Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 17 Warrior, Princess, Badass

Written By: Tracy - May• 15•17


For 100 of these, you can wrestle for her hand in matrimony.

If I asked you to name a badass warrior princess, you might mention Xena or Wonder Woman.  But one real life woman left them all behind.  Her name was Khutulun, and she was the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan.

I Am Not Making This Up: What Explorers Lewis and Clark Have to Do With the Kentucky Derby

Written By: Tracy - May• 08•17

Because “tiny people racing big horses” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Last weekend was the Kentucky derby, which is like the Super Bowl of Horse Racing, with a little bit of the Oscar’s red carpet mixed in. 

While the race is an interesting diversion for two minutes, in Kentucky the festivities last through a two week’s worth of balls and parties, parades and pageantry. 

And the whole thing was started by the grandson of William Clark (one of those two guys who explored the west), Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr. 

Clark, or “Lutie” as his family called him was raised by his aunt and cousins, John and Henry Churchill (remember that name. It will come up again).  

The Churchills raised Lutie to appreciate the finer things in life (some say they spoiled him), including horse racing (which his cousins were passionate about). 

In those days, racing had a seedy reputation. Bets were placed through bookmakers, and there was a lot of cheating. 

Lutie traveled abroad. While in Paris, he observed the automated machines that gamblers would place bets with, eliminating bookmaking.

When he returned to America, it was with an idea of starting a racetrack. He approached his Churchill cousins with the idea. The racetrack would be a place that they could showcase their racehorses, and they would use betting machines. 

The family loved the idea, and donated the land for what would become Churchill Downs.  

As track manager for Churchill downs, Lutie pioneered many of the rules that are racing standards today. He also founded the Kentucky Derby.  

Some of the traditions of the derby were present right from the beginning. For one, dignitaries and high society have always watched from box seats, while the rest of the spectators have always sat in the infield. 

Ladies have always worn derby hats, since formal dress has been a requirement for the box seats from the beginning. Though hats have become particularly outrageous in recent years. 
So next year, when you turn on the derby, try a slice of derby pie, and raise a mint julep in toast to Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr., founder of the most exciting two minutes in horse racing. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 16 When Frederick Law Olmsted Changed The World

Written By: Tracy - May• 01•17

Olmsted.jpgIn 1857, if a New Yorker wanted to get away from the city, he or she would go to a cemetery. That all changed with the establishment of Manhattan’s Central Park, and it’s architect and superintendent, Frederick Law Olmsted.

I Am Not Making This Up: Whatever Happened to the Sphinx’s Nose?

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 24•17

Did you ever look at the Venus D’Milo? Most people think of it as that one statue with no arms.

The one imperfection makes it famous.

Another famous statue, the Sphinx, is missing it’s nose. The popular story is that one of Napoleon’s men shot it off with a canon. However, like many popular myths, this one is definitely false.

Napoleon came to Egypt during the French Revolution. During this time he was a rising star in the French army.

To everyone on the French side involved, invading Egypt seemed like a great idea. Napoleon wanted to cut the British access to India, plunder the riches of Egypt and further his own ambitions. Napoleon’s enemies saw the invasion as a win-win situation. If Napoleon won, the British lost. If Napoleon lost, he wouldn’t be a political threat in France.

Ultimately, the invasion would be unsuccessful. But in the process Napoleon and his men invented Egyptology, found the Rosetta Stone, carted many treasures back to Egypt, and spun it all into a political win. So he’s a bit like the Donald Trump of his era.

But as to the question of the Sphinx, there are drawings of it without a nose that predate Napoleon’s invasion. So where did the story blaming him come from?

The answer is probably that he was easy to blame. Like blaming your ex for everything wrong in your life, it was probably easy for the locals to blame someone they were already salty at for one more thing that was wrong.

What really happened to the Sphinx’s nose? An older story claims that a Sufi Muslim demolished the nose and ears after he discovered that local peasants were making offerings there to control the flood cycle. Writings say that the man was later executed for vandalism.

This story may also be incorrect, seeing as the ears of the Sphinx are still there.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 15 Would The Real Anastasia Please Stand Up?

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 17•17

A comparison: Franziska Schanzkowska on the left, and the actual Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia on the right.

It was a cold February night in Berlin, 1920, when Franziska Shanzkowska jumped into the Landwher Canal.

We know why she jumped: she’d lost her fiancee during the war.  She’d also suffered from an accident in the munitions plant where she worked.  She had scars, a head injury, possibly survivors guilt and definitely depression. In an era far removed from modern psychology, her story is tragic, and unfortunately all too common.

She survived her suicide attempt.  Then her story takes a turn into the uncommon. Because while she went into the canal a factory worker, she came out of the water as the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.

I Am Not Making This Up: Curious George Vs. The Nazis

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 10•17
Curious George

Although Margaret’s name does not appear on some of the books, she was the writer, while Hans illustrated them.

When my daughter turned 2, we threw her a Curious George birthday party.  The mischievous money is known to children, and the parents who grew up on his stories, for his adventures with the Man With the Yellow Hat. 
But his greatest adventure isn’t in print.  Before the book, Curious George saved his creators from the Nazis. 
Margarete Elisabethe Waldstein met Hans Augusto Reyersbach when she quite literally slid down a banister and into his life.  It wasn’t love at first sight.  She was eight years younger than him at the time.
Instead, World War I saw Hans serving in the German Army on the Russian front.  Post war, he made an income out of illustrating posters for the Circus before moving to Rio de Janeiro to sell sinks and bathtubs along the Amazon. During this time, he wore a yellow hat.
Meanwhile, Margarete studied art.  As Hitler rose to power she moved to London to work as a photographer.  In 1935, she moved to Rio and looked up her old family friend Hans. 
The two hit it off.  Margarete, now going by the more English Margaret (Hans called her Peggy), convinced Hans to start an advertising firm with her.  Their working relationship turned personal, and they married. 
Hand shortened his name to H.A. Rey, and the two applied for and received Brazilian citizenship.  
For their honeymoon, they planned to spend a month in Paris.  Their one month stay turned into an open-ended stay.  They simply never checked out of their hotel.

George is also known as Zozo in England, where the king at the time of publication was also named George.

During their time in Paris, Hans’s animal drawings came to the attention of a publisher, who commissioned a book.  The book, Raffy And The Nine Monkeys had one character that caught they Reys’ fancy: a very curious monkey named Fifi.
The Reys thought they could build a book around that character. By 1940, they had material for what would become Curious George. 
Then Germany invaded France.  As Jewish Germans, the Reys knew that they needed to leave Paris. The problem was that anyone else who could leave Paris was doing so.  There were no cars, no seats on trains, nothing but a tandem bike available.
Fortunately, Hans knew how to tinker.  He took some extra bicycle parts, and turned the tandem bike into two bikes.  Then he and Margaret rode away with their most important possessions, including their manuscripts. 
The Reys had several advantages in their escape: a French publisher had given them an advance for the proposed monkey book, which financed their escape.  Their Brazilian citizenship helped them to procure exit visas.  And their drawings of Fifi  inspired kindness in others. 
At one point, the Reys were not going to be allowed onto a train, but a guard who searched their bags saw their artwork for the book, and allowed them to pass.  At another point, passengers on a train worried that they were German spies.  But before they could be put off the train, officials saw the artwork and decided that they couldn’t be spies. 
They made their way to Spain, Portugal, Brazil and eventually to Margaret’s sister in New York.  There Houghten Mifflin purchased Curious George (and renamed Fifi).
The Reys published eight books. They had no children, but Margaret described George as their child.  “He’s the best sort of child,” she once said.  “He takes care of his parents in their old age.” 

I am Not Making This Up: Ep. 14 Agatha Christie’s Personal Mystery

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 03•17

christieAgatha Christie is the bestselling author of all time.  Her works outsell Shakespeare, J. K. Rowling, and Stephen King.  Even if you’ve never read her work, you’ve probably heard of Murder on the Orient Express, or And Then There Were None.

But a greater mystery sits at the heard of Christie’s life.  In 1926, after an argument with her husband, Christie got into a car and vanished, kicking off an 11 day manhunt.  At the end of it, Christie was found at a spa under an assumed name. When questioned the author had no idea that she was Agatha Christie.

I Am Not Making This Up: Cleopatra Had Butter Face

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 27•17

Cleopatra as played by Liz Taylor.

When you think of Cleopatra, you probably think beautiful, seductive, irresistible.  In truth, one of the most famous women rulers was probably none of these.  What she was, was a skilled administrator, an amazing diplomat, and a ball of charisma. 

So let’s dissect the legend, and the facts about Cleopatra. 

Most people know the basics: she ruled Egypt, slept with Julius Caesar, slept with Marc Antony, rebelled against Rome and when that failed, killed herself by hugging a snake. But if that’s all you know, you know nothing Jon Snow.

To start with, Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian.  Her ancestors were descended from the Macedonian Greeks.  When Alexander the Great ruled the world one of his generals was named Ptolemy Lagides.  When Alexander died, his generals divided his empire up like pieces of a giant pizza, with Ptolemy getting the slice that included Egypt. The Ptolemy dynasty ruled Egypt for nearly over 250 years when Cleopatra came to power. 

Cleopatra wasn’t the first Cleopatra to rule, either.  You could almost look at the name as a title. Women regents in the Ptolemaic dynasty were all either named Cleopatra, Berenice or Arsinoe.  

She was politically savvy.  In the past, the Ptolemies refused to speak Egyptian. Only their ancestral Greek.  (We have them to thank for the Rosetta Stone ). 

Cleopatra made more of an effort to connect with her Egyptian subjects. She learned to speak Egyptian, and styled herself as Isis reborn.  In a way, she was the people’s princess thousands of years before princess Diana. She wrenched a wobbly dynasty on the decline back into prominence.

According to Stacy Schiff, author of “Cleopatra: A Life” She built an army, and later a fleet, suppressed insurrection, controlled currency, and alleviated famine.  At least one imminent Roman general vouched for her grasp of military affairs. 

In Cleopatra’s time (the transition from Roman Republic to Roman Empire) even strong nations were devoured by Rome.  That’s how one made a name for oneself, by conquering land.  And in a patriarchal society like Rome, a woman ruler would have seemed weak. Not to mention that her younger brother-husband wanted her dead. 

Egypt was on shaky ground with Julius Caesar. Through Cleopatra’s father, they’d had an alliance with Caesar’s onetime friend turned rival Pompey.  So when Pompey fled Rome, he ran to Egypt,  where Cleopatra’s brother had him killed. And while Caesar and Pompey were rivals, Caesar didn’t want him dead. So Caesar went to Egypt to sort things out.  

He arrived during a three-way civil war between Cleopatra, her brother and her sister.  In  a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone move, Cleopatra made “friends” with the new leader of the Roman world, and with his backing, put herself on the throne (she fought her own battles against her siblings). She even convinced Caesar not to annex Rome, but to leave it as a client state in her hands. 

An alliance with Marc Antony also made political sense.  After all, Antony was Caesar’s protégée. The duo were also said to have cared for one another, and had three children together. But no amount of political savvy could help when Antony and Octavian’s relationship splintered. She hitched herself to Antony’s star, and when his star fell, hers did as well. 

History is written by the winners.  Thus, the image we have of Cleopatra today is one shaped by Rome.  So it’s unsurprising that it’s wrong. When the Roman’s wondered how she could have gotten two powerful men to do her bidding, they imagined that she “enslaved” them with love potions, feminine wiles, and beauty.  

Cleopatra was dangerous and threatening, concluded Roman writers.  Therefore, she must be sexually alluring.

Coins minted with Cleopatra’s face may have exaggerated her politically best features.

So was Cleopatra ugly?  Egyptian coins minted in Cleopatra’s image are the closest thing that we have to an accurate depiction of her. These show a hook-nosed, masculine woman with an Adam’s apple. 

Yet, art is subjective.  Look on the walls of Egyptian temples, and you will see stylized paintings of pharaohs and Gods “walking like an Egyptian.”  It’s doubtful that any Egyptian stood like that in real life. 

In the case of the Cleopatra coins, some of the queen’s features may have been exaggerated to make her look more masculine.  A bit like how sculpture of Nefertiti is portrayed wearing a masculine beard to show that she has taken on the masculine traits of kingship. Or even how millennia later, Queen Elizabeth the first would say that she has the frail body of a woman, but the heart of a king.

Add to that, what we consider attractive changes.  In Roman times, a prominent nose signified strength of character and power.  

The famous Greek Philosopher Plutarch described Cleopatra in a biography of Marc Antony written about 100 years after her death.  In it he says that her beauty was not exceptional, but she was well spoken-with a sweet voice and a charming way of conversing.  


So in other words, Cleopatra was no great beauty, but not ugly either.  And she more than made up for it in charisma and intellect. 


I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 13 Tale Literally As Old As Time

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 20•17

Crane_beauty5Out of all the fairy tales known worldwide, Beauty and the Beast, or “La Belle et la bete” as it is known in French, may be one of the most popular.  The themes of the fairy tale are even recycled in such popular and well-known works as The Phantom of the Opera and Twilight.

Versions of this story appear around the world, and may date back 4,000 years, making Beauty and the Beast a literal tale as old as time.

I Am Not Making This Up: That Time Indiana Jones and The Black Panther Were Hippo Farmers

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 13•17

Lake Bacon: it’s what’s for dinner. (Or very nearly was.)

Although everyone fears shark attacks, hippos are statistically more dangerous.  Yet in the early 20th century, there was a movement to populate the swamps of Louisiana with hippos that could be used to feed American Citizens.  A movement spurred on by Indiana Jones and The Black Panther.

In 1910, the US faced a food shortage. City populations had exploded, and the meatpacking industry – which had only four years earlier had to clean up it’s act after publication of The Jungle and the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act- had trouble keeping up with demand. 

The problem couldn’t be solved by hunting.  Most native meat animals such as the Buffalo had been hunted to near-extinction.  The problem couldn’t be solved by enticing people to move west, as they had in the past.  There was no more west to move to. They couldn’t expand cattle ranches.  Existing ranch land was over-grazed, and any new land would have to be purchased from farmers at a premium that would drive meat prices up further.  What was to be done?

A man named Frederick Burnham thought he had an answer.  Why not import animals from Africa to live in the interior of the United States, then use them to replenish the country’s meat supply?

If you think this idea sounds like something cooked up by George Lucas, right before he puts all that gazelle and zebra meat in a 1950’s style fridge, then proceeds to nuke the fridge, you aren’t wrong.  Burnham was one of the templates for Indiana Jones.

The Most Interesting Man In America

Officer, gentleman, freelance adventurer, all-around nice guy and a snappy dresser.

Burnham had been born to missionaries on a Sioux reservation.  As an infant, he survived a Sioux raid when his mother hid him in a pile of green corn shocks.  By the age of 12 he was supporting himself in California as a rider for Western Union.  His education continued when at 14 he became an army scout during the Apache Wars.  The frontiersmen and cowboys he served with (some of which had served under Kit Carson) taught him how to track and live in the wild. He was part of the band of trackers who searched for Geronimo. 

Throughout the next two decades, Burnham lived as a freelance adventurer.  But with the closing of the American frontier, he found himself without an adventure to lance for free.  He and his wife packed up and headed to Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) where he served as a scout in the first and second Matabele wars. 

Along the way, Burnham met Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.  Burnham impressed Baden-Powell so much, Baden-Powell formed an organization for boys so that they could aspire to be scouts and manly men just like Burnham. (He obviously sat up all night thinking up the name.)

Soon after, Burnham went to the Klondike to pan for gold.  While there, the commander in chief of British forces asked him to become chief of scouts serving in the recently-ignited Boer war.  Burnham’s actions during the Boer war earned him the cross of the Distinguished Service Order (one of very few Americans to earn such an honor), The Queen’s South Africa Medal, and the rank of major. 


“Cousin Bob”

The Big Idea Man

A Congressman from Louisiana named Robert Broussard also thought he had the answer to the meat scarcity.  Broussard, came up with this plan while searching for the answer to an unrelated problem: Invasive water hyacinth that were clogging the Louisiana swamps.  The invasive species, which had been introduced by Japanese delegates to a cotton expo in 1884, were killing fish and clogging up the shipping lanes used by cargo vessels (spoiler: a problem that persists today). 

While searching for an answer, Broussard read a paper that Burnham published in which he advocated importing African animals into the United States to “beef up” the meat supply. The congressman had a lightbulb moment:  why not import some water-going African animal to live in the Louisiana swamps?  They could eat the invasive hyacinth, and then be eaten.

One of Broussard’s contacts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an apple researcher named William Newton Irwin,  thought that the hippopotamus was the perfect animal for what Broussard was proposing.  

Irwin was a bit of an odd duck.  His specialty was apples, but he had a passion for the idea of importing hippos for meat. When reporters visited his office, he would offer them a stick of hippo jerky before showing photos of his limited edition poly bgged X-men trading cards the very animal they were eating.

Knowing what we know of hippos now – how territorial and dangerous they are – we can see that this is a terrible idea. But Broussard latched onto the idea.

Broussard, known to his constituents as “Cousin Bob” was one of those grandstanding, glad-handing, big ideas politicians.

According to The Saturday Evening Post: “Certain Louisianans may protest they are not his cousins. That is a matter of minor importance. The point is that Cousin Bob is their cousin; and he is satisfied, even if they are not. It is quite impossible to stop Cousin Bob from being everybody’s cousin.”

In other words, Cousin Bob was not the type of guy to get bogged down in details. 

And the idea of introducing hippos had a nice, attention-getting quirkiness to it.  A bit of “so crazy it just might work.”

Broussard contacted Burnham for more information.  For his part, Burnham was thrilled that Broussard would champion his idea. The adventurer had tried getting the U.S. Government to import zebra, gazelles and camels with the backing of President Theodore Roosevelt, but the plan was killed due to political wrangling. In Broussard, Burnham saw a man who could get things done. 

The three men brought in a fourth collaborator to their plan on Burnham’s recommendation. Ironically, it was a man who Burnham was once sworn to kill: Frederick “Fritz” Duquesne.

The Black Panther

The Black Panther. (The one endorsed by Teddy Roosevelt, not the one endorsed by Marvel Comics.)

Duquesne and Burnham share more than just a first name.  Duquesne could almost be considered Burnham’s dark twin with an equally colorful past.  A sort of Red Skull to Burnham’s captain America, if you will: Where Burnham is held up as a shining example for young boys to aspire to, Duquesne is remembered as a notorious con-man and scoundrel who reinvented himself as needed. 

Duquesne was born in South Africa to Boer (Dutch South African) parents. His father was a hunter and farmer, and Duquesne took up hunting as a child the way that Burnham took up scouting.

While hunting, he observed the way a panther would lie in wait for a water buffalo.  Duquesne admired the animal’s hunting style, and took the animal as his totem.  In later life, he would call himself “The Black Panther of the Veldt.”

Duquesne served with the Boer commandos in the First and Second Boer wars. Over the course of the wars, he served as a soldier, spy, saboteur, thief and whatever else the situation called for.  On more than one occasion he was captured and put into an internment camp, only to escape using his wits and charm. 

During the Second Boer War, Duquesne was ordered to kill Burnham, chief of the British Scouts.  At the same time, Burnham was ordered to kill Duquesne. 

After the two wars, Duquesne wrote adventure stories for the New York Herald. Burnham, who continued working with the British, kept tabs on Duquesne. 

So when searching for experts on African animals, who better, thought big ideas man Broussard, than the Black Panther of the Veldt?

Burnham, Broussard and Duquesne formed the New Food Supply Society, with the stated aim of importing useful African animals as a meat supply.  This was the first time that Duquesne and Burnham met face-to-face.

The Plan

Broussard introduced a bill into congress that quickly became known as “The Hippo Bill.” The bill sought $250,000 to import animals into the United States for meat production. In support of the bill, Burnham, Duquesne and Irwin testified before congress about the feasibility of the plan.  

Irving brought facts, figures and the kind of nerdy enthusiasm to the project rarely seen these days outside comic book fans debating Silver Age Batman vs. The Dark Knight. Burnham lent gravitas that allowed the congressmen to take the project seriously, and Duquesne brought his experience.  

Modern meat animals, such as pigs, cows and chickens were not native to the United States.  They, too, were once imported, the men argued.  Familiarity with the modern food source was what made it seem commonplace.  After a few decades of using hippos and other animals as a food source, they would not seem novel either. 

The plan caught the public’s imagination.  Former president Theodore Roosevelt endorsed it, as did the Washington Post and the New York Times.  The latter dubbing the hippo “Lake Cow Bacon.”

Early plans called for animals to be locally-sourced.  Because of the size of the hippos, the animals would be slaughtered near their rangelands, and shipped to local shops.  The plans resemble the modern locavore movement. 

During this time, Duquesne became Roosevelt’s personal shooting instructor, and accompanied him on a hunting trip, where the two men shot many animals that are probably on the endangered species list today.  No word on whether they shot any lake cow bacon. 

So Why Aren’t We Eating Hippo Today?

This was to be the high point of the “let’s introduce foreign animals and eat them” movement.  The Hippo act barely failed to pass in Congress.  With the failure of the bill, the meatpacking industry expanded to meet demand.  Grazing lands grew into feed lots. And many of the wetlands that would have supported hippos were drained to form grasslands for cattle. 

Burnham continued his streak of being awesome.  He went on to prospect for gold in Africa, discover Mayan artifacts in Mexico and thwart an assassination attempt against president Howard Taft. 

When World War I rolled around, Theodore Rosevelt selected Burnham to head up a new version of the Rough Riders that would operate in France, however Woodrow Wilson refused to use this volunteer infantry division. 

After the war, Burnham discovered oil in California, becoming Scrooge McDuck-wealthy in the process. He spent his retirement years  swimming in his giant swimming pool full of money working with various conservation groups, and the Boy Scouts. 

Broussard was elected to eight terms in congress, then was elected to the senate.  He served as a senator for three years until his death. 

As of this writing, I have not been able to find records pertaining to what happened to Irving. Perhaps, like Smeagol, he crawled into his cave beneath a lake of hippos to pet his stick of hippo jerky, coo over it and call it “my precious.”

Of the men involved in The Hippo Bill, Duquesne’s life takes a darker path. After becoming a naturalized U.S. Citizen, he entered into service of Germany as a spy. He served in that capacity through war and peacetime through 1941. Along the way taking on new identities, building a spy ring, helping to sink numerous British ships and both escaping and evading capture. 

He and his spy ring were captured by the FBI in 1941.  He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but was released after 14 due to failing health.  Duquesne died in 1956 in City Hospital on Welfare Island (Now Roosevelt Island) in New York. 

There is currently a backlash against the over-use of antibiotics in feed lots and commercial chicken houses.  Partially, this has led to the growth of locally-sourced meat that resembles the model proposed by the would-be Hippo farmers. 

While some non-native animals, such as the ostrich have been imported on a small scale for commercial use in the United States, the hippo is not one of them.  


Hippos did come to the Western Hemisphere in the late twentieth century.  The late Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar brought four of the animals into his personal zoo.  The hippos remained on the property long after Escobar’s death.

That heard of four has multiplied like only a hippo with no natural predators or seasonal drought to keep it’s numbers in check could.  As of 2014, an estimated 50-60 hippos live in the region of Escobar’s former property. As of right now, the animals are more of a nuisance than a real danger.  But that may change if their numbers continue to grow. 

Perhaps it is for the best that they were never established in Louisiana.