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.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL COUPLE
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.
ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN
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.)
THE MADNESS BEGINS
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’S BLOODY DRESS
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.
HAUNTED BY MEMORIES
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
A TRAGIC ENDING
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.
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© 2018 Listen2Read.com
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 Audible.com:
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.
THE FIRST WOMAN TO FLY A PLANE
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.
THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMAN GRANTED A PILOTS LICENSE
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.
“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.”
THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN GRANTED A PILOT LICENSE
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:
“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: http://listen2read.com/20-hrs-40-mins/
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.
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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:
Galapagos Islands seals.
Our confident, high stock market reminds me of another high stock market early in 1929. That was when one of my environmental heros, Gifford Pinchot, buoyed with financial confidence a rising stock market gives, planned the adventure of a lifetime.
Gifford Pinchot and tuna catch.
Financial security and the end of his Governorship of Pennsylvania presented Pinchot with a unique opportunity to carry out a boyhood dream. He would purchase a large sailing ship, hire a crew, bring experts on board and put out to sea with his family.
There were giant sea bats to watch, sharks to avoid, Galapagos turtles to study, lava flows to cross, birds to photograph and lap dragons to catch. Grand adventure for adults, and a wonder for their 13 year old son, Giff, and his friend from Pennsylvania, Stiff.
Pinchot bought a used ship, refitted her and gave her a new name, “Mary Pinchot,” after his mother. The family set out on an ambitious journey, sailing west to the Galapagos Islands and then to the South Seas, independent, free, but with no one to turn to in case of danger.
A misjudgment caused damage to the ship’s rudder, requiring them to sail nearly 900 miles off course for repairs, through open seas that could turn against them at any moment, but they made it.
President Theodore Roosevelt with top hat stands with Gifford Pinchot.
THE PIONEERING ENVIRONMENTALIST
Gifford Pinchot is one of my environmental heros because of his work with President Theodore Roosevelt, establishing the National Forest Service and saving the Grand Canyon as well as other National monuments from development. To honor his memory, the United States Government established a Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Oregon.
Family members on the voyage included Pinchot’s wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, a politically savvy woman, who made her mark as one of the founders of the League of Women Voters. They also brought along their thirteen year old son, Giff, and his friend, Stiff Stahlnecker.
The Pinchot adventure began as they sailed out of New York Harbor on March 31, 1929, less than a week after the Federal Reserve Bank warned of excessive speculation in the New York
Gifford PInchot with the San Blas Island Indians.
stock market. As the Pinchots reached the Caribbean, National City Bank pledged 25 million dollars to support the sliding stock prices.
The pledge worked and a panic was averted. But steel and automobile production were winding down. Something bad was stirring.
As the Pinchots visited Grand Cayman, Isla de Providencia and Isla de San Andre and crossed through the Panama Canal, the stock market stabilized.
Cornelia Bryce Pinchot climbing from the dinghy onto one of the Galapagos Islands.
TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Sailing south in the Pacific, what a thrill it must have been for the Pinchot expedition to visit the famed Galapagos Islands alone, without a tour group, having a free hand to examine the fascinating life at their own pace.
They were walking in the footsteps of twenty-six year old Charles Darwin, whose zoological discoveries on the Islands, ninety-four years earlier, led to his theory of evolution. Now it was Gifford Pinchot’s turn to discover and collect and theorize.
During the summer of 1929, as the stock market gained 20 points, the Pinchots left the Galapagos to cross the wide Pacific and visit the Marquesas, the Tuamotu Archipelago and Tahiti. They were collecting specimens and writing extensive field notes.
The Pinchots’ son Giff at the wheel of the “Mary Pinchot.”
Pinchot considered this journey to be partly a scientific expedition and brought with him ornithological and zoological experts, “for adventure, seasoned with science is the very best kind,” he wrote.
Along with the scientists came a photographer, Howard Cleaves, who shot many still images and motion pictures of the adventure. Later, a movie of the journey was produced and exhibited in theatres and shown in private gatherings, accompanying free talks by Cornelia Pinchot.
Gifford Pinchot tries to handle a lap dragon.
PINCHOT AUTHORS A BOOK ON THE ADVENTURE
Gifford Pinchot wrote a fascinating adventure book of the expedition, titled: “TO THE SOUTH SEAS.”
When I first read it I knew it would make a great audiobook, not only because it was a great adventure, but also because of Pinchot’s entertaining style of writing. It was a pleasure to read and a pleasure to record. “TO THE SOUTH SEAS” by Gifford Pinchot is the 17th audiobook I have produced for our Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library.
THE STOCK MARKET CRASH OF OCTOBER 1929
The Pinchot adventure ended in Tahiti on October 15, 1929. The Pinchot party took a passenger ship from Tahiti back to San Francisco. On October 24th, while they were on the high seas, returning home, the stock market began to crash. It was called “Black Thursday.” In a few days, the market worsened into “Black Tuesday.” By the time the Pinchots reached San Francisco, they were less rich than when they began the adventures.
The world had changed during their South Seas summer and the American economy had collapsed. When they attempted to sell their ship, “The Mary Pinchot,” it took a very long time to find a buyer. Sadly, they sold her for less than half of what they paid for her.
The Mary Pinchot under full sail.
Still, the Pinchot expedition was highly successful. It had discovered new lizard, fish, and mollusk species. Their discoveries, collections and field notes contributed greatly to the science of zoology and ornithology. And, of course, they had memories to last a lifetime.
See pictures of the Pinchot expedition and hear free samples of our audiobook at: http://listen2read.com/to-the-south-seas/
You can join the Pinchots on their grand adventure by purchasing a digital download or an Mp3CD of our audiobook, “TO THE SOUTH SEAS.”
© 2018 Listen2Read.com
Over the years, I have voiced many commercials and TV shows based on Clement Moore’s “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
Last year, I recorded the original poem and I offer it to you with
Best Wishes for the Holiday Season!
Dear Member of the Listen To Read Audiobook community:
Here is a little free Halloween gift for you.
Just for fun, I recorded “The Terrible Old Man,” a classic, short gothic horror story,
written by the very disturbed H.P. Lovecraft in 1921.
It’s about ten spooky minutes long. Here’s the YouTube link:
Happy Halloween from all of us at Listen2read Audiobooks
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Captain Joshua Slocum, world famous adventurer and author.
On the chilly Sunday morning of the 14th of November,1909, a 65-year-old experienced sailor and world famous author, Joshua Slocum, began his last journey.
On that morning, in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Joshua Slocum cast off the dock lines of his 37 foot wooden sloop, “Spray,” as he had hundreds of times. As usual, he was alone on board.
The “Spray” headed out to sea on a long voyage.
Alone, out at sea, the wind caught his sails and Slocum set his course South, leaving New England, passing New York, the Jersey shore, and then past the Eastern Atlantic States, until he was seen off the coast of Miami Florida, or, at least some people thought they saw him. His destination was the Orinoco, Rio Negro and Amazon Rivers, where he had sailed before.
And that is the last time anyone saw or thought they saw Captain Joshua Slocum. He and the “Spray” totally disappeared and were never seen again. In his wake, Slocum left us some gifts: books he wrote about his strange and fascinating voyages. They include “The Voyage of the Liberdade,” which I have recorded and published as a Listen 2 Read audiobook:
Joshua Slocum aboard the “Spray”.
and his second and most famous book, “Sailing Alone Around The World,” recounting the true adventure of being the first man to successfully circumnavigate the world by himself, without a crew of any kind.
It took awhile for people to realize that Slocum had not been heard of for a long, long time. Finally, seven months after he sailed out of Martha’s Vineyard, in July 1910, his wife, Hettie Slocum, told the newspapers she believed her husband was lost at sea. He was declared legally dead in 1924.
Slocum and the “Spray” on the Erie Canal during the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.
Over the years, people have speculated about what could have happened to Slocum. A well-known authority claimed to have once examined the “Spray” and stated that it could dangerously capsize if it heeled past a shallow angle, making Slocum just lucky that the “Spray” had not capsized earlier.
Really? Slocum sailed the “Spray” over 40,000 miles around the world, in every kind of weather. His survival had to be the result of skill, not luck.
Hettie Slocum, Slocum’s second wife and first cousin, prefered to stay on dry land.
Someone claimed Slocum disappeared to provide insurance money for his wife. But Hettie, his second wife, had to wait 14 years after he disappeared before he was declared legally dead. After her adventure with her husband on the high seas, told in “The Voyage of the Liberdade,” Hettie remained on dry land for the rest of her life.
“Spray” in port next to huge cargo ships.
The most considered opinion was that Slocum piloted his “Spray” down the eastern coast of America, and that somewhere south of Key West, in the night, perhaps in the Bermuda Triangle, his small boat was hit, capsized and destroyed by a large commercial steamship that probably didn’t even know it hit him.
If that is true, it is a strange twist of fate, since the advent of steam power seemed to be Slocum’s enemy. Slocum had an incredible knowledge of traditional wind powered sailing ships; he totally supervised the building of a commercial cargo ship from scratch.
The “Northern Light,” the largest ship Joshua Slocum Captained. He was also part owner.
Slocum had commanded large sailing ships, the so-called, tall ships. In fact, he had commanded and partly owned the largest sailing ship of its time, “The Northern Light”. He was considered an expert at Captaining tall ships, using only the wind for power. And he could handle the tough crews too, as evidenced in “The Voyage of the Liberdade,” when he single handedly stopped a mutiny.
The “Aquidneck,” the last commercial ship Slocum owned and Captained.
This was the uninsured ship wrecked on the beach in Brazil leading to “The Voyage of the Liberdade.”
Unfortunately for Slocum, the advent of steam lessened the importance of those skills. It was much easier to maneuver a steam-powered ship than one powered by the wind, as he did spectacularly when he delivered an old worn out battleship to the Brazilian Army in “The Voyage of the Destroyer,” (included in my recording of the “The Voyage of the Liberdade”). And steam ship crews were smaller, needing less supervision.
Sadly for Slocum, after the destruction of a ship under his ownership and command in Brazil, which led to the adventure of “The Voyage of the Liberdade,” ship owners considered Slocum a risky choice for Captain.
Captain Joshua Slocum prepares for an adventure.
Like so many people today, the very gifted Slocum became a man with a skill set no longer needed. Perhaps that is why he tried to reinvent himself by circumnavigating the world, writing and lecturing about it.
Nobody really knows how Slocum died, but if he was killed at sea in a crash with a giant steamer, as many suggest, it was as if new technology not only changed his life, but also took his life away.
Oh, and there was one more thing: with all his experience at sea, Joshua Slocum never learned to swim.
You can see pictures of Captain Joshua Slocum and listen to a sample of “The Voyage of the Liberdade” audiobook at:
Download or purchase “The Voyage of the Liberdade” audiobook, here on my website or from your favorite audiobook retailer.
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© 2017 Listen2read.com
Just when you thought sharks were the only animals to avoid while in the ocean, it seems some angry whales are in attack mode.
Whale Attack in Queensland
A giant Humpback Whale attacked a 30-foot fishing boat below the water line last week in Queensland, Australia. The pressure from the whale threw the charter boat, “The Mistress,” into the air.
“Within a split second, we all hit the floor, the boat launched up into the air and dislodged everyone off their feet,” Captain Oliver Gales told the local newspaper, the Telegraph. One passenger was knocked unconscious and three others were injured.
Afterward, the whale just swam by.
“We see whales all the time, but it’s never known for this sort of thing to happen,” Gales said.
Whale Attack in Alaska
Orca Killer Whale
A few weeks ago in Sitka, Alaska, an Orca Whale attacked a 33 foot boat on a weekend excursion. While the boat was anchored near Little Biorka Island, the Orca rammed the boat, yanked its anchor line and whacked the boat with its tail. Boat owner Victor Littlefield screamed at the whale, hoping to scare it off.
It didn’t help that the night before Littlefield had seen the movie “Jaws.”
The First Whale Attack
Angry whales attacking ships was unheard of before 1820. We humans thought we had the upper hand. It seemed it was perfectly acceptable for humans to attack whales, but unimagineable for whales to attack us.
Whale attacks the Whale Ship Essex in 1820, depicted in a drawing at the time.
That idea changed a little after 8 o’clock in the morning of November 20, 1820, in the Pacific Ocean at the equator, almost 1500 miles from land. The 89 foot whale ship, Essex, was attacked by an 85 foot sperm whale.
The angry whale bashed in one side of the wooden ship below the water line, swam under the ship and bashed in the other side. The ship rapidly took on water and eventually sank, leaving the crew huddled in a few small boats. Most of that crew perished at sea, trying to reach land, as water and food supplies dwindled.
Cover of Listen To Read audiobook “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex,” available as a digital download or an Mp3 CD.
We know the story of the Essex because one of the survivors, Owen Chase, First Mate, wrote down the story and had his book printed privately the next year.
You can hear Chase’s first person description of the incredible attack and fight for survival on our audiobook, “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary And Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex.”
The “Moby Dick” Connection
Twenty years later, in 1841, Owen Chase’s son served on a whale ship, which crossed paths with another whale ship in the Pacific Ocean, almost exactly where the Essex met her doom.
On board the other whale ship was a sailor and future novelist, Herman Melville. As the two crews socialized, Chase’s son let Melville read his father’s account of the doomed Essex, which gave Melville the idea for what would become his famous novel, “Moby Dick,” the story of an angry whale.
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PS: You can easily download the audiobook of “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary
And Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex” here:
PPS: You can see pictures and hear a free preview of our Listen2Read audiobook here:
Bears Ears National Monument, re-examined for being too large.
Ancient Native American treasures found in Bears Ears National Monument
Donald Trump’s re-examination of Bears Ears Monument in Utah, covered by the Antiquities Act, reminded me why the Antiquities Act had been created in the first place in 1903.
THE HOMESTEAD ACT
Before there was an Antiquities Act, there was a Federal Homestead Act of 1862, where the Federal Government encouraged people to settle in the newly acquired U.S. lands in the West. Aimed primarily at farmers, offering 160 acres free if developed within five years, it was a benefit people took seriously. And it was a mind set:
Bridalveil Falls Yosemite Valley California
the government wanted the newly opened western lands used and exploited for a developing economy.
Exploitation was taking place everywhere, including the Yosemite Valley in California, considered a uniquely beautiful treasure. Because of the Homestead Act, Yosemite was being cut up by homesteaders, railroads, mining and sheep herding interests.
THE YOSEMITE GRANT
There was no existing law to preserve Yosemite from exploitation. Something needed to be done. In 1864, two years after the Homestead Act, the Yosemite Grant was created, which removed Yosemite from development and gave it to the State of California as a State Park.
Yosemite Valley in Winter
The Yosemite Grant was signed in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln and introduced a new and very controversial concept: the ability of the Federal Government to acquire State land without payment by the Federal Government. Once the concept was accepted, it was also used as a legal precedent in 1872 to establish Yellowstone National Park, nationalizing lands that were once controlled by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
THE CAMPING TRIP THAT MADE HISTORY
In May 1903, a Southern Pacific Railroad train from San Francisco arrived at the little town of Raymond, California, formerly known as Wildcat Station. On board the train was the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, with thirty Cavalry escorts and one lone naturalist, John Muir.
Camp in Yosemite with Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.
Departing the steam train, the President and Muir with others of his party were placed in stage coaches to ride another exhausting 65 miles to the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite. There, a camp was established and the exhausted President retired for the evening with instructions not to be disturbed. Roosevelt slept on 40 blankets, piled up for a bed. There was still snow on the ground.
During their three-day trip, Roosevelt and Muir avoided the busy Wawona Hotel, built in 1876, to avoid the crowds and keep in the spirit of nature. Roosevelt wanted what he called a “roughing trip.” Many people knew the President was visiting Yosemite and wanted to see him. Keeping him away from crowds was part of the duties of Charlie Leadig, the local guide.
Roosevelt and Muir on horseback, with Yosemite Half Dome in the background.
The next morning at 6:30 AM, Roosevelt, Muir and a small party began traveling the Lightning Trail on horseback. In the Bridalveil Meadows, they plowed through five feet of snow. It was still snowing when they arrived for the evening at what is today Glacier Point Camp.
That night, a crackling campfire provided warmth from the snowy chill as Roosevelt and Muir talked and talked. It was an animated, excited conversation, where both men seemed to want to talk at the same time, according to a witness.
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier Point, Yosemite.
Muir and Roosevelt discussed the idea of preserving important forests in other parts of the United States. Out of this exchange came the idea that Yosemite should be a National Park instead of a State Park. It snowed 5 inches that night and the next morning the ground was frozen. But an idea was born, and shortly after, Yosemite was removed from the jurisdiction of California and became a National Park. The change stirred Roosevelt’s thinking.
THE NATIONAL ANTIQUITIES ACT
Three years later in 1906, Congress passed, and President Roosevelt signed, the National Antiquities act, which said, in part:
“That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Interestingly, the Act does not give the President the power to reduce or eliminate anything that has been established by the Act or enacted to by previous Presidents. The President can only act on the powers granted him by established law.
After signing the Antiquities act, Roosevelt moved quickly to protect 18 other national treasures he felt were threatened, including: Grand Canyon, Arizona; Devils Tower, Wyoming; Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico; Tonto Cliff Dwellings, Arizona; Pinnacles, California and also Mesa Verde in Colorado.
OPPOSITION TO CONSERVATION
Mesa Verde in Colorado.
Not everyone was thrilled with protecting the land. In those days, the natural resources of the United States were available for the taking. Lumber interests saw their endless supply of trees potentially limited. Mining interests railed against having to ask permission to take minerals out of the ground. The West was founded on a free range of open grazing. Now, the Federal government was reaching into sovereign States and claiming large sections of land, which had previously been considered exploitable by the citizens of the state.
As I wrote in a previous blog, there are forces that would destroy the natural views of the Grand Canyon by building a hotel and cable car in plain sight. In Theodore Roosevelt Park in the Dakota Badlands, oil-drilling rigs can be currently viewed from every angle.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
Today, commercial forces keep pushing against preservation and President Trump seems to be opening up a conversation that many fear will reduce public lands. I hope everyone is misinterpreting his investigation, because I have visited many of our National Parks and Monuments and they are a national treasure, part of what makes me proud of our country.
Placing important lands under Federal Control is what keeps Native American cliff dwellings and petroglyphs from being shooting targets. It’s what keeps the beautiful redwoods from being turned into decks and siding, fantastic natural rock formations from being dynamited for minerals. I believe that National lands give all Americans a pride of ownership.
JOHN MUIR’S DOG STORY
Around that campfire in 1903, John Muir also told President Roosevelt about a theory he had on how Yosemite had been created. He believed the mountains had been carved by ancient glaciers long gone. In 1879, Muir had traveled to Glacier Bay in Alaska to walk on the glaciers and learn about them at first hand.
Out of his adventure came a short story Muir wrote, about a feisty small dog who wouldn’t go away and kept following Muir into very dangerous places.
The story is called “Stickeen” and it one of our most popular audiobooks, and, also our least expensive audiobook. You can hear a preview of Stickeen’s story here:
and you can inexpensively download it from Audible here:
My thanks to the Sierra Club for including our Listen To Read audiobook “Stickeen” to their list of audio visual materials, in connection with their John Muir exhibit: http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit