Bly in History – 05 May 2015

Elizabeth Cochrane, "Nellie Bly", 1890

Elizabeth Cochrane, “Nellie Bly”, 1890

Nellie Bly turns 151 today.

Nellie Bly was an American journalist, author, and charity worker, who received initial renown after writing a stinging expose of the mistreatment of the mentally ill while faking insanity and living undercover at a New York mental institution.

Today considered an innovator in the field of investigative reporting, she became a national folk hero after her 72 day record breaking trip around the world in 1889.

Her idea for a newspaper story chronicling her round-the-world trip was presented to her editor at the New York World, but he thought a man would be more up to the task and worried about the amount of luggage she would carry. In answer to his objection, Bly came up with the design for a dress that would stand up to three months of wear and tear and the rigors of travel.

Her initial goal for the trip was to beat the fictional record of Phileas Fogg, the protagonist from Jules Verne’s, Around the World in 80 Days. Not only did she beat his record, she interviewed the renowned author after stopping in France on her journey home to the United States. Upon her arrival she was greeted with a parade and much fanfare (but no raise from her newspaper employer); still her trip was deemed, “a tribute to American pluck, American womanhood and American perseverance.”

I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.  - Nellie Bly,  The Evening Journal, 1922

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.”
– Nellie Bly,
The Evening Journal, 1922

Asylum Exposé

Seeking a career that was broader in scope than theater and arts reporting, Bly left the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 for New York City. There she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

It was here that she came up with the idea to go on an undercover assignment in which she would feign insanity in order to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. The assignment resulted in her being dubbed “daring girl reporter”‘ by other reporters.

After a night of practicing deranged expressions in front of a mirror, she checked into a working-class boardinghouse. She refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that she was afraid of them and that they looked crazy. They soon decided that “she” was crazy, and the next morning summoned the police. Taken to a courtroom, she pretended to have amnesia. The judge concluded she had been drugged.

She was then examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane. Positively demented, said one, I consider it a hopeless case. She needs to be put where someone will take care of her. The head of the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital pronounced her “undoubtedly insane.” The case of the “pretty, crazy girl” attracted media attention: Who Is This Insane Girl? asked the New York Sun.The New York Times wrote of the “mysterious waif” with the “wild, hunted look in her eyes,” and her desperate cry: “I can’t remember. I can’t remember.”

Committed to the asylum, Bly experienced its conditions firsthand. The inmates were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. The bathwater was frigid, and buckets of it were poured over their heads. The nurses were rude and abusive. Speaking with her fellow residents, Bly was convinced that some were as sane as she was. On the effect of her experiences, she wrote:

“What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 A.M. until 8 P.M. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.”

After ten days, Bly was released from the asylum at The World’s behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and thrust her into the national limelight. While embarrassed physicians and staff fumbled to explain how so many professionals had been fooled, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Bly to assist.

The jury’s report recommended the changes she had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.

1884. A formal portrait of Nellie Bly (1867-1922), an American journalist and around the world traveler. Image courtesy of  © Bettmann/CORBIS

1884. A formal portrait of Nellie Bly (1867-1922), an American journalist and around the world traveler. Image courtesy of
© Bettmann/CORBIS

Around the World

Her most publicized reporting stunt was her trip-around-the world. On November 14, 1889 she embarked from New York City on her 24,899-mile journey. Journeying by both ship and train, she traveled through England, France, the Suez Canal, Ceylon, Hong Kong, and Japan. “Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her Hoboken departure” (January 25, 1890) Nellie arrived in New York. The publication of her book, Nelly Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days marked the height of her journalistic career.

She followed this success with reports on other issues of the day including a piece about the Oneida Community, a utopian religious group, and interviews with Belva Lockwood, (the Woman Suffrage Party’s candidate for president in 1884 and 1888) and Eugene Debbs the Socialist leader of the railroad union. The World also featured a front-page interview she conducted with the anarchist Emma Goldman. Having eclipsed what was expected of women in her time, at the age of 30, Bly was ready to settle down.

Later Years

In 1895 Bly married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman. Bly was 31 and Seaman was 73 when they married. She retired from journalism and became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. In 1904, her husband died. In the same year, Iron Clad began manufacturing the steel barrel that was the model for the 55-gallon oil drum still in widespread use in the United States. Although there have been claims that Bly invented the barrel, the inventor is believed to have been Henry Wehrhahn, who likely assigned his invention to her. (U.S. Patents 808,327 and 808,413).

Bly was, however, an inventor in her own right, receiving U.S. patent 697,553 for a novel milk can and U.S. patent 703,711 for a stacking garbage can, both under her married name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. For a time she was one of the leading women industrialists in the United States, but embezzlement by employees resulted in the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. going bankrupt. Back in reporting, she wrote stories on Europe’s Eastern Front during World War I and notably covered the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913. Her headline for the Parade story was “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors”, but she also “with uncanny prescience” predicted in the story that it would be 1920 before women would win the vote.

Bly died of pneumonia at St. Mark’s Hospital in New York City in 1922 at age 57. She was interred in a modest grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, coincidentally in the same cemetery as Bisland, who died in 1929, also of pneumonia.

Grace and headstone of Nellie Bly, Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York, USA.

Grace and headstone of Nellie Bly, Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York, USA.

Legacy

In an era of Yellow journalism and at a time when women were just beginning to break into the field of journalism the type of undercover investigative reporting undertaken by Bly, set an important precedent. As forerunner to Ida M. Tarbell, and Dorothy Thompson, she successfully pioneered working in the male dominated field of newspaper writing. And like author Charlotte Perkins Gilman and lawyer Belva Lockwood she addressed social issues that desperately needed attention at the turn of the 20th century; issues that affected not only women but all minorities marginalized by society.

For Bly this was especially true in the case of children unprotected by labor laws. In her own childhood, she witnessed first-hand how property laws – which did not protect the rights of widows in those days – marginalized women.

Additionally, in an unregulated economy, Bly was at a distinct disadvantage in running her husband’s business after his death. In her time, Bly reported the news from the perspective of a woman and, as such, helped to elevate the role of women in American society.

Japanese Balloon Bombs

1944, screen grab from a Navy training film features an elaborate balloon bomb.

1944, screen grab from a Navy training film features an elaborate balloon bomb.

Also on this day in 1945, a pregnant Elsie Mitchell and 5 Sunday school children are killed by a Japanese Balloon Bomb in Bly, Oregon, the only known American civilians killed by enemy action in the Continental US during WWII.

Just a few months ago a couple of forestry workers in Lumby, British Columbia — about 250 miles north of the U.S. border — happened upon a 70-year-old Japanese balloon bomb.

The dastardly contraption was one of thousands of balloon bombs launched toward North America in the 1940s as part of a secret plot by Japanese saboteurs. To date, only a few hundred of the devices have been found — and most are still unaccounted for.

The plan was diabolic. At some point during World War II, scientists in Japan figured out a way to harness a brisk air stream that sweeps eastward across the Pacific Ocean — to dispatch silent and deadly devices to the American mainland.

The project — named Fugo — “called for sending bomb-carrying balloons from Japan to set fire to the vast forests of America, in particular those of the Pacific Northwest. It was hoped that the fires would create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt the U.S. war effort,” James M. Powles describes in a 2003 issue of the journal World War II. The balloons, or “envelopes”, designed by the Japanese army were made of lightweight paper fashioned from the bark of trees. Attached were bombs composed of sensors, powder-packed tubes, triggering devices and other simple and complex mechanisms.

‘Jellyfish In The Sky’

“The envelopes are really amazing, made of hundreds of pieces of traditional hand-made paper glued together with glue made from a tuber,” says Marilee Schmit Nason of the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum in New Mexico. “The control frame really is a piece of art.”

As described by J. David Rodgers of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the balloon bombs “were 33 feet in diameter and could lift approximately 1,000 pounds, but the deadly portion of their cargo was a 33-lb anti-personnel fragmentation bomb, attached to a 64–foot-long fuse that was intended to burn for 82 minutes before detonating.”

Once aloft, some of the ingeniously designed incendiary devices — weighted by expendable sandbags — floated from Japan to the U.S. mainland and into Canada. The trip took several days.

“Distribution of the balloon bombs was quite large,” says Nason. They appeared from northern Mexico to Alaska, and from Hawaii to Michigan. “When launched — in groups — they are said to have looked like jellyfish floating in the sky.

A Japanese balloon bomb in all of its terrible splendor. The 10-meter Mulberry paper balloon was re-inflated at NAS Maffett Field, California following its downing by Navy aircraft about 30 miles west of Alturas, California January 10, 1945. The balloon now belongs to the National Air and Space Museum. (US Army photo A 37180C)

A Japanese balloon bomb in all of its terrible splendor.
The 10-meter Mulberry paper balloon was re-inflated at NAS Maffett Field, California following its downing by Navy aircraft about 30 miles west of Alturas, California January 10, 1945. The balloon now belongs to the National Air and Space Museum.
(US Army photo A 37180C)

Mysterious Munitions

Sightings of the airborne bombs began cropping up throughout the western U.S. in late 1944. In December, folks at a coal mine close to Thermopolis, Wyo., saw “a parachute in the air, with lighted flares and after hearing a whistling noise, heard an explosion and saw smoke in a draw near the mine about 6:15 pm,” Powles writes.

Another bomb was espied a few days later near Kalispell, Mont. According to Powles, “An investigation by local sheriffs determined that the object was not a parachute, but a large paper balloon with ropes attached along with a gas relief valve, a long fuse connected to a small incendiary bomb, and a thick rubber cord. The balloon and parts were taken to Butte, [Mont.] where personnel from the FBI, Army and Navy carefully examined everything. The officials determined that the balloon was of Japanese origin, but how it had gotten to Montana and where it came from was a mystery.”

Eventually American scientists helped solve the puzzle. All in all, the Japanese military probably launched 6,000 or more of the wicked weapons. Several hundred were spotted in the air or found on the ground in the U.S. To keep the Japanese from tracking the success of their treachery, the U.S. government asked American news organizations to refrain from reporting on the balloon bombs. So presumably, we may never know the extent of the damage.

Danger: UXB

We do know of one tragic upshot: In the spring of 1945, Powles writes, a pregnant woman and five children were killed by “a 15-kilogram high-explosive anti-personnel bomb from a crashed Japanese balloon” on Gearhart Mountain near Bly, Ore. Reportedly, these were the only documented casualties of the plot.

Another balloon bomb struck a power line in Washington state, cutting off electricity to the Hanford Engineer Works, where the U.S. was conducting its own secret project, manufacturing plutonium for use in nuclear bombs.

Just after the war, reports came in from far and wide of balloon bomb incidents. The Beatrice Daily Sun reported that the pilotless weapons had landed in seven different Nebraska towns, including Omaha. The Winnipeg Tribune noted that one balloon bomb was found 10 miles from Detroit and another one near Grand Rapids.

Over the years, the explosive devices have popped up here and there. In November 1953, a balloon bomb was detonated by an Army crew in Edmonton, Alberta, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In January 1955, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the Air Force had discovered one in Alaska.

In 1984, the Santa Cruz Sentinel noted that Bert Webber, an author and researcher, had located 45 balloon bombs in Oregon, 37 in Alaska, 28 in Washington and 25 in California. One bomb fell in Medford, Ore., Webber said. “It just made a big hole in the ground.”

The Sentinel reported that a bomb had been discovered in southwest Oregon in 1978.

The bomb recently recovered in British Columbia — in October 2014 — “has been in the dirt for 70 years,” Henry Proce of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told The Canadian Press. “It would have been far too dangerous to move it.”

So how was the situation handled? “They put some C-4 on either side of this thing,” Proce said, “and they blew it to smithereens.”

On the Web:

Nellie Bly –

Ten Days in a Mad-House, and other early investigative reports by Nellie Bly Digital.library.upenn.edu.

TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE 

New York Times: Nellie Bly, Journalist, Dies of Pneumonia 

The Best Reporter in America 

Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

Spartacus Educational biography 

Around The World In 72 Days 

Nellie Bly Sources:

  • Bly, Nellie, and Ira Peck. 1998. Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in 72 days. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 0761309713
  • Bly, Nellie. 1887. Ten days in a mad-house; or, Nellie Bly’s experience on Blackwell’s Island. Feigning insanity in order to reveal asylum horrors. New York: N.L. Munro. OCLC 10873647
  • “Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman,” Dictionary of American Biography. American Council of Learned Socieities, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2008.
  • Kroeger, Brooke. 1994. Nellie Bly: daredevil, reporter, feminist. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0812919734
  • “Nellie Bly,” Contemporary Authors online, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
  • “Seaman, Elizabeth Cochrane” Women in World History. 2002. Detroit, MI: Yorkin Publishers/Gale Group. ISBN 0787640735

Japanese Balloon Bomb – 

“Japan’s Secret WWII Weapon: Balloon Bombs,” by Johnna Rizzo

On Paper Wings, a film by Ilana Sol

On a Wind and a Prayer, a film by Michael White

“Japan’s World War II Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America,” by Robert C. Mikesh

Fu-go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on Americaby Ross Coen

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Crash Notes: Freaky Friday News

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Former Honeymooners

A Saratoga Springs, New York, resort has begun accepting totally defeated husbands and wives for a relaxed weekend that includes divorce, bringing to America a concept already successful in six European cities. The Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa charges $5,000 for a couple to check in on a Friday, married, but leave Sunday officially single (complete with all legal niceties and various resort amenities, including, of course, separate rooms). Even though the couple must be fairly level-headed to accept this approach, the facility manager expressed concern that since the resort also books weddings, the “uncouplers” might inadvertently witness difficult scenes. (Gideon Putnam has hosted four divorces so far, but, said the European founder of the package service, “hundreds” of couples have used the services in Europe.) [New York Post, 2-10-2015]

Weird Science

— Another Animal With a Worse Sex Life Than Yours: No organism has it tougher than the male South-East Asian coin spider, according to research reported by New Scientist in January. It is somehow driven to mate with a female up to four times larger who is almost as driven to eat the male as to mate. After insemination, the male impulsively fights off other males’ attempts to disrupt the conception, and that means becoming a more nimble fighter, achieved, according to Matjaz Kuntner of the Slovenian Academy of the Arts and Sciences, by biting off its own genitals, since that organ comprises about one-tenth the spider’s body weight. [New Scientist, 1-16-2015]

— Because We Can: Scientists at the University of California, Irvine (with Australian partners) announced in January that they had figured out how to unboil a hen’s egg. (After boiling, the egg’s proteins become “tangled,” but the scientists’ device can untangle them, allowing the egg white to return to its previous state.) Actually, the researchers’ paper promises dramatically reduced costs in several applications, from cancer treatments to food production, where similar, clean untanglings might take “thousands” of times longer. [UC Irvine press release, promoting publication in the ChemBioChem journal, 1-23-2015]

Police Report

(1) The Knoxville (Tennessee) Police Department reminded motorists (via its Facebook page) that all vehicles need working headlights for night driving. Included was a recent department photo of the car of a Sweetwater, Tennessee, motorist who was ticketed twice the same evening with no headlights but only flashlights tied to his bumper with bungee cords. (2) A forlorn-appearing Anneliese Young, 82, was arrested at a CVS pharmacy in Augusta, Georgia, in February after store security allegedly caught her shoplifting a container of “Sexiest Fantasies” body spray that, according to the packaging, “provides a burst of sensuality … as addictive and seductive as the woman who wears it,” “sure to drive any man wild.” [WATE-TV (Knoxville), 2-5-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 2-9-2015]

Bright Ideas

— The Jeju Island Korean restaurant in Zhengzhou, China, staged a promotion last month to pick up lunch tabs for the 50 “most handsome” people to dine there every day. Judging was by a panel of cosmetic surgeons (who were partnering with the restaurant) and, as contestant-diners posed for photographs, they were evaluated on “quality of” eyes, noses, mouths and especially foreheads (better if “protruding”). [Daily Telegraph (London), 1-13-2015]

— The owner of the Kingsland Vegetarian Restaurant in a suburb of Canberra, Australia, apologized in February for the cockroach infestation that contributed to a $16,000 fine, explaining that, for moral reasons, he could not bring himself to exterminate living things — even cockroaches. (Less well-defended were Kingsland’s toilet, grease and food-storage shortcomings.) [Brisbane Times, 2-1-2015]

Perspective

Among the participants at this year’s Davos, Switzerland, gathering of billionaires and important people was property developer Jeff Greene, 60, who owns mansions in New York, Malibu and Palm Springs, and whose Beverly Hills estate is on the market for around $195 million. Greene famously won big betting against overvalued sub-prime mortgages before the 2008 Great Recession, but, shortly after landing at Davos, he gave Bloomberg Business his take on the symptoms of current economic turmoil (that he had capitalized on for part of his wealth by exploiting people’s desire for expensive houses they ultimately could not afford). “America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high,” Greene explained, “and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence.” [Daily Mail (London), 1-22-2015]

People With Issues

Sorry, Ladies, He’s Taken: In yet another chilling episode of body modification, the otherwise handsome Henry Damon, 37, married father of two, appeared in January at the Caracas (Venezuela) International Tattoo Expo as Red Skull (archenemy of Captain America), who has somehow fascinated Damon for years. The exhibiting of his idolatry began with subdermal forehead implants (ultimately replacing his eyebrows with prominent ridges), followed by going all-in for Red Skull by allowing a medical school dropout to lop off what looks like half of his nose. (How his deep red color was achieved was not mentioned in news reports.) For the record, the “surgeon” called Damon “a physically and intellectually healthy person.” [Daily Mail (London), 2-4-2015]

New World Order

Swedish public broadcaster SVT, capitalizing on the country’s supposedly liberal sexuality to promote an upcoming children’s series on the human body, produced a one-minute cartoon featuring genitals singing and dancing. However, the SVT program director admitted in January that there was criticism — not for salaciousness, but because the penis was portrayed with a moustache and the vagina with long eyelashes, which some critics said unfortunately “reinforced gender stereotypes.” [Associated Press via WTOP Radio, 1-22-2015]

Least Competent Criminals

Mastering the Technology: (1) Donald Harrison, 22, wanted for assault in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, made police aware of his whereabouts when he posted a “selfie” on Facebook from a Greyhound bus with the notation, “It’s Time to Leave Pa.” He was picked up at a stop in nearby Youngstown, Ohio. (2) Police in Houston arrested Dorian Walker-Gaines, 20, and Dillian Thompson, 22, after they posted selfies on Facebook of themselves enjoying a handful of $100 bills — photos they took on an iPad they had stolen on Jan. 8 and whose photos automatically uploaded to the victim’s iCloud account. (Incidentally, Walker-Gaines has, tattooed across his chest, “BRILLIANT.”) [Associated Press via WKBN-TV (Youngstown)), 2-10-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 1-22-2015]

Update

Additional details reported by the Toronto Sun in January on an August 2014 Freaky Friday News item reveal that the motorist who hit three bicycling teenagers in Innisfil, Ontario, in 2012 (killing one, putting another in a wheelchair) is suing the victims for $1.35 million for “emotional trauma” the incident caused her (though she was not otherwise injured) because they “were incompetent bicyclists” and “did not apply their brakes properly.” The boys wore reflective jackets and had no alcohol in their systems, but the driver, Sharlene Simon, admitted to at least one drink and to speeding. (On the other hand, her husband, who was following in another car, is a police officer, and Simon was neither charged nor breath-tested.) [Toronto Sun, 1-10-2015]

Recurring Themes

(1) A mummified monk in Mongolia became the latest religious figure whose followers insist he is not dead but living in a meditative trance. Dr. Barry Kerzin, among whose patients is the Dalai Lama, called the state “tukdam.” Scientists attributed the monk’s preserved condition to Mongolia’s cold weather. (2) After consulting its substantial research base, The Smoking Gun website reported that Steven Anderson’s arrest in Fargo, North Dakota, in January was only the third time that someone operating a Zamboni had been charged with DUI. Anderson, 27, was arrested while (erratically) resurfacing the ice between periods of a girls’ high school hockey game. [BBC News, 2-4-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 2-1-2015]

I hope you had a great February & the approaching month of March is just as great!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Crash

Crash Notes: Freaky Friday News

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Dying to Get a Date

Like many in society’s subgroups, people who work in “death” industries or professions in the U.K. may believe it difficult to reach “like-minded” suitors. Hence, Carla Valentine established Dead Meet earlier this year and told Vice.com in October that she has drawn 5,000 sign-ups among morticians, coroners, embalmers, cemetery workers, taxidermists, etc., who share her chagrin that “normal” people are often grossed out or too indiscreet to respect the dignity of her industry’s “clients.” We might, said Valentine, need a sensitive companion at the end of the day to discuss a particularly difficult decomposition. Or, she added, perhaps embalmers make better boyfriends because their work with cosmetics helps them understand why “many women take so long to get ready.” [Vice.com, 1-28-2015]

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

— Kathi Fedden filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit in December against Suffolk County, New York, police after her 29-year-old son, driving drunk in 2013, fatally crashed into an office. She reasons that the son’s death is the fault of the police officer who stopped him earlier that evening and who must have noticed he was already drunk but did not arrest him. The officer, who knew the son as the owner of a popular-with-police local delicatessen, merely gave the son a lift home, but the son later drove off in his mother’s car, in which he had the fatal crash. [WNBC-TV (New York City), 12-18-2014]

— A generous resident (name withheld by KDKA-TV) of South Oakland, Pennsylvania, in seasonal spirit the week before Christmas, invited a pregnant, homeless woman she had met at a Rite Aid store home with her for a hot shower, a change of clothes and a warm bed for the night. The resident was forced to call police, though, when she went to check up on her guest and discovered her engaging in sexual activity with the resident’s pit bull. The guest, enraged at being caught, vandalized the home before officers arrived to arrest her. [KDKA-TV, 1-6-2015]

The New Normal

The website/smartphone app Airbnb, launched in 2008, connects travelers seeking lodging with individuals offering private facilities at certain prices. About a year ago, entrepreneur Travis Laurendine launched a similar smartphone app, “Airpnp,” to connect people walking around select cities and needing access to a toilet, listing residents who make their utilities available, with description and price. Laurendine told the New York Post in January that New York City is a promising market (though his two best cities are New Orleans and Antwerp, Belgium). The prices vary from free to $20, and the facilities range from a sweet-smelling room stocked with reading material to a barely maintained toilet (with no lavatory), but, said one supplier, sometimes people “really need to go, and this will have to do.” [New York Post, 1-18-2015]

Government in Action

— Kentucky, one of America’s financially worse-off states, annually spends $2 million of taxpayer money on salaries and expenses for 41 “jailers” who have no jails to manage. Research by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in January noted that Kentucky’s constitution requires “elected” jailers, notwithstanding that 41 counties have shut down their jails and house detainees elsewhere via contracts with sheriffs. (Though the jailers may be called upon to transport prisoners from time to time, the 41 counties are mostly small ones with few detainees.) Several jailers have full-time “side” jobs, and one jail-less jailer employs five deputies while another has 11 part-timers. [Courier-Journal (Louisville), 1-2-2015]

— A.K. Verma was an “assistant executive engineer” working for India’s central public works department in 1990 with 10 years on the job when he went on leave — and had still not returned by the end of 2014, when the government finally fired him. He had submitted numerous requests for extensions during the ensuing 24 years, but all were denied, though no agency or court managed to force him back to work. (India’s bureaucracy is generally acknowledged to be among the most dysfunctional in Asia.) [The Guardian (London), 1-8-2015]

Ironies

— Timothy DeFoggi, 56, was sentenced in January to 25 years in prison on child pornography charges — unable to keep his illicit online transactions hidden from law-enforcement authorities. Before his conviction, he was acting director for cyber security in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and, one would assume (wrongly), an accomplished user of security software. [Washington Post, 1-6-2015]

— After a heavy snowstorm in Frankfort, Kentucky (the state capital), in November, with many absences reported, the state labor policy agency (called the Labor Cabinet) was among the agencies needing snow removal at its headquarters more promptly than overworked cleanup crews could provide. A call was circulated for volunteers to go outside and shovel snow, but that job was apparently too laborious for the labor agency; there was only one taker. [Associated Press via Yahoo News, 11-21-2014]

— The Tampa Bay Times (formerly St. Petersburg Times), reeling financially as many newspapers are, pledged several properties it owns (including its downtown headquarters) to borrow $30 million last year from a distressed-property lender and now announces an intention to pay back that loan by selling the properties. As reported by the local St. Petersblog website, the sore-thumb loan was almost exactly the amount the Times paid in 2002 for “naming rights” to the Tampa concert-and-hockey venue, the Ice Palace (which became the St. Petersburg Times Forum and is now Amalie Arena). Thus, St. Petersblog wrote, “do the math,” concluding that the Tampa Bay Times was pressured to sell its own headquarters building in order to pay for the 12-year privilege of being able to name someone else’s building. [Tampa Bay Times, 1-16-2015; SaintPetersblog, 1-15-2015]

Least Competent Criminals

Not Well-Thought-Out: (1) Shane Lindsey, 32, allegedly robbed the Citizens Bank in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 14 and ran off down the street, but was arrested about 15 minutes later a few blocks away, having stopped off at Eazer’s Restaurant and Deli to order chicken and biscuits. (2) Jeffrey Wood, 19, was arrested in the act of robbing a 7-Eleven in Northeast Washington, D.C., on Jan. 10 — because two plainclothes detectives were in the store at the time (though the police badge of one was hanging from a chain around her neck). As soon as the man announced, “This is a stickup,” the detective drew her gun and yelled, “Stop playing. I got 17” (meaning a gun with 17 bullets). [Pittsburgh Tribune-Gazette, 1-14-2015] [Washington Post, 1-12-2015]

Recurring Themes

— In crime and medical literature, the rectum is a place for storage of contraband (and, occasionally, for getting things undesirably lodged). In what a National Post of Canada reporter believes is a brand-new example of the former, a gastroenterologist at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s hospital found a vial of urine inside a man who reported to the ER with abdominal pains. According to the doctor’s medical journal case description, the rectum was chosen in order to keep the urine at body temperature for an imminent methadone clinic drug test, which, if the urine passed “clean,” would have entitled the man to the privilege of “take-home” methadone that he could either bank for later use or sell on the street. (He feared the loss of privilege, though, if the urine tested at room temperature.) [National Post, 1-1-2015]

— Rose Ann Bolasny, 60, of Great Neck, New York, last year created a trust fund for her 3-year-old Maltese (dog), Bella Mia, that will allow spending $100,000 a year on fashions and spa treatments so that Bolasny can pamper “the daughter I never had.” Bella Mia reportedly has 1,000 outfits in her custom-made walk-in closet, including ball gowns, along with diamond and pearl jewelry, and she sleeps on her own double bed. Previous News of the Weird reports of ridiculously rich dogs involved inheritances, but Bolasny still lives with her husband and has two adult sons (who are said to be fine with their mother’s intention to will Bella Mia a house in Florida if she outlives Bolasny and her 82-year-old husband). (By the way, the average annual income for a human being in Bangladesh is the equivalent of about $380.) [Daily Mail (London), 1-16-2015]

Have a GREAT weekend!

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Stealing Lincoln’s Body: Two Photos of Lincoln’s Funeral Procession Found

NEW YORK, NY - This quad photograph  is believed to show President Abraham Lincoln's catafalque, as a blur moving down  moving past Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway in New York, N.Y., April 24 or 25, 1865.  There were funeral ceremonies around the country for the slain president.   (Mathew Brady, The National Archives)

NEW YORK, NY – This quad photograph is believed to show President Abraham Lincoln’s catafalque, as a blur moving down moving past Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway in New York, N.Y., April 24 or 25, 1865. There were funeral ceremonies around the country for the slain president.
(Mathew Brady, The National Archives)

In the first photograph,the crowd outside the church seems to be waiting for something to come down the street. Children stand up front so they can see. Women, in the garb of the mid-1800s, shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas. White-gloved soldiers mill around. And a few people have climbed a tree for a better view.

In the second shot, some heads are bowed. Men have taken off their hats. And the blur of a large black object is disappearing along the street to the left of the frame. What the scene depicts, why it was photographed, or where, has been a mystery for decades, experts at theNational Archives say. But a Maryland man has now offered the theory that the two photos are rare, long-forgotten images of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City.

A scan of the first photo above, which appears to show the crowd on Broadway in New York waiting for Lincoln’s hearse to pass. (National Archives/Scanned by Bob Zeller)

A scan of the first photo above, which appears to show the crowd on Broadway in New York waiting for Lincoln’s hearse to pass. (National Archives/Scanned by Bob Zeller)

Paul Taylor, 60, of Columbia, a retired federal government accountant, believes the scene is on Broadway, outside New York’s historic Grace Church.

The day is Tuesday, April 25, 1865, 11 days after Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

And the crowd is waiting for, and then seems to be paying homage before, a horse-drawn hearse, whose motion makes it appear as a black blur as it passes by in the second picture.

If Taylor is right, scholars say he has identified rare photos of Lincoln’s marathon funeral rites, as well as images that show mourners honoring the slain chief executive.

Plus, it appears that the photographs were taken from an upper window of the studio of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, which was across the street from the church.

“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Sloan, an expert on the Lincoln funeral ceremonies in New York. “What makes it even a bigger deal is to be able to study the people. Even though you can’t see faces that well, just studying the people tells a story.”

Sloan added, “It’s as if you’re there, and you can see the mood.”

Many people, including children, are in their Sunday best. A few look up at the camera. Flowers are in bloom. But there is no levity.

Sloan said he is convinced that the pictures show the funeral scenes: “There’s no doubt about it.”

But experts at the Archives caution that although the theory sounds good, there could be other explanations, and no way to prove it conclusively.

The digital photographs were made from some of the thousands of Brady images acquired by the federal government in the 1870s and handed down to the National Archives in the 1940s, according to Nick Natanson, an archivist in the Archives’ still-picture unit.

Next year is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.

This image provided by Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Book Shop Inc. shows an image made from an August 1863 glass plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln at a portrait studio in Washington. (Associated Press)

This image provided by Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop Inc. shows an image made from an August 1863 glass plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln at a portrait studio in Washington. (Associated Press)

The two photos in question, both captioned “scene in front of church,” apparently had gone unnoticed for decades.

“We’ve had many inquiries about many images in the Brady file,” he said. “I can’t remember . . . any inquiries about these two particular images. I don’t think I ever noticed them before.”

But something about them intrigued Taylor when he saw them among the hundreds of Brady photographs posted on an Archives Flickr photo-sharing site in January.

Both were unusual four-image pictures — four shots of the same scene grouped together.

“I was just struck by the scene,” Taylor said. “That is not your normal scene in front of church. There’s just people everywhere: the streets, the sidewalks, the roof. They’re in the trees. This is not your normal Sunday.”

In the second picture, “I saw this black streak,” he said. “When I looked at it closer, I saw what it was. It was a funeral vehicle. . . . I knew it was Lincoln. It had to be. It couldn’t be anybody else.”

Natanson, of the Archives, was skeptical. “It still strikes me as odd that . . . there wouldn’t have been some mention or some hint [in the caption] of the monumental nature of the event,” he said.

There could have been other events, “maybe even other processions, maybe even other funerals” during that time period, he said. “I don’t think its possible to establish this without any doubt.”

But if Taylor is right, it could be an important discovery, Natanson said: “It isn’t as if there are dozens of images of the funeral procession anywhere.”

The funeral observances for Lincoln, who was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, went on for more than two weeks. During that time, the president’s body was moved by train on a 13-day, 1,600-mile journey from Washington to Springfield, Ill., where he was buried May 4.

Along the way, the train stopped in over a dozen major cities, and his coffin was removed for numerous processions and elaborate tributes.

Washington historian James L. Swanson has called the funeral journey a “death pageant” that was viewed by millions of people and that helped create the image of Lincoln the martyred president.

New York was the fourth major stop on the journey, after Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.

The president’s coffin, with the lid unfortunately open, was placed on view in New York’s City Hall on April 24, according to Swanson’s account. Lincoln had been dead for 10 days, and his face was “not a pleasant sight,” the New York Times reported.

The next day, with the lid closed, the coffin was borne through jammed streets aboard a black hearse decorated with flags and black plumes and drawn by a team of 16 horses shrouded in black. A half-million people lined the route, much of which was along Broadway.

“Thousands and thousands of these lookers on were too young . . . and were doubtless brought in order that in old age they might say they saw the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln,” the Times wrote the next day.

Taylor said his investigation of the photos began Jan. 4, when he first noticed them. The captions didn’t give him much to go on. The problem was that the original glass negatives probably didn’t have captions on them, said Brady biographer Robert Wilson. And by the time the government acquired the negatives, any caption information that went with them was probably lost.

Taylor turned to the Internet for images of historic churches, to see whether he could find the one in the Brady images. He looked up historic churches in Baltimore. No luck. Then he tried historic churches in New York.

That search brought up Grace Episcopal church, the 168-year gothic edifice on Broadway at Tenth Street.

“I’m looking at it, and that was it,” he said. “I had it.”

He e-mailed his findings to the Archives on March 3.

Taylor, who said he has long been fascinated by historic photographs, said he does not think the images have ever been published before. Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War photography, agreed, but he wrote in an e-mail: “There is always a slim chance that somebody somewhere has recognized and printed [them] in some obscure . . . publication.”

“Either way, it’s incredibly historic, (a) totally fresh piece of our American photo history,” he wrote. “Even if someone materializes, that still means 99.9 percent of us, enthusiasts and historians, have never seen it.”

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The Happiest Photo That You Might See All Weekend

girls-in-the-windows-ormund-gigli

“Girls in the Windows”: The Real Story Behind an Iconic New York Photo

Ormond Gigli, longtime photographer for TIME, LIFE, Paris Match and others, snapped everything from farmers to movie stars in his decades long career. But his most famous image, “Girls in the Windows” — taken on New York’s East 58th Street in 1960 – was made on a whim.

Widely considered one of the most famous fashion shots of the 1960s, it captures a slice of long-gone New York (the brownstones pictured were demolished the next day), and the picture’s influence stretches beyond photography. Gigli has released a new book looking back at his life’s work: Girls in the Windows: And Other Stories by Ormond Gigli is available now from powerHouse Books.

Girls in the Windows wasn’t done on assignment, but here’s how it came about…

“…it wasn’t an assignment. I had a brownstone [studio] that was right across from it on East 58th Street, and I look out the window one day and I see that they are tearing down the brownstones opposite me – they were old and no one was in them. And I’m looking at them and I’m saying: “It’s a shame, you know, what can I do with it?”

I had a great staff there [at my studio], so I’m discussing it with my studio manager – if we could get the frames out of the windows, we could shoot a girl in each window. So I had my studio manager go to talk the head demolition guy, and he said “yes, but you have to put my wife in the shot!”

We had to do it the next day, at 12 o clock when the workers had their lunch hour. We got models, we got friends. They wore their own outfits, nothing was styled – it was a happening.

I’m actually on the fire escape on the second floor – we had large fire escapes, almost like a balcony or something – I’m set up there with my camera and I’m directing. I had a bullhorn, and I got worried after a while so I said “don’t step out onto the ledges whatever you do!” Because with brownstones, the ledges, without anybody on them can fall down.

It was shot on a 4×5 Speed Graphic  – which I seldom used – with a wide angle lens. And I did about, I’m guessing here, 15 or 18 shots.

My wife is on the right hand side. If you go up to the second floor she’s two over in a pink outfit.”

Iconic & whimsical all in once shot.

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