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The first White House Christmas Tree, installed by President Franklin Pierce in either 1853 or 1856.


Sometimes at Christmas, a special Santa Claus would visit the children of the Cove Neck school on Oyster Bay, New York, giving out presents and then joining them to sing. This was no ordinary Santa; it was Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. A family man, Roosevelt loved everything about Christmas–except one thing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt and their children.


When the Roosevelt family occupied the White House in 1901, a new Christmas tradition was growing in the United States – the German tradition of cutting down a living pine tree, bringing it inside and hanging Christmas gifts on the branches. As a dedicated conservationist, Roosevelt was horrified by the idea of millions of Americans going into the American forests and cutting down millions of trees, (Christmas trees were not then commercially grown).

Roosevelt liked to use his position as President as a bully pulpit to influence people and set an example.

Cartoon of Roosevelt protecting forests.

Beginning with Christmas 1901, Roosevelt made a major decision: he refused to have a White House Christmas tree. He hoped that other Americans, seeing his example, would also choose not to cut down a living tree for Christmas and protect the forests.


Roosevelt’s position was reasonable to adults, but not to his children. His 8-year-old son, Archie, was particularly disappointed and did something about it. The next year, Archie secretly cut down a tree on the White House grounds, smuggled it into his closet and decorated it himself with gifts for family members. Then, at the appropriate moment, he opened the closet door and surprised his parents – Archie wanted a Christmas tree and he got one.

Roosevelt family discovers Archie’s Christmas Tree in his closet, depicted in a magazine illustration.

Worried about how the public would feel about Archie’s tree, Roosevelt consulted with his Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot advised the President that while it would be wrong for people to cut down very small trees, carefully cutting down some taller ones might actually be a good thing. This would thin the forest so that too many trees wouldn’t steal nutrients in the ground from larger trees. Pinchot liked thinning out the dense forests, which provide fuel for forest fires.
Gifford Pinchot also thought that commercially growing trees for Christmas might be a good  idea.  It is believed that because of Pinchot’s influence, the average Christmas tree size is around 6 feet.

All of this did not convince the President. During Roosevelt’s Presidency there never was a White House Christmas tree – except a for a secret Christmas tree in Archie’s closet. The President tried to keep the story of Archie’s tree out of the newspapers with little success.


Theodore Roosevelt in a canoe as he begins his journey down the “River of Doubt,” when he was away during Christmas 1913.

Roosevelt loved being with his family at Christmas and yet he was away from his family for Christmas in 1913, when he embarked on an adventure through Brazil and spent Christmas on the Paraguay River, beginning an adventure that turned out to be a disaster.

The head of an unexplored Brazilian river had been discovered, and temporarily named “The River of Doubt.” Roosevelt teamed up with Brazilian Colonel Candido Rondon to discover where the river ended. To do this they would cut down trees, create dugout canoes and float down the river to its end.

Only too late, past the point of no return, did Roosevelt and Rondon realize the river could not be navigated because of continuous dangerous rapids surrounded by a deadly jungle. The injuries from this trip shortened Roosevelt’s life.


I recorded and published Roosevelt’s “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” .  You can see pictures of the adventure and preview it here:
It is available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including, I-Tunes, Apple Books, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca,
Playstar, Folliett, and your local public library through Overdrive.

Speaking of the holidays, this is a good time of year for me to express my appreciation for your continuing interest and support. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded one of my audiobooks or purchased a CD copy during the past year and those who have recommended Listen 2 Read audiobooks to their friends.
Thanks also to our community of blog  readers, who have been interested enough to subscribe for free. And finally, thanks to our growing number of digital download retailers, all over the English speaking world. Best wishes for the Holiday Season and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Andre Stojka



Presidential campaign poster for McKinley for President and Roosevelt for Vice President, 1900

Theodore Roosevelt Is At The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time

The trap was set for Theodore Roosevelt the instant his nine-car train arrived in Victor, Colorado, September 1900. Roosevelt was on the campaign trail as vice presidential candidate to current Republican President William McKinley and, just as in our audiobook by Theodore Roosevelt, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness,” he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Theodore Roosevelt on the campaign trail in 1900

Republicans for Gold Standard Democrats for Silver

There was a great presidential debate on whether the US should be on the gold standard or the silver standard. The gold standard meant that every American dollar was backed by a dollar’s worth of gold, at the current fluctuating market price.


The Democrats had a different idea, supporting a free silver policy, where silver would be used to back paper money, just as gold, but with the government, not the market, determining the value of silver.


A major industry in Victor, Colorado in 1900 was the mining of both silver and gold, but with the free silver policy of the Democrats, the citizens of Victor stood to make a lot of money. William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic candidate supporting silver.

Roosevelt Faces Angry Crowd

Theodore Roosevelt tries to speak to an angry crowd in Victor Colorado

So, when Roosevelt appeared as a proponent of McKinley’s gold standard, there was a lot of anger- McKinley and Roosevelt would cost them money.

You could feel the anger in the crowd the instant Roosevelt stepped off his train at 3PM. The moment Roosevelt shook the Mayor’s hand, the crowd began booing and jeering.


William Jennings Bryan campaign poster

The day’s plan called for Roosevelt to walk to the Victor Armory and give a speech, but here another trick played out. Since Roosevelt’s train was delayed and he was late, Bryan’s democrat supporters announced to the crowd that they should meet the vice presidential candidate at his train. When the crowd left the armory empty, Free Silver proponents took their place, so that when Roosevelt entered the armory, it was essentially filled with people who hated him. There was talk of tar and feathering Roosevelt.

Saving Roosevelt from an Angry Crowd

It was an explosive situation, and the local postmaster, Danny Sullivan, rushed Roosevelt back to the train as crowds began throwing rocks, sticks and cans. Sullivan grabbed a wooden 2 x 4 and swung it around over his head, protecting the future President of the United States. Roosevelt himself was swinging and fighting as the crowd around him was pushing and trying to knock him around. Although Roosevelt was a good fighter, Sullivan got him on the train and out of town.

President William McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt

McKinley and Roosevelt Win

Despite the Victor setback, Roosevelt was a great campaigner with McKinley. They won by a landslide with the campaign themes of “Peace, Prosperity and Conservation.”

One year later, President McKinley was assassinated. Suddenly, at the age of 43, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest President of the United States.



You can see pictures and listen to free sound clips of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” by clicking here:

This wild, dangerous adventure to unexplored, tropical Brazil  nearly killed Roosevelt only a few years after he became the 26th President of the United States.


Andre Stojka


Listen2Read audiobooks


PS: “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” is the full and complete 11 hour 43 minute dramatic reading of Roosevelt‘s adventure, augmented with sound effects and music. It is one of our most popular audiobooks.








The real North Pole, all water and ice.

Before 1908, other than Santa Claus, no human being had reached the North Pole, although many had tried and failed. Some had unfortunately died for their efforts.

Robert E. Peary in Polar clothes.

In the year 1908, two serious contenders were preparing for victory over nature. One was a respected medical Doctor and explorer with very little financial support and no friends in Government: Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, author of our Listen To Read audiobook “My Attainment of the North Pole.”

The other was a Naval officer, with political support from the United States Government and financial backing by the National Geographic Society: Admiral Robert E. Peary.


Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, dressed for the Pole.

Peary had made two previous attempts to reach the North Pole, in 1899-1902 and 1905-1906, each time reaching farther and farther North.

Peary and Cook knew each other, as Cook had been Robert Peary’s surgeon during Peary’s Arctic expedition of 1891-1892. In fact, Cook helped save the crew’s lives when their ship, the “Belgica,” became unexpectedly ice bound. Cook treated the men and hunted for fresh meat to feed them to help prevent starvation and scurvy.

In 1908, Peary was 53 years old. It was thought that a 1908 attempt would be Peary’s last because of his age. Cook, twenty-two years younger than Peary, might possibly make another attempt if his 1908 attempt failed.


The steamer “USS Theodore Roosevelt” took Peary to Greenland.


Peary and Cook took radically different approaches to reach the Pole. Extremely well funded, Peary spent whatever he needed to outfit the expedition.

Without funding, Cook thought that a small group, composed of him and several Inuit natives, accustomed to the punishing cold, might make it to the North Pole, traveling light.

When Peary began his final trip to the North Pole, it was on the comfortable US Navy Ship “Theodore Roosevelt.” When Cook launched his trip, he was lucky enough to catch a ride on a private ship owned by John R. Bradley, a sportsman and hunter, that happened to be going North, taking Bradley to hunting grounds.



Inuit mother and baby.

Cook’s Christmas celebration was in 1907, six months before Peary set out for the Pole in August 1908. Cook was in Greenland, preparing for the long journey by foot and dog sled. When Christmas arrived, he was among Inuit people. Although Cook knew the Inuit people had no concept of Christmas, they did celebrate a Winter Feast, which coincided with Christmas.

Cook wrote, “ Early Christmas morning, men and women began working overtime on the festive meals which were to begin that day and continue daily. About this time our working force had begun to uncover piles of frozen meat and blubber.

The Inuits churned this into something that looked like ice cream, but had the taste of cod liver oil.”
Cook ate a western meal.

E-tuk-i-shook and Ah-we-lah -Cook’s Inuit companions to the Pole and back, alive.

Cook wrote, “Wandering from igloo to igloo to extend greetings and thanks for their faithful work, I was often touched by the sounds of their voices in the darkness.”

On one special day, Cook reported that a “Boreal stork” had arrived in the community. One of the Inuit women had just given birth.

“One day during Christmas week there was a knock at our door. The proud Ac-po-di-soa walked in followed by his smiling wife with the sleeping ‘stork gift’ on her back. The child had been born less than 5 days before. We walked over and admired the little one. It suddenly opened its brown eyes, screwed up its little blubber nose, and wrinkled its chin for a cry.”

Cook was very much involved with the Native People. His choose two of these people as his companions from Greenland to the North Pole, E-tuk-i-shook and Ah-we-lah. He would trust his life to these Inuit men.


December 1908, a year after Cook left Greenland, Admiral Peary arrived in Greenland.
Instead of living in the nearby igloo village, as Cook had done, Peary and his exploration party were comfortable aboard the “USS Roosevelt,” keeping separate from the Inuit people.

Peary wrote, “in the morning we greeted each other with the “Merry Christmas” of civilization. At Breakfast we all had letters from home and Christmas presents which had been kept to be opened that morning.”

Peary aboard the “USS Theodore Roosevelt.”

The Peary party sponsored foot races for the Inuit people during the day. Later he handed out prizes to the various winners in a manner that demonstrated a condescending attitude toward the native people.

Peary wrote, “In order to afford a study in Eskimo psychology, there was in each case a choice among three prizes. Tookoomah, for instance who won in the women’s race, had a choice among three prizes; a box of three cakes of scented soap; a sewing outfit, containing a paper and needles, two or three thimbles and several spools of different size thread; and a round cake covered with sugar and candy.

The young woman did not hesitate. She had one eye, perhaps, on the sewing outfit but both hands and the other eye were directed toward the soap. She knew what it was meant for. The meaning of cleanliness had dawned on her and a sudden ambition to be attractive.”

A week later, Peary, like Cook a year before him, left Greenland for the journey to the North Pole. For both men, Christmas marked the end of preparation and the beginning of the long ordeal toward the North Pole. Although they didn’t know it at the time, this was also the end of any friendship they might have forged. After this, they became bitter enemies.


The American Flag flies over an igloo at the North Pole, placed there by Dr. Frederick Albert Cook.

On Wednesday, February 19, 1908, Dr. Frederick Albert Cook left Greenland on his quest for the North Pole with two companions, and some sled dogs. He claimed to reach the North Pole on April 22, 1908 in about 2 months. But it took him almost a year to return to civilization. He reported his accomplishments in March, 1909, to the sportsman, Harry Whitney, who was hunting in Greenland.

Robert Peary’s party reaches the North Pole in 1909 and takes a picture to prove it.



On Monday, February 22, 1908, Robert E. Peary left Greenland, following many scouting parties with much equipment, to move on his quest for the North Pole. He claimed to reach the Pole on April 6, 1909 – a little over a year later. He was able to report his accomplishment to the New York Times on September 6, 1909.




Each of these men claimed to have reached the North Pole. Cook claimed that he was the first. Peary disputed Cook’s claim and set out to destroy Cook’s reputation.

Dr. Frederick Albert Cook spent the rest of his life defending his attainment of the North Pole.

Until this time, an explorer’s claim was accepted as fact. As Peary disputed Cook’s claim, he applied a new level of scrutiny – so severe that his own evidence of reaching the North Pole was placed in doubt. It is possible that neither of these explorers actually reached the North Pole.

There was a lot of money at stake. The first person to reach the North Pole would have lucrative speaking tours, publications and other financial opportunities.
Both of these men wrote books of their claimed accomplishments. The most interesting book to me is Cook’s “My Attainment of the Pole.”

Because no one had been to the Pole before, no one knew what to expect. What Cook discovered was that the North Pole and much of the Northern country is actually ice over a western flowing Ocean. There is no solid land at the North Pole.


Capturing a Polar Bear for food and survival

Cook’s return to civilization was a long, dangerous and fascinating life or death journey. All the food Cook had cached for his return to civilization had moved West with the ocean, away from their return route to civilization.

None of the food could be reached. Cook and his two Inuit companions had to determine a new route back to civilization, hunting, as they traveled. Their hunting rivals were the Polar Bears. They discovered that man is only superior to wild animals as long as he has a bullet for his rifle.


Frederick Albert Cook’s tale of his “Attainment of the North Pole” is both high adventure, a man’s fight for survival against the wild and dangerous elements of the extreme North and an angry rant against his mistreatment by Peary when he returned to civilization. It is a tale worthy of a major motion picture. That’s why I recorded it for my Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library. Download it and listen and I’m sure you will agree.  Preview  it here:

“My Attainment of the North Pole” is available for download into your computer, or smart phone  here at, or at,,  Applebooks, the Barnes and Noble Audiobook App,,and in Canada at Some people are giving it as a Holiday gift. You can purchase a regular or Mp3 CD version right here on our Listen2Read website or on

Andre Stojka
Listen To Read audiobooks

PS: This Holiday Season, I’d like to thank you for your interest and support in downloading or buying a CD of our American Adventure Library audiobooks. It is exciting to experience history, where through acting performances, sound effects and music, we can bring the past to life.

Happy New Year!



The Great Ohio flood of 1884.

Two major storms in different parts of the United States changed the mindset of Writer and Activist for Native Americans Charles Fletcher Lummis.

The First Storm

On February 4, 1884, a heavy rain began to fall on Chillicothe, Ohio, where Charles Fletcher Lummis lived and worked as an editor of the weekly newspaper, the Chillicothe Leader. After thirty hours of continuous rain, the Scioto River, which runs through the city, began overflowing its banks, creating the worst flooding the city had ever known.

Flooded riverfront of Portsmith, Ohio in 1884.

It had been an unusually cold winter, without a customary January thaw. The snow and ice on the ground held much water back from the surging river, but when the rain ended, the ice and snow melted and released a second flooding. Normally a mosquito filled area, mosquitoes now swarmed after the flood, bringing malaria throughout the region.



In his book A TRAMP ACROSS THE CONTINENT, Lummis jokes that the train conductor would call out “Chillicothe! 15 minutes wait for quinine”! Chillicothe, Ohio in 1884 was not a healthy place to live. Lummis had lived in Ohio for two years, and was now wondering if he would have a long life in this unhealthy atmosphere.

Charles Fletcher Lummis.


Fortunately, Lummis was saved by a fellow Ohioan, who had traveled West to make his life in Los Angeles, California.

Harrison Gray Otis had purchased a quarter interest in a fledgling 4-page newspaper serving the small town of Los Angeles, then with a population of around 12,000 persons.

After 2 years, Otis found himself overworked, doing everything himself, from writing to typesetting. He needed help. Otis offered Lummis the job of Editor of the Los Angeles Times and Lummis decided to head West.


Lummis Begins His Famous Walk

Railroad transportation in 1884 was fairly advanced. Lummis could have taken the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway from Chillicothe, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois.

Los Angeles train depot in 1869. Lummis could have taken the train to Los Angeles in 1884.

From Chicago he could take the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad through Kansas City directly to Los Angeles.

But instead of taking the train, Charles Fletcher Lummis decided to walk across the whole country to California!

It was more than 3,500 miles to Los Angeles. Lummis thought that walking would allow him to see America, and, along the way, write stories of his adventures for both the Los Angeles Times and the Chillicothe Leader.

Lummis did cleverly use the railroads in one way: He mailed his dispatches by rail to the Times, which would publish his stories as he traveled West.

Lummis’ first story appeared in the LOS ANGELES TIMES on September 15, 1884:

“LUMMIS LEGSSixty three miles already traversed and only Three Thousand One Hundred and Thirty Seven  yet to walk”.          


New Mexico Native American Pueblo Isleta in this photograph taken in 1884 by Charles Fletcher Lummis.

Lummis’ descriptions of America during this transitional time are amazing and filled with adventures and humor.

He walked West to Colorado and then Southwest across The Great American Desert to the totally different world of New Mexican pueblos, giving him a new understanding and respect for Native Americans that totally changed his life.


Becoming A Native American Activist

Several years after this momentous trip, Lummis suffered a stroke from overwork and became partially paralyzed. In desperate need of a quiet place to recuperate, he chose Isleta, one of the New Mexican Native American pueblos.

Tiwa family in Isleta.

There, he was slowly nursed back to health by a friendly Tiwa family, with whom he had made friends. As he recuperated, Lummis became aware of the Federal Government’s treatment of Native Americans, forcing children to give up their Native American customs.

Lummis became an activist for Native American rights. When he returned to Los Angeles, Lummis founded the Southwest Museum, devoted to an appreciation of Native American arts, basketry and culture. All of this, however, was in the future.


The Second Storm

First Street Bridge over the flooded Los Angeles River is washed out in 1884 storm.

As Lummis walked through the heat of the desert in 1884, he had no idea that a disastrous winter rainstorm had inundated Los Angeles and Southern California, almost at the same time as the storm in Ohio.

The Los Angeles River overflowed its banks, just like the Scioto River in Ohio, but there was no ice or snow to hold anything back. Alameda Street, in what is now downtown Los Angeles, was covered with six feet of water. The Los Angeles River washed away barns, houses, railroad cars and livestock. Even caskets floated downstream.the 

According to Los Angeles Times records, the El Rancho Hacienda, the estate of the last governor of Mexican California, Pio Pico, in Whittier, was destroyed. Pico had to mortgage his other properties to rebuild it.

Lummis Arrives in Southern California

Examining Lummis’ book, I was able to trace his route in California on a current map of California, starting at the town of Dagget in the Mojave Desert. Lummis’ path leads up the mountains, through the Cajon Pass in the San Bernardino Mountains. When he finally reached the seaward side of the mountains, Lummis was astonished at what he saw.


“It was the last day of January,” Lummis wrote, “the ground was carpeted with myriads wild flowers, birds filled the air with song, and clouds of butterflies fluttered past me.”



For Californians like me, Lummis could be describing our wildflower-covered hillsides after super heavy rainstorms like El Nino. Plant life, dormant during Southern California’s lengthy droughts, springs to life after our infrequent rainstorms. Lummis thought all this was normal. He thought this is the way California always is.



Mission San Gabriel late 1800’s.

Lummis walked to Mission San Gabriel and met his new employer, the hard working Harrison Grey Otis, who came out the eight miles from Los Angeles to meet him. Lummis looked a wreck, but the two men got on just fine and Lummis began editing the Los Angeles Times the very next morning, February 1, 1885.



After crossing the country, Lummis wound up in what seemed to him a rain nurtured land, beautiful and fruitful. He had met Native Americans, whose culture would nurture his body and spirit in his time of need. He had discovered a vision of the American West and decided to stay.


A TRAMP ACROSS THE CONTINENT by Charles Fletcher Lummis has become world famous.

I have narrated it as an audiobook for Listen2Read audiobooks.
Free Preview:

When you have downloaded and listened to his tale, I think you will agree with his many fans that Lummis is a fascinating American writer.

A TRAMP ACROSS THE CONTINENT is available for download into your smartphone or computer here at, or at,,, the Barnes and Noble Audiobook app,, and in Canada at You can purchase a regular or Mp3 CD version right here on our Listen2Read website or on



Andre Stojka


Offshore oil drilling platform

Gasoline is costing you and me more and more each day. It is possible that a tiny country in South America might eventually help lower our gasoline price, and, at the same time, eliminate much of it’s terrible poverty. The country is Guyana and I’ve become interested in it because it is where my audiobook “Jungle Peace” takes place.

Because the world uses more and more oil, discovering more oil keeps the price stable.

William Beebe collecting plant and animal specimens in what was then British Guiana

A new Discovery in an old Country

Silently bubbling off the shore of a land, where author William Beebe was busy observing Jaguars, capturing huge snakes, avoiding army ants, watching for rare birds and exploring a fascinating and dangerous jungle that could take his life at any moment, was oil.

This black gold,  wouldn’t be discovered until a hundred years later. Drilling the seventh well in Guyana began last January 2018. It is a big deal for Guyana and, maybe for us!

Steve Greenlee, President of ExxonMobil, expects eventual Guyana production to exceed 500,000 barrels per day. One analyst expects pumping to last for nearly 43 years.

Sudden riches for a poor country

When the actual pumping begins in 2020, the Guyana government expects to be collecting $300 million in petroleum funds yearly. Some people estimate this figure could go up to $5 billion a year by the end of the decade. That’s a lot of oil and a lot of money. No wonder there’s a new Hard Rock Café in the Guyana capitol city of Georgetown.

Stabroek Marketplace, Georgetown, Guyana, where a new Hard Rock Cafe is opening.

Everybody speaks English in Guyana. The laws and basic culture of Guyana are British, descending from the days of British colonization. Guyana broke away and became a republic relatively recently, in 1970.

The population of Guyana is composed mostly of Africans brought to the country as slaves and set free in 1824, and people from North India, hired as indentured servants, under 5 year contracts to work in the sugar industry, rice fields, and the Bauxite and Gold mines. Culturally, it is an uncomfortable mix filled with tension. Each ethnic group is wooed and catered to by politicians who make, as politicians do, a lot of promises.

Who will benefit from oil money

Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River in central Guyana

The discovery of oil will bring jobs to Guyana where the unemployment rate hovers around 11%. It is one of the South America’s poorest countries. 60% of the educated Guyneans simply leave the country for better futures overseas.

It is exciting that a new, prosperous oil industry about to take hold could make it possible for Guyana to become a reasonably prosperous country.


Oil exploration is a very costly business. In addition to the high cost of discovering and drilling, ExxonMobil gave Guyana an $18 million signing bonus.

The only problem might be that small countries with sudden oil discoveries do not have very good track records of handling sudden wealth- Venezuela and Nigeria comes to mind.

Government largess

William Beebe was a world famous orenthologist and adventurer. His fans included President Theodore Roosevelt

It is up to the government of Guyana to provide structural support – pipelines, distribution points, processing facilities, shipping docks. Who will get these contracts? What is a fair price? There are a lot of hands stretched out waiting to help. Let’s hope the Guyanese navigate the troubled seas of graft and corruption.

An daring and adventurous scientist

Plant and animal life float on the Sargosso Sea

In 1918, the passengers on board the ocean liner “Yamaro” gathered on the deck to see an amazing sight described by Beebe in “Jungle Peace”.  Beebe, was strapped into a harness, attached to a cable. He was slowly being precariously lowered beyond the anchor locker to just above the water line. He was studying, first hand, the Sargasso Sea through which the liner cut at a rapid pace. As he dangled there, the water spray in his face, he was collecting pieces of the plant life plant growth floating on top of the waters. It was just another days work for Beebe.


A hundred years later, what is important is not what is on the sea, but what is under it.

Andre Stojka

PS: I loved “Jungle Peace” the moment I read it. I have become a William Beebe fan. He will transport you to another world, in another time, with a lite, colorful writing style that made him famous. In fact, President Theodore Roosevelt was also a fan and wrote the Afterward of this book.





Kilauea erupts on the Big Island of Hawaii (USGS).

The frightening television pictures of the volcano Kilauea erupting on the Big Island of Hawaii have been tragic, as the lava flow wipes out homes. All of our hearts go out to the islanders, who have or may lose their homes as fissures open up unpredictably.

Lava flow wipes out Big Island road a few years ago (USGS).

I remember, years ago, driving completely around the Big Island, then suddenly, I couldn’t, because an eruption and lava flow simply wiped out the road. Later, it was a surreal experience as we actually walked out over the freshly hardened lava flow, glowing only a foot or two from us, feeling the heat from the moving orange glow of fresh lava. Some people would go there at night with flashlights. This is nature at its wildest.

Mark Twain an Early Visitor

At this writing, the Volcanoes National Park has been temporarily closed to the public and guests at the Volcano House Hotel have been relocated. Mark Twain stayed at Volcano House in 1866, when it was more rustic than now. Twain wrote:

Mark Twain in his younger days.

“ I have seen Vesuvius since, but it was a mere toy, a child’s volcano, a soup kettle compared to this. Here was a vast perpendicular walled cellar, nine hundred feet deep in some places, thirteen hundred in others. The illumination was two miles wide and a mile high; and if you ever, on a dark night and at a distance, beheld the light from thirty or forty blocks of distant buildings all on fire at once, reflected strongly against over-hanging clouds, you can form a fair idea of what this looked like.”



Kilauea erupts on the Big Island of Hawaii (USGS).

Jack London and his wife Charmian visited the Kilauea volcano in 1907. London didn’t include the visit in his book “The Cruise of the Snark,”


although he describes a trip in detail to the extinct volcano, Haleakala, on Maui. But Charmian, a talented writer herself, wrote about their visit to Kilauea:

“Perched on the ultimate, toothed edge, we peered into a fearsome gulf of pestilent vapors rising, ever rising, light and fine, impalpable as nightmare mists from out of a pit of destruction. If the frail-seeming ledge on which we hung had caved, not one of us could have reached the bottom alive- the deadly fumes would have done for us far short of that.”

Isabella Byrd An Early Visitor

Looking down into the lava lake (USGS).


In 1886, the English writer Isabella Byrd rode side-saddle up the long trail from Hilo to the edge of the volcano and looked down. She wrote to her sister back in Scotland:

“What we did see was one irregularly shaped lake, possibly 500 feet wide at its narrowest part and nearly half mile at its broadest, divided in two by low banks of lava. On our arrival eleven fire fountains were playing joyfully around the lake.”

“This lake, the Hale-mau-mau, or house of everlasting fire in Hawaiian mythology, the abode of the dread goddess Pele’, is approachable with safety, except during an eruption.”


The Old Hawaiian Beliefs

Fire fountain.

Pele’ is, in Hawaiian mythology, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. She is a female spirit and it was believed that the eruptions and explosions of Kilauea were directed by Pele’ herself.

In 1819, the old native religion and its beliefs was forbidden on the Hawaiian Islands with the advent of Christian Missionaries and the creation of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

In 1824, Pele’s reputation was challenged. High Chiefess Kapi’olani, a highly literate and educated member of the Hawaiian Royal family, whose second cousin was the great Kamehameha I, descended into the Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater. She deliberately picked the forbidden berries and recited aloud a Christian prayer. The fact that Pele’ did not kill her was used as an example of the superiority of her faith. In fact, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about it:

“Kapi’olani ascended her mountain… and crying ’I dare her, let Pele’ avenge herself!
Into the flame-billow dash’d the berries and drove the demon from Hawaiee.”


Ground cracks Leilani Estates (USGS).

That storied event took place 194 years ago. So, with the passage of time, modern progress, world wars etc., you would think the story of Pele’ would be treated as a curious old time myth. And yet, just last week, CNN reported that ”many native Hawaiians believe the lava is a physical embodiment of the volcano goddess Pele’. ”


The belief in Pele’ is more widespread than one might imagine. A few years ago, I met a badly bruised gentlemen in a motorized wheel chair, legs in casts, arm in a sling, bandages around his head. He was once the picture of health and now he was a wreck. I asked him what happened.

“ I was in a terrible, terrible accident,” he said with a shaky voice. “There has been a death in the family and we have lost much of our income.”

When I told him I was sorry, he looked me in the face and said, “The bad luck is all our fault. We brought it on ourselves. It is the curse of Pele’.”


He then told me of the curse of Pele’. It is taboo for anyone to remove lava rock from the Hawaiian Islands as a souvenir or for any reason.

“We were foolish,” he said. “ On our last visit to the Big Island, we packed some lava rocks in our suitcases for our garden at home. We removed them from the island and Pele’ has cursed us with bad fortune.” He said this looking directly into my eyes with all the seriousness of a man making a confession.

I asked him if he couldn’t remove the curse by bringing the lava rocks back to Hawaii. “No, no,” he had tried that and it didn’t change his family’s fortunes or improve his health. “Once you anger Pele’ you are cursed forever.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say.

Lava surface flow (USGS).


A few years later, having lunch at Volcano House, I was telling the Pele’ curse story to some people. One of the gentlemen told me that recently he mailed a package to the U.S. Mainland and happened to be at the Hilo Post Office.

As he navigated the Post Office, he couldn’t help noticing a number of packages being processed, which were all addressed to:


United States Post Office
Big island, Hawaii, USA


Jokingly, he said to the post office clerk, “Does Pele’ get her mail here?”

“Oh, yes,” came the reply. “Many visitors take lava from the island as souvenirs. Then they hear about Pele’s curse. They can’t afford another trip to the islands, so they mail the lava back to Pele’ at the post office to try to remove any curse. And we get them.”

“What do you do with them?”

“Oh, we open the packages, take out the lava rocks and scatter them around the island. So the lava really does come back.”

So, Pele’ continues to be alive in many minds. By the way, I don’t think it is a good idea to remove any lava rocks, or any rocks from the Hawaiian Islands. Bad manners, you know.

Andre Stojka
Listen To Read


PS: Our Listen2Read audiobook of the month is “The Cruise of the Snark” by Jack London. If you ever dreamed of having a sailing adventure – this wild South Seas true story is a textbook of what NOT to do.  You can download it at the link at the bottom of the page.



154 years ago this month, April 14, 1865, Mary and Abraham Lincoln invited a young couple to join them to see the popular English comedy play “Our American Cousin.” As it turned out, the  simple, kind invitation doomed the recipients to madness and death after they witnessed President Lincoln’s assassination.


Colonel Henry Reed Rathbone, guest of the President and First Lady.


The invitation was gratefully received by Major Henry Reed Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris. Theirs was a somewhat complicated relationship. Through parental death and remarriage, they were technically stepbrother and stepsister, but not related by blood.

Clara Harris, fiancee of Henry Reed Rathbone, a guest of Mary and Abraham Lincoln.







Henry and Clara fell in love and were engaged to be married, but the outbreak of the Civil War delayed the ceremony. Rathbone served in the Northern Army with distinction and was raised to the rank of Major.

The couple had become friends of Mary and Abraham Lincoln,  so the invitation to the theatre was a welcome one, but not surprising.



The Presidential party entered Ford’s Theater a little after the play began and was acknowledged by the audience’s warm applause. The comedy continued.

At 10:15, while the Presidential party was watching the play, John Wilkes Booth slipped, unnoticed, into the Presidential box. He placed a derringer pistol at the back of President Lincoln’s head, shot him once and attempted to leap out of the Presidential box onto the stage.

Lithograph depiction of John Wilkes Booth shooting President Lincoln as he watched the play with Mary Lincoln, Colonel Rathbone and Clara Harris.

Dagger Booth used to slash Colonel Rathbone’s arm.

Major Rathbone grabbed hold of Booth, but the assassin held a dagger and wildly slashed Rathbone from his elbow to his shoulder. Still, the wounded Rathbone clung to Booth catching hold of Booth’s coat, throwing Booth off balance as he leaped out of the box onto the stage, so that as he hit the stage Booth broke his leg. Rathbone cried out to the theatre audience “Stop that man! Will no one stop that man!”?


A crowd was banging against the door to the Presidential box. Rathbone saw that Booth had propped a plank against the door to keep it from

Dr. Charles Leal, 23 years old, was the first Doctor to reach President Lincoln.

opening. He quickly removed the plank, allowing a young 23-year-old Union Army medical doctor named Charles Leale to come to the President’s aid. President Lincoln was lying in the arms of his wife, who pleaded to Dr. Leale: “Please Doctor, Do what you can.”

As the heavily bleeding Rathbone looked on with his fiancée, Clara, Dr. Leale examined the President. Leale first thought the President had been stabbed, but quickly found the gunshot wound.

(You can hear Dr. Leale’s version of how he tried to save the President in our audiobook “LINCOLN’S LAST HOURS. ” It is the actual first person narrative by Dr. Leale from the moment he entered the Presidential box until Lincoln’s death the next morning. It is riveting listening.)



John Wilkes Booth.

While everyone was focused on Dr. Leale trying to save the President, something terrible was building inside Major Rathbone’s mind as he watched Leale’s desperate efforts. He had had the assassin in his hands! He was holding onto him! Yet Booth had torn away and escaped! Rathbone had seen, close up, face to face, the twisted anger on the face of John Wilkes Booth and the image haunted him.

Rathbone mentally tortured himself: Could he have done something more to save the President? Could he have done something to capture Booth, instead of letting him get away? Did his failure to act, in some unknown way, mean he was a failure?

Lincoln being moved from Ford’s Theatre across the Street, painted by a German immigrant artist Carl Bersch (Smithsonian)


Eventually, Dr. Leale ordered the President be moved from the theatre to a rooming house across the street. He felt that carrying the President to the White House for treatment would be too much for the President.

Henry and Clara followed the somber group across the street into the rooming house, where Lincoln was placed on a bed. Another doctor finally examined Rathbone and discovered the wound he had received was very severe. At this point, Rathbone collapsed from loss of blood.




Clara Harris Rathbone.


Clara later remembered that “Poor Mrs. Lincoln, all through that dreadful night would look at me with horror and scream ’Oh! My husbands blood, my dear husband’s blood’…It was Henry’s blood, not the President’s, but explanations were pointless.”

Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone were married on July 11, 1867. The couple had three children. Henry pursued a military career and rose to the rank of Colonel. They made their home in Washington D.C.




But the memory of that April night in 1865 continued to haunt Henry Rathbone. He began drinking heavily. He began acting strangely. He began gambling. To Clara’s horror, he began having affairs with other women.

To make things worse, every year, on the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, newspaper writers would contact Rathbone and ask him how he felt about the death of President Lincoln. Did he feel guilty because he couldn’t save the President?

Clara wrote to a friend, ”I understand his distress…as soon as people get wind of our presence, we feel ourselves become objects of morbid scrutiny. Henry.. …imagines that whispering is more pointed and malicious than it can possibly be.”

Henry began to resent Clara’s attention to their children and threatened to divorce her and take the children with him.

In 1882, Henry Rathbone was appointed U.S. Consul to the Province of Hanover and the family left Washington D.C. to make a new home in Germany. The new location and atmosphere didn’t help




On December 23, 1883, Henry Rathbone fatally shot his wife Clara and attempted to kill their children. He then stabbed himself 5 times in the chest in an attempt to commit suicide, but survived. Rathbone was committed to the asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany, where he died on August 14, 1911. He was buried next to his wife in the Hildesheim cemetery.







Dr. Charles Leale in later years.

Doctor Charles Leale’s life had a different outcome. Over the years, he had chosen not to speak  of his efforts to save President Lincoln. However, two years before Rathbone’s death, in 1909, when Leale was 67 years old, a group of Civil War Veterans invited Leale to their gathering to make a speech about his role on that night in April 1865.

Leale reached into his notes and found a copy of the report he made to his superiors detailing, moment to moment, what he did and how he felt. That speech is presented as his narrative in our audiobook recording, “Lincoln’s Last Hours.”

The memory of horrible events like the assassination of a beloved President may leave the newspaper pages, but it never disappears from human memory. Events hang on and on in people’s minds, and the memory can lead some into reflection, like Leale and others, like Rathbone, into madness.

Andre Stojka
Listen To Read
© 2018



PS:  Dr. Leale’s first person narrative, describing his actions after President Lincoln’s assassination, makes for riveting listening. As performed by actor Andre Devin, it is almost like being there. It can be downloaded from I-tunes, Scribed, Playster. To download from


There is a single CD version available from Amazon and directly from us at Listen to Read:


Wright flying machine circles the Eiffel Tower in 1909.

It’s Women’s History Month and I’ve been researching some of the women pioneers of aviation. Perhaps the most famous woman aviator was Amelia Earhart and I have been fortunate enough to publish an audiobook of one of her memoirs, “20 Hrs. 40 Mins.”  But Earhart followed a long line of women pioneers.

Consider, for example, the French actress Raymonde de Laroche, who looked up one day in October,1909, and saw the miracle of a lighter than air machine flying high in the air above Paris, making a circle around the Eiffel Tower.


Raymonde de Laroche, the first woman to pilot an aeroplane in 1909.

The flight impressed Raymonde de Laroche, who was a socially connected lady. One evening she dined with her friend, Charles Voisin, who, with his brother, built aeroplanes at Chalons, 90 miles from Paris. He agreed to give her flying lessons– but there was one big problem: his currently available aeroplane had only one seat and carried no passengers.



The solution: Voisin would teach de Laroche by yelling at her over the sound of the motor. She would sit in the plane, he would be close to the plane on the ground, yelling instructions on how to operate the controls, to keep the plane even and level once it was in flight. However, Voisin forbade Laroche to actually take off into the air, because that would be too dangerous.

Raymonde de Laroche pilots her Voisin at the Reims, France air show

But Raymonde de Laroche had an independent mind. On October 22, 1909, once she gained confidence in operating the plane on the ground, there was only one other thing for her to do – fly! She took off into the air and flew the aeroplane 10 to 15 feet above the ground for a distance of about 300 yards, before safely bringing the plane back to earth to the exasperated Voisin.


De Laroche poses with her Voisin aeroplane.

Raymonde de Laroche didn’t know it at the time, but she had become the first woman to fly an airplane. There had already been women passengers in a plane flown by a man, but Raymonde de Laroche was the first woman to actually fly a plane by herself. Five months later, she formalized her position by obtaining a Pilot’s License, becoming the world’s first licensed female pilot, receiving the Aero-Club of France License Number 36. Women of Aviation Worldwide Week is held on the week of March 8 in her honor and to raise awareness of the opportunities in aviation for women during Women’s History Month.



Harriet Quimby flying an early aeroplane.


A year later, in August 1911, the first American Woman pilot received a US Pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America. Her name was Harriet Quimby. Before she began flying, Quimby had a successful career as a theatre critic for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, a very popular weekly of the time.


Quimby also wrote screenplays for films that were directed by pioneering director D.W. Griffith for Biograph studios in New York, before the industry moved West.


Crowds cheer Harriet Quimby after she successfully lands in France.

On April 16, 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly the English Channel from Dover, England to Calais, France, about 22 miles. This followed the flight in 1909 of the first man to fly the Channel, Louis Bleriot. In fact, Quimby borrowed one of Bleriot’s aeroplanes for the flight. Her flight time was one hour and nine minutes. Quimby’s accomplishment should have made her an international heroine, but, sadly, the Titanic disaster took place the day before and wiped her news out of the papers.

Quimby said:

“In my opinion, there is no reason why the aeroplane should not open a fruitful occupation for women. I see no reason why they cannot realize handsome incomes by carrying passengers between adjacent towns, why they cannot derive incomes from parcel deliveries, from taking photographs from above or from conducting schools for flying.”




Bessie Coleman.

The first African American woman to hold a pilot’s license was Bessie Coleman, who was also part Native American. Coleman obtained her International Pilots License in 1921 and she did it the hard way. The daughter of two southern sharecroppers, Coleman grew up in poverty, but she knew how to work hard and she saved her money.

Because of racial prejudice, Coleman was denied entry to American flying schools. So, this amazing woman traveled to France, learned to speak French and studied at the Coudron Brothers flying school at Le Crotoy.


Then Coleman returned to the United States to establsh her own flying school, to teach black women how to fly. As she put it:

Bessie Coleman stands on a plane she flew in 1922.


“The air is the only place free from prejudice. I decided Blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly. If I can create the minimum of my plans and desires, there shall be no regrets. I refused to take for an answer.”


American women have been deeply involved in aviation from the very beginning. Katherine Wright, sister to Wilber and Orville Wright, was instrumental in the Wright Brothers experiments and the establishment of their company.



Amelia Earhart (right) with her flying instructor Neta Snook.

Probably the most famous American Woman pilot was Amelia Earhart, an adventurous young woman, who had taken up flying as a hobby and was well known in flying organizations. Earhart supported herself as a Social Worker at the Dennison House, a settlement house in Boston.

In 1927, after Charles Lindbergh successfully flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean and became a national hero, Florida socialite Amy Guest felt that whatever a man could do, a woman could do.

Amelia Earhart in leather coat she wore crossing the Atlantic.


Guest made plans to be the first woman to travel by plane across the Atlantic Ocean. She bought a plane and hired a pilot, Wilmer Stutz, and mechanic, Louis Gordon. Mrs. Guest saw herself as being only a passenger – but still the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Eventually, her family persuaded her not to take the risk and Amelia Earhart, was chosen to take her place and join the crew on this very dangerous flight.

Mrs. Guest engaged the services of Charles Lindberg’s publicist, George P. Putnam, to handle the publicity of the Earhart flight, because of his success in publicizing Lindberg’s flight and the post flight excitement.

The news of an American Woman successfully crossing the Atlantic electrified the American population and, in particular, American Women. Amelia Earhart became a heroine and a symbol of Women’s progress toward equality. A few years later Earhart made a solo filght across the Atlantic Ocean.   She wrote:

Amelia Earhart.



“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is mere tenacity. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”



If you would like to see the actual take off of Amelia Earhart in her historic flight across the Atlantic in the “Friendship,” I have obtained the film and have included it in a promotional video for our Listen 2 Read audiobook by Amelia Earhart, “20 Hrs 40 Mins, Our Flight in the Friendship,” where she describes her life and her historic flight.

Here is the link:

Sadly, all of the above women, except Katherine Wright and Neta Snook, perished in air crashes during this very experimental time in the history of fight. But all of these women aviation pioneers were blessed with a dream and did whatever it took to pursue their dream. And I believe that anyone who follows their dream is an inspiration for all of us.


Andre Stojka


Listen To Read



PS: Our audiobook of Amelia Earhart’s “20 Hrs-40 Mins, Our Fight in the Friendship” read by Leslie Walden, is available as traditional CD and an Mp3CD as well as a digital download. As a gift, it might inspire someone. Here is a link: