Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 151, August 20

Railroads in the United States were built on a far larger scale than those in Europe, both in terms of the distances covered and also in the loading gauge which allowed for heavier locomotives and double-deck trains. The railroad era in the United States began in 1830 when Peter Cooper's locomotive, Tom Thumb, first steamed along 13 miles of Baltimore and Ohio railroad track. In 1833, the nation's second railroad ran 136 miles from Charleston to Hamburg in South Carolina.

Not until the 1850s, though, did railroads offer long distance service at reasonable rates. A journey from Philadelphia to Charleston involved eight different gauges, which meant that passengers and freight had to change trains seven times. Only at places like Bowling Green, Kentucky, the railroads were connected to one another.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day 150, August 19

We're jumping ahead in time (again), this time to the 1920s where H.L. Mencken wrote something 93 years ago that may be seen as prophetic for our own times:
H.L. Mencken (born 1880 - died 1956) was a journalist, satirist, critic, and Democrat. He wrote this editorial while working for the Baltimore Evening Sun, which appeared in the July 26, 1920, edition:

"As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 149, August 18

The 32-year-old doctor was charged with being an accomplice to the assassination, though it was proven he had no previous relationship with the assassin.  A military ourt tried him and sentenced him to life imprisonment in the horrible federal prison on Shark Island off the coast of Florida.

Mudd never stopped practicing medicine despite his imprisonment.  During an epidemic of yellow fever in the prison, he worked arond the clock saving the livles of hundreds of prisoners and guards alike.

So impressive were his actions that he was officially pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869 and given his freedom.  Mudd returned to Maryland and tried to resume his medical practice, but his life was essentially ruined.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 148, August 17

When Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd answered his door one night in 1865, he had no idea that he would ruin the rest of his life.   How could he have known that the man who showed up at his door needing help was John Wilkes Booth, who had just assassinated Braham Lincoln?

His leg broken from his jump from the President's box in Ford's Theater to the stage where he made his escape, Booth was in tremendous pain.

Lost and nearly delerious in the surrounding countryside, Booth finally came upon the doctor's cottage and begged for help.  Unaware that the president had been assassinated, Dr. Mudd did as he had promised when he took his oath:  he helped someone in need.  He set Booth's leg, gave him medicine, and offereed him a bed and food for the night.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 147, August 16

Here we are back in the Civil War again. 

Did you know that General Ulysses S. Grant had to hold up the fighting because he had lost his false teeth?  This near tragic event occurred during the seige of Vicksburg.  General Grant placed his headquaraters aborad a Mississippi steamboat near the town of Vicksburg.  After retiring one night, he placed his false teeth in a wash basin.

His orderly came during the night and emptied the basin, along with the teeth, into the Mississippi River.  Grant was understandably upset.  He couldn't eat.  He couldn't chomp on his favored cigars without his teeth.

Hence, the battle was temporarily suspended until a dentist, summoned by a rush call, made the general a new set of teeth.

Day 146, August 15

Way back in 1861, the King of Siam thought America could benefit by having a few elephants to help with the "heavy lifting" involved in a nation less than a 100 years old.

The King kindly wrote the United States State Department and offered to send elephants to Washington.  He offered to get the young male and female elephants from the Siamese jungles and (shades of Noah's ark)  ship them one or two pairs at a time to America.  The Siamese king believed that the nation could use the strong animals to travel through the unchartered "jungles" of the United States.

President Abraham Lincoln learned of the proposed gift when he became president, but he declined the offer.  He explained that most of the heavy work in the United States was being done by steam and machines.

He politely thanked the king for the offer but pointed out that the temperature of America was not conducive to the raising of Siamese elephants!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 145, August 14

Which president do you think shook the most hands?  If you guessed Theodore Roosevelt, you'd be right.

Rooselvelt set the record on New Year's Day in 1907.  It was traditional at that time for the President to hold a New year's Day open house and to personally greet those attending. 

At the reception in 1907, President Roosevelt personally shook hands with 8,513 visitors.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Day 144, August 13

More about Uncle Sam Wilson ...

It didn't take long for political cartoonists started drawing "Uncle Sam."  The first drawings showed Uncle Sam as a short little man with a beard and an infectious grin.  These cartoons,  showing Uncle Sam in striped trousers, flowing coat, and a high hat, were patterned after Sam Wilson.

After the death of Abraham Lincoln, however, the cartoonists started to draw Uncle Sam as a tall, skinny fellow.  Over the years, he grew even taller. 

Today, Uncle Sam is a national symbol and is recognized all over the world as America's trademark.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 143, August 12

Did you know that Uncle Sam was a real person?  I didn't.  The iconic figure with the striped top hat and the white whiskers was Samuel Wilson.  Wilson lived in Troy, New York and was a well-to-do meat packer.  When the War of 1812 began, Sam supplied meat to all the United States troops stationed in the area.

The meat was stamped "U.S." to signify that it had been certified by a US Government meat inspector.  The soldiers believed, however, that the "U.S." stood for Uncle Sam Wilson.  Within a short while, everything with the U.S. stamp became known as the property of "Uncle Sam's'."

Sam Wilson was both pleased and honored with the idea and enjoyed  being called "Uncle Sam."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Day 142, August 11

In mid-August, the Shenandoah was overtaken by a British ship.  The English commanding officer convinced Captain Waddell that the Civil War had been over for almost four months.  Waddell, fearing that he might be charged with piracy, headed to England.

Eventually, he was exonerated of any wrong-doing and returned as a civilian to Maryland.  Captain Waddell, who was regarded as the Confederacy's last naval hero, had captured or destoryed 23 northern ships, all after the end of the Civil War.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Day 141, August 10

Without any way of knowing that the war had ended, Waddell captured the whaler William Thompson.  Enraged, the skipper of the William Thompason thrust a copy of a San Francisco newspaper with the headline showing that the war was over in Captain Waddell's face.

Thinking that it was a Yankee trick, Waddell was unimpressed and kept on going after northern whaling ships.  By the end of June of that year (1865), the Shenandoah had captured so many ships and had taken so many prisoners that the prisoners were towed behind the ship in lifeboats.

Waddell captured ten northern whalers on June 28, herded the prisoners on two of the captured ships, and set fire to the other eight.  No one could convince the Southern captain that the war was really over.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 140, August 9

One overly enthusiastic Confederate sea captain, James Waddell, kept fighting battles four months after the Civil War ended. 

Captain Waddell was in command of the Shenandoah  assigned to cruise the Pacific Ocean and destroy the New England whaling fleet hutning oil in the Pacific.

General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate army to General U.S. Grant at the courthouse in Appomatix, Virginia on April 13, 1865. Earlier that same month, Captain Waddell took command of the Shenandoah and sailed for the Pacific.

At the same time that General Lee and his soldiers were laying down their weapons to the Union Army, Captain Waddell's ship cornered and sank four whalers during the Caroline Islands in the Pacific.  Maneuvering through the ice floes of the North Pacific, Waddell and the Shenandoah captured 15 northern whaling ships between June 22 and June 28, 1865, more than two months after the war had officially ended.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 139, August 8

Did you know that a pig almost started a war between the United States and England.

In 1859, on the island of San Juan, loacted in Friday harbor, just south off the coast of the state of Washington, a pib belonging to the Hudson Bay coCompany rooted in a potato patch owned by Lyman Cutler.

Farmer Cutler shot the offending pig.  This enraged England, which claimed the pig belonged to the British Empire.  The English made protests to Washington (DC) through their diplomat.

The situation intensified that 400 American soldiers and 15 cannons were sent to the island.  The English retaliated by sending 2,140 British soldiers, 167 guns, and five warships to San Juan.

Though lined up against each other, the soldiers did not fire.  The only casualty of the "Pig War" was the poor pig.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day 138, August 7

In 1859, Robert Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, tried to get into Harvard University.  Robert traveled east from Illinois to take the entrance exam for Harvard.  He failed in 15 subjects. 

This worried his father.  Lake all dads, Lincoln wanted his son to make good grades and earn a good education.  He decided to make a trip east to bolster his son's morale and get him to study a little harder.

While there, Lincoln was invited to have dinner with Horace Greeley, the editor-publisher and political king-maker of the day.  The man from Illinois impressed Greeley so much that Greeley arranged for Lincoln to give a lecture to the Cooper Union in New York City.  In a very real way, Horace Greeley launched Lincoln's political career.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 137, August 6

When you think of China, chances are you think of rickshas, among other things.  But did you know that most of the rickshas used in China were, for many years, made in America?

The foremost manufcaturer of rickshas in the whole world was a Yankee, John H. Birch.  He manufactured rickshas in a large factory in Burlington, New Jersey.

It started in the 1870s when Mr. Birch made a trip to China and noticed the unusual vehickles pulled by manpower.  He decided there was a great future in them and also decided that an American could make Chinese rickshas. 

Birtch arrived home, converted his buggy factory in New Jersey, and was soon exporting American made rickshas all over the world.  The rickshas continued for years until a new kind of vehicle emerged, Henry Ford's automobile.  Eventually, the factory was forced to close down.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 136, August 5

More than a little startled, Captain Drolet and his orderly found themselves given seats of honor at the festivitiesr.  After the services, he was invited to be a guest of honor at a special banquet.    He was offered drink after drink to toast the Queen, the new American president, the Colonies, and many other things.

With his belly full of celebratory drinks, he became inebriated.  Men placed him gently back in his wage, and the orderly drove him back to the Canadian barracks.  The captain did not conquer any of the United States, but he apparently had a great deal of fun.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Day 135, August 4

In 1865, Captain Gustave Drolet started to think about the Revolutionary War and that the British had gotten a raw deal in it.  The Canadian Army Captian  decided on the spur of the moment to leave his Canadian Army base and make a sneak attack on Ft. Montgomery in New York.

He and his orderly crossed the border in a horse and wagon, making good progress along the country roads until they reached the town of Camplain Village.

The townsolk, holding a parade to mourn the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, saw the Canadian captain in his uniform and greeted him as a representative of the British Empire and Queen Victoria.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 134, August 3

Did you know that several presidents have been arrested?   Until I started researching for this blog, I had no idea that any president had been arrested or even that a president could be arrested.

Thomas Jefferson was summoned to appear in court in 1807 (when he was president) to testify in the trial of Aaron Burr who was being held for treason.  Jefferson refused to appear and set a precedent.

Two sitting presidents have been arrested.  President. U.S. Grant was driving a team of horses down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, at a brisk pace.  A mounted policeman pulled him over to the curb and brusquely informed the president that he had been going faster than the law allowed.

With great dignity, President Grant admitted that he had been going too fast.  He handed over a $20 bill as a fine and complimented the police officer for performing his duty.

Franklin Pierce was also arrested, when he returned to The White House from a social gathering.  On horseback, he ran over a woman.  A zealous constable arrested the president, but he was released immediately.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 133, August 2

During his term as president, Roye negotiated a loan with Great Britian without the consent of the Liberian Legislature.  Countrymen objected to the terms of the loan and revolted, banishing Roye from office, even going so far as to have him arrested. 

Roye was called to stand trial before the nation's supreme court.  Before the trial, he managed to escape in a native canoe.  He tried to reach an English steamer anchored off shore and drowned.

Edward Roye died a political criminal in Africa and forgotten by his native country.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 132, August 1

The state of Ohio prides itself on having produed many presidents:  Grant, Hayes, Taft, Harding, Garfiled, Harrison, and McKinley all hailed from Ohio.  However, one Ohio-born citizen is all but forgotten in his term of president.

That may be because he did not serve as President of the United States of America but as President of Liberia in Africa.

Edward Royce was born in Newark, Ohio on February 5, 1815.  After trying several jobs as a young man and finding none that suited him, he sailed for Africa in 1846 and became a well-respected merchant in Liberia.  He served as chief judge of the Liberian Supreme Court and became President of the tiny coastal republic in 1871.