June 27, 1914: The Battle in Paris, Johnson vs. Moran

Jack Johnson - boxrec.com
Jack Johnson – boxrec.com
Frank Moran (an early victim of what would be bad photoshopping today) image from the Chicago Daily Tribune, published 6/28/1914
Frank Moran (an early victim of what would be bad photoshopping today) image from the Chicago Daily Tribune, published 6/28/1914

In 1914, world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was in exile. Technically his crime was violation of the Mann Act, which criminalized the transportation of women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” The truth was Jack Johnson, the son of former slaves, had married Lucille Cameron, a white woman. Johnson had been convicted by a snow-white jury of the Mann Act violation even after Cameron had refused to cooperate with the case against him. Johnson decided to skip town and the couple had fled the U.S. through Canada. By 1914 they were living in Paris.

A lesser known boxer came to Paris in June of 1914 to challenge Johnson’s crown, and the truth was he was well-positioned to do so. Frank Moran had fought Johnson before and was familiar with the champ’s style, and Moran had developed a rep as a knock-out artist, with a savage right cross he lovingly dubbed “Mary Ann.”

The Chicago Tribune published a detailed account of the match the following day, but the tenor of most of the American coverage of the fight can easily be gleaned from these paragraphs recounting the 14th through 16th rounds:

(Chicago Daily Tribune, 6/28/1914)
(Chicago Daily Tribune, 6/28/1914)

Below is a video made from the film of the fight. Someone has inserted both crowd noises and voiceover/play-by-play, but it still appears to capture the key moments.

In the end, the match wasn’t particularly exciting, and it was decided for Johnson. Most fight observers agreed he wasn’t in his best form and took some cheap shots when he could, but remained the superior fighter. Jack Johnson’s fascinating career trended downward from there, as he was already 37 at the time of the bout. Ken Burns made a documentary about Johnson that you can read more about here: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

Frank Moran became a Zelig-like character, rubbing elbows with some of the 20th century’s most notable people. “The Fighting Dentist,” as he was sometimes called (huh?), had sparred with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt early in the 1900s, and by the late 1920s he was an actor. He appeared, sometimes uncredited, in films with famous names like Bela Lugosi, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Little noticed in Europe at large, much less other parts of the world, an Austro-Hungarian royal and his wife dined in Sarajevo, 1,111 miles from Paris. They feasted with other dignitaries on fine wine and fresh trout. The following day, June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, planned to review Austro-Hungarian troops and attend a museum dedication.

[The Chicago Sunday Tribune, via Newspapers.com]

Paris, 1914: a solstice gathering

The Flammarion Engraving, artist unknown, associated with writings of Camille Flammarion - Wikipedia, public domain image
The Flammarion Engraving, artist unknown, associated with writings of Camille Flammarion – Wikipedia, public domain image

At midnight on June 22, 1914, an august party of dignitaries gathered atop the Eiffel Tower to, according to the following day’s New York Times, “salute sunrise on the occasion of the Summer solstice.”

The gathering was not the first of its kind (it was the eleventh) and perhaps not of historical importance, but the famous names mentioned in the Times article imbued the account with a certain gravity.

A Jean de Paléologue poster for Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère in 1902 (Wikipedia, public domain)
A Jean de Paléologue poster for Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère in 1902 (Wikipedia, public domain)

The Times reported that attendees included astronomer and author Nicolas Camille Flammarion, who addressed the gathering. Also among the 200 or so in attendance were leading French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, Gustave Eiffel himself, and American astronomer Percival Lowell.

The assemblage had a banquet, at some point Flammarion gave his speech and the Times reported everyone enjoyed “an ‘astronomical burlesque.'”

Then, at 3 a.m., American dancer Loïe Fuller took center stage and performed a “sunrise dance.”

Fuller, a true pioneer in dance, had left America many years before to find her fame in Europe. She became a star in Paris, and it remained her home till her death in 1928. She was a true innovator in style and lighting, famed for her “Serpentine Dance.”

Aside from newspaper accounts, there isn’t much of a record of Mme. Fuller’s appearance on the Tower that solstice, nor of how she choreographed her 1914 “sunrise” steps. This silent short from 1902 of her performing the “Serpentine” illustrates her style.

A sense of what those assembled atop the Eiffel Tower that night may have felt watching the performance can be gleaned from a  quote by her contemporary Arsène Alexandre, who described Fuller as a “marvelous dream-creature you see dancing madly in a vision swirling among her dappled veils which change ten thousand times a minute.”

As for the speaker, Camille Flammarion–he was a forerunner of the likes of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, popularizing astronomy the best way he could at the time, through lectures as well as scientific and speculative writing. Some idea of Flammarion’s way with words can be found in the Augusta Rice Stetson translation of his novel Uranie. In Chapter 3, describing the protagonist’s fanciful flight across several other worlds, Flammarion portrayed a moment among human-like creatures with glowing eyes:

On another globe which we crossed during the night […] human eyes are so constructed as to be luminous, and shine as though some phosphorescent emanation radiated from their strange centres. A night meeting comprising a large number of these persons presents an extremely fantastic appearance, because the brilliancy, as well as the color, of the eyes changes with the different passions by which they are swayed.

Imagine that night, with a cool breeze up there above the hustle and clamor of Paris, that “marvelous dream-creature” turning wildly in her shimmering silks before the crowd. The lights of the city below like Flammarion’s fantastic night meeting of glowing eyes, watching the tower and the sky beyond. It was a moment, a pause.

June 28 was less than a week away.

[The New York Times, edition published 6/23/1914, via Newspapers.com]

June 20, 1914… An Awkward Moment in Hamburg

the Bismarck, later renamed Majestic. Public domain image, Wikipedia
the Bismarck, later renamed Majestic, then HMS Caledonia. Public domain image, Wikipedia

On June 20, 1914, the massive cruise ship to be named after Germany’s revered Otto von Bismarck loomed in Blohm and Voss ship yard in Hamburg. Bismarck’s granddaughter, Countess Hannah von Bismarck, and Kaiser Wilhelm stood nearby. The following day the New York Times reported what was likely an English translation of the Countess’s words: “By command of his majesty the Kaiser, I baptize thee Bismarck.”

After her declaration, the Countess smashed the traditional sacrificial bottle of champagne against the steel leviathan’s hull.

Nothing happened. The bottle was intact. It’s easy to imagine it spinning at the end of its decorative tether like a rude question followed by awkward silence.

Kaiser Wilhelm took action then, propelled by well-known maritime superstition. As reported by the Times, he “rushed forward, seized the bottle and, drawing it back over his right shoulder, sent it crashing against the side of the vessel,” whereupon it shattered. Those assembled must have felt the fate of the Bismarck was secure and the sailors in particular may have felt a bit of relief. As CruiseBrothers Travel News tells us, an unbroken dedicatory bottle of bubbly supposedly means “that bad luck will follow the ship.”

The crowd assembled for the launching celebrated by singing the German national anthem, intoning its characteristic refrain, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”–Germany, Germany above all.

The great Bismarck was the largest ship in the world at the time. It didn’t fall prey to any of the usual bad luck expected to follow vessels with questionable launching conditions. At least, not immediately. It remained the biggest boat around until the mid-1930s.

By the beginning of World War II, the Bismarck was called HMS Caledonia and it was part of the British Navy. It had been turned over to Great Britain at the end of World War I as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

On September 29, 1939, twenty-eight days after World War II began, the former Bismarck caught fire while docked and sank.

The day the Bismarck launched and the crowd sang it into the sea, a key member of the German royal family embarked on a journey. Over 430 miles from Hamburg, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie, left their official residence south of Prague.

The Archduke planned to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In eight days, the Archduke and his Countess would be in Sarajevo.

Additional info: History on the Net, Toronto Star.

June 18, 1914, and Ten Days To Go

Franz-Ferdinand of Austria (Wikipedia, public domain image)
Franz-Ferdinand of Austria (Wikipedia, public domain image)

One hundred years ago today, the world had just 10 days to go before the assassinations that would spark the Great War, World War I.

I’ve tossed around, even blogged about ideas such as daily blogging events of the day 100 years ago today, etc., but I’ve found that without the carrot of a paycheck, it’s sometimes hard to motivate myself to really work on a regular daily blog post or a series of posts.

But I still survey news from 100 years ago each day, using Newspapers.com (pay service) and the Library of Congress’s collection of historic newspapers, which is free for anyone to use. I pin or tweet some of the stranger, funnier things and  have posts here about stories that were particularly interesting and begged more research.

What comes home again and again as I read–and I also check out English and various European publications where available–is this was a world unaware. Most books about World War I touch on this right away, how the conflagration that arose from bullets fired into Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, quickly spiraled into a horrific wildfire.

Something about the prosaic nature of the news of 1914 prior to June 28 slams the point solidly home… though I’m sure none of it seemed prosaic at the time.

Screengrab from an American paper published 6/19/1914
Screengrab from an American paper published 6/19/1914

In London, the ongoing concern was women’s suffrage. English women seeking political franchise in the early 1900s were absolutely badass and took no prisoners in their drive to get the vote. In the first 6 months of 1914 they were regularly bombing, slashing, marching and beating their way into the public eye. On June 18th, English Prime Minister Asquith finally assented to a meeting with a deputation of protesters, in part to avert their leader’s hunger strike.

Just as the world’s eyes are on the World Cup today, American and English papers were paying close attention to the International Polo Cup. The English had just defeated the American team on June 15th, and the rivalry wasn’t all that friendly in print.

Blurb from the Wilmington, NC Morning Star, pubbed 6/19/1914.
Blurb from the Wilmington, NC Morning Star, pubbed 6/19/1914.

An English account of the victory made it sound as if all those polo grounds were missing was vuvuzelas.

Daily Telegraph, 6/18/1914
Daily Telegraph, 6/18/1914

The Telegraph also reported on a strange murder case in court in Berlin. Young Brunnhilde Wilden had become involved with two doctors at the same time, and from there, things had gotten weird:

A strange murder trial which involves difficult psychological problems was commenced at Elberfeld recently. The defendant, who is indicted on the actual capital crime, is Brunhilde Wilden, an attractive girl of 21 years, belonging to a substantial Dusseldorf family. By her side in the dock stands a medical practitioner, Dr. Nolten, her fellow-townsman, who is charged with having incited and abetted her.

It was believed Brun(n)hilde had become involved with Dr. Nolten but maintained her relationship with the other doctor, whom she was accused of killing.

Meanwhile, in Russia, someone had attempted to kill the Czar, which wasn’t prosaic at all. The Associated Press reported it thusly:

AP report in the East Liverpool, OH Evening Review, 6/18/1914
AP report in the East Liverpool, OH Evening Review, 6/18/1914
Mme Caillaux, US press report pubbed nationwide, 6/19/1914
Mme Caillaux, US press report pubbed nationwide, 6/19/1914

And in France, the papers and the populace were still consumed, as they would be until Franz-Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, with the ongoing murder trial of Mme. Henriette Caillaux. Madame Caillaux had murdered newspaper editor Gaston Calmette in March, 1914, and her prosecution was a trial of the century sort of event for France at the time.

So the world was cranking on, as it will do. As it does today. There were skirmishes and battles elsewhere, in the Balkans, in Greece. In the United States, the constant slow boil of conflict with a turbulent Mexico to the south seemed to be sorting itself out… but no one was sure, yet. Depending on the paper and its editorial bent, war with Mexico was either still imminent or the threat was finally on the wane.

There were rumblings and explosions and murmurs and rumors, but no one knew the white-hot burst of fury to come.

I am perhaps too obsessed with the concept of history not precisely repeating, but rhyming. That’s why I’m so drawn to examining events a century ago and sometimes finding parallels. Or, where there are no direct parallels, at least asking the question: are we unwittingly closing in on some kind of flashpoint, as well? It would be too bizarre for it to happen precisely 100 years later; no one can believe that and be entirely sane. Yet sometimes I wonder if we’re both living in a world with that potential and if there’s some unexpected place where it will occur.

Interesting as some of the things dominating the news 100 years ago today might have been, there were no portents. The world was humming along in a certain rhythm. There was mayhem, murder and calumny, but no one smelled the blood, mud and gunpowder to come.

If history does rhyme at all, even slant rhyme, this should keep us on our toes today. It might be okay to be a little bit nervous.


In defense of the schmaltzy

After I’d been running regularly for several months I still often had days where I could hardly bear to bother. One cold December morning in Georgia (it seemed cold then–I’ve lived in New England for 2 years today and I’d probably think it was shirtsleeve weather now) I felt that way, but I was in a good groove of soldiering on through. No matter how unappetizing a run might seem, I was going to do it, regardless. So I did.

I ran mostly on trails then and by the time I was a mile in to the run I was feeling a little better, but still blah, unenthused. Then I passed from where those woods close in like fairytale thickets hiding monsters to a broad stretch of trail where you can see pretty far through the trees. I was listening to “One Day Like This” by Elbow, at the time (see above, a really fine performance). I turned a bend in the trail, and 20 feet away stood a white-tailed deer.

I stopped, and for an immeasurable moment, the deer and I regarded at each other. I was breathing heavily, my breath clouding the air in front of me. Then the deer snorted, wheeled and bounded away, majestic leaps through the woods until it faded into the dim. Right about that point, in my earbuds, “One Day Like This” launched into the big chorus, “Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year would see me right…

I began to laugh. A strange, surprised gout of laughter that welled up from my center. Tears streamed from my eyes. And I began to run again, faster than I’d probably run in years, laughing and crying all the way. I sailed over roots I’d worried about tripping over and busting my face. I bounded up hills, ping-ponging along the sides of gullies the rain had carved in the center of the trail.

I looked crazier than a shithouse rat and it felt wonderful, even though I would’ve likely scared anyone who passed me then.

I still can’t entirely make sense of the moment, either. Because absolutely nothing actually happened, yet I will never forget it.

It was also a really schmaltzy experience. I knew that right away. I have a maudlin streak a mile long and I always have, and I find it embarrassing. But in that moment I was in thrall to the feeling and I didn’t care. I posted about it on Facebook later and I think my post was kind of, “I know, I know, corny old Steve…” I sold it short, sounded like I was writing it off.

But you know what? Hell yes, I can be corny. That was a corny, cheesy, inspirational poster of an experience. It was exactly the sort of inner wellspring of joy kind of moment I thoroughly enjoy joking about when I write tweets parodying a typical Twitter “life coach” on @LIFECOACHERS.

That cold morning moment taught me that there’s something to be said for corniness, for schmaltz. It’s worth joking about, sure–but there are times it happens to you, and when it does, it’s actually far more powerful than any airbrushed or photoshopped high-res poster with a bullshit “inspirational” saying could ever begin to convey.

That encounter was nothing and everything at once. It was a turning point, somehow. In hindsight, it feels like I passed some sort of milestone, and after the explosion of emotion that had me suddenly half-flying along the trail with joy, I was a little different.

It also taught me that you don’t have to be rock-ribbed believer in some higher power to suddenly experience the sacred. You can be muddling along, worried about the noises your stomach is making or that twinge in your knee, and something will happen that transforms it all, entirely.

My defense of schmaltz is this–whatever it is, it’s about feeling, and feeling deeply, to your core. No one should ever be sheepish about that. As for me, I’m never going to be tired of that Elbow song, nor afraid to let an amazing feeling bubble up and over, when it comes. That morning it was just that deer and me and the quiet, listening woods and I didn’t stop for a moment to worry about what was coming out of me. I’m grateful it happened. I almost feel lucky that I can’t help but be schmaltzy.


Here’s a dumb post about my workout

Periodic table of bodyweight exercises, find it here.
Periodic table of bodyweight exercises, find it here.

I’m finally working on a 6-7 day a week workout cycle. I’d had ambitions to experiment with 100 days straight doing something, but quickly realized that was an amusingly dumb idea. I need to find a certain kind of pace and balance before I murder myself that way. I sometimes like exhausting 90 minute cardio and strength something or others, and no way in hell I can do that for 6 days straight. I may be near that, I don’t know. I mean, I’m in good shape but I’m also still kind of old and fat, so, you know, caveats apply. Today I did do something that was a little different for me and it felt like a pretty (here’s that b-word again) balanced thing to do.

If I’m doing a circuit of bodyweight or kettlebell exercises I normally plan them out informally ahead of time, either off the top of my head or based on something I’ve seen on sites I visit, like 12 Minute Athlete or FitnessBlender. I write out what I plan to do, set my phone’s stopwatch and get busy. Today, rather than focus on reps, I decided to set the timer for 20 minutes then see what I could get done during that time, stopping when the timer buzzed no matter where I was. This wasn’t intended to be any kind of major workout–because I might lose motivation tomorrow if I slammed it today. Like I said, I’m old.

I ended up feeling pretty good and deciding I’d use this as a maintenance workout (as in I just wanted to sweat and work a bit, but didn’t jump up a level) again. Here’s what happened

Timer: 20:00

  • Burpees-8, 8, 8, 6, 6 (36)
  • Push-ups-12, 12, 12, 8, 6 (50)
  • Dumbbell curls, 2 x 25 lbs-6, 6, 6, 5, 5 (28)
  • Assisted pull-ups (see this page, level 3A)-8, 8, 6, 6, then 2 with strict form, no assist
  • Two-handed swings with a 53-lb kettlbell-12, 12, 12, 10, 10.

This ended up being a faster-paced workout than I sometimes do. I was sweating like a pig who just heard the farmer’s wife complaining she’s out of bacon. I think I could up the speed a good deal in the future and add sets. It hit most everything, though, and I don’t feel like completely flopping for the rest of the night.

As an aside–I hate most of the fitness-related writing I find online. I’m not talking about sports journalism; that’s a totally different animal. I’m talking about bloggers and various posts for websites, some of them really popular. Too often the tone is far too “that one gym coach you had in high school whom you plotted to blow up his house.” You know–it’s either frustrated drill sergeant or belittling jock. As in, “HEY PUNK LOOK WHAT I CAN DO CAN YOU DO THIS PUNK WELL, CAN YOU????”

I really want to avoid that when I do choose to write about fitness. If many of the people who take on that sort of authorial tone (honestly, this also applies to a lot of Youtube videos about working out–hell, maybe most of them) truly cared about helping others learn about the benefits of fitness, they’d be way more inviting and accommodating. Maybe shaming a person struggling with their weight and appearance will work for a time, and maybe it’s exactly what some people think they deserve, but it never worked for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I’ll do my best to not link that sort of thing, save for amusement value.

Stuff I don’t know

This post has received some nice attention from WordPress and the many supportive comments have done me good. I’m glad people are reading. It presented me for a moment with a dilemma: if more people are reading this blog now, what do I write about?

Then I realized that’s the dodge of a mind that likes to work against itself on a regular basis–which mine does, especially where writing is concerned. That is, I think about it a lot, then cycle into a form of self-doubt that has me not writing much at all. Which is funny, because an initial foray into blogging 10 years ago this year was made without hesitation and that led to my first professional work as a writer. In 2000 or so I began blogging, and by 2004 I was a little bored with what I was doing there (noodling, making mostly unconnected personal posts or writing experiments with poetry and fiction as the spirit moved me). I decided then to make a leap into a long-held interest that had also been a bit of a secret embarrassment–true crime. I made that leap into true crime blogging around the time social media as we know it today began to explode. Years before the likes of Gawker and Daily Beast were plumbing mass killers’ online profiles, I found the intersection of the two–criminals and their victims having public blogs, profiles, etc–and that became my “angle.” Within 6 months of starting that first true crime blog on a lark, I was offered freelance work with the Crime Library. From there things went a little crazy and I ended up being a talking head and eventually getting opportunities to cover other subjects for a variety of publications, though when people contacted me sight unseen to do a TV appearance or contribute to their publication, it was usually true crime-related.

My point is that it really hit me today that when I first began a specific effort to blog about crime, I did it with zero self-doubt. And whatever regrets I may have about that now (I have a few, as my perception of reporting on and writing about crime has evolved a great deal in the last 5 years in particular), it seems like I may have identified my main enemy as a writer–the “why am I even bothering” impulse.

What I don’t know on any given day is what I’ll blog about. I don’t mind admitting insecurity with my tendency to have rapidly shifting interests. I do have medically diagnosed (as opposed to self-diagnosed, like too many other people I’ve met) attention deficit disorder, but that’s not a good excuse. The insecurity is that anyone who might read or subscribe to this site might check it one day and say, “what the hell happened to the dude blogging about his fitness journey? This post is about murder,” and find that not just ADD, but kind of crazy.

Well, yeah. That’s probably going to happen. Here’s what’s already here, and what anyone reading might find in the future:

  • Fitness stuff–diet, exercise, even exercise routines. Commentary on the way others write about fitness online and in print–since there are some major flaws there.
  • Crime–it’s not like I really lost the interest. It’s just much more specific now. I’m never going to just globally cover every weird crime story I see. I might tweet a link, but it will have to be a story that strikes a deeper chord for me to blog about it. Even then I might not, if I feel it’s a story I could publish as a freelance writer for pay. That’s just practical.
  • Weird stuff. Everyone’s definition of weird is a little different–but not too different, is my bet. I’m a skeptic but will still write about any unusually compelling tale of UFOs, cryptids or things that go bump in the you know when.
  • Social media–maybe not so much, as the subject feels played. Still, I embraced it pretty solidly and don’t feel bad about that.
  • Rants on what I hate or what annoys me. What? It’s a blog, fer chrissakes.
  • Comedy stuff–I love comedy and comedians and have a lot of funny friends online. It’ll end up here sometimes.
  • History–I edited this post to add this in. I have an abiding interest in history, especially the early 20th century. I’ve already written several posts in that vein.
  • Less common (though my interest in good health and fitness is arguably personal) –personal stuff. I save what little truly personal writing I do for pen and paper, like it’s the 19th century or something.

Oddly enough, it occurs to me that I’m saying I’m going to treat this site exactly as I treated blogs I wrote before I focused mainly on crime writing, and I guess I’m apologizing in advance if that gives anyone a case of mental whiplash.

I don’t know what I’ll say next, and I’m fine with that.