When It All Began

This Is the Earliest Shooter Incident That I Can Remember

August 1, 1966 came during a strange period in my life. Within six weeks, I would be in a coma at Fairview General Hospital in Cleveland while a team of doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. My family physician, Michael J. Eymontt did not have access to CAT Scans or MRI, but he was an endocrinologist and figured that something might be going on with my pituitary gland.

He was right. I read about the Austin, Texas shooting incident in the Cleveland Press and Plain Dealer. Never before had I or my family seen such a gratuitous act of violence toward the innocent. Charles Whitman first killed his mother and his wife, and then took guns to the tower on the University of Texas campus and opened fire at random people who were just going about their business. In an hour and a half, he killed thirteen people and wounded thirty-one. Too bad he didn’t have access to the hi-tech military weaponry that was used in the Las Vegas mélée by Stephen Paddock.

When I was recovering from surgery in the hospital, the news came out that Charles Whitman had had a brain tumor. Okay, so did I, but I didn’t kill anybody. That’s a pretty lame excuse.

The Tower at the University of Texas from Which Charles Whitman Fired His Shots

So now we’ve come full circle with another Texas shooting—one in which half the victims were children, at a church no less!  Between the two incidents, I would have trouble counting how many mentally twisted gun collectors decided to take it out on innocent people. It’s becoming a very popular way for gun freaks to commit murder and suicide at the same time. Thanks to the NRA, there is no danger that Hell will ever be underpopulated with American sickos.

Two Disasters

Close-Up of Beer

This is a tale of two disasters, separated from each other by a little more than a century, and oddly representative of the countries in which they took place. After the horrendous hurricanes that destroyed so much of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean—and the earthquakes that devastated parts of Mexico—I began to think of some of the strangers disasters that have befallen man. My source for both is FutilityCloset.Com, one of my favorite sources for odd facts.

The first disaster occurred on October 17, 1814, in London during the Napoleonic Wars. That’s when a giant vat bull of beer at the St. Giles brewery ruptured with such force that it ruptured many of the adjoining vats. Within minutes, some 323,000 gallons of the stuff that makes Englishmen happy flowed into the West End. That day, it turns out there was little happiness: Eight people were killed “by drowning, injury, poisoning by porter fumes, or drunkenness.” Basements were flooded, and several tenements collapsed from the onslaught of the brew.

What Can One Say?

It is a hundred five years later across the ocean in Boston, Massachusetts. The date is Wednesday, January 15, 1919. As Wikipedia describes the event:

“A muffled roar burst suddenly upon the air,” wrote the Boston Herald. “Mingled with the roar was the clangor of steel against steel and the clash of rending wood.”

The tank collapsed, sending a giant wave of molasses sweeping through the North End. Even in the January cold, the wave would have been 8 to 15 feet high and traveled at 35 mph. It broke the girders of the elevated railway, lifted a train off its tracks, and tore a firehouse from its foundation. Twenty-one people stickily drowned, and 150 were injured. Cleanup took six months; one victim wasn’t found for 11 days.

The 2.3 million gallons of molasses that caused the flood was being used to convert it to grain alcohol. Maybe so, but it kind of stands to reason that the American disaster involved a whole lot of sticky, sweet stuff.

Two Presidents Reconsidered

Entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

I have come to enjoy visiting Presidential Libraries. The two in Southern California—those of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon—have been visited by me several times. When Presidents Nixon and Reagan occupied the White House, I was dead set against them. I voted for neither of them and, in fact, threatened to leave the country if Reagan were elected.

Today, Martine and I spent a few hours at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the Simi Valley. It’s funny how time tends to remove sharp edges. Now I look back and see a gifted speaker who sincerely believed in what he was saying and who was able to convince listeners of his sincerity. Even though his presidency fell apart somewhat toward the end with the whole Iran-Contra negotiation; even though the whole Savings & Loan fiasco was the result of a horrible miscalculation; even though his mind couldn’t wrap itself around that truck bomb in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. military; even though he trusted that sanctimonious snake-in-the-grass Colonel Oliver North—he did not turn out to be an irredeemably awful president like the Current Occupant.

Probably what I liked most about Reagan were the sentiments expressed in his epitaph: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” I could forgive a man who believed that, and I do not think that Ronald Wilson Reagan was given to lying.

Earlier this year, Martine and I paid another visit to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. As President, Nixon may well have been paranoid, but he was also brilliant. The videos of his speeches were articulate and, overall, impressive. Granted that he was not at his best after the Watergate break-in forced him to go into defensive mode, he succeeded in ending the Viet Nam War and opening Communist China. Both were considerable accomplishments, and could not be altogether diminished by the whole Watergate fiasco.

Also, there was a real humility about the man. His presidential library also includes the house in which he was born which was built by his father from a kit. It was as humble a house as any log cabin. And directly outside it is where Richard and Pat Nixon are buried.

 

Serendipity: The Flip Side of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp (Center) in Nome

I’ve been reading a fair number of books about Alaska lately and surprised to come across the following about famed lawman Wyatt Earp’s time in Nome. My assumption was that Wyatt Earp was a pretty straight arrow. After all, hadn’t Henry Fonda played him in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946), and didn’t his pallbearers include William S. Hart and Tom Mix? Then I read this passage in Brian Keenan’s Four Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey (New York: Broadway Books, 2004):

“That’s Wyatt Earp’s old home,” Mike informed us. I knew from some background reading that the famous frontier marshal had amassed a fortune in Nome [worth $3 million in 2017 dollars] and had headed back to the States. I was surprised the cottage was in such a state and wondered why. “Image isn’t everything,” Mike replied, “and a lot of folk up here don’t look too kindly on Mr. Earp. The truth is, he arrived here in 1898, a bald, bespectacled, paunchy man in his fifties. Well past his prime. He was mean, tightfisted and malicious, and his wife was as ugly in looks as he was in personality. [Not so: See pictures below.]  He built the Dextor [actually, Dexter] Saloon in town and he sucked the life’s blood out of the 20,000 miners and their families who shivered and died in tents trying to scrape a few ounces of gold off the beach. He bailed out after two years with an absolute fortune. If Nome was ever a seedy, ruthless and ugly place to be in, it was because of professional con men like Wyatt Earp and many like him.”

Josephine Marcus, Mrs. Wyatt Earp

Below is a picture of Dexter’s Saloon, which Earp ran in partnership with C. E. Hoxsie:

The Dexter Saloon Owned and Operated by Earp and Hoxsie

There is an interesting article about Earp in Nome entitled “Wyatt Earp’s Alaskan Adventure” that appeared in True West Magazine in 2014. You can find it by clicking here. Apparently, Earp also ran a brothel on the premises. Below is another picture of Josephine Earp, which leds me to suspect that her services could have been used in this other venture as well”

Josephine Earp—At Wyatt’s Brothel?

Elagabalus

Elagabalus (AD 203-222)

It is generally accepted that the worst of the Roman emperors was Elagabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222, when he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard at the tender age of eighteen. My thoughts tend to turn in his direction when I consider the current occupant of the White House and various other Trumpf properties. Read what Edward Gibbon has to say about him in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

A rational voluptuary adheres with invariable respect to the temperate dictates of nature, and improves the gratifications of sense by social intercourse, endearing connections, and the soft coloring of taste and the imagination. But Elagabalus, (I speak of the emperor of that name,) corrupted by his youth, his country, and his fortune, abandoned himself to the grossest pleasures with ungoverned fury [Italics mine], and soon found disgust and satiety in the midst of his enjoyments. The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the studied variety of attitude and sauces, served to revive his languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences, the only ones cultivated and patronized by the monarch, signalized his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. A capricious prodigality supplied the want of taste and elegance; and whilst Elagabalus lavished away the treasures of his people in the wildest extravagance, his own voice and that of his flatterers applauded a spirit of magnificence unknown to the tameness of his predecessors. To confound the order of seasons and climates, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements. A long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives, among whom was a vestal virgin, ravished by force from her sacred asylum, were insufficient to satisfy the impotence of his passions. The master of the Roman world affected to copy the dress and manners of the female sex, preferred the distaff to the sceptre, and dishonored the principal dignities of the empire by distributing them among his numerous lovers; one of whom was publicly invested with the title and authority of the emperor’s, or, as he more properly styled himself, of the empress’s husband.

Perhaps what this country needs is a Praetorian Guard detachment.

 

So Much for Glory

Republican Prisoners of War

I have just finished reading Hugh Thomas’s monumental The Spanish Civil War. As its author became more rigidly conservative as he grew older, I read the original 1961 edition at the beginning of the historian’s writing career. It was an emotional experience for me: For years I had put off reading about the war, and I was devastated by its applicability to American politics in the 21st century.

It was George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, written while the conflict was still in doubt in 1938, who influenced my thinking the most:

The human louse somewhat resembles a tiny lobster, and he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed. I think pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war indeed! In war all solderies are lousy, at the least when it is warm enough. The men that fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae—every one of them had lice crawling over his testicles.

So much for glory! Orwell took a bullet in his neck near Huesca in 1937 and was invalided out through Barcelona. Yet, for all the horrors of war, he was able to say in the end, “I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards.”

Members of an All-Female Anarchist Party Group

Today we see the conflict merely as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War. Both Hitler and Mussolini send troops and weapons to the Fascists; and Stalin, the same for the Republican side. Curiously, neither Hitler nor Stalin wanted either side to win outright: Their interest was for the war to continue. In the end, Franco won because he was better supplied, and his side was not as badly divided as the Republican side. Look at the following list of acronyms on the Republican side. Each one represented a center of ideological purity which struggled against any sort of compromise:

  • CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo), the anarcho-syndicalist trades union
  • FAI (Federación Anarquista Ibérica), the anarchist secret society
  • POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), the Trotskyist group for which Orwell fought
  • PSUC (Partido Socialista Unificado de Cataluña), the United Catalan Socialist-Communist Party
  • UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores), the Socialist Trade Union
  • UMR (Unión Militar Republicana), Republican officers group

Several of the above believed in militias, but not in a professional army. On the other side, the core of Franco’s army was the Army of Africa, headquartered in Spanish Morocco, together with Hitler’s highly professional Condor Legion. Although the Republican army grew more professional as the war continued, it was badly split between the Communists and the non-Communists. As Thomas wrote:

Undoubtedly, the Republic was terribly hampered by the disputes between the parties who supported it.  One excuse might be that all the parties felt so strongly about their own policies that defeat itself seemed preferable to a surrender of the purity of their individual views.

As I read those words, the political divide that separates the American people came to mind. Ideological purity is a very dangerous thing. I do believe I would sacrifice the purity of most of my views before ever damaging the country I love.

 

Italy’s “Other” Orgy Island

The Mediterranean Isle of Zannone

The original orgy island was Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius dwelt in the Villa Jovis and was entertained by nude underage “spintrians” in his pools and grottoes. You can read about the whole sad affair in Suetonius, or if you are pressed for time, try here.  (It is for a reason that Capri means “goat” in Italian.)

More recently, there was a nearby island, slightly to the north and west, called Zannone. The tiny islet contained a single villa owned by the Marquis Camillo Casati and inhabited with his sexy actress wife Anna Fallarino. The Marquis let his wife have public sex with visitors, handymen, boatmen—whoever—just so long as he was able to watch and take pictures. He eventually accumulated 1,500 photos of his wife enjoying the favors of a range of men.

The Marquis’s Actress Wife, Anna Fallarino

But all good hings must come to an end. It appears that Anna fell in love with one of her transient paramours, which gave the Marquis pangs of envy. On August 30, 1970, he got a pistol, shot Anna and her lover, Massimo Minorenti, and then turned the pistol on himself. There was brain matter and blood all over the seventeenth century paintings at the scene of the crime. You can read more about this scandalous affair on CNN or this website.

I decided to write this post today because my most popular article in the last five years was about news orgies and showed a picture of several kangaroos in compromising positions. My guess is that a lot of pizza-faced youngsters Google “orgy” and “orgies” for prurient reasons. So, let the games begin!