HOW SAYING “NO THANKS” KEPT HIM OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE
This 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
HOW SHE BECAME MOTHERHOOD’S ICON
[Spoiler Alert: The payoff to this tale is at the very end. Please stick with it for the surprise conclusion.]
Anna’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
THE STORY BEHIND HISTORY’S SHORTEST WAR
Wars 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
Everyone deserves a little time off … even writers. I’m spending this first week of September with relatives who’re visiting from out west. I’ll be back here next Sunday with another quirky, fun, forgotten tale from our past. Until then, happy Labor Day weekend!
WHY HE NEVER SET FOOT IN THE CAPITOL AS VP
Remember 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
HOW FREE ALCOHOL MADE WASHINGTON A WINNER
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.
Nearly 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
A FAD CELEBRITY’S FAST RISE & SAD FALL
A 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
BUT IN 1900, IT WASN’T A BIG DEAL
The XXXI Olympiad (better known to you and me as the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games) is in full swing.
There 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.
Mistresses, Missing Money & a VIP Missing Person
Long 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
How Simple Politeness Caused His Demise
Watch out for unintended consequences. They’ll get you every time.
It 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.
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