Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)

Antebellum baseball card up for sale; could fetch $50,000+

brooklyn atlantics

Pro baseball as we know it today traces its history to 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were organized as the first fully professional club.

So-called “New York-style” baseball had grown quickly in the years following the Civil War as men from both the North and the South spread the game across the East and Midwest, having taken a great interest in the sport during their time in camp amid the 1861-65 conflict.

Yet baseball itself goes back further, although there is little to document the game’s antediluvian era.

However, one of the oldest bits of baseball memorabilia as yet uncovered has recently gone on the auction block – a baseball card dating to either 1859 or 1860 featuring the Brooklyn Atlantics, baseball’s first championship team.

The card features the entire team and is the only known card to have been printed before the War Between the States. Needless to say, it’s one of a kind.

Being offered by Heritage Auctions, bids have already reached $28,000 ($33,460 with buyer’s premium). It could fetch $50,000 or more by the time bidding ends later this month.

The featured item is a carte de visite, a studio photograph affixed to card stock to be handed out as a calling card. It is mounted on a 2.5 inch by 4 inch cardboard and was taken in a Brooklyn photo studio.

“The technology to print multiple copies of photographs at comparatively cost was developed in France in the 1850s, and calling cards with photographs depicting their owners soon followed, as did collectible ones featuring celebrities, military and political figures,” according to The History Blog. “Photography studios would take the pictures and produce the cartes. The Atlantics carte de visite was produced by the Farach & Lalumia Studio at 336 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.”

The Brooklyn Atlantics were established in 1855 and in 1857 would become one of the founding members of the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first official governing body of American baseball and made up of 16 New York City clubs.

In 1859, the first year that National Association of Base Ball Players teams played a full season, the Brooklyn Atlantics won the pennant. They won the title again in 1860 and in 1861.

Players on the Atlantics included Richard “Dickey” Pearce, a pioneer at shortstop and inventor of the bunt, and outfielder Archibald McMahon.

It was McMahon who kept the carte de visite of America’s first baseball champions.

From him it passed to his brother John, a Civil War veteran, and has remained with John McMahon’s descendants since.

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Waste not want not, or eat only the best? You can’t have both

hot dogs

Mmm, snouts and jowls!

Actually, they had me windpipes and tails, so the snouts and jowls are just an extra treat.

A couple of thoughts come to mind regarding these sorts of graphics. First, what is a meat producer supposed to do with the parts that aren’t considered “prime,” which in the case of a pig would be, say, those that aren’t the ribs, shoulder or loin?

If they toss the less desirable parts of the animal into the refuse bin, there are those who will accuse them of being wasteful, particularly when there’s a sizeable segment of the world’s population that doesn’t have enough to eat.

Americans are already derided by many, and not necessarily incorrectly, for being adherents of a disposable society, where only the best is retained and all else is thrown away, rather than being used or reused.

But, in the case where animal products without attractive names such as “tenderloin” and “porkchop” are concerned, there are those who try to impart a “ick” factor by trotting out by name the parts being used, such as, yes, windpipes and snouts.

So pork processing companies are essentially damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Which, I suspect, is the ultimate aim of creations such as that above.

The other point one might make is that many of the same people who decry meat processors for making as much use of all parts of an animal as possible also hold the American Indian of past centuries in high regard for their purported ability to make use of nearly all parts of animals they killed.

“Tribes learned to use virtually every part of the animal, from horns to tail hairs,” according to one PBS article. “The Indian was frugal in the midst of plenty. When the buffalo roamed the plains in multitudes, (the Indian) slaughtered only what he could eat and these he used to the hair and bones.”

Yet, if a meat processor does the same, they’re effectively accused of attempting to taint consumers with sub-standard products.

Eat hot dogs, don’t eat hot dogs; the choice is yours. But for those of you who dislike “big pork” or any other big animal processing industry, don’t veil your biases behind some Internet meme – in this case a cute, freckle-face kid eating “carcass trimmings” – that makes you look like you’ve got the best interests of the common man at heart.

Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit


One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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Carnegie Libraries: the bequest that continues to benefit

Lauren camp june 2015 009

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie provided funding for the construction of nearly 1,700 public libraries across the United States between 1886 and 1923.

Reading and libraries played a key role in Carnegie’s life, particularly during his childhood in Scotland and his teenage years in Pennsylvania. While working as telegraph operator for the Pittsburgh office of the Ohio Telegraph Co. beginning at just age 16, Carnegie borrowed books from Col. James Anderson, who opened his personal library of 400 volumes to working boys each Saturday night.

Carnegie, a self-made man, believed in giving to those who were interested in helping themselves.

After he became one of the richest men in America, he began providing funding for libraries, initially in his native Scotland, later in his adopted state of Pennsylvania, then across the nation and other parts of the world.

All Carnegie libraries were built according to a formula that required financial commitments from the towns which received donations. Carnegie required recipients to:

  • Demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • Provide the building site;
  • Annually provide 10 percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and,
  • Provide free service to all.

In areas where segregation was the de facto rule, Carnegie often had separate libraries built for minorities.

The Carnegie Library shown above is in Union, SC. It was built in 1905 at a cost of $10,000 and is one of 14 libraries Carnegie libraries funded in South Carolina.

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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.

Connecticut determined to pluck every feather from golden goose


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.)