Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Don't Know Much About History

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry [above, as depicted in an 1890 lithograph by Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison showing the ill-fated attack on Fort Wagner in 1863], one of the first formal units of the United States Army to be made up entirely of African American men, fought on for the North and the Union - no matter what you read in a Virginia history text book.

File this one under 'Things I Couldn't Make Up'. Those of you who hear a Southern accent and automatically think "red-neck, racist moron", well shame on you. Shame on you, but I can also understand why the Southern drawl does conjure up 'slow' in your mind. There's the cliche about the 'South' and American History: namely that nothing has happened in this country - nothing worth remembering, anyway - since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

There's a lot of truth in that, although it is still a cliche. Yet that cliche isn't helped by recent news out of Virginia that there's some history text books being used there with the following factual inaccuracies:

1) New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor
2) The Confederacy included 12 states
3) The United States entered World War in 1916
4) Men in Colonial Virginia commonly wore full suits of armor
5) No Americans survived the Battle of the Alamo

For those of you who don't recognize those as inaccuracies, the correct answers are:

1) It began as a Spanish colonial harbor
2) It had 11 states
3) The U.S. entered the war in 1917
4) No they didn't
5) A few did survive

And these are just some of the errors - there are literally dozens of them - that historians have found in Virginia's textbooks since state officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press in response to an article in the Washington Post back in October.

The Post article in particular highlighted a very interesting claim in one textbook that said African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War. Even your average moron - just on intuition - knows that's probably not true. That's the kind of 'history' one could find in Southern textbooks in the early 1900s; I'd thought we'd taken care of that. Apparently not.

Our Virginia: Past and Present, the textbook including the African Americans fighting for the South claim, has many other inaccuracies. And similar problems were found in another book by Five Ponds Press, Our America: To 1865. Yes: I'm guessing to many Southern racists they do consider it 'our America' until 1865.

"I absolutely could not believe the number of mistakes - wrong dates and wrong facts everywhere. How in the world did these books get approved?" Ronald Heinemann, a former history professor at Hampden-Sydney College, asked the Post rhetorically. He reviewed Our Virginia: Past and Present. In his recommendation to the state, Heinemann wrote, "This book should be withdrawn from the classroom immediately, or at least by the end of the year."

As I say, it all started after the Post reported that Our Virginia included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. That claim is one often made by the lunatic fringe and other Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most people here on Earth. The funniest part was the response of the book's author, Joy Masoff. With a straight face she said at the time that she found references to this 'fact' while doing research on the Internet. And you're wondering why 67% of Americans think George Washington fought in the Civil War?!

To deal with the embarrassment, Virginia officials commissioned a 'blue ribbon' panel of experts to review all history textbooks. The results are disturbing, to say the least. Some reviewers submitted lists of errors that ran several pages long. State officials plan to meet January 10, 2011 to review the historians' concerns. "The findings of these historians have certainly underscored and added urgency to the need to address the weaknesses in our system so we don't have glaring historical errors in our books," said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for Virginia's Department of Education. His brother, Gomer, was unavailable for comment.

As for the publisher, Five Ponds Press [based in Weston, Connecticut of all places] doesn't even try to deny that its books have errors. "Most of the items you reference have been identified, and we sent a notice a week ago to the Virginia Department of Education with our intent to make these edits in the book's next printing," Lou Scolnik, owner of Five Ponds Press, wrote in an email response to questions from the Post.

At least Scolnik is an honest crook. The Virginia Department of Education has been telling people for years that they have the strongest 'standards' required of textbooks in the entire country. Those 'standards' - brilliantly called the Standards of Learning - includes lists of themes that each textbook must cover. It turns out, those standards aren't so stringent after all.

For one thing, the reviewers that the department uses are not scholars. No. They are often elementary school teachers. Now, no offense, but my experience has been that most elementary school teachers chose that speciality because their base of knowledge doesn't exceed the sixth grade. I'm not sure they should be the ones reviewing the textbooks. Gomer's brother pretty much proved that with his ridiculous statement that, "Teachers [reviewing the books for facts] are not reading textbooks front to back, and they're not in a position to identify the kinds of errors that historians could identify." Really. That's what he said.

Five Ponds Press has cornered a growing portion of Virginia's $70 million-a-year textbook market. Many larger publishers employ professional historians, but all of the books by Five Ponds Press have been written by Masoff, who is not a trained historian. I'm doubtful she's a trained anything. If you'd like to read some other titles by Masoff, Google Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty and Oh, Yikes! History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments. No, really: those are the titles. Unfortunately, Masoff may be looking for work now: Scolnik said Five Ponds is in the process of hiring a professional historian from a Virginia university. Wow - there's a novel idea.

Four of the five experts reviewed books published only by Five Ponds Press. The fifth reviewer, DePaul University sociology professor Christopher Einolf, has written a book on a Civil War general. He reviewed Civil War content in nine Virginia textbooks published by companies other than Five Ponds Press.

Einolf's review found that one book - from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - has particular problems. Einolf took issue with some characterizations, saying, for example, that Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman did not "destroy" Atlanta but instead burned portions of the city. While I realize that's little consolation to the people who went up in flames, but nonetheless there is a difference between destroying a city and beating the hell out of it.

Einolf also found problems with the textbook's treatment of Pickett's Charge. While the suicidal thrusts involved 5,000 men, it actually involved more than 10,000. 5,000, 10,000 - what's the difference, right? In a shocker, Einolf said many of the other books neglect key elements, such as the role of African Americans in 19th-century Virginia. "Making a mistake is one thing. Ignoring the role that African Americans played in the state is almost as bad," Einolf told the Post. Actually, Professor, I think the latter is worse than the former, but this post isn't dedicated to the wonders of those in higher education.

Perhaps the most succinct word on all of this came from historian Mary Miley Theobald, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor. She reviewed Our America and concluded to the Post that it was, "just too shocking for words. Any literate person could have opened that book and immediately found a mistake," she said.

The key words there, folks, are 'any literate person'. That disqualifies most elementary school teachers right there.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Remember the USFL

Confederate Lt. General John C. Pemberton [above] surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, ending the siege of Vicksburg.

Normally, I view the Confederacy as something akin to the United States Football League [USFL]. Just like the USFL, when the Confederacy was declared in 1861, it was widely viewed - by most loyal to the Union [i.e. the NFL in our analogy] - as a lark that would quickly be squashed. Soon, however, a series of Confederate battle victories [i.e. Reggie White, Herschel Walker and Steve Young signing with the USFL instead of the NFL out of college], all of a sudden there was a problem. Soon, however, the insanity of the idea that the Confederacy could really exist as a separate nation was exposed as an impossibility [i.e. no one gives a shit about football in the spring] and then it was just a matter of [a lot of] time before the Union forced the Confederacy to surrender [i.e. the USFL folds, White, Walker and Young et al go to where they should have been in the first place: the NFL].

Likewise, I normally view Confederate history like USFL history. Pointless. While many study and are consumed with Confederate history, to me it's akin to memorizing who won the Western Conference of the USFL in 1985 [the Oakland Invaders, by the way].

Recently, though, a story came out that for some reason caught my eye. It involves the siege of Vicksburg by Ulysses S. Grant and the eventual surrender of Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton - which occurred the day after the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg some 1,047 miles away - as a major turning point in the Civil War. An artifact from that Vicksburg siege was recently in the news and that is the story I tell on this Boxing Day 2010 [no, there is absolutely no tie-in between the Civil War and Boxing Day, as far as I know; I just wanted to show off to my readers in Great Britain and Canada that I know when Boxing Day is].

The artifact is a glass vial that had been sitting in a Confederate history museum for 114 years - a long-ago forgotten item roughly 2-inches high and very easily overlooked. The vial was stopped up with a tiny cork, and inside was a folded piece of paper that - it turns out - contained a coded message to Pemberton, who was requesting reinforcements. The dispatch in the vial offered no hope to Pemberton: reinforcements were not on the way. In fact, the encrypted 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Grant ending the siege of Vicksburg.

The message was from a Confederate commander - Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle - located on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

The vial was discovered by Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright. The bottle, less than 2 inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the museum in Richmond, Virginia since 1896. It was a gift from Smith.

Wright decided to investigate the contents of the strange little bottle containing a tightly wrapped note, a .38-caliber bullet and a white thread. Wright asked a Richmond art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. Nolley looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle's mouth. He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers. The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.

An initial problem was that the message was coded and appeared to be a random collection of letters. Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success. So, she contacted a retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, and he cracked the code in several weeks. Gaddy then asked a U.S. Navy cryptologist - Cmdr. John B. Hunter - to take a look at the message. Hunter independently confirmed Gaddy's interpretation. Hunter told the Washington Post that he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time. "To me, it was not that difficult," he said. "I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have."

The code is called the "Vigenere cipher," a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places. So, for example, the letter 'd' becomes the first letter of the alphabet, making the letter 'a' the 24th letter of the alphabet, and so on. The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War. No, it doesn't sound too particularly bright to me either, but then again it took the Navy guy two weeks to decipher it, so what the hell do we know?

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

"Gen'l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch [sic] from General Johnston."

That last line, museum collections officer Wright told the Post, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message. "The date of this message clearly indicates that Walker has no idea that the city is about to be surrendered [by Pemberton]," she said. The 'Johnston' mention in the dispatch is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, whose 32,000 troops were encamped south of Vicksburg. They were prevented from assisting Pemberton by Grant's 35,000 Union troops. Pemberton had initially requested the reinforcements of Walker because he held out hope that Johnston would eventually come to his aid if he could just hang on a little longer.

Walker's response - in the vial - would have been discouraging to Pemberton had he received it before he surrendered. By July 4th - the date the message from Walker was dispatched - was the end of a shitty situation for the inhabitants of Vicksburg. By the end of the six-week siege, many in the city resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather. Soup was made from wallpaper paste. After Pemberton surrendered, the town was so scarred by the experience they refused to celebrate July 4th until 1943!

By the way, the bullet in the bottle had to do with instructions given by Walker to the soldier-messenger to toss the bottle into the river if Union troops intercepted his passage. The weight of the bullet would have carried the corked bottle to the bottom. That never happened. Instead, the Confederate messenger arrived to the river's edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city of Vicksburg. The messenger then scurried back to Walker, who kept the bottle until turning it over to the museum 33 years later.

Or, 86 years before the launch of the USFL.

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

36,525 Days Later

Chicago firefighters carry an injured comrade from the scene of a blaze Wednesday at an abandoned commercial building on the South Side. Two firefighters were killed and 17 hurt when a roof collapsed - exactly 100 years after the Chicago Union Stock Yard fire.

Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when history repeats itself at exactly the same time of year as it did the first time. The scene was a fire in a long-abandoned Chicago laundry business. As the fire raged, across town firefighters elsewhere were commemorating the 100th anniversary of a similar fire at the Chicago Union Stock Yards. Like the fire in 1910, yesterday's conflagration resulted in the deaths of Chicago firemen. The irony of the two events - 100 years apart - was lost on no one.

Yesterday, the Chicago Fire Department lost firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum. The fire in 1910 was even deadlier: 21 Chicago firefighters died during that blaze [in addition to 3 civilians]. Indeed, the 1910 fire was the largest single-event death toll of firefighters in America until September 11, 2001.

As it was on the morning of December 22, 1910, the brutally cold temperatures of December 22, 2010 made firefighting even more of a challenge. In addition to the brutal cold suffered by the firefighters themselves, there was the matter of preventing freezing in the lines leading to and from the fire trucks as both blazes were battled. Of course, the technology in 1910 was more primitive and made firefighting -in any climate - more difficult.

Yesterday's fire was in a long-abandoned South Shore laundry business where no one worked or lived. While - in contrast - the Chicago Union Stock Yards in 1910 were a central hub to the commerce of the entire Midwest, that fire occurred early enough n the morning that only a handful of employees were on site at the time of the blaze.

Indeed, the parallels between the two situations in terms of low potential for loss of human life illustrates a point as true in 2010 as it was in 1910: be it one life or hundreds, a firefighter will not leave a situation if he or she believes there is the potential to save even one human life.

Such was the case yesterday with firefighters Stringer and Ankum. Concerned that homeless people may have been taking refuge from the cold in the abandoned building, Stringer and Ankum were among the firefighters searching the burning building around daybreak when a roof came crashing down on them. Both men died of blunt force injuries, while 17 others were hurt. Firefighter Steven Ellerson was part of a group of firefighters on the roof when it collapsed. As Ellerson lay injured in the rubble, he heard Ankum, a former Chicago police officer who had joined the Fire Department just 18 months ago, calling for help. Minutes later, a rare "Mayday" call went out signalling that firefighters were buried under the debris. "Mayday. Mayday. Emergency. … Collapse in the rear of the building. Building came down. We've got guys trapped," a chief officer on the scene radioed to the fire dispatch office.

Ellerson found a gasping Ankum trapped in the debris and struggling to breathe. Ellerson whipped off his mask and placed it near Ankum's mouth in an effort to get oxygen to him. He wanted to give him his coat to keep warm, but the veteran firefighter was pulled from the building before he had the chance.

Dozens of firefighters who rushed to the scene tunneled through the debris to excavate four comrades — including Stringer and Ankum — trapped underneath the charred rubble. They also searched for squatters who might have been in the abandoned building.

As it turned out, there were none.

An ambulance rushed Stringer, 47, to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The 12-year department veteran was pronounced dead a short time later. Ankum, 34, was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he died. He had joined the department in 2009, fulfilling a desire to become a Chicago firefighter like one of his closest family members.

By late morning, dozens of firefighters and members of Ankum's family were gathered in the swirling snow outside the Oak Lawn hospital to share their grief. The mourners stood at attention, saluting with their hats in their hands, as Ankum's body was shuttled by police escort to the Cook County medical examiner's office. That solemn tribute was repeated when Stringer's body was carried out of Northwestern Memorial.

It's not definitive as to why the abandoned laundry's heavy roof caved, as the fire never did reach that area of the building. More than likely, it was not fire but instead the accumulating snow and ice coupled with the building's age that led to the roof collapse.

The fire at the Union Stock Yards was fought in a similar weather conditions. By 4 am on December 22, 1910, the temperature in Chicago was 24 degrees. At that time, in an unlit basement of Warehouse 7 of the Nelson Morris Company at the Yards, wires suddenly began sparkling. Those first flames were soon fed by combustibles ranging from rags to raw meat.

Within little more than an hour, that fire would grow to engulf all of Warehouse 7. Then, in a few horrendous seconds, it would turn the nearly windowless brick building from just another meat-packing operation into the graveyard of 24 men, 21 of them Chicago firemen.

James Horan arrived on the scene 18 minutes after the alarm bell rang at his firehouse, jolting he and his wife. Horan was the 51-year old Chief of the Chicago Fire Department. "What's the matter, Jimmie?" said his second wife, Margaret, as he jumped into his firefighting gear. "Nothing, dear, there's another fire," he answered as he left the house.

He would never return.

At 5:08 am, almost exactly one hour after the first alarm had been sounded, a six-story brick wall, buckled by the expanding superheated air in the building, crashed through a wooden canopy onto a loading dock, killing Horan, 20 of his colleagues, and 3 employees. The tons of flaming debris buried them alive. Hours later, after firemen removed the debris brick by brick, Horan's body was found. He was on his knees, arms folded, facing the center of the fire.

By the time the blaze was extinguished 25 1/2 hours later at 6:37 am on December 23rd, 50 engine companies and 7 hook and ladder companies had been called to the scene. Fire hydrants near the location had been shut off prior to the outbreak of the fire to prevent freezing. Following Horan's death, First Assistant Chief Charles Seyferlich took command of the operations, diverting men from fighting the fire to search and retrieve the dead firefighters and three civilians who had also been on the loading dock.

Unlike the tributes that poured in yesterday for the two fallen firefighters, the reaction to Horan's death was quite the opposite. "It would take a dumb Irishman to get 20 guys killed," one firefighter told the Chicago Tribune the next day. Indeed, instead of being honored, Horan was held responsible for the deaths.

Eventually, Horan's reputation was to be saved. John Rice had heard the "It would take a dumb Irishman..." comments while growing up - particularly from his father, who was Horan's grandson, descended from Horan's first wife.

As an adult, Rice began researching his great-grandfather. "I decided to find out if he was a dumb guy," said Rice, a private investigator. Rice stumbled upon a cache of Horan's papers at the Chicago History Museum. Instead of a dolt, "I discovered he was an incredible hero, a visionary."

In fact, in his four years as chief, Horan had campaigned before the city council for a high-pressure water system to cover the Loop and the stock yards, the two areas of a growing city where the most fires occurred. Indeed, in a somber irony, "Twelve hours before he died, he was arguing for high-pressure water," Rice said. "He said after one fire killed a family, 'We have a 22,000-square-mile lake outside our front door, but we don't have enough water to save a mother and child.' "

Although such a system would eventually arrive, it is questionable whether it would have saved Horan and his men from near-instant death, given the close quarters in which they had to maneuver. The loading dock was the only place from where the fire could be attacked, and access was restricted by a rail line filled with box cars. Even if they had time to turn and run when Horan shouted, "Look out, men!" they wouldn't have gotten far. Those who survived were either blown sideways by the force of the collapse, which destroyed the box cars, or had enough distance to dash away.

It would be 88 years before Horan's heroism would be recognized. It started in 1998 when Bill Cattorini returned from fighting a fire at the same location as the 1910 blaze. "I thought, 'There should be a plaque,' " Cattorini recalled. "There's nothing. I just couldn't believe it. This was a disaster people didn't want to remember."

Cattornii and fellow firefighter Bill Cosgrove began to raise funds, scout out a location and find an artist who would carry out their vision of a proper memorial for not only those lost in the 1910 disaster, but all Chicago firefighters killed in the line of duty, a number that totals more than 500. They raised $170,000, with 70%coming from Chicago firefighters themselves.

On December 22, 2004, 94 years after the Union Stock Yard disaster and 6 years before yesterday's deaths, the monument was dedicated directly west of the iconic Stock Yards arch. Incidentally, the temperature on the day of the dedication was a balmy 4 degrees below zero.

The tragedy of the 1910 fire was compounded by questionable financial fallout in the years after the blaze. Nearly 20 years earlier, a Chicago businessman named Harlow Higinbothom had been in charge of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Due to circumstances never fully explained, a number of Fair workers got locked in a cold storage facility near the Fair and died. Higinbothom immediately set up a fund to benefit the survivors of the victims. Seventeen years later, however, thousands of dollars raised in the 1890s still hadn't been awarded to family members by 1910.

After the 1910 fire, Higinbothom offered to take control of the $211,000 raised to benefit the widows and children of the dead firemen. Soon, firefighters learned of his plan to give the widows and children only proceeds from the donations, which Higinbothom said would be invested. The firemen went to court where a judge ruled against his plan to control the new fund, and all the money was distributed.

There will no doubt be a similar fund created for the families of yesterday's victims. A century apart - to the day - Chicago firefighters would die in a tragic blaze. Unlike the aftermath of the 1910 blaze and the blame that fell on Horan, both Stringer and Ankum will be honored as heroes.

Horan eventually got his honor, too -- a few years short of a century after his death, and - as it turns out -a few years before another tragedy.

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hooray for Hollywood

Actress Thelma Todd, shown here with husband Pat DiCicco, was found dead in her Lincoln Phaeton convertible in Pacific Palisades in December 1935.

For the past month, like most of Hollywood [but hardly anyone else], I've been fascinated by the story of the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen, who was found shot to death on November 16, 2010 in her Mercedes-Benz, apparently hit while driving through a posh Beverley Hills neighborhood.

On December 1, 2010, a man police suspected in the killing, Harold Smith, shot himself to death when confronted by police. The most recent statement from the Beverly Hills Police Department on December 8th stated that Chasen's murder was a random act of violence by Smith - who shot Chasen while he was riding on a bicycle. They theorize that Smith's intention was only robbery and that he never intended to actually hit Chasen with his shots, but merely get her to stop so he could rob her.

Police say they believe Smith acted alone and it was in no way connected with road rage -- one of many theories that have floated around for the last month. Smith was identified to police as a suspect through a tip to America's Most Wanted -- I didn't even know that was still on the air. Apparently, Smith had been bragging to neighbors that he shot Chasen and got $10,000 for it. Incidentally, that tipster stands to collect a $125,000 reward.

But Chasen's family, friends and even residents of the neighborhood in which Chasen was killed doubt that story. As one resident said, "A black guy on a bike in Beverly Hills? I don't think so. For one thing, the guy isn't going to get too far before somebody calls the cops." Another hole in the robbery theory is that nothing was taken from Chasen's car after the shooting.

Chances are, we'll never know exactly why Chasen was killed. It could, in fact, just have been - as the police said - a case where Smith was looking to rob someone; Chasen had the misfortune to drive by; Smith shot at the car, probably not meaning to hit her, but only to get her to stop; once he realized she was dead, he fled without taking anything.

Yeah, I doubt it too. But it's possible.

It may come out that Chasen - whose estate was valued at about $6.1 million - was killed by some beneficiary of her wealth. Perhaps Chasen - or one of Chasen's clients - was involved with the mob and she was 'hit' for one reason or another.

Again, though, chances are that we'll never know. If so, Chasen's death will just be the latest in a long line of bizarre Hollywood deaths over the past 90 years.

Back in 1921, noted comedian and silent film star Fatty Arbuckle had his career, reputation and life ruined as a result of the death of Virginia Rappe. On September 5, 1921 Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule and - despite suffering from second degree burns literally to his ass from an accident on set - drove to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman (an actor/director) and cameraman Fred Fischbach. The three checked into three rooms at the St. Francis Hotel. They subsequently invited several women to the room.

During the carousing, Rappe - a 30-year-old aspiring actress - was found seriously ill. She was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication and gave her morphine to calm her. As big a fan of opiates as I am, and I'm no doctor, but I'm guessing that was not the proper treatment. Indeed, Rappe was not hospitalized until two days after the incident.

As it turns out, Rappe had come to the party already an ill woman. She suffered from chronic cystitis, a condition that flared up dramatically whenever she drank. Her heavy drinking habits - not to mention the shitty quality of the era's bootleg alcohol - left her in severe physical distress whenever she drank. She had actually developed a reputation for getting loaded at parties, then drunkenly tearing at her clothes from the resulting physical pain.

Worse, by the time of Arbuckle's St. Francis Hotel party, her reproductive health was an even greater concern. She had undergone several abortions in the space of a few years, and God-knows what - if any - quality of care she received for such procedures in 1921. In fact, as she came to Arbuckle's party, Rappe had recently had another abortion as a result of a pregnancy by her boyfriend, director Henry Lehrman.]

No one is sure what exactly happened at the party. One theory was that Arbuckle may have inadvertently struck Rappe's midsection with his knee during some romping around. If she had undergone a botched abortion during the days immediately before, the blow might have been enough to badly damage her already compromised internal organs. This would also account for the statements that a delirious Rappe was alleged to have made later during the party, statements along the lines of, "Arbuckle did it," or "He hurt me," without implicating Arbuckle in any rape or violent attack on her.

At the hospital, Rappe's companion at the party, Bambina Maude Delmont, told Rappe's doctor that Arbuckle had raped her friend. The doctor examined Rappe but found no evidence of rape. Rappe died one day after her hospitalization of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Delmont then told police that Arbuckle raped Rappe. How would forced sexual intercourse lead to a ruptured bladder? The geniuses at the police department concluded that the impact Arbuckle's enormous body had on Rappe eventually caused her bladder to rupture.

Then things got weird.

Shortly after her death, Rappe's manager, Al Semnacker, accused Arbuckle of using a piece of ice to simulate sex with her, which led to the injuries. By the time the story was reported in newspapers, the object had evolved into being a Coca-Cola or champagne bottle, instead of a piece of ice. This is most likely nonsense. The 'ice' may have come from the fact that Arbuckle did rub ice on Rappe's stomach to ease her abdominal pain. Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing but was arrested and put on trial. Three times.

Arbuckle's trials were major media events - think O.J. without television. Exaggerated and sensationalized stories in William Randolph Hearst's nationwide newspaper chain finished Arbuckle's career. The newspapers portrayed him as a gross sexually depraved lunatic who used his weight to overpower innocent girls. In reality Arbuckle was a good natured man who was so shy with women that he was regarded by those who knew him as, "the most chaste man in pictures".

Being a completely evil prick, Hearst loved the Arbuckle scandal, and later said that it had "sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania." So-called 'morality groups' called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death, and studio executives ordered Arbuckle's industry friends (whose careers they controlled) not to publicly speak up for him. Charlie Chaplin - whom Arbuckle had mentored - was in England at the time and said nothing. Others did, however. And it didn't help Arbuckle's case. Buster Keaton, and actor William S. Hart - who had never even worked with Arbuckle - both made public statements which presumed that Arbuckle was guilty.

San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady, waas naturally one of those crazy bastards who was DA only because he planned to run for governor and then President of the United States. He made public pronouncements of Arbuckle’s guilt and pressured witnesses to make false statements. Ultimately, the judge found no evidence of rape. However, after hearing testimony from one of the party guests, Zey Prevon, that Rappe told her "Roscoe [Arbuckle's real first name] hurt me" on her deathbed, the judge decided that Arbuckle could be charged with first-degree murder. Brady had originally planned to seek the death penalty, but the charge was later reduced to manslaughter.

Despite three trials that ultimately led to his full acquittal, Arbuckle's career was over. He attempted to make a comeback in the early 1930s. In fact, some of these short films were successful and miraculously, Arbuckle looked like he'd salvage something of his career. In June 1933, in fact, he was signed by Warner Brothers to make a feature-length film. Joyously, he told a friend, "This is the best day of my life."

He suffered a heart attack later that night and died in his sleep. He was 46.

Another Hollywood scandal occurred in 1922 when director William Desmond Taylor was found slain in his fashionable bachelor pad. Apparently, Taylor's valet found him and began crying uncontrollably, running out of the house and down the street throughout the neighborhood like some 20th century town crier. One of Taylor's neighbors - an actress - immediately went into action, quickly notifying Taylor's acquaintances, including those in the habit of writing sexually explicit love letters [remember, this was before texting, folks].

So, by the time police officers arrived at Taylor's home, the place looked like a Hollywood party: Paramount actors, actresses and executives were rummaging through bedroom drawers and closets, a butler was in the kitchen calmly washing dishes and an unnamed extra walked right out the front door - past unknowing police - with a case of bootleg gin.

The proverbial "persons of interest" abounded: an actress with a crush on Taylor; an actress' mother with a crush on Taylor; an actress' drug dealer [no word on whether he had a crush on Taylor]; a thieving valet (who may have secretly been Taylor's brother...and perhaps also had a crush on Taylor); a wife whom Taylor had deserted in the East; and a soldier from his wartime regiment whom Taylor had court-martialed for theft.

88 years later, no one has ever been arrested.

Other cases have titillated: in 1932 director Paul Bern was found shot to death. While a coroner ruled suicide, many believed that an ex-lover did in Bern, the husband of actress Jean Harlow.

In 1935, the body of actress Thelma Todd was discovered in December 1935 in her Lincoln Phaeton convertible in a garage near her cafe in Pacific Palisades. The coroner - and wasn't this guy a fucking genius - ruled she died of carbon monoxide poisoning after turning on the ignition and striking her head on the steering wheel. Many theorized, instead, that she was killed by a film director or an abusive ex-husband or even minions of Charles "Lucky" Luciano, whom she had angered by refusing to allow casino gambling on the property. My money's on the latter.

Then, of course, there was the infamous fascination with the 'Black Dahlia' case, which involved the gruesome and - ultimately - unsolved murder of Elizaberth Short on January 15, 1947. Although not an actress, the Hollywood resident's brutal death - her severely mutilated body had been severed at the waist and drained of blood, and her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears - became a national sensation.

In death, Short acquired the nickname 'Black Dahlia' because of her black outfits and black hair and because a movie out at the time called The Blue Dahlia. On January 24, 1947, a person who identified themselves as the killer mailed a packet to a Los Angeles newspaper containing Short's birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper and an address book with the name 'Mark Hansen' embossed on the cover. Hansen, the last person known to have seen Short alive [on January 9th] became the prime suspect. On January 25th, Short's handbag and one shoe were found in a trash bin a short distance from where her body had been found.

Probably due to the notoriety of the case, more than 50 lunatics - both men and women - have confessed to the murder over the past 63 years. To this day, police receive tips every time a newspaper mentions the case or a book or movie on the subject released. Although, granted, those tips have dwindled as those alive at the time have gradually begun to die off. Over the years, the suspects have been variously been identified as a pipe salesman, a doctor, a cop, a mobster, a cafe owner and an actor.

The case was never solved.

Then there was the famous case of George Reeves, TV's Superman, who died in 1959 - not by jumping out a window, as the urban myth goes — but by gunshot. Not sure if it was the same coroner, but once again it was ruled a suicide, the story being that Reeves' was distraught at his inability to land serious roles after his Superman role. As gay porn was at least 10 years away from being invented - and anyone who ever saw Reeves in those tights knows what I mean - there were very few options for him. Many, however, think that story is horseshit. They believe that Reeves instead was killed on orders of a studio executive whose wife was having an affair with Reeves.

Most recently, the violent and bloody murder of Bob Crane from Hogan's Heroes in 1978 stirred Hollywood even though Crane was killed in Arizona. Amazingly - considering the trends in these Hollywood deaths - Crane's death was never thought to be a suicide - probably because it's very hard to beat yourself to death. Many believe that Crane's co-pornographer, John Henry Carpenter, bludgeoned Crane to death after the actor ended their business relationship.

Amazingly, authorities were actually able to finally bring murder charges against Carpenter in 1994 only to see the O.J.-like jury acquit him. Carpenter died in 1998, still claiming innocence in Crane's death. While it is true that there were a number of suspects in Crane's murder - the guy fucked on film who knows how many guys' wives - Carpenter was the only one with a speck of fatty matter from Crane's skull found on the door of his rental car. Incredibly, the photograph of the speck was lost before the trial started and Carpenter walked.

Officially, the case remains unsolved.

So, while it is too soon to predict the outcome of the investigation into Ronni Chasen's murder, the above cases seem to point toward no final truthful conclusion.

As the Los Angeles Times said recently, not every Hollywood story has a happy ending. And some have no ending at all.

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Cap it All Off

I'M TOO SEXY FOR MY PANTS: The guy in the shit-colored cap is Mike Rowe and I want him out of my life - NOW!

"I've been told they make my butt look good." This is the catchy line of a television commercial for a pair of Lee jeans. Who is the hunk serving as spokesman? Brad Pitt? George Clooney? Hell, Joe Jonas? Uh, no. It's a middle-aged guy in a baseball cap.

Meet Mike Rowe. Of course, you don't need me to introduce you to this guy, he's been all over your life for the last year-and-a-half. Until the commercials - first for Ford and now for Lee jeans - I'd never heard of him, and that was mighty fine with me. Of course, I didn't know about him because I don't watch television. Well, not what passes for television in 2010, anyway. So, you probably already knew that this guy was the host of something called Dirty Jobs on cable.

All I knew the first time I saw him on a commercial was there was some asshole in a baseball cap on my TV trying to sell me a Ford, and acting like I should know who he is. If there's one thing I hate [and, believe me, there's a lot more than 'one'], it's fauxlebrities who act as if I should know who they are. So that, in combination with the baseball cap that was making me angry, meant there was little chance I was going to like Mike Rowe from the beginning.

Still, I figured it'd be a few commercials and then he'd be gone. I mean, whose brilliant idea was it to use this schmuck as a spokesman? What, was Ron Jeremy busy? I figured the poor bastard who suggested to the boys at Ford that they use Rowe would get shit-canned in a few weeks and I'd never see Mike Rowe again.

Hardly. Instead, he's become a mainstay of Ford's commercials. And, may I say, Ford really sucks. I don't mean the cars - haven't driven one in 15 years. I'm talking about their commercials. Between Rowe and the incredibly obnoxiously annoying ones with voice-overs by Denis Leary, I wouldn't drive a Ford if it was the only escape for me from a Demi Lovato concert....well, ok, maybe I would - but that's the only reason.

The "make my butt look good" line comes from his new line of products he wants me to buy, jeans. Yep, there he is again - with the fucking baseball cap on! It's not even a cool cap. If it was a Yankees cap, or a cap that said 'Go Fuck Yourself', then maybe it'd be cool. But it's this bland shit-colored hat that you generally see worn by the toothless, the drunk, and the shiftless.

I tried to do some research on this asshole so that I could figure out just what the fuck the deal was with the hat.

That was when I found out about Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel [I didn't even know that network was still on the air, by the way]. Initially, I thought, 'Well, maybe that's why he wears the cap: he's constantly filthy.' Turns out I might not be too far off: I guess on this 'show' he performs difficult, strange or disgusting [or a combination of all three] tasks alongside the poor bastards who have to do it for a living. This is supposed to, somehow, entertain us: to watch people getting paid shitty wages doing shitty jobs with this capped asshole making a mockery of their lives and very existence. Sounds like entertainment to me.

He apparently came to Discovery's attention when he was doing local TV work in San Francisco and did a delightful piece on the artificial insemination of a cow. Personally, I'd have found it more entertaining if he'd actually inseminated the cow himself, but that's just me. He sent a tape of this brilliance to Discovery and, the next thing you know, there he is selling trucks and pants.

I've searched and searched and simply can't find any explanation for the hat. Is he bald? Balding? Is there a hatchet protruding through the center of his skull? He never even acknowledges it - like it's perfectly natural for a 48-year-old to walk around with a shit-colored baseball cap, without having to explain himself.

It reminds me of a great scene in a great film - Uncle Buck - where John Candy's character is driving while wearing this God-awful wool hunters cap with ear flaps. He turns to his passenger and says, "Do you like this hat? 'Cause some people get angry when they see this hat."

Consider me angry when I see that hat.

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Yoko Ono, center, is aided by a policeman and David Geffen, right, of Geffen Records as she leaves Roosevelt Hospital in New York late Monday night, Dec. 8, 1980 after the death of her husband John Lennon.

It was, of course, impossible that I would not write today about John Lennon. With Yoko's much-welcomed focus on John's 70th birthday - as opposed to today's 30th anniversary of his murder - John has been in the news a great deal this fall, and that is good. I saw recently the incredibly well-done documentary by filmmaker Michael Epstein [no relation - despite the irony - to Beatles manager Brian Epstein]. Among the many fantastic things about LennoNYC is how Lennon's murder is handled. While acknowledged - and how could it not be - there is no mention of Mark David Chapman, nor any mention of the shooting with the exception of Yoko's incredibly poignant, "He was an artist. Why would you kill an artist?"

Still, the reality is that there is no way to consider John's life in its entirety without recounting that night 30 years ago. Unfortunately, for a good number of those who have ever lived - particularly the famous - their lives are largely seen through the prism of their deaths. Just off the top of my head I can think of Elvis Presley, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Michael Jackson, Liberace, Rock Hudson, John Belushi..... When you think of their lives, invariably it is through the lens of how their lives ended moreso than how those lives they were lived. That is just the way it is.

So, on this 30th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination [and, let's be clear, that's what it was. Many mistakenly believe that 'assassination' is only the murder of political leaders. The Webster's definition of 'assassination' is, "to kill suddenly or secretively; to murder premeditatedly and treacherously"], I'm compelled to write about December 8, 1980.

I've written before about the last day of John Lennon's life. The last hour of his life, however, is the focus of today's post.

The evening of December 8, 1980 was about to become a painful one for Alan Weiss. Weiss was working for WABC-TV in New York City and won two Emmy's before his 30th birthday. After a long day at work, he jumped on his motorcycle and headed home.

The evening of December 8, 1980 was the end of a 30-hour shift for Dr. Stephan Lynn, head of the Roosevelt Hospital Emergency Room in New York City. He was exhausted and looking forward to sleep. He headed home for a quick hug of his wife and two young daughters and a nice warm bed.

The evening of December 8, 1980 was just beginning for New York City Police Officers Pete Cullen and Steve Spiro, who did the night shift on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Not necessarily a 'cush' job, but better than 99% of the other ones available to a New York City cop in 1980.

The night of December 8, 1980 was a typical one for Jay Hastings, working as a doorman at the Dakota. Earlier that night, a friend of one of his highest profile residents, John Lennon, had stopped by to drop something off for the former Beatle. Hastings had seen Bob Gruen with John Lennon just a few days ago, so he took the package and promised Gruen that he would give it to John when he returned that evening. Police would later open the package - as part of their investigation - to find it containing some tapes of the The Clash that John had asked Gruen to make for him [Gruen had told John that he would love The Clash and John "wanted to take a listen"], as well as some of the negatives from a photo session Gruen had done with John and Yoko two days earlier. All of that would be later, however. For now, though, all was quiet as Hastings watched Monday Night Football on a tiny black and white television propped up on the counter of the front desk.

The lives of these five men would converge unexpectedly and suddenly in a violent collision with the last night of John Lennon's life.

The night of December 8, 1980 was the completion of a task Mark David Chapman had set out to accomplish a month earlier. He'd come to New York in November 1980 to kill John Lennon but got cold feet and returned home to Hawaii. He was back now and determined to finish what he'd set out to do. It was an unusually warm evening for early December in New York City. Despite that, Chapman stood patiently in the dark outside the Dakota wearing a winter's coat - attire not suited for Hawaii but perfect for the conditions that he thought he'd find in December on the East Coast. Chapman carried a well-worn copy of The Catcher In the Rye, the J.D. Salinger tale of disaffected youth. In his pocket was a five-shot Charter Arms .38-caliber revolver - the ammunition provided by an unsuspecting old friend of Chapman's from Alabama, whom the 25-year old Chapman had suddenly visited in October 1980.

The evening of December 8, 1980 was a pleasant and accomplished one for John Lennon. The day had been hectic - a photo session with photographer Annie Leibovitz, a three-hour interview with R.K.O. Radio, and a five-hour session at the Hit Factory Record Studios to tweak a song by Yoko called "Walking on Thin Ice".

As John and Yoko's rented limousine stopped on 72nd Street at the ornate gate of the Dakota [John had told the driver to stop there rather than inside the courtyard - and past Chapman - which was more the standard route on a cold December evening....which this was not], Lennon grabbed the reel-to-reel tapes of the evening's sessions, placed them under his arm, and followed Yoko out of the car. It was 10:50 pm.

Yoko had wanted to stop for a bite to eat at The Stage Deli, but John wanted to go home. So, as they emerged from the limo, John strode ahead of Yoko as they entered the gate. He was eager to check in on his 5-year old son, Sean. While the boy would [hopefully] be asleep, John hadn't seen him for a few days, as Sean had spent the weekend with his nanny's family in Pennsylvania. After that, John would go into the kitchen to get a bite to eat - knowing that, as usual when the kitchen door opened, his three cats would come bounding forward to greet him.

There is some dispute as to whether Chapman really said, "Mr. Lennon?!" as he stepped out of the shadows about five strides after John had passed him unseen. For years that was the story; recently, though, Chapman has said he said nothing. It is possible, in fact, that he is right. John never stopped walking, nor did he turn around - headed instead in the direction of the door some 50 feet away. Had his name been called so loudly and unexpectedly in the dark of night, one would assume that the startled Lennon would have turned to face the sound.

What is indisputable is that Chapman now stood in a combat stance a few feet from Lennon and Ono with his handgun leveled at the back of John's midsection. Very quickly, Chapman fired four bullets, three of which which pierced John from the back through the lungs, the chamber around his heart, and his shoulder. The fourth missed John and hit the glass window by the the front door of the complex.

Although at first in shock, John immediately knew what had happened and screamed, "I'm shot!" Despite a massive loss of blood - even in just the few seconds that had passed - John started to jog forward toward the door. He stumbled up the steps and fell face first onto the marble lobby floor in the foyer, breaking his glasses. Somehow, the reel-to-reel tapes he'd been carrying had stayed lodged under his arm. They now crashed to the floor beside his glasses.

Startled by the broken glass - initially he'd assumed the firing of the gun to be a car backfiring - doorman Hastings ran from behind the desk just as Lennon came stumbling through the door. Despite the blood and his own shock, Hastings knew immediately that the grievously wounded man at his feet was John Lennon, as Yoko quickly came to the door at a gallop screaming. Hastings rang the alarm that connected the Dakota to the police. He then went back to John and instinctively removed his jacket and placed it over John's crumpled torso. Also instinctively, although he was unarmed, Hastings ran out the door to approach the shadowy figure 50 feet away who was still in a combat position. Although the gun was still in Chapman's hands, he'd lowered his arm to his side with gun pointed toward the ground. Incredulous, Hastings approached Chapman and screamed, "Do you know what you just did?!".

"I just shot John Lennon," Chapman replied softly.

Within minutes after Chapman opened fire, Officers Cullen and Spiro were the first to answer the report of shots fired at the Dakota. As he got out of the patrol car, Cullen was struck by the lack of movement: the doorman, a Dakota handyman who had run out of his basement apartment at the sound of Lennon's body hitting the floor above him, and the killer, all standing as if frozen.

"Somebody just shot John Lennon!" the doorman finally shouted, pointing at Chapman.

"Where's Lennon?" Cullen asked. Hastings pointed to the nearby vestibule in which John - with blood pouring from his chest - lay dying. Cullen ran to Lennon's side as Spiro threw Chapman against the stone wall and cuffed him.

Two other officers soon arrived to lift John up and take him to a waiting police car. As they did, one of the officers would recall his stomach sickening as he heard the unmistakable cracking of Lennon's shoulder blade as they lifted him up, the bones shattered by a bullet. As they were carrying him to the waiting police car, Lennon vomited up blood and fleshy tissue.

With Lennon placed gingerly on the backseat of the patrol car, one of the officers jumped into the back to hold his head while the other two officers jumped in the front seats and sped downtown to Roosevelt Hospital, located exactly one mile away. In the midst of the chaos, Cullen spotted Yoko Ono. "Can I go, too?" she asked as her husband disappeared. A ride was quickly arranged.

Cradling Lennon's head, the officer in the backseat of the speeding patrol car looked into John's glassy eyes. Breathing heavily, with the gurgling of blood audible to all in the car, Lennon was fading. The officer tried to keep Lennon conscious, screaming at him. "Do you know who you are?!?! Are you John Lennon?!" John - who, with the other Beatles had popularized the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' phrase 16 years earlier - uttered what would be his last word: "Yeah...." He then lost consciousness and his breathing stopped.

Meanwhile, back at the Dakota, Officers Spiro and Cullen were trying hard to remain professional. Avid Beatles fans, both had often seen John, Yoko and Sean walking the neighborhood. Although they'd never spoken to John, both felt as though this was a family member or friend that Chapman had just shot. Trying to control the urge to hit Chapman, Spiro thought of the only thing he could think of: "Do you have a statement?!" Chapman pointed with his cuffed hands down to the ground nearby where his copy of Catcher in the Rye lay. Spiro opened the book and saw the inscription, "This is my statement." Spiro fell into a brief shocked daze at the scrawl. He was startled back into reality when Chapman - answering a question that hadn't been asked - said, "I acted alone."

Cullen and Spiro then roughly loaded Chapman into their car for a trip to the 20th Precinct. "He was apologetic," Cullen recalled in a 2005 interview - but not for shooting Lennon. "I remember that he was apologizing for giving us a hard time."

Nearby, unnoticed and - for the next 12 hours, untouched - was the copy of Double Fantasy that Lennon had signed for Chapman 6 hours earlier. Chapman had placed it in a large potted plant at the side of the gate, where it would be inadvertently discovered by one of the scores of officers who would be called to the Dakota for crowd control as word of Lennon's shooting spread.

Thirty minutes earlier, Dr. Stephan Lynn's 30-hour shift had ended at 10:30 p.m. He had literally just walked through the door and sat down on the sofa when his phone rang. Picking it up, a nurse asked him if he could come back to the hospital to help out. A man with a gunshot to the chest was coming to Roosevelt.

Lynn walked back out the door and hailed a cab to the hospital.

Meanwhile, at Roosevelt Hospital at that moment, TV producer Weiss was lying on a gurney wondering how his night had turned so shitty so quickly. An hour earlier, Weiss' Honda motorcycle had collided head on with a taxi. Somehow, Weiss seemed to have escaped with what he suspected to be cracked ribs. It was as he was lying on the gurney in an emergency room hallway contemplating his ruined evening and awaiting x-rays that Weiss was about to get the news scoop of a lifetime.

BOOM! The doors of the hallway where Weiss lie burst open with a gunshot victim on a stretcher carried by a half dozen police officers, who passed Weiss as they brought the victim into a room nearby. As doctors and nurses flew into action, two of the police officers paused alongside Weiss' gurney. "Jesus, can you believe it?" one officer rhetorically asked the other. "John Lennon?!"

Weiss was incredulous. He immediately rose from the gurney and grabbed a nearby hospital worker. Realizing he couldn't walk, Weiss shoved $20 into the man's hands and told him to call the WABC-TV newsroom with a tip that John Lennon was shot. As it turned out, the money disappeared, and the call was never made.

Five minutes passed. Weiss was suddenly doubting the news instincts of the bribed hospital worker. As he was contemplating this, Weiss was started by what he later described as a strangled sound. "I twist around and there is Yoko Ono on the arm of a police officer, and she's sobbing," Weiss recalled in a 2005 interview.

With the sight of Yoko, Weiss decided he had to make the call to WABC-TV himself. He finally persuaded a police officer to help him up and walk him to a hospital phone, under the ruse that he had to call his wife to tell her he was in the hospital. Instead, out of earshot of the officer, Weiss reached the WABC-TV assignment editor with his tip around 11 p.m. Before hanging up the phone with Weiss, the editor on the other end of the phone was able to check and confirm a reported shooting at Lennon's address.

All the while, Lynn and two other doctors were working on the victim. The man lying on the table had no pulse, no blood pressure, and no breathing. Lynn did not know that the man on the table in front of him was John Lennon. "We took his wallet out of his pocket," Lynn recalled in 2005. "The nurse immediately chuckled and said, 'This can't be John Lennon'. Because it didn't look anything like John Lennon."

Whether or not it was Lennon, Lynn was not quite sure. What he did know, though, was that, "He was losing a tremendous amount of blood," Lynn remembered. "And he had three wounds in his chest. We knew we had to act quickly. We started an IV, we transfused blood. We actually did an operation in the emergency department to try to open his chest to look for the source of the bleeding. We did cardiac massage - I literally held his heart in my hand and pumped his heart - but there was complete destruction of all the vessels leaving his heart."

After 25 minutes, the three doctors gave up. The damage was too great. Lennon was dead. Lynn recalled that Chapman's marksmanship was extraordinary. "He was an amazingly good shot," Lynn recalled. "All three of those bullets in the chest were perfectly placed. They destroyed all of the major blood vessels that took the blood out of the heart to all of the rest of the body." As a result, "there was no way circulation of blood could take place in this man and there was no way that anyone could fix him."

Weiss continued watching in disbelief as the doctors frantically worked on Lennon. It took him a moment to realize the song that was playing on the hospital's Muzak system - the Beatles' "All My Loving."

Meanwhile, Dr. Lynn made the long walk to the end of the emergency room hallway where Yoko was waiting in a room with record mogul David Geffen, who had rushed to the hospital after receiving a call that John had been shot. It was now Lynn's job to deliver the word that John Lennon, Yoko's soulmate and spouse, was dead.

"She refused to accept or believe that," Lynn recalled. "For five minutes, she kept repeating, `It's not true. I don't believe you. You're lying."' Lynn listened quietly. "There was a time she was lying on the floor, literally pounding her head against the concrete, during which I was concerned I was going to have a second patient," Lynn remembered. "Many, many times she said, 'You're lying, I don't believe you, he's not dead,' " he added. "[Geffen] was helpful in getting her to calm down and accept what had happened. She never asked to see the body, and I never offered. She needed to get home [to tell Sean], and she did."

By the time Yoko left the hospital, Weiss' tip had been confirmed and given to Howard Cosell, who told the nation of Lennon's death during Monday Night Football.....which was still on the screen of the little black and white television on doorman Hastings' front desk counter.

This brought a throng of reporters to Roosevelt Hospital, leaving Lynn to inform them that Lennon was gone. "John Lennon...," Lynn began before pausing for a moment. He then went on, "....was brought to the emergency room of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital...He was dead on arrival." With that, a collective groan emanated from the normally cynical assembled media.

After finishing with the media, Lynn returned to the emergency room. Thinking remarkably clearly - and with great foresight - Lynn arranged for the disposal of all medical supplies and equipment used on Lennon - a move to thwart ghoulish collectors. "I said, 'Not a piece of linen with Mr. Lennon's blood is to leave this department except in a special bag,' " Lynn recalled. "I had to tell the nursing staff that they could not sell their uniforms, which might have been stained with John Lennon's blood." He personally supervised the disposal of everything.

By the time Lynn was done, it was 3 am. He decided to walk home, heading up Columbia Avenue. "I was afraid that someone would run up to me and say, 'You're the doctor who didn't save John Lennon and allowed him to die,' " Lynn said.

On the 25th anniversary of the murder, Lynn stated that he believed that - despite medical advances in the previous quarter century - John's gunshot injuries would still be untreatable today. "There was no way of repairing that damage then and, to my knowledge, there's no way to repair that amount of damage today," Lynn said. "There was absolutely nothing we could do."

For days afterward, up in Apartment 72 of the Dakota, whenever the kitchen door opened, three cats came bounding forward to greet a man who was no longer there.....

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Camelot at Your Fingertips

President Kennedy [above during his June 11, 1963, address to the nation on Civil Rights, from the Oval Office at the White House] responded prophetically to a reporter's question about his future Presidential library during a 1962 press conference.

For all of the philandering, the pill-popping, the injections of God-knows-what, and all of the other secrets no one knew about at the time, President John F. Kennedy continues to hold great influence over Americans, even those like myself born after his assassination. There's just something about the Kennedy's - particularly the White House years - that make for some of the most fascinating history. This is particularly true because - as President Nixon tried to use as a defense after Watergate - Kennedy had an intricate taping system in the Oval Office and on his phones, capturing many gems. Perhaps my favorite was from Bobby Kennedy in the Oval Office in October 1962. Fresh off many sleepless and tension-filled nights getting James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, JFK and Bobby are briefed for the first time on the missiles found in Cuba. Not missing a beat, Bobby says, "Do you think they can reach Oxford [Mississippi, home of Ole Miss]?"

The treasure-trove of data at the Kennedy Library has always been a destination I wanted to visit but never did. Soon, I may still be able to delve into some of these pieces of history without leaving my Archie Bunker-like chair. The reason is a massive digitization of some of the Kennedy documents which will allow them to be online at the Kennedy Library's website.

The Boston Globe had a really neat clip of JFK from 1962, where the President eerily posits what future Presidential Libraries will look like and who will have access to them. At the news conference that day, a reporter asked Kennedy if he’d consider locating his Presidential Library in Washington, D.C., after leaving the White House so scholars and historians would have the broadest possible access to it. Pretending to have ignored the point of her question, he replied mischievously, “I’m going to put it in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

After the laughter died down Kennedy - with uncanny foresight - went into a discourse, about the future preservation and dissemination of his White House archives. “Through scientific means of reproduction, microfilms and all the rest,” he said, “it’s possible to make documents available” not only to scholars visiting his library but to anyone interested in presidential history.

Although certainly in a way Kennedy could have never imagined, his words were prescient. That's because a four-year, $10 million effort to digitize the JFK Library and Museum’s archives - making hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and recordings available online - is nearing completion of its first phase. A formal announcement will come January 13,2011, one week before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, at a press conference in Washington.

“Access to a Legacy,” as the project is called, marks the first time a Presidential Library established in the paper age has fully committed itself to the digital era. And this is no small offering of archives. The amount of material to be posted online in January includes 200,000 pages of text, 1,500 photos, 1,250 files of audio recordings and moving images, and 340 phone conversations totaling 17 1/2 hours. Here's the kicker: that represents just a small portion of the collection that will eventually be released. Users will be able to print and copy material directly off the website, so they could download a personal note to JFK and make a copy for themselves.

The project is the result of a fortunate collaboration between library staffers and a group of corporate sponsors. While it is obviously generating excitement among archivists and historians, it has also grabbed the attention of some of the other presidential libraries, who are now contemplating their own digital futures.

The man who would have been JFK's son-in-law had he lived, Ed Schlossberg, helped initiate the massive project. Schlossberg, husband of JFK's daughter Caroline, whose company oversaw a huge digitization project (22 million documents) for the Ellis Island visitors’ museum, urged Kennedy Library officials to look into similar systems for the Kennedy archives. Their search led to a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based EMC Corp., which soon signed on as a major supporting player.

As part of the project, the entire Library website will be revamped. A new search engine will allow visitors to enter the word “moon,” for example, and pull up virtually every document, tape, and speech related to JFK’s mission to land men on the moon.

Even as this first phase is ready to be launched, the Library houses sufficient materials to keep scanners and catalogers busy for years: 8.4 million pages of JFK’s personal papers, 40 million additional documents, 400,000 photos, 9,000 hours of audio recordings, 7.5 million feet of movie film, and 1,200 hours of video. The first phase focuses on categories including presidential office files, JFK’s personal papers and correspondence, and the White House photograph and audio collections. Phase two, when funded, will [under the guidance of Schlossberg] likely concentrate on movie footage.

This digitization will not just include 'JFK's Greatest Hits', or documents and audio that you've already scene. It will also include items seldom - if ever - seen by the public. JFK’s personal notes from the missile crisis, for example, include Caroline Kennedy’s prekindergarten handwriting, scrawled on the back. There's a bizarre telegram JFK received from Harpo Marx after winning the election that read simply, "Do you need a harp player in your Cabinet?” There's a pronunciation guide Kennedy used for his 1963 West Berlin speech, including the famous “Ish bin ein Bearleener”. The cache also includes a March 1961 personal letter from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., requesting a meeting to discuss civil rights. For me, though, the 'can't-miss' item is the bar tab from Robert F. Kennedy’s bachelor party. Can you imagine?

The journey taken by Kennedy's materials has been strange and not always smart. After his murder, files from the Kennedy White House were moved to the nearby Executive Office Building, where the long phase of sorting and processing first began. In 1965 they were shipped from the Executive Office Building to Waltham, Massachusetts - file cabinets and all. They remained there until the Library opened in 1979. It now draws 200,000 visitors annually to its Columbia Point location in Boston.

Scanning and cataloging of the JFK materials began three years ago, after the Library had assembled a staff dedicated to that task. Every document and image has been scanned by hand, to protect the originals, at high resolution (600 dots per inch) to ensure that even pencil notes would be legible.

Perhaps the most difficult work was conducted by Rachel Searcy and Kelly Francis. With the new search engine feature, metatags had to be added to each document so that the search engine could find them. So, much of the work by Searcy and Francis involved adding descriptive material to the documents. Each has been working on the project for more than two years, going through as many as 30 folders per day. Searcy noted the importance of appending relevant data to each document. In JFK’s day, for instance, no staffer used the term “Cuban Missile Crisis.” That phrase must be embedded retroactively to make the relevant documents searchable.

The work at the Kennedy Library may have a a ripple effect on the 12 other Presidential Libraries. For instance, archivists at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library have already undertaken three major digitization projects, including posting 14,000 pages of LBJ’s diary online this September. The Ronald Reagan Library “hasn’t dived deeply into digitization,” said supervisory archivist Michael Duggan, but will look at the Kennedy Library as a potential model. George H.W. Bush’s Presidential Library has digitized only about 1% of its assets, according to supervisory archivist Robert Holzweiss, but hopes to expand those efforts soon.

The importance of this replication and preservation should not be taken for granted. An example of that can be found in one of the unknown tales about 9/11. For years, JFK White House photographer Jacques Lowe stored almost all of his 40,000 negatives in a bank vault below New York’s World Trade Center. Virtually all were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Had Lowe not put his prints on file at the JFK Library, they would have been lost forever.

Which is about as long, I suspect, as people will be interested in the Kennedys.

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