John F. Kennedy, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents, Sports

Do You Remember January 22, 1973?

jan 23, 1973

Original publish date:  January 22, 2019

Were you alive on January 22, 1973? If so, consider this a reminder, if not, let me show what a typical day was like for a late-stage Baby Boomer like me. January 22, 1973 was a Monday in the Age of Aquarius. All in the Family was # 1 on television and The Poseidon Adventure was tops at the box office. Carly Simon was riding the top of the charts with her hit song “You’re so vain.” A song that has kept people guessing who she’s singing about to this day. Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? David Cassidy? Cat Stevens? David Bowie? James Taylor? All of whom have been accused. Carly has never fessed up, although she once admitted that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.

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The month of January 1973 had started on a somber note with memorial services in Washington D.C. for President Harry S Truman on the 5th (he died the day after Christmas 1972). Then, Judge John Sirica began the Nixon impeachment proceedings on the 8th with the trial of seven men accused of committing a ” third rate burglary” of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. Next came the Inauguration of Richard Nixon (his second) on the 20th. Historians pinpoint Nixon’s speech that day as the end of the “Now Generation” and the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Gone was JFK’s promise of a “New Frontier,” lost was the compassionate feeling of the Civil Rights movement and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society.” The self-help of the 1960s quickly morphed into the self-gratification of the 1970s, which ultimately devolved into the selfishness of the 1980s.

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The line between want and need became hopelessly blurred and remains so to this day.
Twelve years before, John F. Kennedy decreed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” On January 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon, purposely twisted JFK’s inaugural line by declaring , “In our own lives, let each of us ask—not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” At that moment, the idealism of the sixties gave way to narcissistic self-interest, distrust and cynicism in government of the seventies. Although it had been coming for years, when change finally arrived, it happened so fast that most of us never even noticed.
January 22nd was warm and rainy. It was the first Monday of Nixon’s second term and it would be one for the books. That day, Nixon announced that the war in Vietnam was over. The day before, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ signed off on a treaty that effectively ended the war; on paper that is. The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers (totaling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.”
That same day, the United States Supreme Court issued their landmark decision 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Better known as Roe v. Wade. Instantly, the laws of 46 states making abortion illegal were rendered unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy extended to her right to make her own medical decisions, including having an abortion. The decision legalized abortion by specifically ordering that the states make no laws forbidding it. Rove V. Wade came the same day as the lesser known ruling, Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which overturned the abortion law of Georgia.

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The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in “cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother.” Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be “approved in writing by three physicians and by a three-member special committee that either continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or “seriously and permanently” injure her health; the fetus would “very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect”; or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” Only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances. The plaintiff, a pregnant woman known as “Mary Doe” in court papers, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The same 7-2 majority that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the Georgia abortion law.
The Roe v. Wade case, filed by “Jane Roe,” challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman’s life was in danger. Roe’s life was not at stake, but she wanted to safely end her pregnancy. The court sided with Roe, saying a woman’s right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Dozens of cases have challenged the decision in Roe v. Wade in the 46 years since the landmark ruling and the echoes of challenge are heard to this day.

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And what did Nixon think about that day’s ruling? The same Oval Office taping system that would bring about his downfall in the Watergate Scandal recorded his thoughts on Roe V. Wade for posterity. “I know there are times when abortions are necessary,” he told aide Chuck Colson, “I know that – when you have a black and a white, or a rape. I just say that matter-of-factly, you know what I mean? There are times… Abortions encourage permissiveness. A girl gets knocked up, she doesn’t have to worry about the pill anymore, she goes down to the doctor, wants to get an abortion for five dollars or whatever.” Yep, that was the President of the United States talking. And his day wasn’t even over yet.
At 3:39 p.m. Central Time, former President Lyndon B. Johnson placed a call to his Secret Service agents on the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas. He had just suffered a massive heart attack. The agents rushed into LBJ’s bedroom where they found Johnson lying on the floor still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. The President was unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his own airplanes to Brooke Army General hospital in San Antonio where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Johnson was 64 years old. Shortly after LBJ’s death, his press secretary telephoned Walter Cronkite at CBS who was in the middle of a report on the Vietnam War during his CBS Evening News broadcast. Cronkite abruptly cut his report short and broke the news to the American public.

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His death meant that for the first time since 1933, when Calvin Coolidge died during Herbert Hoover’s final months in office, that there were no former Presidents still living; Johnson had been the sole living ex-President Harry S. Truman’s recent death. Johnson had suffered three major heart attacks and, with his heart condition recently diagnosed as terminal, he returned to his ranch to die. He had grown his previously close-cut gray hair down past the back of his neck, his silver curls nearly touching his shoulders. Prophetically, LBJ often told friends that Johnson men died before reaching 65 years old, and he was 64. Had Johnson chosen to run in 1968 (and had he won) his death would have came 2 days after his term ended. As of this 2019 writing, Johnson remains the last former Democratic President to die.

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Nixon mentioned all of these events (and more) on his famous tapes. All the President’s men are there to be heard. Along with Colson, Nixon talks with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (whom ha calls a “softhead” that day), Bebe Rebozo, Ron Ziegler, and Alexander Haig. Haldeman is the first to inform Nixon of LBJ’s death in “Conversation 036-051” by stating “He’s dead alright.” For his part, Nixon states in “Conversation 036-061” that it makes the “first time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a former President. Hoover lived through all of 40 years” and then refers to the recent peace treaty, “In any event It’ll make him (LBJ) look better in the end than he would have looked otherwise, so… The irony that he died before we got something down there. The strange twists and turns that life takes.”

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Another event took place that night to round out the day, but unlike the others, you won’t find mention of it on the Nixon tapes. In Jamaica, a matchup of two undefeated heavyweight legends took place. Undisputed world heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier (29-0) took on the number one ranked heavyweight challenger George Foreman (37-0) in Jamaica’s National Stadium. Foreman dominated Frazier by scoring six knockdowns in less than two rounds. Foreman scored a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion (the third-youngest in history after Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay). This was the fight where ABC’s television broadcaster Howard Cosell made the legendary exclamation, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
“This is a peace that lasts, and a peace that heals.” Nixon announced to the American people the next day. The announcement came exactly 11 years, one month and one day after the first American death in the Vietnam conflict: 25-year-old Army Specialist 4th Class James Thomas Davis of Livingston, Tenn., who had been killed in an ambush by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon on Dec. 22, 1961. For you budding numerologists out there, that translates to 11-1-1. It was all downhill from there. LBJ’s death precipitated the cancellation of several Inauguration events and a week later, on January 30, former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, James W. McCord Jr. and five others were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The dominoes were falling and eventually “Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!”

Assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Politics, Presidents

A Christmas Car Bomb For JFK. Part II

kennedy car bomb attempt ii

Original publish date:  December 20, 2018

The Secret Service alerted Palm Beach police to be on the look out for Pavlick’s 1950 Buick. Around 9 p.m. on December 15, he was arrested as he entered the city via the Flagler Memorial Bridge onto Royal Poinciana Way. Palm Beach motorcycle police officer Lester Free stopped the light colored Buick for driving erratically on the wrong side of the road and for crossing the center line. When Free called in the license plates authorities realized they had Pavlick. Squad cars sped to the scene and surrounded the dynamite laden car and arrested the feeble old man without incident.
Once in custody Pavlick begin “singing like a bird.” He unashamedly admitted to his plans and detailed his movements and activities. Pavlick told the arresting officers, “Joe Kennedy’s money bought the White House and the Presidency. I had the crazy idea I wanted to stop Kennedy from being President.” When the Secret Service learned those details the agency was shocked. Secret Service Director U.E. Baughman later said it was the most serious assassination attempt since militant Puerto Rican pro-independence activists stormed the Capitol in an attempt on President Harry S Truman on November 1, 1950.
An Associated Press dispatch, dated December 16, 1960, announced: “A craggy-faced retired postal clerk who said he didn’t like the way John F. Kennedy won the election is in jail on charges he planned to kill the president-elect. Richard Pavlick, 73, was charged by the Secret Service with planning to make himself a human bomb and blow up Kennedy and himself.” It was only then that the public learned just how close Pavlick came to killing Kennedy.
kennedy-presidency-almost-ended-before-he-was-inaugurated-2Because Pavlick didn’t get near Kennedy on the day he was arrested, the story was not immediate national news. The story of Pavlick’s arrest happened the same day as a terrible airline disaster, known as the TWA Park Slope Plane Crash, in which two commercial planes collided over New York City, killing 134 people (including 6 on the ground). The plane crash story, the worst air disaster in U.S. history up to that time, occupied the national headlines and led the television and radio newscasts.
The media was laser focused on the crash’s only survivor, 11-year-old Stephen Lambert Baltz who had been traveling alone on his way to spend Christmas in Yonkers with relatives. The boy was thrown from the plane into a snowbank where his burning clothing was extinguished. Barely alive and conscious, he was badly burned and had inhaled burning fuel. He died of pneumonia the next day. The assassination plot quickly faded from public attention.
Initially, Pavlick was charged with attempting to assassinate the new President. Pavlick told reporters that he was looking forward to the trial as an opportunity to voice his theories about the rigged election, Kennedy was a fraud and that he (Pavlick) was simply a patriot trying to save the Republic. For his part, Kennedy remained nonplussed about the attempt to kill him. On the day of the incident, JFK held a news conference outside his Palm Beach “Winter White House” to introduce his choice for Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. The sympathetic Kennedy urged the Justice Department, headed by his Attorney General / younger brother Bobby, not to bring Pavlick to trial. Political adversaries theorized that Kennedy and his advisers worried that a trial might turn Pavlick into a hero for right wing causes and may even inspire copy cats.
ar-812049453On January 27, 1961, a week after Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, Pavlick was committed to the United States Public Health Service mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He was indicted for threatening Kennedy’s life seven weeks later. The case would drag on for years without resolution. Belmont Postmaster Thomas M. Murphy had been promised that he would remain an anonymous informant, but was quickly identified as the tipster by the media. At first he was hailed as a hero and his boss, the Postmaster General, commended his actions. Congress even passed a resolution praising him. But then, fervent right wing publisher William Loeb of the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s influential state-wide newspaper, began defending Pavlick. Turns out, Loeb held many of the same opinions about Kennedy as the would-be assassin.
richard-paul-pavlickLoeb very publicly protested that Pavlick was being persecuted and denied his sixth amendment right to a speedy trial. Loeb’s newspaper disputed the insanity ruling and insisted the defendant have his day in court. Once the newspaper took up Pavlick’s cause, Murphy and his family began receiving hate mail, death threats and anonymous phone calls at all hours of the day and night accusing him of helping to frame Pavlick and for “railroading an innocent man.” The abuse continued for years after Murphy’s November 14, 2002 death at age 76. Even today, the surviving Murphy children are targeted by right-wing groups whenever the case gets a new round of public attention.
Charges against Pavlick were dropped on December 2, 1963, ten days after JFK’s assassination. Judge Emett Clay Choate ruled that Pavlick was incapable of telling right from wrong-the legal definition of insanity-but nonetheless ordered that the would-be assassin remain in the Missouri mental hospital. The federal government officially dropped charges in August 1964, and Pavlick was released from custody on December 13, 1966. Pavlick had been institutionalized for nearly six years after his arrest, and three years after Oswald killed John F. Kennedy.
After his release, Pavlick returned to Belmont. He began parking in front of the Murphy house seated in his car for hours every day watching it. But since there were no laws on the books against stalking in 1966, police could do little to inhibit the suspicious activities. Pavlick always denied any malicious intent and was never found to be armed. Belmont police officers would park their squad cars nearby to keep an eye on Pavlick, sometimes for several hours at a stretch. If the officer was called away, the family felt unsafe. Pavlick continued his old habit of letter writing and phone calling media outlets and government officials with rants proclaiming his innocence yet strangely justifying his actions. Pavlick died at the age of 88 on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1975 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Manchester, N.H. He remained unrepentant to the end.
Pavlick is unique among Presidential Assassins (would-be and otherwise) for one reason: his age. Of the four successful Presidential assassins, Lee Harvey Oswald was 24; John Wilkes Booth, 26; Leon Czolgosz was 28 when he assassinated William McKinley, and Charles Guiteau 39 when he murdered James A. Garfield. Of those unsuccessful few, Richard Lawrence was 35 when he attacked Andrew Jackson, John F. Schrank was 36 when he shot Teddy Roosevelt, Giuseppe “Joe” Zangara was 32 when he attempted to assassinate then-President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was 27 and Sarah Jane Moore 45 when they individually tried to shoot Gerald Ford and John Hinckley Jr. was 25 when he shot Ronald Reagan. Richard Paul Pavlick was 73 years old at the time of his attempt.
gty_jackie_kennedy_011_nt_131017_9x14_1600In today’s 24-hour-a-day, scandal-driven media environment, it is hard to believe that an incident of this magnitude would go unnoticed. Or would it? Sure, we all know about the very public assassination threats and attempts once they are out in the open. But what about those threats that are never reported? In Pavlick’s case, the public learned about it from the would-be assassin himself. He was proud of his plans and, after capture, boasted about it to anyone that came within earshot. The answer can be found in the name of the organization protecting the President: The Secret Service is, well, secret.
Although records prior to the “information age” are hard to come by, former Secret Service Agent Floyd M. Boring (who worked for three presidents and was with Franklin D. Roosevelt when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia) stated that during the period 1949–1950, the Secret Service investigated 1,925 threats against Harry S Truman. Another study, in the September 7, 1970 issue of Time magazine, claimed the number of annual threats against the President rose from 2,400 in 1965 to 12,800 in 1969.
The Secret Service does not generally place a number on the threats they receive, nor do they feel the need to investigate each and every one nowadays. On June 1, 2017 CBS news reported “Threats against President Trump for his first six months in office are tracking about six to eight per day…It’s about the same number of threats made against former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush while they were in office.” Another report contrarily states that President Barack Obama received more than 30 potential death threats a day. That was an increase of 400% from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush. A recent news story reported that In the first 12 days of Donald Trump’s administration, 12,000 assassination tweets alone were recorded. The vast majority of the tweets are jokes or sarcastic jibes, but still, that is a BIG number.
Today, Presidential death threats are handled by approximately 3,200 special agents and an additional 1,300 uniformed officers guard the White House, the Treasury building and foreign diplomatic missions in Washington. So it can be assumed that these crackpots in search of lasting infamy are a lot more common than we think and will, sadly, continue to pop up from time-to-time. The best we can hope for is that the vast majority will remain unknown and forgotten. Like Richard Paul Pavlick.

Assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Politics, Presidents

A Christmas Car Bomb For JFK. Part I

kennedy car bomb attempt i

Original publish date: December 13, 2018

I’m not the only “History Nerd” in my family. A while back, Rhonda asked me to to tell her the story about the “Kennedy Car Bomb.” What? I replied. I have NO idea what you’re talking about, but, DO go on. She then outlined the story about a 73-year-old postal worker who hatched a plot to kill President-elect John F. Kennedy back in December of 1960 to keep the “Catholics” from taking over the world. This Saturday marks the the 58th anniversary of the arrest of Richard Paul Pavlick, a retired United States postal worker from New Hampshire whose name is familiar to only the most dedicated assassinologists out there.
Pavlick was born on February 13, 1887, in Belmont, New Hampshire. Belmont was also known as Upper Gilmanton in reference to the town of Gilmanton located four miles away. Gilmanton is best known for two pop-culture references. First, it was the model for the scandalous New England town setting for both the novel and the Soap Opera “Peyton Place” and was in fact the birthplace of the story’s author Grace Metalious in 1964. And second, Gilmanton is the birthplace of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes (Herman Webster Mudgett) on May 16, 1861.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Richard Pavlick was appointed postmaster at one of several branches in heavily Irish Catholic, Democratic Boston, Massachusetts. Pavlick owed his appointment to President Calvin Coolidge, a fellow New Englander. Pavlick, a loyal Republican, hated Catholics and Democrats with a burning passion. And most of all he hated Boston’s powerful Fitzgerald and Kennedy Families. After he retired in the 1950s, Pavlick spent most of his days writing enraged and belligerent letters to public figures, magazines and newspapers.
73-year-old Pavlick, like all assassins (would-be or otherwise), was a nobody from 117308037_1402438300nowhere. He lived alone and had no family to speak of. Locals in his hometown of Belmont remember him for his angry political rants and public outbursts at local public meetings. After accusing the town of poisoning his water, Pavlick once confronted the local water company supervisor with a gun, which was then promptly confiscated. His central complaint was that the American flag was not being displayed appropriately. He often criticized the government and blamed most of the country’s problems on the Catholics. But the perpetually grumpy, prune-faced Pavlick focused most of his anger on the Kennedy family and their “undeserved” wealth.
Pavlick’s hatred toward the Kennedy clan boiled over after the close of the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon to become President of the United States. JFK’s election sent Pavlick to new heights of paranoid rage. At that moment, Dick Pavlick determined that Kennedy would never serve a single day in office. Pavlick became convinced the pope would be running the government from Rome. He started to make comments like “someone should shoot him (Kennedy) before he takes office.” One witness heard Pavlick say, “The Kennedy money bought him the White House” and that Pavlick “wanted to teach the United States the presidency is not for sale.”
Pavlick signed over his run-down property to a local organization known as the Spaulding Youth Center, packed everything he owned into the back of his 1950 Buick and left town. Soon, Thomas M. Murphy, Belmont’s 34-year-old U.S. Postmaster began receiving bizarre rambling rant postcards from Pavlick stating that soon, the town would hear from him “in a big way.”
It had been almost a century-and-a-half since New England had produced a U.S. President (John & John Quincy Adams) so Granite Staters took a keen interest in their new Commander-in-Chief from Massachusetts. Postmaster Murphy was concerned at the strange tone of the postcards, so he did what postmasters do; he began looking at the postmarks. Murphy noticed that the postmarks were from communities where Kennedy had recently visited and the dates coincided with those visits. Murphy contacted a local police officer named Earl Sweeney, who then contacted the Secret Service.
The Secret Service uncovered several rambling, vaguely threatening letters which Pavlick had sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Later, agents discovered that not only was Pavlick stalking Kennedy on the campaign trail, he had also visited the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, cased the house in Georgetown and traveled south to the family winter quarters at Palm Beach. Along the way, Pavlick photographed the Kennedy homes, cars, family and friends, all while checking out JFK’s security. When agents interviewed locals they learned about Pavlick’s explosive temper and worse, that Pavlick had recently purchased enough dynamite which, according to a Secret Service official, was “enough to blow up a small mountain.” They immediately put out a nationwide alert for Pavlick with descriptions of him and his Buick.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on December 11, 1960, Kennedy was in Palm Beach, Florida preparing to assume the office of the President by deciding on his Cabinet selections and working on his Inaugural address. Unbeknownst to the President-elect, Pavlick had shadowed Kennedy south with the intention of blowing himself up and taking JFK with him. His plan was simple and deadly. He loaded his car with 10 sticks of dynamite, packed them into the body of the car and wired them to a detonator switch within easy reach of the driver’s seat. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy’s Palm Beach compound, positioned his car near the door and waited. His plan was to sit tight until Kennedy left the house to attend Sunday Mass at St. Edward Church and then ram his car into JFK’s limo in a Kamikaze attack.
gettyimages-89859906Luckily for Mr. Kennedy, fate stepped in to save the day… and the President-elect’s life. Kennedy did not leave his house alone that morning. Much to Pavlick’s surprise, JFK opened the door holding the hand of his 3-year-old daughter Caroline alongside his wife, Jacqueline who was holding the couple’s newborn son John, Jr., less than a month old. While Pavlick hated John F. Kennedy, he hadn’t signed up to kill Kennedy’s family. So Pavlick eased his itchy trigger-finger off the detonator switch and let the Kennedy limousine glide harmlessly past his car. No one realized that the beat-up old Buick and the white haired old man in it was literally a ticking time bomb. Pavlick glared at the car as it slipped away and decided he would try again another day. Luckily, he never got a second chance.
Over the next few days, Pavlick planned his next opportunity to kill the Catholic President. Pavlick came up with a brand new plan. This time, he would enter St. Edward Church wearing a dynamite vest and explode it during Mass the next Sunday. Apparently the thought of killing innocent bystanders was no longed a concern. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to kill JFK and take as many Catholics with him along the way. A couple of days later, while visiting the inside of the church to scout it’s lay out, his disheveled appearance and suspicious behavior aroused suspicion. He was escorted out of the church and the incident reported to the police. The Secret Service now knew that Pavlick was definitely in town and actively pursuing Kennedy. But one problem remained. Where was Richard Paul Pavlick?
Next Week: PART II

Abe Lincoln, Presidents, Sports

The Abraham Lincoln Handball.

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Original publish date:  September 20, 2018

Abraham Lincoln is in the National Handball Hall Of Fame. What, you say? There’s a national handball Hall of Fame? Well, I don’t know if such an entity exists or whether the 16th president is enshrined there. But if it does and he ain’t…he should be. I do know that Lincoln is inducted into the wrestling Hall of Fame, but that’s another story.
Serious Lincoln fans have likely heard a reference to the “alley by the journal office” a few times over the years but may not know much about it. Abraham Lincoln was known to be a sportsman for most of his life in an age when organized sports were hard to find. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard about Lincoln’s prowess as a wrestler and extraordinary strength as a young man. He was known to “roll ten pins” (bowling) and play billiards and chess but admitted that he never excelled at any of them. Mr. Lincoln engaged in these games for exercise and amusement, both physically and mentally. During play he routinely regaled those present with jokes, western anecdotes and stories which made him popular with opponents and teammates alike.
z Railsplitter1.previewLikewise, you may have heard that he was a handball player, as have I, but details have always been hard to find. The game of handball was much better suited to Lincoln. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, his long legs and gangly arms served the rail splitter well. Muscles honed while wielding an axe as a youth were kept tight and toned as an adult. Lincoln milked his own cows and chopped his own wood even though he was a successful, affluent lawyer with little time to spare.
In the years before Lincoln was elected president he was a successful Springfield lawyer and often played handball in an alley by the Illinois state journal newspaper office to ease his stress load. The paper occupied a three-story building at 116 N. Sixth Street. The building next door immediately south was a three-story building that housed a store operated by John Carmody. The next building south was known as the Logan building, owned by Judge Stephen T. Logan.
The large vacant lot between these two buildings was the site of the storied impromptu handball court used by lawyer Lincoln and his friends. The brick walls of the Carmody store and Logan building formed at the front and back walls of the handball court and the other two sides were enclosed by wood fences standing 6 to 8 feet high. The fences also had wooden bench seats for visitors watching the matches or for players waiting their turn to take on the winner.
z lincoln hbThe term handball really didn’t exist in Lincoln’s day. It was called a “game of fives” by Abe and his contemporaries. When Mr. Lincoln went to town, he frequently joined with the boys in playing handball. In the Springfield version, players choose sides to square off against one another. The game is begun by one of the boys bouncing the ball against the wall of the Logan building. As it bounced back, and opponent strikes it in the same manner, so that the ball is kept going back and forth against the wall until someone misses the rebound. ‘Old Abe’ was often the winner, for his long arms and long legs served a good purpose in reaching and returning the ball from any angle his adversary could send it to the wall. The game required two, four or six players, spread equally on each side. The three players who lost paid 10 ¢ each, making 30 ¢ a game. So as you can imagine the games got pretty serious.
z FivesCourt clerk Thomas W.S. Kidd spoke of Mr. Lincoln’s love of the game: “In 1859, Zimri A. Enos, Esq., Hon. Chas. A. Keyes, E. L. Baker, Esq., then editor of the Journal, William A. Turney, Esq., Clerk of the Supreme Court, and a number of others, in connection with Mr. Lincoln, had the lot, then an open one, lying between what was known as the United States Court Building, on the northeast corner of the public square, and the building owned by our old friend, Mr. John Carmody, on the alley north of it, on Sixth street, enclosed with a high board fence, leaving a dead wall at either end. In this ‘alley’ could be found Mr. Lincoln, with the gentlemen named and others, as vigorously engaged in the sport as though life depended upon it. He would play until nearly exhausted and then take a seat on the rough board benches arranged along the sides for the accommodation of friends and the tired players.”
In May of 1860 the most noteworthy game of handball in our country’s history took place on this court. The Republican National Convention, held in a woodframe building specifically designed for use known as the “wigwam”, had kicked off in nearby Chicago on May 16th. The Whig party had imploded, the free soilers were migrating and the anti-Catholic populists from the Know Nothing party were flocking to the Republican Party with its anti-slavery message. Even though this promised to be a raucous convention, the eventual GOP nominee, “Abram Lincoln”, decided to stay home and play handball instead. According to Lincoln he, “was too much of a candidate to go to Chicago and not enough of a candidate to stay away.”
Most Lincoln scholars agree that Abe played handball all three days of the convention (May 16 – 18) to relieve stress while waiting for news to arrive by telegraph at the Illinois state journal newspaper offices. The last day of the GOP convention, Friday, May 18, 1865, Lincoln rose bright and early and headed downtown. Although nervous and anxious, Lincoln greeted neighbors and friends on the streets and on the square around the Illinois Capital Building.
At 8:30 a.m. Lincoln nervously visited the second floor office of lawyer James C Conkling located at 119 S. Fifth Street. Mr. Conkling had just returned from Chicago and Lincoln was anxious to hear any news from the convention. Conkling told Lincoln to relax, assuring him that he was sure to be nominated that day. Lincoln however, was not so confident and told Conkling, “Well, Conkling, I guess I’ll go back to my office and practice law.” But here is where the narrative takes a mysterious turn.
Lincoln did not arrive back to his law office until just before 10 am. We know this from accounts of the many well-wishers, friends and supporters who were waiting the arrival of their candidate on the corner of Sixth and Adams on the square. Shortly after ten, Edward L Baker, one of the editors of the Illinois state journal, appeared at the office of Lincoln and Herndon with two bulletins in his hand. The first one announcing that the delegates were filing back into the wigwam; the second, that the names of the candidates for president had been presented to the chairman of the convention.
The initial news was not good. When voting for the nomination began, William H. Seward led on the first ballot with 173 1/2 votes. Lincoln was a distant second tallying 102 votes. There were 465 delegates at the convention, making 233 votes necessary for the nomination. Simon Cameron received 50; Salmon P. Chase got 49, Edwin Bates had 48. Witnesses claimed that, upon hearing the news, Mr Lincoln threw himself upon a horsehair couch in the office without expressing any opinion on the news. By all accounts, Lincoln was very guarded in all of his statements that morning.
After a few minutes, Lincoln arose from the chair and said: “The dispatches appear to be coming to the Journal office… Let us go over there.” When the Lincoln entourage arrived at the foot of the stairway leading to the telegraph office on the north side of the public square, Lincoln said: “Let’s go up; it must be about time for the second ballot.” The results of the second ballot were coming across the tickertape as Lincoln entered the room. The telegraph operator handed the news to Mr. Lincoln. On the second ballot, most of the Pennsylvania delegation jumped over to Lincoln, putting him in a near-tie with Seward (184 for Seward and 181 for Lincoln). Although silent, witnesses remember a look of satisfaction appearing on Lincoln’s face.
News soon arrived that on the third ballot many additional delegates switched to Lincoln, and he won the party’s nomination. Lincoln was nominated and would be elected the nation’s 16th president. He appointed Seward Secretary of State, Cameron Secretary of War, Chase Secretary of the Treasury, and Bates Attorney General.
But where was Lincoln from 8:30 am to 10 am? His longtime friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon was the first to say that Lincoln was playing handball during that period. Henry Wirt Butler confirmed that he was engaged in a game with the candidate at Mr. Lincoln’s request while awaiting news from the convention. When young Mr. Butler was born, Lincoln was a practicing attorney in Springfield living at the home of Mr. Butler’s parents. He had just finished reading the Life of William Wirt and suggested that the baby be named after the former U.S. Attorney General. When the boy whom Lincoln had named grew to be a young man he became a favorite of the Great Emancipator’s and read law for some time in his office. It should be noted that Wirt was barely 20 years old and Lincoln was 51 at the time of the game.
z 1891 - Bloxham FivesLincoln’s friend, Dr. Preston H Bailhache, recalled a handball game played on a court built by Patrick Stanley in an ‘alley’ in the rear of his grocery in the Second Ward, which is still standing. “I have sat and laughed many happy hours away watching a game of ball between Lincoln on one side and Hon. Chas. A. Keyes on the other. Mr. Keyes is quite a short man, but muscular, wiry and active as a cat, while his now more distinguished antagonist, as all now know, was tall and a little awkward, but which with much practice and skill in the movement of the ball, together with his good judgment, gave him the greatest advantage. In a very hotly contested game, when both sides were ‘up a stump’ – a term used by the players to indicate an even game – and while the contestants were vigorously watching every movement, Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Turney collided with such force that it came very near preventing his nomination to the Presidency, and giving to Springfield a sensation by his death and burial. Both were badly hurt, but not so badly as to discourage either from being found in the ‘alley’ the next day.”
2516a4fa5cb6c7cf47acacefaa2aeb93Another eyewitness was the unofficial gatekeeper of the Handball Court, William Donnelly, a nephew of John Carmody. Years later, Donnelly offered this account to a reporter, “I worked in the Carmody store and usually had charge of the ball court. I smoothed the wall and leveled the ground. I made the balls. Old stockings were rolled out and wound into balls and covered with buckskin. Mr. Lincoln was not a good player. He learned the game when he was too old. But he liked to play and did tolerably well. I remember when he was nominated as though it were yesterday. It was the last day of the convention and he was plainly nervous and restless.”
Donnelly continues: “He played handball a good deal during every day of the convention, evidently to relieve the over-strained mind. I was standing down in front of the Carmody store when Edward L. Baker, Charlie Zane (Judge) and one or two others brought word from the telegraph office that he was nominated. It was the bulletin showing the result of the third and last ballot. I naturally followed the crowd upstairs to the editorial room on the second floor. The stairway was in the alley outside the building. The telegram was read and then handed to Mr. Lincoln who read it out aloud again. After a lot of hand shaking, we returned to the street below. Mr. Lincoln appeared anxious to get away. When he came to the entrance of the ball court, the players gathered round, congratulated him and pledged him their support.”
The account continues: “He thanked them, looked at the telegram he had in his hand and said: there’s a little woman over on eighth Street that will be glad to hear the news; if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go and tell her. He then left for home. I can see him now as he went away. He leaned forward and walked mighty fast. The boy that went with him had to run almost to keep up with him. Mr. Lincoln never came back to the court or played handball after the day he was nominated. I did not vote for Mr. Lincoln in 1860. There were only three Irishmen who did. They were called Irish Republicans and were regarded as curiosities.”
z kidsJohn Carmody recalled another handball game: “An incident took place, during one of those games, which I have retained clearly in my memory. I had a nephew named Patrick Johnson who was very expert in the game. He struck the ball in such a manner that it hit Mr. Lincoln in the ear. I ran to sympathize with him and asked if he was hurt. He said he was not, and as he said it he reached both of his hands toward the sky. Straining my neck to look up into his face, for he was several inches taller than I was, I said to him, ‘Lincoln, if you are going to heaven, take us both.’”
For years a myth circulated that Abraham Lincoln was playing handball when he was notified that he had received the nomination for President. Obviously that legend must be filed alongside the myth that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address on the back of an envelope on the train ride to Gettysburg. Neither story is wholly true but there is a grain of truth in each. Lincoln was playing handball at the time the delegates in Chicago were voting and he edited the Gettysburg address on the train.
Historians confirm that Abraham Lincoln never returned to that handball court after that day. Years later, President Lincoln spoke about his athletic prowess on the night of his reelection as President in 1864: “For such an awkward fellow, I am pretty sure-footed. It used to take a pretty dextrous man to throw me.”
z sm hbIn October of 2004, the Smithsonian Institution displayed Abraham Lincoln’s handball as part of their exhibit “Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers.” It’s small (about the size of a tennis ball), dirty and well worn and really, really old. The ball has “No. 2” stamped on the side but it is unclear if the stamp was on the ball when Lincoln handled it or if it was stamped on the side for reference years later. It came from the Lincoln Home in Springfield, where Lincoln lived with his family from 1844 until 1861.
The ball was found in the 1950s in a dresser drawer when Lincoln’s Springfield home was being restored. Smithsonian officials say the descendants of one of the men who played handball with Lincoln donated it to the Lincoln Home. A contemporary newspaper article verified that the ball was indeed one of those used by Lincoln to play handball in the alley. Personally, I have my doubts about the provenance of the Smithsonian’s Lincoln handball, but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll leave that alone for now.
There is one footnote about that handball you won’t find in the Smithsonian’s official literature. On May 18, 1860, while Lincoln was having a friendly neighborhood game of “fives” to calm his nerves, just a few blocks from the Wigwam, on the second night of the convention, the McVicker’s Theater just a few short blocks away was opening “Our American Cousin” -the play Lincoln would be watching at Ford’s Theater his last night on Earth.
z 6603301_3_lAlthough Assassin John Wilkes Booth was not in the production, he would appear at the McVicker’s 4 times in different productions between 1862 & 1863 while Mr. Lincoln was in the White House. Ironically, the McVickers Theatre was the very first place where actor Harry Hawk began theater work as a call boy, or stagehand. Hawk was the actor on stage alone at the moment of Lincoln’s assassination and likely uttered the last words Mr. Lincoln ever heard. Who knew a well worn piece of leather sports equipment could have so many connections?

Politics, Presidents

Andrew Jackson’s Hair.

Original publish date:  December 7, 2013               Republished June 1, 2018

JACKSON HAIR
Relic lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair.

As many of you know, I collect “stuff.” In particular, historical stuff. Especially, slightly creepy historical stuff. For years, whenever my kids saw a $ 20 bill, they would delightfully squeal out the phrase “That Glorious Mane” and giggle devilishly between themselves. While I always understood the reference to Andrew Jackson’s famous head of hair. I never really understood the origin of their inside joke. It was like reading a New Yorker magazine cartoon, sure, I can read it and smile, but I don’t always get it. And try as I might, I still have not found the source for the “Glorious Mane” quote. So, when I ran across a genuine lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair at several years ago, I had to have it.
The lock of hair is held in place by an ornate wax seal affixed to a descriptive card of provenance and has been professionally framed for posterity. The card reads: “Hair of Andrew Jackson, a portion of lot 96 of the personal relics of President Andrew Jackson consigned and guaranteed genuine by Andrew Jackson the fourth. The item came from the collection of Forest H. Sweet of Battle Creek Michigan, one of the most famous autograph manuscript and relic collectors of his day. Sweet specialized in Abraham Lincoln, so much so that during the years around World War II, he compiled a comprehensive book of Lincoln collectors and their collections that is still prized by collectors today. So, the provenance of the Andrew Jackson lock of hair was beyond reproach.
Currency RedesignLong story short, I won the item. Needless to say, I was excited. Hours turned into days and days turned into weeks as I waited for the General’s lock of hair to arrive. It came via the United States postal service and I could hardly wait to get my first peek at it. Turns out, the item was far more attractive than I expected (for a lock of dead guy’s hair that is). The thick lock of reddish grey hair is about 1.5 inches in length and looks to contain somewhere between 25 and 50 strands of hair. The blue wax seal features an “S” initial that was undoubtedly applied by Forest H. Sweet himself. I could hardly wait to reveal the relic to my children. Sadly, the unveiling was less than I expected. “That’s nice daddy” was the general consensus. It was like buying a kid a Christmas present only to find that they are more interested in playing with the shipping box.
Okay, so my kids weren’t excited, but I was. Macabre as it seems, bestowing locks of hair on friends, family members, and admirers was common practice in the 19th century. Locks of hair from many renowned historical figures can be found in the collections of museums all over the world. I must admit, this is not the first lock of celebrity hair that has found it’s way into my collection. I once owned well documented strands of hair from George Washington, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. But this Andrew Jackson blood relic is a full robust lock, a good ole’ hank, a veritable pinch of hair right off the head of Old Hickory himself!
z andrew_jacksonI simply could not resist researching (my wife might say obsessing over) my cherished new relic. Much to my surprise, while searching the net I actually found a website and active blog devoted to “That Glorious Mane“. The website, called “American Lion”, is associated to Andrew Jackson’s hair in name only. But it does touch on the macabre hobby and, more importantly, vindicates my strange purchase by discussing famous locks of hair that have sold recently at auction. In December of 2011, 12 strands of Michael Jackson’s hair, reportedly fished out of a shower drain at New York’s Carlyle Hotel after Jackson stayed there for a charity event during the 1980s, sold at auction in London for around $1,900 to an online gaming casino. The casino plans to use the hair in the construction of a special roulette ball (I don‘t understand it either).
The King of Pop apparently can’t hold a candle to the King of Rock-N-Roll though. For the day after Jackson’s hair was sold, a Chicago auction house sold clumps of Elvis Presley’s hair (cut and saved after Elvis’ 1958 Army induction) in Illinois, selling for $15,000.
Okay, if you’re still creeped out by the thought of collecting hair, which truthfully, I can’t blame you for, keep in mind that the hobby was once considered to be the height of cool. The Victorians LOVED designing and wearing hair jewelry, often weaving strands into intricate designs which they incorporated into necklaces, earrings, and pins. To say nothing about picture frames, paperweights and other household decorations. Seems that Queen Victoria is credited with starting the trend. When her beloved Prince Albert died, the distraught monarch had several rings made out of his hair, which she wore daily. Consider that famous Victorian writers like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sir Walter Scott, and John Keats often referenced locks of hair in their works.

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Locks of Presidential hair on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Keep in mind, the Victorians did not only collect hair from dead people, though. Most often it was the living that handed out their hair to be woven into special keepsakes, as a reminder of life’s fleeting beauty. Remember, hair changes color and falls out in time, so young lovers and fans might ask for a few locks to be woven into watch chains and jewelry so they might think of their idol daily. And in fairness, most locks of the rich and famous were asked for while the subject was still very alive, just like you might ask for an autograph. Hair collecting has been traced all the way back to the 16th century Swedes, who are believed to have started the practice out of sheer boredom during endless Nordic nights.
Nowadays, with the introduction of D.N.A. to the daily lexicon of society, collecting hair takes on a whole new meaning. In the case of “The General” (Jackson’s personally preferred title) a lock of hair could conceivably unlock the mystery of the man himself. With apologies to my dear Irvingtonian friend Dawn Briggs (bring up the name to her and you‘ll understand why I‘m apologizing), it is hard to deny that Andrew Jackson was an interesting man. You either loved him or you hated him. Jackson was long and lean, standing at 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and weighing between 130 and 140 pounds. He had penetrating deep blue eyes and was known for his unruly shock of red hair, which had turned completely gray by the time he became president at age 61. Jackson was one of our more sickly presidents, suffering from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a hacking cough caused by a musket ball in his lung that he carried for most of his life. Jackson had a few bullets in his body, the results of at least two known duels, both of which he won. The lead bullet often caused the General to cough up blood and sometimes made his whole body shake.
andrew jacksonIn addition, Jackson suffered from dysentery and malaria contracted during his military campaigns. He was known to have an addiction to coffee, enjoyed a drink or two on occasion, and incessantly chewed tobacco to the extent that brass spittoons were everywhere in the White House. Despite Doctor’s orders, Jackson refused to give up these three vices, regardless of the fact that they gave him migraines. The afore mentioned bullets undoubtedly caused the General to suffer from lead poisoning, quite literally. Luckily, 19 years after that 1832 duel, the bullet causing the most damage was extracted in the White House without anesthesia. Afterwards, Jackson’s health improved tremendously .
The first recorded attack on a sitting President was against Andrew Jackson. On May 6, 1833 while in Fredericksburg Virginia dedicating a monument to the mother of George Washington, a disgruntled sailor named Robert B. Randolph jumped from the crowd and struck the President with his fist. Randolph fled in hot pursuit by several members of Jackson’s party, including the famous writer (and Irvington namesake) Washington Irving. Jackson did not press charges.
On January 30, 1835, the first attempt to kill a sitting US President occurred just outside the United States Capitol, again against Andrew Jackson. As Jackson exited the East Portico after a funeral, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed housepainter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence quickly pulled a second pistol, which also misfired. Legend claims that Jackson then beat Lawrence senseless with his cane. The President’s friend, frontiersman Davy Crockett, restrained and disarmed Lawrence, undoubtedly saving the would be assassin’s life. Lawrence, who claimed to be England’s King Richard III (dead since 1485) blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. Lawrence was judged insane and institutionalized. Ironically, afterward the pistols were test fired again-and-again and each time they performed perfectly.
SAAM-XX107_1For years, Jackson treated his aches and pains by self-medicating with salts of mercury (often used as a diuretic and purgative in the mid 19th century), as well as ingesting sugar of lead (a lead acetate-used as a food sweetener). Historians have long believed that Andrew Jackson slowly died of mercury and lead poisoning from two bullets in his body and those medications he took for intestinal problems. As proof, historians believe that his symptoms, including excessive salivation, rapid tooth loss, colic, diarrhea, hand tremors, irritability, mood swings and paranoia, were consistent with mercury and lead poisoning. One of Jackson’s doctors liked to give the lead laden sugar to both Andrew and his wife Rachel. They not only ingested it, but used it to bathe their skin and eyes. Jackson’s well-documented, unpredictable behavior were textbook signs of mercury poisoning. Historians described these signs as “thundering and haranguing,” “pacing and ranting” and “at one moment in a towering rage, in the next moment laughing about the outburst. “
In an effort to settle the case once and for all, in 1999, two strands of the General’s hair were acquired from the Hermitage for testing. Tony Guzzi, assistant curator at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, Tennessee said, “We have several samples of Jackson’s hair. Admirers often requested a lock, and he would just cut one off and send it to them.” An account left by one person who visited the retired statesman at his home in 1844 relates, “we were each given a lock of Jackson’s hair, which we received with eagerness, and it will be kept as a rich legacy by each of us.” Over the years, some of the locks of hair were returned to The Hermitage by descendants of the original recipients.
179444858_492e321928_bThe submitted strands were taken nearly a quarter century apart for better comparison to check for elevated levels of the heavy metals. The first sample was from 1815, the year of Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the second was from 1839, toward the end of Jackson’s life. According to the American Medical Association, while the mercury and lead levels found in the hair samples were “significantly elevated” in both samples, they were not toxic, said Dr. Ludwag M. Deppisch, a pathologist with Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine and Forum Health. Officially, Andrew Jackson died at The Hermitage on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78, of chronic tuberculosis, dropsy, heart disease and kidney failure. In other words, the General died a natural death after leaving an extraordinarily unnatural life.
So, you see, a scientific argument might be made for my acquisition of a lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair. I know, I know, that might be compared to the old “reading Playboy for the articles” argument. But the hobby is not as strange as it may sound, or, as you may think. A quick search of the net will turn up locks of hair belonging to Poet John Keats and our first President George Washington in New York City’s Morgan library, Thomas Jefferson in the Library of Congress and from Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in the New York Public Library. Collecting hair may have fallen out of favor nowadays, but it must be noted that hair is one of the few body parts to survive well after the death of the original owner. For the bereaved and the beloved, it presents a direct link of faded youth and lives lost in an intensely personal way that no picture or video could ever achieve. As for my part, I just think its cool.