German dead from WWI uncovered in France

Nearly a century after they were buried alive, the bodies of 21 German soldiers have been discovered in a World War I tunnel in France.

The men, killed in March 1918, were found in Alsace, in what was once part of a labyrinth of passageways that troops used to try to avoid shelling during the 1914-18 conflict.

The 21 soldiers were found in passageway known as Kilianstollen, inside their almost untouched living quarters, according to a publication called The Local.

Kilianstollen was located about 500 feet behind the German front line. It was six feet high, nearly four feet wide and more than 20 feet beneath the surface. Thought to be bomb proof, the tunnel could offer up to 500 soldiers a break from the trenches. 

For two years Kilianstollen survived Allied shelling unscathed, but one March afternoon in 1918, the Germans’ luck ran out. After a particularly heavy mustard gas attack – a chemical weapon which releases a powerful skin irritant – from the German army, the Allies retaliated with force as they rained explosives down on the area. 

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Penitentiary Cemetery: Lives long forgotten

One of the more interesting and depressing treks one can take in South Carolina is the search for what is known as Penitentiary Cemetery, where for more than a century inmates of the South Carolina Penitentiary were buried.

The site is located just north of I-126, between Elmwood Cemetery and the old Columbia Canal in Columbia. More than 1,000 individuals are likely interred there, though the exact number will never be known because officials made little effort, especially in the early years of the state penitentiary, to accurately record prisoner deaths.

The S.C. Penitentiary, later known as the Central Correctional Institution, opened in 1867 amid the rubble of the War Between the States and the chaos of Reconstruction.

“Shackled in balls and chains, ex-slaves earned 75 cents a day constructing Cellblock One using giant slabs of granite that had been mined from a quarry just a few miles up the Congaree,” according to a story in the Columbia Free Times.

The prison remained in operation until 1994 overlooking the Columbia Canal. All told, some 243 men were executed at the site, the vast majority of whom were black, before the structure was demolished in 1999. Today, the locale is home to the CanalSide project.

As it has been for much of its history, Penitentiary Cemetery today is neglected, with few graves marked and only a portion of the cemetery enclosed by fencing.

In a macabre twist, the last of the markers of executed inmates, which were specially marked, have been stolen in recent years.

Walking through the lonely graveyard in the late afternoon as the sun glints through the trees, one realizes that these individuals, all but forgotten in life, have been consigned to eternal oblivion in death, as well.

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French painting stolen amid WWI returned

A 130-year-old painting by Realist Jules Breton was returned to France last week, nearly a century after it was stolen by German forces near the end of World War I.

The painting, A Fisherman’s Daughter/Mender of Nets, was returned by US officials to France’s US ambassador, François Delattre.

The work of art, now insured for about $190,000, was handed by US officials to the French ambassador in a solemn repatriation ceremony at the French embassy in Washington, D.C.

Commissioned by the northern French city of Douai in 1875, the painting hung in Musee de Douai until Sept. 15, 1918, when an unknown German soldier cut it out of its frame as German forces were retreating.

The German army took A Fisherman’s Daughter and other 180 works to Belgium. When the Belgium government wanted to return it to France in 1919, the painting went missing.

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How Hoover caused the Great Depression

As we continue to struggle through the so-called “Great Recession,” it’s important to note that American history has been dotted with economic downturns of varying severity, with more than 40 such events taking place since the nation’s founding.

Among the more notable:

  • The Panic of 1837, caused by bank failures and a lack of confidence in paper currency, led to the failure of more than 600 banks and the collapse of the Southern cotton market.
  • The Panic of 1873, precipitated partly by American overinvestment in railroads, was known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, when the latter economic downturn was given that moniker and that the earlier downturn renamed the “Long Depression.”
  • The Panic of 1893 came about after the failure of the Reading Railroad and the withdrawal of European investments led to a collapse of the US stock market and the American banking industry. It was also spurred in part by a run on the US gold supply. Profits, investment and income all fell, leading to political instability.
  • The Panic of 1907 started with a run on Knickerbocker Trust Co. deposits in October 1907, which brought about events that led to a severe monetary contraction. The fallout from the panic led to Congress creating the Federal Reserve System.

Yet no economic downturn can touch the Great Depression of the 1930s for overall impact on the American psyche. Paul Johnson, writing at the Mises Daily Blog, states that the Wall Street collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed were among the most important events of the 20th century.

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Troubled Tidelands to restate earnings

Tidelands Bancshares, the troubled parent of Tidelands Bank, expects to restate its earnings for the quarter ended June 30, 2011, due to an approximate $2.2 million increase in its allowance for loan losses and related provision for loan losses.

The restatement comes as a result of a recently completed joint examination of Tidelands Bank by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the SC Board of Financial Institutions, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

As a result, officers with the Mount Pleasant-based company determined last week that the previously issued unaudited consolidated financial statements for the second quarter should no longer be relied upon.

Tidelands will file an amendment to its Form 10-Q for the quarter as soon as “reasonably practicable,” it said in its filing.

The joint examination of the Bank by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the South Carolina Board of Financial Institutions began in July.

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Carolinas may be home to new gold rush

A Canadian mining company believes there are more than 3 million ounces of gold at a historic mine it’s working to revive near Kershaw.

If Romarco Minerals’ estimates about the amount of gold still in the Haile Gold Mine, it would be worth more than $5 billion at current gold prices.

Toronto-based Romarco reopened the Haile Mine, originally established in 1837, earlier this year and expects to pour its first gold bar there in early 2014, Chief Executive Diane Garrett told Reuters this week.

Once environmental impact studies and permits are complete, Haile will be the only modern gold mine east of the Mississippi River, Garrett said, and the first since the Kennecott Minerals mine closed in nearby Ridgeway, in 1999.

Based on the proven gold reserves found in samples, the Toronto company estimates it has 3.1 million ounces of gold at Haile. The mine will produce an average of 150,000 ounces of gold a year for five years, according to its website, the wire service reported.

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New Guinea’s linguistic reservoir endangered

New Guinea is regarded as the world’s greatest linguistic reservoir, being home to more than one-sixth of the world’s languages, at least 1,000 in all.

However, that status may change within the next century as many of the native tongues are in danger of dying out, many now having fewer than 1,000 speakers.

“It’s Indonesian more and more,” said Yoseph Wally, an anthropologist at Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Indonesia. “Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said.

In some villages Wally visits, not a single person can understand a word of the traditional language, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago,” he said.

It’s a problem not unlike those facing speakers of Native American languages, many of which have become extinct or on the verge of extinction in recent decades as village elders die off and younger members turn exclusively to English.

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Blue Ridge Savings Bank closed by regulators

Troubled Blue Ridge Savings Bank of Asheville, NC, was closed by the NC Office of Commissioner of Banks Friday, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver.

The FDIC then entered into agreement with Thomasville-based Bank of North Carolina to assume all of the deposits of Blue Ridge, according to an FDIC press release.

Blue Ridge, founded by former US Congressman Charles Taylor in 1978, had 11 branches and a little more than $160 million in total assets as of June 30. That’s down sharply from three years earlier, when Blue Ridge had nearly $270 million in assets.

Problems in the real estate market hurt Blue Ridge, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

Blue Ridge was cited for “unsound practices” and “violations of laws and regulations in late 2008” by state and federal regulators, according to media reports.

The closing marks the second Tar Heel State bank to be shuttered this year. The other was also based in Asheville: The Bank of Asheville, on Jan. 21, 2011.

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Serbian restitution law may imperil EU bid

Serbia’s new restitution law may threaten the Balkan country’s prospects for membership in the European Union, an official with neighboring Hungary said Thursday.

The law discriminates against Hungarians and other minorities and poses a “serious problem” to Serbian efforts to join the EU, Hungary foreign minister Janos Martonyi said.

The Serbian law relies on the unacceptable principle of collective guilt because it prevents Serbian Hungarians and others who were drafted into occupying armies like Hungary’s and Germany’s during World War II – and their descendants – from getting their property back, according to an Associated Press report.

The legislation defines Mar. 9, 1945, as the date when confiscation of private property and businesses began in Serbia, together with Feb. 15, 1968, when a second wave of confiscation was launched, according to IPS News.

“This is not an issue between Hungary and Serbia, but a European issue,” Martonyi told reporters.

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Scientists work to reconstruct plague genome

Efforts to reconstruct the genome of the bacterium that killed nearly half of Europe in the mid-14th century are nearly complete, according to a team of international researchers.

Reconstruction on more than 99 percent of the genome of the Yersinia pestis strain responsible for the plague that devastated Europe beginning in 1348 and killed at least 100 million people over the next four years in nearly finished.

“A phylogenetic analysis of the reconstructed genome revealed that the plague pathogen is just two substitutions away from the common ancestor of all modern strains of Y. pestis, Johannes Krause, PhD, of the University of Tübingen in Germany, and an international team of colleagues wrote online in Nature,” according to the online publication MedPage Today.

“It’s extremely closely related” to strains circulating today, Krause said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters.

Krause and his colleagues’ work marks the first time a historical pathogen has been reconstructed from skeletal remains – in this case from Black Death victims interred at the East Smithfield mass burial site in London from 1348 to 1350, MedPage Today reported.

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