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Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney gaze at one another in "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942)

Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney (1920-1991) gaze at one another in “Rings on Her Fingers” (1942)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, actress Gene Tierney, age 21, and film star Henry Fonda were filming “Rings on Her Fingers” on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the southern California coast.

The cameras were getting ready to roll when a man came running down the beach screaming:

“The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor! “

Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, just west across the Pacific from Catalina. Catalina was a dangerous place to be. No one knew exactly what was happening – or what would happen next – just as Americans felt as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Everyone had to get off that island. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor had come without warning and a formal declaration of war by the Japanese, the American people were in shock. They expected more attacks, possibly on California.

Gene Tierney, her husband Oleg Cassini, costar Henry Fonda and the rest of the film’s cast and crew piled into a boat and sailed hurriedly for the mainland. It was a nervous crossing. Rumors flew that the waters had been sabotaged with mines.

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On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. All but one (Arizona) were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. (2)

The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Overnight, the United States was plunged into war in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The U.S. government enlisted the help of Hollywood stars to aid the war effort by boosting morale at home. Americans were urged to plant backyard “victory gardens” – vegetable patches – to help feed civilians at home. Suddenly, farm production was heavily burdened by having to feed millions of military personnel, as well as coping with fewer men on the farms.

War is expensive. The U.S. government encouraged people to buy War Bonds. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government used that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and for the military.  Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25.

Gene Tierney did her part for the war effort, whether it was planting a “victory garden,” promoting war bonds, or entertaining the troops.

Gene T tends her own "victory garden," in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed in the army.  She is pregnant with her first child, Daria. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney tends her own “victory garden,” in Fort Riley, Kansas, where her husband is stationed. 1943. (photo courtesy Lou and Mary Jo Mari)

Gene Tierney encouraged Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney appeared in posters and went on campaign drives to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.

Gene Tierney took time to entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen. From 1942-45, three million service personnel on leave – men and women, black and white – would pass through the doors of that converted barn to rub elbows with the stars. On any given night, Bob Hope might be on the stage cracking jokes while Rita Hayworth made sandwiches, Harry James played trumpet, or Hedy Lamarr danced with the soldiers.

Film star Shirley Temple gives cookies to the soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

Shirley Temple passes out cookies at the Hollywood Canteen. Ca. 1942-45.

During the war years, Gene Tierney was at the height of her popularity. Her image graced countless magazine covers.Gene T Life Mag Nov. 10, 1941 Shanghai Gesture wardrobe gene-tierney-movie-stars-parade-magazine-cover-1940-s_i-G-54-5494-2D3WG00Z March 1946 mag cover tierney april 1943

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene Tierney smiles broadly while husband, Oleg Cassini, looks away. ca. 1945

Gene’s best pictures were made in the forties. Her beauty was extraordinary then. Her presence on screen was fresh and captivating. She had expressive green eyes, high cheekbones, lustrous, dark hair, and a sensual full mouth that revealed, when parted, an unexpected yet terribly endearing overbite. (Her contract with 24th Century Fox forbid her from correcting the crooked teeth.)

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

American film actress Gene Tierney. ca. 1941

And she could act. She was only 23 when she appeared in “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, a stunning film noir masterpiece, so richly layered with plot twists and great casting (Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Clifton Webb) that you can enjoy it again and again. It is her signature film. Also fantastic are “The Razor’s Edge” with Tyrone Power (1946) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” with Rex Harrison (1947). All three are available to rent on Amazon Instant Video. She plays against type – still classy in manner, yes, but devious in heart – in the film she received an Academy Award nomination for: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945).

Gene Tierney smolders as "Laura." (1944),

Gene Tierney is smoldering as “Laura” (1944), one of my top five favorite films of all time. Gripping.

In the spring of 1943, Gene finished filming “Heaven Can Wait” in Hollywood. She was expecting her first child and, gratefully, not yet showing signs of pregnancy. She had kept that a secret for fear of being replaced in the film. She longed to be with husband Oleg in Kansas, where he was stationed in the army.

Before leaving Los Angeles and starting her maternity leave, Gene decided to make one last appearance at the Hollywood Canteen. So, that night, Gene showed her support of American troops by signing autographs, mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands. The troops were homesick and sad; a little stardust lightened their load.

A few days after that visit, Gene woke up with red spots covering her arms and face. She had the German measles, or rubella. In 1943, there was no vaccine to prevent contracting the measles. That would not be available for 22 more years. Obstetricians advised patients to avoid crowds in their first four months of pregnancy, to avoid contracting the measles. At the time, it was believed that measles was a harmless childhood disease.

Little did Gene know at the time, but, just two years earlier,

“…[B]y studying a small cluster of cases in Australia, [eye doctor] Dr. N. M. Gregg first noted that the rubella virus could cause cataracts, deafness, heart deformities and mental retardation [in an unborn child].” (3)

Of course, this was before TV and Internet gave us 24/7 news cycles that would have immediately alerted the public to this critical finding. Gene didn’t know that her small act of kindness at the Canteen would have tragic and long-term consequences for both her and her baby’s health.

After a week of doctor-ordered rest, Gene rested, got better, then packed her bags for Fort Riley, Kansas, to join Oleg. The next several months were devoted to making her Junction City home ready for the baby and being a couple.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini celebrate the birth of their first child with a night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini await the birth of their first child with a celebratory night out in New York City at the Stork Club. Mid 1943.

By the fall, Gene was living in Washington, D.C., while Oleg was awaiting orders in Virginia. On the morning of October 15, 1943, Gene gave birth to a premature baby girl, weighing only two and a half pounds. Oleg flew to Washington and joined his wife at Columbia Hospital. They named their baby “Daria.”

Doctors informed them that Daria was not in good shape. She was premature and going blind. She had cataracts in both eyes. After reviewing Gene’s medical chart, the doctors concluded that Gene’s measles were responsible for the baby’s defects. They cited the studies done by the Australian eye doctor, Dr. Gregg.

Daria continued to have health problems and delayed development. She had no inner ear fluid and became deaf. It was clear that she suffered from mental retardation. Gene and Oleg hoped against hope that a doctor somewhere could cure Daria. But, after consulting one specialist after another (much of it paid for by Howard Hughes), they had to face the fact that Daria was permanently disabled and needed more care than they were capable of giving her at home.

When Daria was about two years old, Gene got an unexpected jolt. She was at a tennis function. A fan approached her.

“Ms. Tierney, do you remember me?” asked the woman.

Gene had no memory of having met the stranger. She shook her head and replied, “No. Should I?”

The woman told Gene that she was in the women’s branch of the Marines and had met Gene at the Hollywood Canteen.

Gene never would forget what the woman said next.

“By the way, Ms. Tierney, did you happen to catch the German measles after that night I saw you at the Canteen?”

The woman revealed that she had had the measles herself at the time but had broken quarantine just to see Gene at the Canteen.

Gene was dumbstruck. That woman had given her the measles! She was the sole cause of Daria’s disabilities. Gene said nothing. She just turned and walked away.

When Daria was four, Oleg and Gene made the difficult decision to institutionalize Daria (1943-2010). Daria spent most of her life at the ELWYN, an institution for specially disabled in Vineland, NJ.

Gene Tierney never fully recovered from the blow that Daria was disabled. Although she gave birth to another daughter that was healthy, her marriage to Oleg ended in divorce, and her mental health began to deteriorate. She couldn’t concentrate. On the movie set, she would forget her lines. She began to fall apart and live a life of “stark misery and despair,” said ex-husband Oleg.

In much of the 1950s, Gene went from one mental health facility to another seeking help with her bouts of high and low moods and suicidal thoughts. She received 27 shock treatments, destroying even more of her memory. It is believed that Gene Tierney suffered from bipolar depression during a time when effective treatment for that disease was in its infancy.

If Daria had been born after 1965, Gene Tierney would have been vaccinated against the German measles and Daria would have been born healthy.

Currently, in Mexico and California, there is an outbreak of measles due to the antivaccination movement. Some parents in the western part of the United States have decided not to vaccinate their children due to unfounded worries about it causing autism. These few anti-vaxers are putting our whole population at risk.

Make no mistake. Measles is a highly contagious disease and is anything but harmless:

“Symptoms of measles include fever as high as 105, cough, runny nose, redness of eyes, and a rash that begins at the head and then spreads to the rest of the body. It can lead to inflammation of the brain, pneumonia and death.” (4)

AND

“Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.” (5)

Postscript: In 1962, Dame Agatha Christie published the detective fiction, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, using the real-life tragedy of Gene Tierney as the basis for her plot.

SOURCES:

(1) Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005.

(2) wiki: Attack on Pearl Harbor

(3) Altman, M.D., Lawrence K. “The Doctor’s World; Little-Known Doctor Who Found New Use For Common Aspirin.The New York Times, July 9, 1991.

(4) LA Times

(5) New York Times

 

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My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

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Corrie’s father turned on the old table radio to warm it up. Corrie felt that the small, portable one would have worked just fine, but her father insisted on using this old one. It was to be a major broadcast, he said, and the old radio had an elaborate speaker. The prime minister of the Netherlands was to address the Dutch nation.

It was 9:15 on a Thursday night, an hour when Corrie, Father, and Corrie’s sister Betsie normally would be heading upstairs to bed. As was their custom, they had already said their prayers and read a passage from the Bible. But, this evening, they would stay up a little later.

Corrie, Betsie, and Nollie Ten Boom

Corrie, Betsie, and Nollie Ten Boom

The Ten Boom family lived above their watch shop in Haarlem in the Netherlands (Holland).

Casper Ten Boom in watch shop

Casper Ten Boom in watch shop

It was May 9, 1940. World War II was raging in Europe. The aggressive German army had invaded and occupied Poland, Norway, and Denmark. As a result, England and France had declared war on Germany. The Netherlands, however, did not and would not enter the conflict. They had declared their neutrality, the same as they had done in the first world war. Germany had respected their neutrality then and would do so again, they expected.

But every day fresh rumors reached their ears of an impending German invasion. Would Holland be drawn into the war? To calm these fears, the German Nazis repeatedly pledged goodwill to the people of the Netherlands. Many times Corrie had heard Hitler himself on the radio, promising the Dutch people that he would not invade their country.

Finally, it was 9:30, and time for the prime minister’s speech. The Ten Booms pulled their wooden, high-backed chairs closer to the radio, leaning in to listen, tense.

The parlor of the Ten Boom house in Haarlem, the Netherlands

The parlor of the Ten Boom house in Haarlem, the Netherlands

The prime minister’s voice filtered over the air waves. Tonight, it was pleasant and soothing. He told the Dutch people that there was no reason to worry. There would be no war. He knew it for a fact. He had spoken to people in high places.

In spite of the prime minister’s encouraging words, The Ten Booms were not comforted. The broadcast ended. They went upstairs to bed.

Five hours later and 37 miles south down the coast, 19 year old Diet (Deet) Eman woke up to noise outside her bedroom window. It was about 3 in the morning. It sounded as if someone was beating a rug. It was a steady, staccato sound – “pop-pop-pop” – only much faster. Deet lived in The Hague, Netherlands, where Queen Wilhelmina and her government were established.

Diet Eman was 19 years old when the Germans invaded the Netherlands.

Diet Eman was 19 years old when the Germans invaded the Netherlands

“This is crazy!” She thought. “Some idiot is beating rugs right now, and it’s pitch dark outside.” It’s true it was Friday morning and Friday was the day of the week that Dutch women typically beat rugs. But who would beat rugs at three in the morning?

What Diet heard was the first sound of the war. The Germans had invaded the Netherlands. The skies were filled with German parachutists falling. German Stukas dive-bombed the airfield, wiping out the Dutch biplanes. Diet’s sister’s fiancé, part of the weak Dutch army, was killed that day in the German bombing.

German parachutists attack the Netherlands May 10-14, 1940

German parachutists attack the Netherlands May 10-14, 1940

The Dutch people had been caught off guard. So many times they had readied for invasion only to discover it was a false alarm. Over time, they had grown complacent, caught in the net of Nazi lies and deception.

Some of the invading German soldiers crossed the border and parachuted from planes in disguise. They wore Dutch, French, and Belgian military uniforms and carried machine guns. Their disguises allowed them to roam freely behind the Dutch lines. It was Hitler’s idea to deceive and infiltrate the enemy; the Dutch army would be confused and not know who to shoot, the French and the Belgians being their allies. Dutch Nazis met them upon arrival and aided their sabotage activities. Other German soldiers dressed up as nuns, bicyclists, priests, peasants, and schoolboys in order to move undetected among the Dutch population. They seized key strongholds like water controls and bridges to pave the way for the German infantry.

Peace talks were underway when the Germans went ahead and ruthlessly bombed Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This was the message: If the Netherlands doesn't surrender, we will do what we did to Rotterdam to every one of the Dutch cities until you surrender.

Peace talks were underway when the Germans went ahead and ruthlessly bombed Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This was the message: If the Netherlands doesn’t surrender, we will do what we did to Rotterdam to every one of the Dutch cities until you surrender.

The German blitzkrieg crushed the Dutch defenses in five days, allowing the Germans to turn their attention then to invading France. On May 14, 1940, the Netherlands surrendered and the German occupation began in earnest. Germans moved swiftly to prepare Dutch airbases to send missiles to destroy England.

With the May 1940 occupation of Holland, Germany is poised to attack England.

With the May 1940 occupation of Holland, Germany is poised to attack England.

Queen Wilhelmina broadcasts over the BBC to her people in the Netherlands during WWII.
However, Queen Wilhelmina had foiled the Nazi plot to kidnap her and escaped, by boat, to England, where she set up a government in exile. Thanks to the BBC radio network, she was able to speak to her people for the next five years over the radio, urging them to resist the Germans.

It was revealed that the Nazis who had been trained to capture her – but had failed – had taken lessons in how to correctly address royalty. After capturing her, the plan went, a German general would come calling, a bouquet of flowers in hand, and attempt to persuade her to call off all resistance activity.

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Texas pioneers John Holland Jenkins and Mary Jane Foster Jenkins

Texas pioneers John Holland Jenkins and Mary Jane Foster Jenkins

John Holland Jenkins (1822-1890) fought for Texas for 30 years. At age 13, he joined General Ed Burleson’s First Regiment in the Texas Revolution of 1836. Once the Mexicans were driven back, Jenkins returned to Bastrop, Texas, where he quickly earned a reputation as an Indian fighter. He became a Texas Ranger and, later, a Confederate soldier.

In later life, Jenkins became an author of an invaluable memoir, Recollections of Early Texas. Read today with 21st Century eyes, Jenkins’ accounts of gritty frontier days may come across to some as politically incorrect, especially in regard to native Americans. When the book was printed in 1958, Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie wrote a foreword, somewhat predicting a backlash:

“Johnny Jenkins seems to consider it his duty to put down the truth – whether it is complimentary or not.”

Here is Jenkins’ account of an experience with a group of Tonkawa Indians, one of the many tribes of Plains Indians still roaming Texas when the Anglo settlers arrived in the Mid-19th Century. While some historians dispute that the Tonkawas, like the coastal Karankawas, were cannibals, Jenkins does not:

“There was a cowardly tribe among us, the Tonkawas, who were at peace with the whites, but hated all other Indians of every tribe. Only a short time before this, a band of Wacoes had killed five of them while out hunting, and, of course, this increased their hatred toward [the Waco] Indians. Hearing that I had killed one of their enemies [a Waco], they came in a body, thirty of them, and insisted that I should go with them and show them the dead warrior.

As we went, their excitement and speed increased, and every now and then they would trot on faster than ever, while I trotted with them, determined to keep up and see what they intended doing. When they discovered the body, they seemed wild with delight or frenzy. They sprang upon the body, scalped him, cut off both legs at the knees, both hands at the wrists, pulled out his fingernails and toenails, strung them around their necks, and then motioned for me to move aside. Seeing they meant further violence to the body, already horribly mutilated, I demanded why I must move. They said, ‘We must shoot him through the head for good luck….’

I moved aside, and they shot….They then went back to the house and camped, getting me to furnish them some beef. They boiled their beef, and the hands and feet of the dead Waco together…. Upon inquiry, I found they intended having a dance, and would feed their squaws on the hands and feet of the dead Indian, believing that this would make them bring forth brave men who would hate their enemies and be able to endure hardness and face dangers.

They erected a pole, to which they attached the scalp, hands, and feet of the Waco, and then with horrible yells and gestures, all danced around it, while the squaws constantly danced up to the pole and took bites from the hands and feet and then would go back and dance again. They would prolong these dances three, five, and sometimes ten days.”

The Tonkawas had a Plains Indian culture, subsisting mainly on buffalo and small game until the Apaches and Comanches began pushing them from their hunting grounds. The Tonkawas then became a destitute culture, scavenging for food. They befriended the Anglo settlers who came to Central Texas in the mid-19th Century, relying on them for food, supplies, and an alliance against their Indian enemies. The Tonkawas wore little clothing. The women went topless and tattooed themselves extensively. They painted black stripes on their mouths, noses, and backs, and painted concentric circles around their breasts. Painting by the Berlandier Expedition, 1828.

Readers: You might enjoy other frontier tales also on this website. Scroll down the right sidebar to Categories/Frontier Tales. Enjoy!

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In this 1851, Texas pioneer Mary Adams Maverick is shown with 5 of her children. In 21 years, she bore 10 children. Four died of illness before reaching the age of 8. Her first-born, Sam, Jr., lived to be 98.

In this 1851 photograph, Texas pioneer Mary Adams Maverick is shown with 5 of her children. In 21 years, she bore 10 children. Four died of illness before reaching the age of 8. Her first-born child, however, lived to be 98!

On August 4, 1836, Mary Ann Adams Maverick (1818-1898) married Samuel A. Maverick, in Mary’s hometown of Tuskaloosa, Alabama. Mary was 18: Sam, 33. Sam had recently returned from Texas where he had fought in the Texas Revolution.

For the next several months, the newlyweds traveled throughout the South, visiting relatives, before arriving at Sam’s family home in South Carolina. There, on May 14, 1837, Mary gave birth to their first child, a boy.

Sam’s father did everything in his power to induce his son and family to settle with him in South Carolina. “Father Maverick” offered Sam and Mary a plantation complete with mills, vineyards, orchards, lands, and shops. Or, if a plantation wasn’t their fancy, he offered instead a new style house and improvements.

But Father Maverick’s efforts were “all in vain,” wrote Mary in her memoirs,

“for my husband dreamed constantly of Texas, and said: ‘We must go back.'” (1)

Sam wanted to build his land empire in the new Republic of Texas.

In October 1837, Mary, Sam, and their baby boy left South Carolina for Alabama. For the next six weeks, they – and their 10 “negroes” – stayed with Mary’s family while they made final preparations for their long overland journey to Texas.

“December 7, 1837, we set off for Texas. With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Mother, and my brothers and sister. Mother ran after us for one more embrace. She held me in her arms and wept aloud, and said: ‘Oh, Mary, I will never see you again on Earth.’ I felt heartbroken and often recalled that thrilling cry; and I have never beheld my dear Mother again.” (1)

 
(1) Green, Rena Maverick (ed.). Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick. The Alamo Printing Co., San Antonio, 1921.

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"Comanche War Party on the March, Fully Equipped," oil painting by George Catlin, 1846-1848. By the time Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, the frontier war between the settlers and the Comanche Indians was at full throttle, with brutal attacks being waged on both sides.

Here is an article that appeared in an 1840 Texas newspaper:

A little remedy against Indian arrows:

Take about 16 or 24 sheets of common blotting paper; lay between them some thin layers of cotton or silk; make a kind of jacket of it to be put on in the moment of danger, and you will be invulnerable from the chin to the leg, from the most of Indian arrows and even bullets. It is no more cowardice than to stand behind a tree or to be a cuirassier [a mounted soldier wearing armor]; and in our big European wars, the lives of many thousands of brave soldiers were thus preserved. I recommend it by experience.

H. Mollhausen, captain of artillery                          

Texas Sentinel, March 1840

Readers, other posts of similar interest are:

The Scalping of Robert McGee

“The Scalping of Josiah Wilbarger”

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Frances Griffiths is shown playing with fairies in Cottingley Beck, near Bradford in England, in 1917. Her cousin Elsie Wright was the photographer. This is one of 5 photographs the cousins took of themselves playing along a creek with dancing fairies.

Do you believe in fairies? Frances Griffiths, 16, and her cousin Elsie Wright, 10, did. They claimed to play with dancing fairies along the enchanted stream [the beck] behind Elsie’s house in Cottingley Village, England – and they had 5 photographs to prove it. There in the frames, dancing around the girls, were four female fairies!

When Elsie’s parents saw the photos, they didn’t know what to think. Elsie’s father examined them and proclaimed them clever fakes. But Elsie’s mother wasn’t so sure. Mrs. Wright wanted to believe the girls, as she was a spiritualist. [Among the country folk in England at the time was a lively fairy-faith. ] The parents searched the girls’ shared bedroom and around the beck for scraps of paper to reveal tomfoolery. Still nothing turned up. Mrs. Wright was inclined to believe the girls. Her husband made his camera off-limits.

Time passed. At first the photographs were only shared with close friends and family, but, in 1919, Mrs. Wright attended a lecture on fairy life, bringing the prints with her. By 1920 the prints had come to the attention of one of the leading spiritualists of the time, Edward Gardner, who examined them and had two new negatives made, clarifying the pictures.

The story of the Cottingley fairies got even more attention when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries) learned of them.

Detective Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, played by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The characters of Holmes and Watson were created by British doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a renowned spiritualist.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was famous for more than his books. He was an outspoken believer in the spirit world. He immediately believed the Cottingley fairy story and began writing letters to the Wright family in support. Doyle published his book The Coming of Fairies in 1922, maintaining until his death that the Cottingley fairies were real.

Still, public opinion was divided. Supporters claimed the photos provided long-awaited proof of the existence of spirits. Others said the photos were nothing more than clever fakes. The Cottingley Fairy Photos caused heated debate. Nevertheless, the girls held to their story, even as they aged.

Finally in 1983 Elsie came clean. She divulged in a letter to a friend that the photographs were indeed a hoax. She described how she and Frances had used the fairies in Princess Mary’s Gift Book as inspiration for cut0uts. They then used hatpins to prop up the paper dolls in the bushes for pictures.

Fairy figures in Princess Mary's Gift Book

 

Elsie insisted that they had meant no harm. They were just having a bit of fun. It had been Elsie’s idea as a way to get back at her parents for scolding her little cousin. Evidently, her mother and father had gotten angry with Frances for getting her clothes wet one day while playing in the beck. Frances had claimed to be playing with fairies when she’d fallen, and the elder Wrights had teased her. Elsie had come up with the idea of taking the first pictures to have the last laugh. All along they had planned on confessing their little trick until Arthur Conan Doyle got involved. By then, the matter had grown so out of proportion thatthe girls became terrified of a public backlash should they confess.

 

Elsie Wright is shown receiving a flower from a fairy. This is one of the famous Cottingley fairy photos from 1917.

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To promote the film, "April in Paris," Doris Day appeared on a 1952 Collier's magazine cover with six dyed poodles.

Doris Day appears on the cover of Collier's 1952 magazine to promote her new film, "April in Paris." With her are 6 dyed poodles. Poodles became the most popular dog in the 1950s, when poodle skirts made their debut.

In post WWII America, the poodle dog became the rage. It went from being the 25th most popular dog in 1946 to No. 1 in 1960. All of a sudden, poodles

…were chic; they stood for modernity and sophistication, which anyone could shoot for, whether they were rich or just wanted to appear a la mode. Teenage girls wore stylish poodle skirts decorated with felt-appliqued French poodles wearing rhinestone collars; ladies bought handbags with embroidered poodles on the side and decorated their powder rooms with wallpaper that had pictures of poodles strolling down the Champs-Elysees. (1)

In the fifties, every glamorous movie star had a poodle – or was photographed with one.

Actress Joan Collins with her dyed pink poodle

Although they are not French, poodles came to be called “French poodles,”  recalled for their clever antics in French circuses. Thus, Americans bought poodles and gave them French names like Fifi, Gigi, and Pierre. They also took them to fancy groomers:

To gaze upon a standard (full-size) poodle in a “Miami Sweetheart” cut with centered fur hearts on hips and back, pantaloon legs sculpted lathe-smooth, tassel ears, a Van Buren mustache drooping from its muzzle, a ribboned topknot, and a wagging pompon tail, parading along the boulevard in a rhinestone collar at the end of a jeweled lead, is to see an animal that has become a walking, barking work of art.

Then the poodle enthusiasts went a step further. They attempted to make an animal that was already cute even cuter. They began to use vegetable dyes to dye the dogs to match their owners’ houses, moods, and outfits. Movie actress Doris Day epitomized this fad when she appeared in the movie, “April in Paris,” with six dyed poodles on leashes.

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Click to see:  Hiphop wedding dance jumps from youtube to The Today Show.

soul trainI watched that line dance and it took me way back –  to the 1970s –  to the TV dance show, “Soul Train,” hosted by Don Cornelius. I loved that show. Those kids could dance.  I watched “Soul Train” on Saturday mornings when I was in high school and college. It came on right after “American Bandstand.”

Line dancing ain’t new. We had disco fever forty years ago. Boogie down, baby!

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The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The following is an excerpt from the opening scene in the children’s literary classic, The Wind in the Willows. The Rat and the Mole are standing on opposite riverbanks, shouting across the river to one another in greeting. Rat is standing outside his snug riverside dwelling that includes a pier.)

“Hullo, Mole!” said the Water Rat.

“Hullo, Rat,” said the Mole.

“Would you like to come over?” enquired the Rat presently.

The Rat…stooped and unfastened a rope…then lightly stepped onto a little boat which the Mole had not observed. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals; and the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.

The Rat sculled smartly across and…the Mole stepped gingerly down…and …to his surprise and rapture found himself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.

Ratty and Mole out boating from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

[T]he Rat shoved off and took to the skulls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in my life.” [said the Mole]

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “never been in  a – you never – well I – what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that? asked the Mole shyly…[as he] felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing – about – in – boats; messing -“

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late.

Published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame, is a timeless tale of animal friends and their adventures along the Thames riverbank, in the Wild Wood, or on the Open Road.  The main characters are the laid-back Ratty, the dim but positive Mole, stern yet kindly Badger, and the irrepressible Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. To see more of E.H. Shepard’s drawings for The Wind in the Willows, click here.

 

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Madame X at the Met

"Madame X" by American portrait painter John Singer Sargent, 1884

"Madame X" by American portrait painter John Singer Sargent, 1884

In the Metropolitan Museum of New York hangs a seven-foot tall portrait of a rather pale woman in a black velvet evening dress held up by sparkly straps. “Madame X” was painted by the American society painter John Singer Sargent.  The subject of the painting is Madame Virginie Gautreau, a professional beauty, who moved in the top tiers of Paris society and was often mentioned in the scandal sheets for her numerous dangerous indiscretions and passion for self-display. It was 1884 and Madame Gautreau was the Talk of Paris.

It was only a year earlier that John Singer Sargent had met her at a party. Once he laid eyes on her, he knew at once he must paint a portrait of her as an homage to her beauty – and a boost to his lagging career.  He felt that if he painted her, all Parisian society women would flock to his studio demanding that he paint their portraits. Sargent sent word to Madame Gautreau that she must sit for a portrait; she consented, realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. She, too, needed the publicity to maintain her social superiority. Once they agreed, Sargent began to paint,  devoting himself to capture the “strange, weird, fantastic, curious beauty of that peacock-woman, Mme. Gautreau,” noted one observer.

Madame Gautreau was rumored to take great pains to be beautiful:

Gautreau achieved her affected, highly artificial look with hennaed hair, heavily penciled brows, rouged ears and powdered skin. She was rumored to mix her powder with mauve tint and to ingest arsenic wafers to make her skin more translucent, giving it even more of a bluish-purple tint.

Not all thought she was lovely to look at. She had her detractors. Some said her white pallor and icy charm made her resemble a cadaver.

"Madame X" is shown as it must have originally appeared

"Madame X" is shown as it must have originally appeared

The painting that hangs in the Met today, “Madame X,” however, is not the same Madame X as the one that Sargent painted in 1884 and exhibited in Paris. That image no longer exists. We can only speculate what it looked like. The painting shown to the right here is what it may have looked like. That original, the one exhibited in Paris in 1884, showed Madame Gautreau’s dress with the right strap suggestively falling off her shoulder. (Compare to the painting at the top, the one at the Met. Her right strap, you’ll notice, sits firmly in place.)

When exhibited in Paris, the painting “with the falling strap” created an instant sensation but not in the way Sargent and Gautreau had hoped:


No sooner had the doors of the Palais de l’Industrie in the Champs-Élysées opened on May 1, 1884, than a crowd gathered in front of ”Madame X.” People hooted and pointed the tips of their umbrellas and canes at the painting. ”Look! She forgot her chemise!*” was heard over and over again. The critics were no kinder. ”Of all the undressed women at the Salon this year, the most interesting is Madame Gautreau . . . because of the indecency of her dress that looks like it is about to fall off,” wrote a critic for L’Artist. (*A chemise is a woman’s undergarment, a smock, that is worn under clothing and next to the skin. In that day, a French lady always wore a chemise under a dress.)

The painting was considered too provocative; sex pervaded it. Not even an actress, it was remarked, would wear a dress that shockingly low-cut and snug! And that strap! A little imagination conjured up a scene in which a slight struggle with a lover might knock Madame X’s right strap completely off her shoulder leading to… ! Paris was abuzz with the scandal. Madame Gautreau’s mother demanded that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibit. He refused.

John Singer Sargent in Paris studio 1885 with the revised painting of Madame X

John Singer Sargent in Paris studio 1885 with the revised painting of Madame X

The painting, considered a beloved masterpiece today but pornographic by 1884 Parisian standards of decency, was trashed by the Paris critics so badly that Sargent, having lived in Paris for a decade then, was eventually forced to move to London to continue his profession. Sargent revised the painting to show the gown’s right strap securely in place. It is this retouched painting that hangs in the New York Metropolitan today.

Zip ahead to 1938 and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Dorothy Hale was wearing her Madame X dress when she jumped to her death from her penthouse apartment. To learn more, read “Frida Kahlo: The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.”

"The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" by Frida Kahlo, 1938/39

"The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" by Frida Kahlo, 1938/39

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French President Nicolas Sarkost arrives at Versailles Palace on June 22, 2009, to address Parliament. H condemned the use of the burqa in France, calling it an unacceptable symbol of "enslavement."

French President Nicolas Sarkosy arrives at Versailles Palace on June 22, 2009, to address Parliament. He condemned the use of the burqa in France, calling it an unacceptable symbol of "enslavement."

On June 22, 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France arrived at Versailles Palace to address legislators, the first presidential appearance before Parliament since 1875. To protect the independence of lawmakers, presidents had been barred from entering Parliament since Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s reign. Reforms carried out by Sarkozy’s party last summer, though, opened the way for him to speak to Parliament. (1)

Mr. Sarkozy entered through rows of French guards with raised swords and plumed helmets, then delivered an American-style state-of-the-nation address. In a sober, far-ranging speech, he spoke about the economy and his vision for the future of France. He saved his strongest comments for the most hotly-debated social issue in France:  the burqa. The burqa is a Muslim head-to-toe garment that some women wear to cloak their bodies and faces. Sarkozy’s declaration, “The burqa is not welcome in France,” was met with enthusiastic applause.

Two Afghan Women Wearing Burqas

Two Afghan Women Wearing Burqas

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Sarkozy told Parliament. “”That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity. The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Mr. Sarkozy said. The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”

Mr Sarkozy gave his backing to the establishment of a parliamentary commission to study the burqa and methods to stem its spread. In 2004, France banned Islamic headscarves in its state schools. France is home to five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Two women, one wearing the niqab, a veil worn by the most conservative Muslims that exposes only a woman's eyes, right, walk side by side, in the Belsunce district of downtown Marseille, central France, Friday June 19, 2009. The French government's spokesman says he favors the creation of a parliamentary commission to study the small but growing trend of burqa wear in France. Luc Chatel says the commission could possibly propose legislation aimed at banning the burqa and other fully covering garments worn by some Muslim women.

Two women, one wearing the niqab, a veil worn by the most conservative Muslims that exposes only a woman's eyes, right, walk side by side, in downtown Marseille, on June 19, 2009. In France, the terms burka and niqab are often used interchangeably – the former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with a mesh screen over the eyes, while the latter is a full-body veil, often in black, with a gap for the eyes.A parliamentary commission may study the small but growing trend of burqa wear in France and could propose legislation aimed at banning the burqa and other fully covering garments worn by some Muslim women. The study aims to discover whether the women wear the burka by choice or out of fear.

(1) “Sarkozy Backs Drive to Eliminate the Burqa.” The New York Times, June 23, 2009.

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"The Weaker Sex, by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

"The Weaker Sex, by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

“Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s (1867-1944) glamorous, winsome “Gibson girls” set the standard for female beauty in turn-of-the-century America. Here [in the above illustration], however, Gibson parodies his own creations, portraying his traditionally passive paradigms of womanhood as playfully assertive giants toying with a minuscule man.” (1)

(1) Library of Congress “Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws” Exhibit

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Abraham Lincoln, February 5, 1865. He would live less than 3 more months.

Abraham Lincoln, February 5, 1865. He would live less than 3 more months.

It was the morning of Friday, April 14, 1865, the last full day of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It was a beautiful spring day. The president was looking forward to an evening at the theater. Plays relaxed him, expecially comedy. There were some who looked down on him for being a theater-goer. They considered it lowbrow entertainment, especially for the commander-in-chief. Who were they to deny Lincoln a few minutes away from his troubling thoughts?

But that was all behind him now. The War Between the States was over. The terrible suffering had come to an end. Abe and his wife, Mary, had lost two sons to illness. That afternoon, he and Mary took a leisurely carriage ride. They spoke of the future together. Abraham was very happy. He said to Mary:

“We must both be more cheerful in the future.”

Abraham Lincoln's carriage that took him, Mary, Major Rathbone, and Clara Harris to Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination. The carriage is a 4-passenger barouche. When the doors are opened, steps unfold.

Abraham Lincoln’s favorite carriage. It was the carriage that took him, Mary, Major Henry Rathbone, and Clara Harris to Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. The carriage is a 4-passenger barouche. When the doors are opened, steps unfold.

Major Henry Rathbone

Major Henry Rathbone

Shortly after their return to the White House, they dressed for the theater – Ford’s Theater – to see “Our American Cousin” starring Laura Keene. Mary and Abe had had a dickens of a time finding someone to attend the performance with them. They had invited 12 people and all had declined. It was Good Friday, the most solemn day on the Christian calendar, and not a day many folks sought entertainment. Most were busy, some disapproved of theater in general. The Grants – especially Julia, the General’s wife – could not stand the idea of being confined in a theater box with Mary and her explosive temper.

Clara Harris photographed by Mathew Brady, ca. 1860-68.

Clara Harris photographed by Mathew Brady, ca. 1860-68.

Finally, a young couple the Lincolns were fond of – Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris – accepted their invitation. Henry and Clara had just become engaged. Oddly enough, Clara was Henry’s stepsister. When Henry’s father died, his mother married Ira Harris, Clara’s father.

The two couples arrived at Ford’s Theater in the president’s carriage after the performance had already begun. As the four entered the presidential box, decorated with American flags and a painting of George Washington, the actors froze on stage. The orchestra struck up “Hail to the Chief.” The audience clapped, cheered, and waved.

“The president,” remembered one theater-goer, “stepped to the box-rail and acknowledged the applause with dignified bows and never-to-be-forgotten smiles.” (1)

The applause died down as the Lincolns, Clara and Henry took their seats. Abraham settled into a rocking chair Ford had brought up from his office especially for him. He sat on the far right of the box. To the left, Mary pulled her chair close to her husband’s, nestling up to him at one point, and slipping her arm through his. On the left side of the box, Clara sat in a stuffed chair. Henry sat on a small sofa behind her and in the back of the box. Mary fretted that Henry couldn’t see the stage well from the sofa and said so.

One of the biggest laughs in the play came in the third act when the male lead delivered this line:

“Don’t know the manners of good society, eh?” he paused. “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal – you sockdologizing old mantrap.”

This line always got a big laugh. Tonight was no exception. The audience – including the president – laughed and clapped. They made so much noise that only the people in the box heard the crack of a gunshot, as actor John Wilkes Booth had planned. Booth had crept into the presidential box and, with a derringer, shot the president in the back of the head.

an image of the Lincoln assassination showing, from left to right, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, President Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

The “Assassination of President A Lincoln” showing, from left to right, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, President Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

The rest was blue gunsmoke and confusion. The president was slumped forward in his chair with no visible wound. He looked as if he was sleeping. Henry grabbed the gunman who held his gun in one hand and a dagger in the other. Booth dropped the gun and slashed Henry in the arm and the head. Because of Henry’s interference, Booth was unable to make a clean jump out of the presidential box onto the stage below.  Booth caught his foot as he jumped, landing on the stage at a weird angle, and breaking his leg. Henry shouted into the audience, “Stop that man!” Clara yelled, “The president has been shot!”

John Wilkes Booth flees across the stage of Ford's Theater after having assassinated President Lincoln. He shouts "sic semper tyrannis!" (thus always to tyrants" and, perhaps, "The South is avenged."

John Wilkes Booth flees across the stage of Ford’s Theater after having assassinated President Lincoln. He shouts, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Latin for “Thus it shall ever be for tyrants,” the Virginia state motto) and, perhaps also, “The South is avenged.”

Though Henry was weak from loss of blood and his wounds were serious, the president’s wound was mortal. By the next morning, the president was dead.

Henry survived the attack and, in 1867, he and Clara were married. They had three children. But all was not well with Henry. Perhaps because of his head wound, his mental health rapidly deteriorated. He heard voices and believed he was being persecuted and tortured. He became jealous of his wife’s attention to their children. Clara lived in utter terror of what Henry might do.

Eighteen years after Lincoln’s assassination, Henry Rathbone reenacted Booth’s brutal attack on President Lincoln – within his own home. Armed with knife and pistol, Henry attacked his family, murdering Clara with a pistol, trying to kill his children, then stabbing himself.  He lived and was declared insane. He was institutionalized in Germany for the rest of his life.

(1) Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. New York: Random House, Inc., 2008.

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Boston Corbett (1832-?) photographed in 1865

Boston Corbett (1832-?) photographed in 1865

The man who killed John Wilkes Booth was as mad as a hatter. His name was Boston Corbett. Actually, his name was not originally Boston Corbett, but Thomas T. Corbett. He became a reborn evangelical Christian while in Boston which he took as his new name. He began to wear his hair long like Jesus. He became a religious fanatic.  Those who knew him said he was “different.”  Boston Corbett was as mad as a hatter.

Boston Corbett was as mad as a hatter because he was a hatter – at a time when mercury was used in the felt hatmaking process. Hatmakers breathed the mercury vapors which caused mercury poisoning. Mercury damages the nervous system, producing symptoms such as drooling, twitching, paranoia, hallucinations, and agitation. It was probably mercury poisoning that caused the mental problems that dogged Corbett all his days.

"The Mad Hatter's Tea Party." ="Though he did not create the expression "mad as a hatter," author Lewis Carroll did create the eccentric character in his book, Alice in Wonderland (illustrations by Sir John Tenniel), first released in London in 1865, coincidentally, the year Lincoln was assassination. The hatter in the book is an eccentric fellow with wacky ideas and incoherent speech, attributes attributed to hatters of the day. Mercury was used in hatmaking and its poisonous vapors caused neurological damage on the hatters.

"The Mad Hatter's Tea Party." Though he did not create the expression "mad as a hatter," author Lewis Carroll did create the eccentric character of the hatter in his book, Alice in Wonderland (illustrations by Sir John Tenniel), first released in London in 1865, coincidentally, the year Lincoln was assassinated. The hatter in the book is an eccentric fellow with wacky ideas and incoherent speech, characteristics attributed to many hatters of the day, suffering from mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in hatmaking and its poisonous vapors caused debilitating neurological damage to the hatters, resulting in a complete mental breakdown.

As I was saying, Corbett’s job – daily breathing in the noxious mercury fumes while he made felt hats – was making him go insane. By July 16, 1858, Corbett had become so insane that he picked up a pair of scissors, took off his pants, and castrated himself. After doing the strange deed, he nonchalantly dressed again and went out to a prayer meeting, where he ate heartily and then took a walk. Corbett did, however, end up seeing a doctor to receive treatment for his self-mutilation. (1)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Corbett enlisted in the Union army. He reenlisted three times and was made sergeant. In the days following President Lincoln’s assassination, he was selected as one of the 26 soldiers in the 16th New York Cavalry commissioned to pursue and capture the fugitive assassin John Wilkes Booth. On April 26, 1865, Corbett and the others cornered Booth and his coconspirator David Herold in a tobacco barn on Richard Garrett’s Virginia farm. Herold  gave himself up.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth

Booth refused to surrender, so the soldiers set the barn on fire, hoping to smoke him out. Corbett watched Booth through a large crack in the barn wall. As Booth moved about inside the burning barn, Corbett stuck his Colt revolver through the crack and aimed at the unsuspecting Booth, a full 12 feet away. Corbett’s bullet struck Lincoln’s killer in the neck, puncturing his spinal cord. Booth did not die at once.

When Corbett was questioned about his unilateral decision to kill rather than to capture Booth alive, he replied:

“God Almighty directed me.”

 
Back in Washington, Corbett was placed under technical arrest, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to prosecute the man many considered a hero. Stanton said, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.” Corbett collected $1653.85 in reward money.

Famous now, Corbett returned to the hat trade, first in Boston then in Connecticut and New Jersey. Further exposure to mercury caused his already volatile and erratic behavior to escalate. He got into frequent arguments which involved flashing his revolver in men’s faces.

He grew paranoid.

Then, in 1878, he made a radical life change. He moved to Kansas to live in a dugout; his home was nothing more than a hole in a hill with a stone front and a patchwork roof. He lived simply, sleeping on a homemade bed. He bought a flock of sheep. He began to give religious lectures that invariably turned into incoherent rants. He kept a number of firearms.

Improbably, in 1887, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper to the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. Shortly after his appointment, he got crosswise with some men, pulled out a gun, threatened them, and got arrested. He was declared insane and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane.

But he didn’t stay there. A little over a year later, he stole a horse that had been left at the asylum entrance and escaped. Little is known about where he went after that. Some say Mexico. He may have become a traveling salesman for a medicine company in Oklahoma Territory and Texas. No one knows what became of the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. That may forever remain a mystery.

(1) The actual hospital record can be read on page 59 of Lincoln and Kennedy: Medical & Ballistic Comparisons of their Assassinations by Dr. John K. Lattimer.

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