Category Archives: History

Democracy – Same Problems, Different Eras

A 1920 Essay From Dr. Frank Crane About Democracy and Indifference

The United States is more polarized than it has ever been.

Very few Americans are feeling indifferent about our democracy these days. Americans have strong feelings one way or another about many issues. Yet many people feel powerless to affect the way our democracy operates. The question many are asking is, “is democracy dead?”

We have two political parties who generally do not represent the best interests of the people. Instead they stick along party lines on all issues. What makes this charade even more distressing is that our “representatives” are bought and paid for by corporations, PACs and lobbyists. Distracted by partisan politics, Americans become complacent and indifferent to the underlying problem – corruption. This is not a new phenomenon.

Dr. Frank Crane (1861 – 1928) was a Presbyterian minister, well known across the country as a columnist, author and lecturer about positive everyday living and home grown wisdom. He wrote this essay, Democracy and Indifference in 1920.

While the specifics of graft and corruption have changed since 1920, the fundamentals have not. We still have a government that answers first to corporations, trusts and grafters.

Dr. Crane’s short essay is worth repeating (punctuation and capitalization as originally printed):

Democracy and Indifference

The suicide of Democracy is indifference. The trouble with the USA is not too much politics, but not enough.

A Monarchy or a Government by Trusts by Bosses or by Grafters will work itself because there is a class whose self interest keeps them on the job It is their bread and butter. Also jam. Continue reading

In 1904 The Drive Time From Los Angeles to Santa Barbara Was 6½ Hours

6 ½ Hours From L.A. to Santa Barbara (And That’s With No Traffic!)

What has four cylinders, 24 horsepower, weighs 2300 pounds and gets you from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara in just under 6 ½ hours?

A 1904 Peerless automobile. Future millionaire Norman W. Church took out this ad for Peerless in the Sunday, June 5, 1904 Los Angeles Times.

For a trip that today can take three hours with moderate traffic, 6 ½ hours in 1904 is a miracle. The “roads” in 1904 were in a primitive state to say the least. Rural roads were frequently  dirt paths filled with rocks and sand. Many times you’d have to drive through a field to get from place to place. Paved roads in California were a rarity, usually found in cities.

The interesting thing about the ad is that the Peerless will make the trip “without a single mechanical adjustment.”  That indeed was a rarity as automobiles were constantly being tinkered with. You had to be your own mechanic or bring one with you, as breakdowns were frequent.

You may be wondering if the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara trip took six and a half hours, how quickly in the early 1900s could you  drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco? Continue reading

New York Hot Dogs In 1858

Before the Invention of the Frankfurter, Two New Yorker’s Come Up With Their Own Version of the Hot Dog

In 1906 the Pure Food and Drugs Act was passed by Congress prohibiting interstate commerce in adulterated and misbranded food and drugs. Living in 19th century New York you never knew where your meat might be coming from. Food, especially meat, was often processed in unsanitary conditions. Of course then, as even now, you might not even know what type of food you are actually eating.

This appetizing tidbit is from the January 22, 1858 New York Times: Continue reading

From A 200-Year-Old Book On Dreams And Their Meanings: “Finding Treasure Is A Bad Omen” and Other Dream Interpretations That Are Peculiar

A Sample Of 20 Dreams And What They Mean From A 200-Year-Old Book

“If You Dream Of Cain, The First Born Son of Man, I Would Advise The Dreamer To Travel Into Another Part of The Country, And Form New Connections” – The Complete Dream Book 1817

For thousands of years, humans have tried to understand and derive meaning from dreams.

Oneirology, the interpretation of dreams is still popular today.

Early in the 19th century a do-it-yourself book was published to enlighten the general public on what their dreams meant. The 1817 version of The New and Complete Fortune Teller Being A Treatise on the Art of Foretelling Future Events by Dreams, Moles, Cards, &c. &c. &c. Carefully done from the Arabic Manuscripts of Ibraham Ali Mohamed Hafez published by Richard Scott in New York contains about 100 pages of dream interpretations, many of them bizarre.

What is the worst dream you can have according to the book? This one stood out:

“Altar – To dream you are at the altar and receiving the holy sacrament, is a very unfavourable omen and denotes many heavy and severe afflictions, and that you will be very unsuccessful in your pursuits, and have much trouble in overcoming your difficulties. If you are in love, your sweetheart will die before you marry, or else be removed very far from you forever — if you are in business, heavy losses will attend you, and you will with great difficulty keep from going to prison — you will lose many friends by death— sickness will come upon you and your family, and your children will be undutiful and turn out bad.”

That sounds pretty bad!

Many of the interpretations are strange. What would seem to be good dreams or about innocuous items will lead to bad outcomes for you or your family and friends. Yet nightmarish dreams involving things like beheading and the hangman’s gallows are good omens. Go figure.

While you might laugh at some of these outlandish dream interpretations, are they really any sillier than modern beliefs in fortunetelling, tarot card reading, astrology or any pseudoscience that can predict the future?

How many of the following things have you dreamed about?

Let’s have a look at some of these dream interpretations from 1817: (editor’s note – we have retained the original spelling and punctuation as it is in the book.)

“Squirrels – To dream of a squirrel, shews that  enemies are endeavoring to slander your reputation ; to the lover it shews your sweetheart is of a bad temper and much given to drinking ; if you have a lawsuit, it will surely be decided against you; if you are in trade, sharpers will endeavour to defraud you, and you will quarrel with your principal creditor.”

“Death – To dream you see this grim looking bundle of bones denotes happiness and long life- — that you will either be speedily married yourself, or else assist at a wedding. To dream that you are dead also denotes a speedy marriage and that you will be successful in all your undertakings– -to those who are married it foretels young children, and that they will be dutiful, and give you great comfort. To dream you see another person dead, denotes ill usage from friends- -if you are in love, your sweetheart will prove false- -if you are in a trade, sharpers will take you in— if you are a farmer, you will lose money by horses, and be waylaid as you return from market.”

“Cats. – To dream of these domestic animals, is indicative of much trouble and vexation; it denotes to the lover, that your sweetheart is trecherous; if you keep servants, they are unfaithful and will rob you. To dream you kill a cat, denotes that you will discover a thief, and prosecute him to conviction ; expect also to lose your own liberty through the insincerity of some pretended friend.”

“Nakedness – To dream you see a naked woman is very lucky, it foretells that some unexpected
honors await you ; that you will become very rich, and be successful in most of your undertakings:  To dream you see a naked man is indicative of trouble and attack by thieves, loss of goods and reputation. For a maid to dream she sees a naked man, shews that she will quickly fall in love and be married, and that. she will have many male children, who will be great cowards.”

“Coal Pit -To dream you are in a coal pit, foretels that you will shortly lead a widow to the hymeneal altar; to a maid it denotes a speedy marriage with her sweetheart, who will become rich and rise to honors in the state; to the trader, it indicates that he will shortly be tricked out of a quantity of goods.”

Treasure – To dream you find a treasure in the earth is very ominous; it shews that you will be
betrayed by some one whom you make your become friend ; that your sweetheart is unfaithful. and grossly deceives you ; if you should not be able to carry it away, then it denotes that you will have some very heavy loss; that if you have a lawsuit it will go against you by the treachery of your attorney ; and that you will be waylaid by robbers who will ill treat you.”

“Cain – To dream of the first born son of man, who was Adam’s eldest son, is a very unfavorable
omen; it denotes much grief through the misconduct of children, and that you will be in danger
of losing; your liberty , if you are in love it foretells that your sweetheart is deceiving you; that if
you marry the present one you will never be happy; and that sour children will be undutiful, and lead you to many troubles and difficulties. After such a dream, i would advise the dreamer to travel into another part of the country, and form new connections.”

“Lice – To dream that you are lousy, and that you are killing a great many of them, is a very
good omen ; it denotes great riches to the dreamer after many severe misfortunes and much sickness ; they also portend deliverance from enemies, and that you will overcome much slander and malice; that in love you will succeed and be very happy, after a long and tedious courtship.” Continue reading

103 Years Ago A Muslim-American Writer Warned of “A Gigantic Day of Reckoning” That Islam Would Inflict On Europe and America

In 1914 Muslim-American Writer Achmed Abdullah Warned The World That Islam Would One Day Violently Take On Europe and America

Achmed Abdullah (1881-1945) was not a psychic, but over a hundred years ago he foresaw the future of Islam’s battle with the West.

Abdullah was born on the borderland between Afghanistan and India. Of mixed parentage, Abdullah was raised Muslim. He claimed to be educated on the continent and received a college degree in England, though the schools Abdullah supposedly went to have no record of him being there. Abdullah immigrated to America sometime around 1910. College degree or not he was well versed, educated and opinionated.

In the mid-teens he became a writer of some note, penning many articles for major magazines. Over the course of his writing career he wrote over two dozen books and by 1920 was also writing for the cinema. His two most famous screenplays are The Thief of Baghdad (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks and The Lives of A Bengal Lancer (1935) starring Gary Cooper. Abdullah’s autobiography, The Cat had Nine Lives (1933) is extremely dubious as he professed to be related to Russian royalty among many of his unsubstantiated claims.

Early in his writing career Abdullah wrote a piece of non-fiction that you can tell is from the heart. In this story, he tells of the racial prejudice he encountered in his travels around the world. He recounts the historic injustices inflicted upon Asians and Muslims. Abdullah writes of his frustration with Christian and Western civilization’s assumption of superiority over any other culture. Abdullah saw the west’s attitude as racist and driven by subjugation and greed.  Ironic, considering Abdullah was on his way to making a very good living from Western civilization.

From the article:

“You Westerns feel so sure of your superiority over us Easterns that you refuse even to attempt a fair or correct interpretation of past and present historical events. You deliberately stuff the minds of your growing generations with a series of ostensible events and shallow generalities, because you wish to convince them for the rest of their lives how immeasurably superior you are to us, how there towers a range of differences between the two civilizations, how East is only East, and the West such a glorious, wonderful, unique West.”

Abdullah’s article  “Seen Through Mohammedan Spectacles,” was published in October 1914 by a very influential monthly scholarly magazine, The Forum.

The 13 page article which can be read here in its entirety, ran just months after the outbreak of World War I.

The article is forgotten today. Now is a good time to re-read it to better understand long held grievances from a non-western perspective. Continue reading

Snow, Sleighing, Skating and Pure Joy In Central Park 1863

Central Park – A Winter Oasis of Sleighing and Skating in 1863

Central Park after the snow February 5, 1863. Woodcut from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper January 30, 1864.

New York City received its first significant snowfall this winter on January 7, 2016 with about 6 inches of snow covering Manhattan. That day and the next, Central Park had children sleighing down its various hills. Ice skating was available for all at Wollman Rink.

Would anyone today recognize Central Park 154 years ago with similar activity?

Reproduced here for the first time since it appeared in the January 30, 1864 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, is this fantastic woodcut Illustration of Central Park. Unfortunately there is no artist attribution.

At first glance you would think this rural scene is not even in New York City, but the telltale signs are evident that this is indeed Central Park.

In the distant background, buildings can be seen. In the foreground is a proverbial one horse open sleigh. Other sleighs race past one another as their riders are covered in warm blankets and animal skins. One sleigh is named, the “Snow Bird.”

If you look carefully on the right you can see a familiar Central Park balustrade that onlookers are leaning against and taking in all the action.  Skaters glide across the frozen lake which begs the question: if you did not own ice skates, where could you get them from?

There was a structure called the “skating tent” in the southern portion of Central Park that rented out skates. Continue reading

19th Century New York Inventor and Business Titan Peter Cooper Once Inherited Almost The Entire Town of Kinderhook New York – But Gave It Away!

Peter Cooper, Inventor and Industrialist, Once Inherited A Large Part Of Kinderhook, NY.

It’s What He Did With His Inheritance That Would Be Inconceivable Today

What kind of a man would inherit most of a town and not be willing to take possession of it?

The answer is Peter Cooper (1791-1883), a businessman who conducted his life in a principled way.

Peter Cooper c. 1850 (Library of Congress)

The name Peter Cooper may not be as known today as it was in the 19th century, but his influence lives well into the 21st century. Three of Cooper’s grand-daughters founded the Cooper Hewitt Museum and Peter Cooper Village is a large apartment complex on the east side of Manhattan.

But who was Peter Cooper?

Cooper was a tinkerer who lacked a formal education, but became a great inventor and entrepreneur who owned many patents. Cooper designed and built the first steam locomotive train in the United States. He developed new revolutionary methods of producing glue and one of his companies, Cooper Hewitt manufactured the wire used in laying the Transatlantic Cable.

Cooper was a strong advocate of Native American rights, the abolition of slavery and used his vast fortune in philanthropic causes. Cooper was one of the founders of an orphanage, The New York Juvenile Asylum, which is one of the oldest non-profits in the United States. But Peter Cooper’s greatest legacy was as founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a free college for both men and women that still exists today. (Cooper Union began charging tuition in 2014, but will soon return to being tuition free.)

Cooper’s grandson, scientist and naturalist Edward R. Hewitt, (1866-1957) wrote a book Those Were The Days (Duell, Sloan & Pearce) 1943, in which he tells highly entertaining stories about old New York City. Continue reading

Huge Crowd Of Last Minute Shoppers At Macy’s -1942

1942 – Crowds Come To Macy’s At The Last Minute, Not For Christmas Gifts, But Liquor

Macy’s department store in New York City – On October 31, 1942 people flock to the liquor department to stock up on spirits the day before a new liquor tax goes into effect

The government can raise food taxes, gasoline taxes and income taxes and people will get riled up. But when you increase taxes on alcohol, that’s when people go into a panic .

Immediately after the Unites States jumped into World War II on December 8, 1941, the Federal government added taxes on all sorts of things to raise money for the war effort. A tax on distilled liquor was passed: $4.00 per gallon effective November 1, 1942. In addition to that tax, retailers would have to pay a floor tax of $1.00 per gallon on any unsold liquor in their possession after that date.

Here is proof crazed buying scenes did occur in the past, though they were much more civilized. Today we associate buying frenzies with the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday or on Christmas Eve.

In our photo above on October 31,1942 crowds descended upon Macy’s liquor department to stock up on whiskey, gin, vodka and any liquor they could get, before the new liquor tax went into effect the next day.

The increased cost to consumers would be about 50 cents per bottle.

In New York City, Gimbels, Abraham & Strauss, Hearn’s, Bloomingdales, Macy’s and all the large department stores had liquor departments. Continue reading

Can You Identify This 19th Century New York City Building?

A 19th Century Mystery Building In New York City That Eludes Identification

Many times I’ll come across stereoviews of 19th century New York City that I have never seen before. Usually they are of buildings or scenes I am acquainted with either by name or written anecdote. But here is a a stereoview that leaves me stumped.

As you see, it is clearly labeled New York City & Vicinity. Beyond those words under the right panel of the view, there is no other information. I do not recognize the large building which is the stereoview’s centerpiece, the surrounding structures, or an approximate year it was taken.

Maybe the view was labeled incorrectly by the stereoview manufacturer (which I highly doubt) or it is a scene in the “vicinity” of New York. It is a mystery building and I have been unable to determine anything. Continue reading

Protesting The President

Is President-elect Donald Trump More Despised Than President Lyndon Johnson Was?

President Lyndon Johnson in Melbourne Australia October 21, 1966 after his limousine was attacked by paint. photo: Herald Sun

President Lyndon Johnson in Melbourne Australia October 21, 1966 after his limousine was attacked by paint. photo: Herald Sun

President-Elect Donald Trump has not been sworn in office yet and protests have sprung up in many places across the United States against his impending assumption of power. “Not My President,” is the slogan protesters have adopted.

I do not particularly care for Donald Trump. But he is now going to be our president.

As unpopular as Trump seems to be at this moment, he is probably no more despised than President Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) was during the latter half of his presidency.

This photograph shows President Johnson in his Lincoln Continental limousine moments after the automobile was pelted with plastic bags filled with paint by two brothers, David and John Langley on October 21, 1966 in Melbourne, Australia.

The escalating Vietnam War and the draft was one of the main reasons President Johnson was deeply loathed by so many. While the majority of people initially supported the war at home and abroad, millions of people were firmly against it. According to a Gallup poll taken In August 1965, 24% of Americans thought the U.S. was making a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam. By October 1967 that number had risen to 47%.

With President Johnson stopping in Australia as a stopover on his trip to Manila, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt declared Australia was “all the way with LBJ” in Vietnam.

That was not the way many in Australia felt about LBJ and their involvement in Vietnam. The popular protest chant in Australia and the United States against Johnson was, ‘Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?’” Continue reading