From the June 4, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
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Tags: Charles Owen
Bruno Hauptmann’s executioner, Robert G. Elliott, became increasingly anxious as the fateful hour neared, and you could hardly blame him. Who knows what actually happened to the Lindbergh baby, but the circumstances were crazy, with actual evidence intermingling with that appeared to be the doctored kind. To this day, historians and scholars still argue the merits of Hauptmann’s conviction. Elliot who’d also executed Sacco & Vanzetti and Ruth Snyder, was no stranger to high-profile cases, but the Lindbergh case may still the most sensational in American history, more than Stanford White’s murder or O.J. Simpson’s race-infused trial.
Elliott, whose title was the relatively benign “State Electrician” of New York had succeeded in the position John W. Hulbert, who was so troubled by his job and fears of retaliation, he committed suicide. Elliott, who came to be known as the “humane executioner” for devising a system that minimized pain, was said to be a pillar of the community who loved children and reading detective stories. A friend of his explained the lethal work in a March 31, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, just days before Hauptmann’s demise: “It is repulsive to him to have to execute a woman, but he feels that, after all, he’s just a machine.” Such rationalizations were necessary since Elliott claimed to be fiercely opposed to capital punishment, believing the killings accomplished nothing.
As drones are set to proliferate, being utilized to photograph and monitor and deliver, it’s worth remembering that kites were formerly dispatched to do some of the same duties, if in a much lower-tech way.
The first use of kites for scientific purposes dates back to 1749 and the meteorological experiments of Alexander Wilson, which occurred three years before Benjamin Franklin’s electrifying discoveries. The use of kites in science received a major boost in the second half of the 19th century, when New York journalist William Abner Eddy designed a superior diamond-shaped kite, which enjoyed improved stability and reached great heights, enabling him to take the first aerial photography in the Western hemisphere. Five years after that feat, in a 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, Eddy speaks of his plans for his airborne innovations, though the piece was abruptly cut off near the end by typesetters.
Tags: William Abner Eddy
From the November 11, 1904 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Producing an infinite bounty of healthy food and clean energy through “artificial photosynthesis” was the stated near-term goal of a group of University of California scientists featured in an article in the January 27, 1955 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Even the dietary needs of space travelers was given consideration.
“He that fights and runs away, may turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, will never rise to fight again,” recorded the Roman historian Tacitus, though the original coiner of the phrase is unknown. It’s another way of saying: Honor is great, but it can get you killed.
The 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article below records the death of the Creek Nation’s Captain Pleasant Luther “Duke” Berryhill, who somehow balanced the disparate professions of Methodist minister and tribal executioner. He would preach to all who would listen and flog and shoot those who he was ordered to. Berryhill clearly believed in a retributive god.
One interesting note contained in the piece is that those Creeks condemned to die weren’t imprisoned nor were they escorted by authorities to the place of their execution on the fateful day. They were honorable men (and, occasionally, women) and reported dutifully for a bullet to the heart. They probably should have headed for the hills, honor be damned.
From the August 10, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
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. There was no opting out of the system, not until Mussolini ultimately met the business end of a meat hook. An article from the February 23, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on Balbo’s “good ministry.”
From the April 2, 1856 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Our visual understanding of prehistoric megafauna and other creatures is aided greatly by the work of Charles R. Knight, the painter who gained nationwide attention beginning in the 1920s for his interpretations of dinosaurs and birds long extinct. He certainly couldn’t work from life or memory or photographs, so he became a hunter of facts, an interviewer of scholars, a measurer of skeletons. For an article in the July 31, 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reporter Frank J. Costello visited the paleoartist in his Upper West Side Manhattan studio and studied his process. The piece’s opening below.
From the July 3, 1925 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Long before work began in earnest on autonomous cars that wouldn’t require us to keep our eyes on the road, one brave (and incredibly foolish) soul experimented in this area. Even though the headline of this November 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article refers to plural “autoists,” Jimmy Burns is the lone driver named who made cross-country trips blindfolded, guided only by his trusty dog Pedro. No explanation for Burns’ behavior is provided.
From the January 12, 1902 New York Times:
Phoenix, Ariz.–”Padre,” a big medicine man of the Yuma Indians, who lives on a reservation near Yuma, Ariz., has been offered as a sacrifice to the spirit in accordance with the custom of his tribe and has expiated the sins of the tribe, which are held responsible for an epidemic of smallpox.
The medicine man learned several days ago of the intention of the Indians to sacrifice him, and fled to the mountains. Being half starved he returned to the Indian village and pleaded for mercy. He was bound hand and foot and conveyed by a squad of Indians to Mexico, where he was bound to a tree and tortured to death.
“Padre” had a warm place in the hearts of his tribesmen, but their customs required them to make a heavy sacrifice.•
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. In fact, according to his Wikipedia page, he could “could play checkers and chess simultaneously while playing a hand of whist, and reciting a list of long words.” 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.
From the April 29, 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Just as talkies were announcing themselves across America, genius Russian silent film director Sergei Eisenstein was dejectedly departing Hollywood, no richer financially or creatively for his failed attempts at pleasing U.S. movie producers. An article in the May 1, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle made clear his disenchantment with the business end of show business and the automaton nature of the burgeoning studio system.
From the August 22, 1903 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
As his sprawling 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle obituary put it, cult leader Benjamin Purnell had “executive ability.”
He used native business acumen to escape an impoverished youth in Kentucky through the establishment, in 1903, of a religious cult known as the House of David, which he cofounded with his wife, Mary. They claimed to be the final representatives of God who would be sent to Earth.
“King Ben,” as he came to be known, built a veritable empire of a commune, which bore fruit literally and figuratively, burnishing his brand by portraying himself as immortal and promising to confer everlasting life unto others who gifted him with their worldly possessions. It worked wonderfully well for a while. The community boasted a cannery, an electricity plant, bands, orchestras, a zoological garden and a barnstorming baseball team of wide repute.
By his last decade, though, Purnell was accused of having sex with numerous underaged girls who lived on the grounds and was also beset by other legal issues. As a royal, priest and CEO, his career was in tatters. He died soon after his fall from grace, mortal as the rest of us, with some followers splintering into smaller groups.
The obit’s opening is embedded below.
From the October 3, 1920 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Jeannette Piccard, bold balloonist, is pictured directly above with her husband, Jean, and Henry Ford, the anti-Semitic automaker on hand to wish them–and their pet turtle–well on a daring 1934 trip via gondola into the stratosphere, which turned out to be a bumpy ride. Jeanette is usually credited as the first woman in space; her spouse was the twin brother of Auguste Piccard, the family’s most famous aeronaut. (The siblings would decades later inspire the name of Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek captain.) Jeannette traveled far not only up there, but also in here, following up her aviation exploits and a stint at NASA by being ordained an Episcopalian priest. An article in the October 23 Brooklyn Daily Eagle recorded the fraught moment when she reached the high point of her life, literally at least.
From the June 20, 1895 New York Times:
Newark, N.J.–There is trouble here between stockholders of the Universal Industrial Power Company, a corporation organized to furnish capital for manufacturing a machine for producing perpetual motion, and Michael Patrona, the inventor.
As a result of the trouble Patrona is now guarding with a shotgun the little shop where he claims to have the invention almost complete. He is afraid, he says, that capitalists who advanced the money will steal the design.
Patrona is an Italian and came to this country less than a year ago. Through Civela & Ceste of New-York he was introduced to capitalists here, among them Newark’s richest Italians. He represented to them that he had discovered the secret of perpetual motion.
The result of these representatives was the organization and incorporation of the Universal Industrial Power Company. Money was advanced from time to time to pay for castings, machinery, and other supplies, and also for $1 a day which Patrona was allowed while working on the machine. Thus far $8,000 has been advanced.
Patrona called a few days ago for more funds to put the machine together, claiming that all the parts were finished. The stockholders objected to putting up any more money until they had evidence of the success of Patrona’s labors. He refused this request on the ground that he might be robbed of his invention, on which he had been laboring for years. He assured the stockholders, however, that this would be the last call for funds.
The stockholders were just as obstinate as Patrona. As a result he has armed himself with a shotgun, and stands guard at the entrance to the building which holds what he calls his great invention.
Counsel for both sides will try to effect a compromise.•
Demand invites supply. Case in point: Medical schools need bodies for students to work on, so a trade arose in the nineteenth century that put grave robbers in cahoots with medical colleges. Shovel-ready entrepreneurs scanned local papers for death notices, headed to cemeteries, usually with doctors in tow, and welcomed back the recently departed. Sometimes the bodies of particularly wealthy citizens would be ransomed, but the corpses would usually just be sold for a couple of bucks to universities. An inside look at an Ohio operation in this strange “recycling” business appeared in the November 18, 1878 New York Times. The story:
Cleveland – Joiner, the wretch who has been in all the recent grave robbing jobs in this section, continues to divulge the secrets of the trade. He pretends to be very contrite over what he has done, and ready to make amends by exposing his companions in guilt. His last story related to Mr. J.E. French, a son of the old gentleman who was ruthlessly torn from his grave, in Willoughby, on Sept. 16. The robbers watch the newspapers, and when death notices of persons thought to be available occur, the graves are visited and a resurrection takes place. In August last a young man fell over a ledge in Geauga County and broke his neck. The fact was published, and the night after the funeral Minor and Joiner repaired to Chardon, 30 miles distant, where the burial had taken place, with the intention of obtaining the body. As usual, the doctor was sought, who told them that the grave was watched by two men with shot-guns. This was unpleasant, but the robbers thought the doctor might be deceiving them with the intention of obtaining the body himself. They accordingly sought another doctor, who confirmed the story, and so they abandoned the scheme and returned. At Chester Cross Roads, in the same county, two robbers from this city were assisted by the Doctor and a medical student of that village. They went to get the body of an old lady who was very fleshy, and who had died of apoplexy. The coffin was reached and broken open without accident, and a hook fastened in the neck. Four men tugged and pulled in vain at the prize, but were unable to move it. They were in despair, when a happy thought struck them. Taking the reins from the harness and hitching the horse to the hook, the body was successfully brought to the surface. Another pull and the body was safely sacked and loaded. Another visit was made to Hampden, in this county, and this time the robbers were assisted by two doctors and a medical student. They did what Joiner calls a good night’s work, obtaining three bodies in a short time. One of these was that of a butcher, and as his body was sacked the home doctor remarked: ‘I’ve bought meat of this man many a time, and now I’ll sell him for meat.’ Some time after this the body of a young lady was stolen from the cemetery at Leroy, Lake County. After digging a certain distance they found water. This had to be bailed from the coffin before the body could be taken out. The corpse was found to be somewhat swollen but made a good subject. Mr. French, who is quite wealthy, expressed his determination to follow up this gang and will prosecute in every case. Dr. Carlisle, who is said to have assisted in the Willoughby job, has been indicted in the Lake County Court for disturbing the grave. The best counsel in this part of the State has been engaged on both sides, and important revelations will doubtless come out. The trial is set down for Thursday next.•
From the March 26, 1899 New York Times:
In New York City about 1832, a period of “great awakening” that begat Mormonism and many other sects, among them one in Kentucky, whose members, in order to win heaven by making themselves as little children, used to crawl on their hands and knees in church, play marbles, trundle hoops, and otherwise manifest their infantile madness.•