On The 90th Anniversary of Houdini’s Death, We’d Like Some Advice From Houdini and His Friend Theodore Roosevelt
Aboard The Imperator June 23, 1914 – From left to right: William Hamlin Childs, Harry Houdini, J.C. Platt, Theodore Roosevelt, unidentified, Philip Roosevelt, L. F. Abbott
If there is an afterlife maybe Houdini is hanging out with President Theodore Roosevelt like he was in 1914. If so, I’d like to know what they think about the current state of our country.
October 31, 1926 marks the 90th anniversary of the death of the world’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini. Before he died, Houdini told his wife Bess that if there really was life after death, he would contact her. After all, Houdini spent a lot of his time showing how all people who claimed to contact the dead were charlatans. If anyone could prove that there was life after death it would be Houdini.
He never made contact with Bess. There are still seances held each year that try and contact Houdini.
The more things change the more they remain the same.
This great political cartoon ran in 1905 on the cover of the satirical Puck Magazine. The cartoon showing The National Bird of Prey “Corporate Vulture” feeding her young “dough” is as appropriate in 2016 as it was in 1905 . The hatchlings being fed in a nest lined with money are labeled “Our” Senators; “Our” Legislatures and “Our” Judges. Is the “Our” in quotes referring to the citizens who have been robbed of representative power or a sarcastic wink to the fact that “Our” government belongs to the corporations? With either interpretation it is a potent statement that still rings true today.
Would you vote for any of these men based upon their photographs (or voices)?
Let’s not generalize and say modern Americans are shallow, but research confirms that public image and to a lesser extent how someone talks, does influence the electorate.
One classic, yet apocryphal example, is the first televised presidential debate in 1960, in which supposed surveys showed people listening on the radio thought Richard Nixon was the clear winner of the debate, whereas people watching on television thought John F. Kennedy was the victor.
Today we are bombarded by media 24/7. It has becomes a challenge to capture anyone’s attention. The current presidential debates have devolved into images and soundbytes that convey little when it comes to substantive ideas and solutions for making our country functional. The public and media analyze Donald Trump’s hair; if Hillary Clinton has “had work done” or why Ted Cruz “talks weird.”
So now, imagine life 100 – 125 years ago. Most Americans never ventured more than a few miles from where they were born. There was no internet, television or radio. Images were viewed in newspapers and magazines. If you heard a politician speak, it was, in person addressing an attentive crowd.
The technological revolutions around the turn of the century were stunning to the masses. The development of motion pictures, x-rays, electric appliances (beginning with the toaster), airplanes and audio recordings astonished people.
Maybe you’ve seen grainy silent films of the men who served as presidents of the United States at the turn-of-the-century. They are silent, stoic and graven in image. What did they sound like? How did they talk?
Most people do not realize that these early president’s voices were recorded and preserved for posterity, usually by the Edison Company on wax cylinder disks. The following recordings are part of the Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University. It is very interesting to hear what these men sounded like.
Based upon their photographs and voices, could any of these men be elected today?
First we have President Grover Cleveland (the 22nd and 24th president 1885-1889 & 1893-1897) the only man ever to be elected twice in non-consecutive terms.
Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York before becoming president. In 1884 a book was published called Off-hand Portraits of Prominent New Yorkers by Stephen Fiske. The coda to the profile on Cleveland accurately predicted “If he shall make the same sort of a Governor as he has a Mayor, the road to the White House is open to him, and this sketch may yet be entitled the portrait of President Cleveland.”
Grover Cleveland’s voice, recorded during a campaign speech in 1892 is a bit hard to hear with all the static, but is comprehensible.
The way most politicians in the 19th century wrote, is the way Cleveland speaks. Cleveland puts out his speech with melodrama and clear diction.
Next, the 25th President William McKinley (1897-1901) who never left his front porch at his home in Ohio to campaign. McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901, which put Theodore Roosevelt into the executive office.
McKinley on this recording from 1896, talks about the Republican platform. Similar to Grover Cleveland, McKinley speaks the way you’d imagine a 19th century politician would talk. McKinley’s speech pattern epitomizes the 20th century movie portrayal of 19th century diction, emphasizing certain words, and like Cleveland, drawing out his syllables.
To Be Remembered – Some Thoughts About Inscriptions On Tombstones
Henry Croatman Eddie Brewster Croatman Born January 17 1845 Died Dec. 2, 1878 Died June 4, 1876 Aged 19 Mo’s 26 Days Come view the grave and drop a tear Budded on earth O’er your kind brother once so dear To bloom in heaven Who once delighted in your charms But now he’s bound in deaths cold arms
When wandering around Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn I especially take note of monuments with epitaphs. Rather than gravitate towards the costly and grand monuments that abound in great numbers, I am drawn to those anonymous graves with no known fame attached to them. It is interesting to see how these people, buried long ago, are eulogized in stone.
John F. Abbott
Died Sept. 23rd, 1857
Aged 23 Years and 10 Months
A Good Life Hath But Few Days
But A Good Name Endureth Forever
Many of these monuments mark the last resting spots of common people with unextraordinary lives. But we all have a story to tell. Tombstones try to do that. How can you sum up a person’s life with a few sentences?
A Tribute of Love to
My Dear Wife
Died Feb. 25, 1887
Aged 58 Years
A fond and faithful wife,
A dear devoted mother, And a kind friend to all
Without their simple marker and words engraved upon them, these people’s lives would go completely unrecognized. Today, it is hard to fathom that thought, considering all the information that is now collected and shared about us.
C. Ella Ellison
Wife of John T. Ellison
Born March 22, 1846
Died December 20, 1900
A Loving Daughter,
A Devoted Mother,
A Faithful Wife
There is a lot of activity in this photograph taken in 1923 showing Fifth Avenue looking north from 44th Street.
No traffic signals impede the two way traffic which runs on the avenue. A Fifth Avenue double-deck bus is heading northbound packed with passengers. Pedestrians walk along on the avenue while deliveries are being made from trucks, like the one in the lower center of the photograph.
Among the buildings seen are H. Jaeckel and Sons Furriers which occupied the west side corner of Fifth Avenue at 45th street and further in the distance at 48th street is the spire of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Saint Nicholas. The church was designed by architect Wheeler Smith and was built from 1869-1872. Theodore Roosevelt and his family occupied pew number number 39. The church was demolished in 1949 and the land was leased to Rockefeller Center.
Orville Wright Of Wright Brothers Fame Piloted The First Fatal Airplane Crash
Orville Wright and Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge (right) being attended to after Wright’s airplane crashed at Fort Myer – September 17, 1908
Everyone knows that the Wright Brothers undertook the world’s first successful motorized airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903. What most people do not know is that five years later in 1908, Orville Wright was piloting a plane that crashed causing the first airplane fatality.
What even fewer people know is that the first fatality could easily have been President Theodore Roosevelt.
For several weeks beginning in September 1908, Orville Wright had been conducting test flights with the army at Fort Myer, a military post just outside of Washington D.C..
On September 14, it was reported that President Roosevelt had said he wanted to fly with Orville Wright on one of the upcoming test flights. Wright wisely demurred saying, “I have heard the report that President Roosevelt wants to ascend with me. I’m sorry, I don’t think the President of the United States should take such chances. Of course, flying in the air is as safe as riding in a streetcar, but there are accidents that might happen. Aside from my relatives, such an accident to me would mean nothing, but the Nation would be the sufferer if the President was injured or killed.”
Those who knew President Roosevelt said he would insist on flying with Wright when he returned to Washington D.C. from Oyster Bay, NY the following week. Fate would intervene in the President’s plans to fly with Wright.
Three days later on September 17, 1908 Orville Wright was at the controls flying with pilot Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who was Secretary of the Aerial Experiment Association. Continue reading →
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
Roosevelt however didn’t carry a stick, but a .45 caliber Colt revolver.
After William McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Roosevelt didn’t want to be at the mercy of some random shooter without the opportunity for self defense.
In Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, Random House, 2001, Morris describes how Roosevelt shocked the president of Harvard, Dr. Charles William Eliot when Roosevelt was being awarded an honorary degree.
“Dr. Eliot escorted him (Roosevelt) to a guest suite to change, and watched with fascination as he tore off his coat and vest and slammed a large pistol on the dresser. Eliot asked if it was his habit to carry firearms. ‘Yes, when I am going into public places.'”
Morris also tells about Roosevelt vacationing at his home in Oyster Bay, NY during the summer of 1902:
“The sight of a gun butt protruding from the presidential trouser-seat caused some consternation in Christ Episcopal Church.”
Can you imagine President Obama carrying a handgun?