LEVI’S UNLUCKY CHOICE

HOW SAYING “NO THANKS” KEPT HIM OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE

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vp-sealThis week’s column begins with a confession. The name Levi P. Morton doesn’t leap to mind, even for certifiable history nuts like me. You’ll only recognize it if you’ve ever memorized all the vice presidents of the United States. (Don’t laugh; I met a woman in college who actually had to do that once. It remains the weirdest homework assignment I’ve ever heard of.)

Yes, Levi was vice president #22. And he very likely might have had the Big Job himself, if a single decision hadn’t denied him his one chance to live in the White House.

Here’s the story of how he made the wrong call. Continue reading

ANNA’S ODD ODYSSEY

HOW SHE BECAME MOTHERHOOD’S ICON

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[Spoiler Alert: The payoff to this tale is at the very end. Please stick with it for the surprise conclusion.]

anna-cuAnna’s life was remarkable. Never in Holy Cow! History’s long and fabled existence have I shared a tale involving (in no particular order) bohemian artists, a Russian czar, a Confederate surgeon, a railroad found on the Monopoly board … oh, and one of the world’s most famous works of art, too.

Let me tell you how she wove all those diverse threads into a single amazing tapestry. Continue reading

Ready, Set – Surrender!

THE STORY BEHIND HISTORY’S SHORTEST WAR

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warWars can drag on forever. History tells of the Hundred Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War and the Thirty Years’ War. For us, the 2001-2014 Afghanistan War was America’s longest conflict. (Although it’s often hard to tell when a war is really a “war”; click here to learn about some of Uncle Sam’s undeclared wars.)

Yet sometimes wars wrap up with surprising swiftness. Take history’s shortest war. How long do you think it lasted? A year? A month? A week? Not even close. Continue reading

The Veep Who Didn’t Go to Washington

WHY HE NEVER SET FOOT IN THE CAPITOL AS VP

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Mr. SmithRemember the old Jimmy Stewart classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”? It’s about a political novice who is appointed U. S. Senator out of the blue and then, well, goes to Washington. (I’m not spoiling anything for you if you’ve never seen the movie; it’s in the title.)

More than 160 years ago, a man became Vice President of the United States without going to Washington. He never even set foot inside the Capitol the entire time he had the job. Here’s why. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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