Wayback Wednesday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic

In 1934 it seemed to have indeed reached epidemic proportions.  Thousands of times that year readers would find the word “kidnap” headlined in their local newspaper, sometimes more than once in one issue.  Just two years previous the nation had been riveted with news of the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s son, Charles, Jr. On March 1, 1932 Charles Lindbergh’s son had been abducted from the family home and later found dead near their home on May 12.  Richard Hauptman was finally arrested in 1934, tried in 1935, found guilty and executed on April 3, 1936 for the crime of first degree murder.  In 1932 Congress passed a law making it illegal to transport kidnap victims across state lines, the so-called Lindbergh Law.  If a person was not returned within twenty-four hours, the FBI could become involved in the case. The law was amended in May of 1934 in the midst of what many were calling a kidnapping epidemic.  The amendment, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on May 24, 1935, provided for the execution of anyone guilty of interstate kidnapping who had harmed the victim(s).  The term “harm” was left wide-open to interpretation, having not been specifically defined by the amendment. Following passage of the original law and increased FBI involvement in these type of cases, kidnapping crimes were up, however.  It would take more than a year to get the epidemic under control.  By 1936 FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was telling reporters that “kidnaping is well in hand in America”.1  Indeed, every one of the sixty-two kidnappings perpetrated since the Lindbergh law was...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Shafter, The Silver Capital of Texas

This area of Texas is home to just a handful of residents these days, but once boasted a population of four thousand.  The town was named for Colonel (later General) William R. Shafter, commander at Fort Davis, and located about eighteen miles north of Presidio.  It became a mining town after rancher John W. Spencer found silver ore there in September 1880. Shafter had the sample assayed and found it contained enough silver to make it profitable to mine – profitable enough for Shafter himself to invest.  Spencer had thought it prudent to share his secret with Shafter since the area was prone to periodic Indian attacks.  Protection would be needed to carry out successful mining operations. Shafter called upon two of his military associates, Lieutenants John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi to join his venture (and clear the area of unfriendlies).  The following month Shafter and his partners asked the state of Texas to sell them nine sections of school land in the Chinati Mountains.  Eventually only four sections were purchased, but lacking capital the partners leased part of their acreage to a California mining group.  Shafter later obtained financial backing in San Francisco and the Presidio Mining Company was organized in the summer of 1883. The company contracted with Shafter, Wilhelmi and Spencer individually to purchase their interests, each receiving five thousand shares of stock and $1,600 cash.  Bullis had purchased two sections in his wife’s name, but when the company’s manager William Noyes found deposits on the Bullis acreage (valued at $45 per ton), a dispute arose.  Bullis claimed the two sections had been purchased outright...

Monday Musings: Spring Cleaning (and a few odds and ends)

Have you started spring cleaning yet?  I’m not sure if you’d call it spring cleaning, but of late I’ve been trying to organize my life a little better.  I spent a few hours recently cleaning and re-organizing my storage unit and found some long-forgotten stuff (and some stuff I should have forgotten and thrown away a long time ago, truth be told!). Of course, that got me to thinking about the history of spring cleaning.  Whenever or however it all began, it appears to have first been practiced for religious reasons.  For instance, the Jewish season of Passover is preceded by Unleavened Days of Bread – seven days when not a crumb of leavened bread is to remain in the house.  Orthodox Jews would clean their home thoroughly to eliminate the possibility of violating this sacred observance. Traditionally in Eastern Orthodox faiths the home is thoroughly cleaned during the week of Great Lent – the first day being “Clean Monday” or “Pure Monday”.  For the faithful, the week represents a time of spiritual cleansing as well. Excavations to uncover the ancient city of Pompeii began in 1738 following earlier discoveries in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, marking the beginning of the modern science of archaeology.  In 1871 American newspapers were reporting an intriguing discovery, titling the article “Seventeen Hundred Years in the Oven”. One home had been found in a state of repair at the time of the volcano eruption.  The family may have been absent, but evidence of “painters’ pots and brushes and workmen’s tools were scattered about.  Tell-tale spots of white-wash stained wall and floor.”1...

Far-Out Friday: Death By Pimple

I ran across this intriguing subject while researching an early Surname Saturday article about the Pimple surname.  I found several references to so-called “death by pimple” and researched further.  Clearly, the problem was due to lack of an effective way to treat infection prior to the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. That’s not to say doctors didn’t try to treat infections.  There were advertisements galore during the nineteenth century hailing various “miracle cures” for all sorts of maladies, pimples included.  The first instance found in a search of “pimple” at Newspapers.com yielded an article about a suspect in the disappearance of a surgeon who “hath been set upon by some ill people.” NOTE: This article is being re-purposed and may be included in a future edition of Digging History Magazine. After January 1, 2018 it can also be purchased as an individual article. If interested, please subscribe to the blog (to the right of this post) and you will be notified when the new Digging History Magazine web site is launched. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new...

Book Review Thursday: The Mapmaker’s Children

I really enjoy books like this one: historical fiction with a goal of writing not only a compelling story but educating the reader about a little-known or long-forgotten historical figure.  Such is the case with The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy as she juxtaposes the Civil War era with a strikingly similar modern story set one hundred and fifty years into the future. The narrative alternates between two women: Sarah Brown and Eden Anderson.  Sarah is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, afflicted with a childhood illness which left her barren.  Similarly, Eden is struggling with infertility in the twenty-first century world of hormone injections and the unsuccessful and frustrating attempts to conceive via modern technology. As the story unfolds the reader will eventually get a sense as to the direction it’s heading as the two women’s lives (and their struggles) intersect.  Faced with the inability to bear children, both women struggle to find purpose in life.  For Sarah, she continues to champion her father’s cause by using her artistic skills to paint maps for slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad. On the other hand, Eden struggles with her marriage and the failure to conceive.  Her husband Jack purchases a puppy for her, and although she regards it initially as insensitivity to her emotional needs, she eventually embraces the pet (named Cricket) and finds a way to move on with her life and later become an entrepreneur.  Through a series of clues found in her new home Eden begins to piece together an important historical link to not only the house, but the townspeople who have befriended her.  As...

Military History Monday: Hello Girls of World War I

During World War I they were officially known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, but more informally known as “Hello Girls”.  The United States had been reluctant to join its European allies in the conflict, but when Germany began an all-out effort in early 1917 to sink American vessels in the North Atlantic, President Woodrow Wilson’s hand was forced.  He asked Congress for a declaration of war, “a war to end all wars”.  On April 6, 1917 Congress officially did so, engaging the Germans and hoping to make the world once again safe for democracy. The British had been at war with German for nearly three years when the United States joined the effort.  With their men away fighting the war, large numbers of women were working in munitions factories throughout Britain.  Their work was dangerous as explosives and chemicals caused deaths.  The greatest single loss occurred in early January 1917 when a munitions factory in Silvertown, England exploded due to an accidental fire – seventy-two women were severely injured and sixty-nine perished. President Wilson’s cousin John Wilson was in England at the time and described it as a “terrific crash, accompanied by a red glow in the sky.”1  Another American observed that London was shaken from one end to the other – windows within a twenty-mile radius were shattered.  Perhaps this catastrophic event compelled British officials to find a safer way for women to contribute to the war effort. By early March the decision had been made to find ways for women to serve in other capacities such as cooking, mechanical and clerical tasks.  The women...

Book Review Thursday: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler

In a sane world it would seem a serious mistake to draw attention to and republish Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler’s autobiography first published in 1925.  For years the book was purposely kept off the shelves of bookstores and libraries, thought to have been too dangerous for the general public.  The copyright, held by the state of Bavaria, finally expired in December 2015. In late February 2016 the Washington Post reported the newly republished book, now heavily annotated to explain Hitler’s comments, was ranked number two on Der Spiegel’s bestseller list.  It seems fortuitous that this book by Peter Ross Range was released in late January 2016, perhaps serving as a counterbalance. Heaven knows the voluminous tomes which could be (and have been) written about Adolph Hitler.  Range chose to focus on a brief period in Hitler’s life to give us a glimpse into the mindset of the monster who later perpetrated so many horrific crimes against humanity. Hitler spent most of 1924 in prison after being tried for treason as a result of his attempted beer hall coup in early November 1923.  The “prison” was hardly what one would imagine for a prisoner accused of such crimes.  Instead, his private quarters and the year he spent there made it seem more like an extended spa vacation.  After being sentenced to five years in prison for his failed coup attempt, the judge immediately reduced the sentence to approximately six months (if he behaved himself). Hitler, surrounded with like-minded prisoners, enthralled the captive audience with his speechifying in the weeks before the trial.  However, following the trial he set himself to...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Whitehorn, Colorado

According to a Fremont County, Colorado web site the population of Whitehorn was less than ten as of 2014.  Accounts vary, however, as to who founded the town in the mid-to-late 1890’s.  In one account prospector Dennis Patno came to the area in February of 1897, struck gold and started a rush to the area in the mountains northeast of Salida.  In yet another account the town was founded in May of 1897 by Arthur L. Whitehorn – according to a 1901 article published in the Whitehorn News, he was indeed the founder. Whitehorn had recently been appointed as U.S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor in Pitkin County, having also mined around the Tin Cup area.  He set up his assayer’s tent at the camp some miners humorously referred to as “Suckerville”.  However, the specimens he examined were promising enough and soon the town named in his honor began to be laid out. As soon as word spread of a gold strike, miners began to flood the area.  Initially, forty plots priced at fifty cents each were laid out and drawn by lots.  In those days gold strikes were reported throughout the region, especially in the Denver and Colorado Springs newspapers.  It was big news and correspondents were sent to cover it firsthand. By June there were already about two hundred miners living in tents and shacks or in the twenty-some buildings which had already been erected.  Edward M. Kraus was appointed as postmaster by the end of July, more than enough to make the town of Whitehorn “official”.  By that time about one thousand people were receiving mail there. The...

Early American Faith: The Wild Man of Goose Creek

By the late eighteenth century John Wesley’s Methodism, having spread to the American colonies, was formally established as the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore in 1784.  While the Congregationalists and Episcopalians remained along the Eastern seaboard of America, Methodism began to spread with the push into uncharted territories to the west. Methodists weren’t shy about their faith as circuit-riding preachers accompanied patriots who received land grants for their war service, crossing the mountains and heading to Tennessee and Kentucky.  Often the first person settlers met along the way was a man on a horse with a Bible in his hand.  While Francis Asbury is widely credited as the most famous circuit rider and responsible for Methodism’s early exploding growth (1784-1816), there is another man who made his mark in a much briefer period of time (1800-1804). John Adam Granade, a descendant of French ancestors . . . NOTE:  This article will soon be available in a Special Edition of Digging History Magazine.  If interested, please subscribe to the blog (to the right of this post) and you will be notified when both regular and special edition issues of Digging History Magazine are available. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to...

Feisty Females: Sara Payson Willis, aka Fanny Fern

March is Women’s History Month and what better way to kick it off than to highlight the accomplishments of first female newspaper columnist and highest paid nineteenth century newspaper writer Sara Payson Willis, a.k.a. “Fanny Fern”. Sara was born in Portland, Maine on July 9, 1811, the daughter of Nathaniel and Hannah (Parker) Willis.  Her parents had planned to name their fifth child after Reverend Edward Payson, pastor of Portland’s Second Congregational Church (five years later they named a son after the reverend).  Instead, she was given the middle name of Payson. NOTE: This article is being re-purposed and may be included in a future edition (or Special Edition) of Digging History Magazine. After January 1, 2018 it can also be purchased as an individual article. If interested, please subscribe to the blog (to the right of this post) and you will be notified when the new Digging History Magazine web site is launched.   Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new...