Amid a national calamity, tragedy strikes

Trevelian StationAs the US continues to recognize the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States it’s increasingly apparent that a significant number of Americans see the bloody four-year conflict as little more than a few key events: Fort Sumter, First Manassas, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination.

While we sometimes recognize the terrible toll the war took in terms of lives lost, that figure has become an abstraction. With current figures of dead from the 1861-65 conflict now estimated to top more than 700,000, many today can’t or won’t attempt to comprehend the war’s impact on American society a century and a half ago.

Many History Channel historians tend to think only of the victories and of the final success of the Union army; or, in the South, of the valiant, if doomed, tenacity of the Confederacy.

But the war was, if nothing else, millions upon millions of tragedies bundled up into the form of a tremendous calamity.

For every man in uniform who was killed in action or died of disease, dozens, scores or even hundreds of others were touched, some at the front, others at home.

And the tragedies weren’t always the result of the death of men in uniform, either.

On this date, 150 years ago today, an officer in a South Carolina cavalry regiment got perhaps the worst news of his life.

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Fossil hunter donates major collection to school

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A South Carolina businessman recently donated one of the most impressive private fossil collections in the world – totaling more than 1,500 specimens – to the College of Charleston.

Mace Brown of Mt. Pleasant, SC, began collecting fossils when he was in his early teens; today his collection, valued at more than $1.6 million, includes complete skeletons of such creatures as a giant armadillo, a cave bear and a saber-toothed cat, along with Tyrannosaurus rex teeth and Triceratops horns.

The collection focuses on North American land and sea creatures. More than 90 percent of the fossilized creatures in the collection inhabited South Carolina over a 400-million-year span, according to a College of Charleston press release.

“I wanted the collection to be in Charleston, in a location where fossils were the focus and a place where the public could see the specimens up close, not stored in cabinets out of the sight of the public,” said Brown, renown as an international fossil collector.

Brown’s passion for collecting and recording fossils was sparked by a rock collection when he was 13. By age 45, he had amassed more than 87 species of shark teeth.

Over the next decade and a half, Brown expanded his collection with fossils from around the world.

The collection, which will be housed in the Mace Brown Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston, also features saltwater mosasaurs with snakelike detaching jaws; skeletons of a warthog-looking, buffalo-sized pig; and a dog-sized horse and camel.

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How ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ came to be

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The legendary image of a smiling Harry Truman holding up the front page of the Chicago Tribune emblazoned with the headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN is among the most famous in American history.

The photo was taken 65 years ago today as Truman, traveling by rail to Washington two days after winning the election, had stopped in St. Louis and stepped to the rear platform of the train.

He was handed a copy of the Tribune with the erroneous headline and eagerly held it up while photographers snapped away.

The Tribune, in a rather gracious mea culpa, explained in 2008 how one of journalism’s greatest gaffes came to be.

The problem began in the weeks leading to the November 1948 presidential election, as polls and pundits all predicted Truman would be trounced by Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York.

“Critically important, though, was a printers’ strike, which forced the paper to go to press hours before it normally would,” according to the 2008 story by the Tribune. “As the first-edition deadline approached, managing editor J. Loy “Pat” Maloney had to make the headline call, although many East Coast tallies were not yet in.

“Maloney banked on the track record of Arthur Sears Henning, the paper’s longtime Washington correspondent,” the Tribune continued. “Henning said Dewey. Henning was rarely wrong. Besides, Life magazine had just carried a big photo of Dewey with the caption ‘The next President of the United States.’”

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Infamous Nazi said to rest in Jewish cemetery

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In one of the more perplexing and disturbing twists of World War II, it appears that a key Nazi architect of the Final Solution was buried in a Jewish cemetery shortly after the end of the bloody six-year conflict.

Heinrich Müller, the chief of Hitler’s dreaded Gestapo, or secret police, and the most senior figure of the Nazi regime who was never captured or confirmed to have died, was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Berlin in 1945, a German newspaper reported Thursday.

For 68 years, the fate of Müller has been unclear but Bild, based on documents found by a historian, said he was killed at the end of the war and was buried in a common grave in a Jewish cemetery in central Berlin.

Professor Johannes Tuchel, the executive director of the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin, claims to have uncovered a document indicating that Müller was killed, probably on May 1, 1945, hastily buried in a provisional grave near the Nazi Air Force ministry, and reburied later that year in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in Mitte, in the heart of Berlin.

Not surprisingly, the news was met with outrage among Jewish officials.

“I can’t think of a worse desecration of a Jewish cemetery than to bury Heinrich Müller there,” Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the New York Times.

For decades, Müller was rumored to have survived the war, with the Munich native believed to have escaped to such locales as the US, Czechoslovakia and Brazil.

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