoland. The other converts, upon the departure of Engelhardt and his eloquence, had received the attention of other sects, and been convinced that Kahakua was full of cannibals, sweltering with fever miasma; in brief, that Engelhardt was leading them to death.

It was a great blow to Engelhardt, but the die had been cast. The vessel sailed away, and he, with Lutzow and Eukens, was left on the island. The two new arrivals were delighted with the appearance of Engelhardt. Weeks of life under the sun, in the salt sea, and living upon fruit, had brought him to a state of wonderful physical perfection. His skin was like copper and against it his yellow hair shone like gold. The two disciples immediately joined him in his method of living. For days theirs was an idyllic state, and they were contented. But an end came. The sudden change had been too much for the less-rugged constitution of Eukens, who contracted a cold, developed fever, and died quite suddenly. He had been given no remedies, as it was contrary to the faith of the sun worshippers.

His companions buried him in the sand. For days they wandered listlessly about the island, the spell of which had been broken. But at length they realized that such an undertaking could not be expected to succeed without suffering.

They began again, and things went well, although the gloom attending the death of Eukens never left them. Lutzow, the musician, developed the physical strength which characterized Engelhardt. For a year the two men lived comparatively happily, except for one thing, which is the one ray of humor in the whole history.

It was understood that the world of civilization–art, letters, dress, and diet–had been forgotten, but the genius of Lutzow was something which was all Lutzow and nothing of Engelhardt. Lutzow and his music could not be separated. Donizetti was his favorite, although the long hours of the idle day he did not forget passages from Wagner, Verdi, Mascagni, Bach, Liszt, Beethoven, and others. Engelhardt loved music, but he had a particular aversion to Donizetti and a positive horror of Bizet, who was associated in his mind with “Carmen,” who in turn was the bête noir of his faith.

Engelhardt tolerated the music as long as he could; then, unable to associate with a human musical, he quarreled with Lutzow. It was a bitter quarrel, for the student had hurt the musician to the quick. Eventually the two men became so estranged that Lutzow applied one night for permission to sleep away from the island on the Wesleyan mission cutter from Ulu, which was in the lagoon.

That night the cutter dragged her moorings and was carried on the tide through the narrows to the open sea. Cross-currents prevented the craft from pulling back for two days, during which Lutzow still observant of the sun-worshippers’ faith, refused to take shelter, and also refused all nourishment that was not fruit. There was no fresh fruit on board, consequently he starved. He lay upon the deck of the cutter, too, for two days and two nights, exposed to a cold, wet wind. Shorty after the cutter put back into the lagoon the musician developed a high temperature. He grew worse, lingered for a week, then died.

He was buried in the sand by Engelhardt beside the unfortunate Eukens. The Wesleyan missionaries offered to take Engelhardt back to civilization. He flew into a rage, said he owned the island, and forbade them ever to drop anchor in the lagoon of Kahakua again.

So the cutter sailed away to Ulu and Engelhardt was left alone in the Palm Temple. For nearly two years more he continued to live the ‘pure, natural life,’ but the charm had been completely broken by the death of his two disciples.

Then in 1903 came a drought which reduced the fruit crop. The little left of it was wiped out in the Spring of 1904 by a storm. Engelhardt had the alternative of casting in his lot with the natives and eating hogflesh, or sending a request for succor to Ulu or Herbertshohe. He did neither in his stubborness, and starvation and thirst did their work.

One day a canoe paddled into Herbertshohe, driven by two natives who said the white man was sick and possessed of devils; wandering about Kahakua preaching his doctrine to the trees and frightening the natives. Would the German officials please come and take him away?

Engelhardt refused all nourishment to the last, refused all medicine, and accused the missionary of interfering with his convictions. He wrought himself up to a great frenzy, fell upon the deck, and was restrained only with difficulty from flinging himself overboard and swimming back to his island. Before the beach had sunk below the horizon the man was dead. Then the launch put back.

Wrapped in a German flag, August Engelhardt, founder and last survivor of the sun worshippers, was laid to rest beside Lutzow and Eukens on the beach at Kahakua.”

Engelhardt in 1911, six years after his "death."

Engelhardt in 1911, six years after his “death.”

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"She is positive one of them is killed."

“She is positive one of them is killed.”

In the days before telegraph and Morse code let alone radio, TV and the Internet, reports about events that occurred in Europe wouldn’t reach America for several days. A newspaper in New York came up with a novel (and highly irresponsible) way to bridge the information gap: have a clairvoyant tell them what happened. An excerpt from a story in the April 19, 1860 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The New York Daily News has been consulting a clairvoyant on the result of  the Prize Fight which all suppose to have been fought by Heenan and Sayers on Monday, and says:

‘A clairvoyant in this city declares that one of the pugilists who yesterday fought for the championship of England has been killed. We have been unable to ascertain which; but the lady inclines to think it is the ‘larger man,’ whether as to the muscle or as to the pugilistic fame we know not. But she is positive one of them is killed. We are, therefore, all the more curious to know the result. It will affect either spiritual seeing or material hitting; which, a few days will tell. The old lady adds that the killed man is not the winner.”

Johnny Clem was a mere ten-year-old orphan in 1861 when he managed to talk his way into what was ostensibly a non-combat role for the Twenty-second Michigan Infantry during the early fire of the Civil War. But it was hard to escape the brutality of the War Between the States once attached to a division, and the lad was soon in the heat of battle. To say that he served long is an understatement: Colonel John Clem wound up being the final Civil War soldier on active duty, forced into retirement by law at age 64 in 1915. (He was originally set to step away from military life three years earlier but hung on a little longer.) It’s important to remember that there were other children just like him, and thousands and thousands of men just removed from boyhood, whose limbs and torsos wound up in piles, their daring exploits to never be recorded. From an article about his farewell to uniformed life in the August 7, 1915 New York Times:

“Clem was just a little ‘shaver’ of 10 years when President Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers. The Third Ohio Infantry was recruited in the Newark (Ohio) district. In the regiment was an officer, Captain McDougal, a friend of Johnny Clem. The future Senior Master of the Quartermaster Corps was an orphan, and there was no near relative to stop him when he sought out his friend McDougal and begged permission to accompany the Third Ohio to the front.

Clem told McDougal that he could carry a gun provided it was not too heavy, and that he could beat the drum to ‘beat the band.’ Captain McDougal, however, could not see the proposition in the same light as did his enthusiastic young friend, and told him point blank he was entirely too little and too young for such dangerous business as that of as a soldier in wartime. All this happens in May, 1861.

But Clem did not lose hope. Early in June of that year the Third Ohio started for the mobilization camp at Covington, Ky. A little boy smuggled himself into one of the baggage cars, and the following day climbed out of the car very tired, very dirty, and very hungry, in Covington. The lad was ‘Johnny’ Clem.

Also at Covington as the Twenty-second Michigan Infantry. Clem decided that he would try and get a berth in that regiment, and so he boldly sought out the tent of the Colonel and walked right in. The ‘kid’ from Newark told the Colonel that he wanted to go to the front with the regiment. The Colonel laughed and patted the boy on the back.

‘You are a game little fellow, all right,’ said the Colonel, ‘but this is no place for children like you. If you were a foot taller and some years older maybe I’d take you along, but as you are neither of these things I am afraid you will have to say back here with the home folks.

But Clem refused to be left behind, and was so persistent that the Colonel finally agreed to let him go along as sort of combination regimental mascot and emergency drummer boy.

The soldiers rigged him out in a uniform, they provided him with a drum and also with a musket, the barrel of the gun being sawed off short so as to make it possible for the little fellow to carry it.

One of the first battles in which the regiment figured was that of Shiloh, where the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed and where the fame of Ulysses S. Grant, as a soldier, may be said to have begun. In their battle Clem got into the very hottest of the fight. He came very near losing his life when a shrapnel shell exploded within a few feet of him. A fragment of the shell crashed through the drum and the shock of the explosion hurled him unconscious to the ground, where he was subsequently found and rescued by his bigger comrades.

After the battle the soldiers nicknamed Clem ‘Johnny Shiloh,’ and the name stuck to him until a greater fame came to him at the terrible battle of Chickamauga.

At Chickamauga the boy was again in the thickest of the fight. He fired right and left with his little sawed-off musket. General Thomas and General Rosecrans both heard of the heroism of the little Newark boy at Chickamauga and he was personally commended for his coolness and bravery by both of them. It was General Rosecrans who then and there made him a Sergeant, the youngest non-commissioned officer who ever served in the armies of this country.

Now comes the story of how Clem won the title of ‘drummer boy of Chickamauga.’ The brigade to which the Twenty-second Michigan was attached had been ordered to hold its position, which position happened to be a very dangerous one. The brigade fought for all it was worth but the job could not be done, and finally the order came for it to fall back to a safer position. As the brigade retreated ‘Johnny’ Clem managed to get lost. He got mixed up with a command that was almost surrounded by Confederates and the dead and dying were all about him.

The boy realized his predicament and made up his mind he would not be captured, and so he did what any healthy youngster of his years would do and started to run. He ran like a ‘scared rabbit,’ and when he stopped running he was in a little clump of woods all by himself.

Cautiously he came out of the woods and he ran full tilt into a Confederate Colonel. The Confederate officer looked at the boy with the little gun and despite the awfulness of the situation he had to laugh.

‘My, but you are a little fellow to be in this business,’ said the Confederate, ‘but war is war, and I think the best thing a mite of a chap like you can do is to drop that gun.’

Instead of dropping the gun Clem brought to to his shoulder, pointed it at the Colonel and fired. The Colonel fell badly wounded and Clem turned on his heels and ran for all he was worth. Finally he landed back with the Twenty-second Michigan and ever afterward  they called him ‘the drummer boy of Chickamauga.’

As for the Confederate Colonel he recovered after many weeks in the hospital, and after the war Colonel Clem learned about him and wrote and told him how glad he was that he had not killed him.

‘When I heard that I had not killed that Confederate officer it was the best news I ever got,’ Colonel Clem remarked years afterward.”

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“Benjamin Harrison appeared to be especially affected.”

Well, this is rather macabre. A decade prior to his Presidency, in 1878, Benjamin Harrison investigated a number of Ohio medical colleges in search of the stolen corpse of a deceased family friend, and came face to face with his own freshly fallen father. It’s likely the jaw-dropping tale is true as that state was known in those years for the brisk business conducted by so-called resurrectionists, who were often in cahoots with academics in need of cadavers. The full story from the March 13, 1910 New York Times:

“One of the strangest, and at the same time the most gruesome stories that ever reached a newspaper office was told by H.E. Krehbiel, the musical critic, the other night. Though it reached a newspaper office and has been known to a few persons in the twenty years succeeding, it was not printed when the incidents happened, because those concerned took the precaution of narrating them in confidence. Here it is, however, as Mr. Krehbiel tells it, long after those most intimately concerned are dead:

‘Many years ago I was at work one afternoon in the offices of a Cincinnati newspaper when Benjamin Harrison, afterward President of the United States, and his brother came into the office and began a long conversation with the city editor. They spoke in low tones, which did not reach beyond the desk where they were sitting.

‘After nearly half an hour had elapsed the city editor called me over to him and introduced me to the two gentlemen, both of whom seemed to be laboring under strong emotion. Benjamin Harrison appeared to be especially affected. This did not surprise me very much, as I was aware that they had only buried their father, to whom they were both devotedly attached, a few days before. The city editor instructed me to take down their story, giving me also explicitly to understand that, whereas, I was to listen to all they had to say, I was to write no more, and the paper was to print no more than they should decide.

‘Now,’ continued Mr. Krehbiel, ‘this is what Benjamin Harrison told me. A few days before the death of his father, the husband of a dear old German woman who lived near their farm also died and was duly buried. When he came from the East to attend his own father’s obsequies this old woman went to him in great distress and told him that the grave of her husband had been opened and his body stolen. Those were the days of body snatchers or ‘resurrectionists,’ before the State had made provision for subjects for medical colleges.

‘Mr Harrison went on to say that his old German friend’s distress was so intense that he and his brother had themselves undertaken a search for the body in Cincinnati. This search had occupied them two days and had just ended.

“‘We swore out a search warrant and took a constable with us,’ said Mr. Harrison. ‘One by one we have been to every medical school in the City of Cincinnati. It was a terrible ordeal for us, especially as our own grief was fresh and poignant. We kept up the search without inkling, clue or result, until we had visited every medical school in Cincinnati except one.

“‘The last one was the Ohio State Medical College. We went over there more as a formality than anything else. With search warrant and constable we were enabled there, as elsewhere, to have everything opened to us. We found nothing.

“‘Just as we were about to leave the college the constable noted a shaft such as is used in apartment houses. Down this shaft hung the ropes of a hoist. The constable went up to the ropes of a hoist and took hold of the taut rope. He turned to me sharply, saying that there was a weight on the hoist. I told him to pull it up. He did so.

“‘Attached to the rope by a hook was the body of my own father. They had known at the colleges whose the body was. They had taken this fiendishly ingenious method of moving it from floor to floor as we in our search had moved from one floor to another.’

‘This,’ said Mr. Krehbiel, ‘is the story in Benjamin Harrison’s own words just as he gave it to me.'”


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“Mr. Edison was not entirely present, but he was not entirely absent.”

Thomas Edison’s phonograph, or “talking machine,” though not an immediate commercial success, was nonetheless an amazement. “He” was received in London society for a demonstration of the remarkable machine. From an article in the August 15, 1888 New York Times:

London–Thomas A. Edison was given a very handsome reception this afternoon by Col. Gourand at his beautiful villa, Little Menlo, at Upper Norwood, in Surrey. A large number of ladies and gentlemen gathered there to meet the distinguished inventor of America. The reception included a dinner, lasting from 3 o’clock to 8 o’clock. Under the inspiring influence of popular appreciation Mr. Edison made a speech, in which he dwelt first upon his first visit to England, 18 years ago, and then devoted himself to a humorous criticism of English politics and climate. He then proceeded to amaze the company by reciting ‘Bingen on the Rhine,’ and winding up with a most extraordinary whistling spasm. Then he sang a funeral march, and without waiting for an encore gave ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ He told funny stories, and, in fact, conducted quite a variety entertainment all by himself. Mr. Edison was not entirely present, but he was not entirely absent, and the perplexity of the company over the human voice and its absent owner, 3,000 miles away, was very great.

Mrs. Alice Shaw, who has quite conquered London, whistled for the perfected phonograph, and it whistled back quite as brilliantly as she did. A large number of the guests were presented to Mr. Edison via the phonograph, each making a short speech to him suitable to the occasion. When the company was breaking up three rousing cheers were given for Edison, with a tiger and long clapping of hands. The effect, when the cheers and applause were repeated a moment later, was funny in the extreme. All the introductions, whistling solos, British cheers, &c., dryly recorded on the wax cylinders, will be taken to America by Mr. W. H. Crane of ‘The Henrietta.’ When they arrive Mr Edison will find that he has a lot of acquaintances who know him very well by voice but not by sight. The reception was an exceedingly novel one, and the new machines, with their perfect articulation, excited wonder, reaching in many cases to amazement.”

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“They said he told wonderful truths while he was asleep.”

Edgar Cayce read widely and it served him well. Unschooled beyond ninth grade but an autodidact, the Kentucky man used medical knowledge he’d gleaned from books and psychic mumbo jumbo to convince some in the medical U.S. establishment a century ago that he possessed healing powers. In fact, he made it “safe” for those with no formal medical training to treat the sick, giving birth to holistic medicine in America. In an article in the October 9, 1910 New York Times, he was a young man being taken seriously as a medical savant. The opening:

“The medical fraternity of the country is taking a lively interest in the strange power said to be possessed by Edgar Cayce of Hopkinsville, Ky., to diagnose difficult diseases while in a semi-conscious state, though he has not the slightest knowledge of medicine when not in this condition.

During a visit to California last Summer Dr. W. H. Ketchum, who was attending a meeting of the National Society of Homeopathic Physicians had occasion to mention the young man’s case and I was invited to discuss it at a banquet attended by about thirty-five of the doctors of the Greek letter fraternity given at Pasadena.

Dr. Ketchum made a speech of considerable length, giving an explanation of the strange psychic powers manifested by Cayce during the last four years during which time he has been more or less under his observation. This talk created such widespread interest among the 700 doctors present that one of the leading Boston medical men who heard his speech invited Dr. Ketchum to prepare a paper as a part of the programme of the September meeting of the American Society of Clinical Research. Dr. Ketchum sent the paper, but did not go to Boston. The paper was read by Henry E. Harpower, M.D., of Chicago, a contributor to the Journal of the American Medical Association, published in Chicago. Its presentation created a sensation, and almost before Dr. Ketchum knew that the paper had been given to the press he was deluged with letters and telegrams inquiring about the strange case. …

Dr. Ketchum wishes it distinctly understood that his presentation is purely ethical, and that he attempts no explanation of what must be classed as a mysterious mental phenomena.

Dr. Ketchum is not the only physician who has had opportunity to observe the workings of Mr. Cayce’s subconscious mind. For nearly ten years and strange power has been known to local physicians of all the recognized schools. An explanation of the case is best understood from Dr. Ketchum’s description in his paper read in Boston a few days ago, which follows:

‘About four years ago I made the acquaintance of a young man 28 years old, who had the reputation of being a ‘freak.’ They said he told wonderful truths while he was asleep. I, being interested, immediately began to investigate, and as I was ‘from Missouri,’ I had to be shown.

‘And truly, when it comes to anything psychical, every layman is a disbeliever from the start, and most of our chosen professions will not accept anything of a psychic nature, hypnotism, mesmerism, or what not, unless vouched for by some M.D. away up in the professions and one whose orthodox standing is questioned.

‘By suggestion he becomes unconscious to pain of any sort, and, strange to say, his best work is done when he is seemingly ‘dead to the world.’

‘My subject simply lies down and folds his arms, and by auto-suggestion goes to sleep. While in this sleep, which to all intents and purposes is a natural sleep, his objective mind is completely inactive and only his subjective is working.

‘I next give him the name of my subject and the exact location of the same, and in a few minutes he begins to talk as clearly and distinctly as any one. He usually goes into minute detail in diagnosing a case, and especially if it is a very serious case.

His language is usually of the best, and his psychologic terms and description of the nervous anatomy would do credit to any professor of nervous anatomy, and there is no faltering in his speech and all his statements are clear and concise. He handles the most complex ‘jaw breakers’ with as much ease as any Boston physician, which to me is quite wonderful, in view of the fact that while in his normal state he is an illiterate man, especially along the line of medicine, surgery, or pharmacy, of which he knows nothing.'”

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“His strength seemed to increase enough to allow him to enjoy the sunrise.”

Mark Twain, jester and debunker and literary giant, showed you could leave an impression, a mark, on American life and letters even if you weren’t as scarred as Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe, even if your first impulse was to go for the joke. He saw things as they were and tried to make us all see them a little differently, and in that he succeeded. No matter who comes after, he will always really be the country’s king of comedy. The opening of his obituary in the April 22, 1910 New York Times:

Danbury, Conn., April 21 — Samuel Langhorne Clemens, ‘Mark Twain,’ died at 22 minutes after 6 tonight. Beside him on the bed lay a beloved book- it was Carlyle’s French Revolution-and near the book his glasses, pushed away with a weary sigh a few hours before. Too weak to speak clearly, ‘Give me my glasses,’ he had written on a piece of paper. He had received them, put them down, and sunk into unconsciousness from which he glided almost imperceptibly into death. He was in his seventy-fifth year.

For some time, his daughter Clara and her husband, Ossip Cabrilowitsch, and the humorist’s biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, had been by the bed waiting for the end, which Drs. Quintard and Halsey had seen to be a matter of minutes. The patient felt absolutely no pain at the end and the moment of his death was scarcely noticeable.

Death came, however, while his favorite niece, Mrs. E. E. Looms, and her husband, who is Vice President of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railway, and a nephew, Jervis Langdon, were on the way to the railroad station. They had left the house much encouraged by the fact that the sick man had recognized them, and took a train for New York ignorant of what happened later.

Hopes Aroused Yesterday

Although the end had been foreseen by the doctors and would not have been a shock at any time, the apparently strong rally of this morning had given basis for the hope that it would be postponed for several days. Mr. Clemens awoke at about 4 o’clock this morning after a few hours of the first natural sleep he has had for several days, and the nurses could see by the brightness of his eyes that his vitality had been considerably restored. He was able to raise his arms above his head and clasp them behind his neck with the first evidence of physical comfort he had given for a long time.

His strength seemed to increase enough to allow him to enjoy the sunrise, the first signs of which he could see out of the windows in the three sides of the room where he lay. The increasing sunlight seemed to bring ease to him, and by the time the family was about he was strong enough to sit up in bed and overjoyed them by recognizing all of them and speaking a few words to each. This was the first time that his mental powers had been fully his for nearly two days, with the exception of a few minutes early last evening, when he addressed a few sentences to his daughter.

Calls for His Book

For two hours he lay in bed enjoying the feeling of this return of strength. Then he made a movement asked in a faint voice for the copy of Carlyle’s French Revolution, which he has always had near him for the last year, and which he has read and re-read and brooded over.

The book was handed to him, and he lifted it up as if to read. Then a smile faintly illuminated his face when he realized that he was trying to read without his glasses. He tried to say, ‘Given me my glasses,’ but his voice failed, and the nurses bending over him could not understand. He motioned for a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote what he could not say.

With his glasses on he read a little and then slowly put the book down with a sigh. Soon he appeared to become drowsy and settled on his pillow. Gradually he sank and settled into a lethargy. Dr. Halsey appreciated that he could have been roused, but considered it better for him to rest. At 3 o’clock he went into complete unconsciousness.

Later Dr. Quintard, who had arrived from New York, held a consultation with Dr. Halsey, and it was decided that death was near. The family was called and gathered about the bedside watching in a silence which was long unbroken. It was the end. At twenty-two minutes past 6, with the sunlight just turning red as it stole into the window in perfect silence he breathed his last.

Died of a Broken Heart

The people of Redding, Bethel, and Danbury listened when they were told that the doctors said Mark Twain was dying of angina pectoris. But they say among themselves that he died of a broken heart. And this is a verdict not of popular sentiment alone. Albert Bigelow Paine, his biographer to be and literary executor, who has been constantly with him, said that for the last year at least Mr. Clemens had been weary of life. When Richard Watson Gilder died, he said: ‘How fortunate he is. No good fortune of that kind ever comes to me.’

The man who has stood to the public for the greatest humorist this country has produced has in private life suffered overwhelming sorrows. The loss of an only son in infancy, a daughter in her teens and one in middle life, and finally of a wife who was a constant and sympathetic companion, has preyed upon his mind. The recent loss of his daughter Jean, who was closest to him in later years when her sister was abroad studying, was the final blow. On the heels of this came the first symptoms of the disease which was surely to be fatal and one of whose accompaniments is mental depression. Mr. Paine says that all heart went out of him and his work when his daughter Jean died. He has practically written nothing since he summoned his energies to write a last chapter memorial of her for his autobiography.”


“A unique character is Seth Kinman, the grizzly bear hunter and presidential chair presenter.”

Seth Kinman was a self-made man and a self-promoter. A bushy-faced nineteenth-century California hunter who never met a bear or buck he cared for, Kinman used the skins and carcasses from his quarry to fashion unusual chairs that he presented to several American Presidents.

Kinman began bestowing these odd gifts to Presidents during the Buchanan Administration, which is the subject of the first excerpt, taken from an 1857 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The second excerpt, an article from a 1885 New York Times that originally ran in the San Francisco Call, further examines Kinman’s life and by then what had become a longstanding chair-giving tradition that had allowed him to become friend to several Presidents.


A Curious Chair for President Buchanan,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (May 18, 1857): “An old Western hunter, Seth Kinman, sent a chair from Humboldt, California, which arrived in New York by the George Law for President Buchanan. The chair is made entirely of the antlers of the deer, fashioned into a most comfortable arm-chair, with a high sloping back and convenient arms. A pair of antlers, with six points each, form the front legs and arms; and another pair, having five points each, form the hind legs and back. Small antlers, having two points each, join the whole together in a substantial manner. The seat is made from the dressed skins of the bucks whose antlers form the chair. They have, all told, just thirty-one points, corresponding with the number of states now in the Union. The whole chair is simply varnished, showing the original color of the antlers. The old hunter has engraved his address on the left arm point: Seth Kinman, Humboldt County, California.”


President Andrew Johnson’s chair.

Seth Kinman, The Pacific Coast Nimrod Who Gives Chairs to Presidents,New York Times, reprinted from the San Francisco Call (December 9, 1885): “A unique character is Seth Kinman, the grizzly bear hunter and presidential chair presenter, now stopping in this city. He is a tall man, 70 years old, straight as an arrow, dressed in buckskin from head to foot, with long silver hair, beard, and shaggy eyebrows, under which and his immense hat a pair of keen eyes peer sharply.

He is the Nimrod of this coast, the great elk shooter and grizzly bear hunter of California, who has presented elk horns and grizzly bear claws from animals that have fallen before his unerring rifle to four Presidents of the United States–Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, and Hayes–and has ‘the finest of all’ to present to President Cleveland next spring. He claims to have shot in all more than 800 grizzlies, as many as 50 elk in one month, and to have supplied the Government troops and sawmill hands in Humboldt with 240 elk in 11 months on contract at 25 cents per pound.

Resting atop the chair is Kinman’s fiddle, the neck of which is made with a skull bone from his favorite mule.

He was born in Union County, Penn., in 1815, went to Illinois in 1830, and crossed the plains to California in 1849. He tried mining on Trinity River, but followed hunting mainly for a living. In the Winter of 1856-57 he made his first elkhorn chair, and conceived the idea of presenting it to President Buchanan. Peter Donahue favored it. He went on in the Golden Age with letters to Col. Rynders in New-York, and in Washington he met Senator Gwin, Gen. Denver, and others. Dr. Wozencroft made the presentation speech, and Buchanan was highly pleased. He wrote Rynders to get Kinman the best gun he could find in New-York, which he did, together with two fine pistols. He also got an appointment to corral the Indians on the Government reservation, and when they strayed away he brought them back.

In November, 1804, he presented President Lincoln with an elkhorn chair, which greatly pleased him; Clinton Lloyd, Clerk of the House, made the presentation speech. The chair to Hayes was presented when he was Governor of Ohio, but nominee for President. The chair presented to President Johnson was made of the bones and hide of a grizzly.”


The Donner Party, best known for its eclectic menu, was also a fascination for the buried treasure it reportedly left behind. Prospectors unearthed some of the loot almost fifty years after the pioneers found themselves stranded and starving. A report from the May 17, 1891 New York Times:

Truckee, Cal–There is great excitement in Truckee over the discovery of a portion of the treasure buried by the Donner party in 1846-7. In the early days of gold excitement in the State the Donner party attempted to cross the mountains into California by an untried pass. They were snowed up in the mountains, and suffered great hardships, many dying from cold and starvation. Relief expeditions were sent out and a few survivors were rescued in this way. During their sufferings the party buried a quantity of treasure, the amount of which is estimated by some at $10,000. A search has frequently been made for this treasure, but without success.

There is authentic history of the burial of several hundred dollars by Mrs. Graves, one of the members of the party, on March 8, 1847, near the shores of Donner Lake, and it is supposed it was this money which was found on Thursday last by a miner named Reynolds, who was prospecting the hillside near the lake. He found a spot where the earth had been torn up by a falling tree, and his attention was accidentally called to some dark looking pieces of money lying on top of the ground. He picked up ten ancient looking dollars, and upon scratching slightly in the earth uncovered a large quantity of silver. He afterward searched the ground with a companion, and yesterday the men succeeded in finding nearly $200. They are still prosecuting the search and other searching parties are being organized here. From the present indications the hills on the north side of Donner Lake will be covered with treasure hunters.

Persons familiar with the incidents connected with the Donner party feel no doubt that the money just found is that buried by the party forty years ago. The coins are antiquated and all of dates prior to 1845. They are from France, Spain, Bolivia, Argentine Republic, and a number of other foreign countries, besides a very rare collection of American pieces. As relics of the Donner party the find is a very valuable one, $100 having been offered for one of the pieces.”

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