Tag: Kathy Bates

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 686: Titanic’s Scrutinized Survivors

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101 years ago (give or take seven months) the world bore witness to one of the nastiest maritime disasters in history. Perhaps you’re familiar with the James Cameron mega-film event or the toxic schmaltz that Celine Dion sang for it. When that iceberg jabbed its elbow into the hull of the RMS Titanic on a cold April night, it stuck a deep pin into the 20th century, marking one of those days that would be talked about for decades.

A precious few souls were able to squeeze out from under that pin and live to see another day. 705 survivors off a ship packed with 2,224 people – that’s a grizzly statistic. Most of the passengers and crew who were fortunate enough to escape a frigid, watery demise would slip into the shadows, carrying those memories through the rest of their lives. But a few names stand out.

Amid the scattering dust of a disaster, heroes and villains ooze their natural colors. The heroes are easier to spot. But many who have been demonized from that night were likely guided by their awe-struck terror and most primal survival instinct. Having never experienced a transportation cataclysm such as this (though I was on an escalator that stopped suddenly once), I hesitate to leap aboard the monorail of judgment, headed for the theme park of self-righteousness.

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It’d be really easy to cram an accusatory finger knuckle-deep up the nose of J. Bruce Ismay. He was the chairman of the White Star Line and the guy who commissioned the Titanic’s construction. Coincidentally, he also survived the disaster. But does that warrant his condemnation? The “women and children first” rule was broken all over the massive liner, though many witnesses claim there were only men gathered around some of the lifeboats. I don’t know if this was the case with Ismay, so should he really be crucified for surviving?

Yes, claimed most of the world in 1912. Newspapers called him the Coward of the Titanic. People drew editorial cartoons, showing him deserting the ship. People wanted someone to blame, and J. Bruce Ismay was that someone. Read more…

Day 665: A Monster Lives On Royal Street

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As we meander into that designated portion of our calendar during which the broadcast networks expect us to tune in to the same retread gore-fests and creep-flicks they run every year, allow me to suggest a somewhat richer experience. There have been numerous true horror stories that have played out through history, spilling real blood on the folios of our legacy and tinting our very humanity with a darker, more esoteric hue.

My daughter has informed me that the gruesome character of Delphine LaLaurie has been woven into the most recent season of American Horror Story. And while I have no doubt the masterful Kathy Bates will construct a character more blood-squooshingly terrible than the real deal, there’s something to be said for the monstrous events that actually happened.

Like, they actually happened. While the grotesque details of Madame LaLaurie’s tortuous exploits have been exaggerated and overestimated throughout the years, these are the facts as history has marked them. Grab hold of your stomach, cause it’s about to turn.

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Behold the grainy face of a thousand soot-stained nightmares. Delphine LaLaurie was a socialite by day and a monster by night, at least to those in her employ. Well, ‘employ’ is a sketchy, if not completely inaccurate word here. This was the early 1800’s in the American South. One didn’t simply employ workers around one’s stately palace, not with all the available dark-skinned labor on the market. Read more…

Day 204: “Probability” – Because Why Write About What I Know?

Since the beginning of this bizarre experiment, I have had the privilege of writing about a movies I have never seen (Mermaids), musicians I have never heard (Bob Log III), places I’ll never go to (Leckhampstead), people I’ll never meet (Mary Nissenson), and now I get to write about a TV show I’ve never watched.

I used to watch Law & Order when A&E was airing it constantly, even more than they run Criminal Minds today. The show had a ravenous fan following, which is probably why they have cultivated spin-off after spin-off, none of which have interested me. With the rise of the extended-story form of dramatic television (like The Wire, for a cop-show example), the wrap-it-up-in-an-hour serial variety hasn’t really been my thing.

This brings us to today’s topic: “Probability.” Not the actual notion of probability, about which I could easily write a thousand words without getting up from the craps table, but the episode named “Probability” from season two of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Again, never seen the episode, never even watched a full hour of the series. I had to actually look up what the premise of the show was, in terms of differentiation from the original L&O. I guess this show focused on the ‘Major Crimes’ division in New York. Major Crimes involves investigations beyond the scope of normal police work: stuff like art theft, kidnappings, larceny, burglaries over $100,000, suspicious-looking gummy bears, wayward ostriches, counterfeit raisins, and zeppelin hijackings.

This particular episode is about an investigation into the murder of a homeless man, which strikes me as something Homicide would handle. I hate to second-guess Dick Wolf, but I think this one should have gone to Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston on the other show.

They were in Homicide, right? It’s been a while since I watched this show.

It actually turns into a string of homeless murders, so I guess it gets interesting enough for Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe. The title “Probability” refers to the fact that a corrupt insurance agent was behind all of the killings. I don’t know if this is one of those ‘ripped from the headlines’ episodes that L&O is so famous for, but I’d hate for insurance agents to get tarred with negative publicity. Read more…