Raison D’être – Sam Finishes His Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885: Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

“FROM WHERE THE SUN NOW STANDS, I WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER.” 

Today in History, September 21, 1904:

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ He who led the young men (Olikut, his brother) is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. FROM WHERE THE SUN NOW STANDS, I WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER.” 

 Chief Joseph, who in 1877 had led his band of the Nez Perce in a running battle for 1400 miles in an attempted retreat into Canada from the US Cavalry, ending in his surrender to US troops under Gen. Nelson A. Miles, dies in Washington State.

His people had been friendly with the white people since the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After the Expedition had made it across the Rockies, they were starving and winter was approaching. They met the Nez Perce, who provided them with food and taught them how to survive.

In less than a generation their generosity was repaid with near extinction.

First Air Service Fatality

Today in History, September 17, 1908:

US Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who had been the first US military officer to fly a powered aircraft solo, also becomes the first fatality of powered flight.

He was a passenger flying in the Wright Flyer with Orville Wright, during a demonstration flight at Ft. Myer, Virginia. One of the propellers snapped, damaging the aircraft, causing it to crash.

Lt. Selfridge struck his head on impact and died 3 hours later. Orville suffered severe injuries but recovered. Lt. Selfridge rests at adjacent Arlington National Cemetery.

Heroism and Treachery at Chapultepec

Today in History, September 13, 1847:

In the midst of the Battle for Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, The US Army, US Marines, work together to storm Chapultepec Castle, and take it. It was a key defensive position for General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

While the battle itself was of importance in establishing American presence on the international stage, it is much more important in my estimation for other reasons.

Key players amongst the American forces were US Army Capt Robert E. Lee, who convinced commanding General Winfield Scott of the winning strategy, along with a young US Army Lieutenant, Pierre G. T. Beauregard. Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston fought in the battle, and George Pickett was the first soldier to top the wall of the castle. Lt. Thomas J. Jackson (Stone Wall) fought valiantly;

Lt. Ulysses S. Grant found a strategic artillery position from which to fight during the taking of Mexico City; Naval officer Raphael Semmes saw Grant’s actions and found an equal position on the opposite side of the road to cover the enemy.

Can you imagine? All of these men served together, bled together, and then in the end took up arms against each other in the Civil War over ideological differences.

Think of your very best friend…and then think about taking up arms against him. This was an enigma of the Civil War. There are countless stories of episodes where, during a lull in a battle, or after a defeat, Confederates and Unionist soldiers took the opportunity to meet and commiserate with old friends on the opposite side.

Another aspect is that the US Marines played an important part in the seizure of the castle, thus the beginning lines of the Marine Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”. My research also indicates that the red stripe down the side of the blue slacks of the US Marine uniform represents the blood shed by US Marines during this battle.

Also that day, the last 30 of the “Saint Patrick’s Battalion”, deserters from the US Army who served as artillery for the Mexican Army, are publicly hanged en masse…by the US Army. They had been poor immigrants who, disenchanted with their lot, were coaxed to the opposite side, making them traitors to their new nation.

Dinner Just Got Easier…

Today in History, September 10: 1953 – Swanson is the first to successfully sell “TV Dinners”, their first being a turkey dinner, in an aluminum foil tray. Soon beef and chicken offerings followed.

This seems simple if not quaint now. But at the time a prepared meal which could just be popped in the oven (no microwaves, kids) was a huge cultural change. Much like fast food restaurants, TV dinners helped free time for wives, mothers and bachelors. Not a sexist statement…those were the times. Not having to spend hours in the kitchen preparing every meal changed lives.

Have you ever eaten from an aluminum tray dinner? I personally preferred them to microwave safe trays.

Blue Flu

Today in History, September 9, 1919:

The Boston Police Strike. By 1919, the cost of living had risen 76%, while Boston Police Officers pay had increased 18%. New hires were making $2 per day…the same as they made when the force was created in 1854. Elevator operators were making more than cops, and most city employees made at least twice what cops made, many of whom had just returned from serving in WWI. Conditions in the police stations were intolerable; on today’s date most of the force refused to show up for work.

Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the National Guard to patrol the streets, and the Mayor refused to rehire the striking cops when the strike ended.

The events would propel Coolidge to the national stage; he would be elected Vice-President in 1920.

The cops eventually got higher pay, but it would be 20 years before they attempted to unionize again. Today it is illegal for police and other public safety personnel to strike, although there have been other incidents of “blue flu.”.

Through the efforts of the Fraternal Order of Police, salaries and work conditions are negotiated with municipalities.

“Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Today in History, September 3, 1838:

A young man named Frederick Douglass manages, on his third attempt, to escape slavery by hiding aboard a train headed north.

The future abolitionist leader, author, statesman, marshal, and presidential confidant, after a dangerous trip through several states, finds himself in New York City.

“I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Faraday…an Einstein Hero

Today in History, August 29: 1831 – Most of us have heard of the modern inventions involving protection from electromagnetic signals…in science fiction shows.

In real technology, a cell phone placed in a “Faraday bag” can’t be erased by a bad guy remotely. Such new, amazing technology!

Not really.

In 1831 a scientist (who sucked at math) named Michael Faraday, discovered electromatic induction. He would discover and explain many other electronic and magnetic principles and would become an idol to other scientists…Albert Einstein had his photo on his office wall, one of his heroes.