Hurricane Matthew uncovers clutch of Civil War ordnance

folly-beach-cannon-balls

When word circulated that Civil War-era cannon balls had been uncovered on beach south of Charleston following last weekend’s hurricane, I was somewhat surprised.

While the strength of such storms can’t be underestimated, the ability to move, say, a 12- or 24-pound round shell from the bottom of Charleston Harbor onto a beach would be quite a feat.

It appears that the clutch of 16 cannon balls found Sunday on Folly Beach had most likely been in place since the 1861-65 conflict.

“There was a gun emplacement there during the Civil War and this must have been a stack because they were all consolidated together,” John Manzi, who has a home on Little Oak Island, on the other side of Folly, told USA Today.

Manzi said a friend went on to the beach Sunday and found the Civil War-era shells.

Bomb squads successfully detonated most of the shells, which were badly corroded by 150 years of sand and salt.

An official with the area sheriff’s department said a few of the shells were transported to the nearby Navy base.

Maj. Eric Watson, a public information officer with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, said his office had to wait for the tide to go down to recover all the ordnance.

“When the tide receded, our guys and members of the US Air Force explosive team used a small amount of C-4 to detonate the cannon balls right there on the beach,” he said.

Fuse holes were noted in at least some of the shells, indicating the ordnance was designed to explode, rather than being solid shot, which was used to batter targets.

(Top: Exciting action photo of cannon balls found on Folly Beach, SC.)

Idiot, intent on taking selfie, shows downside of tourism

dom sebastian statue

In our supposedly enlightened age it’s easy to look back at societies of the past and tut-tut the apparent barbarity they not only espoused but seemingly revelled in.

England has long been held out as an example of the legal conundrum that existed in much of the world prior to the 20th century in terms of jurisprudence. By the late 18th century 220 felonies carried the death sentence in English courts, including such seemingly mundane acts as poaching, minor theft and even “being in the company of gypsies for one month.”

The idea was to scare people into behaving, among other things.

However, perhaps there was also a measure of frustration with those who chose to flout the law, at least when it came to legitimate crime.

This may seem a stretch until one reads about incidents such as that which took place in Portugal last week, when a tourist destroyed a 126-year-old statue when he climbed alongside it in an effort to take a selfie.

Broken statue of Dom Sebastiao after tourist tried to take a selfie with it in Lisbon.

Remnants of broken statue of Dom Sebastiao after tourist tried to take a selfie with it in Lisbon.

The 24-year-old man, who has not been identified, scaled the façade of a Lisbon train station to get next to a famous statue of former Portuguese king Dom Sebastian I in an effort to take his own picture next to the art work.

After reaching the statue, the man knocked the freestanding sculpture off its pedestal. It fell to the ground and was smashed to pieces, according to Fox News.

In fashion befitting a halfwit, the tourist reportedly tried to flee but was apprehended by police.

He will face charges of destruction of public property at a later date.

Sebastian ruled Portugal’s between 1557 and 1578. He became king at the age of 3, although regents ruled until Sebastian reached the age of majority.

Sebastian is a legendary but tragic figure in Portuguese history; the young king embarked on a crusade against Morocco but was killed at the famous Battle of the Three Kings in northern Morocco at the age of 24. His body was never recovered.

The statue in Sebastian’s honor had stood proudly outside Lisbon’s Rossio railway station since 1890 – until last week.

The pinhead who perpetrated the act of stupidity may not deserve the death penalty, but should a Portuguese judge decide to level a heavy sentence, I, for one, won’t lose any sleep. You can’t cure stupid, but you can certainly try to keep it under wraps.

(Top: Statue of Dom Sebastian in Lisbon’s Rossio railway station prior to its loss after a tourist climbed alongside it to take a selfie.)

‘Right to Remain Silent’ upheld 50 years ago in Miranda Case

ernesto miranda

Fifty years ago this month, the US Supreme Court finished hearing Miranda v. Arizona, a case that would prove pivotal in American jurisprudence.

On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Arturo Miranda was detained by the Phoenix Police Department in connection with the kidnapping and rape of 18-year-old woman 10 days earlier. The police had identified Miranda as a suspect through circumstantial evidence.

After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda confessed to the rape and signed his name to the charge on forms that included the typed statement: “I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”

However, as was procedure at the time, Miranda was never informed of his right to counsel, nor was he advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements during the interrogation would be used against him.

Miranda wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, according to a story on the Miranda Case in the August/September 2006 issue of American Heritage.

Born in 1940, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was arrested for his first felony, burglary, in 1954. Sentenced to probation, he was back in court less than a year later on another burglary charge and was sent to the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys. Just a few weeks after his release he committed his first sexual offense, attempted rape and assault.

After two more years at the Industrial School, Miranda, now 17, moved to Los Angeles, where he was arrested for lack of supervision, curfew violations, peeping Tom activities, and, eventually, armed robbery. He served 45 days in the county detention home before being sent back to Arizona.

He tried joining the army, but fared poorly, spending more than one-third of his 18 months in the service at hard labor for going AWOL and being caught in another peeping Tom act. He was dishonorably discharged, American Heritage noted.

Miranda card signed by Ernesto Miranda.

Miranda card signed by Ernesto Miranda.

After leaving the service, Miranda moved to Texas, where he was arrested for stealing cars and sent to federal prison for a year. Afterward, he moved back to California and met a woman. The following year the pair, with her two children and an infant born to the couple, moved to Arizona.

Miranda was working as a dockworker at a produce facility when he arrested in March 1963 in connection with the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old movie house employee.

When Miranda’s case went to trial his court-appointed attorney Alvin Moore objected, arguing that Miranda’s confession was not truly voluntary and that he had not been afforded all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution and should therefore be excluded.

The objection was overruled, and based on the confession and other evidence, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment on each charge, with sentences to run concurrently.

Moore appealed the sentence to the Arizona Supreme Court, claiming that Miranda’s confession was not fully voluntary and should not have been admitted into court proceedings. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. In upholding the lower court’s verdict, the Arizona Supreme Court emphasized heavily that Miranda did not specifically request an attorney.

The decision was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard the case Feb. 28-March 1, 1966.

In June 1966, by a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that statements made by defendants during a police interrogation are admissible at trial only if it can be shown that the defendant was informed of their right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning, of their right against self-incrimination, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them.

This had a significant impact on law enforcement in the United States, by making what became known as the Miranda rights part of routine police procedure to ensure that suspects were informed of their rights. The Miranda warning, known as “Mirandizing” a suspect, is the formal warning required to be given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial situation) before they are interrogated.

Miranda was retried after the original case against him was thrown out, and this time the prosecution, instead of using the confession, called witnesses, including the woman with whom Miranda was living at the time of the offense, who testified that he had told her of committing the crime, and introduced other evidence.

Miranda was convicted in 1967 and sentenced to serve 20 to 30 years. He was paroled in 1975.

After his release, Miranda returned to his old neighborhood and made a modest living autographing police officers’ “Miranda cards” which contained the text of the warning, to enable them to read to those arrested.

In January 1976, Miranda was drinking and playing cards with two Mexican nationals. After a time, the three came to blows over a handful of change that sat atop the bar. One of the Mexicans drew a six-inch knife and Miranda was stabbed. He died on the way to the hospital.

A suspect was arrested, but he exercised his right to remain silent. With no evidence against him, he was released.

(Top: Mug shot of Ernesto Miranda following his arrest for kidnapping and rape in 1963.)

Perception or not, corruption isn’t limited to Third World

corruption index

Transparency International, a German-based organization, recently released its world Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015.

Not surprisingly, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan ranked near the bottom of the index, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, and also factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other things.

Transparency International found that corruption was rife in 68 percent of the world’s countries: It would be interesting to see a similar index for US states.

If the actual machinations that go on with misuse of tax dollars, corporate incentives and lawmaker ethics, among many other things, weren’t both so well cloaked by those in power and so often overlooked by US citizens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of states ranked somewhere around the nations of Eastern Europe in terms of corruption.

The difference between the US and other parts of the world isn’t a lack of corruption, it’s that our elected officials are better at hiding it, aren’t quite so ostentatious in showing off their ill-gotten booty and generally don’t kill those who threaten to expose them.

I’d imagine the same is the case in other so-called “first-world” nations such as Canada, the UK and France. Even highly ranked countries such as Denmark (No. 1), Finland (No. 2) and Sweden (No. 3), have problems.

They just have fewer issues than lower-ranked countries and their corruption occurs in a more “white collar” manner – say spanking new roads and public buildings in friends’ areas in exchange for laundered kickbacks along with incredibly generous government pensions, as opposed to naked looting of the government coffers and outright execution of opponents.

Like most things in life, it’s all in how you play the game.

(Top: Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The darker the country the more corrupt the public sector; the lighter the less corrupt. Greenland, Antarctica and Western Sahara seem pretty safe.)

Interracial couple survived Reconstruction, Jim Crow

bedenbaugh house

A 155-year-old structure located in rural South Carolina embodies the conflicted racial legacy evident in South Carolina and possibly other parts of the South, if not the nation.

The Jacob Bedenbaugh House, built around 1860, isn’t noteworthy for its age or its architectural style. Described as a detached two-story traditional “I” house with a modified L-shaped plan, the dwelling, in serious need of restoration, is located along a country highway about five miles east of Prosperity, SC.

What prompted the US Department of the Interior to the place the home on the National Register of Historic Places is the individuals who lived in the structure during its first 55-75 years.

Jacob Belton Bedenbaugh was a white South Carolinian born in 1833. His common-law wife Sarah Bedenbaugh, described as mulatto, was initially a slave purchased by Jacob. Sometime between 1860 and 1864, the two entered into a relationship.

Despite the increasing difficulties inherent with pursuing an interracial relationship in the Deep South in the years following the Civil War – not that it was a walk in the park during or before – the Bedenbaughs remained together in the house as a couple from at least 1864 until Jacob’s death in 1915 and had eight children.

But going against prevailing social mores didn’t come without a price. In July 1890, they were indicted and tried for “fornication” due to the fact that they living together. Being an interracial couple undoubtedly contributed to the decision to prosecute.

It’s unclear from a search of the Internet what the outcome of the case was, but one should bear in mind that South Carolina’s political climate was changing rapidly in 1890 as the Conservatives who had come to power in 1877 following the end of Reconstruction were about to be turned out of office by populist Ben Tillman, who was elected later that year, and his supporters.

Tillman, a virulent racist, was a leading force behind the state’s 1895 constitution, which solidified Jim Crowism in the state and, among other things, prohibited interracial marriage.

Legally, the couple could have married during the war, Reconstruction and immediate-post Reconstruction period, provided they had been able to find a minister willing to perform the service, but the Tillman Constitution forever barred Jacob and Sarah Bedenbaugh from being wedded.

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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.)

Amid ignorance, compassion and humanity shine through

dps

Because we in South Carolina haven’t had enough strife over the past month, what with the racially motivated killings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 and the ensuing polarizing debate about removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, a pair of dubious groups from out of state descended upon our capital over the weekend to try to add fuel to the fire.

The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday, as did the Florida-based Black Educators for Justice, described as a subset of the “New Black Panther Party.”

While there weren’t more than a few dozen members from either group on hand to spread their bizarre brand of fanaticism, there were as many as 2,000 individuals who protested the interlopers.

Yet, among the foolishness of two groups who seemed hell-bent on stirring up odious emotions for the sake of publicity was at least one inspiring moment.

In  a scene caught by a civilian photographer, a black police officer came to the aid of an older white man, overcome by heat, who was garbed in a Nazi t-shirt during Saturday’s activities.

In the above photo, provided to the Associated Press by Rob Godfrey, the former spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Department of Public Safety Chief Leroy Smith helps an unidentified man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs of the South Carolina statehouse.

The image showed “who we are in South Carolina,” Smith told the Charleston Post and Courier.

One never knows what’s in the heart of individuals such as the character who was assisted by Smith, but it can only be hoped that the latter’s actions might force the former to at least reconsider his long-held positions on matters such as race. Stranger things have happened.