The Mother of All Missed Calls
It’s been a bungee jump of a year politically. Last spring the GOP seemed poised to ride a Red Tsunami in the upcoming midterm elections. Democrats rallied over the summer and appeared to have regained the momentum. This fall, however, there was a Republican resurgence with the prevailing winds now apparently blowing in its direction.
And political pollsters were right there every step of the way telling us how this seesaw campaign season was playing out. They’re so ubiquitous, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some new poll result.
Love them or hate them, they are impossible to ignore. Americans are addicted to soothsayers whose algorithms tell us with what vox the populi is about to speak. Continue reading
THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE SUTHERLAND SISTERS
There’s no delicate way to say this, so here goes. Your great-great-grandparents had a weird thing about hair.
The Victorians were obsessed with lovely locks. People have always admired a nice head of hair. But Victorians were bonkers for beautiful tresses.
They snipped strands of dead loved ones’ hair for keepsakes. They put their locks inside lockets and photo cases for paramours. And they made hair jewelry. Seriously, it was a thing. They wove it into bracelets, brooches, watch fobs, and more. Continue reading
HOW HARRY TRUMAN KEPT THE TRAINS RUNNING
Labor contract negotiations often come down to a game of chicken. Negotiators on both sides go as close to the deadline as they dare until someone blinks. The higher the stakes, the closer to the edge each camp is willing to go. They can make the Cuban Missile Crisis look like child’s play.
We were reminded of that with this week’s narrowly averted rail shutdown. Less than 48 hours before passengers and freight trains were scheduled to grind to a halt, threatening to cripple an already battered supply chain still reeling from the pandemic, a tentative deal was reached. November’s looming midterm elections played no small part in the urgency as well.
It was dramatic stuff. Yet it was nothing compared to the decisive (and almost theatrical) role a president played in an even more ominous rail strike 76 years earlier. Continue reading
A SENIOR’S WALK INTO THE RECORD BOOKS
I’ve been getting into shape recently. But my progress pales compared to what a remarkable senior did nearly 70 years ago.
Emma Gatewood’s life was hard. Born in Ohio in 1887, she was one of 15 kids in a family that slept four to a bed. Her father lost a leg in the Civil War and spent the rest of his life drinking and gambling. Though her formal education ended in the 8th grade, she kept learning by devouring encyclopedias, Greek classics, and books on woods and wildlife. Continue reading
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Keeping all of February’s presidential birthdays straight is a big headache. Ronald Reagan was born on February 6. William Henry Harrison on the 9. Lincoln arrived on the 12th. And president Numero Uno, George Washington, was born February 22. Congress washed its hands of the mess by lumping them all together in the Presidents Day holiday.
Chances are you grew up hearing George Washington chopped down a cherry tree as a 6 year-old-boy. When his dad asked who was responsible, the future Father of Our Country ‘fessed up and said, “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” It’s a story that inspired countless generations of kids to always tell the truth.
Yet it never happened.
That’s right, the tale extolling the virtues of honesty is a lie. And get this—it was even spun by a man of the cloth! Here’s the story. Continue reading
THE SMOOCH HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
We’ve all done something impulsive at one time or another. A spur of the moment decision that, when you thought about it later, wasn’t such a good idea. Nearly 90 years ago an American woman acted rashly, and her action involved history’s worst monster. Here’s the story of the woman who kissed Hitler.
In many ways, George and Carla De Vries were typical American tourists vacationing in Europe. The Norwalk, California dairy farmers did what many of their countrymen did that year and seized on the upcoming Summer Olympic Games as the perfect opportunity to see the Continent. Continue reading
THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL RETREAT
President Trump loves hanging out at Mar-a-Lago, his luxury Florida estate. He’s less fond of Camp David, the chief executive’s official getaway in the Maryland mountains. He once described the presidential retreat as “interesting for about 30 minutes.”
Every president since FDR has spent time at Camp David. Yet 13 years before it was created another presidential property was built in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
This is the story of Camp Hoover. Continue reading
THE TIME WE PUT A FORT IN THE WRONG PLACE
We all make mistakes. To err is human, after all. For example, flowers sometimes get inadvertently planted or fences built on the wrong side of the property line. It’s an imperfect world after all.
When armies and nations make such a faux pas, war can result. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with this week’s tale. Although the story does begin with a war. Two of them, in fact.
We know Canada today as a mellow place, a country famous for its politeness and good manners (along with trying to stay warm half of the year). But that wasn’t always the case. Continue reading
THE NICKEL THAT CAUSED A DOLLAR’S WORTH OF SCANDAL
Like so many things in life, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it would have been, too, if one man’s swindle hadn’t ruined everything. When all was said and done, a conman got off scot free, Washington had egg on its face, and a new phrase entered the American vocabulary that’s still used today.
This is the story of Josh’s golden scam. Continue reading
THE WOMAN WHO WENT OVER NIAGARA FALLS IN A BARREL
You’re turning 63. How should you celebrate? With a cake with candles? A family get-together? Maybe a party?
How about crawling into a wooden barrel, having it screwed shut, then plunging 60-feet over one of the world’s great natural wonders? Which, by the way, nobody else has ever lived to tell about.
A woman did that nearly 120 years ago, the crowning achievement in her quirky life. Here’s what happened. Continue reading