The Presidential Death Curse?

In 1811, General William Henry Harrison fought Tecumseh’s Confederacy to a draw at the Battle of Tippecanoe, thus putting an end to the Native American military movement. According to legend, Tecumseh responded by setting a curse upon Harrison and the office of the President of the United States. What was this mysterious Curse of Tecumseh?

The Curse of Tecumseh (aka The Curse of Tippecanoe or the Presidential Death Curse)?

The Curse of Tecumseh (also known as the Curse of Tippecanoe) is shrouded in mystery, its exact origin having been lost to time. Perhaps the most popular version of the story is that Tecumseh sent an oral message to General Harrison via released prisoners, stating that, “Harrison will not win this year to be the great chief. But he may win next year. If he does … he will not finish his term. He will die in office.” When informed that no President had ever died in office (the United States was only on its fourth President at the time), Tecumseh supposedly said:

“Harrison will die, I tell you. And when he dies you will remember the deaths of my people. You think that I have lost my powers: I who caused the sun to darken and red men to give up firewater. But I tell you Harrison will die. And after him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.” ~ Tecumseh, 1811

Another version of the legend is that the Curse of Tecumseh was actually uttered by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa. Tenskwatawa was known as the Shawnee Prophet, in part for correctly predicting a solar eclipse in 1806. That prophecy humiliated General Harrison, who’d staked his reputation with other Native American leaders on Tenskwatawa being a fraud. Supposedly, Tenskwatawa uttered the Curse of Tecumseh in 1836, just months before his passing.

There is also a third version of the story. In this telling, Tecumseh realized that he would die at the 1813 Battle of Thames. Before he left to meet his fate, he gave away his things and stated one final prophecy to his brother:

“Brother, be of good cheer. Before one winter shall pass, the chance will yet come to build our nation and drive the Americans from our land. If this should fail, then a curse shall be upon the great chief of the Americans, if they shall ever pick Harrison to lead them.

His days in power shall be cut short. And for every twenty winters following, the days in power of the great chief which they shall select shall be cut short. Our people shall not be the instrument to shorten their time. Either the Great Spirit shall shorten their days or their own people shall shoot them.

This is not all. Each contest to select their great chief shall be marked by sharp divisions within their nation. Within seven winters of each contest, there shall be a war among their people, either within their nation or with other nations, I know not which. Our people shall prosper only if they can avoid these wars.” ~ Tecumseh, 1813

The Curse of Tecumseh…120 Years Later

Three decades later, William Henry Harrison won the 1840 U.S. Presidential election. One month later, he was dead, a victim of pneumonia. The Curse of Tecumseh had begun. And for the next 120 years, every U.S. President elected at the end of a 20-year cycle (and during a year ending in “0”) died tragically while still in office.

  • 1840: William Henry Harrison, Pneumonia (1841)
  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln, Assassination (1865)
  • 1880: James Garfield, Assassination (1881)
  • 1900: William McKinley, Assassination (1901)
  • 1920: Warren Harding, Heart Attack, Stroke, Possible Assassination (1923)
  • 1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cerebral Hemorrhage (1945)
  • 1960: John F. Kennedy, Assassination (1963)

In the 1980 U.S. Presidential election, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. 69 days later, on March 31, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. shot and wounded him, puncturing his lung. But unlike his predecessors, Reagan survived the attempt and lived out two full terms in office. Twenty years later, George Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. In 2005, he survived an assassination attempt of his own when Vladimir Arutyunian’s hand grenades failed to detonate.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Curse of Tecumseh is a modern-day example of dating mining and numerology. For centuries, people have attempted to create models linking up number sequences with real world events. But while such models look promising when backtesting old data, they tend to fall apart when subjected to new information.

In 1980, the Library of Congress supposedly researched the Curse of Tecumseh story and concluded that “although the story has been well-known for years, there are no documented sources and no published mentions of it.” (On a side note, I was unable to find any confirmation of this study so take it with a grain of salt).

In the unlikely event that the Curse of Tecumseh was something tangible, it appears that it was lifted with President Reagan’s term of office. But some observers believe differently. They claim that the Curse of Tecumseh encompasses both death as well as mere assassination attempts. Thus, they think that future presidents could very well suffer from the curse, either with deaths or near-death experiences.

So, has the Curse of Tecumseh been extinguished? Or will more lives feel its wrath?

Only time will tell.

The Great Moon Hoax…of 1835?

On August 25, 1835, a strange article appeared in the New York Sun. The piece, attributed to famed astronomer Sir John Herschel, announced a startling discovery…the moon was inhabited by intelligent creatures. The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically and within a couple of days, was the most popular newspaper on the planet. What was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835?

What was the Great Moon Hoax?

In 1835, the moon was a source of great mystery. So, when the New York Sun’s headline blared, “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c. At the Cape of Good Hope,” citizens turned their heads.

In total, six articles were published by the Sun, claiming to be supplements to the (non-existent) Edinburgh Journal of Science. Supposedly written by Herschel’s assistant, (the fictitious) Dr. Andrew Grant, the pieces described how Herschel had created a new telescope at his Cape of Good Hope observatory. This miracle of science was capable of 42,000x magnification, more than enough to see small objects in space. The resulting images were then reflected onto the observatory’s walls where they were sketched and described.

The Great Moon Hoax…Life on the Moon?

The articles insisted that Herschel had “discovered planets in other solar systems…firmly established a new theory of cometary phenomena…and…solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” Despite this impressive list of accomplishments, all of it paled in comparison to the shocking news that Herschel had spotted life on the moon.

After viewing rock, a poppy field, vast forests of yew trees, inland seas, and beaches, Herschel turned his attention to an oval-shaped lunar valley. He reported seeing bison herds and blue unicorns. But the most amazing animals were yet to come. On August 27, readers learned that Herschel had observed signs of intelligent life on the moon. More specifically, he saw a primitive tribe of biped beavers who lived in huts, used fires, and carried their young in their arms. The next day, he reported something even more spectacular…a population of winged humanoids who appeared to live near a golden temple. Herschel and Grant labeled these humanoids “Vespertilio-Homo,” or man-bat.

The man-bats appeared to be engaged in conversations, complete with gestures. While the initial creatures were somewhat primitive, more elaborate man-bats would soon make an appearance. Herschel would later report the existence of a beautiful race of angel-like creatures and a mostly human population of middle class citizens.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The story is now known, of course, as the Great Moon Hoax. Not only had Herschel failed to see any of the sights claimed by the article, he wasn’t even aware of the articles until well after they were published. From all accounts, he was initially amused by the incident but soon grew weary fielding questions about it.

The New York Sun reaped strong benefits from the Great Moon Hoax. Its circulation quickly rose from 15,000 before the series to 19,360 after its conclusion, making the Sun the most popular newspaper in the world at the time. Other newspapers followed suit and soon, the Great Moon Hoax was worldwide.

To this day, it remains unclear whether average citizens were aware of the Great Moon Hoax. At that time, newspapers were known for making up outrageous stories in order to drive sales. Also, it’s important to note that subscribers didn’t cancel their subscriptions once the truth began to emerge. Indeed, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 became somewhat of a cultural icon for the time, leading to a play at the Bowery Theater among other things. Still, eyewitness accounts from the time make it clear that large numbers of people were fooled by the Great Moon Hoax. For example…

“Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel’s wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story.” ~ Yale Reporter, 1853

So, that leads us to our final question: who was behind the Great Moon Hoax? A reporter named Richard Adams Locke is usually given credit for the articles. However, Locke never admitted his involvement in the Great Moon Hoax and some researchers believe that the French astronomer Jean-Nicolas Nicollet, or Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine, may have perpetrated it. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for certain. And unless new evidence comes to light, we may never know the hoaxer’s true identity.

The Rumble in the Jungle?

On October 30, 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Champion George Foreman faced off against challenger Muhammad Ali. The undefeated Foreman was heavily favored. Yet, eight rounds later Ali raised his gloves in victory. How did Ali win “The Rumble in the Jungle?”

What was the Rumble in the Jungle?

By 1974, Muhammad Ali seemed by many to be past his prime. He barely beat Ken Norton in a split-decision in 1973. And although he defeated Frazier in early 1974, it took him twelve rounds to get the decision. By contrast, the devastating George Foreman took just two rounds apiece to knock out Norton and Frazier.

On October 30, Ali and Foreman met in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for the Rumble in the Jungle. The mental games had started weeks earlier. While Foreman kept to himself, Ali toured the country, ginning up support.

The Rumble in the Jungle: Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman

Prior to the Rumble in the Jungle, Muhammad Ali spent a considerable amount of time bragging about how he was too fast for Frazier. Still, it came as a bit of a surprise when Ali roared out of the gate, sending a flurry of right-hand leads in Foreman’s direction. Although caught off guard, Foreman adjusted and began to fire back a few shots of his own.

Foreman probably expected Ali to continue a speed-based strategy. But everything changed during the second round. Halfway through Round 2 of the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali began covering up his face and leaning back against the ropes. His reasons were simple: he’d been slowed by the soft ring surface and Foreman was doing a good job cutting off the ring. There was a third reason as well…strategy.

Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy forced Foreman to focus on Ali’s midsection. However, loose ropes (some say they were loosened by Ali’s trainers) allowed Ali to better absorb the punches. Although Ali threw fewer punches, he timed them well and managed to land a few fast shots to George Foreman’s face. And while all this was going on, Muhammad Ali kept a non-stop verbal attack, “telling Foreman to throw more and harder punches.”

By Round 7 of the Rumble in the Jungle, Foreman had punched himself out. He was still throwing shots, but they were fewer in number and lacked strength. Toward the end of Round 8, Ali unleashed a quick barrage, catching a visibly-exhausted Foreman off guard. Foreman fell to the mat. He managed to regain his footing but it was too late.

The fight was over.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Muhammad Ali liked to call himself “The Greatest” and after the Rumble in the Jungle, it was hard to argue with him. So, how did he win?

George Foreman was considered too powerful to “out-box.” And this was probably the case. But Ali didn’t box him.

“Ali didn’t beat Foreman because he was a great boxer and had more speed of hand and foot. The biggest myth in boxing is the one where it’s believed Foreman was unable to beat a good boxer, and that’s why he lost his title to Muhammad Ali.” ~ Frank Lotierzo

Instead, Ali won through strategy, toughness, and durability. He literally let the ferocious Foreman attack him for seven full rounds. He took the best Foreman had to offer. And then he sent Foreman to the mat.

Ali went on to hold the World Heavyweight Championship for four more years. He lost the title to Leon Spinks in 1978, regained it later that year, and then retired. He later made an ill-advised comeback and accumulated two more losses before retiring with a 56-5 record. Foreman, on the other hand, was devastated by the loss. He retired in 1977 before making an incredible comeback. In 1994, he knocked out Michael Moorer and at forty-five years of age, became the oldest Heavyweight Champion in boxing history. It took twenty long years after the Rumble in the Jungle but at last, Foreman had regained his title.

The U.S. Postal War?

In 1844, Lysander Spooner launched the American Letter Mail Company, a private alternative to the government-owned U.S. Postal Service. His young firm took the country by storm, leading to dramatic improvements in delivery time and vast decreases in postage costs. But the U.S. Postal Service didn’t appreciate the competition and fought to regain its monopoly. What was the U.S. Postal War?

The U.S. Post Office Monopoly?

Until 1844, the U.S. Post Office held a monopoly on mail delivery. Service was slow and rates were high.

“It cost 18 3/4 cents to send a letter from Boston to New York and 25 cents to send one all the way to Washington DC. A letter sent from Boston to Albany, NY written on a 1/4-ounce sheet of paper and carried by the Western Railroad, cost 2/3 as much as the freight charge for carrying a barrel of flour the same distance.” ~ Lucille J. Goodyear, Spooner vs. U.S. Postal System

Lysander Spooner Launches the U.S. Postal War

Lysander Spooner knew an opportunity when he saw one. Spooner was an individualist anarchist hailing from Massachusetts. Although partly motivated by profit, his true purpose was to “challenge the constitutionality of the postal monopoly.”

While the Articles of Confederation had empowered Congress with “the sole and exclusive right and power” of “establishing or regulating post offices,” the Constitution was far more vague on the matter. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution empowered Congress “To establish Post Offices and postal roads.” But the document was silent on the matter of private competition. With this loophole in mind, Spooner organized his own company, which he called The American Letter Mail Company. And he wasted no time in advertising his new venture, which attacked the idea of a governmental postal monopoly head-on. In effect, he launched the U.S. Postal War.

“The American Letter Mail Company has established post offices in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston, and will deliver letter daily from each city to the others – twice a day between New York and Philadelphia. Postage 6 1/4 cents per each half-ounce, payable in advance always. Stamps 20 for a dollar. Their purpose is to carry letters by the most rapid conveyances, and at the cheapest rates and to extend their operations (as fast as patronage will justify) over the principal routes of the country, so as to give the public the most extensive facilities for correspondence that can be afforded at a uniform rate.

The Company design also (if sustained by the public) is to thoroughly agitate the questions, and test the Constitutional right of the competition in the business of carrying letters – the ground on which they assert this right are published and for sale at the post offices in pamphlet form.” ~ New York Daily Tribune Advertisement

Spooner’s company and the U.S. Postal War caused considerable angst among politicians. The U.S. Post Office earned gigantic profits, but often reported losses. That was because the profits were distributed by politicians via patronage to politically connected groups, namely: “(1) coach contractors, (2) rail and steamboat companies, (3) postmasters, (4) publishers of printed matter, (5) officials with the franking privilege, and (6) rural voters.

The U.S. government fought back in the U.S. Postal War, initiating lawsuits against Spooner. They threatened to jail him and pressured railroad operators to stop delivering his mail. But this proved unsuccessful and by 1845, the Post Office found itself rapidly losing business. The Postmaster General appealed to Congress and received permission to lower postage rates. Undeterred, Spooner lowered his own rates even further, causing even greater distress for politicians.

Alas, Spooner’s efforts and those of others like him (most notably James W. Hale), were in vain. In 1851, Congress lowered the postal rate to three cents per half-ounce letter and enacted laws giving the U.S. Post Office an effective monopoly over mail distribution. The U.S. Postal War was over. Spooner’s company was forced out of business and by 1860, private mail delivery was virtually eliminated in the United States.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

On December 5, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service announced “major budget and service cuts.” First-Class mail will take a day or two longer to deliver and stamps will rise one cent to $0.45. Despite those changes, the U.S. Post Office is expected to rack up a loss of $14.1 billion next year.

While the rise of email is certainly a factor here, a bigger problem is the postal monopoly itself. Government-enforced monopolies have little reason to cut costs, lower prices, or improve service. Perhaps it’s time we take a page from history and allow true private competition in the mail industry. Between 1845 and 1851, the U.S. Postal War launched by fromSpooner, Hale, and others forced the U.S. Postal Service to cut postage rates by 79%. At the same time, the U.S. Postal War led to service innovations, such as stamp prepayment and small-town intracity delivery. Is there another Lysander Spooner out there, waiting to reignite the U.S. Postal War? We can only hope.

The Pearl Harbor Code?

Seventy years ago, the Japanese Navy launched an attack on Pearl Harbor. The vicious assault killed over 2,000 people, damaged some 300 planes, and crippled 18 vessels. In the aftermath, FBI Agents conducted a secret raid on the New Yorker magazine’s offices. They were searching for clues related to a code…a code which may have been used to alert Japanese spies to the attack. What was the Pearl Harbor Code?

The Deadly Double & Pearl Harbor?

Sixteen days before the Pearl Harbor attack, a “teaser advertisement” appeared in the New Yorker. The text read “Achtung! Warning! Alerte!” Underneath, readers were encouraged to “See Advertisement Page 86.” The ad also contained two dice and was apparently placed by a company named Monarch Publishing Co. A second advertisement ran on page 86. It contained a strange picture of people playing dice in an air-raid shelter, repeated the “Achtung! Warning! Alerte!” text, and referred to a game called “The Deadly Double.”

After Pearl Harbor, American civilians became extra-vigilant about foreign spies and saboteurs. Thousands of rumors and tips flooded into FBI Headquarters. One of the most prominent tips was in regard to “The Deadly Double” advertisement. Hundreds of readers suspected it was a coded message, designed to alert Japanese and Nazi spies about the upcoming attack.

Was the Deadly Double a Coded Message about the Pearl Harbor Attack?

According to John Costello’s The Pacific War: 1941-1945, the numbers on the dice might have meant “0” hour for a “double cross” on “12”/”7″ at “5” out of “24” hours. Another interpretation comes from the 1982 Reader’s Digest book, Mysteries of the Unexplained. That work concluded that the numbers 12 and 7 refer to December 7. 5 and 0 were suspected to be the planned time of the attack. XX, or 20 in Roman Numerals, was the approximate latitude for Pearl Harbor. The purpose of the number 24 was unknown (although possibly some sort of code designation).

On the Page 86 ad, the top part of the drawing was viewed as a depiction of three airplanes flying over Pearl Harbor, complete with searchlight beams, antiaircraft shells, and even an exploding bomb on the surface of the water. “The Deadly Double” was believed to stand for two of the Axis Powers, namely Germany and Japan. And finally, the double-headed eagle at the bottom of the ad appeared to be a combination of the two versions of the Nazi’s Iron Eagles.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, was the Pearl Harbor Code a real attempt to warn Japanese and Nazi spies about Pearl Harbor? Or was it just a coincidence? According to Reader’s Digest, the advertisement turned out to be legitimate. The ads were supposedly placed by a Mr. and Mrs. Roger Craig. The investigation of the Craig family was kept under wraps until 1967 when Ladislas Farago broke the story prior to the release of his book, The Broken Seal. At the time, Craig’s widow was said to have stated that any connection between the ad and the attack was nothing more than a coincidence.

However, that’s just one side of the story. According to William F. Breuer’s book Unexplained Mysteries of World War II

“FBI agents discovered that the advertisement had been placed by the Monarch Trading Company (a dummy corporation). A white male, who had not given his name, had brought the plates for the ad to the New Yorker offices and had paid in cash. He had not given his address. Curiously, the man the FBI would identify as the suspect apparently met a sudden, violent death a few weeks later.”

Which story is correct? Did the FBI truly get to the bottom of the incident? If so, was the Code just a big coincidence? Or was it something more? Unfortunately, the available evidence is contradictory. So, until more information comes to light, the Pearl Harbor Code will remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of World War II.

Did Game Theory Save Mankind?

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union wielded enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons. Citizens of the world lived in fear that the conflict would someday heat up, resulting in a devastating nuclear war that would destroy the world. Into this confusion and terror stepped the RAND Corporation and a team of Game Theory experts. Did Game Theory stop Mutually Assured Destruction and save mankind?

Game Theory: The Prisoner’s Dilemma?

The chart above represents the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In this game, two men are arrested for various crimes. However, the police lack enough information to make the main crime stick. So, the police separate the men and offer them both the same deal. If one prisoner confesses while the other one doesn’t, the confessor will go free while the other prisoner will serve a full 20 year sentence. If both prisoners confess, they will each receive a ten year term. However, if both prisoners keep quiet, they will each be charged with a lesser crime and receive a one year term. This is a one-time situation and the prisoners are not told of each other’s decision. What should they do?

Game Theory: Solving the Prisoner’s Dilemma?

If Prisoner B confesses, Prisoner A’s best strategy is to confess as well since 10 years is a shorter term than 20 years. If Prisoner B doesn’t confess, Prisoner A’s best strategy is still to confess since being free is better than a year in prison. Thus, Prisoner A’s best choice is to confess. Knowing this, Prisoner B will do the same thing and they will both go to jail for 10 years. What makes this game interesting is that the prisoners would be better off if they both kept quiet. And yet, logic dictates that they both confess instead.

Game Theory & Mutually Assured Destruction?

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were in a nuclear stand-off. So, the RAND Corporation hired some of the world’s top game theorists to study the situation. At the time, both nations had the same policy: “If one side launched a first strike, the other threatened to answer with a devastating counter-strike.”

This became known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD for short. And indeed, the idea of this happening was “mad” since it could’ve brought about a nuclear winter. However, game theorists were worried about Mutually Assured Destruction. They thought the two countries had boxed themselves into a prisoner’s dilemma that could threaten mankind’s very existence. Here’s how it worked:

“Suppose the USSR launches a first strike against the USA. At that point, the American President finds his country already destroyed. He doesn’t bring it back to life by now blowing up the world, so he has no incentive to carry out his original threat to retaliate, which has now manifestly failed to achieve its point. Since the Russians can anticipate this, they should ignore the threat to retaliate and strike first. Of course, the Americans are in an exactly symmetric position, so they too should strike first. Each power will recognize this incentive on the part of the other, and so will anticipate an attack if they don’t rush to preempt it. What we should therefore expect…is a race between the two powers to be the first to attack.” ~ Don Ross

Strategies to Deter Mutually Assured Destruction

This analysis led the RAND Corporation to recommend the United States taking actions designed to show their commitment to Mutually Assured Destruction. One strategy was to ensure that “second-strike capability” existed. A second strategy was to make leaders appear irrational. The CIA portrayed President Nixon as insane and/or a drunk. The KGB, which appears to have come to the same conclusion as RAND, responded by fabricating medical records to show that General Secretary Brezhnev was senile.

Another strategy was to introduce uncertainty at stopping Stop Mutually Assured Destruction. For example, by building more nuclear missiles and storing them in numerous locations, it was less likely that the President could stop all of them from being launched in the event of a Russian attack. A third strategy was to ensure Mutually Assured Destruction. Russia went so far as to create Perimeter, or Dead Head, which was the closest thing this world’s ever seen to a doomsday machine.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, did the game theorists save the world from Mutually Assured Destruction? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know for certain. But advancements in game theory have shown that the Cold War models weren’t really accurate. Nuclear war was usually modeled as a one-time game. But as long as one preserved second strike capabilities, the “game” would’ve been played over and over again with both sides exchanging repeated waves of missiles.

The outcome of nuclear war is the same whether one initiates an attack or responds to it. And since this outcome is worse than “no nuclear war,” the optimal move is to not launch missiles. Of course, this depends on a number of assumptions. Second-strike capabilities must be available and known to the other side. Both sides must have perfection detection equipment since a false positive like the one recognized by the heroic Stanislav Petrov could lead to nuclear war. Perfectly rational leaders must be in place. And finally, both sides must be unable to defend an incoming attack.

Still, one could argue that the game theorists were on the right track. By making it clear that retaliation was more likely than not, both nations managed to discourage each other from ever launching a single missile. Then again, it was never clear that the maximum payoff for either side was to destroy its enemy while avoiding its own destruction. Indeed, maybe the games being played weren’t just between nations but rather, within them as well.

“A wise cynic might suggest that the operations researchers on both sides were playing a cunning strategy in a game over funding, one that involved them cooperating with one another in order to convince their politicians to allocate more resources to weapons.” ~ Don Ross

The New York Gold Conspiracy?

On September 24, 1869, the price of gold on the New York Gold Exchange hit $162 an ounce. Shortly after, it plunged to $133 an ounce, ruining scores of investors in the process. What was the Black Friday New York Gold Conspiracy?

Jay Gould & James Fisk: The Plot to Corner the Gold Market?

During the Civil War, the U.S. government began issuing “greenbacks” in order to raise money. Greenbacks were a fiat currency (similar to that used today) and thus, were not backed by gold or anything else. After the war ended, the government began to withdraw the greenbacks from circulation. This was accomplished by buying greenbacks with gold. This allowed the price of gold, which had reached $300 an ounce, to return to a more normal level of $130 an ounce by early 1869.

Around that time, a group of investors, led by Jay Gould and James Fisk, saw an opportunity to generate enormous profits. They wanted to, in effect, “corner the gold market.” But they feared the U.S. government’s tendency to stabilize gold prices. They needed to find a way to temporarily take the government out of the game. And in order to do that, they needed to seize control of its monetary policy.

Gould and Fisk recruited Abel Corbin, President Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law, to their cause. Together, the three men badgered Grant to stop selling government gold, arguing that it would make farmers more competitive in overseas markets and thus, raise farm prices.

Black Friday!

By September 1869, Gould and Fisk were convinced that their plan had worked. They began buying large amounts of gold with very little money, thanks to small margin requirements. As they accumulated a large position, they were able to manipulate the market price higher and higher, making plans to unload it before the inevitable fall. Prices rose and stocks fell. President Grant immediately grew suspicious of his brother-in-law and told his wife to add a note in a letter written to her sister:

“Tell your husband that the President is very much distressed by your speculations, and you must close them as quick as you can.”

On September 23, gold reached $142 an ounce. Gould, who’d learned that Grant was on to the scheme, began secretly unloading his position. Fisk, completely unaware of what was about to happen, did not. The next day, Black Friday, the price of gold ran all the way up to $162 an ounce (the actual blackboard is shown above). Then word reached the New York Gold Exchange that the Treasury was selling $4 million of gold. Abruptly, prices collapsed, sending gold reeling back to the mid $130s.

Many investors, who’d bought gold on margin, were ruined. Gould “was rumored to have cleared $10 or $11 million” although this remains in question. Fisk is believed to have escaped harm by repudiating his trades.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Black Friday caused a brief financial panic. But for the most part, no one paid a price for the scandal. Gould and Fisk escaped punishment, thanks to sympathetic Tammany Hall judges. President Grant was accused of being involved in the Black Friday scheme. However, it didn’t stop him from being reelected in 1872.

Over the years, others have tried to corner various types of financial markets. But Gould’s and Fisk’s Black Friday attempt might just be the most audacious of them all. By enlisting the gigantic hand of government to aid their cause, they took corporatism to a whole new level. On a relative basis, one could make the claim that Gould and Fisk caused the biggest one-day crash of gold in U.S. history on Black Friday, maybe even of all time, and got away with it.

What is the Most Valuable Piece of Currency?

I’m willing to bet that many of you have held a $50 bill in your hands. Maybe even a $100 bill. But have you ever held a $500 bill? Or something even larger? What is the most valuable legal tender bill in existence today? And what about the fabled 100,000 dollar bill? Does it exist?

The Most Valuable Piece of Legal Tender = 10,000 Dollar Bill

According to Life’s Little Mysteries, the most valuable piece of legal tender in existence is the $10,000 bill. It was printed from 1928 to 1946 and featured Salmon Chase. Chase was chosen for creating the modern system of banknotes by introducing the greenback, which was the first U.S. federal currency. Interestingly enough, he later expressed regret for this after becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

After World War II, the Treasury stopped printing any bill with a denomination over $100. Thus, the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills were consigned to the dustbin of history. The Federal Reserve made the discontinuation official on July 14, 1969. While the Fed destroys these bills when they see them, “they remain legal tender while in circulation.”

Thus, you could technically waltz into your favorite store, fill up your cart, and whip out a $10,000 bill to pay for everything. But you’d be foolish to do so (and it’s doubtful that the store would take you seriously anyways). According to the most recent figures I could find, there were just 336 $10,000 bills known to exist as of May 30, 2009. There are 342 $5,000 bills, 165,372 $1,000 bills, and an unknown number of $500 bills. Due to their scarcity, these denominations command large prices among collectors. I found one site that’s asking $98,500 for a fine example of a $10,000 bill.

The Fabled 100,000 Dollar Bill?

However, there’s one bill that boasts a larger denomination than the Chase bill. That is the fabled 100,000 dollar bill (actually a gold certificate) featuring President Woodrow Wilson. For those of you who know about the Federal Reserve and Wilson’s role in creating that institution, this should come as no surprise.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Treasury printed 42,000 of these 100,000 dollar bills between December 18, 1934 and January 9, 1935. They were never released into general circulation and instead, were used by Federal Reserve Banks to facilitate transactions with each other. This form of business changed during the 1960s and most of the 100,000 dollar bills were destroyed. There are a few surviving copies, one of which currently resides at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

The Switch in Time that Saved Nine?

In 1937, President Roosevelt proposed his notorious “court-packing plan.” It altered the ideological composition of the Supreme Court and singlehandedly changed the course of a nation. What was “the switch in time that saved nine?”

The Four Horsemen vs. The Three Musketeers?

During the 1930s, the Supreme Court contained two voting blocs. The “Four Horsemen,” which consisted of Justices Pierce Butler, James McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter, believed in upholding the Constitution and personal freedom. They generally opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The Three Musketeers, Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, and Harlan Stone, supported the New Deal. Chief Justice Charles Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts acted as swing votes with Hughes often siding with the Musketeers and Roberts usually finding equal ground with the Four Horsemen.

From 1935-1937, the Four Horsemen and Justice Roberts struck down several parts of the highly unconstitutional New Deal. Roosevelt and his supporters despised the Horsemen. However, unless one of them retired, there was nothing he could do to stop them. That is, until he and his attorney general came up with the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937.

President Roosevelt’s Court Packing Plan?

This was the infamous “court packing plan.” President Roosevelt proposed that he be given the power to appoint a new justice for every sitting justice that continued to serve six months past his or her 70th birthday. The bill would’ve allowed him to add 44 federal judges as well as 6 Supreme Court justices. It encountered tremendous opposition even from Roosevelt’s supporters. The public lost faith in him and a previously supportive Congress began to question if the President was trying to create a dictatorship.

The Switch in Time that Saved Nine?

Less than two months after the Bill was announced, Justice Roberts joined the Three Musketeers and Chief Justice Hughes in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, which upheld minimum wage legislation. It was a strange vote considering the fact that Roberts had previously been on the other end of several decisions regarding the minimum wage. Since then, it has become known as “the switch in time that saved nine,” alluding to the theory that he switched sides in order to stop Roosevelt from usurping the Supreme Court’s independence.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Was the Switch in Time that Saved Nine deliberate? Did Justice Roberts abandon his ideology for political purposes? These questions remain a source of vigorous debate to this day. According to research conducted by Professor G. Edward White, the votes were cast a few days before the court-packing plan was announced. Others point out that Roberts wasn’t a consistent supporter of the Four Horsemen and suggest that his ideology, if indeed he had one to begin with, was actually closer to the Three Musketeers.

On the other hand, there’s some interesting circumstantial evidence to suggest that Chief Justice Hughes engineered the Switch in Time that Saved Nine. Knowing that Roosevelt planned to go after the Supreme Court, Hughes took Roberts under his wing and convinced him to abandon his principles. Also, according to Burt Solomon’s FDR v. The Constitution: The Court-Packing Fight and the Triumph of Democracy, even Roberts’ newly-found allies didn’t understand the Switch in Time that Saved Nine. Harlan Stone, one of the Three Musketeers, wrote a letter to Felix Frankfurter in which he called the Roberts’ vote, “a sad chapter in our judicial history” and referenced “explanations which do not explain.”

The Switch in Time that Saved Nine, as well as the subsequent retirement of Justice Devanter, ultimately led to the defeat of President Roosevelt’s court-packing bill. Still, it could be argued that Roosevelt won in the end as he held the office of President for another eight years, allowing him the opportunity to replace eight Justices and in essence, remake the Supreme Court in his image. But if Roosevelt won, then who lost? Some would say the American people themselves. As Judge Napolitano put it in his book The Constitution in Exile:

“Justice Owen Roberts switched ideological sides and brought a conclusive end to the Constitution as protector of natural rights, the free market, and federalism.” ~ Judge Andrew Napolitano

Man vs. Meteorite?

10,000 years ago, a giant meteorite plunged to the earth, smashing its way into Savissivik, Greenland. In 1895, famed Arctic explorer Robert Peary trekked across the icy expanse and laid eyes on the 31-metric ton slab of iron. The three year struggle that followed would go down as one of the greatest “man vs. nature” battles in all of history. Did Robert Peary get his meteor? Or did it send him to his grave?

A Mysterious Meteorite?

In 1818, Sir John Ross landed in northwestern Greenland while in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. He discovered an unknown Inuit tribe and was surprised to learn that they possessed items made from iron. The area contained no natural iron deposits and the Inuits lacked smelting technology. Although the natives refused to show Ross their source, they told him that it came from saviksoah, or “mountain of iron.” Subsequent tests of the iron-based items showed that they contained a high degree of nickel, which indicated that the “mountain of iron” was in fact, a giant meteorite.

From 1818 to 1883, five separate expeditions tried to locate the meteorite. All failed.

Robert Peary Explores the North Pole?

By the 1890s, the world was engaged in a race of exploration the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until the 1960s space race. The goal was to locate and map the North Pole, one of the last remaining unexplored places on earth. Lieutenant Robert E. Peary aimed to be the first one there.

At that time, a man named Morris Jesup was President of the American Museum of Natural History. According to Douglas Preston’s Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion Into the American Museum of Natural History, Jesup struck a deal with Peary. Jesup would “help finance the explorer’s work and pull strings to keep him on leave from the navy if Peary would make collections in the Arctic for the Museum.”

In 1894, Peary sailed to Greenland. While his main goal was to reach the North Pole, he also wanted to find things that could help fulfill his bargain with Jesup. The meteorite was one of those things. The natives liked Peary and one of them agreed to lead him to the iron mass on May 16, 1894.

Robert Peary Strikes…Iron?

After two days of traveling, a fierce blizzard caused the native guide to flee the expedition. Undaunted, Robert Peary and a man named Hugh Lee pushed on, found another village, and hired another guide named Tallakoteah. Tallakoteah told Peary that there were actually several iron slabs – the “Woman,” the “Dog,” the “Tent,” and the “Man.” After a brutal foray through ice, slush, and wind, Robert Peary finally found the two and a half ton “Woman” and the half ton “Dog” near Cape York. They were brown and covered with hammer marks, thanks to centuries of Inuit prospecting.

“The brown mass, rudely awakened from, its winter’s sleep, found for the first time in its cycles of existence the eyes of a white man gazing upon it.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Peary was told that the “Tent” was even larger and rested on an island about six miles away. Lacking the equipment for a proper retrieval, he marked the locations and headed home.

Robert Peary Excavates a Gigantic Meteorite

In 1895, Robert Peary returned to Cape York. As the curious Inuits watched, Peary wrestled the two meteorites aboard his steamer, the Kite. However, the “Tent” was another story.

“The party dug around the object but it was too large to be conveyed to the ship, which could not be brought near enough without extra means of lifting the interesting specimen.” ~ New York Times, April 22, 1896

It measured 11 by 7 by 5.5 feet and weighed about 31 metric tons, making it the largest known meteor on earth at that time. Peary returned to Cape York in August 1896 with a new ship named The Hope. His crew dug around the meteorite and placed hydraulic jacks underneath it.

“The first thing to be done was to tear the heavenly visitor from its frozen bed of centuries, and as it rose slowly inch by inch under the resistless lift of the hydraulic jacks, gradually displaying its ponderous sides, it grew upon us as Niagara grows upon the observer, and there was not one of us unimpressed by the enormousness of this lump of metal.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Next, Peary attempted to use the jacks to roll the meteorite down a steep hill. But the jacks were wearing out and ice threatened to trap The Hope. Ultimately, Peary was forced to abandon the giant iron beast near the shore line.

In the summer of 1897, Robert Peary returned once again to Cape York. Risking everything, Peary brought his ship right up to the bluff where the “Tent” lay waiting. Steel rails were placed between the deck and the bluff. Then the giant meteorite was slid over the rails and onto the ship. The compass needles went crazy, locking onto the great iron mass. But it was of little concern. Peary had won.

“Never have I had the terrific majesty of the force of gravity and the meaning of the terms ‘momentum’ and ‘inertia’ so powerfully brought home to me, as in handling this mountain of iron.” ~ Robert Peary, Northward over the Great Ice

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

On September 30, 1897, Robert Peary arrived at Brooklyn Naval Yard with the meteor in tow. While Mrs. Peary, acting on behalf of her husband, haggled over the price, the American Museum of Natural History took possession of the meteorite. In 1904, Mrs. Peary officially sold the meteorite to the Museum for $40,000.

The “Tent” has since given way to other names. It’s now commonly referred to as Ahnighito, in reference to syllables uttered by Peary’s four year old daughter when she first saw the iron mass. Experts prefer to call it the Cape York meteorite.

Today it sits in Arthur Ross Hall. It remains the largest meteorite ever moved by man. However, it is no longer the single largest intact meteorite known to man (that honor belong to the 60 ton Hoba meteorite).

Although Peary’s expedition is over, his story may not be finished. Five additional pieces of the same meteorite have been found over the ensuring decades, including the 20 ton Agpalilik, which is widely believed to be the lost “Man.” For the intrepid polar explorer, there may be other pieces still out there, waiting to be discovered.