Category Archives: American history

An Inventor’s Icky Secret

COULD THE SECRET TO A LONG LIFE BE IN YOUR MEDICINE CABINET?   

You’ve used it for decades. It was probably rubbed on your bottom when you were a baby to treat diaper rash. Your mom may have applied it to cuts and burns. Perhaps you still use it to moisten dry skin.

Yet the inventor of this popular product had a different use that will blow you mind (or make your stomach churn).

Here’s how it happened. Continue reading

Pictures That Never Made It Home

The Dead Letter Office Photos

Frequent readers know I’ve been a certified Civil War nut since age 9. I’ve visited every major battlefield. In my younger (and thinner) days I was a Civil War reenactor. I even have a collection of 5,000 original War-era photos.

One image especially stands out. Not because of what it depicts, but because of what happened to it.

This is the story of the pictures that never made it home. Continue reading

Lincoln’s Leak

A SOURCE DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO THE PRESIDENT

Unauthorized release of sensitive information is all the rage these days. Washington leaks like pipes in the “charming fixer upper” a smooth-talking real estate agent wants to unload.

This is hardly new. In fact, history’s most egregious leak involved the guy on the penny, a source dangerously close to the president, a sketchy character and a dying First Child.

Meet Lincoln’s leaker. Continue reading

The Drummer Boy Hero

HOW A 14-YEAR-OLD EARNED THE MEDAL OF HONOR  

There I was the day before Memorial Day, walking through Springfield National Cemetery in southwest Missouri, paying my respects the Civil War dead. It’s one of the few national cemeteries where men from both sides rest.

One marker caught my eye. Its inscription said, “Orion P. Howe, Medal of Honor.”

A Medal of Honor recipient in an obscure Ozarks cemetery? This merited investigation. And what I learned astonished me.

Meet the Drummer Boy Hero. Continue reading

The Hero Bureaucrat

An Obscure Clerk Saved Our History

Face it: bureaucrats, those unelected holders of colorless government jobs, are among the least popular Americans. They rate at the bottom of the list, right alongside used car salesmen and sewer cleaners.

Yet we owe a huge debt to one such drone who, when crisis came, acted calmly, cooly and saved the greatest documents in our history. This is his story.

Continue reading

A.Y.’s Costly Mistake

A UNIFORM’S COLOR NEARLY LOST AN IMPORTANT TOOL

You’ve got one. I’ve got one. Everyone from professional plumbers to weekend do-it-yourselfers has one. But a common tool came within a whisker of becoming a casualty of the Civil War because of confusion caused by the color of a uniform. Really.

Here’s how it happened. Continue reading

Mussolini & Those Tardy Trains

DID HE REALLY MAKE THEM RUN ON TIME?

Think quick: when I say Benito Mussolini, what comes to mind? Bad guy. Bellicose. Bald.

The man who styled himself Il Duce (The Leader) was all those. And more. Yet 72 years after he was shot and hanged upside down before an angry mob, one remnant of his legacy still lingers. “He made the trains run on time.”

But did he really? Continue reading

The Skinny on Streaking

America Bared It All for Its Strangest Fad

There are eight million stories in the naked city that we call History. And this is one of the strangest.

Springtime always reminds me of a crazy fad from the 1970s. It arrived out of nowhere, flying by in a fleshy blur that left some people horrified, others amused, plus a good many unsure just what to make of it. And in a flash, it was gone.

This is the short, strange story of Streaking. Continue reading

One Candy’s Sweet Secret

MESSY BABY BOOMERS CREATED A CLASSIC

If you were a child in the 1960s or 70s, you likely feasted on a certain type of candy while watching a baseball game. Or walking home from school. Or after pulling it out of your Halloween treats pile.

Personally, I enjoyed its biting sugariness at the movie theater while taking in Saturday afternoon matinees. Those little circles of sweetness have stood the test of time and are still popular today. Yet you’ll be surprised to learn messy Baby Boomers played a big role in their creation. This is their story. Continue reading

April, Always April

AMERICA’S FAVORITE MONTH TO GO TO WAR

War clouds may be gathering over the Koreas. Again. And the timing couldn’t be worse to those who know history. Because April is when America most often goes to war.

Fate has a thing for April. It loves unleashing major events then. More serious history has been made in this one month than any other: Paul Revere’s ride (1775); Lincoln’s assassination (1865); Jesse James killed (1882 – click here for more); the Titanic sank (1912); Martin Luther King’s assassination (1968), plus many more.

Here’s another little-known fact: the majority of American wars began in April. Continue reading