Archive for October, 2010

From His Cell Jesse Pomeroy Pleads For Clemency

From October 30, 1910


FROM HIS CELL JESSE POMEROY PLEADS FOR CLEMENCY: Only “Solitary” in Massachusetts Tells the Story of His Thirty-four-year Confinement — The Unusual Punishment of an Extraordinary Crime. (PDF)

In 1874, a 14 year old boy named Jesse Pomeroy was arrested for murder, denied counsel at trial, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging. But Massachusetts Governor William Gaston refused to sign the death warrant, and eventually the sentence was commuted to life in prison in solitary confinement.

At nearly 52 years old, Pomeroy describes for the New York Times Sunday Magazine what life is like in solitary confinement and pleads for better conditions:

Dear Sir:

Having received the paper to write, I will put down a few particulars of my case in the hope that, as I have been closely confined almost thirty-six years, since I was fourteen years old, I may, at this date, be allowed a few privileges…

[For years I was allowed privileges for good behavior.] Now this prisoner’s life is always the same, year in, year out. I have no prospect of privileges by good conduct, which has been good many years, as I told you.

Besides this, I am to-day worse off as to light, air, human society and opportunity to see officials, than I was in 1875-1895.

The sentence as to-day carried out is harsher, more oppressive than in those nineteen years; but it is the same sentence as in 1876.

My windows are opaque glass cutting off much light.

I ask clear glass, as I always did have.

No sunshine reaches into my cell. I always had a sunny room, the windows being 33 in. by 23 in.

My room to-day has the ventilation closed up, contrary to law, from no fault of mine.

There was no closed blank door on my cell to 1895, because my sentence was hardship enough, and there was no idea of denying me a chance to see a soul.

Since 1895 that closed door has been illegally shut on me, and Governor Douglas ordered it open for a little while in the daytime, so that I might have a little air.

It is shut eighteen hours a day and ought to be taken off, being contrary to my sentence.

Very seldom can I see any State House officials.

Very seldom can I obtain from them an answer to any letter that I write.

Except once or twice a year they do not come near me.

Exercise, as ordered by Governor Ames, is refused to me.

I respectfully suggest that this prisoner may have some encouragement in doing well. He is no worse than his neighbors. Kindness is never lost on anyone, and this prisoner has all his life shown himself responsive to kind treatment. Although I have made some errors here, I have never once been violent or dangerous.

No officer has ever accused me of it. The register shows the fact, as I say, yet the newspapers have been full of yarns about me, as, for instance, that I tried to kill the warden, and so was shut up in a cell (New York World, 1889).

I should be allowed to write sixteen letters a year, the rule. I can write but twelve.

Upon reflection, I think I have clearly and fully stated the case as I view it. I would do well if given an opportunity.

Actually, that wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. For comparison, you should check out this 2006 series from NPR about life in solitary confinement.

In 1917, Pomeroy’s sentence was eventually commuted and, while he wasn’t pardoned, he was afforded the same privileges as other prisoners. In 1932, at the age of 72, he died in a hospital for the criminally insane.

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Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in True Crime

“Olympic,” World’s Biggest Ship, Huge Floating Hotel

From October 30, 1910


“OLYMPIC,” WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP, HUGE FLOATING HOTEL: Exceeds Next Largest Steamer by 13,000 Tons — If Two Ships of Her Size Were Placed Across the East River They Would Have 200 Feet of Hull on Land. (PDF)

The Olympic and her sister ship the Titanic were similar ocean liners for the White Star Line, starting construction just a few months apart. Of course, the Titanic met famously with disaster just about 18 months after this article was written, but the Olympic continued service until 1935 despite having her own mishaps.

Here’s how the article describes some of the amenities and ocean liner “firsts” in these White Star Olympic-class ships:

It will not only have suites comprising a large number of rooms, but real bona fide apartments or flats, which will give passengers reserving them all the comfort and privacy of home while crossing the Atlantic. These sea-going flats will include bedrooms, sitting rooms or parlors, private baths, and even — if desired — a private library! The parlors in these apartments will be fitted with tables on which the most elaborate meals may be served, far from the madding crowd of the main dining rooms.

Moreover, the Olympic will be the first transatlantic liner to have passenger staterooms equipped with private shower baths. Moreover, there will be a great swimming pool, so deep that bathers may dive without fear of unpleasant consequences, thus being able to enjoy all the pleasures of sea bathing without jumping over the side of the ship. Moreover, (will wonders never cease) passengers will have the use of a will-equipped gymnasium, the largest and most complete ever installed on a ship.

But will it be safe? After describing the ship’s numerous safety systems the article concludes, “so complete will be the system of safeguarding devices on board this latest of ocean giants that, when she is finally ready for service, it is claimed that she will be practically unsinkable and absolutely unburnable.”

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Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Was Queen Elizabeth A “Famous Impostor”?

From October 30, 1910


WAS QUEEN ELIZABETH A “FAMOUS IMPOSTOR?” Mr. Bram Stoker Brings Together Some of the Notable “Frauds” of History in Proof of His Theory that “Good Queen Bess” Was a Man. (PDF)

Just in time for Halloween, Dracula author Bram Stoker comes forth with a strange tale. Only this one he alleges to be entirely true. According to Stoker, as detailed further in his book Famous Impostors, Queen Elizabeth of England was actually a man.

Moreover, “she” really was once a female. The transformation came about when the young Princess Elizabeth went out of town with her governess for a bit of fresh air:

While she was there word came that the King was coming to see his little daughter. Shortly before his arrival, however, “the child developed acute fever, and before steps could be taken even for her proper attendance and nursing, she died. The governess feared to tell her father — Henry VIII had the sort of temper which did not make for the happiness to those around him.” The nurse thereupon hid the body and scoured the neighborhood for some living girl child who could be passed off for the Princess.

“But here again was a check. Throughout the little village and its surroundings was to be found no little girl of an age reasonably suitable for the purpose required. More than ever distracted, for time was flying by, she determined to take the greater risk of a boy substitute — if a boy could be found.” And, of course, there was a boy available — “just such a boy as would suit the special purpose for which he was required, a boy well known to the governess, for the little princess had taken a fancy to him and had lately been accustomed to play with him. Moreover, he was a pretty boy, as might have been expected from the circumstance of the little Lady Elizabeth having chosen him as her playmate. He was close at hand and available. So he was clothed in the dress of the dead child, they being of about equal stature.” King Henry, it is said, suspected nothing during his visit, as Elizabeth had always feared him and there had never been any of the intimacies of father and daughter between them.

The name of the boy who grew up to be Queen Elizabeth: Neville. And now you know the rest of the story.


Written by David

October 29th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Magicians Tell The Secret Of Famous Tricks

From October 23, 1910


MAGICIANS TELL THE SECRET OF FAMOUS TRICKS: Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate Give Some of Their Methods and Experiences in the Art of Mystifying the Public. (PDF)

In the 1980s and ’90s, magic duo Penn & Teller earned a reputation for giving away the secrets of magic tricks, becoming known as the Bad Boys of Magic. They would even perform some tricks using clear props that revealed how they were done. But the truth is that Penn & Teller’s reveals were fairly tame, and to this day they still impress with tricks that they keep secret, like their famous take on the magic bullet catch.

But nearly 100 years before Penn & Teller were revealing the secrets of magic, Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate revealed magic secrets in the pages of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. And wouldn’t you know that one trick they revealed is the secret of the bullet catch! Penn & Teller may not do it this way, but here’s what Hatton had to say about his version of the trick, and one night when things didn’t go exactly as planned:

“One night I had announced on my programme, ‘A Modern William Tell,’ the fanciful name for a startling pistol trick. In this the performer allows one of the audience to load a duelling pistol with powder and ball and then to fire at the performer, who is supposed to catch the marked ball in his teeth. In doing the trick the performer slips into the muzzle of the pistol a sort of thimble, and it is into it that the unsuspecting voluntary assistant drops the bullet. By a deft movement this thimble is afterward removed, thereby giving the performer possession of the ball. Not many attempt the trick, for more than once it has led to fatal results when the man who loads the pistol either through ignorance or malice manages to get the bullet into the pistol barrel. The result is that he who exhibits the trick must watch every move made. On the night in question my attention was called away for a second, and when I attempted to remove the thimble I discovered that it was not in the pistol. Whether or not the bullet was in the barrel I did not know. What was I to do? I had only one life, and as for that I had an undying love I was averse to risking it. There was no time for hesitation, so walking to the footlights with the effrontery that is a factor in ‘the profession,’ I addressed the audience: ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said. ‘I cannot go on with this part of my programme. Something wrong has happened, and should I continue you undoubtedly would see in to-morrow’s papers: “Bullet-in Hatton Killed While Attempting a Trick.” Would you believe it the generous audience received this statement with as much applause as if I had performed the trick successfully?”

When I read that, I thought it was a lame and anticlimactic way to end the trick. Isn’t there an old saying that the show must go on? Shouldn’t he have figured something out? I’ll bet Penn and Teller would have figured out a way to do the trick. But then I remembered an episode of Penn Jillette’s short-lived 2006 radio show where he says:

The show must go on. Stupidest rule ever made, the show must go on. If there’s one thing that doesn’t need to go on, it’s a show. Last night, 800 people, a thousand people, had come to see the Penn and Teller show. If there had been an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, Penn Jilette is sick. Why don’t you all go home?” the worst thing that happens, the horrible nightmare that happens is that these people go out and probably have dinner together, maybe go back to the hotel a little earlier and screw. I mean, that is the nightmare. The nightmare is they don’t get to see Penn and Teller catch a bullet in their teeth and do the show. It’s a really good show. I’m proud of it. I love it. But compared to spending time with someone you love, no big deal, ya know?

Yeah, I guess aborting the trick was better than getting shot in the face. Okay, Hatton. You’re off the hook.


Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:00 am

Odd Things That Happen In Hunting For Autographs

From October 23, 1910


ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS: Treasure That Is Sometimes Worth Thousands of Dollars and How It Is Obtained — Ingenious Tricks Played on Public Men — Finds in Ash-Barrels (PDF)

This article was inspired by a book on autograph collecting called Chats on Autographs by A. M. Broadley. You can read the book online thanks to Google Books.

The article begins as the book does, exploding the myth that autograph collectors are just trying to get signatures:

“Those who deliberately cut signatures from important letters are in reality the worst enemies both of the autograph collector and the historian. Vandalism of this kind (often committed in happy unconsciousness of the consequences) brings with it its own punishment, for detached signatures are almost worthless.

“Many years ago a dealer was offered sixteen genuine signatures of Samuel Pepys, their owner naively remarking that ‘he had cut them from the letters to save trouble.’ As a matter of fact he had, in the course of a few seconds, depreciated the value of his property to the extent of at least £15. The letters, if intact, would have fetched from £15 to £20 each!”

The article goes on to describe the methods autograph collectors employed to get intact letters from famous people. Today, autograph hounds can make themselves nuisances, stalking celebrities for mementos to sell on eBay. And the practice can even be dangerous.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Business

“Crossing The Atlantic Feasible” Says Prof. Rotch Of Harvard

From October 23, 1910


“CROSSING THE ATLANTIC FEASIBLE” SAYS PROF. ROTCH OF HARVARD: He Has Charted the Air Lanes Above the Ocean and Future Balloon Voyagers Will Have Their Wind Currents Marked Out For Them. (PDF)

It seems that every week brings another story about air travel, and this one brings good news for those aeronauts planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airship: a Harvard Professor has just completed a study of wind currents that could dramatically cut your travel time.

“It is evident that the currents in the various levels of the atmosphere are of vastly more importance to the aeronaut than are the ocean currents or surface winds to the sailor, since the winds above the earth’s surface blow much faster tan the surface winds, and aerial machines are considerably more bulky than aquatic vehicles of the same carrying capacity.

“Moreover, a balloon or flying machine, wholly immersed in one medium, cannot tack, as a ship floating in the water can advance partly into the wind. Consequently a balloon without motive power can only drift with the current, and a dirigible balloon or flying machine must possess a proper speed superior to that of the current in which it floats in order to make headway against it. Hence the necessity in the case of the balloon without power, and the advisability of the airship or heavier-than-air machine to seek a favorable current in the aerial ocean.”

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:30 am

The Amazing And Versatile Barneys Of Washington

From October 23, 1910


THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON: An Undraped Statue on Their Lawn Has Thrown Into the Lime-Light a Family Whose Talents and Unconventionalities Keep Society in the National Capital in Constant Expectation (PDF)

If there were a 1910 version of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of DC, Alice Barney would surely be the breakout star. A playwright and painter whose work can today be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the wealthy widow Alice and her daughters Natalie and Laura were the talk of DC gossip circles.

One recent day a nude statue appeared on the Barneys’ lawn, and word spread that it was a likeness of one of the daughters, sculpted by the other daughter, who was known to be studying sculpture. DC society flocked to the Barney home to see it. On October 14, the Times ran a piece about the statue:

What is the Barney statue? When was it placed on the lawn of the fashionable residence in Massachusetts Avenue? Who placed it there? And why? Does it represent the beauty of Miss Natalie C. Barney, the younger daughter of Mrs. Albert Clifford Barney, or is it the likeness of some maid of antiquity? These are questions that are being asked in diplomatic, social, and official circles, and no one can reply with certainty.

The Hindu butler at the Barney home, who answers to the strange name of Only, to-day caused the statue to be placed in a coffin-like box and holds the key to the lid. The lid may be lifted if Only is properly approached.

It turned out later that the sculpture was an antique. The older daughter Laura was in fact working on a sculpture of Natalie, but it was just a bust, and not a nude.

The whole ordeal prompted the Sunday Magazine to write this profile of the Barneys. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

An undraped statue on the lawn brought the Barney family of Washington into international notoriety in a day. Yet for years the members of this remarkable household have kept the National capital in a state of constant expectancy.

They are more than a family, these Barneys; they are an issue.

Whenever a select and exclusive group of the smart set gathers about the dining table, and the flow of nimble wit, sent sparkling on its way with the advent of the oyster, and degenerating into a sluggish stream of inane platitudes with the arrival of the entree, is sinking, lifeless, into a pool of silence with the incoming of the ice, the watchful hostess, unfluttered by the critical situation, reaches back into the convolution of her brain marked “Emergency” and, drawing forth, deftly tosses into the centre of the table this conversational bombshell:

“What do you really think of the Barneys?”

Then she leans back, smiling comfortably, while her guests lock horns and silence flees.

“They are poseurs, learned only in the stale devices of studied eccentricity!” exclaims a beribboned member of a legation.

“Nonsense!” hotly replies a famous engineer, “it is genius scorning the narrow conventionalities of society.”

“Genius nothing!” interrupts a scientist with seven letters after his name, “the veriest tyro in art or literature or ethics would laugh at the Barneys’ pretensions. They fool nobody but the simple minded.”

“What but genius could ever show such remarkable versatility in every branch of art as Mrs. Barney has exhibited in the last ten years?” puts in a literary woman who boasts that she positively refuses to write for the newspapers.

“And what but oddity and freakishness would build a quarter-of-a-million dollar house and not put a bed in it!” exclaims the practical wife of a Cabinet officer.

Yes, silence has departed thence. For the Barneys, themselves of the ultra-fashionable set in Washington, furnish a perennial subject of heated debate in that city, no matter when or where the Barney name be mentioned.

Move over, Michaele Salahi.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Politics

Scientific Croquet A Popular Pastime For Men In Central Park

From October 23, 1910


SCIENTIFIC CROQUET A POPULAR PASTIME FOR MEN IN CENTRAL PARK: The Union Croquet Club Has Played There for a Quarter of a Century — Its Oldest Active Player Is Eight-Five. (PDF)

If you’re like me, you played croquet a few times as a kid, but have no idea what scientific croquet is. Well, it turns out that scientific croquet is the less wimpy version of croquet. Instead of grass, it’s played on a hard, smooth surface. While regular old croquet was enjoyed by men, women, and children alike, scientific croquet was for hardcore players only.

As a 1954 article from Sports Illustrated explains, scientific croquet later became known simply as roque because it is the heart of the game: c(roque)t.

If you’re interested in playing croquet in Central Park, the New York Croquet Club has free sessions every Monday from May through September just north of the Sheep Meadow.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Recreation,Sports

Turning Points In The Careers Of Well Known Men

From October 16, 1910


TURNING POINTS IN THE CAREERS OF WELL KNOWN MEN: If President Roosevelt Had Practiced Law, Senator Root Been Lured by a Big Retainer, Hadley of Yale Become an Editor, They Might Not hold Their Present Places in History. (PDF)

This article looks at some pivotal moments in the lives of famous people. More recently, writer Brad Dunn examined the turning points in the lives of 100 contemporary notables. His research, based on the theory that all important turning points happen when you’re 22 years old, is compiled in a book called When They Were 22. I’m not sure I buy the theory, but it’s interesting to consider the could-have-beens.

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Written by David

October 15th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Life

New Meeting House For Society Of Ethical Culture

From October 16, 1910


NEW MEETING HOUSE FOR SOCIETY OF ETHICAL CULTURE: Unusual and Interesting Features About the Edifice That Will Be Dedicated Next Sunday. Simplicity the Keynote — The Seats are Arranged Radially Around Slightly Elevated Platform. (PDF)

Over the previous two weeks, the Sunday Magazine had published several articles about religion. First, they had a front-page story in which Thomas Edison declares there is no soul or afterlife. The following week, they published articles in which experts claim that there surely is an afterlife. This week, they approach the topic from a different vantage, announcing the opening of a new meeting house for the Society of Ethical Culture, a non-theistic congregation led by Felix Adler.

For the unfamiliar, here is some of what Felix Adler has to say about ethical culture:

“Moral training is necessary for every one; religious training is another matter. Not every one is born with a religious nature; there can be unreligious persons just as there are unmusical persons.

“It is a gift, given to many and omitted almost entirely in the case of others.

“Very great harm is done by trying to force religion on people who are not by nature religious. They are not attuned to it, they do not grasp the real significance of it, and they inevitably degrade it. Much of the tragedy of history has arisen from no other cause than insistence in forcing religion on persons irreligious by temperament, and their consequent misconception of it.

“Therefore, in my own training of children I assume with regard to religion the attitude of ‘You may take it or leave it.’ A child of religious temperament may be trained in religious thought, but others may need only moral training, and would be better for not having the religious side forced on them.”

Today, the Society of Ethical Culture continues to have regular Sunday services for the unreligious community, and houses the Fieldston School, a notable private school whose alumni include Diane Arbus, Sofia Coppola, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Walter Koenig.

The article describes the building’s architecture, including its auditorium, which is used today not just for the Society’s services, but for other community events, too. I attended a Lydia Kavina theremin concert there in 2000, and a panel discussion on civil liberties after 9/11 moderated by Phil Donahue in 2002. You can find a calendar of events at the Society’s website

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Written by David

October 15th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Education,Religion