Time Capsule Thursday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic and the Rise of Public Enemy No. 1

America’s first official kidnapping accompanied by a demand for ransom occurred in 1874 when four year-old Charles Brewster Ross, son of Philadelphia merchant Christian Ross.  The kidnapper demanded ten thousand dollars via an anonymous communication.  Mr. Ross notified the criminal he was willing to negotiate but had offered only three hundred dollars to obtain the release of his son. Charles was never found although his father later offered five thousand dollars in late 1874 for the safe return of his son.  He was satisfied the abductors had been killed on Long Island on December 14 and was begging for information as to Charles’ whereabouts.  Despite the mayor of Philadelphia’s proclamation the following year urging the state legislature to enact a law granting immunity to the person or persons holding Charles, nothing had turned up.   By the end of March all hope would be gone of ever finding him. Until the 1930’s hundreds of kidnap-ransom crimes would be committed, although most were handled as local crimes.  Federal agents only stepped in when a kidnapping had occurred on federal lands such as a national park or Indian reservation.1  That all changed following enactment of the so-called Lindbergh Law in 1932. On January 1, 1934 William Hamm, Jr., 1933 kidnapping victim of the Barker-Karpis gang, was finally getting on with his life, marrying his fiancé Mrs. Mary Hersey Carroll of St. Paul.  (NOTE: In case you missed yesterday’s “Wayback Wednesday” article on the Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic you can read it here).  The trial of his alleged kidnappers, the Roger Touhy gang, was over, resulting in their acquittal.2  In reality it had...

Time Capsule Thursday: December 10, 1941

The United States, only one day following President Roosevelt’s declaration of war, had already scored a significant victory in the Philippines where direct hits had destroyed three Japanese ships.  Efforts to defend the homeland were already in process as farmers were asked to inspect their equipment and order parts before production of war machinery made them scarce.  Farmers were also encouraged to donate scrap iron, old fences, automobile bodies and other discarded pieces of machinery and metal around their farms. The Kansas legislature was already looking ahead by setting aside a state labor regulation which prevented women from working between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.  For those working in the defense industry their work, day or night, would be vitally important to the war effort. Army officers and the federal government were ordering labor dispute settlements in anticipation of increased war effort manufacturing and transportation.  Army leaders ordered welders at the War Department’s Morgantown, West Virginia ordinance plant to settle their differences and get back to work.  President Roosevelt sent a team to Chicago to avert a nation-wide railway strike by ordering a wage increase for railroad workers. Roosevelt had warned of a long, hard war, but emphatically declared, “we are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows.”1  By December 10 over twenty-three hundred Axis nationals had been rounded up (1,291 Japanese; 865 Germans; 147 Italians), really only a small fraction over one million known to have been residing in the United States at the time.  The federal government was taking no chances. Congress had expected a unanimous vote in support...

Time Capsule Thursday: October 8, 1926

Newspapers around the country were covering this riveting story on October 8, 1926.  However, the original crime for which mob justice was rendered on that day hadn’t received much more than regional coverage the year before when three members of the Lowman family were accused of murder.  On April 25, 1925 Sheriff Henry H. Howard of Aiken County, South Carolina had been shot and killed while he and his deputies were executing a liquor raid at the home of Sam and Annie Lowman.  Although the following story is detailed and long, it’s important to give an adequate account of what happened that day in 1925 which led to the tragedy which occurred on October 8, 1926. Accounts varied as to exactly what happened that day.  Here is a sampling of reported details, beginning with the one told in Toward the Meeting of the Waters: Sam Lowman had arisen early that Saturday morning in April 1925 and set off for nearby Monetta with a load of corn.  His son Damon and nephew Clarence were plowing a field; Annie was making soap and Bertha his twenty-seven year old pregnant daughter was sweeping the backyard with her cousin Naomi.  Another cousin, Eleanora, was cleaning the back porch and Damon’s wife Rosa was preparing lunch while her sister-in-law Bridie fed Rosa’s newborn child. Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. two unmarked vehicles approached Clarence and Damon (note:  various accounts referred to Damon as “Son”, “Demmond” or “Demon”), inquiring whether Sam Lowman lived in the house just up ahead.  The two men asking questions were Sheriff Howard and his deputy Nollie Robinson.  As soon...

Time-Capsule Thursday: Those Dang Saucers Appear Everywhere

This week in July 1952 was filled with headlines about the strange phenomenon of so-called “flying saucers” or UFOs (unusual or unidentified flying objects).  The term had been around since the summer of 1947 when hundreds of incidences of unexplained objects in the sky were reported, many observed by commercial and Air Force pilots. The Air Force began an investigation, but by late 1947 had found nothing that could have caused these sightings.  However, sightings continued despite government reports.  Some of these sightings occurred around nuclear power or atomic energy facilities.  Sightings continued and the Air Force re-opened the investigation in the fall of 1951.  By March of 1952 the project was officially named “Blue Book”. The Cold War was heating up and the undercurrent of concern regarding these unexplained sightings, coupled with Soviet aggression, propelled the investigation.  The Soviet threat was very much on the minds of the military as well as the general populace.  The unexplained phenomenon was further heightened because many of these sightings occurred on either the east or west coasts near atomic energy plants or testing facilities. The April 7, 1952 issue of LIFE Magazine was eye-catching enough with Marilyn Monroe, “The Talk of Hollywood”, on its cover, but in the upper right-hand corner in large letters appeared: THERE IS A CASE FOR INTERPLANETARY SAUCERS According to H. B. Darrach, Jr. and Robert Ginna in their article entitled “Have We Visitors From Space?”, the Air Force was ready “to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation; here Life offers some scientific evidence that there is a real case for interplanetary flying...

Time Capsule Thursday: July 4, 1876 (It Was A Blast!)

July 4, 1876 – The United States was celebrating its first centennial eleven years following the end of the Civil War.  In Philadelphia, soldiers from the North and South, “the Blue and the Gray”, marched together.  There were lively and soul-stirring festivities held throughout the country, speeches galore, fireworks – or “Gunpowder and Glory” as The Times of Philadelphia reported. As cannons were fired and firecrackers lit, explosions and costly fires marred the festivities for some.  In Philadelphia one headline read “A Salute That Cost One Hundred Thousand Dollars”.  Around one o’clock on the afternoon of the Fourth, some boys fired off a cannon salute which ignited a pile of chips behind a flour mill.  Within fifteen minutes the entire block was engulfed in flames. “A Dynamite Horror” occurred around the same time elsewhere in Philadelphia.  A druggist, Dr. H.H. Bucher, was apparently experimenting with explosives in an attempt to create his own pyrotechnics: The doctor, who was a man of scientific mind, had accumulated in the cellar of the house a considerable quantity of dynamite, the properties of which, with sulphuric acid and other combustible chemicals, he had for some time been endeavoring to unite, to effect a pyrotechnic result.  It was his ambition to complete his experimenting yesterday, that the people of the lower section of the city might be treated to a grand display of fireworks.1 Around noon, the doctor believing he had achieved just the right mix, sent word for his next-door neighbor to come see the result.  Meanwhile, the doctor’s brother came downstairs from their living quarters and two other gentlemen happened to enter...

Time Capsule Thursday: June 11, 1924

What was happening on this day in June of 1924?  The big front-page headlines were buzzing about the Republican National Convention, on the verge of nominating their man Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge.  The only concerns were over certain contentious planks in the Republican platform and who would be named as Coolidge’s running mate. “Sulky delegates” were threatening to withdraw support for Coolidge if their platform demands weren’t met.  Herbert Hoover (better luck next time – or as it turned out, not so much) was the top choice for the vice presidential nomination, but it didn’t appear that anyone really wanted the job.  The man who eventually became the nominee, Charles G. Dawes, was described as an “aggressive Illinoisan” “struggling to prevent the vice presidency from coming his way.”1 Life was good and the “Roaring Twenties” were in full swing.  Frank Mondell of Wyoming called Coolidge a “courageous chief”.  Apparently, Coolidge’s budget-busting tactics were working.  The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified five years earlier, giving women the right to vote.  Increasingly, women were taking greater roles in politics. Some “pretty girls” found Republican delegates easy marks as they raised campaign cash for Coolidge: Pretty girls, with come hither eyes and a linger-a-while smile, are raising money for the campaign to elect President Coolidge.  And as the saying goes: “Take it from me they can take it from you.” If they don’t get you for $10 they’ll get you for $1.  Small change doesn’t go.  A man’s got to pay dearly for a chat with one of these ladies.  Siren-like, they lure you into conversation about Calvin Coolidge’s...