Tag: Memphis

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 979: A (Football) Tale Of Three Cities

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Fans of American football are no doubt giddy with delight in the afterglow of last night’s victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers – the first actual game we have seen in seven months. Non-fans of American football most likely stopped reading this article after the headline, or after they realized this has nothing to do with soccer-football. That’s okay, not everyone shares the same sports-page passions – a fact that becomes resoundingly evident every year as the city around me leaps to their feet at the start of hockey season.

Younger fans of the game might not recall that this 13-season stability we have seen in team names and locations is unprecedented in the history of the league. The 20th century saw several clubs shuffle around the country in search of a permanent home. Most every move was money-based, each one was reviled by fans, and some took place under dubious circumstances.

No team relocation was handled quite so strangely as the Baltimore Colts’ mysterious overnight disappearance to Indianapolis. It was a figurative stab at the collective heart of Colts fans, and a cloak-and-dagger escapade that would leave a gaping wound in the spirit of the city. A wound that would not heal for more than a decade, when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was ready to inflict a similar agony upon the football devoted of his own city.

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Memorial Stadium. Home of the Baltimore Colts since their inaugural year in 1953, and home of baseball’s Orioles for even longer. By the early 1970’s, it needed a facelift. 10,000 of the seats had lousy views, 20,000 seats were just wooden benches with no back support, and both pro teams had to share office space and locker rooms. Colts owner Robert Irsay tried to work with the city to land some new digs for his team. Read more…

Day 667: Five Spine-Tickling Must-Sees Of Haunted America

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As you may or may not be aware, you are required by law to scare yourself at least once between now and Thursday. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have plunked your belongings into a house with a ghoulish past. Maybe like most of us you’ll shirk your requisite tribute to the universally spooky and placate yourself with the hopes that few children will show up at your door, leaving more fun-size Snickers bars for your weekend snacking.

But where’s the fun in that? Even if you thumb your nose at tales of the paranormal, they still make for some great tales. I took a ‘Haunted London’ bus trip a couple years ago, and while the legends of the spirit-based residents of London Tower and the sites of murder and bloodshed and arson failed to convince me there were long-dead Brits hanging around to spook up the night, it was a darkly hilarious way to spend an hour.

And with so many Americans who are eager to buy into the absurd and logically impossible (hey! You elected George W. Bush twice! <rimshot for this politically dated joke, thank you very much>), there are hundreds of quality haunted spots to visit. These are best enjoyed if you’re not a skeptic, not a pragmatic buzz-kill, and have at least a twinge of imagination. Let’s start at Boy Scout Lane.

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You’re walking along a quiet country road in rural Wisconsin in the area known as Stevens Point. The bony branches of the balding trees swoon in the crisp, tempered wind. This is Boy Scout Lane, named for the Boy Scout camp that was supposed to be built here but never was. Why not? It depends which story you want to deal from the deck of urban legend surrounding the place. Read more…

Day 241: A Brief History Of The CFL

Despite my geographical position in one of the most tundra-ish of Canadian cities, I have found that the majority of my readers are located in the United States. I have also found that I possess a dependable disinterest for Canadian football, opting each and every Sunday (Grey Cup Sunday included) to watch NFL games instead. For me, the players are better, the game is more strategic and interesting, and the rules make more sense.

Nevertheless, Ms. Wiki decided to send me on a post route deep into the secondary of the CFL this morning, so it is for my home and native land that I pen this kilograph. Apologies to my fellow countrymen and countrywomen if I come off sounding a little bit cynical.

The history of football can appear deceiving. We are six months removed from the 46th Super Bowl, yet the 100th Grey Cup (the CFL championship) is right around the corner. Yet the game of football as we know it – at least in these two countries – was invented in America, right? So how could this be?

MAGIC?!?!?!

No, it’s rugby.

Oh. Well, shit.

Rugby-inspired football was actually first played by a British Army garrison in Montreal in the 1860s, and soon spread all over Canada. Okay, ‘all over’ Canada refers mainly to Ontario and Quebec; I think the rest of the country was busy trading beaver pelts and trying not to die of exposure to cold to put together a competitive rugby team. But the Canadian Rugby Union called the shots for every league and every team that mattered in the late 1800s.

The reason the CFL plays with 110 yards is because that’s actually correct. When the game was brought over the border to Harvard, they didn’t have a field large enough to host a proper game of rugby football, so they set their size at 100 yards, with less width and tinier end zones. The field size also explains the American reduction to 11 players per side, as opposed to 15 for Canadian (which dropped to 12 as the rules changed) – there just wasn’t room. The Americans also upped the number of downs to four from three because they wanted to see more offense.

This blows my mind a little. I grew up thinking that Canadian football was a bastardized form of the American game, when in fact the opposite is true. Read more…

Day 59: An A-Z List of Defunct Pro Sports Franchises

(note: I stuck with the four key North American sports today: football, baseball, hockey and basketball. Sorry soccer fans)

A – Philadelphia Athletics (1860-1876) – This team, which bears no relation to today’s Oakland team, finished with a record of .500 or greater for all but its final year in the National League. In 1876 they were horrible, and at one point refused to head out west for a series of road games. They got kicked out of the league. Babies.

B – Baltimore Terrapins (1914-1915) – Part of the short-lived Federal League. A lot of teams got a buy-out from the National and American Leagues when this league folded. Not these guys. They probably got some beer money for selling Babe Ruth’s contract to the Red Sox though.

C – Canton Bulldogs (1905-1927) – The National Football League was formed in a Canton automobile showroom in 1920. The Bulldogs won three championships in the 20s before becoming a financial casualty. The NFL Hall of Fame is in Canton because of these guys. Also, bulldogs are awesome.

Yoko, my writing collaborator for this article.

D – Denver Nuggets (1948-1950) – The first NBA franchise west of the Mississippi. They played one year in the National Basketball League, one in the NBA, and consistently stunk. They folded and launched a decade with no pro sports teams in Colorado.

E – St. Louis Eagles (1934-1935) – The original Ottawa Senators were bleeding money so they relocated to St. Louis. The other eight NHL teams at the time were all gathered around the Great Lakes area, so the cost of travel for the Eagles killed them. They lasted one season, won eleven games.

F – Muncie Flyers (1905-1925) – Part of the original NFL, they played three games against fellow NFL teams and lost all three. They left the league and played a handful of (mostly road) games before folding in 1925. Probably the only pro sports team to never win a single pro game. What an honor to lay on poor Muncie.

G – Providence Grays (1878-1885) – They won the second perfect game (no opposing player even reaches first base) in MLB history. Charlie Sweeney struck out 19 batters in a nine-inning game in 1884, a record that stood for 102 years.

H – Hartford Dark Blues (1874-1877) – This short-lived franchise had some stars, including Candy Cummings, inventor of the curve ball, and Tom Barlow who pioneered not only the bunt, but sports-related morphine addiction. They moved to Brooklyn and suffered the fate of all professional sports teams that move to Brooklyn.

I – Pittsburgh Ironmen (1946-47) – The team lasted one season and won a quarter of its games. They aren’t the first Ironmen of Pittsburgh though, the city’s football franchise changed its name from the Steelers to the Ironmen for a few months in 1941. During that period they also tried disposing of the Terrible Towel in favor of the Incorrigible Hanky. Neither change stuck. Read more…