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Month: December 2006

The First Pitch

William Howard Taft started the tradition of the Presidential “first pitch” of baseball season. The event took place on April 4, 1910, during an opening day game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics.

Since Taft’s first pitch 1See Wikipedia for a complete list., every President but one has opened at least one baseball season during their tenure. The exception: Jimmy Carter. Maybe he just didn’t like baseball.

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Micajah Autry

Micajah Autry 1From The Handbook of Texas Online.had made his choice. Once he’d entered the Alamo his fate had pretty much been sealed. Outnumbered and outgunned, he and the band of rebels that occupied the mission were waiting for the inevitable attack they knew would come.

He had volunteered for militia duty during the War of 1812 and, following the war, had practiced law in Jackson, Tenn. While on a business trip to New York City and Philadelphia he heard about land opportunities in the new territory of Texas. Determined to make an even better life for his wife and children he set off in 1835 aboard a steamboat from Nashville.

Once there he joined up with the rebels fighting the forces of Antonio López de Santa Anna. On January 13, 1836 while in Nacogdoches he enlisted in the Volunteer Auxiliary Corps of Texas under the command of Capt. William B. Harrison. He and others, including Davy Crockett, set out for Washington-on-the-Brazos. He arrived in San Antonio de Bexar (soon to be San Antonio) with his company on February 9 and joined the Alamo garrison under the command of Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis.

But one thing made Autry stand out; he was an expert marksman. Because of his skill with a long rifle he was chosen by his company to attempt to eliminate Santa Anna, who often walked out in the open across the grounds near the Mexican battle lines. Whether out of arrogance or cluelessness he didn’t seem to understand that a sniper might try to take a shot at him.

During one such walk by the Mexican dictator, Autry raised his long rifle and took aim as his compatriots looked on, and fired. In that moment, the history of Texas and Mexico might have been changed, but either because of nervous tension or the great distance to the target, Autry’s bullet went wild and Santa Anna scrambled for cover. After a siege lasting 13 days, Autry fell with his comrades at the stockade near the chapel, overwhelmed by the Mexican troops.


“In Event of Moon Disaster”

Nixon speech writer William Safire wrote a proposed speech in the event that disaster struck the Apollo 11 lunar lander 1You can see the original documents at The Smoking Gun. and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin couldn’t get off of the Moon and return to Earth. It’s kind of creepy to think of it in a “what if” kind of way. Fortunately it didn’t have to be used, but something very similar could have been written if the Apollo 13 ordeal had ended on a less than uplifting note.

To: H. R. Haldeman

From: Bill Safire

July 18, 1969.


Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.


A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

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The Floating Capitol of Texas

For 11 days in April of 1836, the capital of Texas was the steamboat Cayuga.

The 80-ton side-wheeler had been hauling cargo on the Brazos River during 1834 and 1835. After their victory at the Alamo on March 6, 1836, Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and his troops began moving toward Harrisburg (today it’s a part of Houston), pursuing the Texas rebels. In early April, David G. Burnet, the interim president of the new republic, impressed the Cayuga into public service to transport provisions to the Texas army. On April 15, Burnet and his cabinet boarded the Cayuga just ahead of the advancing Mexican army. The steamboat made stops at Lynch’s Ferry and New Washington, in the vicinity of today’s Morgan’s Point in Harris County, then proceeded to Anahuac and Galveston with the officials, who conducted the republic’s business as they went. The officials went ashore at Galveston on April 26, then moved to a succession of locations before finally settling in January 1839 in the new capital at Waterloo, which soon was renamed Austin.

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Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death

The Year Without a Summer took place in 1816 when freakishly bizarre climatic changes took place because of a large amount of volcanic activity in the recent years leading up to 1816.

The eruptions believed to have caused the anomaly were –

  1. The 5 April – 15 April 1815 volcanic eruptions of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies
  2. Mount La La Soufrière in Saint Vincent in the Caribbean in 1812
  3. and Mount Mayon in the Philippines in 1814

Because of these eruptions a large amount of volcanic ash was launched skyward into the atmosphere and resulting in lower temperatures and sudden cold snaps worldwide.

In the northeastern US the summer of 1816 started out with a climatological bang. May brought on a hard frost that killed off most of the crops that would have been harvested later that year, then in June snowstorms hit eastern Canada and New England resulting in many deaths.

The interesting thing about that summer was that the cold didn’t last the entirety of the summer, it only came in fits and spurts, with the temperatures ranging from downright hot one day to below freezing later the same day. As an example, on the 5th of June the temperature in Salem, Mass reached 89 degrees, whereas on the following day, after thunderstorms blew through the temperature was 41 degrees. The temperatures then rose until they reached, for that area, almost heat wave proportions. Then as June slipped into July the cold returned.

Because of the cold snaps, freezes and snow the prices on corn, wheat and other grains rose dramatically. Conversely beef prices fell, given the fact that farmers found it hard to feed their livestock and wanted to make all the cash they could off of already starving animals.

So what did this climatic abnormality end up causing, besides possible starvation and cold toes? Historians believe that it was the impetus for many Americans to migrate westward and start settling the Midwest. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, was one such man, having begun his move westward after he had several crop failures.

In Europe, where the cold snap was even worse, there were food riots in England and France, the government of Switzerland declared a national emergency, while brown and red snow fell in Hungary and Italy, respectively, the cause of which is assumed to have been volcanic ash.

And the prolonged rainfall forced Mary Shelley and her friends to remain indoors during most of a planned holiday in Switzerland. They all decided to hold a contest, seeing who could write the scariest story, leading Shelley to write Frankenstein.

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The La Réunion Experiment

La Réunion was a socialist Utopian community founded in 1855 by French, Belgian, and Swiss colonists approximately three miles west of the present Reunion Arena and Reunion Tower in downtown Dallas, and near the forks of the Trinity River. The commune was led by the French philosopher Francois Marie Charles Fourier whose followers and associates established over 40 similar colonies in various parts of the United States of America during the 1800s.

Inspired by the writings of the French philosopher Francois Marie Charles Fourier, the colony was intended to become a socialist Utopian conclave basing itself on the idea of communal production and distribution for the benefit of all. Unlike true communist systems individuals could own private property.

Built on a 2,000 acre purchase, La Réunion had problems almost from the very beginning. The colonists, none of them farmers, planned to support the colony, misguidedly, through farming, mainly wheat and vegetables. Mix in a large group of watchmakers, weavers, brewers and storekeepers and suddenly there was a large portion of the colony that didn”t have the foggiest idea on how to survive in the Texas landscape.

But they stuck it out and succeeded at growing some wheat and vegetables, although not enough to sustain the colonists. Throw in a blizzard in 1856 which destroyed all of their crops and the blazing Texas summer heat and it”s little wonder why they failed to take hold.

With over 350 colonists eventually made La Réunion their home, the commune was already beginning to fail as its population began to leave the area. Some returned to their native Europe while others just moved out away. In 1860 the growing town of Dallas incorporated the La Réunion colony into its own land area and absorbed the skills of the remaining colonists into its general population.

Little of the experiment is left today, mainly an odd reminder here and there. The most recognizable reminder of the colony was a tower built in 1978 which was named Reunion Tower as an esoteric honor to the colonists who have become a little less than footnotes in Dallas history.

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Dallas’ Nazi POW Camp

I live in Dallas, and as far as I can tell, other than the first 7-11 and, of course, the JFK assassination, Dallas doesn’t have a lot of tales, but by gum we did have our very own Nazi POW camp towards the end of WWII.

The 3 and a half acre camp, which was a branch of the Camp Mexia Prisoner of War camp, started out its life in 1933 as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp on the shores of White Rock Lake, roughly 1/2 a mile from my home. The camp was made up of roughly 200 unemployed men from the surrounding areas who lived there as well as made improvements to White Rock Lake Park. However, after the start of WWII the CCC camp was given over to the Army Air Corps’ Fifth Ferrying Command, which used the camp as an induction center and boot camp for nearly two years.

Then in 1944, some of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corp soldiers captured by American G.I.’s were shipped off to the White Rock Lake branch of Camp Mexia. The camp eventually held 403 men who were bussed to work everyday at the Regional Quartermaster Repair Shop at the converted Centennial General Exhibits Building at Fair Park.

There was never an escape attempt from the camp, even though civilians would often call about escaped prisoners wandering the area but when questioned by MP’s they would reply that they’d just gotten lost or wanted to go for a walk. The area, I can attest, is very pretty.

At the end of the war a large percentage of Hitler’s soldiers wanted to stay in the States, but the government quashed the idea, forcing all to return home to their native lands.

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What Were the 8 Possible Test Sites For the Atomic Bomb?

The atomic bomb testing portion of the Manhattan Project, code named the Trinity Project, had 8 possible test sites. These possible sites were 1Trinity, Kenneth Bainbridge (1976) PDF.

  1. The Tularosa Basin near Alamogordo, NM
  2. The lava beds (now the El Malpais National Monument) south of Grants, NM (which could have been fun, as the westerly winds probably could have carried fallout to Albuquerque)
  3. The Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, today known as the White Sands Missile Range
  4. An Army training area north of Blythe, California, in the Mojave Desert
  5. San Nicolas Island (one of the Channel Islands) off the coast of Southern California
  6. A desert area southwest of Cuba (NM) and north of Thoreau
  7. Padre Island south of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico
  8. San Luis Valley, near modern day Great Sand Dunes National Monument, located near Mosca, Co.

General Leslie Groves had decided on using the area north of Blythe, but opted not to use because he didn’t want to have to deal with the base’s commander, Gen. George S. Patton. So the “honor” fell to Alamogordo.

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The Crash at Crush

The publicity stunt known as the “Crash at Crush” happened on Sept. 15, 1896 1For more about the 100th anniversary you can read the Baylor University Lariat’s account here.. It took place at the short-lived (one day, to be exact) town of Crush, TX., near Waco.

A locomotive crash staged several months earlier by the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad near Cleveland, Ohio, had been a great success, attracting 40,000 spectators. William George Crush, a general passenger agent at the Katy Railroad, thought it would make for a great publicity stunt, so he proposed a similar event in Texas. The Katy wouldn’t charge for the event, only the price of train fare to get to the event. He ran the idea up the Katy flagpole and was given full control of putting on the spectacle.

Posters were made up for the crash, but little paid publicity was needed since almost every major newspaper was providing free publicity of the event. The crash was set for September 15, 1896 and the crowds filed in to central Texas the days preceding, mostly aboard Katy trains.

Crush, a friend of P.T. Barnum, borrowed a tent from the Ringling brothers to be used as a restaurant and built a wooden jail in case there were pickpockets and drunks. Crush, with the help of Katy engineers, laid out the logistics of the crash, setting up the impact point in front of a grandstand filled with V.I.P.s. By the day of the event it is estimated that up to 50,000 people were at the site, creating a town for a day, which was appropriately called Crush. In 1896, Dallas had just 40,000 so for that one day Crush may have bested Dallas for the title of Texas’ largest city.

At 5 p.m. the two locomotives set up about a mile from each other and put the peddle to the metal. Maximum speed was reached at 90 miles an hour, and they set off cherry bombs laid on the tracks to create small explosions as the trains traveled along. The two trains met ten feet north of the designated impact point, which was close enough according to the Katy engineer’s calculations.

Three large explosions quickly followed one after the other. The first explosion was the collision of the engines, then the next two explosions were the boilers of each train exploding. Both the photographers and V.I.P.s’ stands were immediately pelted with shrapnel. The official photographer for the event, Jervis Deane of Waco, was hit by a piece of metal that put out his eye and embedded several pieces of metal in his head.

The storm of the shrapnel occurred so quickly and the crowd was so closely packed together that it was impossible to run for cover. Three people died and several dozen spectators were injured by the exploding locomotives.

One of those killed was sitting in a mesquite tree and was nearly decapitated by a length of chain. The explosion was so powerful that a piece knocked a woman unconscious half a mile away. Some were even injured as they attempted to pick up the scalding metal on the ground as a souvenir.

The injured and the families of the dead were paid by the Katy. Crush was fired immediately, but rehired a few days later without the general public’s knowledge until he retired from the company. The “Crash at Crush” was immortalized by famed Texas composer Scott Joplin in his march, “Great Crush Collision.” 2Huh. Sheet music for the Scott Joplin piece can be found here.

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