Tag: Abraham Lincoln

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour

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When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.

Or was he?

Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?

As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:

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One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.

Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…

Day 983: Pistols At Dawn On Bloody Island

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Allow us a moment to reflect upon our broken culture and praise the glorious days of yore – the days of righteous morality, of a productive and contributory collective ethos, and of… duelling. Stupid friggin’ duelling.

Of all the ridiculous traditions that we hauled on our societal backs from the grubby landscape of the Middle Ages, duelling has to be among the most laughable. Honor and respect marked the blinding colors of the duelling flag, and men chose to end one another’s lives rather than take the more accepted modern approach of simply living in a perpetual state of passive-aggressive loathing.

When gloves would slap faces in 19th century St. Louis, the moment of stone-chinned confrontation would usually take place on a small divot of land in the middle of the Mississippi River called Bloody Island. This sandbar had crept above the water’s surface in 1798, and throughout that renegade century, Bloody Island was a lawless haven for antiquated honor defense.

Authorities agreed to look the other way when duels were to be fought on this crunchy piece of turf midway between Missouri and Illinois. Firing at pistols at one another in either state was illegal, but on Bloody Island nobody cared. It was all about nobility, about virtue, about manhood… and whatever.

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Thomas Hart Benton (also called “Old Bullion”, probably because he was a big fan of chicken soup cubes) was a Missouri Senator who pushed strongly for western expansion of the United States. He also pushed a little too hard upon the feelings of one Charles Lucas while they were battling over a land deal in court, back when Benton was an attorney. The two exchanged rather public words, which culminated when Benton had the audacity to call Lucas a “puppy.”

A puppy. More vile words were never spoken. Read more…

Day 851: Eviscerating The Elected – Worst Politicians Part 1

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If a politician’s legacy was determined solely by how many bad things are said about them in public, then all of history’s worst politicians are either presently in office or they have served their terms since the advent of the 24-hour news cycle. This isn’t true of course – to truly dig through history’s nuances and rank our politicians’ situational responses would be an impossible task, and a magnificently arbitrary effort in academic wankery.

So naturally it has been done, several times over in fact.

I can see ranking our leaders as an interesting exercise, if performed by historians and political experts who can employ their breadth of knowledge of tariffs and policies and the various global goings-on that were impacted by each one. But expecting the general public to provide any insight on whether James Polk or Martin Van Buren had a more positive impact on America is going to produce a somewhat questionable result.

Nevertheless, we’ll dig through the filthy, obfuscated muck of public opinion as well as the academically-approved muck from the professionals. It’ll be nice to take a break from picking on history’s worst movies, TV shows and music and having a dig at actual people who – for reasons either selfless, corrupt, or a sprinkling of both – decided they wanted the chance to be in charge.

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Abe Lincoln, FDR and George Washington tend to top the U.S. Presidential rankings, with an honorable mention to Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and JFK. I’m looking at a collection of seventeen surveys conducted between 1948 and 2011, from sources like the Wall Street Journal and Sienna College. A few curious trends are immediately evident. First, in the half-century between James K. Polk’s term ended in 1849 and Teddy Roosevelt’s began in 1901, the only president considered to be even remotely above mediocre is Lincoln. In fact, three of the bottom four-ranked presidents served just before and just after Abe. Read more…

Day 773: Tales Of The Almost-Assassins

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Plotting the demise of a sitting United States president requires an impeccable form of madness, a meticulous disregard for common sense and a commitment to scratching the rest of one’s life off of one’s to-do list. Presidential assassins are not known for having impressive lifespans after pulling the trigger. Oswald went out with a bang, Booth hit the road for eleven days before catching his bullet, Garfield’s killer got the noose, and anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who plugged President William McKinley with his fatal hunk of lead, took a ride in the electric chair.

Those guys knew what they were signing up for. They launched themselves into the fires of consequence knowing full well there was no landing pad on the other side. So I suppose in some pretzel wrap of logic and deduction you could say they were successful.

But although four presidents met an early fate at the hands of some deranged crank-job (or an elaborate network of highly organized and fiercely secretive crank-jobs if you are into conspiracies), several others watched their virtual tickets to the afterworld party get mishandled and improperly stamped by their would-be dispatchees. These are the madmen who took that leap and landed amid the fire with no brass ring in their fingertips. These are the almost-assassins.

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By most accounts, Theodore Roosevelt was the most bad-ass of all United States presidents. It’s said that Teddy once killed a charging rhino simply by squinting. When a man dared to make fun of Teddy’s mustache, the president waved his finger and eradicated the man’s entire home nation from the planet and even the annals of history. He was simply not the kind of guy who could be taken down by a single fruitcake assassin. Read more…

Day 671: November – More Than The First Grey Spittle Of Winter

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It never fails. You’re meandering through the crispy clutter of October’s autumn, steering clear of the path-side puddle of vomit from over-candied children, breathing the warm scent of massacred pumpkins, when suddenly the ground gives way and you plummet head-first into that fetid murk known as November.

Here in the grotesquely northern chunk of Canada, we refer to November as the It-Will-Get-Damn-Cold month, or at least we will as soon as I can get it to catch on. November is the year’s punishment for passivity. Its only sanctioned holiday is a sad and reflective one, and we have to endure the agony of missing at least one and a half NFL games because our employers won’t acknowledge American Thanksgiving as a sort-of holiday. Daylight Savings Time ends, and suddenly the journey home from work becomes a race against the setting sun.

Well screw it. With a thirty-day sentence in the muckiest month of the calendar I believe we deserve to celebrate something. Okay, a lot of you have birthdays in November. That’s great, you have a little thumbtack of joy amid this great barren corkscape. For the rest of us, what do we get? Well…

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Once upon a time, Americans had a huge celebration every November, and it had nothing to do with turkey or shopping. November 25 was once Evacuation Day, a celebration of that fateful day in 1783 when the final snippet of British authority plunked its muskets on a boat and sailed out of New York. This was a holiday of July 4 proportions. Kids would symbolically climb greased poles in Battery Park to tear down Union flags, and adults would lift steins of liquid hoorah in honor of the nation’s first genuine victory. Then two things killed it: Mexicans and Lincoln. Read more…

Day 571: Surratt Sentenced To Swing

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Normally I shy away from writing articles on topics which have already been turned into major motion pictures directed by Robert Redford and starring Robin Wright. But I’ve never seen the film The Conspirator, nor have I spoken to anyone who has, so I’m just going to play this one for the interesting subject matter it truly is.

Mary Surratt possesses the dubious honor of being the first woman in American history to be sentenced to death by a court of law. If ever someone thought to bill a ‘Crime of the Century’ for the 1800’s, Mary’s would most certainly be it: she was part of the conspiracy that took a president’s life. A beloved (and beloathed) president, who had just ended a war and liberated a lot of people.

But Mary’s connection with the assassination may not have been as solid as some (including those in the justice system) may have thought. It all depends on whom you ask.

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Mary was a devout Catholic. She met and married John Surratt and promptly spurted out three children, Isaac, Anna, and John Jr. The family lived on an impressive piece of land that John had inherited in the District of Columbia. It was a lovely set-up, a perfect picture of mid-19th-century life. But beneath the surface, things weren’t good. Read more…

Day 501: The Origin Story Of Jeans

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When Jacob Davis wandered into the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale dry goods company in San Francisco to buy some cloth, he had no idea he was going to change the world. Or maybe he did. People always ascribe an automatic naivety to the great inventors, as though everything had to be a happy accident.

Forget it – in my version of history, Jacob Davis walked into Levi Strauss’s wholesale store with a swagger, swinging his manhood in his hand like a pocketwatch. He’d had a dream the night before – he’d witnessed the future: greasers, stoners, cowboys, punks, hicks, and everyday everymen. And he saw the pale blue copper-speckled cloth that boldly enveloped their junk.

He saw jeans. And he knew Levi would be the guy who could hook him up with the materials he’d need to make it all happen.

There are no accidents.

There are no accidents.

Jacob Davis had been making a good living as a tailor, snipping, sewing and stitching without trying to reinvent the clothes he was tweaking to fit the Reno populace. Then one day in 1871, some woman whose name is lost to history wandered into Jacob’s shop and asked for a pair of pants that would hold up to the rigors of her husband’s work as a woodcutter. Jacob stitched together something out of heavy-duty duck cloth (which is not actually made from ducks – hey, I had to check), and reinforced the potential weak spots with copper rivets. Read more…

Day 449: Deported But Not Departed – The Clem Vallandingham Story

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Much like economics, I tend to steer widely around politics on this site. For the most part, I find the current state of partisan-led showboating to be uninspiring, unproductive and most importantly, unfunny. Besides, I work full-time, I’m in school full-time, and I’ve got a full-time commitment to lifting up the hearts and spirits of millions of people by writing on this site every day. I can’t spend hours of each week following the nuances of politics in order to provide intelligent, astute observational prose on the subject.

Also, I don’t want to devote a lot of space to spewing my own liberal agenda. There are Republicans (and up in this country, Conservatives) whom I respect, despite the fact that their parties of choice appear to be mired in antiquated and backwards policies. Think about it – there were Republican nutjobs calling for the secession of Texas after Obama’s win last year, many of their media campaigns would have us believe the ‘other guys’ want to quash our rights (or take away all our guns), and their campaign against human rights (gay marriage) has been fierce and unrelenting. But once upon a time, the seating arrangement around the table of common sense was flipped. Here’s the story of a Democrat from back when the Republicans seemed to hold the market on sanity. Meet Clement Vallandingham:

Clement Read more…

Day 433: I’ll Take This Article To Go

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The beauty of subjecting oneself to the fickle cough of Wikipedia’s ‘Random Article’ button is that sometimes the end result reveals a fascinating slice of history, or a deliciously sparkling canvas for low-brow comedy and pop culture references. And sometimes, you simply end up with Fugitive Glue.

“Am I really writing about glue?” I asked myself.

“It would appear I am,” I replied, drawing deeply on a mentholated cigarette, which is weird because I don’t smoke. I decided to stop conversing with myself right away, lest I develop any more bad habits.

FugitiveGlue

Fugitive glue, also known as E-Z release glue, gooey glue, or booger glue, is that malleable gob that affixes credit cards to paper, or paper to other paper. It’s a one-time slab o’ sticky, peeling cleanly away from each non-porous surface without leaving a residue on either side. The good stuff is made from latex, not oils, tastes mildly like chicory, and can be used in a pinch to stuff a pillowcase for a comfy night’s sleep (note: you’ll need to order a lot of credit cards to get enough for this). Read more…