A befuddled and exhausted Cleveland threw out his anchor and touched down on solid land. He walked along the nearby river until he found the bird—dead, as he suspected. Unfortunately for him, bald eagles are kind of a big deal in the United States and he was nearly fined for the crime of killing one. But, though the article doesn’t confirm, it seems likely that in this case the fine wasn’t enforced.
In late April of 1865, the steamboat Sultana chugged up the Mississippi river with over 2000 passengers weighing down its decks. Most were Union prisoners returning home from camps like Cahaba and Andersonville, weak and happy to be heading home after a hard and bloody war.
Payment and Patch-Jobs
With thousands of Union prisoners needing a way home, the U.S. Government paid steamship captains several dollars a head for every soldier transported north. The Chief Quartermaster at Vicksburg, Missouri, suggested a deal to Captain James Cass Mason of the Sultana: he’d get Mason a full load of 1400 men in return for some of that sweet government cash. Mason agreed, but didn’t expect over 1900 soldiers to crowd every spare inch of space on a boat only meant to carry 376.
Meanwhile, a leaking boiler on board had been quickly patched to allow the steamer to take on the massive load of passengers. With decks sagging under the weight and the boiler crack ominously nailed together with a metal plate, the Sultana continued on its way.
At 2 am on April 27th, the leaking boiler exploded and took out two more boilers along with it. The blast tore the steamer apart just north of Memphis, Tennessee, and within twenty minutes the ship was burning to the water line. Those who survived the blast found themselves trapped on the fiery decks or thrown into the river. Those in the river either drowned, weakened from their injuries, or watched in horror as the ship burned with their friends still on board.
In all, around 1200 passengers perished. To this day it remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. But in the wake of events like the war ending and Lincoln’s assassination, this tragedy has been all but forgotten.
The Sultana disaster wasn’t as covered as other events at the time, but there’s more to find on Newspapers.com. Try a search for the steamship or Captain Mason for more about the incident and aftermath.
Have you ever heard of Potoooooooo, famous race horse of the 18th century? Though an excellent race horse and a significant sire, he is most remembered now for his unusual name. You may have noticed it.
The origin of his funny name has a couple of supposed explanations, but the most common is nicely wrapped up here:
As with most holidays, Easter comes with its share of unusual traditions. But while egg hunts and stealthy bunnies still remain mysteriously but firmly tied to this springtime celebration, some customs have fallen by the wayside. One of these is the 18th century English tradition of “lifting.”
“Lifting” was basically what it sounds like—on Easter Monday, men would lift women into the air on chairs or on clasped arms. On Tuesday the roles would reverse, with women lifting men. It seems the custom was to heave the chosen person into the air at least three times, after which they’d typically give you some money to leave them alone.
Below is an amusing clipping found in an 1880 paper that illustrates just how a lifting might go:
As the premier of Game of Thrones’ final season looms, fans are feeling the tension of years of televised build up. The fantasy phenomenon first came to the screen in April of 2011, and it was a hit from the very start.
A Stark Start
Below are some nostalgic clippings from the months following the season 1 debut.
Of course, the show wouldn’t exist without G.R.R. Martin’s books. The sprawling (as-yet unfinished) series first began nearly 23 years ago with A Game of Thrones, released in 1996. And the story was just as popular in print as it has now become on screen.
From an April 2nd paper comes this jazzy announcement. In 1957, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong attended a jazz concert to celebrate his birthday (actually his 56th). An earlier pneumonia scare lead to this great quote: “I know they wanted to get me up there to play first horn for Gabriel but I don’t think I’ll be up there for a long time yet.”
A year and a half earlier, the expedition that would claim his life began. Captain Scott’s expedition set sail in the summer of 1911 aboard the Terra Nova, the ship which gave the expedition its nickname.
They reached Antarctica in January, a few weeks later than planned. The early months of the expedition were spent laying depots and taking smaller scientific expeditions. Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian Expedition was camped not far off, and Scott’s group felt the pressure to be the first to reach the South Pole.
Scott’s path to the South Pole took a different route than Amundsen’s, as seen in the clipping above. After enduring months of bitter cold and blizzards, Scott and the four men he’d chosen to make the full trek arrived at the pole. There they found Amundsen’s flag and a letter. The Norwegian team had beat them to the prize.
It was on the trip back to base that things quite literally went south. At first all went smoothly—weeks passed without trouble, and the men made good progress. But their health was quickly deteriorating as frostbite and general weariness took their toll. Petty Officer Edgar Evans was the first to die, one month after reaching the South Pole. Scott noted Evans’ poor condition, and it seems probable that Evans suffered a bad concussion from a fall.
Soon after, Lawrence Oates began to show signs of failing health. With his decline came Scott’s recognition that none of them would make it back.
It became clear that Oates would not make it. He deliberately walked off from the party to his death, saying, “I am just going outside. I may be some time.” When he did not return, the group continued on without him.
Scott and the two remaining explorers, Edward Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers, were forced to make camp 11 miles from One Ton Depot. Lack of supplies from the base camp and terrible weather sealed their doom. Scott made his March 29 diary entry, and it is presumed that the three men died later that day.
Some months later the surviving expedition members formed a search party to learn the fate of Scott and his traveling companions. They found the three bodies of Scott, Bowers, and Wilson and erected a cairn as their final resting place. Speculation about whether they could have been saved circled among the survivors, and continues to be discussed today.
One of U.S. history’s strangest crimes was a streak of sneaky haircuts that took place in 1942 Mississippi. The Pascagoula criminal was nicknamed “The Phantom Barber” for his creepy habit of cutting locks of hair off young girls while they slept.
The first victims of the nighttime barber were Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel. The two shared a room in Our Lady of Victories convent and woke in time to see a man crawling out the window. Mary was the sole victim to give a description of the perpetrator:
A few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to find much of her hair missing. The screen on her window was cut. An adult woman, Mrs. Taylor, also fell victim to the unusual crime, and her account led to suspicions that the criminal used chloroform to keep the girls from waking.
The intruder didn’t injure these girls. His break-ins consisted of slicing open window screens, cutting off the hair, and slipping away unseen. He did occasionally leave behind footprints, but they weren’t enough to secure his identity.
The Heidelberg Incident
Quite suddenly the Phantom’s escapades went from bizarre to brutal. He broke into the home of Terrell Heidelberg and attacked him and his wife with an iron pipe. In the face of such violence the search for the Phantom Barber increased.
At last a suspect was found. A man named William Dolan was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Human hair was found near his home, and he had some disagreement with the Heidelbergs that gave him motive for the assault.
Dolan, called a “Nazi saboteur,” was known for having German sympathies during a time when war hung heavily on the public mind. Most were happy to see him arrested and slept soundly knowing the Phantom Barber was behind bars. But Dolan always maintained his innocence and was released early after passing a lie detector test. Early doubts about his true guilt have only grown in the years since. It is hard to say whether the real Phantom Barber was ever caught.