Crazy, Fascinating & Horrifying

Roundup




Each week we come across stuff that's weird.  Sometimes it's horrifying.  This is where we're sharing what we find. Make of it what you will! The text comes directly from the websites we’re hyperlinking.


My Dad Set the Precedent Donald Trump is Flouting

When someone mailed a portion of Donald J. Trump’s 1995 tax return to a colleague of mine in New York, I felt my father’s ghost calling to me.

My father, T. George Harris, helped to establish the modern precedent that presidential candidates release years of tax returns — a tradition that Mr. Trump, so far, has defied. But the sensation caused by The Times’s recent disclosure suggests that future presidential candidates will ignore my father’s precedent at their peril.

Dad was a senior editor at Look Magazine when he took a leave to write a campaign biography of George Romney, a former auto executive and popular Republican governor of Michigan who ran for president in 1968. When Dad returned to Look in 1967, he decided to ask Mr. Romney to release his previous year’s tax return as a gesture of transparency. Mr. Romney refused, arguing that a single year’s return proved nothing; it could be a fluke, or could even be manipulated. How a candidate managed his finances over a long period is what really mattered, Mr. Romney said.

“Stumped by his argument,” Dad later wrote, “I was not prepared for the move that it eventually led him to make: He ordered up all the Form 1040s that he and Mrs. Romney had filed over the past 12 years — including those profitable ones when he saved the American Motors Corp. from bankruptcy and became a millionaire on the company’s stock options.”


The 19th century politician scandalized prohibitionists with his D.C. hotel, which included a bar.

“Does history record such a national disgrace as a dram-shop maintained by the next highest official in the Government?” thundered H. Clay Bascom at the national Prohibition Convention held in Albany, September 1891. President Benjamin Harrison had entered the White House in 1889, and early in his administration, Harrison’s veep completed and launched the elegant Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

In that hotel was a restaurant and bar; the fact of the latter drove the nation’s prohibitionists nearly to distraction. Morton had “opened the first vice-presidential dram-shop that this country has ever maintained,” Bascom sputtered. “With its large varieties of intoxicants it continues in deadly blast to decoy and destroy the goodly youth of the land.”

How big a variety of intoxicants? A prohibition pamphlet titled “The Saloon a Nuisance and License Unconstitutional” sneered that Morton’s “first-class hotel” contained “a first-class saloon, with a first-class bar, eighty feet long, from behind which forty-four brands of intoxicating drinks were sold.” The Pittsburgh Times, in an outraged editorial titled “Our Liquor-Selling Vice-President,” went into even more detail: At the Shoreham “there is for sale five varieties of whiskey, two of rum, two of brandy, and twenty-five brands of wine. Surely this is enough to satisfy the most variegated appetite for intoxicants.”



In an election year when all claims to transparency seem remarkably opaque, Ellery Foutch, in her Object Lessons column, recalls the moment when the way to save democracy was literally clear as glass. Spurred by a scandal involving rigged and stuffed wooden ballot boxes in San Francisco’s 1856 election, New York city sought a foolproof alternative ballot box. Samuel C. Jollie responded with a clear glass ballot box that became a national symbol of election transparency for the next half-century. Ellery Foutch recounts the history of both object and symbol in a richly evocative and wonderfully illustrated story that might help you escape the current political malaise, at least for a bit.


"I remember very clearly right before I signed the options, I had a long talk on the phone with the two producers who initially optioned the book. And I said to them, 'Now, you understand that this is a story about truth and we’ve got to stick to the truth, and we can’t fictionalize and add elements that aren’t there?' And they said they understood it, and I had to take them at their word. And they lived up to that commitment. I stressed that, I emphasized it."


My family owned slaves. Not something you expect to hear from a proudly multiracial bilingual Chicano. I may not look white, but the ambiguity of my skin color can’t erase the fact that I’m an unlikely product of privilege built by slavery.

After the U.S. Civil War, my slave-owning great-great-great-grandparents — Victoria Virginia Clayton and Maj. Gen. Henry De Lamar Clayton — were solidified in history as heroes. But they were white supremacists up until their dying day, and they must be turning in their graves because I tainted their pedigree.

… I was bequeathed a privilege built by slavery from my father. Privilege that paid for college and child support. I inherited almost white skin from a Confederate general and circuit court judge; a congressman and senator; and the highest-ranking West Point graduate killed in action during World War I — the Claytons’ children and grandchildren.



How long does it take? For George W. Bush and Laura Bush, it took four days of packing, with four or five movers a day.

Part of that time was spent carefully stowing the extensive gown collection Laura Bush had accumulated over two terms. The movers wrapped the gowns in acid free paper, labeled them and sealed them in boxes

Then two people from JK Moving drove in shifts day and night to the Bush's new home in Houston. JK had flown workers down ahead of time to be ready when they arrived.

The only problem? President Bush was not there when they arrived. He had gone off on a fishing trip, and Laura had to call him to come home.


[C]lowns are supposed to be funny, right? So how did they get scary?

“It’s sort of a misconception to ask, When did clowns turn bad?” argues Benjamin Radford, author of Bad Clowns and a member of the American Folklore Society. “The notion of clowns as good is fairly modern.”

Early clowns and related archetypes were mischievous at best, like the court jesters of Renaissance era and Mr. Punch, the violent, stick-wielding character from the commedia dell’arte-inspired Punch and Judy puppet show that dates back to the 17th century (and is where the term “slapstick” comes from). Andrew Stott, professor of English at the University at Buffalo, concurs that “clowns have always been considered socially marginal, always on the edge of society.” Early examples include the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear, “who pops up and says painfully truthful things to King Lear, delivers apocalyptic language and then disappears with the inference that he’s been hung.”

But, he argues, the very first proper “scary clown” as we know the idea today can be found in Charles Dickens’ 1836-7 The Pickwick Paperswhere a clown is described as an emaciated “drunkard” when he’s off-stage, “skulking in the lanes and alleys of London”



The undisputed authority on "Indian summer" is Albert Matthews, a Bostonian who spent 12 years in the late 19th century gathering together dozens of the earliest uses of the phrase. He searched through texts about American weather and climate going back to the 1600s; he wrote to The Dial, The Journal of American FolkloreThe Nation,and other publications, asking others to send him an examples he could find; he borrowed from other dedicated searchers, until in 1902 he could say with confidence exactly when it came into common use.

The earliest use of the term that Matthews found was in the 1790s; researchers for the Dictionary of American English later discovered an earlier example, in Letters from an American Farmer. The French immigrant J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur, who farmed in the Hudson Valley wrote that, in the fall, the severe frost "is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer."


German writer Norman Ohler’s astonishing account of methamphetamine addiction in the Third Reich changes what we know about the second world war.

The book in question is The Total Rush – or, to use its superior English title, Blitzed – which reveals the astonishing and hitherto largely untold story of the Third Reich’s relationship with drugs, including cocaine, heroin, morphine and, above all, methamphetamines (aka crystal meth), and of their effect not only on Hitler’s final days – the Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers – but on the Wehrmacht’s successful invasion of France in 1940. Published in Germany last year, where it became a bestseller, it has since been translated into 18 languages, a fact that delights Ohler, but also amazes him.

It’s not only that he is – as Der Spiegel helpfully pointed out – a non-historian (the author of three novels and the co-writer of the Wim Wenders film Palermo Shooting, this is his first work of nonfiction). It’s that there was anything new to be said at all. Arrange all the books that have been written about the Nazis end to end and they’d be longer than the Spree.

“I guess drugs weren’t a priority for the historians,” he says. “A crazy guy like me had to come along.”



It looks like the boulder that chased Indiana Jones.

But this isn't a weapon for squashing bad referees. It's a pushball—the centerpiece of what might be the goofiest forgotten sport in American history. For decades starting in the 1890s, everyone from stockbrokers to college students had thrown themselves at a pushball, struggling mightily with his team to push it over their opponent's goal line.

Pushball was the brainchild of a suburban Massachusetts man named Moses Crane. Crane made his living as an electrical engineer, selling telegraphs and burglar alarms from his Boston storefront. But much of his spare time was spent watching his three strapping Harvard sons play football, a sport he vehemently disliked. He was not the only one who felt this way: "The observer [of football] sees only a mass of struggling bodies piled up in a heap, disentangling themselves at intervals merely to repeat the unavailing onslaught," wrote reporter C. H. Allison in a 1903 article celebrating pushball. "To the average person without a college education or a predilection for sports it is incomprehensible, dull, cruel."


Under the influence of a Nazi with supposed supernatural powers, a rich couple allegedly built a compound for an eventual Third Reich takeover.

Tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the Pacific, just past the McMansions of the Pacific Palisades, lie the decaying, graffiti-plastered remains of what is believed to have been a 1930’s compound for Nazis in Los Angeles….

In 1933, the property that now makes up the ranch was bought by one Jessie M. Murphy. This name is believed to be a front, historian and head of the Palisades Historical Society Thomas R. Young told the Los Angeles Times. (Young did not respond to Daily Beast requests for an interview). The property was really bought, he says, by the heiress Winona Stephens and her husband Norman while under the influence of a German who claimed to have supernatural abilities—Herr Schmidt.

Under his influence, Young told the Times, the Stephens sunk roughly $4 million into the property. Herr Schmidt had convinced them that Hitler was going to take over the world, and that the U.S. was going to collapse, so Nazi sympathizers needed a stronghold for when it was time to emerge and take control.


1. Jesus wasn’t tall and white.

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Jesus was not the light-haired blue-eyed icon of European art. The problem isn’t limited to European painters: Willem Dafoe, Robert Powell, and Diogo Morgado have all brought good looks and pale skin tones to modern portraits of the role. Historically speaking, it is likely that the average first-century male from Judea would have had dark hair, brown eyes, and dark skin tone. In addition, physical anthropologists estimate that the average male from the region is likely to have been around 5’ 4” and 136 pounds. Anthropologists like Jon Marks and Agustin Fuentes would also remind us that it’s inaccurate to project culturally-constructed categories of race into the first century. But if we were going to retroject the power that accompanies our modern racial categories into the first century, then we probably shouldn’t project those of the dominant group. After all, Jesus was a socially and politically disenfranchised man with tanned skin who was living under the hand of an oppressive foreign government. He didn’t enjoy the privileges of white men today.


After Pearl Harbor, a fearful Library of Congress secretly stashed the crown jewels of U.S. history for safekeeping. This was the rescue plan.

In the early evening of December 26, 1941, Secret Service agent Harry E. Neal stood alone on the platform at Washington’s Union Station and watched the train disappear into the darkness. It was 6:50 p.m. and the temperature had slipped into the 30s. For the first time in two days, he breathed a little easier.

Agent Neal and his colleagues had rested little since the attack on Pearl Harbor three weeks earlier. Fears of a German or Japanese attack on Washington had sent American officials scrambling to prevent the potential destruction of their capital city and everything located within its borders. They had collaborated with military and civilian agencies to implement new protocols and procedures to protect the president, safeguard the White House, and defend Washington. Neal had been involved in most of these discussions, but the plan that had brought him to this freezing train platform was something altogether different and slightly mysterious. Orchestrated by the Library of Congress, the logistics of the plan had been solidified only the afternoon before, on Christmas Day. While Washington was consumed with the appearance of English Prime Minister Wnston Churchill before Congress, Neal had begun his work day on the 26th with a confidential meeting at the Library of Congress with the librarian, Archibald MacLeish, and his assistant librarian, Verner W. Clapp. Up until now, Neal had been told only that he would be in charge of transferring “priceless historical documents” to a secure, bombproof facility far inland. Now, on the day of departure, he asked MacLeish exactly what documents they were.


Helen Holmes jumped from trains into open-air cars, almost burned alive, and was no damsel in distress needing a man to save her.

Ninety-nine years ago, on September 14, 1917, two heavy locomotives barreled toward each other, at 45 miles per hour—on purpose. Just seconds before the steel behemoths collided, fusing together into a smoking, twisted, 375,000 pound modernist sculpture evoking Armageddon, Helen Holmes leapt headlong from one of the speeding engines into an open-air automobile—on purpose. So many people crowded the California State Fair in Sacramento to watch this planned train-wreck that troops were deployed, “to prevent too eager spectators from exposing themselves to injury or possibly death from flying fragments of metal,” the Sacramento Union reported.

Intensifying the excitement was that all this was being recorded by a new invention revolutionizing America, the movie camera, the Great American validator and fame-maker. The 26-year-old (or so) woman executing such death-defying leaps so insanely, defied stuntmen by doing stunts herself. Hers was a new profession. She was a movie actress, and, according to the Sacramento Union, “a famous” one.



At the dawn of the 20th century, the United States fell victim to an incredibly dangerous drug. Children were easy prey for the menace, one so toxic that even casual use turned the most mild-mannered man into a criminal maniac. “[T]he brain becomes sluggish . . . [a]t the same time the mind is full of wild fancies,” wrote Dr. Carlton Simon in the New York Journal. “[T]he actions are not guided by the will. Normal deeds vanish, and theft, murder and other horrible crimes result.”

What was this frightening Jekyll-and-Hyde drug? The “dope stick.” The “coffin tack.” The lowly cigarette.


In Britain’s darkest hour one man came up with a weapon of mass nutrition that defeated the Nazis—and delivers a lesson for today in the global war against obesity.

Winston Churchill, the prime minister, faced a brutal reality: The battlefield that would determine whether or not Britain could survive was not on land nor, any longer, in the air, but on the Atlantic Ocean.

The nation’s food supplies had dropped by half. Each month half a million tons of shipping went to the bottom of the Atlantic, blasted there by torpedoes from the packs of German U-Boats hunting convoys from North America, much of the cargo essential supplies like wheat and meat.

[The solution? The Woolton Pie, named for the minister of food, Lord Woolton.]

Everything beneath the crust was a beige mush—in fact, a blend of turnips, carrots, cauliflower, and oatmeal.


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