This Day in History the Center of the Universe comes into focus ;)

This particular May 17th of which I speak is a lovely day indeed in Manhattan. And this being 1792 and New York being the new capital of the new U.S., there are many citizens out and about to catch the spring airs. And more than a few of them are milling about a very popular joint, just off Wall Street, called the Merchants Coffee House. Personally, I believe this establishment owes its popularity less to its famous cheesecake (which is rather okay for New York City) and more to the beverage in its name.

For, while they actually do much of their beverage traffic in liquids other than coffee, it is quite helpful, upon arriving home, to be able to declaim to “she who suspectseverything” that you have had a tough day at the Coffee House. (Somehow, even in 1792, “Honey, I had a tough day at the Ale House” smacks of underperformance.)

Another feature of this bistro is one that I particularly like. They have a table and bench on the lawn, under a large Buttonwood Tree. So, I am headed there on this particular morning for a flagon or two of “coffee”.

However, before I can eyeball Priscilla to bring me the usual, I find 24 citizens around this outdoor bench which I fancy somewhat. These two dozen gents are folks of some substance (both physically and financially) so I hold back a bit before claiming my usual spot. It is then that I see that one of the 24 gents is a merchant and fellow “coffee” drinker whom I know as “Verily, Verily”. He gets this tag because this is what he says whenever a client doubts his word. (This happens so frequently that he repeats the phrase so often that whenever a citizen sees him, said citizen immediately says – “Verily, Verily”.)

Anyway, “Verily, Verily” says to me – “Robert, do you have perhaps a spare $200 with which to join this venture?” He then explains that each of these merchants puts up $200 apiece to join something they will call “The New York Stock and Exchange Board“. “Verily, Verily” says the boys think this is a very good investment for several reasons: 1) A guy named Napoleon Bonaparte was at this time making all European Bonds as unpredictable as a turf race in a rainstorm; 2) Certain gents were making plans for various ventures like canal companies and private turnpikes.

Well, these are nice thoughts indeed but personally even if I have $200 (a very unlikely event), I do not see much vig in this Stock Exchange idea.

“But” says “Verily, Verily”, “do not scoff, for a story goes with it” (over the years I learn this can often be a very expensive sentence).

It seems these guys are onto a deal that a certain Alexander Hamilton has cooked up. He wishes to change the large revolutionary debt into Publick Stock. The aforementioned debt is such a palooka that many citizens shun these “Continentals” as having very little value. In fact in graffiti school, kids are writing “Not worth a Continental” on walls and such.

In further fact, this colonial money is so bad that almost all business is done using a Viennese coin that looked like a Spanish “pieces of eight” (called “the Thaler” at this time but with a New York City accent it is pronounced “dollar” and this is where this word comes from. P.S. – said coin is cut like a pizza so you can break off an eighth or 12 1/2 cents. If you broke off 2 such “bits”, you have a quarter – get it.)

Anyway, Hamilton is having difficulty getting the votes he needs to convert to Public Stock. So he strikes a deal with a certain Thomas Jefferson who wishes to move the U.S. capital to Virginia (to be closer to home). And to prove they were honest, these two citizens decide to build said capital on some swampland owned by a gent named George Washington.

Anyway, the deal is struck and suddenly there is lots of Publick Stock to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Naturally, shy the $200, I miss out on the Buttonwood Agreement but I sign up shortly thereafter and am here since then.

The rest is history.


This Day in History wishes all a perfect day.






This Day in History explores profiting from mistakes

On this day (-1)in history  in 1918, the U.S. Postal Service (then known as the U.S. Post Office
Department) issued the first “Airmail Stamps.” Of course, there was no airmail service
available yet (it would not start for several days – but you’d need stamps wouldn’t ya).
The stamps came in 6 cent, 16 cent and 24 cent denominations.
On the second day of sale (that would be May 14 if you are an MBA), a certain Bill
Robey bought a sheet of a hundred of the 24 cent types at the local post office. As
he walked toward the door, he noticed that in each stamp on the sheet the plane (a
biplane Curtiss “Jenny”) was printed upside/down.
Robey knew he had a hot item but he assumed hundreds of similar sheets would be
running off the presses. (Actually only 8 other sheets had been run off before they
caught the error and they destroyed every one of those – but Robey didn’t know that).
He quickly sold the sheet to a philatelist (that would be a stamp collector if you are a
PHD). The price was $15,000. Nice trade you think. So did Robey. But the guy he
sold it to was already sitting on a $20,000 resale bid. About 60 years later, one single
stamp traded for $198,000 which would make Robey’s sheet worth $19,800,000
(that would be $19.8 million if you an economist).
Circumstance (or the Twilight Zone) may have added to the value of the stamps.
When actual airmail service began on May 15th, the first flight was of course a Curtiss
“Jenny” bearing the same markings (JN-4H) as the Jenny in the stamp. After a lot of
bravado on the takeoff, in mid-flight the pilot ran into turbulence and crash-landed.
The pilot (with the mail) walked away but the first airmail plane ironically ended up in
a field…you guessed it…just like the plane in Robey’s sheet – upside/down.

You can read a great piece on these stamps here

To commemorate this fine occasion, find a stewardess (flight attendant if you prefer), head straight to The Flying Fortress, taxi up to tel bar and tell the barkeep you’d like a couple of Aviations. The Aviation is a classic cocktail made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice. I’m not sure if you’ll like the taste, but it’s sure to help you gain some altitude.

This Day in History wishes all a perfect week.


This Day in History recalls yet another U.S. vs. England battle (But not in the way you think)

Everyone who has ever been to the Big Apple knows that New Yorkers are not prone to shyness when asked to express their opinions on any given subject. Truth be told, they don’t need someone to ask. They may or may not know everything, but they know what they like. So on this day in history in 1849, we recount what may have been the only riot in New York’s history caused by of all things, an actor. While the pages of history are full of varying degrees of violence breaking out due to displeasure over slavery, religion, politics, finances, race, and even sports teams, having an event centered around the Arts that turns this ugly, and ends up with a substantial body count makes even the most jaded of us to wonder “Are you kidding me?”

This Day in History sees clouds forming and a storm on the horizon

To set the stage for this tragedy, we have to back up about a half a decade . Our fledgling nation was moving along quite nicely, hitting on all cylinders and feeling the need to show the rest of the world that the new America was full of the best and brightest in all areas of life. For some, not the least of these areas was the stage, and the man who was unanimously considered to stand at the top of the mountain was one Edwin Forrest.
As you can imagine there was considerable excitement and pride that Forrest and his fans felt when it was announced that Edwin was to travel to Europe to display his talents to the audiences across the pond. America’s place on the world table would be elevated along with all of the imagined benefits, real or imagined. Unfortunately for Edwin, it was not to be. His performance was received by a less than enthusiastic audience, and the some of the critics were blunt in their assessment of his skills. It was reported that the opening night crowd had booed and hissed Forrest, leading him to believe that something dark and sinister was afoot. His suspicions led him to a fellow actor, one William MacReady, whom Forrest believed was jealous of him and his rising star.
Upon his return to the States to lick his wounds, Forrest stewed and brooded over the embarrassment on the world stage. When it was announced that MacReady would be traveling to the U.S. to perform, Forrest knew payback was at hand. He flooded the media with lurid recounts of how MacReady had sabotaged his performances, and even made sure he scheduled his own performances at the same time that MacReady would be performing. Having thus primed the pump, the stage was set for some fireworks.

This Day in History watches the flying vegetables perform

When MacReady stepped onto the stage at the Astor Place Opera house on May 8th, little did he know that a salad buffet had been prepared in his honor. Forrest supporters had brought along some of their less than fresh cabbage, tomatoes, and the like to make sure that MacReady fully understood their position on his position. His first lines had barely crossed his lips when they were met with the vegetable salad traveling the opposite direction. Having received the message loud and clear, MacReady immediately cancelled all performances and vowed to never set foot on our shores again. Only after much ego stroking and the promise of protection by the police and National Guard did he relent.

This Day in History notes “Sticks and stones can break bones, but bullets will really kill me”

So on this day in history (actually night), MacReady was to step up for another turn in the box. Unfortunately for him, all the publicity surrounding the improptu salad bar party had roused the passions of approximately 12,000 new patrons of the art. The crowd gathered at the Opera house and apparently no one remembered to bring enough cabbage and whatnot. So when someone looked down and saw a loose cobblestone, things quickly took a turn for the worse. Bruising an actors ego with a tomato is one thing, bouncing a cobblestone off the noggin of the cops is quite another. Having no policies for restraint in place, the John Darmes decided to answer the volley using their own weapons and when the smoke cleared 30 were dead, with another 50 injured.
To pay your respects for this day in history, find a budding young actor or actress, offer them a glass or two of their favorite libation and talk about commitment. Remember the words of Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accordingly a genius is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework”. Do ALL your homework.

This Day in History wishes all a perfect day.


This Day in History explores the power (or lack thereof) of words.

The year is 1864, and the War between the States is in full bloom. General Grant of the Union Army is driving hard toward the new Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Two days earlier Grant had issued the following order to Major General George Gordon Meade -  “Make all preparations during the day for a night march to take position at Spotsylvania Court-House.”

This Day in History shows when 20% is a lousy return on investment

Though not a household name for many, the Battle of Spotsylvania engaged total forces of over 150,000, and by its end close to 20% of the combatants would make the ultimate sacrifice for their respective sides. It was to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Early on, the Confederate forces of Lee had successfully defended their turf due to Lee’s brilliant skills as a strategist, combined with the brutal artillery assault from the batteries led by Gen. Porter Alexander. Their devastating firepower had pinned the North down and Grant was looking for a little magic from his 6th Corps under the command of Gen. “Uncle” John Sedgwick. Sedgewick, who was well liked and respected by his troops, was trying desperately to rally his troops for the attack, but had failed to rouse their battle spirits. Seems the Confederate snipers were running quite an efficient operation with their Minie balls and in the process striking fear into the hearts of the Union lads. For those of you not familiar with what a Minie ball is you can see a round being manufactured by hand here:


This Day in History says “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but bullets can really kill me”

At any rate, Sedgewick thought that the only way to rally his lads to rise to occasion was to take a more personal approach to the problem. Despite warnings from his superiors, sitting high astride his mount, Sedgewick rode the trenches and bellowed out what would be his famous last words.  “Men”, he shouted, “stand up!” “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist….” And boom, just like that, from an estimated distance of over 500 yards, someone either proved him wrong, or got very lucky. The shot that came from a Whitworth rifle ended up killing the highest ranking Northern officer to die on a Civil War battlefield.
The battle continued to rage for another week and a half a ended up a draw. It was just one more tragedy in what would prove to be some of the most difficult periods in our fledgling nation’s history.

In memory of this day in history, order up a Rebel Yell bourbon-based drink, and consider the fact that at some point, the words you speak will be held up as your last. Whether they are kind, profound, inspiring, or something less is up to you.

This Day in History wishes all a perfect day.

This Day in History minus 1 explores the demise of epic storyteller.

Since we tend to lay around doing nothing on Sundays, This Day in History explores the life and times of a man who died yesterday in 1919. His name was L. Frank Baum, and the L stands for Lyman. Born in 1856 to an oil tycoon and a women’s activist, Buam was one of seven children born and raised in Chittenango, New York. His early life include a wide array of seemingly mismatched professions, including poultry salesman, journalist, actor, opera house owner, seller of axle grease, and my personal  favorite the founder of the National Association of Window Trimmers.
But in 1897 Baum seemed to hit his stride as an author of children’s books with the creation of Mother Goose in Prose. Based on the stories Baum told his own children, the book’s last chapter introduces the farm girl who will make him famous. Baum had a little different take on how a fairy tale entertained and taught children.

 ”Yet the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as ‘historical’ in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer ‘wonder tales’ in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.” (Baum in the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).


Now that we’ve let the cat out of the bag, and all you younger folks know who we’re talking about, let’s explore some of the lesser known tales surrounding this classic, and its creator.



This Day in History lays out some fun facts and ends with Gone With the Wind

Toto made more money than the Munchkins – Leopold von Singer was the man MGM hired to provide the Munchkins for the movie. Toto earned a cool $125/ week while the Munchkins were grossing $100/week for a 6 day workweek. Adding insult to injury, Singer charged a 50% commission for his services, lowering take home pay to a paltry $50/week.

Jello crystals were used to created the colored horse in the Emerald City scenes, and had to be shot immediately after application because the horses liked the taste and tried to lick it off.

The origins of the imaginary Oz in the title, “The Wizard of Oz,” came to Baum while looking at  the drawers of a file case labeled A-N and O-Z.

The role of Dorothy was originally destined for child star Shirley Temple. Judy Garland ended up with role after it was determined the Shirley’s range was inadequate for the role.

 The role of the Tin Man was originally offered to Ray Bolger but his desire to play the scarecrow because of his childhood idol playing the part on stage caused him to insist on that role. The part was then given to Buddy Epsen of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame, but increasingly severe reactions to the face paint caused him to withdraw from the part and Jack Haley’s good fortune in landing the part. You can hear Ebsen’s voice in some of the songs which were kept in order to save money.

The film cost $2.777 million to produce (close to $50 mil  today) and made around $3 mil on its original release. The re-release earned an additional $1.5 mil.

But what of the Gone With the Wind connection you ask? Well, there are two I know of and possibly more. The first is the previously mentioned actress, Judy Garland. Ann Rutherford had the good fortune to pick up the role of Scarlett O’hara’s younger sister after Garland, who had been signed for the part, asked for and got a release to play the part of Dorothy. The second is Victor Fleming, the man who ended up directing both films. Fleming rushed to finish Oz so he could replace George Cukor, who had been recently fired by one David O. Selznick. Gable was ecstatic, he had good drinking buddy to play with. The woman were less than enthused.

 This Day in History saves the best for last.

One more for the “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” category.When putting together the wardrobe for the film, in was decided that the Professor’s coat should be something that was classified as “grandeur gone to seed”. In other words, something elegant that had seen better days. The wardrobe department went to a local second had store a bought a rack of likely candidates. When the Director and Frank Morgan got together with the Wardrobe Manager, they chose a Prince Albert jacket, a shabby jacket with a well worn velvet collar. The stranger than fiction part comes on a hot afternoon day when Morgan turns out the pocket revealing the chills up your spine name of one L. Frank Baum. Turns out the coat was made by a tailor in Chicago who sent back a notarized letter attesting to its authenticity. Trouble is in the cynical world of Hollywood, most thought it was a cheap publicity gimmick, and no one would believe it.

This Day in History offers up some last thoughts, somewhere, over the rainbow

After the movie’s success Baum declared plans for an Oz amusement park. He made a big production out of a story that included the purchase of an imaginary island called Pedloe, plans to make it the marvelous land of Oz, with the goal of making it a fairy paradise for children. But history tells us that not only is there no evidence that he purchased such a place, no one seems to be able to locate any place the resembles the island Baum describes. And so the project fell through, primarily due to the financial failure of some of Baum’s later projects.
Baum died of complications from a stroke in 1919. Some say he died of a broken heart, never having realized the dream of his imaginary fairyland. His last words were reportedly  “Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.”

 Those sands have shifted plenty since his death and yet his creation has held many a child (and adult) spellbound. We never know which moments of our lives will be held up in the register of time as the most precious, so just to be safe, treat them all special.

This Day in History wishes all a perfect day.

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