Tag: Conspiracy

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 981: The Double-Agent of Staffordshire

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Every so often while sifting through the corrugated rubble of history, one lands upon a figure who is a trifle harder to figure out than the rest. Whatever may have spirited his soul this way or that gets lost in the grey ink of facts and dates, leaving (for those of us who care) a certain freedom for speculation.

Was Gilbert Gifford an English hero? Was he a traitor? A coward? His actions directly led to one of British history’s most infamous executions, but the footsteps that led him there may have been driven by precisely the opposite intent. Such is the riddle that four centuries of dust and distortion have thrown across his legacy.

I’d like to paint Gilbert with passionate swirls – not moved by an allegiance to politic or royal hullabaloo, but by the colors of his faith. Not his faith in Catholic dogma, though undoubtedly that old rhythm spent a considerable amount of time tip-tapping upon the inside of his skull. I’m talking about his faith in flesh, in love, and in the non-negotiable immediate.

In short, Gilbert danced to his own boogie.

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The 16th century was a sketchy time to be religious in Europe. If you were Catholic, you kept your mouth shut around Protestants and vice-versa. Gilbert Gifford was born to a recusant Catholic landowner in Staffordshire. This label of ‘recusancy’ was given to those who continued to wear their Catholic jerseys long past the time when the Church of England (Anglicanism as we know it today) was chosen to be the home team. It took a certain amount of guts on the part of John Gifford, and to some extent that chutzpah was carried on by his son. Read more…

Day 976: The Non-Medicinal Medicine

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Along with the oil industry, the communications industry and the elevator ‘Close Door’ button industry, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the least trusted clubhouses in the great corporate tree. “They want to keep us sick.” “They’d rather treat us than cure us.” “I don’t speak English.” These are all impassioned criticisms I heard whilst skulking around my local pharmacy, asking strangers how they felt.

The problem with the pharmaceutical industry is that its sheer size has led to corruption and sophisticated flim-flammery, all in search of a quick profit off the desperation and ignorance of the common folk. Also, the industry has pretty much always been corrupt and full of flim-flammery. Only now the bullshit fits neatly into a pill instead of a good ol’ fashioned Wonder-Balm.

We have regulation now – oversight from way on high, which insists that someone actually prove that goat-scrotum extract cures eczema before they can advertise it on a product label. This is why the really fun claims of outlandish hooey can be found in the ‘supplement’ aisle these days. But even our modern snake oil derivatives can’t compare to the creative mangling of truth from the patent medicine days.

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Back in the 1600’s, if you could make friends with someone in the royal camp you might be lucky enough to be issued ‘letters patent’. These were legal papers which allowed you to use the official royal endorsement in any of your advertising. For purveyors of bottled cures, this was a huge deal; it added a legitimacy to whatever freakish claims they might be making for their product. This led to the term ‘patent medicine’, which is misleading in that it’s not likely that any of these products were actually patented. Read more…

Day 955: Conquering The Energy Problem, Wang-Style

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What if I told you that I’d recently unlocked a treasure of scientific magic so potent and transformative it would affect the way everyone on the planet conducted their everyday lives. “But wait,” you might say, “haven’t you been spending the past 955 days writing a bunch of hastily-researched yet irrepressibly delightful articles?” “Okay,” I’d probably admit, “you have a point.”

But if the year was 1983, and “you” were the Chinese government and “I” was Wang Hongcheng, an uneducated bus driver from Harbin, you might actually listen. This was supposed to be the game-changer that would propel China from a communist non-player into the driver’s seat of the global economic Hummer. China would win the energy game; the Middle East would need to find something besides bubblin’ crude to keep their gazillions rolling in; the entirety of everything would be flipped.

All because of Wang’s magic liquid. The stuff that dreams are made of – the stuff that could build an empire whilst crumbling several others.

Also, if someone ends up making a movie out of this story, I hope they call it Wang’s Magic Liquid. But they probably won’t.

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Wang Hongcheng made it through ninth grade, served some time as a soldier, then became a bus driver – just another faceless cog among the Harbin masses, toiling at a day job and doing his obligatory service for the collective, in accordance with Maoist principles. But clearly Wang wanted more. Wang wanted to be known for something extraordinary. Despite his complete lack of scientific training, Wang claimed he had invented a liquid that could transform a bland liter of water into a spectacular fuel, simply by adding a few precious drops of his secret serum. Read more…

Day 952: Death & Money

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One might assume upon skimming this month’s selection of articles that the author has developed an unnatural preoccupation with death. The author would courteously disagree, and would remind you that no preoccupation with death is unnatural, unless it escalates to unreasonably eccentric behavior, like keeping makeup instructions for the undertaker in one’s pocket, just in case.

But it’s true, I have been seasoning this project with a salty array of morbid subject matter lately, and today will be no exception. But fear not – these are still quirky and jaw-slacking narratives of death-related weirdness, not ghoulish kilographs of doom and misery. I’m saving those for my next project, beginning in January: 1000 Words, 1000 Reasons Life Is Meaningless And We Should All Give Up And Embrace our Inevitable Demise. It’ll be a riot.

Our two protagonists today are the guy who wouldn’t die, and the other guy who didn’t actually live his entire documented life. For the former, we find a conspiracy to condemn a man to an early grave. The latter tale tells of a man kept alive on paper for decades after his innards stopped doing their thing. The common threads? Those two nefarious nasties: death and money. It’s always about death and money.

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Michael Malloy was a man who knew how to drink. Sure, he was Irish, and that can certainly explain a smidgen of Michael’s alcoholic fortitude, but by the amber ruler of whiskey, this dude was Super-Irish. The year was 1933; Malloy was living in New York City, homeless, jobless and perpetually so deep inside a bottle one could probably have gotten drunk by simply sniffing his hair. Naturally, he was the perfect guy to murder and make it look like an accident. And that’s precisely what five of his “buddies” tried to do. Read more…

Day 951: King Joffrey Was A Pussy

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I just got through reading a Wikipedia article so poorly written and peppered with so many near-identical names my brain sneezed in agony. But at its heart was a narrative so foul and villainous, I feel it deserves a translation into mostly-coherent English.

Seriously, most of the names in this tale are bewilderingly similar. I’ll do my best to simplify the tale, to differentiate between the Liu Ziluan, Liu Ziye and Liu Zixun mess and deliver something digestible, as the story of the fiendish Emperor Qianfei of China needs to be preserved. This is teenage royalty gone wrong, in a way that would make George R.R. Martin cringe with disbelief. In fact, Game of Thrones fans may skim through this and wonder why their beloved show is so docile and civilized.

After all, what did King Joffrey really do? He had a few people killed, engaged in some weird crossbow-fetish sex-play, and acted like an ass to most everyone around him. Who cares? Pure evil resides not in the hearts and minds of fictitious fiends, but in the madness of truth. And the madness of Emperor Qianfei reaches far deeper than any sick twists undertaken by that blond pansy from Westeros.

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Emperor Qianfei was born in 449 AD as Liu Ziye, but in the interest of bogging this story down with Liu Z– names from the outset, let’s just call the little prick by his emperor name: Qianfei. Qianfei was tossed in prison at age five when his uncle made a power play for the throne. Qianfei’s dad showed up and heroically slaughtered the uncle, and christened his kid as the crown prince. He was wed at age 10 and a widower at 12. In 464, Qianfei’s dad died and Qianfei stepped up as the new emperor, age 15. Read more…

Day 930: The Other Foo Fighters

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I admit it, I frequently dip into the tart, opaque candy bowl of skepticism, filled with lemon drops of doubt and sour-chews of crotchety fact-checking. That said, I like my sour sweets to end with an upbeat aftertaste, a smidgen of optimism that my aforementioned leeriness will be heartily disproven. Deep down, I don’t believe in the hibber-jabber of ghosts, of karmic energy tallies or Earth-snooping alien life, but even deeper down, I kind of hope I’m wrong.

If this miasma of rambling self-reflection seems like a hopelessly clunky introduction to a kilograph on one of the greatest rock bands of the past two decades… well, it would be. But while the caliber of Dave Grohl’s rocktastic ass-kickery certainly merits a lengthy diatribe of praise (hell, I could do a thousand words on nothing more than the rib-clenching, cerebrospinal-throttling bridge of “Monkey Wrench”), that’s not what today is about.

Today we look at the original foo fighters: no foot-swiveling grooves, no cinematic videos and no capital ‘F’s. These foo fighters transport us back in time, into the goose-feather fury of the second World War, then up into a nebulous sky filled with illusionary aberrations – gravelly bumps in the smooth road of logic and comprehensible reason.

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The word ‘foo’ was a popular nonsense word of the 1930’s, much like any of Doctor Seuss’s whimsical wordage or much of what you’ll hear on Fox News today (hey! A topical joke! Three points for me!). It grew from the work of popular Chicagoan cartoonist Bill Holman and his Chicago Tribune strip known as Smokey Stover. Foo was an anarchic dalliance into the lexicon of imagination. It functioned as a noun, an adjective, and a G-rated exclamation of disbelief. Did it morph into the 1940’s-era military term FUBAR? Perhaps. But it certainly held ground in the American military landscape at that time. Read more…

Day 920: Getting Dirty With QWERTY

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Just as I’m sure all guitar players secretly covet the 1932 cast aluminum ‘Frying Pan’ electric guitar unleashed by Rickenbacker that changed the very shape of modern music, I feel we writers should become equally as intimate with the lush history of our instruments. Unfortunately, the ancestry of Microsoft Word appears to be uninspiringly bland, while researching the birth of the typewriter reveals a plethora of names, all claiming to be the ‘first’.

Besides, I spent many of the early formative years of my writing addiction swimming in the white-on-indigo sea of Wordperfect, and due to the frantic and clumsy nature of my fat fingers I have resisted using a typewriter for decades. Besides, I publish my work online; a typewriter would be little more than a superfluous display of unnecessary retro-ism. I’m no hipster purist.

But there is one common thread that has tied together my word-weaving experience, from that first robins-egg-blue Underwood manual clacker to the up-to-date Computronic-9000 (bundled with Lode Runner!) that I use today: the QWERTY keyboard. This strategic splat of letters, numbers and functional squiggles has a digestible backstory, and today I’m cramming that story into my gullet. Because I can.

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Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glidden concocted a genuine predecessor to the modern typewriter in 1867 when they arranged a two-row piano-like keyboard to trigger swinging arms (known as typebars) at a blank page. There was an obvious flaw in the design, thanks to his alphabetical arrangement of the letters: odd numbers and N-Z on the upper row, even numbers and A-M on the lower. The only punctuation offered was a hyphen and a period. But when neighboring arms were flung at the paper in tight succession, they’d collide and jam. This proved to be a monumental pain the ass, especially for every word that contained the letter combination ‘ST’. Read more…

Day 919: Meet The Watergate-Stained Mitchells

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The spyglass of history has not been kind to the Nixon administration. I was born exactly seven weeks after Richard Nixon handed in his resignation and took that long lonely walk into his murky legacy. My generation, who grew up in the Reagan/Bush era, found only one defender of the Nixon presidency in pop culture, and the passion written into Alex P. Keaton’s dialogue was clearly meant to be satirical.

Those of us who cared to look into it – and given that we were a generation late and a country north, there weren’t many of us – saw an unsympathetic troupe of tie-wearing bastards, farting in the face of the law and crapping all over the seat of absolute American power. It’s a tale of ancient American history to us, as intangible and ethereal as the Kennedy conspiracy, Dewey defeating Truman or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff.

But it makes for fascinating drama. Anyone who has avoided the Dustin Hoffman / Robert Redford movie All The Presidents’ Men because it looks like a laggy political drama and hey, there’s a new Transformers movie out and explosions are more fun – just stop already. Yes, explosions are fun but this shit actually happened. Scoundrel, Montgomery-Burns-type dickheads really held that much power and abused it to a pulp. Rather than re-tell the whole affair here (a thousand words would scarcely get us through the DNC headquarters’ flimsily-locked door), I’m going to spotlight one scoundrel in particular: John N. Mitchell. And his wife. I’ve got to talk about his wife.

Somehow the pipe makes him look more evil.

Somehow the pipe makes him look more evil.

For thirty years John Mitchell was a municipal bond lawyer, and from what I’ve read he seems to have embraced every lawyer stereotype. He was shady and just enough on the smarmy side to gather some powerful friends. One of those friends was Dick Nixon, who tapped Mitchell to be his campaign manager in 1968. During the campaign, there arose allegations that the Nixon camp somehow sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, which could have brought about an end to the Vietnam War. Read more…

Day 915: The Titanic Conspiracy

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We all know the story – the RMS Titanic plows into an iceberg, everyone panics, and Leonardo Dicaprio dies because Kate Winslet isn’t willing to scooch over and give him some room. But that purportedly open-and-shut accident may have a little more squeak in its hinges, depending on how deeply one is willing to invest in conspiracy futures. Theories range from something other than an iceberg thwacking the Titanic upside its hull to the Titanic not even being present when those 1523 souls perished in the Atlantic.

The difference between the Titanic conspiracies and other such shady suspicions is that these would have required no elaborate government cover-up, and its secrets (if there were any at all) would only have needed to be known to a tiny group of insiders, which lends credibility to the possibility that there may be more to the story than that which James Cameron put on film. There’s no vast network of deception at play with any of these theories – this isn’t JFK being assassinated by the Cuban mafia or the mass-hypnosis that allowed Dances With Wolves to beat out Goodfellas for the Best Picture Oscar.

But as with any musings on the shadowy side of commonly-accepted history, it’s always wise to suspend one’s accusatory finger in mid-furl. 102 years have passed, and if there’s any more truth to be known about this tragedy it probably never will be. That said, it’s still fun to dig.

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First off, what if there was no iceberg? Captain L.M. Collins published his theory in 2003, asserting that it was a devious chunk of low-lying pack ice that felled the mighty liner, not a big Goliath of an iceberg. Collins points out that the two Titanic lookouts both reported a haze on the horizon at about 11:30 on the night of the sinking. Also, while various witnesses reported that the alleged berg of ice towered 60 to 100 feet above the water, this is apparently a well-known optical illusion when drifting through ice. Read more…