Category Archives: American history

Young George and That Cherry Tree

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Keeping all of February’s presidential birthdays straight is a big headache. Ronald Reagan was born on February 6. William Henry Harrison on the 9. Lincoln arrived on the 12th. And president Numero Uno, George Washington, was born February 22. Congress washed its hands of the mess by lumping them all together in the Presidents Day holiday.

Chances are you grew up hearing George Washington chopped down a cherry tree as a 6 year-old-boy. When his dad asked who was responsible, the future Father of Our Country ‘fessed up and said, “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” It’s a story that inspired countless generations of kids to always tell the truth.

Yet it never happened.

That’s right, the tale extolling the virtues of honesty is a lie. And get this—it was even spun by a man of the cloth! Here’s the story. Continue reading

Before Camp David, There Was Camp Hoover

THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL RETREAT

President Trump loves hanging out at Mar-a-Lago, his luxury Florida estate. He’s less fond of Camp David, the chief executive’s official getaway in the Maryland mountains. He once described the presidential retreat as “interesting for about 30 minutes.”

Every president since FDR has spent time at Camp David. Yet 13 years before it was created another presidential property was built in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

This is the story of Camp Hoover. Continue reading

Fort Blunder

THE TIME WE PUT A FORT IN THE WRONG PLACE

We all make mistakes. To err is human, after all. For example, flowers sometimes get inadvertently planted or fences built on the wrong side of the property line. It’s an imperfect world after all.

When armies and nations make such a faux pas, war can result. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with this week’s tale. Although the story does begin with a war. Two of them, in fact.

We know Canada today as a mellow place, a country famous for its politeness and good manners (along with trying to stay warm half of the year). But that wasn’t always the case. Continue reading

Josh’s Golden Scam

THE NICKEL THAT CAUSED A DOLLAR’S WORTH OF SCANDAL

Like so many things in life, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it would have been, too, if one man’s swindle hadn’t ruined everything. When all was said and done, a conman got off scot free, Washington had egg on its face, and a new phrase entered the American vocabulary that’s still used today.

This is the story of Josh’s golden scam. Continue reading

Lost Confederate Gold

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE SOUTHERN TREASURY?

The leaders of the Confederate States of America we running for their lives 154 years ago. They took a small fortune in gold and silver with them when they fled Richmond, Virginia in April 1865. And chances are good people are searching for it at this very moment.

The phrase “Lost Confederate Gold” has a romantic ring. The image of stacks of gold bars imprinted with “C.S.A” is tantalizing. But is a hidden fortune really waiting to be found? This is the tale of what happened to the Confederate Treasury. Continue reading

The Big Birthday Plunge

THE WOMAN WHO WENT OVER NIAGARA FALLS IN A BARREL

You’re turning 63. How should you celebrate? With a cake with candles? A family get-together? Maybe a party?

How about crawling into a wooden barrel, having it screwed shut, then plunging 60-feet over one of the world’s great natural wonders? Which, by the way, nobody else has ever lived to tell about.

A woman did that nearly 120 years ago, the crowning achievement in her quirky life. Here’s what happened. Continue reading

The Woman Who Created Kid’s Television

DING DONG SCHOOL!

Before there was Sesame Street…

Before there was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood …

Before there was Romper Room …

Before there was Captain Kangaroo …

There was Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. The show not only was the first in its genre, it literally created children’s television—and set the bar very high, too. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and revisit 1952. Continue reading

The Mysterious Mr. Schwamp

WHO WAS MAYBERRY’S MYSTERY MAN?

I begin this week’s column with a confession. I’m a lifelong, dyed in the wool fan of The Andy Griffith Show. It debuted just a few weeks before I was born, I grew up watching it in prime time, and I’ve religiously followed it in reruns for decades. Andy and Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee, Floyd and Otis, and the whole gang feel like extended family. I belong to several Facebook fan groups where members vigorously debate the merits of their favorite characters and argue over who should and shouldn’t have been Andy’s girlfriend. (Helen Crump? Seriously?) Continue reading

One Man Saved Hundreds of Jews

JAPAN’S SCHINDLER

 

If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning movie “Schindler’s List,” you know it’s the true-life tale of Oskar Schindler. At enormous personal risk, the German industrial and Nazi Party member spared some 1,200 Jews from concentration camps.

There were other heroes during that terrible time, men and women who put devotion to conscience above conformity. One provided help from a highly unlikely source. This is his story. Continue reading

A Pig’s Impact

How It Forever Changed the Way We Shop

It’s so easy, you don’t even think about it. You go to your favorite supermarket, compare items on the shelves, take the ones you want, pay for them, and leave. It’s mud pie simple.

But a century ago, grocery shopping was an entirely different experience for your grandma or great-grandma. Until a pig changed everything. The concept was radically different from anything tried before and it worked so well, we’re still using it today. Here’s how it happened. Continue reading