Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

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. 


I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 12 The Titanic Man

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 06•17

hurd All Carlos Hurd wanted was to take a vacation.  But when he boarded the Carpathia for Italy with his wife, Katherine, the reporter and his wife were put on the path to the most Titanic scoop in Carlos’s life.

I am not making this up: France creates it’s own monster. Jeanne de Clisson, Lioness of Brittany

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 27•17
Coat of armsIf I asked you to name a  lady pirate, you might mention Mary Reed or Anne Bonay.  And while they get their fair share of attention, my favorite pirate (or Privateer in this case) lived long before the golden age of Piracy.
Jeanne de Clisson was a notorious privateer for the English during the hundred years war.  Ironically, she started out a noble lady loyal to France.  That is, until the French king betrayed her family.
Jeanne was born during the 100 years war.  A war commonly known because it actually lasted 116 years.
For greater context, think of the Hundred Years’ War as a very active phase of a much bigger conflict between France and England that stretched from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the Entant Cordiale (a treaty that ceased hostilities) in 1904.
Shakespeare’s Henriad Tetraology was set during the Hundred Years’ War.  This was also the time that Joan of Arc was active. There were people who were born, grew up, grew old and died in a constant state of warfare.  Can you imagine what that must have shaped a person?
Jeanne de Clisson was born in Brittany, a little bump of land that exists on the French side of the English Channel.  The English and French both wanted the land for themselves to serve as a buffer against the other country.
Jeanne was married at twelve and had two children before outliving her husband (a situation unusual in the Middle Ages, unless one happens to be living through the 100 Years War, apparently).  She married again, but that marriage was annulled by the pope.
Her third marriage was apparently a charm, as she and her husband Oliver de Clisson IV loved each other. But Jeanne’s happiness was not to last.
During a struggle for control of Brittany called the Breton War of Succession, Oliver was called on to defend the city of Vannes.  The city was defeated and Oliver was the only noble ransomed, and for a sum low enough to raise a few eyebrows – including that of France’s king Philip VI.
Philip asked Oliver to come to France.  When Oliver did, he was promptly arrested,  accused of being a traitor, tried and executed by beheading and then drawn and quartered. Then his body was sent to various parts of France to display as a warning.
To the noble class, this was a shocking act.  During Oliver’s trial, no evidence of his guilt was presented.  After he’d been executed, his body had been put on display like a common criminal.
Imagine Jeanne’s anger.  Her beloved Oliver had been loyal to Philip.  And that loyalty had been rewarded with treachery.
She took her two young sons to see their father’s head on display.  Perhaps because she planned to involve them in her revenge.  Perhaps because she wanted them to understand.
Then she sold her lands, bought three ships and painted them black with red sails.  For the next 13 years she raided French ships and attacked Norman villages all along the French coast. Even after Philip’s death, Jeanne continued her raids.
Her revenge took on a very personal nature. She took no captives.  Instead releasing one or two people to tell the tale of her deeds and killing everyone else.  It is said she personally beheaded any French noble she happened to capture, and tossed their bodies into the ocean.
This earned her the nickname “The Lioness of Brittany.”
During one French retaliation, her flagship was sunk, leaving her and her sons Guillaume and Oliver adrift for 5 days before they were rescued. During this time, Guillaume sickened and died from exposure.
Eventually, Jeanne married one of English King Edward III’s lieutenants. She retired to the Brittany coast to live out her remaining days in peace.
Ironically, her children would become intertwined with the French nobility she fought so hard against.
Her daughter Isabeau would become the mother to a future Marshal of France.
Her son Oliver would become a constable of France.  Perhaps some evidence of the way Jeanne’s life of revenge shaped Oliver can be found in his nickname:  “the Butcher.”


As a side note: The material  came to my attention through Rejected Princesses.  You should really go there and read about a lot of awesome women who History doesn’t give enough credit to.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 11 People Were Once Paid To Be Garden Gnomes. This Is A Thing That Happened.

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 20•17
Ornamental Hermit

This guy is one pointy hat away from being the Travelocity Garden Gnome

In the 18th century, the English took conspicuous consumption to a whole new level when they hired actual old men to live in their gardens as ornamental hermits. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Bigger Than The Beatles

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 13•17

When we look at Beatlemania or the way teenage girls lost it over Elvis, we tend to think that mania was invented along with rock and roll.  But pop phenomenons didn’t start with pop.  Here are several historical figures who were bigger than the Beatles

Jenny Lind
Jenny LindBy the time she was 30, Jenny Lind was the most famous opera singer in Europe.  She had such tremendous range and vocal clarity that when she sang for Queen Victoria the monarch threw flowers at her feet.  Lind – dubbed the Swedish Nightingale- signed a contract with master promoter P.T. Barnum for a North American tour.  
Barnum made sure that Lind was a household name before she stepped off the boat in 1850. 
As Jenny Lind Mania swept the country, people named bridges, roads, buildings and other edifices after her.  As well as beds, bonnets and pies.  Look around your own city.  There may be some street or bridge named after her. 
Or google “Jenny Lind Bed.”  It’s a thing.  Not unlike a Beetles haircut. 
Franz Liszt
LisztImagine being so popular that fan fever actually becomes codified as a malady that people try to treat? This is what happened to the mania surrounding composer Franz Liszt.  
Liszt was a talented musician, mastering several instruments and composing his own music by age 11.  
In 1839, he began an extensive tour of Europe.  Around Christmas 1841, devotees serenaded Liszt with his own music. This is generally thought of as the beginning of Lisztomania. 
People who know about Beatlemania will find this familliar:  
Lisztomania was defined as a “histerical” reaction to Liszt and his concerts.  Fans claimed that his concerts brought about spiritual extacy.  Fans swarmed Liszt in the streets, and collected his cast off handkerchiefs and gloves, locks of his hair, even his discarded coffee grounds or cigar stubs. 
But unlike Beatlemania – which was just seen as a fad – people actually thought you could catch Lisztomania like a cold.
The Marquis de Lafayette 
LafayetteThe 1820s was a lot like the 2000 oughts: veterans were dying off, and citizens had a great respect and nostalgia for the wartime, and the veterans who served.  In the oughts, veterans of WWII became The Greatest Generation. In the 1820’s nostalgia transformed into mania when The Marquis de Lafayette toured the United States.
The for a short time, the visit united a country barreling down the road toward Civil war. 
During the visit, fans of the last surviving French Revolutionary War general named cities like Fayetteville North Carolina after him.  Ladies wore gloves and carried fans with his image on them. He received several honorary degrees, and numerous statues and parks dedicated in his honor.  


And just like monuments dedicated to Jenny Lind, There is probably one near you.  

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 10 The Littlest Pirate

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 06•17
Like Peter Pan, only Real.

Like Peter Pan, only Real.

Lots of kids talk about running away to join the circus or become pirates.  But few actually do it.
However in 1716, one boy did.  His name as John King, and he was around ten years old.  

I’m Not Making This Up: The Search For Blackbeard’s Head

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 30•17
In my last article I wrote about the facts of Edward Teach A.K.A. Blackbeard’s life.  But a man with as big a reputation as Blackbeard is bound to have a number of tall tales about him.  

If you put it back when you were finished with it, you wouldn’t have lost it!

Even though Blackbeard has been dead for nearly three centuries, new tall tales continue to spring up.  Most notably, tales that surround the whereabouts of his head. I’ll get to that. But first, let’s examine the other tall tales. 
During his life, Blackbeard was rumored to have had as many as 18 common law wives.  He was said to have shot Israel Hands, a member of his own crew, saying “if I don’t shoot one or two now and then, you’ll forget who I was.” 
Before he died he was said to have had a fabulous treasure.  He was rumored to have said that only he and the Devil knew where it was “and the longest liver can take it.”
None of this is probably true.  There is no evidence that Blackbeard murdered anyone (outside of his final battle). Instead he preferred to cultivate his reputation and let fear do his work for him.  
Blackbeard probably also never had a huge chest of gold coins (or many of them buried across beaches stretching from the Carolinas down to Nassau).  His ransom demand during the blockade of Charleston was for a chest of medicine.  

Possibly Blackbeard’s skull.

After Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his men killed Blackbeard, they’d found that his camp was filled with trade goods taken from merchant ships – indigo, cotton, sugar and cocoa.  Most of this was auctioned off to pay for the expedition to end his pirate threat. 
When Blackbeard was killed and beheaded, his body was thrown overboard.  According to legend, the headless body swam circles around the ship where Maynard hung Blackbeard’s head. Some people say that the body still swims the area, now known as Teach’s Hole, in search for it’s head. 
The head was put on a pole outside Hampton, Virginia as a warning to others against piracy.  From there, the head disappears from the official record.  But, like the rest of the famous pirate, there are legends. 
Lore of the Carolina-Virginia area says that pirates stole Blackbeard’s skull and made it into a drinking bowl or a cup. In some accounts, the vessel is covered in silver and engraved with the words “Deth to Spotswoode.” 

From there, Blackbeard’s skull was said to be so many places, it could have been doing a publicity tour for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. 

Also possibly Blackbeard’s skull.

Among the stories floating around, the skull:
  • Was used as a punch bowl in the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg and may still buried under the tavern. 
  • Well-to-do Virginians passed the drinking vessel/skull around at parties like some kind of gruesome party favor. 
  • Became part of initiation rites for any number of college fraternities or secret societies (including the Freemasons) in Virginia, or possibly Connecticut. 
  • Is part of a collection of artifacts at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts. 
  • Was part of a tour of artifacts at the San Diego Maritime Museum.
  • North Carolina Historian Charles Whedbee claimed to have drank from the skull during a secret ritual while visiting Ocracoke Island in the 1930’s.

Also, also possibly Blackbeard’s skull.

In truth, the whereabouts of Blackbeard’s skull can’t be pinpointed.  The skull in the museum is not on display, and is now thought not to be authentic. What is more likely is that Blackbeard’s skull was eventually discarded. It, like the rest of Blackbeard, is now probably lost to the ages. 



I Am Not Making This Up: That Time Virginia invaded North Carolina

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 23•17
The coasts of the Carolinas are an ideal places to be a pirate.  The whole area is dotted with barrier islands where a pirate ship can hide, then slip out, attack a passing merchant vessel and run away again.

Captain! Captain Jack Sparrow!

So it’s not too surprising that the most notorious of all pirates (no, not Jack Sparrow) made his home here, and eventually died here as well. His name . . . Isn’t definitely known.  But it may have been Edward Teach or Thatch (Probably Thatch, but since Teach us the popular choice, that’s what I’m going to use).  We know him as Blackbeard.

We actually don’t know that much about Blackbeard.  During that time in history record keeping (or standardized spelling for that matter) wasn’t what it is today.
What we can guess is that he was born before about 1690 and that his family may have come from Bristol, England.
Like many Pirates, Teach may have gotten his start as a sailor in the Royal Navy before turning privateer during Queen Anne’s War (he eventually named one of his ships Queen Anne’s Revenge).
In those days, many pirates saw themselves as Robin Hood types, sticking it to the man. (Where the man was the ship owner or captain who had made his life miserable before. This might explain why pirate ships were run like a democracy, with elected rules and captains.)
Teach joined another pirate captain, Benjamin Hornigold (who, in a stroke of irony, eventually became a pirate hunter).
The pirate outfit under Hornigold eventually captured a second boat and became a fleet. By this point, Teach had worked his way up the outfit and was made captain of the second sloop. Then they took on a ship captained by another now-famous pirate, Stede Bonnet.
By the time the pirates of Hornigold’s fleet went their separate ways,  that fleet had grown to be 4 boats strong.
After parting ways with Hornigold, Teach captured a merchant vessel, outfitted it with 40 guns and named it the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Teach then began a two-year reign of terror that would only end with his violent, bloody death.

Complete with pimp cane.

He cultivated his swagger by growing out his beard and hair, calling himself Blackbeard and putting lit cannon fuses into his beard and hat whenever his crew attacked another ship.  His reputation grew so that most captains would surrender as soon as he ran up his infamous pirate flag, a black flag that showed a demon skeleton hoisting an hourglass and spearing a bleeding heart.

He was also good at networking, rubbing elbows with notorious pirates such as Israel Hands (his second in command) and Calico Jack Rackham, and organizing an alliance of pirates capable of maintaining a short blockade of Charleston, South Carolina.
By this time he’d collected a flotilla of about 10 ships of varying size under his command, and named himself Commodore.
Despite what movies would have you believe, most pirates (Blackbeard included) didn’t have a chest filled with treasure buried  on some deserted island (Blackbeard’s ransom demand in the Charleston blockade was for a chest of medicine).
Merchant vessels usually carried goods that pirates could sell in the colonies.  Blackbeard would plunder the goods, take them back to his home in the Outer Banks and sell them.
Blackbeard’s presence appealed to the residents of North Carolina.  The colony was poor compared to Virginia, sparsely populated and the residents were spread out.  Blackbeard brought with him enough well armed men that they could help repel Native American attacks, and their presence injected trade goods into the local economy.
So the Governor of North Carolina pardoned him and his men, and Blackbeard settled in Bath, then the capital of North Carolina and set up camp near Ocracoke Island, where they could slip out to sea and plunder passing vessels.
But the colonial administrations outside of the Carolinas weren’t quite as benevolent.  Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia decided that he’d had enough of Blackbeard and sent two sloops of men under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard (Or Leftenant, as he would have been called at this time.) to deal with the infamous pirate. Technically the Governor of Virginia was invading North Carolina to kill a man who had already been pardoned.  But eh. The laws are more like guidelines when dealing with piracy, anyway.
The sloops caught up with Blackbeard and his crew near Ocracoke Island (by this point the Queen Anne’s Revenge had sunk and Blackbeard was using a ship called the Adventure).

All this needs is a John Williams soundtrack.

After a fierce battle that would make Errol Flynn jealous, Blackbeard was stabbed, shot and finally slashed across the throat before dying.

All total, Blackbeard had been shot five times and stabbed at least 20.  Teach was beheaded, his body thrown overboard and his head hung from the bowsprit.
But that’s not the end of the story.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 9 That Time Edwin Booth Could Have Changed Everything

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 16•17
The Fabulous Booth Brothers

The one and only time all three acting Booth brothers appeared on stage together.

Let’s talk a little about Edwin Booth.  People don’t remember the other two Booth brothers.  John Wilkes Booth casts a long shadow.  And when they do, it’s because Edwin once rescued Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son, from being crushed by a train. There’s a certain neatness in the symmetry of that. One brother saves a son, while the other murders a father. 

But there was a time when Edwin’s name outshone his more infamous brother.  There was a time when, by the right word or the right action, Edwin might have put his brother on a different path.  


I Am Not Making This Up: Coins As Propaganda

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 09•17

All through history, I’ve read accounts of rulers and wannabe rulers who minted their own coins.  But I rarely stopped to think of the reasons why beyond assuming it was some kind of prestige thing. 

Coin bearing the likenesses of Ferdinand and Isabella

But when I wrote my article on Joanna La Loca (Joan the Mad, in English), it struck me that both Joan’s father King Ferdinand and her husband Philip the Handsome had coins minted that showed them co ruling alongside Joan.  It hit me that Ferdinand didn’t need prestige. As ruler of several nations already, he had all the prestige he needed.  This was a propaganda move. 

Webster’s Dictionary defines propaganda as the spread of ideas to either help your own cause or harm another’s cause. 

Money may be one of the oldest, most effective forms of propaganda.  It’s portable. Most people have at least some of it. And we look at it so often that we rarely think about it. What better way to disseminate your message, and get your target to internalize it?

No one is exactly sure when coins came into use, but scholars believe it was in Ancient Greece. Prior to that, ancient cultures relied on either a barter economy (where you exchange this for that.  I’ll trade you that cow for these magic beans), or a gifting economy (thanks for killing Grendel, Beowulf.  Here are some lovely parting gifts).

Coins probably came into use once merchants needed to keep track of IOU units (this is my token. The bearer may exchange it for three bags of grain). From the perspective of a trader, coins made more sense. They were portable and universal.  Not everyone wants three bags of grain. So if you want a new sword, but the craftsman doesn’t want your grain, it’s easier to give them coins than to find someone who wants your grain, and has something the craftsman wants.

A coin bearing the image of Marcus Aurelius.

And once local economies shifted from food rent economies, having a system of coinage made it easier to collect taxes. After all, a bag of coins lasts a lot longer than a storehouse of grain. 

Plus – and this is a big plus – when you mint your own coins, you get to keep part of the gold yourself.  So early kings and emperors literally made money while they made money. 

From there, it’s a short leap from paying in coins or tokens stamped with your name, to paying in coins or tokens stamped with your message. 

The oldest coin archaeologists have found is over 2,700 years old.  The coin, which dates from a Hellenic city in Asia Minor, is stamped with a lion, the symbol of the ruling king.  

Even the word “money” comes from ancient Roman sources. (the Romans adopted the notion of using coins because the Greeks did it.  That was the basis for a lot of Roman decisions.  What would the Greeks do?) The mint in Ancient Rome was located in the temple of Juno Moneta. 

Often the citizens of Rome learned they had a new emperor when his picture turned up on coins. One emperor who ruled for less than a year had two different coins struck with his picture on it.  Prior to the time of Julius Ceaser, only images of the gods had appeared on coins.  By putting his own image on coins, Ceaser attempted to equate his image with the gods. 

Later, when the culture shifted the official state religion from polytheism to Christianity under Emperor Constantine, the early Christian Chi Ro symbol was stamped on the backs of coins. 

Inevitably, when societies get around to making their own money again, they also try shaping public opinion through the money.  Look at any currency in circulation today. In most countries, the money is printed with images of past or present great leaders, as well as symbols that represent that country.

The Santa Clause Note

American money has undergone many changes through the years.  At one point some of it featured Santa Clause to convey the idea of generosity. The words “in God we trust” were added during the Cold War to counter Soviet Atheism. 

But it’s not all propaganda.  From 1999 to 2008, the US Mint released quarters with state symbols on the backs as a way of encouraging people to get into coin collecting (and to raise a little more money for the treasury by having collectors taking coins out of circulation).  The program is the most successful in history, and was followed up with a National Parks series for collectors. 

Who knows? Maybe before the coin-collecting bubble bursts, we’ll see a set of US president quarters.