Civil War Flying Machines?

During the Civil War, the Confederate States of America invented and deployed a number of secret weapons against Union forces. They created the the first steam-powered ironclad warship and built the H.L. Hunley, the first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel. But the strangest secret weapon of all was the one they didn’t create…just how close did the Confederacy come to building its own Air Force?

Civil War Planes?

On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made what is often considered “the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.” It wasn’t until the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 that aircraft were first used for military purposes. However, if one man had his way, both those achievements would’ve been reached decades earlier.

In 1863, R. Finley Hunt was a dentist by trade. But he exhibited an unusual “passion for flight.” During the Civil War, both sides used balloons to perform aerial reconnaissance. Hunt envisioned something more dramatic…nothing less than full-blown “Flying Machines” raining terror down on Union forces.

Hunt prepared “pencil drawings of wings, propellers, and a multi-cylinder steam engine” and contacted CSA President Jefferson Davis. But Confederate engineers doubted the feasibility of the project, especially the ability of a steam engine to keep the plane aloft. They also described another error as “so obvious on reflection that no discussion is required.” As far as I’ve been able to determine, the nature of this error remains unknown.

Hunt continued to seek an audience and even requested the temporary assistance of one N. Hays, who was apparently an accomplished armory machinist. However, Hays was too valuable to be spared and ultimately, the Confederacy passed on the project.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Hunt’s plans recently surfaced at a rare book dealer’s shop. They are being auctioned by RR Auction with a minimum bid of $1,000. Here’s the preview page for “Civil War Airplanes.”

After the war, Hunt traveled to Washington D.C. and received a patent for his invention. He proceeded to build a few working models of his Flying Machine. However, he was short on financing and his creation never got off the ground, so to speak.

“It’s incredible for someone who loves early aviation, because it poses the great question of ‘What if? What if planes had appeared above the wilderness when [Union general Ulysses S.] Grant began his campaign in the Shenandoah Valley?” ~ Bobby Livingston, RR Auction, Vice President of Sales and Marketing

I hope that whoever buys this piece of history uses the plans to reconstruct the Flying Machine. For all we know, Hunt was far ahead of his time. If it had worked and had been put into production, the Civil War might’ve ended in a far different manner than it did.

Charles Ponzi’s Scheme?

In late 1919, Charles Ponzi was a poor but ambitious man. Less than a year later, he was worth millions. Then his ill-gotten wealth vanished in an epic collapse that brought down six banks and ruined thousands of investors. What was Charles Ponzi’s scheme?

Who was Charles Ponzi?

In August 1919, Charles Ponzi became fascinated with International Reply Coupons, or IRCs. An IRC was prepaid reply postage for international mail. They were usually bought in one country and then exchanged for stamps in another country.

Charles Ponzi thought he saw an arbitrage opportunity. He could buy large amounts of IRCs in countries with weaker currencies and redeem them in countries with stronger currencies. According to his autobiography, The Rise of Mr. Ponzi, he stood to gain an entirely legal net profit of 230% by exploiting the difference between the Italian and American exchange rates.

Ponzi established the Securities Exchange Company and set out looking for investors. He “claimed to have elaborate networks of agents throughout Europe who were making bulk purchases of postal reply coupons on his behalf.” Investors egaerly jumped aboard, intrigued by the generous terms of his promissory notes, which offered an eye-popping 50% interest rate payable in 90 days. For later notes, the term changed to 45 days.

Happy investors poured money back into the company and convinced their friends and relatives to do the same. By February 1920, Ponzi had recorded $5,000 in profits. By March, he was up to $30,000. By May, Charles Ponzi’s total profits reached a whopping $420,000. By June, Ponzi was a millionaire and the majority owner of The Hanover Trust Bank of Boston. He spent lavishly, acquiring a 12-room mansion among other things.

Ponzi was triumphant. Yet, dark clouds filled the horizon. Joseph Daniels, who’d never been paid for furniture he’d sold to Ponzi, sued for $1 million. The size of the lawsuit raised a troubling question among the public…how had Charles Ponzi gotten rich so quickly?

Charles Ponzi & his Ponzi Scheme?

On July 24, the Boston Post published a favorable article on Ponzi and reported his newly-acquired fortune at $8.5 million. But the newspaper’s acting publisher and city editor remained suspicious. They hired Clarence Barron (the man behind Barron’s), to investigate Ponzi.

Two days later, the Boston Post began a series of articles questioning Ponzi and his company. Barron played a key role, uncovering several unsettling pieces of information. For instance, Ponzi was not investing his own money in his company. Also, a whopping 160 million IRCs were needed to cover Ponzi’s purported investments, yet only 27,000 were in circulation. Last but not least, the U.S. Post Office reported that IRCs were not being bought in quantity anywhere in the world.

On August 2, Ponzi’s former publicity agent, William McMasters, wrote his own story for the Post. He claimed that Ponzi was over $4.5 million in debt, including the interest on outstanding loans. Investors clamored for their money back. Ponzi obliged, temporarily quelling fears.

On August 11, approximately one year after he started his business, Ponzi’s scheme ran out of steam. The Boston Post published an article detailing Ponzi’s criminal past. Meanwhile, Hanover Trust was seized by the Bank Commissioner, thwarting Ponzi’s plans to use its deposits to cover his debts.

How did the Ponzi Scheme Work?

It turned out that Ponzi never made investments of any sort. In its final audit, his company was found to own just $61 of IRCs. Instead, he paid off earlier investors with money obtained from later investors. While he didn’t invent the “Ponzi Scheme,” he made it famous.

Ponzi was arrested by federal authorities on August 12. He was charged with 86 counts of mail fraud and served three and a half years in prison. In 1925, he was charged with 22 counts of larceny by the state of Massachusetts and given an additional nine-year sentence.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

I wish I could say Ponzi learned his lesson. But after making bail, he traveled to Florida and concocted a similar confidence game, this time involving land. He returned to jail and stayed there until 1934. Ponzi’s original scheme ruined six banks and cast thousands of individuals into financial ruin. Yet, he never regretted his actions. In his last interview, given shortly before his death, Ponzi said:

“Even if they never got anything for it, it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over.” ~ Charles Ponzi

While Charles Ponzi is nearly forgotten, his legacy lives on in the scheme that bears his name. So, beware the siren’s song of easy money and guaranteed profits. In the end, it never turns out well.

The Last Secrets of World War I?

On April 19, 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified six secret documents from 1917 and 1918. These were America’s oldest classified documents and believed to be the last of their kind from World War I. So, what great secrets could possibly require nearly a century of security? Political intrigue? Government conspiracy? Something even worse?

Secret Documents…from World War I?

Not in the least bit. According to the official press release, the secret documents, which you can find here, “describe secret writing techniques.” Or, to put it more plainly, they describe how to create invisible ink as well as “a method for opening sealed letters without detection.”

Have you ever wanted to secretly open an envelope, World War I-style? Well, here’s your opportunity.

“Mix 5 drams copper acetol arsenate. 3 ounces acetone and add 1 pint amyl alcohol (fusil-oil). Heat in water bath — steam rising will dissolve the sealing material of its mucilage, wax or oil.”

Oh, but don’t forget this part.

“Do not inhale fumes.”

Why all the Secrecy over Outdated Secret Documents?

I have to admit that the secret documents provide some interesting insights into the national security concerns of the time. One paper exposes Germany’s secret formula for invisible ink. Another one provides 50 ways for U.S. postal inspectors to detect invisible ink.

“The rule is to suspect or examine every possible thing. The war between the spy or forger and the expert is continually bringing out new methods.” ~ Theodore Kytka, Handwriting Expert

Still, I can’t help but wonder why the CIA chose to keep this material classified for nearly a hundred years. Recipes for invisible ink are easy to find and anyways, would any spy dare to use such an outdated technique?

According to the CIA, the answer is apparently yes. In 1999, “the agency rejected a Freedom of Information Act request to release the six documents, asserting that doing so ‘could be expected to damage the national security.'” A similar request was rejected in 2002.So, what changed? Well, a CIA spokeswoman claimed that “in recent years, the chemistry of making secret ink and the lighting used to detect it has greatly improved.”

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them. When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.” ~ Leon E. Panetta, CIA Director

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

One of the secret documents revealed that America knew the secret to creating Germany’s invisible ink. I guess the German Empire will have to switch recipes going forward. Anyways, the CIA has long been considered one of the world’s most secretive organizations. From where I stand, the delayed release of these extremely outdated documents does nothing to change that reputation.

“Invisible ink was rendered obsolete by digital encryption long ago, not in the last few years. Director Panetta is attempting to rationalize the CIA’s irrational information policies, but there is no known basis for his claim.” ~ Steve Aftergood, The Federation for American Scientists

Well, I suppose we can be happy that these secret documents have finally been released. Now, we can move on to the next batch. What’s next on the list of oldest still-classified documents? Anyone?

President Lincoln’s Greatest Nemesis?

If you were to ask the typical American about President Abraham Lincoln’s greatest enemy, he or she would most likely answer with Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. But recent scholarship suggests that Lincoln faced a far more hated enemy much closer to home…Judge Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1861, Lincoln’s hatred of Taney nearly exploded into a Constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

Judge Roger Taney versus President Lincoln?

On May 25, 1861, a Confederate sympathizer named John Merryman was arrested and charged with treason. He petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, a judicial order forcing the Union Army to appear before a judge and justify his imprisonment. Judge Roger Taney granted the writ.

But General George Cadwalader refused, stating that he was under no obligation to do so since President Lincoln had ordered the suspension of habeas corpus. This led to the famous Ex parte Merryman ruling, in which Judge Taney stated that only Congress had the power to suspend habeas corpus.

“And if the President of the United States may suspend the writ, then the Constitution of the United States has conferred upon him more regal and absolute power over the liberty of the citizen than the people of England have thought it safe to entrust to the Crown–a power which the Queen of England cannot exercise at this day, and which could not have been lawfully exercised by the sovereign even in the reign of Charles the First.” ~ Judge Taney, Ex parte Merryman

President Lincoln orders Roger Taney’s Arrest?

The judgment was an embarrassing repudiation to President Lincoln and Confederate sympathizers seized upon it as an example of Lincoln’s tyranny. In either May or June 1861, President Lincoln’s anger inspired him to call for the arrest of Judge Roger Taney.

“After due consideration the administration determined upon the arrest of the Chief Justice. A warrant or order was issued for his arrest. Then arose the question of service. Who should make the arrest and where should the imprisonment be? This was done by the President with instructions to use his own discretion about making the arrest unless he should receive further orders from him.” ~ Ward Hill Lamon

According to his own words, Ward Hill Lamon, who was a friend and bodyguard to President Lincoln as well as a United States Marshall, was given the warrant and ordered to arrest Roger Taney. Strangely though, the warrant was never served.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Nobody knows for sure why Lamon never followed through with the arrest. President Lincoln certainly wasn’t above arresting his political opponents, as the cases of Clement Vallandigham and Judge Merrick have shown. But we do know that the two men continued their bitter feud over Lincoln’s efforts to curtail civil liberties for several additional years.

I should point out that Lamon is the sole primary source for this story. Interestingly enough, most current Lincoln scholars consider it ridiculous. They dismiss Lamon as an alcoholic and point to the fact that he didn’t include the story in any of his published books (which, by the way, are highly treasured by these same scholars). Still, there is some corroborating evidence. Records indicate that Roger Taney himself as well as a colleague named Judge Curtis were aware of the near-imprisonment.

We may never know for certain how close President Lincoln came to arresting Judge Roger Taney. But we can all be thankful that he didn’t follow through on it. The ramifications might have been disastrous.

“It would have destroyed the separation of powers; destroyed the place of the Supreme Court in the Constitutional scheme of government. It would have made the executive power supreme, over all others, and put the President, the military, and the executive branch of government, in total control of American society. The Constitution would have been at an end.” ~ Charles Adams

The Guatemala Syphilis Scandal

In 2005, Professor Susan Reverby made a shocking discovery. Between 1946 and 1948, the U.S. Public Health Service, with the blessing of Guatemalan officials, deliberately exposed 1,300 Guatemalans to syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. 83 people may have died as a result. How did the Guatemala Syphilis Scandal happen? And why does new evidence indicate that the experiments were “more shocking than was previously known?”

Dr. John Cutler & the Guatemala Syphilis Experiment?

Dr. John Cutler was a surgeon and acting chief of the U.S. Public Health Service’s venereal disease program. At one time, he was viewed as a respectable doctor and even rose to the rank of Assistant Surgeon General under President Eisenhower. Now, after being tied to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment as well as the Guatemala syphilis experiment, he is considered a monster.

Starting in 1946, Dr. Cutler and his researchers oversaw the deliberate infection of 1,300 Guatemalans with syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid. This was accomplished by paying prostitutes to sleep with prisoners as well as through direct inoculations. The goal, while somewhat unclear, seems to have been to determine the efficacy of penicillin in dealing with the various venereal diseases. While some Guatemalan officials knowingly participated in the conspiracy, they were not always privy to the experiment’s details. The so-called Guatemala syphilis experiments ended in 1948, due to increasing gossip about the study as well as difficulties in obtaining adequate amounts of penicillin.

News on the Guatemala Syphilis Scandal?

Recently, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which had been tasked to investigate the experiments, announced its findings. Out of the 1,300 infected people, only 700 received treatment. It is unknown how many people died thanks to the experiment but at least 83 were deceased by 1953.

The Commission, which has yet to release its full report, also announced some particularly disturbing details. None of the victims gave their informed consent to participate in the project. Also, some of the subjects were treated in horrific fashion, including one terminally-ill woman who was “infected…with gonorrhea in her eyes and elsewhere.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Five years after Professor Reverby began to unearth the decades-old conspiracy, it became national news. President Obama called Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom to apologize and ordered the Commission to begin reviewing the study. Guatemala is conducting its own investigation. Reparations are possible and I believe that surviving victims of the study are preparing a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

Unfortunately, there is no turning back the clock. Dr. Cutler’s experiments, which came in the wake of the horrific Nazi experiments, are a permanent part of American history, one that all of us wish we could forget.

Blackbeard’s Ship…Or Not?

In 1718, Blackbeard the pirate ran his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge aground at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. In 1996, a shipwreck was discovered in the area. Is this Blackbeard’s fabled frigate?

Blackbeard & Queen Anne’s Revenge?

Blackbeard, whose real name was probably Edward Thatch, is perhaps the most famous pirate of all time. After the War of Spanish Succession, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold. On November 28, 1717, Captain Hornigold captured the La Concorde which at that time was a slave ship. He turned it over to Blackbeard. Blackbeard renamed the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, which may be an indication of his allegiance to the Stuarts. He mounted 22 guns on the ship and began a reign of terror unmatched in pirate history.

In 1718, he staged an incredible blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, in which he ransacked about nine ships as they attempted to leave the port. Shortly afterward, he mysteriously ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground and took off for North Carolina in a smaller vessel named the Adventure. Some historians believe this was a deliberate move by Blackbeard to disperse his crew and secure a greater share of the spoils for him and his friends.

A Mysterious Shipwreck?

For more than two centuries, the ship remained lost. Then, in 1996, Intersal discovered a shipwreck in the area. Since that time, extensive excavations have uncovered more than 16,000 artifacts. While the ship is generally believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources has always been cautious in its statements…until now.

On August 29, National Geographic reported that the shipwreck “has been confirmed as that of the infamous 18th-century pirate Blackbeard.”

“There was not one aha moment. There was a collection of moments and a deduction based on the evidence.” ~ Claire Aubel, North Carolina Maritime Museums, Public Relations Coordinator

According to the article, the main evidence used in the identification was “the sheer size of the wreck and the many weapons that were found in the rubble.” The rest of the evidence is even more circumstantial. For example, apothecary weights found on the wreck could belong to the ship’s original surgeon when it was still in French hands. Some traces of gold found among lead shot could have been concealed by a French sailor trying to hide it from Blackbeard. On the bright side, artifact dates appear to be in the right ballpark. Underwater archaeologists found “a bell engraved with the date 1705.” Previously announced discoveries include a brass coin weight cast sometime between 1702-1714 as well as a wine glass made to commemorate the 1714 coronation of King George I.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Still, I have to admit that I find this “confirmation” strange. There remains no real hard evidence to link this shipwreck to Blackbeard. And over the years, some researchers have called into question the so-called mountain of circumstantial evidence. For example…

Rodgers, Richards and Lusardi challenged the assumption that the many guns indicated a heavily armed pirate ship. All ships during the period were similarly armed, they said, and the number and and caliber of the guns suggest that the wreck was probably a merchant ship. They said only 14 guns were probably mounted on the Beaufort shipwreck, while the others were too small to damage a ship or were stowed in the hold as ballast. The number of those mounted is what would be expected on an average merchant vessel during peacetime in the first half of the 18th century, they said. Varying historical accounts say the Queen Anne’s Revenge carried 22, 36 and up to 40 guns. In addition, the archaeologists said, one cannon bears a rough mark they interpreted as 1730 or possibly 1737. If that is the date of the cannon’s manufacture, they said, it would eliminate the wreck as the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Now, that article is a couple of years old, but I imagine at least some of it is still relevant today. Furthermore, the timing of this announcement raises awkward questions. According to David Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, there were two reasons behind it. First, the museum didn’t want to entitle its new exhibit something along the lines of “Artifacts From the Purported Queen Anne’s Revenge.” Second and more disturbing, the confirmation will “help the museum secure private funding to continue excavating the wreck.”

The shipwreck in question may or may not be the Queen Anne’s Revenge. It seems to fit the profile and time period. And I understand that identifying the wreck is an extremely difficult task. Hard evidence may not even exist, although I’m holding out hope that divers will recover an engraved bell or something along those lines. Regardless, based on the obvious conflict of interest here, this confirmation seems meaningless to me. A better exhibit title? Additional funding to make up for state budget cuts? Good lord.Supposedly, there are 750,000 remaining artifacts aboard the wreck. Recovering them all could take an additional 15 years. Let’s hope one of those artifacts serves as “the smoking gun.” Because at this point, I’m just not convinced.

The Double Eagle Scandal

In May 1933, the U.S. Mint printed the very last Saint-Gaudens double eagle. These $20 gold coins were never officially released to the public. A few managed to avoid destruction and the U.S. government has spent more than 60 years and untold millions of dollars tracking them down. Why is the 1933 double eagle the most controversial coin in history?

President Roosevelt Seizes America’s Gold

On April 5, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve. On January 30, 1934, Congress followed up that Order with the United States Gold Reserve Act, which allowed the President to seize the Federal Reserve’s newly-acquired gold supply. The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

The U.S. Government Declares War on the 1933 Double Eagles

Suddenly, gold coins became a thing of the past. The director of the Philadelphia Mint ordered the recently pressed 1933 double eagles to be melted down into gold bars and sent off to Fort Knox, a task which would take several years to complete. Only two of the coins were slated to survive. They were sent to the Smithsonian for safekeeping.

But, double eagles began to pop up. One coin made its way into the hands of Egypt’s King Farouk. Another one was offered via auction. The Secret Service quickly decided that someone had stolen the double eagles from the Philadelphia Mint. They actually debated the “advisability of trying to get [the] coin back from King Farouk.” However, since World War II was in progress and Egypt was an important American ally, they decided not to risk infuriating him. However, they did seize the other coin, an act which launched a decades-long war against private ownership of the 1933 double eagles.

“The government has been fanatical about seizing and destroying these coins. They’re famous because the government has been seizing them since the 1940s.” ~ Robert W. Hoge, American Numismatic Society

The 1933 Double Eagle becomes the Most Expensive Coin in History

The Secret Service traced the coins to a Philadelphia-based jeweler named Israel Switt. Switt claimed that he didn’t have any records pertaining to the eagles. However, he did state that they weren’t purchased from a Mint employee. The Justice Department disagreed but was unable to press charges due to the statute of limitations.

For the moment, the investigation was at an impasse. But after King Farouk was overthrown, his double eagle found its way into the hands of a coin dealer named Stephen Fenton. Fenton attempted to sell the coin in 1996 but the end buyer betrayed him. Secret Service agents rushed the room and seized the double eagle.

Incredibly, Fenton was charged with “conspiring to convert to his own use and attempt to sell property of the United States.” No one seemed to care that FDR’s ridiculous and unconstitutional Executive Order had been repealed in 1974 by President Ford. And the fact that there was no proof the coins were stolen in the first place didn’t seem to strike anyone as strange.

Fortunately, the charges were quickly dropped. And eventually, Fenton and the Justice Department agreed to auction off the coin and split the proceeds. After an extended publicity campaign, it sold for a grand total of $7.6 million, making it the most expensive coin in history until the 2010 sale of a 1794 silver dollar. The anonymous buyer lent it to the American Numismatic Society, which in turn lent it to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Double Eagle Double-Cross?

The story of the 1933 double eagle should’ve ended with that auction. But there was still another chapter to come. In 2004, Israel Switt’s only child Joan Langbord along with her son Roy discovered ten 1933 double eagles in a safety deposit box. She took the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint agreed but ended up pulling a fast one. It refused to return the property and instead told the media that it had “recovered” ten additional coins.

The Langbord family sued. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero claimed that any 1933 double eagles that left the Mint did so illegally. The Langbord family argued that most of the Philadelphia Mint records, which were ill-kept, had been destroyed in 1978. Also, no surviving witnesses remained. Finally, they identified a “window of opportunity” where Israel Switt could’ve obtained the coins in a legal manner.Shockingly, the jury sided with the government. While the Langbord’s are expected to appeal the verdict, the story has come to an end, at least for now. And government representatives are quite pleased with their success.

“People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” ~ Jacqueline Romero, Assistant U.S. Attorney

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The government spent more than six decades vigorously pursuing these coins. They confiscated private property. They treated citizens very differently, allowing Fenton to profit from his coin while not giving the same courtesy to the Langbords. And they paid untold millions of tax dollars throughout the investigation as well as during the court case. That leaves me with one question…Do you feel vindicated?

The Real Life Mrs. Sherlock Holmes?

In 1917, an 18-year old Harlem resident named Ruth Cruger vanished. The case seemed destined for permanent “Unsolved” status until Grace Humiston appeared on the scene. Dubbed “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” by the press, she solved the case and in the process, exposed rampant corruption within the NYPD. How did she do it? And why was she subsequently erased from history?

A Mysterious Disappearance?

On February 13, 1917, Ruth Cruger visited a motorcycle repair shop in Harlem in order to have her skates polished. She was never seen again. The next day, her sister Helen went looking for her. Helen visited the shop only to find it closed. A few hours later, the owner, a man named Alfredo Cocchi, reopened the shop. He told Helen that Ruth had dropped off the skates and picked them up later in the day without incident.

Suspicious, Helen returned home and told the story to her father, Henry Cruger. Henry contacted the police. The police were reluctant to get involved on account of the fact that Cocchi was a “respectable businessman.” Eventually, an officer performed a cursory search of the shop’s cellar, which revealed nothing.

Grace Humiston, the real-life Mrs. Sherlock Holmes?

Ruth’s disappearance quickly became national news. At the time, many people lived in fear of “white slavery,” or the forced prostitution of respectable white girls. The NYPD poured fuel on this fire by claiming that Ruth wanted “to be lost” in order to pursue a career as a prostitute. Understandably irked, Henry Cruger hired a lawyer named Grace Humiston to solve the case. Grace had founded the People’s Law Firm, which specialized in serving low-income individuals. She was known for battling the notorious turpentine slave labor camps as well as securing the acquittal for a wrongfully-convicted man on death row.

“Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” worked pro bono on the case, putting in 15-hour days interviewing Harlem residents. After gathering eyewitness testimony of suspicious activity, she attempted to enter Cocchi’s motorcycle shop. Although Cocchi had fled to Italy, his wife prevented the intrusion, threatening Grace in the process.

Undeterred, Grace used the threat to secure a search permit from Police Commissioner Arthur Woods. On June 16, she and Patrick Solam searched the shop’s cellar. After some digging, they found Ruth’s bloodied body. Her skull had been crushed. Then, while still alive, her abdomen had been ripped open with her own skate.

Although Italy refused to extradite Cocchi, they convicted him of the murder all the same. He was given 27 years in prison. His creepy confession is below.

“I had never seen Ruth Cruger before she came to my shop to have her skates sharpened. From the very beginning Ruth did all in her power to attract my attention. I felt something strange when her dark, penetrating eyes fixed on mine. I was still more disconcerted when she came again to get her skates. An overpowering attraction for the young woman seized me. What happened afterward seems like a dream.” ~ Alfredo Cocchi

“Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” Grace Humiston became a national celebrity and even found herself compared to Sherlock Holmes. It was a comparison that she didn’t exactly appreciate.

“No, I never read Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I am not a believer in deduction. Common sense and persistence will always solve a mystery. You never need theatricals nor Dr. Watsons if you stick to a case.” ~ Grace Humiston

The Downfall of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes?

So, if Grace Humiston was so famous, why has she been largely forgotten today? One reason may be the Camp Upton incident. Despite Cocchi’s confession, she was convinced that his true intention was to force Ruth into prostitution. She subsequently formed the Morality League of America to rescue missing girls from “white slavery.” A few months later, in November 1917, she accused the U.S. Army of hiding 600 pregnant white slaves at Camp Upton. Unable to back up her claim, she subsequently lost her police powers.

A more compelling reason is that she leveled accusations at the NYPD in the aftermath of the case. A subsequent investigation revealed that the police had a motive for not investigating Cocchi…some of its officers had a profitable kickback relationship with him. After arresting someone, these officers would tell the person to visit Cocchi. Cocchi would “settle” the case for a fee, part of which he would kick back to the officers.

Two years after solving the murder, she was arrested by Patrick Gargan for operating a dance hall without a license. Gargan had served as Captain of the precinct where the Cocchi investigation took place. Since evidence to back up the charge was nonexistent, the arrest appeared to be motivated by revenge. The case was thrown out of court.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Although she escaped imprisonment, Gargan achieved a more important victory. Within a few short decades, Grace Humiston had been almost completely whitewashed from history. Even her name and gender were removed from stories written about the Ruth Cruger case. It’s time to correct that wrong. Grace was a remarkable lawyer and private-eye who risked much of herself to see justice done. She was truly, for lack of a better moniker, “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.”

The Cryonics Man?

On January 12, 1967, Dr. James Bedford passed away. A few hours later, he became the first person in history to have his body frozen with intent of future resuscitation. So, where is the Cryonics Man today?

The Strange Science of Cryonics?

Cryonics is the science of freezing a deceased subject in the hopes of reviving that same subject in the future. The idea is to keep the subject in a state of preservation until technology advancements allow for resuscitation as well as a cure for whatever killed the subject in the first place. While cryonics procedures currently take place after death, suspended animation, similar to the phenomenon of human hibernation, may someday be possible. Regardless, cryonics supporters believe that they can ultimately cheat death.

Cryonics is a very new and somewhat controversial science. Most historians trace it to Robert Ettinger’s 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality. While Ettinger was probably more influential, Evan Cooper deserves much credit for his work, Immortality: Physically, Scientifically, Now, as well as for his founding of the Life Extension Society.

The First Cryonics Patient?

In June 1965, the Life Extension Society announced a strange promotion that took the world by storm. It offered to cryopreserve a single subject, free of charge. At the time, Dr. James Bedford was a psychology professor at the University of California. He suffered from a terminal case of kidney cancer. He submitted an application and was subsequently selected as the promotion winner. Eighteen months later, on January 12, 1967, Dr. Bedford died. A few hours later, his body was frozen by Robert Prehoda, Dr. Dante Brunol, and Robert Nelson. That day, Dr. Bedford became the first cryonics patient in history.

The Cryonics Man created much excitement and Robert Nelson’s organization, the Cryonics Society of California (CSC), began taking on additional patients. This lasted until 1979. In what would become known as the Chatsworth Disaster, nine cryonics patients maintained by the CSC were discovered to have thawed due to a lack of funds. Understandably, the growth of the cryonics industry slowed in the aftermath. But what happened to Robert Nelson’s first patient, Dr. James Bedford? Was he thawed at Chatsworth?

Where is the Cryonics Man today?

Fortunately, Dr. Bedford had been transferred to a separate facility just six days after being frozen. Thus, his body escaped the Chatsworth Disaster. Since his death, he has been on quite the journey. He spent two years at the Cryo-Care facility in Arizona, four years at the Galiso facility in California, four years at Trans Time, and five years being kept privately by his son. In 1982, he was moved to his current residence at Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Dr. Bedford remains the only person frozen prior to 1973 that remains frozen today.

Cryonics is often viewed as a LIFO science. In other words, “Last In, First Out.” Preservation technologies should continue to improve, making future patients easier to revive. It will take additional scientific advancements to revive earlier subjects who were preserved with more primitive techniques. This is undoubtedly the case for Dr. Bedford. His brain was injected with DMSO rather than the anti-freeze products used today. Thus, it probably wasn’t well-protected from ice formation. Still, a 1991 report prepared by Alcor states that “it seems likely that his external temperature has remained at relatively low subzero temperatures throughout the storage interval.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Despite the promise of cryonics, it is not widely used today, thanks to the large expense required to maintain care. In order to avoid another Chatsworth, cryonics companies require full payment for all future storage costs, which could range for decades or even centuries. Alcor charges as much as $200,000 for whole body cryopreservation. Head and brain preservation only is still pretty steep at $80,000. It should be noted that life insurance is an option to spread out the cost over time.

Due in part to the steep cost, there are only some 200 human cryonic subjects today, with 106 and 103 maintained by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute, respectively. KrioRus, located in Russia, maintains 17 human subjects while Trans Time hosts 3 subjects. However, I expect these numbers to rise dramatically in the future as more and more people seek out extended lifespans. Centuries from now, those who seek out cryonics treatment may someday reawaken, a second chance of life at their fingertips. And when they do, they’ll have one man to thank for leading the way…the Cryonics Man, Dr. James Bedford.

Who was the Greatest President?

While conservatives and liberals disagree on many issues, they tend to share some common ground when it comes to ranking U.S. presidents. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt receive the top honor in most polls. However, a recent book argues that none of these Presidents deserves to be ranked #1. Its choice is…John Tyler?

Who was John Tyler?

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

Reevaluating the Presidency of John Tyler?

In his book, Recarving Rushmore, Ivan Eland argues that the reason most historians overlook John Tyler is because of flawed ranking systems. He points out four particular biases exhibited by historians:

  1. Effectiveness: Scholars tend to focus on a president’s ability to enact an agenda without considering the positive or negative results from that agenda.
  2. Charisma: Historians place undue emphasis on exciting personalities at the expense of dull ones.
  3. Service during a Crisis: Many historians will only rank a president highly if he served during a great war or financial crisis, giving little credit to those who avoided war or kept crises from happening in the first place.
  4. Activism: Presidents who did a lot are ranked higher than those who preferred minimal government.

Eland takes a unique approach to evaluating presidents. Instead of ranking them on the usual stuff, he ranks them on how well they achieved peace, prosperity, and liberty. Presidents earn points for avoiding “wars of choice,” pursuing economic freedom, and respecting individual freedoms as well as limits on presidential powers.

His analysis leads to some interesting conclusions that differ wildly from most polls. George Washington is still fairly high at #7. But he ranks Abraham Lincoln (#29) and FDR (#31) far lower than any historian I’ve ever read. His top five are John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. These presidents are barely remembered by most Americans today which, in a way, is the point. Their terms were boring, thanks to their decisions to avoid wars and pursue policies that led to economic success as well as personal freedom.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So what about John Tyler? Well, he ended the Second Seminole War and exhibited restrained responses to an internal rebellion and a border dispute with Canada. He also vetoed his own party’s wishes to enact high tariffs and create a national bank, which ultimately cost him a second term. His record on preserving individual liberty is considered “very good.”

Eland’s book is a decidedly libertarian look at American presidents. Conservatives and liberals alike will find much to debate within its pages. However, while some may disagree with his criteria or his rankings, his study is an important one. It forces us to take a whole new look at how we judge presidents and whether the ones we choose to remember are really deserving of that honor.