100-year-old portraits of Ellis Island immigrants in glorious fashions from around the world


Between 1892 and 1954, thousands of immigrants to the United States passed through the Ellis Island inspection station south of Manhattan, in view of the Statue of Liberty. Each had their legal documents and health examined and a photo taken to record their entry. Many of their images were also dutifully recorded by an amateur photographer and chief registry clerk named Augustus Francis Sherman, who worked at the station until 1925.


Shermans images have been brought back to life by Jordan Lloyd at Dynamichrome, a studio based in London, by colorizing the photos based on available historical research. Although these immigrants were sporting early 20th century national costumes, they look as if their pictures were taken just yesterday, with film. Dynamichromes attention to detail makes the portraits seem exceptionally realistic. The photos will be published in The Paper Time Machine, a photo book Lloyd is currently trying to crowd fund.


We cannot really guarantee historical accuracy, the fact of the matter is we werent there when the photographs were taken, Lloyd tells Quartz. Most clothing at the time was made at home, before mass manufactured fashion became common, so details could only be guessed at. Accurately rendering colors was also difficult, as film chemicals didnt always show colors the way theyd be seen by the human eye. The colorization therefore was more for an authentic flavor, or a sense of historical authenticity, rather than accuracy, Lloyd says.


Still, details of the apparel indicate the cultural and socio-economic background of the person. Although the photos could be taken as an anthropological study of early 20th century fashion around the world, Lloyd notes that they dont convey the reality of these immigrants.


These people are wearing literally their Sunday best, this is not what they were wearing when they came off the boat at Ellis Island, he says. This was maybe clothes that they put in a suitcase, and Sherman maybe might have said to them, Look, you were from this particular region that no one really knows about, I would very much like you to sit for a portrait in your national costume.


Ellis Island was a gateway to new lives on new soil. Photos of the people who passed through it provide us with a glimpse into some of the least known cultures at the time, long before cameras became ubiquitous in even the most remote corners of the world.

Whos a clever boy? Your dog really does know what youre saying, and brain scans show how

No, really — he actually does. So say scientists in Hungary, who have published a groundbreaking study that found dogs understand both the meaning of words and the intonation used to speak them. Put simply: Even if you use a very excited tone of voice to tell the dog he’s going to the vet, he’ll probably see through you and be bummed about going.

It had already been established that dogs respond to human voices better than their wolf brethren, are able to match hundreds of objects to words and learn elements of grammar, and can be directed by human speech. But the new findings mean dogs are more like humans than was previously known: They process language using the same regions of the brain as people, according to the researchers, whose paper was published in Science.

This had already been demonstrated in studies that observed dogs, but no one had seen how it works inside the canine brain. To determine this, Attila Andics and colleagues at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest recruited 13 family dogs mostly golden retrievers and border collies and trained them to sit totally still for seven minutes in an fMRI scanner that measured their brain activity. (The pups were not restrained, and they could leave the scanner at any time, the authors assured.)


A female trainer familiar to the dogs then spoke words of praise that all their owners said they used thats it, clever, and well done and neutral, common words such as yet and if, which the researchers believed were meaningless to the animals. Each dog heard each word in both a neutral tone and a happy, atta-boy tone.

Using the brain activity images, the researchers saw that the dogs processed the familiar words regardless of intonation, and they did so using the left hemisphere, just like humans. Tone, or the emotion behind the word, on the other hand, was analyzed in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere just as it is in people, the study said.

In an e-mail, co-author Tamás Faragó acknowledged that the left hemispheres response to praise words didnt prove the dogs were comprehending meaning and not simply reacting to familiarity. But, he said, its safe to assume the dogs hear the neutral words in daily human conversation as often as they hear the praise words, so the main difference will be not familiarity, but whether the word is addressed to the dog or not. In other words, whether it has meaning for the pooch.


Finally, the researchers saw that the dogs rewards center which is stimulated by pleasant things such as petting and food and sex did the brain equivalent of jumping and yelping when positive words were spoken in a positive tone.

It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match, Andics said in a statement. So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.

The researchers said its unlikely that human selection of dogs during their domestication, which occurred at least 15,000 years ago, could have led to this sort of brain function; Faragó said that its more possible it would be a side effect of other dog traits selected by humans, such as attention. But he said he and his co-authors think these neural mechanisms are probably far more ancient, and perhaps more widespread than we thought before.


That means we arent as special as we like to think, at least when it comes to how our brains deal with language. What makes words uniquely human, Andics said, is that we came up with using them.


Oh, and if youre a cat person? Faragó said its likely they (and other domestic animals) might also be able to understand words and tone. But given that cats were domesticated thousands of years later and have generally lived less closely to humans, they might not be as adept as dogs. They certainly wouldnt be as cooperative on an fMRI scanner.


HISTORY OF SICILY:Hub of the Mediterranean: 8th c. BC - 8th c. AD

Sicily, a large fertile island at a pivotal point in the Mediterranean, is one of the world's most desirable patches of land. Colonized by Phoenicians and Greeks, and fought over between Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans in the Punic Wars, its architectural and artistic remains bear witness to its past grandeur - in the great series of Greek temples, or the Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina.
In medieval times the island achieves a different creative blend, of three later cultures - Byzantine Christianity, Islam and Roman Christianity.

Byzantine Sicily: 6th - 9th century
The Byzantine influence in Sicily begins with the capture of the island from the Ostrogoths in 535. It is consolidated in the 8th century during the Iconoclastic Controversy. The clash between the pope and the Byzantine emperor on this issue prompts the emperor to give the patriarch of Constantinople jurisdiction over Sicily, removing it from the papal see. Meanwhile the island has received a large number of Greek immigrants from the Balkans, fleeing from invasions by Slavs.

It is therefore largely Byzantine in culture by the 9th century, when a new threat emerges. From 827,Arabs begin arriving from North Africa, in what will amount to a slow conquest of the island.

Muslim Sicily: 10th - 11th century
The last Byzantine stronghold falls to the Arabs in965, beginning a century of Muslim rule. Arabs settle in large numbers, and many Christians convert to Islam. As in other Muslim countries, Christianity is tolerated and Christian communities survive throughout the island. Sicily in the 11th century is therefore a mixed community of Arab Muslims and Greek Christians when a third element arrives, in a new wave of conquest.

The newcomers are Latin Christians. The pope in 1059, wishing to recover Sicily from the infidels, grants feudal rights over the island to an adventurer family of Normans. One of them, Roger I (as the first Norman count of Sicily), completes the conquest of the island in 1091. 

Norman Sicily: 1091-1194
The first Norman ruler sets a pattern which will characterize Sicily for more than a century. Roger I has brought Latin Christianity to the island, conquering it as a vassal of the pope. But he is also a generous patron of Greek Orthodox monasteries in his new territory. And, continuing in reverse the tradition of Muslim tolerance for Christians, he encourages the Muslim communities in Sicilian towns and employs Muslim serfs from the countryside in his army. 

Unrivalled in medieval Europe except in certain Spanish cities, Norman Sicily achieves a vibrant culture of three religions - differing from Spain in that the third religion here is Greek Christianity rather than Judaism. 

The complexity of this culture is evident in the fact that the Normans issue their official documents in three languages - Latin, Greek and Arabic. Sicily's religious unorthodoxy is attacked by scandalized opponents who describe a later Sicilian king, Frederick II, as a 'baptized sultan' (he justifies the nickname at a more elementary level by keeping a harem). The vitality of the island is evident in the superb Norman architecture.

The building which most powerfully brings together the three traditions of Sicily is the exquisite palace chapel built by Roger II.


Capella Palatina in Palermo: 1132-1189
The small palace chapel in Palermo, with its walls covered in bright pictorial mosaic, is one of the most exquisite buildings of the Middle Ages. Known as the Capella Palatina (Latin for 'palace chapel'), it is begun in 1132 and completed in about 1189. 

The mosaics are in the Greek tradition, created by craftsmen from Constantinople. Christ Pantocrator is in the apse and cupola, in traditional Byzantine style. Round the walls are sequences of scenes from the Old Testament, and from the lives of St Peter and St Paul. This is a narrative convention which will later be much used in Italian frescoes. 
The roof of the Capella Palatina, by contrast, is unlike anything in a Byzantine church. In vaulted wood, carved and painted in intricate patterns, it would seem at home in a pavilion of a Muslim palace or in a covered section of a mosque. The sturdy round arches supporting the walls are from yet another tradition - that of European Romanesque. Classical pillars, inherited from an earlier period of Sicily's rich history, complete the influences seen in this eclectic building. 

It perfectly encapsulates the merits of Norman Sicily. 


Sicily and the empire: 1184-1254
The papal encouragement of the Normans, as conquerors of southern Italy and Sicily, makes political sense in the 11th century as a way of protecting the southern flank of the papal states. It seems less wise a century later. Now Rome finds herself in danger of being surrounded by territory belonging to the empire. 

The reason is that Henry, heir to the emperor Frederick I, marries in 1186 Constance, heiress to the Norman kingdom of Sicily. 
The marriage of Henry to Constance brings Sicily and southern Italy into the German empire. Henry VI is crowned emperor in Rome in 1191 and king of Sicily in 1194. But he dies shortly afterwards, in 1197, when his son Frederick is just three years old. 

At first it seems unlikely that the boy can inherit both Sicily and the German kingdom, particularly since the prospect displeases the papacy. From 1198 he is recognized only as king of Sicily. But after a period of confusion, with warring candidates, he is also elected king by the German princes in 1211. With some reluctance the pope accepts the situation. He crowns Frederick II emperor in Rome in 1220. 
Subsequent popes have cause to regret this coronation. They excommunicate Frederick II twice, and even proclaim a crusade against him, in a prolonged power struggle which eventually weakens his authority in both Sicily and Germany. In spite of the brilliance of his court in Sicily, and the nonchalant ease with which he achieves his own crusade to Jerusalem, Frederick leaves an inheritance which cannot long survive him. 

His son, Conrad IV, becomes the last ruler in the Hohenstaufen line. With Conrad's death, in 1254, there is a vacancy on the German throne which is not filled for another nineteen years.

Saturday, 30 July 2016 09:29

Route 66 the Great American Highway

Route 66 the Great American Highway


U.S. Route 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway and also known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66"and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s.

US 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.

US 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, and it was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, after it had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the Interstate Highway System. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated a National Scenic Byway of the name "Historic Route 66", which is returning to some maps. Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former US 66 into the state road network as State Route 66.

Things You May Not Know About Route 66


John Steinbeck gave it one of its most famous nicknames

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” about Dust Bowl migrants of the 1930s, Steinbeck devoted a chapter to Route 66, which he dubbed “the mother road,” a nickname that stuck. Like the bestselling book’s displaced farm family, the Joads, thousands of real-life Americans fled drought and poverty in Oklahoma, Texas and neighboring states during the Great Depression and traveled west along Route 66 in search of employment. Contrary to myth, Steinbeck never ventured from Oklahoma to California with migrants as part of his research for “The Grapes of Wrath,” although the author did drive west on Route 66 with his wife in 1937.


Part of Route 66 follows the Trail of Tears

A portion of Route 66, from Rolla to Springfield, Missouri, overlaps with part of the northern route of the Trail of Tears, followed by the Cherokee Indians during their forced 1838 relocation from their traditional homelands in the southern Appalachians. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which granted the president the authority to negotiate treaties with Native American tribes to give up their lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for unsettled lands west of the Mississippi. While some Indians ceded their land and left peacefully, the Cherokee, among other tribes, resisted. In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed by U.S. troops and made to trek west to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Of the four main removal routes used by the tribe, the northern route, from Tennessee to Oklahoma, was followed by the largest group—12,000 people, according to some estimates. In all, 15,000 to 16,000 Cherokee traveled the Trail of Tears, and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 of them died along the way from disease, malnutrition and exposure.



The “Father of Route 66” was an Oklahoma businessman

Cyrus Avery (1871-1963), a Tulsa businessman, championed the establishment of the highway and helped promote it, earning him the nickname “Father of Route 66.” As a boy, Avery and his family journeyed west from Pennsylvania by covered wagon to Missouri and later settled in Indian Territory. He went on to make his living in farming, real estate and oil, among other ventures, and became a civil leader in Oklahoma. Avery was a participant in the Good Roads Movement, which advocated for improved American roadways (the movement was started in the late 1800s by bicyclists and grew during the early 1900s with the arrival of mass-produced automobiles). He served as chairman of his adopted home state’s highway commission and also took part in developing a national system of numbered highways. During Route 66’s planning, Avery was instrumental in getting it to pass through Oklahoma. In 1927, he was involved in founding the U.S. Highway 66 Association to boost tourism on the roadway he dubbed the “Main Street of America.” Additionally, Avery pushed to get the entire highway paved, a task that was completed by the late 1930s.



It served as the course for an epic endurance race

In 1928, runners traversed the length of Route 66some 2,400 milesas part of a coast-to-coast, 3,400-mile marathon from Los Angeles to New York. Nicknamed the Bunion Derby by the press, the grueling event was organized as a promotional stunt by sports agent C.C. Cash and Carry Pyle. Of the 199 men who began the 84-day race, 55 finished it. Andy Payne, a 20-year-old Oklahoman who was part Cherokee, took home the $25,000 grand prize.



An ex-Marine penned a song that helped make the highway famous

In 1946, singer Nat King Cole had a hit single with “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” written that same year by Bobby Troup. A Pennsylvania native, Troup composed his first hit song while still in college then went on to serve in the Marines during World War II. After the war, he returned to the U.S. and drove to Hollywood with his wife to try to make a career as a songwriter. While traveling on Route 66, he was inspired to start penning the lyrics for a tune about the roadway. Once in California, he was introduced to Nat King Cole, who soon recorded Troup’s song, which namechecks places the road goes through. Troup’s pop anthem to Route 66 went on to be recorded by scores of artists, including Bing Crosby and the Rolling Stones.


African Americans were barred from some businesses along Route 66

During the segregation era, African Americans were banned from many motels, restaurants and other businesses along Route 66. A number of “sundown towns” bordered the highway, communities where blacks were unwelcome after dark and kept out through intimidation, force and local ordinances. In 1936, Victor H. Green, a black postal worker from New York City, started publishing the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide featuring places to stay, eat and shop that were friendly to African Americans. The Green Book series continued to be published until 1966.



A TV series was named for the legendary highway

“Route 66,” a TV drama about two young men who wander America in a Corvette, aired from 1960 to 1964. During their travels, the two drifters, originally played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, encounter a broad variety of characters, and the show featured guest stars ranging from Joan Crawford to a young Robert Redford. Despite the program’s name, it ventured beyond Route 66 and was shot on location in more than 20 states and Canada; the real-life Route 66 passed through eight states.



Dwight Eisenhower is linked to its demise

In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which established America’s 47,800-mile Interstate Highway System and eventually led to Route 66 becoming obsolete. Eisenhower first became aware of the need for better highways in 1919, when he participated in a U.S. military motor convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Intended to test what it would be like to move an army across the country, the journey took 62 days. Then, during World War II, he witnessed the strategic advantages of Germany’s autobahn highway network. As president during the Cold War era, Eisenhower advocated for an interstate highway system, touting it as beneficial for military defense operations as well as for the nation’s economic growth. Interstate 40 subsequently replaced a large segment of Route 66 and the roadway was decommissioned in 1985. However, in the aftermath, a variety of non-profit groups were formed to help preserve the historic highway and much of Route 66 remains drivable today.





Glaxo’s Potential Cure for “Bubble Boy Disease” One Step Closer

A potential cure for children born with a form of an extremely rare immune-system condition often referred to as “bubble-boy disease” has moved a step closer to approval after receiving the support of a European Union regulatory panel.


The treatment, which involves inserting a new gene into the patient’s stem cells, received a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency’s advisory committee on Friday, paving the way for final approval in coming months.

It is aimed at children with a disease known as ADA-SCID, a rare condition in which a single genetic defect prevents sufferers from developing a robust immune system, leaving them very susceptible to infections. Without treatment, they rarely live for more than two years.

Currently, the best available option is a bone-marrow transplant, but success heavily depends on how well matched the donor is. For the one in four babies who have a well matched family member, a transplant can be an effective cure. But for the rest, success rates can be as low as 50%, according to Bobby Gaspar,professor of pediatrics and immunology at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The new therapy, called Strimvelis, was developed by a group of scientists and doctors based in Milan who have used it to treat 22 children over the past 14 years. All are still alive, most without needing any further treatment. In 2010, GlaxoSmithKline PLC struck a licensing deal for the rights to market the therapy.

If approved, it would be only the second gene therapy to be sold in Europe, after UniQure NV’s Glybera for a rare genetic condition in which the body can’t break down fat molecules. No gene therapies are approved for sale in the U.S.

The ADA-SCID gene therapy has moved at a cautious pace. Scientists tested an older form of gene therapy in children with the disease as early as 1990, but suffered a setback when, around 10 years later, several of those patients developed a leukemia-like condition.

“To be recognized as a licensed medicine shows gene therapy has come a long way forward,” Dr. Gaspar said.

One complication of administering Strimvelis: For now, it can be performed only in the Milan hospital where it was developed. The procedure involves removing some stem cells from the patient, applying the gene therapy outside the body and then reinjecting them, all of which must be done in quick succession to keep within the short “shelf life” of stem cells.

Parents will probably be willing to take their babies to Milan for treatment if it is considered the best option: Children from as far away as the U.S. and the Middle East came to Italy to take part in the clinical trial, according to Martin Andrews, head of the company’s rare-disease unit. Still, Glaxo aims to eventually make the therapy available in several “hubs,” and is working on methods to increase the shelf life of stem cells so that the procedure could be done remotely, by sending the child’s stem cells to a central facility for the gene therapy, he said. Glaxo also plans to seek approval from America’s Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

While Strimvelis is unlikely to move the needle for Glaxo in terms of revenue—around 14 babies are born with the condition every year in Europe—the company is betting that the technology can be used as the basis for several new treatments, Mr. Andrews said.

Rare diseases have drawn increasing interest from drugmakers in the past few years because the industry can command high prices for effective treatments in diseases with few other available therapies.

“If efficacy is demonstrated, payers are willing to reimburse [the companies],” said Mladen Tomich, head analyst for rare diseases at health-care consultancy Decision Resources Group. “While the price tag is high the overall expenditures are still limited due to the small patient population.”

Mr. Andrews didn’t disclose Glaxo’s pricing plans for the treatment but said it was considering flexible pricing models, including amortizing the payment over several years.



Friday, 08 April 2016 15:12


DAMN: THE TYRANT OF CLIPPERTON ISLAND For a tropical island, Clipperton doesn’t have very much going for it. The tiny, ring-shaped atoll lying 1,000 kilometres off the southwest coast of Mexico is covered in hard, pointy coral and a prodigious number of nasty little crabs. The wet season from May to October brings incessant and torrential rain, and for the rest of the year the island reeks of ammonia. The Pacific Ocean batters the island from all sides, picking away at the scab of land that rises abruptly from the seabed. A few coconut palms are virtually the only thing that the island boasts in the way of vegetation. Oh, and the sea all around is full of sharks. It isn’t much of a surprise that Clipperton Island is decidedly uninhabited. This was not always the case, however. Over the course of the island’s modern history, four different nations—France, the United States, Britain, and Mexico—fought bitterly for ownership of Clipperton. It was desirable both for its strategic position and for its surface layer of guano, since the droppings of seabirds (as well as bats and seals) are prized as a fertiliser due to their high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Each of the four countries in turn attempted to maintain a permanent presence on Clipperton between 1858 and 1917. When a contingent of Mexican settlers did finally gain a toehold on the atoll, they were forgotten and left stranded on the island with a delusional man who seized the chance to become a dictator. The island’s English name comes from a tenuous association with a British pirate, but the first modern explorers to claim Clipperton were the French, in 1858. Their intention was to land on the island’s shores and read out a proclamation, but this proved to be difficult; approaching the island with the ship posed a significant risk of running aground on the coral reef, and smaller rowboats were thwarted by sharks and fickle tides. Desperate, the French resorted to sailing around the perimeter of the island while reading the proclamation out to its coastline. Then, satisfied, they departed. Although they were aware of the guano, they felt it was likely to be of inferior quality, so they left it at that. The next country to claim the island was the United States, in 1892. Unlike the French, the Americans suspected that Clipperton’s guano was extremely valuable, and they annexed the island under the auspices of the U.S. Guano Islands Act. A small crew of American miners spent the next few years on the island attempting to turn a profit, but poor market conditions and expensive resupply-trips intervened. Then, in 1897, the Mexicans decided they’d had enough of the United States occupying an island so close to the Mexico coast. A small group of Mexicans sailed over, lured two of the three Americans away, and left a Mexican flag in place of the American one that had been flying from a forty-foot pole. The U.S. backed off and gave up its claim to the island, but France and Mexico were unable to come to an agreement. To complicate matters, an English company then decided to try a guano-mining operation of their own, insisting that they did not care who owned the island. Mexico allowed them to proceed. The British had high hopes, and got straight to work building a new settlement on Clipperton. They put up houses, constructed an enclosed soil garden, and planted more palms. But the island was pretty much as inhospitable as ever, and the mining, which began in 1899, did not prove to be lucrative. Although the Clipperton guano was of fairly good quality, there was now too much competition in the market for it to be worthwhile. By 1910 the British decided that the effort was futile, and removed all of their employees except for one island caretaker. The island’s other claimants, France and Mexico, signed an arbitration treaty leaving the question of Clipperton’s ownership to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. He began his deliberation. In the meantime, Mexico sent over a group of 13 men from their army to guard the island, including a de facto governor by the name of Ramón Arnaud. Wives and servants followed, and a number of children were born on the island in the early 1910s. An American ship was wrecked on the island in 1914; rescue came quickly, and the Americans advised the Mexicans to leave. Arnaud declined; all he did was expel the last remaining Brit from the island, sending the man and his family away with the Americans. With their last employee expelled, Britain stopped paying attention to Clipperton; meanwhile, Mexico was taking increasingly little notice of it themselves owing to a developing revolution in the country. Without any explanation, ships stopped arriving at Clipperton. The tiny community was dependent on the mainland for food and information, and soon their cache of supplies began to dwindle. In this case, no news was bad news. At this point there were approximately 26 people on Clipperton Island: 13 soldiers, about 12 women and children, and a reclusive lighthouse-keeper named Victoriano Álvarez who lived alone at the base of a sheer cliff below the lighthouse that the Mexicans had constructed in 1906. The island’s vegetable garden had been lost to the elements, and the only types of food available from the island itself were birds, bird eggs, and fish. There were also a few coconuts every week, but these were not a sufficient source of Vitamin C, and the islanders—especially the adult men—began getting sick with scurvy. One by one, they started dying; their fellow islanders buried their bodies deep beneath the sand in order to make them inaccessible to the crabs. Arnaud was mildly alarmed, but he was reluctant to abandon the island. At any rate, he knew that any attempt to reach the mainland would probably end badly; the one boat that the islanders owned did not have enough fuel for a trip over to Acapulco, and rowing it would be extremely difficult with only five men remaining on Clipperton, all of them suffering the effects of undernourishment and vitamin-deficiency. The situation took another turn for the worse when Arnaud spied a distant ship, and talked the three other soldiers into joining him in the rowboat and going to the ship for help. Out on the water there was no sign of any such ship; it is quite possible that Arnaud had been deceived by an illusion. Angry, the three other soldiers attempted to overpower Arnaud and seize his weapon. Several of the wives watched helplessly from shore. The struggling mass of men fell overboard, and all of them drowned in the waves. Only hours later, two unrelated emergencies arose almost at once: a hurricane appeared offshore, and Arnaud’s heavily pregnant widow went into labour with the couple’s fourth child. The women and children took refuge in the cramped basement of the Arnauds’ house, and Alicia Rovira Arnaud gave birth to a son, Angel. Mother and baby survived, but the islanders emerged from the basement to find their buildings torn to pieces. Just then, Álvarez the hitherto-unassuming lighthouse-keeper abruptly arrived at the destroyed settlement, collected the weapons, and threw them into the deep waters of the lagoon. Saving one rifle for himself, he announced to the women and children that he was now the king of the island. With that, he began a campaign of enslaving the women for whatever purposes he desired. One mother-daughter pair who refused to obey him were raped and shot to death. The rest were given regular beatings at the minimum. Months passed, with Álvarez borrowing whichever female islander he wanted whenever he wanted: when he’d had enough of 20-year-old Altagracia Quiroz, he moved on to 13-year-old Rosalia Nava, and then 20-year-old Tirza Randon. The strong-willed Randon was far and away the most outspoken about her hatred of Álvarez, but was unable to think of a way to escape. “King” Álvarez was aware of the chance of being discovered by passing ships, especially since he knew that Alicia Rovira Arnaud would immediately tell all to any outsider who appeared. Consequently, Álvarez singled out Arnaud for threats, telling her that he would kill her the moment anyone from the outside world came into view. Álvarez was almost certainly mentally ill. He had been belittled for much of his life on account of his African heritage, which was as stigmatised in Mexico as it was in the United States at the time. Years of isolation on Clipperton could only have amplified his anguish; lighthouse-keeping was notorious for causing madness. Somehow, life at the colony went on for nearly two years under Álvarez’s reign of terror. The women and children divided up the coconuts and the leftover scraps of materials following the storm. Álvarez went on cycling through his trio of women. In the middle of July 1917, he got tired of Tirza Randon again, and decided that his next target was Alicia Rovira Arnaud, whom he had not pursued earlier. He picked up his rifle, took Randon back to the main settlement, and informed Arnaud that she was to present herself at his hut by the lighthouse the following morning. Sensing an opportunity, Randon informed Arnaud, “Now is the time.” On 18 July 1917, Arnaud and her seven-year-old son, Ramón Arnaud Jr., set out for the lighthouse-keeper’s hut, accompanied by Randon. Álvarez, sitting outside roasting a bird, was in uncharacteristically good spirits; however, he was not happy to see Tirza Randon back so soon. “What are you doing?” he asked her, and attempted to shoo her off. Instead, she ran into Álvarez’s hut, returned with a hammer, and upon a signal from Arnaud, took the hammer in both hands, swung, and struck Álvarez in the skull. And then a second time. Arnaud sent her son inside the hut, and meanwhile Álvarez shook off Randon, grabbed an axe, and went after Arnaud. Arnaud yelled to her son to get Álvarez’s rifle. He did, but in the meantime Randon had landed another good swing on Álvarez, and he fell to the ground. She had most likely killed him by this point, but she allowed her rage to lead her to a knife, return, and stab the body repeatedly. In hysterics, Randon then began slashing at the dead man’s face. The dictator of Clipperton Island had met his end. Even as the three still stood alongside the expired tyrant, little Ramón spotted something on the horizon that the community had not seen in nearly two years: a ship. The USS Yorktown was an American gunboat patrolling the west coast of North and South America, looking for German U-boats in accordance with a rumour that the Germans had established secret radio and submarine bases in the Pacific. Clipperton Island fell right along the Yorktown’s route, and certainly qualified as a potential hiding-place for the enemy. The Yorktown circled Clipperton and made an attempt to send a smaller boat ashore, but the Americans were unable to reach the island and the boat returned to the ship. The islanders were devastated to see this retreat; just when they had caught sight of an opportunity to escape, it had disappeared. The women even briefly discussed whether they should just give up and either shoot each other or drown themselves in the lagoon. Fortunately, though, the Americans made a second attempt at sending their boat to Clipperton’s shores, and this time they were successful. Arnaud met the Americans and frantically indicated the islanders’ desire to leave as soon as possible. Several members of the crew accompanied the women to the settlement in order to collect a few possessions, and others investigated the lighthouse. The Americans noted that the children were all small for their ages due to malnutrition; in particular, two-year-old Angel Arnaud was suffering from rickets and could not walk. Eleven-year-old Francisco Irra carried Angel on his back all the way to the American boat, and the sailors took the took the Clipperton Island survivors—three women and eight children—to the Yorktown. Álvarez’s body was left for the crabs. Yorktown captain Commander Harlan Page Perrill later wrote in a letter to his wife: “I noted the women and some children gathering along the beach and you can imagine my surprise when the watchers on the bridge reported that they were getting into the boat. Speculation was rife. When Kerr got alongside and made his [oral] report, he revealed a tale of woe absolutely harrowing in its details.” Navigator Lieutenant Kerr’s official written report of the Clipperton Island rescue divulged no details whatsoever about the anti-social lighthouse-keeper; Kerr and Perrill were both eager to protect Randon and the other survivors from the potential legal and social repercussions of the final altercation between the women and Álvarez. For seventeen years, neither man would say a word about what had really happened on Clipperton Island between 1914 and 1917. The Yorktown briefly suspended its German-hunting and set a course for Salina Cruz, Mexico, where a number of the women and children had family members. They sent ahead a wireless message to the British consulate in the city asking for help in locating relatives. The islanders all experienced some seasickness but liked the environment of the ship, and the sailors grew fond of the children. On 22 July 1917, the Yorktown reached the mainland. Right after the ship anchored, a boat appeared carrying Felix Rovira, the father of Alicia Rovira Arnaud. He had been regularly questioning Mexican authorities as to the fate of his daughter, only to have been told repeatedly – and erroneously – that all of the Clipperton Island colonists had died. Rovira and his daughter and four grandchildren had a reunion so moving that a number of the sailors burst into tears. A small fund that the crewmen had established to help the survivors start new lives on the mainland was turned over to them. The local citizens were deeply grateful to the Americans for the rescue, and threw a party at a local hotel for the sailors and the survivors. Initially, Perrill had supposed Alicia Rovira Arnaud to be around forty years old. In reality, she was only twenty-nine, and the other women were several years younger. Nine years on Clipperton Island through an incredible gauntlet of hardships had taken their toll; however, eleven of the settlers had made it through. Their story was passed from person to person in subsequent years, and came to be known all over the west coast of Mexico. Victor Emmanuel III of Italy finally made up his mind in 1931, awarding Clipperton Island to France. There have been occasional presences on the island since as the result of French/American military activities, scientific expeditions, and the occasional brief set of castaways. Ramón Arnaud Jr. even revisited the island with a team of biologists led by Jacques Cousteau in 1980; seventy-year-old Arnaud was pleased to see his place of birth in spite of the trauma. But no one has tried to live permanently on Clipperton since the last settlers were rescued by the Yorktown. Even without a crazed lighthouse-keeping rapist-tyrant, the island is very poorly equipped for comfortable human habitation.
Meet Amber, 300kg, U.S woman who is unable to stand or walk for minutes. This 24-year-old woman from Oregon weighs a shocking 660 lbs – and has admitted that she is ‘killing herself’ with her eating habits. Amber, who is featured in the new series of TLC’s show My 600 lb Life, reveals on the show just how much her weight has limited her ability to have a proper life. ‘Sometimes I think to myself I’m never gonna change,’ she heartbreakingly admits – before going on to explain that she is in constant pain and unable to even wash properly, instead having to sit on the toilet to clean herself. ‘Everything hurts…my back hurts, my shins hurt,’ Amber adds. ‘I am so limited in what I can do and where I can go. I feel trapped. ‘I feel like a nasty, yucky monster…I feel like I have failed myself and my parents.’ Amber, who lives with her mother and her boyfriend in the Oregon town of Troutdale, is also seen getting tearful onscreen as she fails to even make it down stairs – having to rely on her mum to help her. She goes on to admit that she ‘sees a lot of pity in my mum’s face when she looks at me…mostly I think she’s just sad for me.’ Her story is just one of a number featured in the latest series of the show, which returns to TLC in the US in January.
Sunday, 20 March 2016 09:30


Dead Man Gawking

 In December 1976 a Universal Studios camera crew arrived at the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California, to film an episode of the television action show, the Six Million Dollar Man. In preparing the set in a corner of the funhouse, a worker moved the "hanging man," causing one of this prop's arms to come off. Inside it was human bone. This was no mere prop; this was a dead guy! 

The body was that of Elmer McCurdy, a young man who in 1911 robbed a train of $46 and two jugs of whiskey in Oklahoma. He announced to the posse in pursuit of him that he would not be taken alive. He was proved right — they killed him in the ensuing 

McCurdy began his career as a sideshow attraction right after his embalming. He looked so darned good dressed up in his fancy clothes that the undertaker propped him up in a corner of the funeral home's back room and charged locals a nickel to see "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up." The nickels were dropped into the corpse's open mouth (from where they were later retrieved by the entrepreneurial undertaker).



No next of kin showed up to claim McCurdy, so the corpse kept mouthing nickels for a few years. Carnival promoters wanted to buy the stiff, but the undertaker turned them down. McCurdy was producing a steady income for the funeral parlor — why tamper with success? 

In 1915, two men showed up and claimed that McCurdy was their brother. They hauled the body away, supposedly to give him a decent burial in the family plot. In reality, McCurdy's "brothers" were carnival promoters and this was a ruse to get the deceased away from that proprietary undertaker. The promoters exhibited McCurdy throughout Texas under the same billing as the undertaker had given him — "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up." 

After that tour, McCurdy popped up everywhere, including an amusement park near Mount Rushmore, lying in an open casket in a Los Angeles wax museum, and in a few low-budget films. Before the Six Million Dollar Man crew discovered this prop to be a corpse, McCurdy had been hanging in that Long Beach funhouse for four years. 

In April 1977, the much-traveled Elmer McCurdy was laid to final rest in Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. To make sure the corpse would not make its way back to the entertainment world; the state medical examiner ordered two cubic yards of cement poured over the coffin before the grave was closed. McCurdy hasn't been seen hanging around amusement parks since. 

Barbara "century at bernie's" Mikkelson 

Sightings:   Brian Dewan's "Cowboy Outlaw" (from his 1993 Tells The Story album) is about McCurdy's post-mortem career.

THE ICONIC LIFE OF NANCY REAGAN: THE FIRST LADY DIES AT 94 Nancy Reagan, a former film actress whose crowning role was that of vigilant guardian of President Ronald Reagan’s interests and legacy, died March 6 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94. The cause was congestive heart failure, her office said. As first lady from 1981 to 1989, Mrs. Reagan had a knack for inviting controversy — from her spending habits to her request that the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president’s schedule. But the controversies during her years as first lady often obscured her profound influence on one of the most popular presidents in modern history. They were a universe of two, and their legendary devotion helped define the Reagan presidency. President Obama said Sunday that Mrs. Reagan had “redefined” the role of first lady, and he praised her for becoming an advocate for Alzheimer’s disease treatments and research after her husband was diagnosed in 1994. “We remain grateful for Nancy Reagan’s life [and] thankful for her guidance,” the president and first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement. Mrs. Reagan was often seen as the “bad cop” to her husband’s congenial “good cop,” putting her at odds with his senior staff, who wanted more exposure for the man known as the “Great Communicator.” After John W. Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate her husband in 1981, Mrs. Reagan kept his senior aides and a sympathetic public at bay while he convalesced. She argued vociferously against his running for reelection in 1984, in part because of fears about his safety. “She defined her role as being a shield for the emotional and physical well-being of the president,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian for the National First Ladies’ Library. “I believe she would see her legacy as having helped forge her husband’s legacy.” Frederick J. Ryan Jr., who is The Washington Post’s publisher and chief executive and who is chairman of the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said: “She set the standard that first ladies will aspire to for many years to come. Her contributions to the success of Ronald Reagan’s presidency may never be fully appreciated.” Always working behind the scenes, she was involved in the hiring, and firing, of senior staff at pivotal junctures. She insisted, over the objections of some senior advisers, that her husband publicly apologize for the government’s secret arms sales to Iran, a scandal that rocked his presidency. It proved to be the right call. She also bucked the administration’s right-leaning ideologues in pushing for improved relations with the Soviet Union, conspiring with the secretary of state to do it. Not six years out of the White House, Mrs. Reagan was tested in ways she could not have imagined. She spent a decade as primary caregiver for her husband as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, with him eventually not recognizing the woman he called “Mommy.” His illness prompted Mrs. Reagan to openly challenge the George W. Bush administration and other conservatives who sought to limit research on embryonic stem cells, work that scientists think could present a cure for Alzheimer’s. [From 2004: Ronald Reagan, president who reshaped American politics, dies at 93] Just before his death in 2004, she made a plea for more research funding, saying, “Ronnie’s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.” She expressed public gratitude when President Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research early in his presidency, noting that “time is short, and life is precious.” Protecting ‘Ronnie’ As first lady of California when her husband was governor, Mrs. Reagan was an outspoken advocate for returning Vietnam War veterans. She met the first planes of returning POWs landing in California, and organized dinners at the Reagan home for veterans and their families. In Washington, Mrs. Reagan’s most prominent initiative as first lady was the “Just Say No” drug-awareness campaign, aimed at preventing recreational drug use among young people. Later, she expanded the campaign globally and held a White House summit with 30 first ladies from around the world. Like the current White House occupants, she brought young artists to perform in the White House, many of whom were showcased in a PBS television series, “In Performance at the White House.” But time after time, her efforts at developing a substantive role for herself were overshadowed by parallel revelations about her lifestyle or her influence over her husband. Still, she never backed down from her primary mission of protecting her “Ronnie.” In a stunning parting shot at her husband’s advisers in November 1988, as Reagan prepared to leave office, she told the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t feel this staff served him well in general. I’m more aware if someone is trying to end-run him and have their own agenda.” Mrs. Reagan saw herself caught in the crosshairs of the feminist movement; she was one of the last of the stay-at-home generation who represented everything the women’s movement was rebelling against. She was ridiculed for what became known as “the gaze” — an unflinching stare at her husband when he spoke publicly. Still, she made no apologies. “My life didn’t really begin until I met Ronnie,” she said. During his campaigns, she vastly preferred traveling with him rather than on her own, but by the 1980 presidential race, she agreed to keep a separate schedule to reach more voters. When she saw the president perform poorly during the debates in 1984, she intervened, instructing the staff to stop feeding him endless statistics to memorize — but to let him rely on his own instincts. It proved effective. Mrs. Reagan took Washington by storm in 1981. Even before her husband — a movie star before he became governor of California — was sworn in, she swept into town with a larger-than-life cadre of wealthy California friends and celebrities who wore sable coats, knotted traffic with their shiny white limousines and threw lavish parties the likes of which were unprecedented at inaugural festivities. At first, the public seemed to embrace what was billed as the return of style and glamour after four years of the more modest style of peanut farmer Jimmy Carter. But the glamour soon was seen as ostentation during a steep recession. After complaining that the White House residential quarters were in disrepair, and noting that she could find no set of matching china there, Mrs. Reagan turned to affluent friends to raise funds for $800,000 in renovations and $200,000 of new china. Although no public money was spent, these two expenditures became symbols of excess. A high-profile trip to Britain for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana six months into the presidency only fueled her detractors. Critics took to calling her “Queen Nancy,” which eventually became a popular postcard. By December 1981, a Newsweek poll reported that 61 percent of the public considered her less sympathetic than previous first ladies to the needs of the disadvantaged. About the same time, it came to light that she had been accepting thousands of dollars in gifts of jewelry and gowns from designers, which she declared were loans that she would return. She vowed to stop borrowing the items, and White House lawyers agreed that they would be reported annually, as ethics laws require. But five years later, it was discovered that she had continued to borrow the clothes. She acknowledged in her 1989 memoir, “My Turn,” that it was a mistake not to make public her practice of borrowing. “During Ronnie’s first term, I was portrayed as caring only about shopping, beautiful clothes and going to lunch with my fancy Hollywood friends. During his second term, I was portrayed as a power-hungry political manipulator,” she lamented. In an attempt to deflect the criticism a year after arriving in Washington, she donned a bag-lady costume at the 1982 Gridiron Dinner and sang “Second Hand Clothes,” a parody of “Second Hand Rose,” before the assembled journalists and Washington power players. No one saw it coming when she slipped away from the head table and appeared onstage. The self-deprecating performance, which surprised even her husband and brought down the house, earned her a reprieve from her critics and much positive press coverage. Controversial adviser Controversy followed Mrs. Reagan long before she arrived in Washington. Her longtime loyalist and White House image impresario, the late Michael K. Deaver, wrote in “Nancy: A Portrait of My Years With Nancy Reagan,” published in 2004, that the first lady had something of a tin ear when it came to grasping how things would appear in the media. When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966, Nancy took heat for moving her family out of the governor’s mansion — declaring it a fire hazard — and into a home in a high-end suburb. “Being ‘right’ about the governor’s mansion, though, did not grant Nancy any reprieve from the slings and arrows of the media, then or later,” wrote Deaver, who accompanied the Reagans to Washington. “While Ronald Reagan went on to become the ‘Teflon president’ . . . by contrast Nancy would become something like the ‘flypaper first lady.’ ” Mrs. Reagan was undeniably the president’s closest adviser and the most senior woman in the inner circle. At various times, she was intimately involved in staffing and political decisions. “She had great antennae about who was for her husband’s agenda and who was for their own agenda,” said Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s last White House chief of staff and longtime confidant of the first lady. But those who knew the couple well said that although he relied on her more than anyone else, the president had a stubborn streak and could not be pushed where he didn’t want to go. “I was around them for many years, and I never saw her push him into something he didn’t want to do,” said the late Martin Anderson, former White House domestic policy adviser for Reagan. Former Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, who covered Ronald Reagan as governor and president, wrote in his biography of Reagan that Mrs. Reagan was “a better listener than her husband. And she was also better than him at distinguishing between those who really cared about him or his policies and those who followed his banner to advance their own interests.” A theatrical meeting Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921, in New York, she was the only child of car salesman Kenneth Seymour Robbins and Edith Luckett, an actress. Her father had left before she was born, and she rarely saw him in subsequent years. To find work as an actress, Mrs. Reagan’s mother left her for half a dozen years to be raised in Bethesda, Md., by her aunt Virginia and uncle Audley Gailbraith. She briefly attended Sidwell Friends School in the District. The future first lady spoke of longing for her mother in those lonely years, and in 1929, they were reunited when Edith married Loyal Davis, a prominent, wealthy, politically conservative neurosurgeon who moved them to Chicago. Mrs. Reagan adored her stepfather, who eventually adopted her, and her name was legally changed to Nancy Davis. She described herself as an average student. She attended the Girls’ Latin School of Chicago, graduated in 1939 and went on to Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in English and drama, graduating in 1943. She said she always had a love for theater because of her mother’s influence, and she moved to New York to pursue acting after college. She described her fledgling career as any young woman’s fantasy, thanks to her mother’s contacts: She had dates with film legend Clark Gable at the Stork Club, visits to Katharine Hepburn’s apartment and eventually a contract with the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. As Nancy Davis, she had roles in 11 feature films from 1949 to 1956. Among her early roles was that of a psychiatrist in “Shadow on the Wall” (1950). Other films included “East Side, West Side” (1949) and “The Next Voice You Hear” (1950). She appeared opposite her husband only once, and that was in her last film, 1957’s “Hellcats of the Navy.” She met Ronald Reagan when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Another actress by the same name had appeared on the Hollywood blacklist, and Mrs. Reagan was concerned about being confused with her. She asked a mutual friend to introduce her to Reagan to sort out the confusion. She admitted later that she had set her sights on him, pretty quickly folding her existence into his. He was an avid horseman, and she took up riding during their courtship. On March 4, 1952, they were married in a small ceremony at the Little Brown Church near Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan’s best man was film star William Holden. Their first child, Patricia Ann — known as Patti Davis — was born seven months later. Their second child, Ron, came along in 1958. Ronald Reagan came to the marriage with two children from when he was married to actress Jane Wyman: the late Maureen Reagan and Michael Reagan. Throughout his presidency and after, as Ronald and Nancy Reagan advocated family values, their relationship with their own children was a running drama, creating the public impression of a highly dysfunctional family. Patti Davis’s 1992 memoir, “The Way I See It,” described a mother driven by appearances, abusive toward her and a habitual user of tranquilizers. “As uncomfortable as it is to talk about, and write about, abuse is part of this story. I first remember my mother hitting me when I was eight. It escalated as I got older and became a weekly, sometimes daily, event. The last time it happened was when I was in my second year of college,” Davis wrote. (Mother and daughter reconciled when Ronald Reagan was struggling with Alzheimer’s, and they remained close in recent years.) In 1984, Mrs. Reagan triggered a public feud with Michael when she acknowledged publicly that he was estranged from the family; he shot back that Ronald Reagan had yet to see his then-only grandchild, who was 19 months old. A few years later, Michael Reagan wrote his memoir, summed up by the title: “On the Outside Looking In.” Although not as critical as Davis’s, his book told of feeling disconnected from his father, his mother (Wyman), and his father’s second family. During Reagan’s first presidential campaign in 1976, Michael Reagan wrote, he and his older sister, Maureen, “felt as though Nancy was pushing us out of the family circle and trying to bring Ron and Patti in,” despite their disinterest, because “the campaign staff . . . felt we made Dad look too old.” He also said that he and Maureen called Mrs. Reagan “Dragon Lady” when they were younger. Later, Michael and the Reagans reconciled. Looking to the stars Hinckley’s assassination attempt in 1981, which gravely injured press secretary James S. Brady, was a seminal moment in the Reagan presidency, and it ratcheted up Mrs. Reagan’s already protective inclinations toward her husband. “I felt panicky every time he left the White House,” she wrote in her memoir. Eventually, this overprotection led to her consulting an astrologer, Joan Quigley, who predicted “good” days for the president to travel or even leave the White House and “bad” days when he should stay home. Mrs. Reagan insisted that the staff follow her guidance. Her reliance on astrology was not revealed until her bitter feud with then-Chief of Staff Donald Regan. At first, she welcomed Regan’s authoritarian management style, but she soon saw him as usurping her husband’s power for his own interests. In 1986, the presidency was rocked by the Iran-contra affair, a rogue White House operation during which aides arranged for arms sales to Iran in return for hostages; proceeds from the sales funded anti-government revolutionaries in Nicaragua. She laid the blame at Regan’s door, because the chaos happened on his watch. They clashed over a media and political strategy for handling the scandal, and for months their feud played out in public, with allies of both leaking unfavorable stories about the other. The daily drama prompted then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) to say on the House floor: “What is happening at the White House? Who is in charge? A constituent of mine asked, ‘How can the president deal with the Soviets if he cannot settle a dispute between his wife and the chief of staff?’ ” Even her breast cancer diagnosis in 1987 proved controversial when she chose to have a modified radical mastectomy. The decision was questioned by medical experts at the time because it ran counter to trends in breast-cancer surgery, which tended toward less-invasive lumpectomies. The Soviet thaw Mrs. Reagan saw early on in her husband’s term that he could have a profound impact on his legacy by working to thaw U.S.-Soviet relations, and she quietly conspired with the pragmatists in the administration to make it happen. Reagan credited his wife with “lowering the temperature of my rhetoric.” Ronald Reagan had built his conservative credentials as a hard-liner, opposing the Soviet Union and communism. As far back as his days as head of the Screen Actors Guild, he refused to step up and help those in the entertainment industry whom then-Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) tried to expose as alleged communists. In the White House, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” and he surrounded himself with ideologues who had no interest in extending an olive branch to the Soviets — or engaging in a nuclear-arms reduction. But at some point, the president saw the benefits of opening a dialogue with the Soviet Union, and his wife saw an opportunity. “Nancy believed this was her husband’s destiny,” Deaver said in Kati Marton’s “Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History,” published in 2001. “A man of his age who had lived through two world wars would be the one to break the deadlock of the Cold War.” Over the strenuous objections of national-security hawks, she worked with Secretary of State George Shultz to bring Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to the White House for dinner to break the ice. Despite Mrs. Reagan’s open disdain for her Soviet counterpart, Raisa Gorbachev, the first lady was credited for an attention to detail in 1987, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s state visit to the United States. As the heads of state developed a warm relationship, the wives started their own cold war. Mrs. Reagan was said to be furious when Raisa Gorbachev said during her Washington visit, “I missed you in Reykjavik,” referring to the 1986 summit in Iceland. “I was told women weren’t invited,” Mrs. Reagan replied coolly. During a tour of the White House, the first lady was taken aback by Raisa Gorbachev’s relentless questioning about historical and cultural minutiae, some of which Mrs. Reagan couldn’t answer. “We were thrust together although we had very little in common and had completely different outlooks on the world,” Mrs. Reagan wrote in her book. “During about a dozen encounters in three different countries my fundamental impression of Raisa Gorbachev was that she never stopped talking, or lecturing, to be more accurate.” After Washington After the Reagans left the White House, they started the Nancy Reagan Foundation to support educational and drug-prevention after-school programs. After Ronald Reagan’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the couple created and funded the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago to study the illness. In her final years, Mrs. Reagan lived quietly in California, lunching with old friends and spending her time advocating for stem cell research. Survivors include her daughter, Patti Davis; her son, Ron Reagan; and her stepson, Michael Reagan. “We’ve had an extraordinary life . . . but the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder,” she wrote of her husband’s illness in “I Love You, Ronnie,” a poignant collection of their love letters. “There are so many memories that I can no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other, and go — and love, just love.”
Tuesday, 23 February 2016 12:46


In 1942, Seaman Calvin Graham was decorated for valor in battle. Then his mother learned where he'd been and revealed his secret to the Navy With powerful engines, extensive firepower and heavy armor, the newly christened battleship USS South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia in August of 1942 spoiling for a fight. The crew was made up of “green boys”—new recruits who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor—who had no qualms about either their destination or the action they were likely to see. Brash and confident, the crew couldn’t get through the Panama Canal fast enough, and their captain, Thomas Gatch, made no secret of the grudge he bore against the Japanese. “No ship more eager to fight ever entered the Pacific,” one naval historian wrote. FROM THIS STORY In less than four months, the South Dakota would limp back to port in New York for repairs to extensive damage suffered in some of World War II’s most ferocious battles at sea. The ship would become one of the most decorated warships in U.S. Navy history and acquire a new moniker to reflect the secrets it carried. The Japanese, it turned out, were convinced the vessel had been destroyed at sea, and the Navy was only too happy to keep the mystery alive—stripping the South Dakota of identifying markings and avoiding any mention of it in communications and even sailors’ diaries. When newspapers later reported on the ship’s remarkable accomplishments in the Pacific Theater, they referred to it simply as “Battleship X.” That the vessel was not resting at the bottom of the Pacific was just one of the secrets Battleship X carried through day after day of hellish war at sea. Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation’s youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, the fresh-faced seaman who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12 years old. Graham was just 11 and in the sixth grade in Crockett, Texas, when he hatched his plan to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house, and Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit—sometimes to simply sign his report cards at the end of a semester. The country was at war, however, and being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas. “I didn’t like Hitler to start with,” Graham later told a reporter. When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to fight. “In those days, you could join up at 16 with your parents’ consent, but they preferred 17,” Graham later said. But he had no intention of waiting five more years. He began to shave at age 11, hoping it would somehow make him look older when he met with military recruiters. Then he lined up with some buddies (who forged his mother’s signature and stole a notary stamp from a local hotel) and waited to enlist. At 5-foot-2 and just 125 pounds, Graham dressed in an older brother’s clothes and fedora and practiced “talking deep.” What worried him most was not that an enlistment officer would spot the forged signature. It was the dentist who would peer into the mouths of potential recruits. “I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth,” Graham recalled. He lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and “when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17.” At last, Graham played his ace, telling the dentist that he knew for a fact that the boys in front of him weren’t 17 yet, and the dentist had let them through. “Finally,” Graham recalled, “he said he didn’t have time to mess with me and he let me go.” Graham maintained that the Navy knew he and the others on line that day were underage, “but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.” It wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age in order to serve. Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16 during World War II, founded the group Veterans of Underage Military Service in 1991, and it listed more than 1,200 active members, including 26 women. “Some of these guys came from large families and there wasn’t enough food to go around, and this was a way out,” Jackson told a reporter. “Others just had family problems and wanted to get away.” Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training. There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs. By the time the USS South Dakota made it to the Pacific, it had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise (the “Big E”). By early October 1942, the two ships, along with their escorting cruisers and destroyers, raced to the South Pacific to engage in the fierce fighting in the battle for Guadalcanal. After they reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese quickly set their sights on the carrier and launched an air attack that easily penetrated the Enterprise’s own air patrol. The carrier USS Hornet was repeatedly torpedoed and sank off Santa Cruz, but the South Dakota managed to protect Enterprise, destroying 26 enemy planes with a barrage from its antiaircraft guns. Standing on the bridge, Captain Gatch watched as a 500-pound bomb struck the South Dakota’s main gun turret. The explosion injured 50 men, including the skipper, and killed one. The ship’s armor was so thick, many of the crew were unaware they’d been hit. But word quickly spread that Gatch had been knocked unconscious. Quick-thinking quartermasters managed to save the captain’s life—his jugular vein had been severed, and the ligaments in his arms suffered permanent damage—but some onboard were aghast that he didn’t hit the deck when he saw the bomb coming. “I consider it beneath the dignity of a captain of an American battleship to flop for a Japanese bomb,” Gatch later said. The ship’s young crew continued to fire at anything in the air, including American bombers that were low on fuel and trying to land on the Enterprise. The South Dakota was quickly getting a reputation for being wild-eyed and quick to shoot, and Navy pilots were warned not to fly anywhere near it. The South Dakota was fully repaired at Pearl Harbor, and Captain Gatch returned to his ship, wearing a sling and bandages. Seaman Graham quietly became a teenager, turning 13 on November 6, just as Japanese naval forces began shelling an American airfield on Guadalcanal Island. Steaming south with the Enterprise, Task Force 64, with the South Dakota and another battleship, the USS Washington, took four American destroyers on a night search for the enemy near Savo Island. There, on November 14, Japanese ships opened fire, sinking or heavily damaging the American destroyers in a four day engagement that became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Later that evening the South Dakota encountered eight Japanese destroyers; with deadly accurate 16-inch guns, the South Dakota set fire to three of them. “They never knew what sank ‘em,” Gatch would recall. One Japanese ship set its searchlights on the South Dakota, and the ship took 42 enemy hits, temporarily losing power. Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth; another hit knocked him down, and he fell through three stories of superstructure. Still, the 13 year-old made it to his feet, dazed and bleeding, and helped pull other crew members to safety while others were thrown by the force of the explosions, their bodies aflame, into the Pacific. “I took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for the living and gave them cigarettes and encouraged them all night,” Graham later said. ”It was a long night. It aged me.” The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns, but he was “fixed up with salve and a coupla stitches,” he recalled. “I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead. It was a while before they worked on my mouth.” In fact, the ship had casualties of 38 men killed and 60 wounded. Regaining power, and after afflicting heavy damage to the Japanese ships, the South Dakota rapidly disappeared in the smoke. Captain Gatch would later remark of his “green” men, “Not one of the ship’s company flinched from his post or showed the least disaffection.” With the Japanese Imperial Navy under the impression that it had sunk the South Dakota, the legend of Battleship X was born. In mid-December, the damaged ship returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for major repairs, where Gatch and his crew were profiled for their heroic deeds in the Pacific. Calvin Graham received a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries. But he couldn’t bask in glory with his fellow crewmen while their ship was being repaired. Graham’s mother, reportedly having recognized her son in newsreel footage, wrote the Navy, revealing the gunner’s true age. Graham returned to Texas and was thrown in a brig at Corpus Christi, Texas, for almost three months. Battleship X returned to the Pacific and continued to shoot Japanese planes out of the sky. Graham, meanwhile, managed to get a message out to his sister Pearl, who complained to the newspapers that the Navy was mistreating the “Baby Vet.” The Navy eventually ordered Graham’s release, but not before stripping him of his medals for lying about his age and revoking his disability benefits. He was simply tossed from jail with a suit and a few dollars in his pocket—and no honorable discharge. Back in Houston, though, he was treated as a celebrity. Reporters were eager to write his story, and when the war film Bombadier premiered at a local theater, the film’s star, Pat O’Brien, invited Graham to the stage to be saluted by the audience. The attention quickly faded. At age 13, Graham tried to return to school, but he couldn’t keep pace with students his age and quickly dropped out. He married at age 14, became a father the following year, and found work as a welder in a Houston shipyard. Neither his job nor his marriage lasted long. At 17 years old and divorced, and with no service record, Graham was about to be drafted when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He soon broke his back in a fall, for which he received a 20 percent service-connected disability. The only work he could find after that was selling magazine subscriptions. When President Jimmy Carter was elected, in 1976, Graham began writing letters, hoping that Carter, “an old Navy man,” might be sympathetic. All Graham had wanted was an honorable discharge so he could get help with his medical and dental expenses. “I had already given up fighting” for the discharge, Graham said at the time. “But then they came along with this discharge program for deserters. I know they had their reasons for doing what they did, but I figure I damn sure deserved more than they did.” In 1977, Texas Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower introduced a bill to give Graham his discharge, and in 1978, Carter announced that it had been approved and that Graham’s medals would be restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart. Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation approving disability benefits for Graham. At the age of 12, Calvin Graham broke the law to serve his country, at a time when the U.S. military might well be accused of having had a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to underage enlistees. For fear of losing their benefits or their honorable discharges, many “Baby Vets” never came forward to claim the nation’s gratitude. It wasn’t until 1994, two years after he died, that the military relented and returned the seaman’s last medal—his Purple Heart—to his family.
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