Young George’s Booze-Filled Election

HOW FREE ALCOHOL MADE WASHINGTON A WINNER

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There’s no escaping it. Before long, your TV screen will be dominated by commercials asking you to vote one way or the other. It’s how politicians win elections these days. All that airtime is extremely expensive, and a candidate better be prepared to shell out serious bucks if he’s serious about winning.

Young George - hatlessNearly 261 years ago, a young candidate learned the hard way that going cheap doesn’t pay when seeking public office.

Long before he became the Father of Our Country, George Washington was burning with ambition. He had a lot going for him. Just 23, tall, strapping and handsome, he was fresh from service in the French and Indian War where he’d made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Clearly, George was going places. Continue reading

The Luckiest Fool in the World

A FAD CELEBRITY’S FAST RISE & SAD FALL

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Kelly-reading paperA policeman ran over to the body. There was no response. The grizzled old man who’d collapsed on a New York City sidewalk was gone. A scrapbook with “The Luckiest Fool In the World” printed on the cover was clutched under one arm.

The man who died that October afternoon in 1952 was unlike other street people. This one had once been a national celebrity. This one had launched a fad that defined a decade.

And this one truly was, in his own words, “the luckiest fool in the world.” Listen to his story and you’ll understand why. Continue reading

The First American Woman To Win the Gold

BUT IN 1900, IT WASN’T A BIG DEAL

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The XXXI Olympiad (better known to you and me as the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games) is in full swing.

800px-Margaret-abbott-gold-medal-1900-golfThere are 554 athletes on Team USA this year – 262 men and 292 women. Which makes this the perfect time to revisit the highly unusual games where women competed for the very first time … and where the first American woman ever won the gold, too.

It was as different from today’s Olympics as daylight is from dawn. On top of that, the games were casually organized (to put it charitably). 

Here’s how it happened.

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The Judge Who Just Vanished

Mistresses, Missing Money & a VIP Missing Person

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Missing PosterLong before there was Jimmy Hoffa, before there was even Amelia Earhart, another VIP vanished without a trace. Though you’ve probably never heard of him, he was a household name to your parents and grandparents. And his disappearance remains New York City’s oldest unsolved Missing Persons case.

Get ready to learn what happened the day he dropped out of sight exactly 86 years ago this week. Continue reading

The Gift That Killed General Grant

How Simple Politeness Caused His Demise

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Watch out for unintended consequences. They’ll get you every time.

Grant-cartoonIt happened 154 years ago when a simple act of courtesy set in motion a chain of events that wound up taking a famous American’s life.

Really.

When I say the name Ulysses S. Grant, what comes to mind? Big drunk and even bigger cigar smoker. (The more scholarly-minded among you probably answered, “Victor at Appomattox” or “18th President of the United States.” But salacious sells, so we’ll save the academic stuff for another time.) Continue reading

How Illness Created the Cowboy Hat

A Dying Wish Produced an American Icon

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There was no sugarcoating it: John was going to die. Sooner rather than later.

Cowboy hatTuberculosis, the doctor said. And in the 1850s that was a death sentence.

Difficult as that diagnosis was to hear, it was doubly hard for a young man. John was in his 20s, barely an adult. Now his life was about to end just as it was beginning.

With his lungs giving out and his strength weakening, John did some serious thinking. The seventh of 12 children, he was a hat maker in New Jersey, a trade he had learned at his father’s side. But with his days numbered, John didn’t want to waste them working in a hat shop. Continue reading

Dr. Sappington’s Strange Pills

How a Clerical Error Produced a Medical Breakthrough

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Quack. Charlatan. Crazy. Those insults and worse were hurled over the centuries at doctors who defied conventional medical wisdom. Any physician bold enough to buck the Medical Sappington-2Establishment could expect to feel its fury.

Yet sometimes those same “quacks” were responsible for major scientific advances. Doctor John Sappington was one of them. And because of a misunderstood order, he brought healing to thousands of ailing Americans, many of whom otherwise would have died.

Here’s how it happened. Continue reading

Custer’s Kid Brothers

For the Custers, Little Bighorn Was A Family Affair

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Americans were in shock exactly 140 years ago today. And it wasn’t supposed to have been that way.

1876_Frank_Leslies_Cover_OMJuly 1876 was, after all, the nation’s centennial. The little upstart country had beat the odds by bucking the greatest military power on earth, then beat them again by surviving 100 years. It was supposed to have been time for a national party.

Instead, stunning news came from the Black Hills in distant Montana Territory. George Armstrong Custer, dashing Civil War hero and flamboyant Indian fighter, plus all 267 of his men, had been wiped out in a ferocious battle with Native American braves.

The defeat cast a dark shadow over centennial celebrations and launched a legend that lingers nearly a century and a half later. Continue reading

“I Pledge Allegiance To …”

The secret reason why a minister wrote the Pledge of Allegiance

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Every morning, millions of American children put their hands over their hearts and begin the school day with a simple recitation. It’s been done for nearly 125 years and is as much a part of American culture as apple pie and the Fourth of July. 

Color - Kids saying PledgeBut did you know more than patriotism was behind the Pledge’s creation? A master wordsmith penned the famous words for an unlikely reason – it was a clever marketing gimmick with a hidden purpose. But the real shocker is the way kids originally saluted the flag while reciting it.

Get ready to learn the incredible story of how we got the Pledge of Allegiance. Continue reading

Mission: Rescue Napoleon!

The unlikely tale of pirates, a mayor, a French emperor … and a jazz legend

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Every so often, history offers a story where amazing characters interact with one another so unbelievably, you know it has to be true. This is one of them.

napoleonst-helena GoodNapoleon Bonaparte was in a serious funk in early 1821. For five long years, the man who once ruled Europe from the Spanish plains to the steppes of Russia had been a captive of the British. They kept him permanently exiled on St. Helena, a volcanic hunk of rock in the South Atlantic some 2,500 miles from Argentina. It was as close to the End of the Earth as you could get. Just to be on the safe side, British warships were anchored nearby.

Napoleon wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Until Nicolas Girod decided to step in. Continue reading