Author Archives: Chai Block

Red Summer, the forgotten nightmare

After the Union victory in the US Civil War, the next significant step in giving African-American people equal rights was when the Civil Rights Movement took on various states nearly a century later.

Often forgotten is a terrible period of less than 5 months during 1919, which became known as the Red Summer, a time when race riots took place from North to South, and East to West, leaving several dozen people dead, often by horrific means, and many more injured.

Today these events are included with the Red Scare of 1919-1920, when anti-Communist feelings ran very high, but a US Senate Committee identified at least 38 separate riots in which white communities attacked black communities during this short period.

While anti-Communism feelings did contribute in part, there were other contributing factors.  During WWI many industrial cities in the north found themselves short of labour, and it’s estimated that as many as 500,000 African-Americans emigrated from the south during this time, leading to a clash with returning soldiers, many of whom found themselves out of work and facing rising inflation.

Newspapers of the time did not help, with various headlines stoking tensions, such as this link to a headline from the New York Times.

One of the first riots was in Charleston, South Carolina, with white sailors and civilians fought against black civilians, and within hours 3 black were shot dead, with 18 more injured, with five white men injured as well.  The city imposed martial law, and a subsequent Naval investigation found 4 sailors and a civilian responsible for initiating the riots.

One of the worst was in Chicago, Illinois, which started when a white man started throwing stones at a number of black beach goers, killing Eugene Williams.  A nearby police officer refused to arrest the man, instead arresting another black man for protesting at this outrage.  Groups of white men then started looking for black people, and stoning those unfortunate to be caught, while many buildings were set ablaze.

A black man stoned to death during the riots

One of the men stoned to death during the riots

Before the Government called in 6,000 National Guard troops to restore order, 23 African-Americans and 15 white people were dead, with over 530 more people injured.  Hundreds of people were left homeless by the fires, with having been thrown on some roads to prevent fire trucks from reaching the fires.  It is not known how many black people were forced to flee Chicago, fearing for their lives.

Despite the coroner’s report of the responsibility of white people for the extensive rioting and damage, of the 17 men indicted, all were black.

Another brutal riot occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, after sensational reporting of the rape of Agnes Loebeck.  Local reports suggested this had been one of several attacks on white women by black men, so when Will Brown was arrested the next day, a mob gathered to demand his lynching, but they were turned away

Crowds outside the Court House

Crowds outside the Court House

The next day a large mob turned up at the court house after lunch, and faced up to a police force of 30 officers, but they were turned away.  Three hours later, 4,000 people turned up, charging at the officers in charge, and throwing bricks through the windows of the court house.

The officers tried turning a water hose on the crowd and even fired a number of shots to frighten off the crowds.  The chief of police arrived and tried to talk to the crowds, but he was ignored.  Any black person in the area was severely beaten, and anyone who tried to help them was also beaten.  Nearby hardware stores were broken into, and more than a thousand revolvers and shotguns were reported stolen.

As the officers barricaded themselves inside the courthouse, together with the mayor, trying to protect Will Brown, it was set alight by the rioters.  Mayor Smith came out at 11pm to appeal again to the crowd, but as the crowd started to quiet down, a shot rang out and a man screamed out that he’d been shot by Smith.  The crowd surged forward and Smith was hit on the head with a baseball bat, and a noose put around his neck.  Despite some people trying to protect Smith from the crowd, he was dragged to a traffic signal tower and hanged by the neck.  He was saved by four state agents who drove at the crowds, reached Smith and cut him down, before taking him away to Hospital.  Despite recovering, Smith died 2 years later.

A crowd poses for photgraphs with Will Brown's body

A crowd poses for photographs with Will Brown’s body

Fearing they would be burned alive inside the Court House, other prisoners inside eventually managed to grab Brown and handed him to the mob.  He was dragged out and hanged from a nearby telephone post.  Hundreds of shots were fired at his body as it dangled, and when they cut him down, they dragged his body through several streets before setting his body alight.

Members of the mob continued to haul Brown’s burned body through the streets for several hours more.

Federal troops from nearby Fort Omaha and Fort Crook arrived by 3am and took several positions in the city, some with machine guns, to stop any further mob violence.

Despite 120 people indicted on charges of murder, arson and other charges, few were successfully prosecuted, and none of them served any time in prison.

In the 30 years prior to 1919, it is estimated that some 2,500 black people had been lynched in the US, but in the summer of 1919 many more were injured and forced to flee their homes because of full scale riots that took place from as far north as New York, to as far south as Texas, and from as far west as Arizona, to as far east as Maryland and Washington DC.

Leave a comment

Posted by on Saturday 1st December 2012 in History, People


Tags: , ,

Bringing home the bacon

If you ever find yourself travelling through the south of Illinois, passing by the village of Cobden, you may want to make a quick stop to pay your respect for an individual who raised millions of dollars to help the US navy during World War II.

Born in early 1942 at the Sherman Boner farm, a young pig called Parker Neptune was soon adopted by the farmer’s young daughter to raise as part of a youth project.  With the war effort under way, Neptune was donated in December 1942 to be served at a fundraising event to raise money and seemed destined for the chop.

A local navy recruiter, Don C. Lingle, spotted Neptune’s potential and took him on a trip throughout the south of Illinois, renaming him King Neptune, and auctioning parts of the pig off for war bonds.  These bonds were raised in order to build a brand new battleship, to be named USS Illinois.  At each auction the pig was returned unharmed to be auctioned elsewhere.  Among the “parts” to be auctioned, even his squeal managed to raise $25 in one of the auctions.

King Neptune was now a celebrity and was given a blue navy jacket, a small crown and silver earrings.  He made a number of appearances around the rest of Illinois, raising further funds, and being sold over and over again.  At one auction the Governor of Illinois, Dwight H. Green, bought King Neptune for $1m before returning him to Lingle.

Aside from his auctions, King Neptune’s appearances led to his life membership of a number of clubs across Illinois, and his efforts led to Lingle’s promotion to Chief Petty Officer.

During his career as fund raiser, King Neptune collected an incredible $19m, which in today’s terms is close to a quarter of a billion US Dollars, an achievement few could match.

After the war King Neptune retired, living in a farm and enjoying himself.  He died just two days prior to his 8th birthday from pneumonia.

After his original grave suffered from neglect, and was later vandalised, the state of Illinois created a new memorial for him, just outside the village of Cobden:

The memorial for King Neptune, a pig like no other.

Unfortunately, the USS Illinois was not completed before the end of WWII, and her construction was halted.  Her incomplete hulk was finally broken up and scrapped in 1958.  The only surviving piece is the ship’s bell, which is now displayed at the Memorial Stadium, at the University of Illinois and is traditionally rung when their football team scores a touchdown or a goal.


1 Comment

Posted by on Monday 16th July 2012 in Animals, History, Wars


Tags: , , , , ,

An Oriental foothold in South America

The River Plate (known locally as Rio de la Plata) is perhaps better remembered today as the site of the first naval battle of WWII (known as Battle of the River Plate), but it is also where “this side of the river” led to an Oriental Republic.

In the US the film was retitled “Pursuit of the Graf Spee”

The story starts in late 18th century, when Portugal and Spain agreed to divide South America in a number of treaties, which included an area to the east of the Uruguay River and north of the River Plate that was given to Spain and was called the Banda Oriental del Uruguay, simply meaning “Eastern Strip of the Uruguay River”.

With the independence of the US, and with Spain falling under French control during the Napoleonic wars, this created an atmosphere of defiance and independence which erupted in 1810 with the May Revolution and the eventual creation of United Provinces of the Río de la Plata incorporating most of Spanish South America and based in Buenos Aires.  Despite initially attempting to capture Montevideo and surrounding lands from Spain, the Uniterians became allies, this betrayal prompting the people of Banda Oriental to separate themselves and establish the League of Free People, based in Montevideo.

This new found freedom did not last long, and the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves soon invaded and occupied this area in what was to become the Cisplatine War, renaming it the Cisplatina Province.  Cisplatina simply meant “This side of the River Plate”.

The spanish speaking residents resented the Brazilian occupation and a revolutionary group led by Juan Antonion Lavalleja called themselves the Treinta y Tres Orientales (Thirty Three Orientals) as an objection to the name of the province, as they insisted they were not onBrazil’s side of the River, but rather on the Eastern (Oriental) side of the River Uruguay.

The flag of Uruguay.

By 1825 the revolutionaries decided to declare independence and war broke out, with the Argentine navy coming to the revolutionaries’ assistance.  Neither side was able to gain the upper hand, and by 1828 a stalemate was recognised.  The British, who relied on heavy trade in the region, forced both sides to sign the Treaty of Montevideo, finally giving the Uruguayans their independence.

As a reminder of their revolution, the new country was officially declared as República Oriental del Uruguay, though most people recognise it simply as Uruguay.

Leave a comment

Posted by on Friday 13th July 2012 in History, Places, Wars


Tags: , , , ,

Good boys and women’s suffrage

In the fight for women’s suffrage, there are many leading women who are remembered for their heroic efforts, but spare a thought for one Harry T Burn, who simply did what his mother asked because he was a good boy.

By 1920 most European countries had given women the vote, as did a few other countries (Canada gave them the vote in 1917), but the US still resisted the temptation.

In order to get the 19th amendment into law, it needed to be ratified by 36 states, but only 35 states did so, and it seemed the issue may drag for some time.  In August 1920, the state of Tennessee was to vote on the amendment, with both sides campaigning hard.  Those who supported women’s suffrage wore a yellow rose as a symbol of their vote, while those who opposed it wore a red rose.

Harry T Burn, he listened to his mother and changed history

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, wore his red rose proudly and expected to win the No vote, but a couple of late defections left the house tied 48-48.  A second vote was taken, and once again it was tied at 48-48.  Supporters of the amendment were disappointed, and this turned to dismay when a local newspaper ran a cartoon depicting an old woman chasing the letters RAT with a broom, trying to united them with the letters IFICATION.

This cartoon spurred one woman to write to her son, who happened to be a young representative in the Tennessee house, asking him to help Mrs Catt (a prominent Suffragist) with her “Rats”.

As the house voted for a third time, Harry was still wearing the red rose which symbolised his previous votes against the amendment, but he now stood up and voted for women’s suffrage.  The vote was now 49-47 in support of the amendment, and the uproar was so high that the governor suggested Harry wait until state troopers could be brought to provide a bodyguard.

Harry managed to sneak out on his own by climbing out of the window of a clerk’s office, crawling along a very narrow ledge, and then climbing in through a window of another office which had access to the lobby, and freedom.

Harry would later explain his actions by saying that it was his mother who asked him to change his vote in her letter, and that a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, also changed his vote so that he could introduce a motion to reconsider, but this motion was rejected and the 19th Amendment was ratified by one vote.

Leave a comment

Posted by on Monday 11th June 2012 in History, People


Tags: , , ,

Haydn a head of Beethoven

In 1827 the world of music mourned the death of Ludwig van Beethoven.  His funeral was attended by an estimated twenty thousand people and included many dignitaries and leading composers.

Despite this look, Beethoven kept his head

Among the throngs of people who came to pay their respects, one group came forward with a strange request.  These men believed in Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull in the belief it could give clues to a person’s intelligence and various attributes.

While it was easy to get hold of the skulls of executed criminals and of the poor who died in hospitals, what these men really wanted was the skull of a genius to see where this gift came from.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that this request was refused, but it was certainly not the first time these phrenologists tried to get hold of a composer’s skull.

Joseph Haydn in his prime, his head still attached to his body.

In 1809, as Napoleon’s troops approached Vienna, Joseph Haydn died and a simple funeral was hastily arranged.  Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II, pledged to transfer his remains to the family seat when the wars ended.  However, unknown to the Prince, his former secretary Joseph Carl Rosenbaum had agreed to an arrangement with local prison governor Johann Nepomuk Peter (an amateur phrenologist) to dig up Haydn’s corpse and remove the head.

Having cleaned the skull, Peter declared that the “bump of music” in Haydn’s skull was fully developed and was so proud of his possession that he kept it in a custom made box.  It was not until 11 years later, in 1820, that Prince Nikolaus decided to dig up Haydn’s remains and transfer them to a specially built tomb, and that’s when they discovered the head was missing.

Prince Nikolaus II, a man desperately in need of a head.

It did not take long for the Prince to discover the culprits were Rosenbaum and Peter and sent his soldiers round to find the skull.  Peter had by then given the skull to Rosenbaum, and when the soldiers came round he hid it in the straw of the bed and his wife lay on it pretending to be menstruating.  The soldiers gave up and came back empty handed.  After a few threats Rosenbaum got hold of another skull and gave it to Prince, but tests revealed it to be that of a 20 year old man.  Rosenbaum found another skull, of a much older man, and this was accepted as genuine and was buried with Haydn’s body.

Haydn’s real skull was kept with Rosenbaum, who left it for Peter in his will.  Peter’s will stated that the skull should then be given to the Vienna Conservatory of Music, but his wife gave it as a gift to her doctor, who gave it to the Austrian Institute of Pathology and Anatomy.  There was a lot of arguments and court cases involved as to who should own the skull (no consulted the Esterhazy family), but it finally stayed with the Society of Music in Vienna where it was kept in a glass case on top of the piano.

In 1932 Prince Paul Esterhazy decided to build a new marble tomb for Haydn, and he petitioned for the skull to be returned so it could be buried with the rest of Haydn.  Unfortunately, WWII and the cold war that followed created further complications.

Haydn’s final resting place

It was not until 1954 that the skull was finally returned and in a grand ceremony full of music, Haydn’s body and skull were finally laid to rest in Eisenstadt, the seat of the Esterhazy family.  It was the first time in nearly a century and a half that the body and head of the great composer were together again.

However, no one knew what to do with the existing skull in Haydn’s grave, and it was allowed to stay.  His tomb now contains a body and two heads, at least one of which we know to be Haydn.

1 Comment

Posted by on Tuesday 5th June 2012 in Crime, History, People


Tags: , ,

The worst wedding ever

There are times when a story seems so fantastical as to be untrue, especially as no official records survive of the events, but because writers and biographers often repeat that story within a few years of the event, it’s hard to dismiss altogether.

One such story is the marriage of Prince Amadeo of Savoy to Maria Vittoria dal Pozzo on 30th May 1867.

King Victor Emmanuel, big fan of the handlebar moustache

To begin with, the prince’s father, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, was against the marriage as he deemed Maria to be from a low rank family, but he was finally persuaded to allow the wedding to go ahead (possibly because of the financial wealth the bride brought with her), and threw a lavish wedding day for the couple.

Trouble started before the wedding, when the Maria’s wardrobe mistress hanged herself instead of the wedding gown.  Feeling superstitious, the bride ordered a new gown for the wedding.

As the wedding procession travelled from the palace to the church, the Colonel who was to lead it fell from his horse, suffering from sunstroke.

A new officer was found and the procession got under way only to be stopped at the palace gates, which were shut.  A quick search yielded the body of the gatekeeper in a large pool of blood, some said he killed himself by slitting his own throat.

A picture of the happy couple

The show must go on though, the gate was finally opened and the procession proceeded to the church, where the ceremony was completed without further mishaps.  Perhaps the run of bad luck was over?

Not by a long shot, which is what happened to the best man as they all exited the church, when he started checking his ceremonial pistol, discharging it and wounding himself in the head.

By now the couple decided it might be a good idea to get away and the procession moved to the railway station, where a special train was to take them away on their honeymoon.

However, on the way the official who drew up the marriage contract collapsed from a stroke, and when the wedding party arrived at the station, the stationmaster slipped and fell under the train, yet another fatality of the wedding.

By now King Victor had enough and ordered the party to return to the safety of the palace, they all got in their carriages and made their way back, flanked by mounted officers.

The final incident happened when one of the officers, the Count of Castiglione, fell from his horse and under the wheel of one of the carriages.  He may have survived the accident were it not for a splendid medal on his uniform, which was crushed into his chest, killing him.

Perhaps this inauspicious start was a sign of things to come.  In 1870 Amadeo was made King of Spain and his wife queen, but in less than three years his court was in a mess and he abdicated, declaring that the Spanish people ungovernable.

The couple returned to Italy, where they lived as the Duke and Duchess of Aosta.  In 1873, aged 29, Maria died just days after giving birth to their third son.  Amadeo married his niece in 1888 and died two years later, the final casualty of a doomed wedding.

Leave a comment

Posted by on Thursday 17th May 2012 in History, People


Tags: , , , ,

When Australia lost the war

Australian armies have taken part in a number of wars, including WWI, WWII and others, and their achievements and sacrifices are celebrated by a proud nation, but often forgotten is the only war Australia fought on her own, and lost.

The background for this war starts with the end of WWI, when many returning soldiers, including English soldiers who chose to move to Australia, decided to take up farming in Western Australia.  With global depression setting in during the late 20s, these farmers were encouraged to grow wheat to help the nation, and were promised subsidies to offset any falling prices.  The problem was that with the extra production prices did tumble, but the Government was unable to deliver subsidies, leaving many farmers facing hardship.

Things became even worse by October 1932 because some 20,000 emus were on their annual migration from inland to the coast, but suddenly found themselves in a vast area of cleared lands and added water supplies.  This was like Paradise for the emus and they decided to stick around, and they either ate or spoiled a lot of crops and destroyed fences – letting in many hungry rabbits that had been kept out.

Sir George Pearce, Australian Minister of Defence

The farmers were desperate and once again turned to the Government, where they met with the Australian Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce.  Like these farmers, Sir George had served in WWI and had seen for himself the effectiveness of machine guns, so when the farmers asked for these guns to be deployed on the emu population he quickly agreed.

There were conditions to the deployment of these machine guns.  Because they were weapons of war they could only be used by military personnel with proper trooper transport, while food and accommodation would be given by the farmers (who would also pay towards ammunition).

The troops would be led by Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, armed with two Lewis Automatic Machine Guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.  They were ordered to kill as many emus as they could and collect 100 skins so that their feathers could be used for hats worn by the Australian light horsemen.

An emu private, on the lookout for Australian troops

Although war had been “declared” in October, action was delayed for a number of days due to heavy rainfall.  Engagements began on the 2nd November, and after a number of encounters perhaps a few emus had been killed.

On the 4th November over a thousand birds had been sighted, but the guns jammed after 12 had been killed, and the rest had scattered.

Over the next few days the Australian troops engaged the enemy a number of times, but after 6 days, on 8th November, Major Meredith reported back that they had spent some 2,500 rounds, but had killed only 50 or so birds (farmers would later claim that wounded birds would raise the number to over 200).

Meredith’s official report noted proudly that his men suffered no casualties.

In Parliament the war had become an embarrassment, with Dominic Serventy famously commenting that “The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.”  Sir George had no option left and ordered a withdrawal of troops, thus admitting defeat for the Australian army.

Major Meredith later reported the emus had surprised his troops with their maneuverability and their ability to sustain heavy injuries.  He said “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world…They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop”.

Australia were to have better success a few days later, but it was not effective enough.  The farmers called for further military assistance in 1934, 1943 and 1948, but were turned down each time.  The Government did not want to engage this formidable enemy yet again.

To this day, Australians and emus live side by side in an uneasy peace, but who knows when hostilities may break out again?

Leave a comment

Posted by on Thursday 26th April 2012 in Animals, History, Wars


Tags: , , ,