balloon riots

The first public demonstration of a lighter-than-air machine took place in 1783, in Annonay, France, when Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, two brothers who owned a paper mill, sent up an unmanned hot-air balloon.

early balloon found here

After their success, the brothers went to Paris and built another larger one. On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, the Montgolfiers flew the first passengers in a basket suspended below a hot-air balloon—a sheep, a rooster, and a duck.

Miss Dietrich with her duck in a basket found here

On August 27, 1783, Jacques Alexandre César Charles launched the first balloon inflated with hydrogen gas in Paris. Unlike the Montgolfier balloon, his hydrogen-inflated balloon was closed to contain the gas. The sphere ascended from the Place des Victories in Paris to a height of nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) and came down some 15 miles (24 kilometers) away where terrified peasants attacked and destroyed it.

image found here

A flying craze arose in France and Scotland with James Tytler, Scotland’s first aeronaut and the first Briton to fly, but a year after the invention of the balloon, the English were still skeptical, and so George Biggin and ‘Vincent’ Lunardi, “The Daredevil Aeronaut”, decided to demonstrate a hydrogen balloon flight at the Artillery Ground of the Honourable Artillery Company in London in September 1784.

Lunardi found here

Lunardi first tried to obtain permission to go up from the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital. However, somebody else had already beaten him to it – a Frenchman, de Morel, who had made the first attempt with a whimsical hot air balloon shaped like a Chinese temple. This monster declined to leave the ground, which disappointed and infuriated the spectators; in their rage they destroyed the balloon.

image found here

In Lunardi’s case, because the 200,000 strong crowd had grown very impatient with delays in fully inflating the balloon, the young Italian had to take-off without his friend Biggin, but he was accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. The flight travelled in a northerly direction towards Hertfordshire, with Lunardi making a stop in Welham Green, where the cat was set free as it seemed airsick.

flying cat found here

The 24 mile flight brought Lunardi fame and began the ballooning fad that inspired fashions of the day—Lunardi skirts were decorated with balloon styles, and in Scotland, the Lunardi Bonnet was named after him, and is even mentioned by Robert Burns in his poem ‘To a Louse’, written about a young woman called Jenny, who had a louse scampering in her Lunardi bonnet.

balloon bonnet found here

Lunardi went on to build larger and better balloons decorated with Union Jacks, in which manner he ‘wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word “British” stands for’. His faithful friend Biggin and a Mrs Letitia Sage, an actress, were to have accompanied him on a trip from Moorefields, but the lifting capacity of the balloon was poor, so Lunardi started alone. Soon afterwards he had to come down again, near Tottenham Court Road, because the envelope turned out to be leaking. The well-tried patience of Biggin was finally rewarded later that year when, on 29 June, he was able to ascend himself, accompanied by Mrs Sage.

Letitia Sage found here

Mrs Sage was described as Junoesque, and apparently weighed in at over 200 pounds. On the day she wore a very low cut silk dress, apparently to aid ‘wind resistance’. Her fellow passenger was the dashing George Biggin, a young and wealthy Old Etonian.

no wind resistance found here

Unfortunately the balloon was overloaded. (Afterwards Mrs Sage blamed herself because she hadn’t told Lunardi her weight and he’d been too polite to ask). Lunardi seemed to have no qualms about stepping out and letting the apparently inexperienced Mr Biggin take to the air with Mrs Sage. Unfortunately in his haste to depart, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola door. As the balloon sailed away over Picadilly the beautiful Mrs Sage was on all fours re-threading the lacings to close the door. Apparently the crowd assumed she had fainted and was perhaps receiving some kind of intimate first aid from Mr Biggin.

daisyfae had to lace me into this corset in Chicago 2011

In fact she was coolly re-threading the lacings to make the gondola safe again. In due course the two of them were lunching off sparkling Italian wine and cold chicken, occasionally calling to people below through a speaking trumpet.

The flight followed the line of the Thames westwards finally landing heavily in Harrow on the Hill where the balloon damaged a hedge and gouged a strip through the middle of an uncut hayfield, leaving the farmer ranting abuse and threats. The honour of the first female aeronaut was saved by the young gentlemen/boys of Harrow school who had a whip-round to pay off the farmer and then carried Mrs Sage bodily, in triumph, to the local pub.

Later there was much speculation at Mr Biggin’s club as to whether he had been the first man to “board” a female aeronaut in flight…….

the fully qualified tantric lama

Recently I was reading about Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969), described as an anarchist, occultist, opera singing late bloomer. What a fabulous woman. Here, Janwillem Van De Wetering reviews a biography of her…..

image found here

“Setting out on this review, I feel a slight tremor of fear. Alexandra David-Neel, a bourgeois Parisian, became a fully qualified tantric lama in Tibet when she was 52 years old. Tantric Buddhism has been known to follow the left-handed, or demonic, way.

image found here

Do I dare to discuss a magic entity that is calmly gazing through the screen of my word processor, wearing a rosary necklace of 108 pieces of human skull, an apron of carved human bones, and holding a phurba, the higher-sphere crystal dagger that kills ghosts but may also seriously disturb or even switch off the regular flesh-and-blooded, by penetrating our astral bodies?

image found here

Mme. David-Neel was a compulsive traveler, an explorer, a feminist, a prolific and internationally popular writer and an acknowledged authority on Buddhist ritual. Her stay at Kum Bum monastery in Amdo Province made her familiar with spells. She did cause a sudden thunderstorm out of the blue to frighten bandits off while traveling across the arid highlands of the ”roof of the world,” she did warm herself by tumo, or ”pit of the stomach,” meditation, making flames embrace her when she ran out of fuel and food in deep snow, and on a lower spiritual plane, she did carry a modern automatic seven-shot pistol that she fired at least once, aiming at a brigand who tried to steal her last tin spoon.

museum near the monastery found here

Fortunately, she didn’t kill him. Practicing Buddhists try to avoid taking life. David-Neel did eat meat products, though, including the soles of her boots, and in a drafty tent at 50 degrees below zero she slurped maggoty stew cooked by a substance-abusing butcher. David-Neel traveled in a time when Britain ruled not only waves but also mountains. The British secret service was wary of the mysterious Frenchwoman who hobnobbed with Oriental princes and high lamas in palaces and fortresses where political plans were hatched.

image found here

She endlessly milked money out of Philip Neel, her hardworking husband. Showing a prudish image to her royalty-paying public, she hid an affair with a stagehand, a live-in relationship with a fellow artist in France and an invitation to be seduced on her future husband’s yacht in Tunisia. Perhaps, if we may follow her biographers’ hint, she participated in tantric sex, the free-for-all physical activity in which masters and disciples partake in order to raise their spirits toward detachment. She disapproved of this ”promiscuity of embarrassments,” but then, you see, she wasn’t really there, she was just hiding in a hayloft. (She peeked.) She had a violent temper that very few – indeed, only Aphur Yongden, her faithful associate, and, in her old age, her secretary, Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet -were able to handle.

homes for sale in Tunisia here

Calling herself a rational Buddhist, she tried to live well, taking a hot bath every day (a coolie carried the bathtub), eating gourmet meals (she never cooked herself), riding good horses and being carried by sturdy bearers. When Lhasa, the political and spiritual capital, couldn’t be reached that way, she walked, crawled, lived on boiled water and dirt, became seriously ill, begged, and pretended to be a servant to her servant (who later became her adopted son and companion, Lama Yongden, a source of much jealousy to her husband). She reached the forbidden holy city, the first foreign woman to ever do so.

Lama Yongden found here

In 1928 Alexandra legally separated from Philippe, but they continued to exchange letters and he kept supporting her till his death in 1941. Alexandra settled in Provence, and continued to study and write till her death at age nearly 101.

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 8:57 am  Comments (46)  
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goatish gonads

One of our favourite characters here at the Gimcrack is Dr Serge Voronoff who has been mentioned in not one, not two, but three posts before. Serge was responsible for transplanting bits of monkey testes into aging men. John Brinkley went one step further – he became a millionaire during the twenties by transplanting goat glands instead.

Brinkley and wife found here

While working as house doctor at the Swift meatpacking company, he was dazzled by the vigorous mating activities of the goats destined for the slaughterhouse. Later, after Brinkley had gone into private practice, a farmer named Stittsworth came to see him. Stittsworth complained of a sagging libido. Recalling the goats’ frantic antics, the doctor semi-jokingly told his patient that what he needed was some goat glands. Stittsworth quickly responded, “So, Doc, put ‘em in. Transplant ‘em.”

image found here

Most doctors would have ignored the bizarre request, but Brinkley was not like most doctors. In fact, he wasn’t a doctor at all. Although he had spent three years at Bennet Medical College in Chicago, he’d never graduated. He called himself a doctor on the basis of a $500 diploma he had purchased from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City.

“Eclectic” found here

Buying a degree from a diploma mill was not out of character for Brinkley. He had worked as a snake-oil salesman in a road show, and then, with fellow con man James Crawford, established Greenville Electro Medical Doctors. Under this name the pair injected people with colored distilled water for $25 a shot. Brinkley, therefore, had all he needed to capitalize on the farmer’s idea of goat-gland transplants: he was unethical, he had a wobbly knowledge of medicine, and he had witnessed the rambunctious behavior of goats.

image found here

Brinkley went to work, implanting a small piece of goat gonad in Stittsworth’s testicle. Soon the farmer was thanking the doctor for giving him back his libido. And when his wife gave birth to a boy, whom they appropriately named Billy, Stittsworth spread the word further. Brinkley’s business was booming and even at $750 per transplant, he couldn’t keep up with demand. All men needed the Brinkley operation, he declared, but the procedure was most suited to the intelligent and least suited to the “stupid type.” This, of course, ensured that few of his patients would admit that they had not benefited from the operation.

Baby Billy Bob found here

Revenue from the surgeries made Brinkley an immensely wealthy man. For $5,000, he would even implant genuine human glands, which he obtained from prisoners on death row. He had mansions, a fleet of Cadillacs, airplanes, and yachts.There were occasional problems like when Brinkley decided to use angora goat testicles instead of those from the more common Toggenberg goat. Recipients of the angora testicles were unhappy—Brinkley himself noted that they reeked like a steamy barn in midsummer. 

image found here

But ultimately Brinkley couldn’t cure himself. The Milford Messiah—as he was sometimes called—the man who had performed over 16,000 goat testicle transplants, the man who appropriately wore a goatee all his life, developed a blood clot, forcing doctors to amputate his leg. Till the very end, Brinkley’s scheming mind remained active. Confined to bed, he decided to study for the ministry and had visions of becoming a big-time preacher but he died before he could complete his degree.

the mesmerising dentist

Rachael Weaver uncovers an old Sydney murder case…..

News of the tragedy began with reports of an inquest into the violent death of Henry Kinder on 7 October 1865. Kinder was an official at the City Bank and lived with his young family in a comfortable home on Sydney’s north shore. Originally an Englishman, Kinder had arrived in the colonies from New Zealand with his wife, Maria, two years earlier.

image found here

The evidence presented at the inquest was of a man who was restless and excitable, smoked heavily, was careless about his personal appearance and anxious about unpaid debts. Bertrand, a successful Sydney dentist who saw the Kinders socially every day, deposed that Kinder had been drinking freely, that he had challenged Bertrand to a duel, and that he was jealous of his wife with everyone.

image found here

According to Bertrand and Maria Kinder they had been in the Kinders’ drawing room with Henry Kinder and Bertrand’s wife Jane on Monday evening when Kinder suddenly shot himself in the head. Dr Eichler described having been called in around five hours later to treat a large laceration, which had caused Kinder’s ear to hang away from its proper place. The wound had torn his face open from the jaw to the temple. Eichler described his treatments before offering his opinion that the deceased was an imbecile. Kinder was awake and remained conscious throughout the week, lingering until the Friday when he died.

image found here

The inquest into the death of Henry Kinder caused ‘some sensation’ at the time. But this was nothing compared with the outpouring of public excitement two months later, when Henry Bertrand, his wife Jane Bertrand and Maria Kinder were charged with Kinder’s murder. The sensation surrounding the case arose from the idea of ‘profligacy, and something akin to madness, occurring in a respectable circle’.

the respectability question found here

Those involved were young, good-looking, affluent and fashionable. Their relationships were wildly unorthodox and everyone who had come within their orbit had strange tales to tell. Maria Kinder was invested with a seductive malice and Henry Bertrand with deep eccentricities and charisma. Bertrand’s distinctive traits and peculiar behaviour added greatly to the case’s sense of intrigue, but perhaps most fascinating of all was his professed ability to control others using hypnosis.

image found here

If analysts of the case loved to dwell on Bertrand’s dangerous powers of hypnosis, they were perhaps even more seduced by the idea of Maria Kinder as a femme fatale, whose passions had driven the men around her to insanity and murder. Perceptions of her magnetic sexuality, infidelity, gold-digging and cunning criminality coalesced with stereotypes of the evil woman that were circulating in the sensational popular fiction of the time.

Femme Fatale by Patrick Demarchelier found here

Maria Kinder first met Henry Bertrand as a patient at his Wynyard Square practice, and their relationship quickly evolved into an illicit affair. They did little to conceal it from family and friends, who seem to have looked on with a peculiar level of acceptance. They used Bertrand’s young assistant, Alfred Burne, as messenger and he carried letters between them. 

Wynyard Square c 1938 found here

Shortly after the lovers met, Francis Jackson, another key figure in the case, arrived on the scene. He had been Maria Kinder’s lover in New Zealand and upon meeting again in Sydney, Jackson and Maria Kinder quickly rekindled their affair. During his testimony at the trial he described having orchestrated drinking sessions with Henry Kinder so that he could have his way with Maria when the banker fell unconscious. Meanwhile Bertrand sought to play his rivals, Jackson and Kinder, against each other. He tried to incite Kinder to violence and then threatened to implicate Jackson in Kinder’s death if he remained in Sydney. To get him out of the way, Bertrand offered to pay Jackson’s passage back to New Zealand and Jackson took the money and departed, but travelled only as far as Maitland in regional New South Wales.

Maitland floods 2007 found here

Meanwhile, Bertrand was also plotting against Kinder. He asked his assistant, Alfred Burne, if he knew where a pistol could be bought, and they arranged to purchase one from a city pawnshop. Bertrand turned up disguised as a woman.  The next morning Bertrand asked Alfred Burne to buy a sheep’s head from the butcher. Back at his Wynyard Square surgery he cast his own bullets before testing them out by firing at the sheep’s head.

sheep’s head found here

Just two weeks later Kinder was dead. According to Jane Bertrand’s testimony, she and Maria Kinder had been standing by the window arranging flowers when they heard a shot. They turned to see Kinder drooping in his seat by the piano, a pistol falling from his hand, Bertrand standing over him. Dr Eichler was sent for and arrived a few hours later. Kinder was conscious but sank into a wordless stupor when the doctor told him to put his affairs in order.

flower arrangement found here

The next day, Eichler examined Kinder again and found him much improved. That evening at the dental surgery Bertrand showed to Alfred Burne a phial of white liquid, telling him it was the poison he would use to murder Kinder. On 6 October Kinder died. 

Following the coroner’s inquest into Henry Kinder’s death, Bertrand and Maria Kinder continued their affair. She came to live with Bertrand and his wife, who was sometimes forced to share a bed with the lovers—a salacious detail that generated nearly as much moral outrage as the murder itself. 

Meanwhile, Bertrand received a letter from Francis Jackson attempting to blackmail him by threatening to expose his relationship with Maria Kinder and his involvement in Henry Kinder’s death. Bertrand’s surgery was searched and his diary, a bottle marked poison, a pistol, gunpowder, caps and a tomahawk were seized. Bertrand was charged with murder.

image found here

Despite testimony that she had mixed the poison that had killed Kinder, a charge of murder against Jane Bertrand was dropped. Maria Kinder, likewise, escaped further prosecution due to lack of evidence. Bertrand was tried alone. After deliberating for twenty hours without reaching agreement, the jury was dismissed. A second trial began and was concluded the following day. This time the jury returned a guilty verdict and Bertrand was sentenced to death.

The Kinder Tragedy was described as the greatest criminal case on record in the Australian colonies. Keeping interest in the case alive was the fact that Bertrand had evaded the death penalty. From time to time he was moved to a new prison, and a fresh spate of newspaper articles recalling the case would appear. New Zealand’s Wanganui Chronicle reported in September 1879 that he had been relocated to Darlinghurst, and was ‘considered a valuable acquisition to that institution’. Maria Kinder made the news just once after the trial had ended, in July 1867, when she announced her marriage to a Mr Stanley Williams of Greymouth, New Zealand.

Darlinghurst jail, now the National Art School

By far the greatest rekindling of interest in the case, however, came in 1894 with Bertrand’s release after twenty-eight years in prison. Maria Kinder was dead by then. After a night or two spent at the Hotel Metropole in Sydney, Bertrand left Australia for good. It is believed he went to live under an assumed name in Paris.

Chinese George

George Ernest Morrison (1862 – 1920), also known as Chinese Morrison, was an Australian adventurer and The Times Peking correspondent.

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He was born in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. During a vacation before his tertiary education, he walked from Geelong to Adelaide, a distance of about 600 miles (960 km). Landing at Normanton, Queensland at the end of 1882 Morrison decided to walk to Melbourne. He was not quite 21, he had no horses or camels and was unarmed, but carrying his swag and swimming or wading the rivers in his path, he walked the 2043 miles in 123 days.

image of Geelong found here

Financed by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, Morrison was sent on an exploration journey to New Guinea. The men Morrison chose to accompany him were a mixed and mostly comical lot. They included Ned Snow “remarkably short and of such eccentric configuration that, whereas his body seemed longer than his legs, his head appeared more lengthy than either’. There was a Malay named Cheerful (possibly because he was an opium smoker) and another, Lively, who was “curious”.

Mud Men from New Guinea found here

High mountain country barred the way, and it took 38 days to cover 50 miles. The natives became hostile, and Morrison was struck by two spears, one, driven into his head near his right eye, the other deep in his stomach. Retracing their steps, with Morrison strapped to a horse, Port Moresby was reached after many days. On a ship taking him home he blew his nose and shot out a two centimetre splinter of wood. 

image found here

In Melbourne, 169 agonising days after the ambush, a surgeon removed the spearhead that was wedged in the back of his throat. Without anaesthetic the surgeon took the tip of the spear (six centimetres long) through and up the throat and into then out of Morrison’s right nostril.

He sailed for London on 27 March 1884, where he had the second spearhead cut from his abdomen by surgeon Joseph Bell in front of no less than 16 other surgeons. Morrison graduated as a doctor from Edinburgh University two and a half years later. After graduation he travelled extensively in the United States, the West Indies, and Spain. He then proceeded to Morocco, became physician to the Shereef of Wazan, and studied in Paris under Dr Charcot. In Siam, where the British and French were vying for power, he worked as a British secret agent. 

George found here

In 1894 he journeyed from Shanghai to Rangoon. He went partly by boat up the Yangtze River then rode and walked the remainder of the 3000 miles. The journey was completed in 100 days at a total cost of £18. He was unarmed and at the time knew hardly more than a dozen words of Chinese. 

Yangtze found here

In 1899 he went to England, and early in 1900 paid a short visit to his relations in Australia before returning to Peking. The Boxer Uprising broke out soon after, and during a prolonged siege, Morrison showed great courage, always ready to volunteer for every service of danger. Superficially wounded in July, he was erroneously reported as killed. He was afterwards able to read his highly laudatory obituary notice, which occupied two columns of The Times.

Boxer uprising found here

Morrison was a handsome, heroic man of action, much admired by women. In Spain he was captivated by a young girl named Pepita. In Paris he spent all his savings on Noelle and in Rangoon he had an idyllic affair with a Eurasian named Mary. In London, aged 43, he fell heavily for Toni, a 22 year old Hungarian. In Peking, he lusted briefly for Bessie and while visiting Sydney, spent time with a German actress. May, an insatiable American heiress, had him in the shadow of the Great Wall. He was spellbound by her sexuality and described her as the most thoroughly immoral woman. His diary contained an account of her industrious love life:

shadowy Great Wall found here

“May played with herself every morning even after passing the night in bed with a man. Seduced by a doctor, she went to Washington, slept constantly with Congressman Gaines, had four miscarriages, kissed all the way over Siberia by Captain Tremain Smith. Had for days in succession by Martin Egan. Her desire now is to get a Japanese maid to accompany her back to America and to kiss her every morning. In Tientson she had the Dutch consul and Mr Holcombe had her four times in two hours….”

Japanese maids found here

Morrison was dejected when May dumped him but at the age of 53, he married his thirty years younger assistant, Jennie. They had seven happy years together before he died of pancreatitis in May 1920.  

the pugilist poet

Arthur Cravan (born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd on May 22, 1887) was known as a pugilist, a poet and a larger-than-life character.

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“Cravan was born and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, then at an English military academy from which he was expelled after spanking a teacher

image found here

He set out to promote himself as an eccentric and an art critic, though his interest was showing off a striking personal style rather than discussing art. To a degree, Cravan was a charlatan as well as a genius. He staged spectacles and stunts with himself at the centre, pulling down his pants in public and once acting on the front of a line of carts where he paraded his skills as a boxer and singer.

After the First World War began, Cravan left Paris to avoid being drafted into military service. On a stopover in the Canary Islands a boxing match was arranged between Cravan and the reigning world champion, Jack Johnson, to raise money for Cravan’s passage to the United States. Posters for the match touted him as “European champion.” Johnson, who didn’t know who he was, knocked Cravan out solidly, noting in his autobiography that Cravan must have been out of training.

Jack Johnson found here

His style involved continuous re-invention of his public persona, and outrageous statements and boasts. As the nephew of Oscar Wilde (his father’s sister, Constance Mary Lloyd, was married to Wilde) he even produced hoaxes—documents and poems—and then signed them “Oscar Wilde”. In 1913 he published an article claiming that his uncle was still alive and had visited him in Paris. The New York Times published the rumor, even though Cravan and Wilde never met.

On the page and in person, Cravan paraded himself as “the poet with the shortest haircut in the world.”  Penniless most of the time, he drank in dive sports bars in the Bronx and slept rough in Central Park. Marcel Duchamp invited Cravan to a conference at Grand Central Palace. His lecture caused a sensation: drunk and undressing, he cussed out an audience who called the cops, shocking the Greenwich Village avant-garde.

Marcel Duchamp found here

It was in New York that he fell in love with the poet Mina Loy. They moved to Mexico together and married in 1918. The couple planned a trip to Argentina but did not have enough money for both of them to book passage on the same vessel. Loy took the trip on a regular ship and Cravan set out alone on a sailboat. He never arrived in Argentina and it is presumed that he died, aged 31, in a storm at sea. Mina gave birth to their daughter, Fabienne, in April. She spent a year searching for him, and decades fantasizing his return. Although theories abound, the mystery of his disappearance has never been solved. 

Mina Loy found here

the eternal swirl of penetrability

Alfred William Lawson, Supreme Head and First Knowlegian of the University of Lawsonomy, at Des Moines, Iowa, was in his own opinion the greatest scientific genius of his day. Martin Gardner devoted an entire chapter of Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science to Lawsonomy

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At the base of Lawsonomy, underlying the entire structure, was a theory of physics so novel that Lawson was forced to invent new terms to describe it. 

Lawson conceived of a cosmos in which there was neither energy nor empty space, but only substances of varying density moving toward each other through the operation of two basic Lawsonian principles—Suction and Pressure. The law governing this movement was called Penetrability.

suction image found here

The human body operated by means of thousands of little Suction and Pressure pumps. Air was sucked into the lungs, food into the stomach, and blood around the body. Waste matter was eliminated by Pressure. This “internal swirl goes on as long as the Suction and Pressure terminals are properly maintained.” When they cease to draw and push, the man dies.

pressure cooker cola braised ribs found here

Sex, as might be expected, was simply Suction and Pressure. “Suction is the female movement. Pressure is the male. Female movement draws in from without, and male movement pushes out from within. The attraction of one sex for the other is merely the attraction of Suction for Pressure.”

found here

Within the human brain, according to Lawson, were two types of tiny creatures called the Menorgs and the Disorgs. The Menorgs (from “mental organizers”) are “microscopic thinking creatures that operate within the mental system.” They are responsible for everything good and creative. 

Unfortunately, the Menorgs have opposed to them the destructive, evil activities of the Disorgs (“disorganizes”), “microscopic vermin that infect the mental system and destroy the instruments constructed by the Menorgs.” As Lawson expressed it, “a Menorg will sacrifice himself for the benefit of the body, but a Disorg will sacrifice the body for the benefit of himself.”

image found here

Just after he turned nineteen, Lawson became a pitcher for an Indiana ballteam. For the next nineteen years he worked in professional baseball, both as a player and a manager. Photographs taken at the time revealed a handsome, chiseled face, dark curly hair, high forehead, and dreamy eyes.

image found here

It was during his baseball career that Lawson became corrupted by friends. He began to earn money for money’s sake. Worse than that, he took to tobacco and liquor, and the eating of meat. His health failed. His teeth decayed. Then, at the age of twenty-eight, by a superhuman effort of will, he abandoned all these vices.

His first book, a novel called Born Again was written about this experience. It is one of the worst works of fiction ever printed, but Lawson claimed “many people consider it the greatest novel ever written by man.”

image found here

Soon after he published it, Lawson began a career in aviation. In 1908 he established the first popular aeronautical magazine, Fly. From 1910 to 1914 he edited another magazine called Aircraft, a word he coined himself. He introduced it into the dictionary as editor of the aviation section of a revised Webster’s. 

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In 1919 he invented, designed, and built the world’s first passenger airliner. It carried eighteen people, and although there was considerable doubt as to whether it would fly, Lawson himself piloted it from Milwaukee to Washington and back. In 1920, he built a twenty-six-passenger plane, and made a handsome profit flying it around the United States. It was the first plane to have sleeping berths.

image found here

His books Direct Credits for Everybody, and Know Business, detail the basic tenets of the “Lawson Money System.” He proposed that he gold standard be abolished. “Valueless money” was to be issued, not redeemable for anything. Parades and mass meetings of his followers were held in dozens of midwestern cities;  the largest was in Detroit in October 1933. The floats, carrying plump and elaborately costumed women, were so preposterous that unless there were photographs you wouldn’t believe them. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find any).

Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade found here

In 1942, Lawson purchased the University of Des Moines. The school, which included fourteen acres, six buildings, and dormitories for four hundred students, had been closed since 1929. He called it the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy. Lawson’s opinion of American education was low. “You don’t begin to get bald on the inside of your heads until you start to go to high school,” he once declared, “and you don’t get entirely bald until you pass through college.”

bald head design art found here

He placed a high premium on bodily vigor, and recommended an elaborate set of health rules. He believed in a diet without meat, consisting mostly of raw fruits and vegetables. “All salads,” he once wrote, “should contain a sprinkling of fresh cut grass.” The head should be dunked in cold water upon arising and before going to bed. He also believed in sleeping nude, and changing bed sheets daily.

nude by Modigliani found here

He was against kissing. “Can you think of anything filthier than a man and woman with their faces stuck together and spitting disease microbes into each other’s mouths?” “Alfred Lawson never hated nor harmed a man, woman, or child in his life,” wrote Lawson. “In days gone by when anybody struck harmfully at this writer, he merely took hold of the offender and threw him to the ground to show his superior strength and ingenuity, and then rose with a friendly smile to show there was no hatred in his system whatsoever. “

Published in: on April 25, 2012 at 6:47 am  Comments (50)  
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a darker shade of bad hat

‘Bad hats’ was a term employed in China during the 20th century to describe undesirable or simply ‘bad’ characters that landed in their treaty port concessions.

“In the 1930s a new breed of ‘bad hat’ began to emerge, often well-financed and politically affiliated with intelligence contacts in their own countries.The term began to take on a much darker shade in the press. One of the most notorious was a Viennese Doctor by the name of Hermann Erben.

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In 1924 he won a fellowship for study at the Psychiatric Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey. He moved to the USA and acquired citizenship. In 1926 he began a wandering life and ended up a ship’s doctor on the American Dollar and President lines. In 1934 he visited Papua New Guinea and struck up an aquaintance with the film star Errol Flynn.The two of them ended up bumming around together travelling to India, Abyssina and then Vienna. In 1935 the New York Herald Tribune reported his arrival abroad the freighter ‘City of Rayville” in the company of 1,100 monkeys that he was importing from Calcutta. Upon disembarkation in New York he encountered difficulties with the customs authorities. Eventually he secured admission with his simian charges and took lodging with them at the YMCA but left soon afterwards, following a difference of opinion over the bill.

image found here

In 1937 he was reported to have been engaged in inciting a mutiny abroad an American cruise liner on which he was working. FBI inquiries revealed a pattern of challenging behaviour aboard the ship; he allegedly “wiped his hands on the American flag after taking food from the icebox”, had given the Nazi salute to a passing German ship and had threatened anyone criticizing Adolf Hitler that he would “sink his teeth into their throat”. His on board stage act was an uncanny impersonation of Adolf Hitler for anyone interested.

Baby Hitler found here

In 1941 Erben arrived back in China. He went directly from the docks to the German consulate, where he was interviewed by local Gestapo and bureau chiefs. Shanghai at this time, due to its non-defined territorial international settlement’s status, had become a hotbed of espionage activities,  its big hotels were famous for eavesdroppers and electronic bugs which had led to such wartime incongruities as a Nazi-controlled German embassy being housed in a British owned building on the Bund.

Shanghai in the 1940s found here

Erben, as a ship’s physician, was assigned to treat American sailors. He also received an order to contact the U.S embassy in his capacity as a U.S citizen with a view to learning about their security. Meanwhile he practiced medicine as a venereal disease specialist and abortionist for rich Chinese and foreign families. Extortion by sexual blackmail became something of hobby for him too, a well-known practice amongst corrupt doctors in the city. He also entered the opium smuggling business which proved more lucrative than espionage for the Nazis. Slowly the lure of easy money drew Erben away from his Nazi beliefs and he began selling ‘intelligence’ reports to Allies and Axis powers alike, often being creative in his write-ups. 

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The German intelligence establishment in Shanghai came to consider Erben an extremely questionable person and made inquiries about his background. In 1943 a message came from Berlin that Erben was an ‘imposter, narcotics dealer and American propagandist’. The Nazis in Shanghai decided to play one of their (few and far between) humourous jokes on him. His controller, a Gestapo officer called Habenicht, asked him to go undercover in an internment camp in order to gather intelligence; from there he could effect an escape with an American prisoner and flee to Chungking to work as a German agent. He was handed over to Japanese guards but Erben quickly became a pariah, due to the other inmates’ well founded suspicions. He spent two and a half years in the camp as a ‘volunteer’ with no word from his controller. It appears to have been a joke assignment from his Gestapo superiors.

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After the war he returned to Vienna and took up medicine again (where no one discovered another of his secrets -he never actually got his medical degree), dying at the age of 88 in an tiny unheated apartment in 1985. 

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:33 am  Comments (49)  
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faith and fasting and the mysterious man from Mayfair

Maurice Wilson MC (1898–1934) was a British soldier, mystic, mountaineer and aviator who is known for his ill-fated attempt to climb Mount Everest alone

Wilson found here

Often characterised as “eccentric”, he wished to climb Everest to promote his belief that the world’s ills could all be solved by a combination of fasting and faith in God. 

Mt Everest found here

He joined the army on his eighteenth birthday and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a Captain. He won the Military Cross for his part in an engagement where, as the only uninjured survivor of his unit, he single-handedly held a machine gun post against the advancing Germans.

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Wilson left the army in 1919, and like many of the “lost generation” found the transition to post-war life difficult. For several years he wandered, living in London, the United States and then New Zealand where he ran a ladies clothes shop.

NZ Fashion Week 2008 found here

In 1932 he underwent a secretive treatment involving 35 days of intensive prayer and fasting with the aim of restoring his fading health. He claimed that the technique had come from a mysterious man he met in Mayfair who had cured himself and over 100 other people of diseases which doctors had declared incurable.

The idea of climbing Everest came to Wilson while he was recuperating in the Black Forest. He formed a plan to fly a small aeroplane to Tibet, crash-land it on the upper slopes of Everest, and walk to the summit. A practical problem was posed by the fact that Wilson knew nothing at all about either flying or mountaineering.

Black Forest found here

Wilson purchased a three-year-old Gipsy Moth, which he christened Ever Wrest, and set about learning the rudiments of flying. His preparation for the mountaineering challenge that lay ahead was even worse than his preparation for the flight. He bought no specialist equipment and made no attempt to learn technical mountaineering skills, such as the use of an ice axe and crampons. Instead, he spent just five weeks walking around the modest hills of Snowdonia and the Lake District before he declared himself ready.

Snowdonia found here

Ignoring the Air Ministry’s ban, Wilson set off, and remarkably, and in spite of the best efforts of the British government, he succeeded in reaching India two weeks later. After trying and failing to get permission to enter Tibet on foot, Wilson spent the winter in Darjeeling fasting and planning an illicit journey to the base of Everest.

Darjeeling found here

Most of what is known about Wilson’s activities on the mountain itself come from his diary, which was recovered the following year. He seems to have found the trek up the Rongbuk Glacier extremely difficult, constantly getting lost and having to retrace his steps. He wrote in his diary “It’s the weather that’s beaten me – what damned bad luck” and began a gruelling four day retreat down the glacier.

Rongbuk Glacier found here

On May 22, he made an abortive attempt to climb to the North Col. After four days of slow progress and camping on exposed ledges, he was defeated by a forty foot ice wall at around 22,700 ft. His last diary entry was dated 31 May, and read simply “Off again, gorgeous day

In 1935, a small reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest found Wilson’s body, lying on its side in the snow and surrounded by the remains of a tent which had been torn apart by the elements.

But there’s one more twist to this adventure. Rumours have continued to arise that Wilson had a secret. Barry Collins, who’s written a play about Wilson says, “It appears that when Wilson was found there was women’s clothing in his rucksack and I’ve heard someone say that he was decked out in women’s underwear”.

The story was fuelled by the discovery of a ladies shoe at 21,000 feet by the 1960 Chinese expedition. Historian Audrey Salkeld says “We can’t conclusively pin the woman’s shoe find on Wilson but, knowing that he worked in a ladies dress shop in New Zealand, all these things have come together to build a picture of him as a transvestite or shoe fetishist.”

NOT this shoe found here

conduct unbecoming

James Barry (c. 1789 –  1865), was a military surgeon in the British Army.

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“Among his accomplishments was the first caesarean section in Africa by a British surgeon in which both the mother and child survived the operation. Although Barry lived his adult life as a man, it is widely believed that he was born a female named Margaret Ann Bulkley and that he chose to live as a man so that he might be accepted as a university student and be able to pursue his chosen career as a surgeon.

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Margaret was born in Ireland in 1789, the second child of Jeremiah and Mary-Ann Bulkley. The child’s mother was the sister of James Barry, a celebrated Irish artist and professor of painting at London’s Royal Academy. However, a family crisis left Mary-Ann and Margaret without the support of Jeremiah Bulkley. Letters during this time of financial hardship refer to a conspiracy between Mary-Ann and some of her brother’s influential, liberal-minded friends to get the teenager – then still known as Margaret – into medical school.

self portrait by James Barry found here

A letter to the family solicitor shows that Mary-Ann and Margaret travelled to Edinburgh by sea in November 1809.  The letter also indicated that the younger traveller had assumed a male identity upon embarking on the voyage. Following his arrival in Edinburgh, Barry began studies as a ‘literary and medical student’. He qualified with a Medical Doctorate in 1812, then moved back to London.

Edinburgh found here

Barry was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant with the British Army, taking up a post in the Royal Military Hospital in Plymouth, where he was promoted to Assistant Staff Surgeon. After that he served in India and South Africa. Barry’s next postings included Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, and the island of Saint Helena. In Saint Helena he got into trouble for leaving for England unannounced. Later he served in Malta, the Crimea, Jamaica, and Canada.

St Helena found here

He was a misfit from the start: less than 5ft tall, he wore stacked heels and had to have 3in soles fastened to his boots to give him elevation. But the flamboyant styles of the day – men dressed effeminately as a fashion, not a sexual statement – worked in his favour. 

elephant dung stacked heels found here

He rapidly became known for his foibles, which included sleeping every night with a black poodle called Psyche, riding about in dress uniform wearing a cavalry sword and taking a goat everywhere so he could drink its milk. Despite “a most peculiar squeaky voice and mincing manner”, as one ambassador’s daughter noted, Dr Barry’s fierce temper ensured he was a force to be reckoned with.

goat found here

Barry was not always a pleasant fellow to be around. He could be tactless, impatient, argumentative and opinionated. He reputedly fought a couple of duels when someone commented on his voice and feminine features, though he appears to have had a good bedside manner and professional skill. He was a vegetarian and teetotaler and reputedly recommended wine baths for some (lucky) patients.

Wine Bath image found here

James Barry retired in 1864 — reputedly against his wishes — and returned to England. He died from dysentery a year later. Sophia Bishop, the charwoman who took care of the body, discovered his female anatomy and revealed this information after the funeral. Many people then claimed to have “known it all along”.

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