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The Life of Florence Gould: American Beauty, Noted Philanthropist, Nazi Collaborator

by Susan Ronald

A Dangerous Woman is Susan Ronald’s revealing biography of Florence Gould, fabulously wealthy socialite and patron of the arts, who hid a dark past as a Nazi collaborator in 1940’s Paris. Keep reading for an excerpt.

* * *

Florence, aged sixteen, thought of herself as La Parisienne, that gigantic statue representing modernity, fashion, and glamour at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. The statue, sculpted by Paul Moreau-Vauthier, was the exhibition’s focal point. All visitors walked into the Paris fairgrounds through the Porte Monumentale, where they were greeted by this female colossus, La Parisienne, in all her glory. She was modern, like Paris, stunningly beautiful, outfitted in Jeanne Paquin’s haute-couture gown. She was quintessentially French. She was no Marianne, the allegorical, martial, patriotic symbol of France. La Parisienne invited all visitors, French and foreign, to enter and see a new, contemporary Paris, released from the shackles of tradition and the scandals of the Third Republic, to revel in the excitement that Paris represented to the world in culture, invention, and science.

Florence Lacaze Gould, wife of millionaire sportsman Frank Jay Gould, for press shot “Popular on the Riviera,” September 1930. (courtesy of Library of Congress)

Florence saw herself as a living, breathing La Parisienne, modern, glamorous, sexy, a future Gaby Deslys, star of the Folies Bergère. Unlike Gaby, Florence wanted to find her feet in the rarefied world of opera. While she learned only about La Parisienne in school, Florence could easily relate to both La Parisienne and the designer of her haute couture, Jeanne Paquin. The House of Paquin was the rising star in the fashion world, noted for wooing away clients from the aristocratic, traditional designs of Gaston Worth. Despite Paquin’s short ascendency, she eclipsed the established, male House of Worth with her daring and innate feminine understanding of what women wanted to wear. Beautiful in her own right, Paquin had risen from humble origins to become first a model, then a designer, and finally the owner of her own fashion house. It was that kind of upward mobility that Florence admired and yearned to emulate, up to a point. Where Paquin was happy for her fashions to shine in the limelight, Florence needed the oxygen of the limelight shining directly on her.

By 1900, money, or the lack of it, had become a gradually determining factor in social status. While land ownership still mattered, and marked an enviable noble heritage, the landed gentry throughout Europe were finding the new, raw capitalism of the early twentieth century hard to fathom, and harder still to adopt. The titled aristocracy were on the hunt for American heiresses born to wealthy robber barons of the ilk of the Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Goulds; or even, if the need absolutely dictated, daughters born to manufacturing giants like Isaac Merritt Singer, inventor of the first evenly stitching sewing machine.

Florence Lacaze Gould aboard the SS Normandie in 1935 with two of her Pekingese dogs. Both she and Frank were devoted to the breed. (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In Florence’s Paris, it was a commonly known fact that all Americans were equally unacceptable in society, but their money was a necessary evil to be envied and plundered, so European aristocracy could plow on regardless. It was the American search and need for belonging in European society, coupled with the European requirement for new money, that changed many heiresses’ and aristocrats’ futures. Consuelo Vanderbilt was coerced into her marriage with the Duke of Marlborough by her mother, saving Blenheim Palace and the duke’s other assets from oblivion. Marie Alice Heine, born in the French Quarter of New Orleans to a Jewish banking family, converted to Roman Catholicism to become the Duchess of Richelieu. When Alice was widowed as a young woman still of childbearing age, she remarried well, becoming Her Serene Highness of Monaco, Princess Alice.  Jennie Jerome, the first American-dollar “princess,” and mother of Sir Winston Churchill, also gave her inherited fortune to underpin her husband’s political career for the dubious pleasure of becoming Lady Randolph Churchill.

Florence ached to belong to the treasured circle of these elite society women, but despite her private school education, she lacked the money and connections to meet, much less marry into, such illustrious circles. While Charles Loeb toiled to obtain satisfaction through the California courts, Florence was, momentarily, relatively penniless. Dreams were one thing, reality quite another. Still, the sixteen-year-old was already a remarkable beauty, and knew it. Florence had also become a frightful snob—something everyone who met her remarked upon—and could not see herself living forever in obscurity, much less in poverty.

Certainly, Berthe instilled in her daughter an awareness that such beauty should provide Florence—and by extension her family—with an international passport to glamour, wealth, and happiness. As for the protagonist in the story Gigi, written by Florence’s near contemporary, the French author Colette, it was Florence’s duty to marry well and share her newfound wealth with the family. For Berthe, while it mattered if Florence’s future was that of a demimondaine or an opera singer or the wife of a millionaire, she was a practical woman. If Florence could not marry well, then a world-famous opera singer would be her next choice for her daughter. Failing that, Florence would need to consider becoming a successful demimondaine.

As captioned in the New York World-Telegram, “Mrs. Frank Gould, society leader in New York and Paris, arriving in New York aboard the Ile de France”, 1934. (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The searing question was, could Florence marry well? Florence’s world was changing rapidly. By 1913, the first self-made millionairess was a Polish Jew, Helena Rubinstein. Rubinstein had become rich from her mail-order business, which sold face cream to sun-ravaged Australian women in the Outback. Now Rubinstein owned beauty salons in Melbourne, London, and Paris and was searching for a salon in New York. “Beauty is power” was an early Rubinstein advertising slogan, and Florence decided that her beauty might provide her big break into the international high-society set of Paris. While Florence thought she had the business sense to run an international company like Rubinstein’s, it was not, yet, her passion, and it remained an unproven skill for some years to come.

Society and glamour, on the other hand, consumed her every waking hour. Back then, glamour was not about cosmetics and a slash of red lips for Florence. That was for later, when it became the fashion. It was about power, sexuality, and the unadulterated pleasure it could bring her. It was about luxury and excess. It was about living without the conventions or expectations of classical femininity. Above all, it was about heady sensuality and reveries beyond the ordinary, creating her own boldness, her own world of risk and self-assertion, and tipping the scales of an unequal male society in her favor. If her beauty could give her a leg up into that society so she could create her own world of glamour, so much the better. Certainly, her other great asset—her singing voice—gave another string to her bow, creating an aura of the exotic, the dangerously alluring.

Even at sixteen, Florence was a young woman on a mission. She combed the society columns, soaked in every bit of gossip and news about le Tout-Paris—the city’s fashionable elite—and gleaned every crumb she could about the public and private lives of the salonnières (society hostesses) who might be susceptible to her charms. So, when she thought she was ready, Florence cajoled her old music professor into introducing her into the salon society. Alas, it seemed that the professor was found wanting in his connections to the salonnières whom Florence was determined to know. Perhaps, too, Berthe could no longer afford his lessons, and hence his failure to do as he was bid. But Florence would not be defeated. It seemed only natural that she should try to cultivate the American salonnières who had made Paris their home. Aside from her near neighbor Gertrude Stein, who was dowdy, masculine, and perhaps hideous to Florence’s beautiful green eyes, there were, fortunately, others.

Born and raised in the United States, SUSAN RONALD has lived in England for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of several books, including A Dangerous WomanHitler’s Art ThiefHeretic Queen, The Pirate Queen, and Shakespeare’s Daughter.

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George Washington’s Heroism at Valley Forge

by Tom Clavin

Some people think there was a Battle of Valley Forge. There could well have been, because 2,000 American soldiers died there. Or what we know about Valley Forge is an illustration we saw in middle-school Social Studies textbooks, one that showed a few guys freezing in the snow and George Washington on a horse looking at a few guys freezing in the snow. The much bigger story of that event, told in my book Valley Forge written with Bob Drury, is that it was the turning point of the American Revolution. At no time before or after was the flame of independence flicker so slightly. If George Washington and his ragged, starving, and freezing Continental Army had not survived that horrific winter encampment, Great Britain would have won the war and the United States would have been stillborn.

Washington at Valley Forge

For the Americans, the Fall 1777 campaign had been one gut punch after another. That September, British troops paraded triumphantly through the streets of Philadelphia, having taken the young country’s capital city and sent into exile the few delegates left in the Continental Congress. Washington’s attempts to retake the city and administer the knockout blow, the cause of liberty so desperately needed, met with failure at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Most humiliating was the Paoli Massacre, in which dozens of  American troops were bayoneted by the British as they slept. When Washington’s men staggered into winter quarters at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania on December 19, they were a beaten army that could soon cease to exist.

“As the days dragged on, Washington periodically reined his horses by the road to linger and bear witness as his  ghost of an army straggled past. First, the officers on horseback led their stumbling and footsore regiments, then the juddering baggage wagons, and finally the 400 or so ‘camp women’ with their untold children bringing up the rear. These were primal moments. As the commander in chief beheld so many of his soldiers, ‘without Cloathes to cover their makedness—without blankets to lay on—without Shoes,’ Washington later wrote. It must have crossed his mind that the preponderance of his hungry and half-clad were present in  a great part out of great loyalty to him. Nor could the irony be lost on him that his days as the leader of this army might well be numbered, through either political perfidy or, as seemed more likely at the moment, the complete dissolution of his vagabond force.”

Once in the encampment, Washington had his men build cabins to shelter them for when the worst of the winter arrived. This was not easily done because many of the men were too weak for the massive construction effort to house 12,000 men and they had few effective tools, like saws and hammers. Day after day they struggled until finally by Christmas most of the cabins were done. Just in time too, because their present for Christmas was a three-day snowstorm.

This had to be the worst holiday of George Washington’s life. In the days leading up to it, he felt abandoned by the Continental Congress, governors of states, and some friends who were beginning to call for his ouster. Most of all, though, he despaired for his men. Though most of his correspondence was dictated to his aides Alexander Hamilton and Tench Tilghman, late one night Washington himself wrote a plea to Henry Laurens, the new president of the undermanned Congress.

Continue reading “George Washington’s Heroism at Valley Forge” on the Unknown History channel at Quick and Dirty Tips. Or listen to the full episode below.

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Railroads, the Chicago World’s Fair, and George Pullman

by Jack Kelly

The year 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental rail line. The explosive growth of railroads had, by the 1890s, created the world’s greatest transportation system and made American railroad corporations the biggest businesses in the world.

In the summer of 1894, the employees of those railroads joined in a sympathy strike that virtually shut down the roads, especially in the West. They were supporting workers who made Pullman cars in Chicago, but, according to The New York Times, the real struggle was “between the greatest and most powerful railroad labor organization and the entire railroad capital.”

Chicago World’s Fair, Excerpt from The Edge of Anarchy

They came by the millions and tens of millions. Almost one in every five Americans made the trek to  Chicago that summer for the world’s fair. Their reaction to the spectacle was summed up by a diarist who wrote: “My mind was dazzled to a standstill.”

Almost all who came, came by train. Those who could afford it rode a Pullman car, the epitome of luxurious travel. A Pullman sleeper offered room to spread out, elegant service, and the delicious pleasure of status. Fairgoers were headed to Chicago to shake hands with the future, and in the Pullman car the future seemed to be reaching out to greet them.

Those who had not had the privilege of riding on one could take in all the latest models at a display mounted by the Pullman’s Palace Car Company in the fair’s Transportation Building. The carved rosewood, Axminster carpets, polished brass, fringed valances, and cascades of curtains and draperies beloved by Victorians all made Pullman travel an adventure in hedonism. By day, a Pullman was a fantastic parlor room on wheels. When night came, a smiling porter turned a pair of facing seats into a bed and produced a second berth from a compartment along the ceiling. He arranged heavy curtains, pristine damask sheets, and mahogany partitions, transforming the car into a comfortable dormitory.

The lucky few, railroad magnates or politicians, might be given a guided tour of the exhibit by the man himself, George Mortimer Pullman. The sixty-two-year-old progenitor of these marvels was one of Chicago’s richest entrepreneurs. Many fair visitors could remember the stagecoach days when no man traveled on land faster than the pace of a team of horses. Long train trips had demanded new technology—and Pullman had provided it. The sleeping car had become so closely associated with one company that it was coming to be called simply a pullman. The understated booklet distributed by the company gushed a bit when it called the inception of the Pullman firm, now valued at $60 million, “one of the century’s great civilizing strides.”

Pullman’s name and face were well known across the country—he had made sure of that. His wide, nearly unlined features were those of a tired baby. His hair had gone white and he wore on his chin a goat-like tuft of beard, which boys of the day called a dauber. His imperious eyes were always sizing up.

George Pullman represented a relatively new type in America, a “businessman.” He was a man of affairs, a man on the lookout for the new. A businessman’s key skill was organizing an enterprise and raising the money to fund it. Pullman knew how to gather resources, command men, and negotiate deals. Early in his career, he had begun to list his profession simply as “gentleman.”

The assertion by his publicity machine that George Pullman had invented the modern sleeping car was less than accurate. Most of the credit went to a man named Theodore T. Woodruff, an upstate New York wagon maker. But the mechanics of the car had evolved over decades, and Pullman had introduced his share of innovations.

What was beyond doubt was that Pullman had devised the most efficient system for making money from the sleeper. He saw each car not as a product but as a revenue stream. He retained ownership and allowed the various railroads to haul the cars under contract. The railroads profited because the luxury cars attracted customers. Pullman profited even more as each passenger paid him a hefty fee for the upgrade.

Pullman also understood that monopoly was the path to profit, and by 1893 he was well on his way to absorbing all other sleeping-car manufacturers into his company. A Pullman brochure boasted that the company employed fifteen thousand and ran its cars over enough track mileage to stretch five times around the circumference of the earth.

Pullman asserted that he was free of “the fever of rapid wealth-getting.” He could afford to be. He and his wife, Hattie, floated among the highest tiers of Chicago’s social heaven. An observer called him a lordly man. Reserved of speech, he let his possessions speak for him.

* * *

In 1831, the year George Pullman was born in a remote hamlet in the western end of New York State, a group of Americans at the other end of the state were taking a ride on America’s very first steam-powered passenger railroad. It was the beginning of the most stunning transformation in the nation’s history. During Pullman’s lifetime, private corporations laid more than 175,000 miles of rail, including five transcontinental lines.

“Americans take to this contrivance, the railroad,” Ralph Waldo Emerson had observed, “as if it were the cradle in which they were born.” In the three decades since the Civil War, the railroads had proliferated into a great tangle of trunk lines and branch lines through the East and Middle West. When builders pounded the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, they tied together a continent. The New York Central main line ran from the Atlantic coast to Chicago. The mighty Pennsylvania system extended an arm across the Keystone State and spread its fingers into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and beyond. The Southern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Santa Fe had erased the frontier. Enormous combines had gobbled individual rail lines, and the railroad corporations had become the most extensive business enterprises in history.

The needs of the railroads had led to an explosion in the production of iron and steel, of coal, copper, oil, and machine tools. The corporations’ thirst for capital had established Wall Street as a national money market. The access to far-flung markets that the railroads made possible fueled the rapid growth of other businesses on a scale previously inconceivable.

Chicago was the “Rome of the railroads.” Lines converged on the city from every direction. Fair visitors from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington boarded the Exposition Flyer to skim across the continent at eighty miles an hour, barely pausing in the headlong rush toward what trainmen called the “boss town of America.”

Chicago’s elite citizens had made a mighty effort to win the Exposition for their town. George Pullman had pledged $100,000 to finance the corporation that would mount the fair. Chicagoans were proud of the town’s lusty greatness. “Here of all her cities,” wrote author Frank Norris, “throbbed the true life—the true power and spirit of America.”

Chicago was in a continual hurry. Rudyard Kipling said that its inhabitants swore by the “Gospel of Rush.” The city had not existed when the century opened—now it was the sixth-largest metropolis on earth. Its densely packed commercial center pulsed with activity. “Compared to the bustle of Chicago,” a visitor said, “the bustle of New York seems like stagnation.”

The Columbian Exposition celebrated the acceleration of progress. Fairgoers could hardly wait to get home and describe the technology of tomorrow. They marveled at light bulbs, electric motors, generators, vacuum tubes, neon signs. They made some of the first long-distance

Telephone calls, listened to a phonograph, rode a moving sidewalk, and gazed in amazement at Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, which displayed pictures that moved.

The fair was an enormous store window on the productivity of American commerce. The nation’s output of gold and silver, of telephones and electric lights, lumber and locomotives, sewing machines and pianos, could not be matched.

“The old nations of the earth creep on at a snail’s pace,” Andrew Carnegie declared, “the Republic thunders past with the rush of the express.”

* * *

But like the Gilded Age itself, Chicago had a dark side. Urban squalor was spreading there as it was in most American cities. Filth, disease, vice, and abject poverty had become the norm in districts crowded with pestilential tenements. The city, a reporter wrote, was both the “cynosure and cesspool of the world.” In 1891, two thousand citizens had died of typhoid.

Entering Chicago by train, travelers saw ugly stretches of smoky factories, slaughterhouses, freight yards, and slag heaps. An English visitor noted the “unrelieved ugliness” of the city. The working-class slums were swept by clouds of coal smoke and intersected by open sewers. The river that ran through the city’s heart was caked with “grease so thick on its surface that it seemed a liquid rainbow.” A Chicago newspaper complained that the city was permeated by a “solid stink. The river stinks. The air stinks. . . . No other word expresses it so well as stink.”

The filth and indigence coexisted alongside the crass opulence of the city’s parvenus. George Pullman’s home on fashionable Prairie Avenue sat at the center of what a journalist referred to a “the very Mecca of Mammon.” Kipling, although impressed by the city’s bustle, was put off by the many “terrible people who talked money through their noses.”

George Pullman thought he had found an answer to the city’s problems. His manufacturing operation was housed in one of the largest factories in the world, which he had built fourteen miles south of Chicago near Lake Calumet. He needed housing to induce skilled workmen to move to the remote location. Rather than leave the matter to the market, Pullman built a planned community that he called Pullman, Illinois.

The all-brick town, a company brochure stated, might be “the culminating product in its  enduring benefits to mankind, of the principles on which the entire Pullman fabric is reared.” Those principles included the idea that “money could be safely invested in an elaboration of the utilitarian into the artistic and beautiful.”

Fairgoers were encouraged to make the fifteen-minute trip to see the unique urban village. They could stroll the grid of streets, take in the neat lines of houses, the town square, the elegant parks, the elaborate Arcade Building, theater, and library. It was a town where order and cleanliness were sovereign.

The model town was one of Chicago’s premier tourist attractions. Like the White City of the fair, it stood as a rebuke to Chicago’s squalid tenements. In Pullman, garbage was picked up, sewage pumped away, lawns neatly mowed.

The buildings of the White City were temporary, mere sheds dressed in overcoats of plaster and whitewash. Pullman was built of brick and mortar. Experts confirmed that the model town might well represent a hope-filled future for industrial workers. Yet just as the White City’s splendor was a false front, the enchanting surface of the model town hid problems that would, in less than a year, bring about a national crisis.

* * *

Although to Chicago’s boosters the Exposition was an occasion for unqualified optimism, others were skeptical. The explosion of marvels and conveniences that swelled the exhibit spaces marked the victory of rough-edged capitalism. Most industrial workers, making less than $10 for a sixty-hour week, could not afford to visit the fair. Almost three-quarters of the nation’s wealth was in the hands of two hundred thousand citizens.

The skeptical historian Henry Adams commented, “Chicago asked in 1893 for the first time the question whether the American people knew where they were driving.” Edward Bellamy, author of the popular utopian novel Looking Backward, declared that the motive of the exhibition “under a sham pretense of patriotism is business, advertising with a view to individual money-making.” Another observer called the fair a “triumph of materialism.”

The coming of the railroads and the instant communication of the telegraph had, in one generation, ruptured the isolation of rural communities. Before the Civil War, America had been a country of small towns with local business owners, local markets, local credit, and local news. Now every village was exposed not only to markets and opportunity but also to the inequality and dissatisfactions of the wider world.

The 1890 census had revealed that the frontier, the line of settlement that had been pushing west since the nation’s founding, no longer existed. During the fair, the scholar Frederick Jackson Turner would declare that it was the frontier that had shaped the American character. The availability of free land had allowed pioneers to turn their backs on rapacious landlords or demanding employers and head west. In the process, Turner asserted, they had developed a sense of self-reliance and practicality, along with the confidence, impatience, energy, and egalitarian morality that were distinctly American.

What would shape and inspire citizens now that the West was settled? What would happen to workers who could no longer escape urban slums? Were Americans destined to follow Europeans into a society in which an aristocratic upper class ruled over dependent laborers?

“The free lands are gone,” Turner wrote, “the continent is crossed, and all this push and energy is turning into channels of agitation.”

Abraham Lincoln had evoked a bygone era when he mused about a “penniless beginner” who at first works for wages, gradually saves a surplus, buys tools or land, and “then labors on his own account awhile, and at length hires another new beginner.” This early version of the American Dream was a hollow myth by the waning years of the century.

The labor scarcity of the first half of the century, which had enhanced workers’ power and freedom, had been erased by mechanization and mass immigration. The majority of workers were permanent hirelings, not budding entrepreneurs. In the workplace, independence— the defining feature of American society—had given way to the autocracy of bosses.

As industry grew without regulation, the bonds that connected workers to increasingly remote capitalists frayed. Railroad corporations were the first really big businesses in America and have been called “the seedbed of the American labor movement.” A series of strikes, beginning with a spontaneous railroad upheaval in 1877, had jolted the country with increasing frequency through the 1880s. During the past seven years, Chicago alone had seen more than five hundred work stoppages. The revolts rattled the moneyed elite. Ordinary citizens found themselves ranked among the “dangerous classes,” a common term for workers when they asserted collective rights.

Among those who would later attend and give a speech at the fair was a young union organizer named Eugene V. Debs. Lanky and energetic, the thirty-eight-year-old Debs had spent years promoting the interests of the firemen who stoked the boilers of the nation’s locomotives. He had come to see that traditional trade unions were inadequate in the face of consolidated railroad monopolies. Like George Pullman, Debs had a vision of a brighter future for industrial workers, but one that was far more radical than the paternalism of the model town. That summer, he planned to gather all railroad employees into a single, potent union. Once organized, they would demand their rights—he was determined that they would get them.

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A Clue to a Secret Love of George Washington

by Mary Calvi

Those who read Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, No. 550, in March of 1896, would have seen an illustration on page 572 depicting a romantic moment between George Washington and a woman who wasn’t Martha. It is paired with an article, Colonel Washington:  “In New York, he fell into a new ambush,” the publication reads, “from which he did not come off without a wound. His friend Beverly Robinson must needs have Miss Mary Philipse at his house there, a beauty and an heiress, and Washington came away from her with a sharp rigor at his heart.” Washington’s first visit to New York occurred in February of 1756.

The article was likely a tantalizing read for the day. Its author who later became President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, explored a George Washington in his early 20s on the precipice of greatness. “There was that in his proud eyes and gentleman’s bearing that marked him a man to be made friends with and respected,” writes Wilson. “A good comrade he proved, without presence or bravado, but an ill man to scorn, as he went his way among them, lithe and alert, full six feet in his boots, with that strong gait as of a backwoodsman, and that haughty carriage as of a man born to have his will.”

The woman who caused this sharp rigor at his heart was one of the richest belles in all of the colonies; her family owned miles of waterfront property from Manhattan northward along the Hudson River. She herself owned more than fifty-thousand acres, a rarity for an unmarried woman of the day.

Mary Eliza Philipse is the reason the journalist who is writing this article searched for the original 1896 Harper’s publication. When the search turned successful and after purchasing it and after it arrived in its shipping package and after uncovering it and after turning the pages quickly, albeit gently, the image I had always believed existed, left me awestruck for it added a layer of affirmation to what I longed believed— young George Washington had a relationship with the New York heiress.

The actual drawing by Howard Pyle commissioned for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, I later learned, has been sitting in a storage unit at Boston Public Library for the past fifty or so years. It appears to show a date between George and this belle of the North. Of course, in the mid-1700s, this date would have been called an “interview” for polite society sake. Pyle drew the heiress holding a teacup as she is dressed in a fashionably flowing gown with cherries embroidered into it and wearing a small veil upon her upswept hairdo, along with a thin black necklace. Washington is a gallant figure costumed resplendently, complete with ornate coat, breeches, tricorn hat, and gold-buckled shoes. The illustration presents an image of the two sitting in an elegant parlor, facing each other, with the sun’s rays coming through a window. If only the reader could have been fly on the wall for this affair, or maybe the two of them wanted their time together kept private. It certainly appears the latter is the case for their relationship has been buried in oblivion with history hiding it from prying eyes.

Count this author in as one of those sets of prying eyes for once I began my research which spanned years and consisted of digging through documents in dusty attics and basements, I couldn’t stop until I found what I firmly believe to be the truth about Mary and her relationship with George.

Now years after purchasing this original 1896 publication and after examining mountains of documents comes this author’s theory: Long before tea was tossed into Boston Harbor, unrequited love helped to spark a flame that ignited a cause that became the American Revolution.

What I found through primary sources revealed that not only Washington wanted to seize her surrender, so did a group of British men made up of officers, Colonels, even the Commander-in-Chief of the His Majesty’s Army in North America. This tight-knit group took great lengths to keep Washington, a Virginian, and the heiress apart.

Washington’s bitter resentment toward the British Army may have been cemented the moment she chose a British officer who was part of that group, a resentment that seemed to never sway in the years that led up to the Revolution.

Enter for a chance to win 1 of 5 hardcover copies of DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY!

Mary Calvi is a television news anchor in New York City. Her debut novel, DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY: A Novel of George Washington’s First Love is based on her years of research studying thousands of pages of historical documents. The book will be published on February 19, 2019.

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The Life and Death of Wild Bill Hickok

by Tom Clavin

Their names are legends on the American frontier: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok. We probably know the least about Wild Bill Hickok. Why is that? During his lifetime, no one’s fame burned brighter than his, yet today, Wild Bill’s life and times are a mystery to many. In Wild Bill, my new book about Wild Bill Hickok, the largely untold story of the greatest gunfighter of them all is finally revealed.

Wild Bill Hickok

James Butler Hickok was born in May 1837 in Illinois. The Hickok family originally hailed from New England and were fierce abolitionists. On their Illinois farm, Hickok’s father not only sheltered runaway slaves but in daring nighttime rides transported them via the Underground Railroad to safety further north. Young James and his brothers went on many of these rides to fool bounty hunters and were sometimes shot at while making a desperate escape. Ironically, when the Civil War began, James would be the only Hickok family member to serve in the Union Army.

Before the war, though, James left the farm for Missouri and Kansas and points west. “I am a pilgrim and a stranger and I am going to wander til I am twenty-one and then I will tarry a little while” the young James Hickok wrote to his mother Polly.  He became a wagon driver, a teamster, and occasional scout with the U.S. Army. On one of the wagon trains west Hickok met a boy named Billy Cody. As the trek progressed, Cody met one of the drivers, who identified himself as James B. Hickok, “a tall, handsome, magnificently built and powerful young fellow, who could out-run, out-jump and out-fight any man in the train.” One evening, Cody ran afoul of “a surly, overbearing” teamster twice his size, who knocked the boy down with one swat. Cody got up holding a pot of coffee, and he threw the scalding contents in the face of the man, who in turn “sprang at me with the ferocity of a tiger, and undoubtedly would have torn me to pieces.”

What prevented this was the appearance of Hickok, who knocked the teamster down. He warned, “If you ever again lay a hand on that boy—little Billy there—I’ll give you such a pounding that you won’t get over it for a month of Sundays.” Hickok may have saved Cody’s life—an act that would be reciprocated a decade later.

When the Civil War broke out, the anti-slavery Hickok signed up with the Union Army. His activities included scouting and being a member of a unit of sharpshooters. But his most effective role was as Union spy disguised behind enemy lines. Time and again Hickok risked his neck to glean important information about the Confederate Army. One time, while dressed as a Confederate officer with General Marmaduke’s rebel division.

To learn more about The Life and Death of Wild Bill Hickok, check out the article on the Unknown History channel on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. Or, listen to the entire episode below:

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Anniversary of Monumenta Germaniae Historica

MGH, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, celebrates its 200-year anniversary in 2019

MGH Programme for anniversary 1819 - 2019

On the 20thof January 1819, Baron Karl vom und zum Stein (1757 – 1831) founded a publishing society in his apartment in Frankfurt, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. The Baron was a Prussian Statesman, who worked diligently for the unification of Germany, the abolition of serfdom, furthering free trade and the establishment of local administrative systems. As such, he was a true child of the enlightenment. In due course, though, he became gradually more inspired by British political thinking and following this, in the Prussian and Austrian rising against Napoleon. In 1809, Stein fled from Berlin to end up in Bohemia in the Austrian Empire. In 1812 he received an invitation to Russia. From there he campaigned to keep the Russian Tsar form entering a treaty with Napoleon. This ultimately led to the defeat, imprisonment, and exile of the French emperor. During the Vienna Congress, he was sidelined by his nationalist Prussian thinking. This led to his engagement in the furthering of historical research and text edition, and his foundation of the Monumenta.

The first volume was published in 1826 under the editorial auspices of Georg Heinrich Pertz containing an edition of Carolingian Annals. In 1935, the society was taken over by the Nazis and renamed “The Reichsinstitut für ältere Deutsche Geschichtskunde”. In 1945, the institution was dissolved. In 1949, the institute was revived, now in Munich. In 1967, the institute together with its invaluable library and collection was incorporated in the Bavarian State Library. In 2004, the numerous editions were digitized; an invaluable service to the scholarly community of medievalists.

Perilous Future?

The celebration of the upcoming anniversary, however, takes place at a time when historical skills are busily deteriorating. Thus, between 1997 and 2011, the teaching of codicology, palaeography, epigraphy, diplomacy, numismatics, heraldry, sigillography, and record-keeping, lost a third of its university chairs in Germany[1]. At the same time, the availability of sources in a digital format calls for a renewal of the competences to handle the diverse texts and variants.

To name one example: When the Salic Law was finally edited and published by Karl August Eckhardt and MGH in 1962, the edition was based on the work of several generations of German historians. As such it was based on the idea, that it was possible to construe one authorised edition of the original text in its three versions (D, E, and S). Now, however, any serious work on the character and use of the Salic Law would have to acknowledge that we have at least 91 manuscripts (not counting fragments), all representing the law in its diversity. Comparative analysis at quite another level is now possible because of the digitisation of these manuscripts, calling for a renewed fostering of the traditional competencies listed above.


[1]Diskussionsforum: Historische Grundwissenschaften und die digitale Herausforderung. This Forum holds 28 contributions concerning the status of these disciplines as well as the shift from analogue to digital editions of sources.


Honouring the many international scholars, who are involved in the on-going editorial programme, MGH celebrates the anniversary with a series of events in Vienna, Berlin-Brandenburg, Munich, and Rome. Also, during the anniversary, a bicentennial publication – 200 Jahre Monumenta Germaniae Historica, will appear in print. Read the programme for the festivities. 


The digitized collection of MGH

Also, the later text editions are made available as downloads from openMGH

Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1819-1969.
By Herbert Grundmann
Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1969



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The Edge of Anarchy Part Five: The Pullman Strike

The Pullman Strike was the greatest uprising of working people in American history. If you haven’t listened to parts one through four of this special mini-series inspired by my book The Edge of Anarchy, I encourage you to do so. It sets the stage for what I’m about to describe.

political cartoon of the pullman strike

It all started in the spring of 1894 at the Pullman works on Chicago’s far South Side, one of the largest factories in the country. Workers there made rail cars, including the sleeping cars that the company was famous for that I describe in more detail in Part 3. Most of the workers lived in the adjacent company town. Their homes were owned by the company, which tried to control their lives both on and off the job.

Company founder George Pullman had cut employees’ wages that winter, but demanded that they continue to pay exorbitant rents for their homes. After the rent was taken out of their pay, many workers had only a few dollars to show for two weeks’ hard work. One employee’s check amounted to only two cents. He had it framed as an emblem of the company’s contempt.

But low pay and high rent were only the beginning of the workers’ complaints. The piecework Pullman demanded meant they had to maintain a frantic pace to make a decent wage. Foremen routinely abused workers. Company spies were everywhere, in the factory and in the town. Suspicion and resentment soon erupted into a strike.

The upheaval raised fundamental questions about American society.

George Pullman’s strategy was simply to close the plant and wait out his employees. Business was slow anyway, and his company was still taking in a steady stream of passenger fees from his sleeping cars.

The Pullman workers had joined the American Railway Union, the massive new labor organization started the year before by Eugene Debs, whose backstory I give in Part 4. It included all railroad-connected workers. That June in Chicago, the union was holding its first convention. Pullman workers appeared and asked for the members’ support for their strike. One of the most eloquent speakers was nineteen-year-old Jennie Curtis, a seamstress at the Pullman plant. She told the delegates: “We ask you to come along with us, because we are not just fighting for ourselves, but for decent conditions for workers everywhere.”

Continue reading The Edge of Anarchy Part Five: The Pullman Strike on the Unknown History channel at Quick and Dirty Tips, or listen to the full episode below. 

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The History of the Rise of Labor Unions in America

by Jack Kelly

In 1979, a young Vermont politician named Bernie Sanders made a short documentary film about Eugene Debs. He noted Debs’s accomplishments, he lamented the fact that Debs was largely a forgotten figure in history, and he reproduced excerpts from the speeches of a man he obviously very much admired. During his political career, Sanders has embraced many of Debs’s ideas. He even adopted Debs’s passionate, finger-pointing speaking style.

political cartoon of the condition of the working man at pullman

So who was Eugene Debs, and what was his role in the unions of that era, and why does his career seem so relevant today? Some remember him as the country’s first great socialist. Debs founded the Socialist Party in the 1890s and ran for president five times under that party’s banner. The last time he ran, in 1920, he was confined to a federal prison for speaking against the government—and he still got almost a million votes.

Debs helped make socialist ideas palatable to Americans. He’s the godfather of the democratic socialists who are jumping into today’s politics. Actually, many of his proposals, like publicly sponsored old-age pensions and subsidized medical care, were eventually enacted into law.

Debs saw labor and capital as equal partners who could work in harmony.

But before he was a socialist, Debs was an important nineteenth-century labor leader. When he was growing up in Terre Haute, Indiana, during the Civil War era, he loved trains. As a teenager, he found work shoveling coal into locomotive boilers. That led him to become an official in a fraternal organization for firemen, as they were called. Like many early craft unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen did not take aggressive steps to fight for members’ pay and working conditions. Instead, they promoted camaraderie and worked with the railroads to assure that those hired had the necessary skills.

But the exploitation of workers in Gilded Age America, especially on the railroads, became more and more severe. During the 1880s, Debs rethought the whole question of labor. Low pay was an issue. Danger on the job was a particular concern for those who worked on locomotives. Brakemen had to leap from the top of one car to another in order to turn brake wheels—try that at night or in a sleet storm. An astonishing 230,000 railroad workers were killed on the job in the quarter century following 1890. That’s 23 people every day. It was clear that the railroad corporations were not going to improve the situation unless they were forced to.

Continue reading The Edge of Anarchy Part Four: The Rise of Unions on the Unknown History channel at Quick and Dirty Tips, or listen to the full episode below. 

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The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

In 1776, an elite group of soldiers were handpicked to serve as George Washington’s bodyguards. Washington trusted them; relied on them. But unbeknownst to Washington, some of them were part of a treasonous plan. In the months leading up to the Revolutionary War, these traitorous soldiers, along with the Governor of New York, William Tryon, and Mayor David Mathews, launched a deadly plot against the most important member of the military: George Washington himself.

The First Conspiracy is the story of the secret plot and how it was revealed. It is a story of leaders, liars, counterfeiters, and jailhouse confessors. It also shows just how hard the battle was for George Washington and how close America was to losing the Revolutionary War.

In this historical page-turner, New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer teams up with American history writer and documentary television producer, Josh Mensch to unravel the shocking true story behind what has previously been a footnote in the pages of history. Meltzer and Mensch capture in riveting detail how George Washington not only defeated the most powerful military force in the world, but also uncovered the secret plot against him in the tumultuous days leading up to July 4, 1776. Keep reading for an excerpt of The First Conspiracy.

* * * * *

New York, New York

April 1776

The trap is set.

It’s quiet on this night. Moonlight shines over a clearing in a dense wood.

The silence is broken by the drumbeat of hooves in the distance, growing steadily louder. Soon several uniformed men on horseback emerge from the blackness. The party halts not far from a large wooden manor house that sits at the clearing’s edge. A few of the riders dismount and prime their muskets, standing guard. They scan the clearing, apparently thinking all is safe.

They’re wrong.

A moment later, another rider steps down from his horse. He’s taller than the rest and wears a long officer’s coat.

His name is George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental army.

There is a traitorous plan against him. He has no idea it’s coming.

For the last ten months, since the day he was appointed to his command, Washington has had a nearly impossible task: to organize a scattered mess of backwoods militias and untrained volunteers into a functioning national army. And not just any army. This small, inexperienced, poorly equipped group of soldiers needs to stand up to what is probably the biggest and most powerful military force in the world. By any normal measure, they don’t stand a chance—and Washington knows this, just as he knows that with every decision he makes, thousands of young soldiers’ lives could be lost.

Tonight, even more is at risk.

Washington has just arrived in the western woods of Manhattan, about two miles north of New York City’s bustling commercial district, which covers the island’s southern tip. He’s just finished a weeklong journey from Boston, and he’s here now to fortify the city against the first major British offensive of the war. What he’s facing is terrifying: Sometime in the next few weeks or months, a massive fleet of the vaunted British navy will swarm into New York Harbor—hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of soldiers prepared to invade the city.

They’re coming. It’s just a question of when.

The colonies have placed all their hope and trust in him. It is up to this one man, George Washington, to lead the small Continental army and withstand the massive attack.

Tonight, among the soldiers accompanying Washington, a few are dressed differently from the rest, in short blue-and-white coats with brass buttons. They’re known as the “Life Guards,” an elite group of specially trained soldiers handpicked to serve as Washington’s bodyguards. He takes particular pride in these men, whom he trusts above all others.

In the faint moonlight, Washington walks slowly toward the nearby manor house that will serve as his lodging for the next few critical weeks before the British attack.

Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827). George Washington, 1776. Oil on canvas, 44 x 38 5/16 in. (111.7 x 97.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 34.1178

Yet what George Washington doesn’t know is that here in Manhattan, the coming battle isn’t the only thing he should fear.

There are other enemies waiting for him—enemies more dangerous than even the British army.

At this exact moment, three miles away due southeast in New York Harbor, a ship is anchored in the darkness. On board is one of the most powerful men of the colonies—the exiled Governor of New York—and he is masterminding a clandestine plan to sabotage the colonies’ rebellion. In the dead of night, small boats carrying spies shuttle back and forth to him, delivering intelligence from shore.

At the same time, two miles away from where Washington now stands, the Mayor of New York City, working in concert with the Governor, carries a secret cache of money. His plan is to tempt Washington’s soldiers to betray their army and their countrymen in a breathtaking act of treason.

And several blocks from the Mayor’s office, in one of the city’s underground jails, three prisoners whisper to each other in a dank cell, out of earshot of the guards. They have no idea that their quiet murmurs could change the future of the continent.

They are all players in an extraordinary plot:

A deadly plot against George Washington.

Most extraordinary of all, some of the key members of this plot are in George Washington’s own inner circle—the very men in whom he has placed his greatest trust.

You could call it America’s first great conspiracy—but at this moment, America doesn’t yet exist.

Some of the details of this scheme are still shrouded in mystery, but history provides enough clues for an astonishing story. This is a story of soldiers, spies, traitors, Redcoats, turncoats, criminals, prostitutes, politicians, great men, terrible men, and before it’s over, the largest public execution at the time ever to take place on North American shores. It all happens, amazingly, within days of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

That’s not all. The discovery of this plot, and the effort to investigate it, will lead colonial authorities to devise new systems of intelligence gathering and counterespionage. In many ways, this plot against George Washington would lead to the creation of a whole new field of American spycraft—now known as counterintelligence.

At its center is a deadly conspiracy against the one man on whose life the very future of America depends.

BRAD MELTZER is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Escape Artist, The Inner Circle, and many other bestselling thrillers, as well as the “Ordinary People Change the World” series. He is also the host of the History Channel TV shows Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and Brad Meltzer’s Lost History, which he used to help find the missing 9/11 flag that the firefighters raised at Ground Zero.

JOSH MENSCH is a writer and documentary television producer with a focus on American history and culture. He has produced, written and directed series for PBS, National Geographic, A&E, Discovery and other networks. He was also the showrunner on Brad Meltzer’s Lost History for the History Channel. Josh is a graduate of Princeton and Columbia Universities, and lives in Brooklyn with his family.

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The Battle for Blair Mountain

by Jess Montgomery

“Well. At least we weren’t coal miners.”

I heard that many a time, at family reunions or other gatherings, as I grew up.

On the surface, it sounds, well. snooty. Or worse—condescending.

But I don’t think that’s how the members of my family of origin meant it. After all, I had great uncles who’d gone off to work as coal miners and send money to their families back home on tobacco farms in eastern Kentucky. And several aunts who married into coal mining families.

Tobacco farming in my family of origin meant subsistence farming for food plus a bottom of tobacco to sell off each year, if it had been a good year, for cash to get through the winter. I think what my kin meant was that as difficult as tobacco farming was, it was at least easier and safer than coal mining.

I was from the first generation in my family of origin, going back generation after generation, to be born outside Appalachia. My parents left behind tobacco farming for my father to work as a tool and die machinist, first in a union shop, and then on his own.

So, when I landed upon the story behind The Widows, and realized it was set in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, I was immediately drawn to the setting, though it was in a different part of the vast range of Appalachia.

The Widows was inspired by the first true female sheriff of Ohio, in 1925. Maude Collins was appointed sheriff after her husband was killed in the line of duty, and went on to win election as sheriff in her own right in a landslide in 1926.

But just as my protagonist, Lily Ross, is inspired by Maude—but becomes a character in her own right—the setting for The Widows is similarly inspired by the southeastern area of Ohio.

In real life, Maude was sheriff in Vinton County, which included buckwheat farms and a bit of coal mining, sometimes by individuals who happened on a seam or two, and mined out what they could for cash.  As I researched the area, though, I learned about the “Little Cities of Black Diamonds,” about 70 mining communities in a microregion of southeastern Ohio, which had its heyday from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries. Counties included in the microregion abut Vinton, and so I decided to create a fictional county for Ohio, Bronwyn County, which takes in part of the geography of Vinton as well as coal mining territory.

Officers of District 17, UMW, say the bomb shown here was dropped from a plane which flew over their camps, coming from the direction of Logan. It was picked up by the miners during the march on Logan. The bomb is now on display at the offices of District 17 on Summers Street, Charleston. Charleston Gazette, 11 December 1921.

In so doing, I created a challenge for myself: learn as much as I could about the region and, in particular, coal mining in that area and in the era leading up to 1925.

My research led me to the story of the Battle for Blair Mountain, which took place August 25 – September 2, 1921, in West Virginia.

It’s the second largest civilian uprising in U.S. history—surpassed only by the Civil War. And the largest labor uprising in the U.S.

And yet, I’d never heard of it. When I’ve asked other people if they’ve heard of it, the answer is usually ‘no,’ unless the group includes someone who comes from a long line of coal miners.

Ten thousand or so coal miners—weary of unsafe and harsh working and living conditions, low pay, and triggered by the blatant murder of a pro-union mayor at the hands of hired guns working for coal company management—finally rose up. It was, as one of the books I read on the subject put it, an “undeclared war.” (The book is the excellent The Battle of Blair Mountain by Robert Shogan.)

As tensions mounted, the law and community members took sides—some officers of the law and shop owners supporting the miners, and some in favor of management. The battle lasted ten days, with more than 10,000 coal miners armed with rifles, battling 3,000 much better equipped strikebreakers, including police, and, ultimately, by order of President Warren Harding, federal troops, and even a U.S. Army bomber—the only time, per an NPR story on this historic event, that U.S. military air power has been used against U.S. civilians.

Sheriff’s deputies fighting in Blair Mountain.

In the end, about a hundred coal miners were killed in the battle. Nearly a thousand more were arrested. Defending the arrested coal miners nearly bankrupt and broke the back of the United Mine Workers union.

An interesting note: Mother Jones, the great female unionizer, warned against this uprising, sure that it would end in a bloody outcome for the miners. She turned out to be right. Mother Jones’ spirit was the inspiration for the feisty spirit of another character in The Widows, Marvena Whitcomb, a unionizer who lost her husband to a coal mining cave-in caused by poor safety practices.

Both Lily and Marvena, in 1925 Ohio, in a coal-mining region close to West Virginia would have been aware of the Battle for Blair Mountain.

In an early scene in The Widows introducing Marvena, she speaks with a miner, Jurgis, of Daniel, Lily’s husband and sheriff of Bronwyn County, and his desire to avoid bloodshed:

“I trust Daniel. He don’t want no Blair Mountain.”

Jurgis shudders at the reference to the bloody standoff between miners and management just four years before in West Virginia. It was legendary, and had nearly killed off unionization efforts across America.

Read an extended excerpt of The Widows on Criminal Element

It would take the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal era before the Blair Mountain region of West Virginia could begin unionizing efforts anew in the mid-1930s.

Army train proceeding up Coal River toward Blair. The first troop train arrived at St. Albans from Ohio and immediately marched into the coal mine district. Other trains brought the infantrymen and equipment from the Fifth Corps Area of the Middle West. Charleston Gazette, 6 September 1921.

In the past decade or so, another battle has waged over Blair Mountain—its placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The site was at last listed in 2009, only to be de-listed after coal company legal teams fought the placement.

Finally, in the summer of 2018, Blair Mountain has again received this designation.

The Battle for Blair Mountain has a rich and complex history. Hopefully, with the site’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places, more citizens will learn about this fascinating and tragic part of U.S. history, triggered by complex social and economic issues that still play out today.

Learn more at these sites:

JESS MONTGOMERY is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus. She lives in her native state of Ohio.

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