‘It’s All About the Madisons’ doesn’t have quite the same ring

$5000 bill1

The likelihood of coming across a $5,000 bill is infinitesimally minute. Banks don’t carry them, the US Department of the Treasury hasn’t produced any in more than 80 years and, besides, I personally can’t remember the last time I received more than 5K in change on a purchase.

Actually, the $5,000 bill, featuring diminutive Virginian James Madison, was recalled from circulation in 1969.

As with other large-denomination notes such as the $500, $1,000 and $10,000 bills, the $5,000 note served mainly for bank-transfer payments. With the arrival of more secure transfer technologies, however, they were no longer needed for that purpose, according to the US Department of the Treasury.

“While these notes are legal tender and may still be found in circulation today, the Federal Reserve Banks remove them from circulation and destroy them as they are received,” according to the Treasury website.

Not surprisingly, such notes tend to go for big bucks when offered for sale.

At a Heritage Auctions sale earlier this month, a $5,000 Federal Reserve Note printed in 1934 sold for $152,750, including the buyer’s premium.

The note was in pristine condition, one of the few $5,000 bills classified as “choice uncirculated.”

It was one of just 2,400 $5,000 notes printed at St. Louis in 1934. By comparison, more than 3 million $100 bills were produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, part of the Department of the Treasury, during Fiscal Year 2012.

The bill sold by Heritage on Aug. 11 came in at well under pre-auction estimates of $250,000, but still represents a nice markup from face value.

The chances of seeing such note in person are rare; fewer than 350 $5,000 bills are known to exist today.

Madison, for his role in the nation’s founding, probably deserves a better fate than to be relegated to an obsolete bit of currency.

Given the current trend toward subtracting early American leaders from currency, however, it’s unlikely Madison, despite his role in writing the US Constitution, is going to get a better position.

$5,000 back

North Carolina woman still receives Civil War pension

irene triplett 1

More than 150 years after the end of the War Between the States, the US government continues to pay out pension money connected to the Civil War.

Irene Triplett, a Wilkesboro, NC, woman and the 86-year-old daughter of a Civil War veteran, collects $73.13 each month from her father’s military pension.

Triplett’s father was Mose Triplett, born in Wilkes County, NC, in 1846. He joined the Confederate army in May 1862 as a member of Company K of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment, at age 16. In 1863, he transferred to Company C of the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.

Later that year, he fell ill with fever and was admitted to a Confederate hospital in Danville, Va. He escaped from the hospital on June 26, 1863, and deserted.

Triplett’s decision to turn his back on the Confederacy enabled him to miss the Battle of Gettysburg, which began less than a week after he slipped out of the Danville hospital, and likely saved his life.

The 26th North Carolina suffered unparalleled casualties at Gettysburg, losing 734 of the approximately 800 men it went into the battle with, according to the David H. McGee’s regimental history of the 26th North Carolina.

The losses suffered by the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg were the highest of any regiment in a single battle during the 1861-65 conflict.

Mose Triplett's pension card.

Mose Triplett’s pension card.

Triplett is said to have made his way to Knoxville, Tenn., where he joined the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry, a Union regiment, in the summer of 1864. He began receiving a pension of his own in 1885, as an invalid.

Triplett’s first wife died without the pair having any children.

At age 78, Triplett married Lydia “Elida” Hall, who then 28. They had five children, three of whom did not survive infancy. But Irene, and her younger brother Everette, did. Mose Triplett was 83 when Irene was born and nearly 87 when her brother Everette came along.

Mose Triplett, who lived into his early 90s, eventually made it to Gettysburg, attending the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938. But he died a few days after returning from the event.

With the Great Depression still lingering, times weren’t easy for a single mother with two children. In 1943, Elida and Irene went to live in public housing, while Everette ran away, according to the website theveteransite.com.

Sadly, Irene Triplett, who was born disabled, did not have a happy childhood, she told The Wall Street Journal in 2014.

“I didn’t care for neither one of them, to tell you the truth about it,” she said referring to her parents. She noted she was often abused. “I wanted to get away from both of them. I wanted to get me a house and crawl in it all by myself.”

Elida Triplett died in 1967. Everette Triplett died in 1996.

When US News & World Report recently reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for updated information on Triplett, a spokesman indicated the family did not wish to be contacted.

(Irene Triplett with historian Jerry Orton in 2010. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph.)

Getting the finger(ling): Adventures in big-game fishing

Beaver Dam Creek 8 13 2016 001

About the above photo: No, my hand isn’t so large that it makes normal-sized fish appear puny. Also, I have not taken up “tanago fishing,” which, popular in Japan, apparently involves the inexplicable sport of purposely catching very small fish.

Instead, it was simply a lousy day of fishing. The above largemouth bass would likely agree, even if I did free it shortly after snapping the photo.

It’s interesting that even at 1-1/2 inches, the fingerling possessed vibrant coloring and has the exact appearance, albeit much smaller, of a mature bass.

Less interesting was casting for more than an hour and having nothing to show for my efforts but the small fry.

Of course, the scenery in rural South Carolina is always spectacular this time of year, which helps assuage the aggravation of going home empty-handed.

(Below: Beaver Dam Creek, Newberry County, SC, where the behemoth was caught – and freed.)

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The sordid reason Rhode Island abolished the death penalty

old rhode island statehouse

Spend any time in Rhode Island and you quickly learn a few things: It’s not an island; it would appear to have the most corruption per capita outside of Sicily; and for such a small entity the Ocean State has more than its fair share of interesting stories.

Consider that Rhode Island hasn’t executed anyone in more than 170 years. Part of the reason is that the last man to die at the hands of the state was almost certainly railroaded, a victim of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry that was prevalent in many areas of the United States into the 20th century.

This particular story begins on Dec. 31, 1843, when textile magnate Amasa Sprague finished supper at his Cranston, RI, mansion and went for a walk. Sprague was powerful both in physique and prominence.

He was a New England Brahmin, and together with his brother William owned a textile business started by his father William Sprague Sr. The Spragues owned several cotton mills in Rhode Island, but their most profitable factory was the print works in nearby Spragueville, which printed calico patterns on cloth.

The A & W Sprague Co. employed most residents of Spragueville, owned the tenements they rented and the company store where they shopped. He was a man to be feared.

During Sprague’s after-dinner walk, he was accosted by at least two individuals. He was shot in the right wrist and struck with a blunt instrument in the left side of his head, then his right. Despite desperate attempts to fight back, Sprague was overcome and killed.

There was no shortage of potential suspects, according to the New England Historical Society.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

There was talk that the murder was politically motivated. The previous year, an individual named Thomas Dorr had been arrested for a failed attempt to force broader democracy in Rhode Island by setting up a rival government that would expand the vote to all adult white males.

Still governed by the state’s 1663 colonial charter with its relatively high property requirement for suffrage, Rhode Island allowed only white, propertied men – about a third of adult male population – to vote. The Irish, who were nearly all disfranchised under the colonial charter, strongly supported the Dorr Rebellion.

Sprague, like many wealthy white males, benefited from the system in place and, along with his brother William and brother-in-law Emanuel Rice, helped orchestrate Dorr’s downfall. Some speculated that supporters of Thomas Dorr, who would later be found guilty of treason against the state, assassinated Amasa Sprague, according to the New England Historical Society.

Others looked closer to home. William and Amasa Sprague apparently disagreed about what direction the family business should take. William wanted to expand the company beyond Rhode Island, while Amasa was content to continue the business at its current size and profitability. Neither man had a reputation for backing down when they didn’t get their way.

Suspicion also fell upon Nicholas Gordon, a tavern owner whose establishment was frequented by Sprague’s millworkers, much to Amasa Sprague’s displeasure.

Gordon’s tavern was attached to his home and was located in a section of Cranston, which, in the decidedly indelicate sensitivities that were prevalent in 19th century America, was nicknamed “Monkeytown” because of its Irish population.

“Amasa Sprague had successfully fought against renewing Gordon’s liquor license because, he said, his Irish millworkers were getting drunk during work hours and neglecting their jobs,” according to the New England Historical Society. “Gordon and Sprague had fought publicly. Sprague and Gordon had once met on a path and neither refused to give way. Finally Sprague grabbed Gordon by the collar and shouted, ‘Get out of the way, you damned Irishman!’”

The entire case was a fiasco from beginning to end. William Sprague resigned his senate seat to supervise the murder investigation, an apparent conflict of interest.

Not only was Nicholas Gordon quickly arrested, along with his younger brothers, John and William, the Gordon’s mother and a friend of Nicholas’ named Michael O’Brien – because everyone knew the Irish always stuck together – but the Gordon’s dog was apprehended, as well. (The dog was later described by a defense attorney as toothless and old.)

William and John were tried first, with the Irish community rallying behind them and raising funds for their defense.

Ultimately, it was 29-year-old John Gordon, recently arrived from Ireland to join his brothers Nicholas and William, who took the fall for the crime. William was found not guilty, but John was found guilty despite a conviction based on contradictory circumstantial evidence.

How badly were the cards stacked against John Gordon?

In trials held at the then-Rhode Island Statehouse, Presiding judge Job Durfee told jurors to give greater weight to Yankee witnesses than Irish witnesses. He added that they did not have to believe anything that the Irish witnesses for the defense said because they were by their nature unable to tell the truth, according to a 2013 report on the sordid affair by the Cranston Herald.

In addition, Henry Bowen Anthony, the editor of the Providence Journal, the leading news source for Rhode Island at the time, provided the public with plenty of “facts” about Gordon’s guilt, even though many were asserted without a shred of truth to them, the Herald added.

One of the pieces of evidence that convicted John was a broken gun found near the body of Amasa Sprague. Nicholas was known to own a gun, but it couldn’t be found in his house, so it was assumed the broken gun was his. After the trial it was discovered that William had hidden Nicholas’ gun under the attic floorboards, according to the New England Historical Society.

Nicholas was tried later, but he had an alibi and the witnesses who convicted his brother were suddenly unsure of their memories. His trial ended in a hung jury. His gun turned up just before his second trial, which also ended in a hung jury.

John Gordon was hanged on Feb. 14, 1845, in Providence. His last words were, “I hope all good Christians will pray for me.”

Many believed he was innocent and the victim of a legal lynching. Some 1,400 Irish came from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts for his funeral. The procession took a detour to pass the Statehouse and the homes of the Yankee elite.

Seven years later, the Rhode Island legislature banned capital punishment, in part because of the travesty of John Gordon’s trial.

In 2011, 166 years after John Gordon was hanged by the state of Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee pardoned him.

“John Gordon was put to death after a highly questionable judicial process and based on no concrete evidence,” Chafee said in 2011. “There is no question he was not given a fair trial.”

(Old Rhode Island Statehouse, Providence, where John Gordon and his brothers were tried for the murder of Amasa Sprague.)

Scientists say Greenland sharks can live for 400 years

greenland shark

Researchers using radiocarbon dating have determined that Greenland sharks, slow-moving giants that live in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic, are the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with one recorded as being 400 years old.

Which explains the old Greenland shark quip that goes something like: “God must like practical jokes; why would He make it so female Greenland sharks reach their sexual peak at age 150 while males reach theirs at 75?

Lame jokes aside, the recent evidence uncovered by the team at the University of Copenhagen nearly doubles the age of oldest-known living vertebrate. The former record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old, according to the BBC.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 Greenland sharks, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old, according to research published in the journal Science.

“We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were,” said lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen.

Greenland sharks, which live farther north than any other shark species, can grow to more than 20 feet and 2,100 pounds.

Determining the age of Greenland sharks proved difficult.

“For some fish, scientists are able to examine ear bones called otoliths, which when sectioned, show a pattern of concentric rings that scientists can count as they would the rings in a tree,” according to the BBC. “Sharks are harder, but some species, such as the Great White, have calcified tissue that grows in layers on their back bones, that can also be used to age the animals.”

But because the Greenland shark is a very, very soft shark, with no hard body parts where growth layers are deposited, it was believed that the age could not be investigated, Nielsen told the BBC.

However the team discovered a means of determining the age of the sharks.

“The Greenland shark’s eye lens is composed of a specialized material – and it contains proteins that are metabolically inert,” Neilson said. “Which means after the proteins have been synthesized in the body, they are not renewed any more. So we can isolate the tissue that formed when the shark was a pup, and do radiocarbon dating.”

The team looked at 28 sharks, most of which had died after being caught in fishing nets as by-catch.

Using this technique, they established that the largest shark – a 16-foot-long female – was extremely ancient.

Because radiocarbon dating does not produce exact dates, they believe that she could have been as “young” as 272 or as old as 512. But she was most likely somewhere in the middle, or about 400 years old, the news service reported.

It means she was born between the years of 1501, or less than a decade after Columbus landed in the Western hemisphere, and 1744, or, 12 years after George Washington was born. Most likely the date of birth was in the 17th century. If she were exactly 400 years old, she would have been born the same year William Shakespeare died.

The oldest invertebrate is a 507-year-old clam called Ming. If the female Greenland shark’s age is at the upper end of the scale, she will have outlasted the long-lived clam – and certainly had a much more exciting existence.

And, for the record, Greenland sharks, both male and female, appear to reach sexual maturity at around age 150.

Nine-banded armadillos: Not just roadkill anymore

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Armadillos are like possums in that they are more often seen dead along the side of the road than alive.

In fact, given the abundance of deceased armadillos and possums that are evident throughout much of the year two thoughts come to mind: a) how exactly do the two species remain vibrant?; and b) just how many of each exist in the wild that they can withstand such wilting assaults from vehicles?

While possums have been a regular feature in my neck of the woods for, likely, tens of thousands of years, armadillos are relative newcomers, having only migrated into South Carolina about 25 years ago.

I’d seen the remains of a number of armadillos that had gone mano a mano with cars and lost, but Monday I experienced my first live sighting in the Palmetto State. Driving through the small town of Silverstreet (population 216, not counting interloping armadillos), I spotted Dasypus novemcinctus, or the nine-banded, long-nosed armadillo, in the middle of a yard, rooting around.

The yard was a large, one-acre lot without fencing, so I pulled over, grabbed my camera and walked the 50 yards or so toward the insectivore. It ignored me until I got within perhaps 10 feet of it, then it trundled ahead, keeping a small distance between us.

Each time I moved slowly toward it, it kept ahead of me, but didn’t pay me a lot of attention.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

Photo of armadillo taken by someone who actually knows how to operate a camera.

The nine-banded armadillo has been described as a cross between a turtle and piglet, a depiction both entertaining and accurate. Apparently, the creature got its name from Spanish conquistadors, with “armadillo” meaning “little man in armor” in Spanish.

The armadillo’s shell isn’t solid like that of a turtle, but made up of a series of scutes, or bony plates, which overlap and telescope, giving the creature flexibility.

Their expansion into large swathes of the US hasn’t exactly been well received. Not only do they damage lawns, gardens and structures with their digging, but can cause havoc in the poultry and egg-producing industries. In addition, they also eat the eggs of ground-nesting creatures such as rice birds and gopher tortoises.

One of the interesting aspects of armadillos is that they give birth to identical quadruplets, which are usually born in the spring.

Looking at the mammal as it poked around, I was struck by the length and width of its tail and the diminutive size of its head. It was as though someone had stuck a camper shell on a bicycle.

Though this particular armadillo may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing, it was certainly fleet of foot. Once I moved in for a closeup, it skedaddled toward what it thought was a burrow. However, said burrow turned out to be only about 12 inches deep.

It turned around and paused for about 30 seconds, enabling me to snap a few pictures, than made for, in this case, low ground, galloping at pretty good clip across well-manicured grass before disappearing into a culvert.

Given the relatively few number of cars in the area this particular armadillo inhabits, it’s likely it will survive and mate, which will mean more “little men in armor” as time progresses.

(Top: Armadillo trying to hide from nosey blogger in Silverstreet, SC.)

 

Wooly mammoth died off due to depletion of drinking water

woolymammoth

Wooly mammoths, the prehistoric pachyderms renowned for their popularity in Ice Age-genre movies and their ability to scatter tribes of primitive man with little more than a bellowing roar – at least according to Ice Age-genre movies – died out because of lack of potable water, according to a new study.

The last group of wooly mammoths, living on St. Paul Island in the Bering Strait, fell victim to fresh water being contaminated by nearby ocean water, according to research led by Penn State University professor Dr. Russell Graham and published in this week’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to BBC News and the Daily Mail, post-Ice Age warming of the planet caused the sea levels to rise and the mammoths’ island habitat to shrink in size.

“Furthermore, some of the freshwater lakes that they used to keep hydrated were flooded by saltwater from the ocean, leading to increased competition for the few remaining watering holes. The increasing number of mammoths using these lakes ultimately made them unusable as well, Dr. Graham said.

“As the other lakes dried up, the animals congregated around the water holes. They were milling around, which would destroy the vegetation – we see this with modern elephants,” he told BBC News. “And this allows for the erosion of sediments to go into the lake, which is creating less and less fresh water. The mammoths were contributing to their own demise.”

While most of the world’s wooly mammoth population died out by approximately 10,500 years ago, the group on St. Paul Island managed to survive for another 5,000 years before lack of fresh water brought about their extinction.

“Graham and his colleagues reached this conclusion after analyzing the remains of 14 wooly mammoths using radiocarbon dating, and collecting sediments from underneath the lake floor in order to study their contents in order to determine what the lake environment was like at various points throughout history,” according to the online science website Red Orbit.

Researchers believe the mammoths on St. Paul Island survived 5,000 years longer than other mammoths when they became trapped on the island after a land bridge was submerged by rising sea levels.

They survived until conditions worsened, and the influx of saltwater combined with the lack of freshwater from melting snow or rain caused their sources of drinking water to become increasingly limited, according to Red Orbit.

“We do know modern elephants require between 70 and 200 liters of water daily,” Dr. Graham told BBC News. “We assume mammoths did the same thing. It wouldn’t have taken long if the water hole had dried up. If it had only dried up for a month, it could have been fatal.”