Fire marks recall era when flames were major urban threat

Charleston June 2015 068 a

Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies began issuing metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage.

The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number.

The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. The marks not only served as form of advertising for insurance companies but alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured. Often, the first volunteer firefighting company on the scene of an insured structure would receive a reward.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company was incorporated on Dec. 11, 1811, during a time when catastrophic fires were a real danger in American cities, many of which had been hastily erected with wooden materials.

Charleston was devastated by several fires, including blazes in 1740, 1798, 1838 and 1861.

The company’s charter provided for insurance against fire on buildings, goods, wares, merchandise and other property.

The oval mark is made of iron, and consists of an inner image of intact buildings on the left, and buildings engulfed in flames on the right. A figure of Athena guards the intact buildings from the fire, and has a shield by her feet emblazoned with a Palmetto tree. There is a text above the intact building that reads, “RESTORED.” The outer rim bears the text “CHARLESTON FIRE INSURANCE COMPY.”

The cast iron marks measure approximately 7.7 inches by X 9.1 inches and weigh almost 3 pounds.

Today these fire marks can still be seen throughout Charleston, although most of them are reproductions.

The above mark, which is affixed to a structure at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston, is likely a reproduction.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company operated from 1811 until 1896.

100 Church st.

The oval-shaped Charleston Fire Insurance Company fire mark can be seen just to the left of the door at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston.

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Connecticut determined to pluck every feather from golden goose

Connecticut_State_Capitol,_Hartford

If one wanted to chart a course for steering a state onto the shoals, look no further than Connecticut.

Twenty-five years ago, the Nutmeg State had no state income tax and served as tax refuge for many New York City workers.

Those days are long gone; last week the Connecticut legislature again raised state income tax rates, with the top marginal rate set to rise to 6.99 percent.

Of course, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised during his re-election campaign last year that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but that’s the same thing he said in 2010, a year before he signed a $2.6 billion tax hike.

The thing is, it’s not like Connecticut is growing like gangbusters and can afford to bleed its citizens dry.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

…the state grew a scant 0.9% in 2013, the last year state data are available. That was tied for tenth worst in the U.S. The state’s average compounded annual growth for the last four years is 0.42%. Slow growth means less tax revenue but spending never slows down. Some “40% of the state budget goes to government employee compensation and benefits, including payroll, state pensions, teacher pensions and current and retiree health care,” says Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Hartford-based Yankee Institute. …The Tax Foundation ranks Connecticut as one of the 10 worst states to do business. The state finished last in Gallup’s Job Creation Index in 2014 and now ties with Rhode Island for the worst job creation in the index since 2008.

The Journal added that Connecticut was one of six states that lost population in fiscal 2013-2014, and a Gallup poll in the second half of 2013 found that about half of state residents would migrate if they could.

If all of the above weren’t bad enough, lawmakers also made permanent a 20 percent surtax on Connecticut-based companies’ annual tax liability – a tax on a tax – which would be figured on Connecticut companies’ world-wide income, rather than what they earn in the state, according to the Journal.

Consider some of the corporations headquartered in Connecticut: Aetna, Cigna, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Praxair and Xerox.

Why would any of the above stay in Connecticut when faced with this kind of competitive disadvantage?

No doubt economic development officials in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida are giddy with anticipation at getting a shot at landing the likes of a GE or Pratt & Whitney.

“The high marginal rates are bad enough, but it is an astonishing overreach to tax corporations headquartered in your state based on their worldwide income,” according to the Coyote Blog. “This leads to a huge double taxation problem for any company dumb enough to stay.”

(Top: Connecticut Statehouse, Hartford, Conn.)

Amtrak train takes out 70,000 pounds of cured heaven

amtrak bacon 2

Oh, the porcinity!

In a world seemingly run amok – with militants misusing religion to spread hate; drought, floods and other weather phenomena of catastrophic nature wreaking havoc; and governments increasingly using technology to spy on its own citizens – another tragedy occurred Friday in the Midwestern US.

An Amtrak train headed to Chicago from San Antonio slammed into a tractor-trailer carrying thousands of pounds of bacon at a crossing in Wilmington, Ill.

There were a few injuries, all believed minor, but the overturned truck was split open like a gutted hog and 70,000 pounds of bacon were flung about at the site of impact.

The contents represented hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of the cured meat product, especially prized in North America, Western Europe and at the global headquarters of this blog.

(Top: Demolished tractor-trailer seen Friday in front of Amtrak train in Wilmington, Ill., with thousands of pounds of bacon strewn about.)

The Bugatti Veyron: What I won’t be driving this summer

2006 bugatti veyron

For those saving up your nickels for a nice used car, keep your eyes peeled for a prize coming on the market this summer.

RM Sotheby’s will hold an auction Aug. 13 at Pebble Beach in Monterey, Calif., that will feature several high-performance vehicles, among them a 2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 that bears the chassis number 001.

The vehicle, whose owner is unidentified, was last auctioned in 2008 by Gooding & Company for $2.9 million.

“Given the unchecked appreciation of Veyrons – engineering showcases producing in excess of 1,000 horsepower – it seems safe to say the first in the Veyron line would bring significantly more,” according to the BBC.

The Veyron features an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged, W16 cylinder engine, equivalent to two narrow-angle V8 engines bolted together. The engine features four turbochargers and displaces nearly 488 cubic inches.

The vehicle has an astounding 10 radiators: three heat exchangers for the air-to-liquid intercoolers; three engine radiators; one for the air conditioning system; one transmission oil radiator; one differential oil radiator; and one engine oil radiator.

The Veyron’s average top speed was 253.81 mph during test sessions in April 2005.

By comparison, the fastest official speed recorded by a NASCAR driver is nearly 213 mph, by Bill Elliott at Talladega Superspeedway during qualifying in 1987, while the fastest speed run by an Indy car is just over 236 mph, set by Eddie Cheever at the 1996 Indianapolis 500.

Whoever comes away with this trophy better have a little extra cash on hand.

The Veyron uses special Michelin PAX run-flat tires that cost $25,000 per set. In addition, the tires can be mounted only in France, a service which costs $70,000, according to Car and Driver magazine.

If interested parties can’t land the Veyron, there are a number of other outstanding vehicles going up for sale at the August auction, including another Veyron, four Ferraris (288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo), a Lamborghini Reventon, a Maserati MC12, a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a Porsche 959 and a McLaren F1.

I wonder what they charge to allow plebeians to come and drool?

Jeopardy highlights Americans’ poor knowledge of Canada

Americans’ wonderfully inept understanding of their northern neighbor was in full evidence during a recent episode of the long-running game show Jeopardy recently.

After running through the five other categories, the three contestants were left with five opportunities in the category titled “Canadian Cities.”

Contestants No. 1 and 2, “Dan” and “Victoria,” failed to venture a response on any of the five clues, appearing to have stuffed their signaling devices deep inside their lecterns, perhaps out of fear they might accidentally alert host Alex Trebek that they were interested in venturing a guess.

The other contestant, “Randy,” probably wishes he’d done the same. Trailing the other two, he took a crack at three questions and struck out all three times, watching his winnings go from $5,600 to negative $2,600, thereby eliminating himself from a chance at Final Jeopardy.

Most egregious of Randy’s errors was his response to this clue: “The swan is a symbol of this Ontario city; each year, black and white ones are released in to the Avon River.”

Randy’s response: “What is Edmonton.”

Oh, only missed it by 2,200 miles and four provinces, as the answer was Stratford. Edmonton remains firmly ensconced in the province of Alberta, while Stratford is more or less equidistant between Detroit and Toronto, in Ontario, as was noted in the question.

Here’s an idea: If I were going to venture guesses about Canadian cities and obviously didn’t know much about Canadian geography, I might want to stick with “Montreal” and “Toronto” as responses. Indeed, one of the five cities in the Jeopardy episode was “Montreal,” but, of course, no one got it.

Given that Trebek is from Canada, he likely found the entire episode distinctly disconcerting.

Still, at least no one blurted out “Alaska,” or something equally ridiculous.

Last living Cub to play in World Series dies at 98

Merullo

The Chicago Cubs are known for futility. How feeble have the Cubbies been over the decades? They’ve not only gone more than a century without winning a World Series, there is no longer anyone alive who participated in a World Series as a member of the Cubs.

Lennie Merullo, the last living individual to play for the Cubs in the World Series, died Saturday at age 98.

Merullo, a shortstop who played for Chicago from 1941 to 1947, took part in three games during the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Chicago, going up against a Tigers team that featured such stars as Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser and Virgil Trucks, lost in seven games. The Cubs haven’t been to a Fall Classic since.

Merullo recalled not too long ago that after the 1945 Series, the Cubs imagined they’d make it back soon enough.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “We never gave up hope.”

Merullo’s career stats are hardly impressive: playing largely during World War II when many standout players had been drafted into the military, he compiled a career batting average of .240, with six homers, 152 runs batted in, and 191 runs scored.

He did manage to set at least one Major League record, however, committing four errors in one inning.

In mid-September 1942, following a game in New York, Merullo took a bus to Boston where his wife was expecting their first child. His son was born at 5 a.m. and, despite not having slept, Merullo went over to Braves Field in Boston, where the Cubs were scheduled to play a doubleheader that day.

By the second game, exhaustion caught up with Merullo, he told Ed Attanasio of the website thisgreatgame.com last year.

“I had no business being out there,” he recalled. “Almost immediately, I made an error at shortstop. I kicked the ball, and then threw it over the first baseman’s head. Then, they hit me another grounder, and I did the same thing again. If they hit me another ball, I would have booted that one, too.”

Although the record has been tied, it’s never been broken.

Despite Merullo’s limited success with the Cubs, he spent 22 years as a scout for Chicago, then another 30 with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau before retiring in 2003 at age 85.

(Top: Lennie Merullo as a member of the Chicago Cubs.)