June 2007

Politics Makes For Strange Bedfellows

How many times have you said to yourself that a specific politician is "nuts", "crazy" or "insane"? Many of us have done so at least a few times in our life. At least in one case, this label was entirely correct.

Charles A. Boutelle was a Representative of Congress for the state of Maine and had been for sixteen years. In the 1900 election, he won by 10,000 votes though at the time he was a resident of an insane asylum, clouded in intellect and uncertain in speech. He had even been there when the convention nominated him to run for Representative again. The opposition, the Democratic Party, filed a claim that to elect an insane man to Congress was unconstitutional to no avail.

Sentiment was behind the Maine Republicans in the matter. Their viewpoint was that Mr. Boutelle had served them long and faithfully. Further, he was poor and they could afford to stand behind him. Others stated that he would never take his seat in Congress again. However, the Republicans of his district expressed that his empty chair in the House of Representatives should stand for their loyalty in mute testimony. Boutelle was elected and his pay went to his wife.

Along with "crazy" politicians, many of us have claimed that a specific politician should be in prison. One of my favorite political quotes was made by Will Rogers, the homespun comedian of the 1930's. He said "We have the best Congress money can buy." In at least one case, there was a man who ran for president of the United States and received almost one million votes. He accomplished this while in prison!

Eugene V. Debs' political career began in 1879 when he was elected as City Clerk of Terre Haute, Indiana on Democrat ticket. He served two terms in this office. In 1884 he was elected state representative to the Indiana General Assembly as a Democrat representing Terre Haute and Vigo County. In 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920 he ran as candidate of Socialist Party for President of the United States in some of the most dynamic campaigning ever seen in the United States. He made his greatest showing in the campaign of 1908 which featured the RED SPECIAL train which went to every section of the country.

On June 16, 1918, Debs made an anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, protesting World War I which was raging in Europe. For this speech he was arrested and convicted in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio under the war-time espionage law. He was his own attorney and his appeal to the jury and his statement to the court before sentencing, are regarded as two of the great classic statements ever made in a court of law. He was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison and disenfranchised for life, losing his citizenship.

In 1920, for the fifth and last time, while a prisoner at Atlanta, he was nominated to run for president on the Socialist party ticket. Conducting his campaign from inside the prison, he was given nearly a million votes but was defeated by the Republican, Warren G. Harding. On Christmas Day, 1921 President Harding released Debs from prison, commuting his sentence to time served.

The Other Hilton Sisters

With Paris Hilton in the news so much lately, it has reminded me of another pair of Hilton sisters; Daisy and Violet. They were twins born in Brighton, East Sussex, England on February 5, 1908. Their mother was an unwed bar maid. They were conjoined twins and joined at the hips. They each had their own set of organs - brain, heart, lungs, etc. After only two weeks their mother, Kate Skinner, she gave them to her landlord Mary Hilton. Their birth mother wanted nothing to do with them. Mary Hilton soon put the girls on exhibition at carnival and circus sideshows. When Mrs. Hilton died, she willed the twins to Edith Myer. Mrs. Myer spent most of the twins fortune on having a luxurious home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built. Meanwhile, the twins toured the United States being exhibited while the Myer’s lived lavishly off the girls income.

In January 1931, the Hilton twins sought legal means to get them emancipated from their abusive guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Myers. At this time, they were over 21 years of age and legally an adult. The Myer’s had the nerve to countersue for $250,000 for loss of income! The Hilton sisters won their emancipation and $80,000 of the money they had earned; A much lower amount than they had actually earned. The Myers got to keep the mansion.

Part of the reason why the Hilton sisters became so much of an attraction is their talent. While other sideshow “freaks” just related how they got that way to entertain the audience, the Hilton sisters sang and danced! They sounded much like the Andrews Sisters of the 1940's. After their emancipation, they left the sideshow and began singing and dancing in night clubs. In 1932 they played themselves in the Hollywood movie Freaks. In 1951 they made another movie custom-made for them. The exploitation movie was Chained For Life. They sang several songs. The basic plot was that one of the twins fell in love and had a boyfriend. The other twin became highly jealous. Eventually, she shot the other twins’ boyfriend and killed him. Then the case went to trial. Just when the jury is about to read their verdict, the movie ends with the words “How would you vote?” The legal dilemma was that while one twin was guilty, sentencing the that one to prison would also require the innocent twin to serve the same time. Medically, they could not be separated. How would you vote?

In real life both found boyfriends and attempted to get married. Twenty-one states turned them down on moral grounds. The novelty of their song and dance act wore off soon after the Chained For Life movie. By 1955 they were forced to open a hot dog stand in Miami as a means to survive financially. The other vendors there complained massively that the Hiltons' were taking away their business. Out of despiration, in 1962 they began touring drive-in movie theatres and giving the audience the opportunity to speak with them personally. This too, was short lived. Next, they worked at a grocery store; One rang the items up, and the other bagged the order. On January 6, 1969 they failed to show up for work. Being highly dependable, the store manager was concerned about them. He sent police to their trailer to investigate. They were dead. Apparently, Daisy died first from Hong Kong flu. Violet likely died shortly thereafter. When they died, they owed $1,000. A far cry from their wealth earlier in life.

Reality Show With a True Difference

The History Channel is debuting a new reality series that is unlike any other. The series title is Ice Road Truckers and the premiere episode is on Sunday, June 17 at 10 PM Eastern time. Located near the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, Canada is the city of Yellowknife. Further north is a diamond mine. There are no roads between Yellowknife and the mine. Instead, there are literally hundreds of lakes. For a few months in winter, the lakes are frozen over enough for semi trucks hauling tons of vital goods to the mine. Even though the lakes have up to 48 inches of ice on top, as the trucks make their runs, one can easily hear the ice cracking beneath them.

Other reality shows depend on contrived situations to make people want to watch them. The only aspect that the viewer, or director, doesn't know ahead of time, is how the participants will react. With Ice Road Truckers, no one knows what situation will come next. A truck may break down - with temperatures as much as 50 degrees below zero. In one case, the ice cracked enough that in the matter of seconds the entire truck was swallowed up and sunk to the bottom of the lake. Specially trained divers go down to retrieve the trucker's body. The lives of the mine workers are on the line, because if not enough goods make it through, it will be ten months before deliveries can be made again. The trucker's lives are on the line and within seconds they could be dead. A show worth watching.

HistoryBuff.com Update

The HistoryBuff Online Newspaper Archives debuging is almost completed. By the next issue of this newsletter, I hope to have the entire archive available online again.

While on my trip to shoot more panoramas in Kentucky and southern Indiana, I made an unplanned stop to shoot the night skyline of Louisville, Kentucky. What a sight! I have made this panorama (30 individual photos combined into one image) available online as an exclusive to my newsletter subscribers. The panorama includes audio commentary by myself with the story behind the shooting. To access it, go to:

High Resolution Version (Broadband/DSL)

Low Resolution Version (Dial-up)

This panorama will only be online a short time as it does not fit with the other panoramas of which are of a historical nature.

The panorama section of HistoryBuff.com can be accessed at: http://www.historybuff.com/panos/. By the next issue I hope to add three new panoramas and upgrade two of the ones already there.

May Contest

GRAND PRIZE QUESTION: What did the Wright brothers name their aircraft that first flew at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903?


ALTERNATE PRIZE QUESTION: What was the first state to join the Union AFTER the original 13 colonies?


One-hundred seven people entered the contests. Thirty-seven people either had the incorrect subject heading or the wrong answer to the question. (Most had the correct answer but incorrect subject heading.) One newspaper went unclaimed.
The May contest winners were:
  • Alexis Simich - Maryland
  • Helen Walker - Wisconsin
  • Lindsay Wood - California
  • Letter Perfect Books - Maryland
  • Gregory Harris - California
  • Paul McFarland - Arkansas

This Issue's Question

To enter the Grand Prize Contest, answer the question: What and when was the largest, legal mass execution in United States history? (The crimes happened on United States soil, defendents went to trial and found guilty and sentenced to hang in the United States.) The next issue of this newsletter will include an article about this dark day in American history.

To enter the Alternate Contest, answer the question: Who was the first female to be a member of a United States president's cabinet?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Monday, June 18, 2007. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but can only win one prize.

  • To enter either contest, email your answer to help@historybuff.com.

  • If entering for the Grand Prize, enter "Contest Entry Grand Prize" for the subject heading.

  • If entering for alternate prize contest, enter "Contest Entry" for the subject heading.

  • Alternate contest entries with prize desires such as "any prize is OK," "any of the historic newspapers" etc. will be disqualified. You MUST select ONE prize. The Grand Prize is considered as only one prize.

  • If entering both contests, send separate emails.

  • From subscribers entering the alternate contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE alternate contest prize they want to win, SIX will be selected to win ONE of the alternate contest prizes below.

  • From subscribers entering the Grand Prize contest, one will be selected to win the prize from those submitting the correct subject heading, correct answer, and by the deadline.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
Grand Prize
(One winner will be selected)

    Softbound Book: D-Day Normandy
    By Francois Bertin

    Full color photos of uniforms, weapons & military equipment
    Includes specifications of many
    125 pages on heavy, glossy stock

Alternate Contest Prizes
Alternate Contest Prizes (Only one of each offered)

DVD Cartoon Craze
Over an hour of classic animation
Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and more

Oliver Twist (1933)
Staring child actor Jackie Moore

Original Historic Newspapers

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1843

Original Manchester American & Messenger (New Hampshire) historic newspaper from 1853

New York Tribune historic newspaper from 1872

Original Salem Gazette historic newspaper from 1873
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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