General Lee’s Decision Avoided the ‘Vietnamization of America’

Robert E. Lee declined President Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

By Jim O’Neal

In late 1955, the Tappan Zee Bridge – spanning the Hudson River in New York – was opened with seven lanes for motor traffic. Two months ago, it was closed and is systematically being demolished. The deteriorating bridge, known in the governor’s office as the “hold-your-breath bridge,” was featured in the documentary The Crumbling of America, the story of the infrastructure crisis in the United States.

Also in this same category is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery and is metaphorically described as what rejoined the North and South after the Civil War. First proposed in 1886 as a memorial to General Ulysses S. Grant, it was blocked in Congress until President Warren G. Harding got snarled in a three-hour traffic jam in 1921 en route to the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Congress quickly approved his request for $25,000 to build the bridge and it finally opened in January 1932.

Nearby is Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. This was the home for the Lee family for 30 years and where R.E.L. made the fateful decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army on April 21, 1861, and join the Confederate States. He had declined President Abraham Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

In June 1862, Congress enacted a property tax on all “insurrectionary” land and added an amendment in 1863 requiring the tax to be paid in person. Ill and behind Confederate lines, Mary Lee was unable to comply and the Lees never slept there again. The property was auctioned off on Jan. 11, 1864, and the high bidder ($26,800) was the U.S. government.

Secretary of War William Stanton approved the conversion of the Lee estate to a military cemetery in 1864. On May 13, a Confederate POW was buried there (renamed Arlington National Cemetery) and more than 400,000 have joined him, including President Taft, President JFK and my dear friend Roger Enrico.

For 15 years, I passed a statue of Robert E. Lee driving to my Dallas office. It invariably invoked memories of the wisdom of this soldier who surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Most of his top aides tried to dissuade Lee from surrendering, arguing they could disband into the familiar countryside and hold out indefinitely in a stalemate. Eventually, Northern soldiers would simply return to their homes and then the South could regroup.

Thus did Robert E. Lee, so revered for his leadership in war, make his most historic contribution – to peace! By this one momentous decision, he spared the country the divisive guerilla war that would have followed … a vile and poisonous conflict that would have fractured the country perhaps permanently. Or as newspaper columnist Tom Wicker deftly put it, “The Vietnamization of America.”

Alas, Dallas city leaders recently removed the Lee statue and I sincerely hope they find some relief from the anguish they have suffered from this piece of marble sequestered so long. However, I suspect they will just move on to some other injustice. It reminds me of feeding jellybeans to pacify a ravenous bear. When you (inevitably) run out of jellybeans, he eats you.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Artists Recognized James Monroe as a True American Hero

A charcoal sketch of George Washington aide Lt. Col. Robert Hanson Harrison that artist John Trumbull did for his epic painting The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton sold for $8,962 at a May 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Trumbull (1756-1843) deservedly earned the sobriquet as the “Painter of the Revolution.” He actually started out as an aide to General George Washington, but ended up in London, where he developed into a highly respected artist. One of his paintings, which illustrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, graces the $2 bill that features Thomas Jefferson. The bill was issued in 1976 to observe the bicentennial of that historic event.

Another of his numerous works is the The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776. This one naturally features General Washington again, but there is also a depiction of future president, Lieutenant James Monroe, being treated for a near-fatal damaged artery.

An even more famous painting of the times is an 1851 oil on canvas that also features Washington – Washington Crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25-26, 1776. It was painted by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), a German-American immigrant. Once again, we find James Monroe holding the American flag – the Stars and Stripes – which critics are always quick to remind was a flag not adopted until the following year, 1777. Some nitpickers also harp that the time of day is wrong, the ship is incorrect, and (sigh) even the chunks of ice in the river aren’t right.

But the role of James Monroe as a true hero is beyond any doubt.

Often called the “Last of the Founding Fathers,” he was the fifth president of the United States and like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the son of a Virginia planter. It is sometimes overlooked that in the first 36 years of the American presidency, the Oval Office was occupied almost exclusively by men from Virginia. Somehow, John Adams (Massachusetts) managed to squeeze in a quick four years as president (1797-1801) before sneaking out of Washington, D.C., when Thomas Jefferson ousted him.

James Monroe entered politics after his service in the Revolutionary War and systemically worked his way up after serving in the Virginia legislature. He was a U.S. senator, a minister to France, and then governor of Virginia. After helping negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, he served as minister to Britain, followed by another stint as Virginia’s governor. But after only four months, President Madison offered him an appointment as secretary of state to help draft the recommendation to Congress that led to the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.

When the war got off to a poor start, Madison wisely appointed him secretary of war and Monroe held both of these critical Cabinet positions until the war ended. After the war, the prosperity of the country improved dramatically and with Madison’s strong support, Monroe easily was elected president in 1816.

Taking office when the country finally had no unusual problems, the 58-year-old Monroe was bold enough to declare during his inaugural address: “Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy … the heart of every citizen must expand with joy … how near our government has approached to perfection…”

It was truly the “Era of Good Feelings!”

Things change … and they will again.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Cotton Gin Extended America’s Abhorrent Practice of Slavery

The 1796 patent signed by George Washington for “new machinery called the Cotton Gin” realized $179,250 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1776, Scottish economist, philosopher and teacher Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, a book that helped create a new understanding of modern economics. A pervasive theme was the idea that any economic system could be automatic and self-regulating if it was not burdened by monopolies or artificial trade barriers. This theory has become widely known as “the invisible hand.” It heavily influenced my favorite economist Milton Friedman and his Free to Choose basic philosophy.

One highly topical insight was that slavery was not economically viable and contributed to inefficient markets. Aside from the obvious moral issue, Smith believed slave owners would benefit by switching to a wage-labor model, since it was much more inexpensive to hire workers than own them and provide decent conditions. Buying slaves was much more costly due to ongoing expenses of feeding, housing and caring for workers with a high mortality rate, workers who eventually would have to be replaced.

In the United States, there was also a major disconnect between the concepts of all men being created equal and the cruel practice of slavery, which was prevalent especially in the agrarian states of the South. Although many sincerely believed that slavery would gradually die out, powerful Southern states needed some kind of assurances before they agreed to the new federal Constitution. Section 9 Article 1 of the Constitution barred any attempt to outlaw the slave trade before 1808. Other provisions prohibited states from freeing slaves who fled from other states, and further required them to return “chattel property” (slaves) to their owners. Kicking the issue down the road 20 years enabled the delegates to reach a consensus.

Historian James Oliver Horton wrote about the power slaveholder politicians had over Congress and the influence commodity crops had on the politics and economy of the entire country. A remarkable statistic is that in the 72 years between the election of George Washington (1788) and Abraham Lincoln (1860), in 50 of those years, the president of the United States was a slaveholder; as was every single two-term president.

The passage in 1807 of the Act of Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in America, and the Slave Trade Act in Great Britain marked a radical shift in Western thinking. Even as late as the 1780s, the trade in slaves was still regarded as natural economic activity. Both U.S. and European colonies in the Caribbean depended on slave labor, which was relatively easily obtained in West Africa.

However, it was really the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 that dramatically extended the abhorrent practice of slavery. Cotton was suddenly transformed from a labor intensive, low-margin commodity with limited demand into a highly lucrative crop. Production in Southern states exploded as demand skyrocketed. The number of slaves grew concurrently from 700,000 in 1790 to 3.2 million by 1850. The United States quickly grew into the largest supplier in the world and snagged 80 percent of the market in Great Britain, whose appetite seemed insatiable.

As an economist, Adam Smith was undoubtedly right about hiring workers versus owning them, but everybody was too busy getting rich to worry about optimizing labor costs. And the more demanding abolitionists in the industrializing North denounced slavery the more Southern states were determined to retain it. It would take a bloody four-year Civil War and 630,000 casualties to settle it.

Harry Truman once explained why he preferred one-armed economists: It was because they couldn’t say “On the other hand…”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Empire State Building Remains One of World’s Great Wonders

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ oil on canvas board The Empire State Building, Winter sold for $44,812 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the Sphinx,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “rose the Empire State Building.”

The “ruins” was an oblique reference to the stock market crash in 1929. Completed on May 1, 1931, on the site where the Waldorf Astoria had stood, no building ever reached so high, so fast; 102 stories tall and with a 200-foot mast to hitch your dirigible. It was built in just over a year, during what would become the nation’s worst depression.

Just a short two years earlier on May 1, 1929, architect William Van Alen had broken ground on the Chrysler Building. He had been commissioned by Chrysler to design and construct the tallest building in the world. When the Chrysler Building opened in April 1930, it was indeed the tallest at a magnificent 925 feet – a world record that would only stand for a fleeting 28 days! Then the Manhattan Bank Tower completed its construction and opened at a height of 927 feet, which allowed it to lay claim to the World’s Tallest title by a measly 2 feet.

Hang on. The race wasn’t over. In the history of high wire, where one-upmanship is the oxygen that fuels architectural competition, the Chrysler Building’s William Van Alen had kept a surprise hidden up his sleeve that would allow him to reclaim this prestigious crown.

Van Alen had designed a stainless spire of five sections, which was lowered through the top of the building. At a fixed time, before a highly appreciative audience, Van Alen delivered his coup de grâce to the Manhattan Bank. A huge derrick, its gears slowly turning, raised the spire from the innards of the Chrysler Building. “It gradually emerged,” Van Alen wrote, “from the top of the dome like a butterfly from its cocoon.” At 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was suddenly, once again, the World’s Tallest Building.

Alas, it only remained so for less than a year, when the Empire State Building – topping out at 1,250 feet – grabbed the title for itself. It would retain the crown until 1971 when the World Trade Center towers opened. Fittingly, the group behind the Empire State Building included the Happy Warrior himself, Al Smith, former governor of New York (four times) and the Democratic candidate for president in the 1928 election (won by Herbert Hoover). Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s (newest) tallest skyscraper opened May 1, 1931, and President Hoover turned on the building’s lights using a remote push button in Washington, D.C.

Subsequently, the building has become a worldwide icon and in 1994 it was named one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers … joining the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, all American architectural marvels. Plus, who can forget Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in the 1933 classic King Kong, when the beast from Skull Island plucks her from the building?

The Empire State Building took only 410 days to build since the architectural firm used design plans for the (similar but smaller) Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, N.C., a project they had worked on earlier. The staff at the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the Reynolds Building each year to honor the contribution it made to their existence.

Although long since surrendering its crown for height, the Empire State Building is a “must see” for all tourists to New York and, amazingly, revenue from ticket sales for admission to the observation decks exceeds office space rental income.

Its place in history seems quite secure.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Black Publisher Believed Race Prejudice Had to Be Destroyed

“With the exception of the Bible, no publication was more influential among the black population,” biographer Roi Ottley said of The Defender.

By Jim O’Neal

He certainly wasn’t crippled, but whenever Robert S. Abbott walked along Chicago’s poorest streets or shopped at chic, expensive European stores, a gold-headed cane was prominently in his hand. On sunny afternoons, the publisher rode in his Duesenberg convertible; other days, a Rolls Royce limousine. He appeared on every 1920s A list, but avoided the social circuit. Vintage Jazz Era excess? Perhaps. Gatsby-esque? Hardly.

Robert S. Abbott

Abbott (1870-1940) was the son of former slaves, an African-American who excelled at extravagance with his own personal agenda. He had started as a lawyer, but became America’s first black millionaire newspaper publisher. The newspaper that he literally created by hand – The Chicago Defender – brought personal wealth and prestige, but Abbott’s knack for flair had appeared in The Defender’s pages before he amassed his fortune.

From his landlady’s kitchen, Abbott wrote, designed and distributed The Defender’s first issue in 1905. He proudly labeled it “a fearless, honest champion of the people” and boldly set out to report the news blacks in Chicago witnessed every day, but never saw in print. No other publication described the African-American condition during the early 1900s with such precision and scope. The lynchings and oppression overlooked by all the other dailies were regular Defender features. It became a local success, but Abbott had much bolder ambitions.

He extended The Defender’s reach into the deep South, where 90 percent of America’s black population lived, by astutely striking distribution deals with sleeping-car porters, entertainers and other blacks traveling the country who could help sell his paper nationally. The Southern establishment tried (in vain) to keep the paper out; some cities even passed laws making it illegal to read black newspapers. Abbott simply instructed sleeping-car porters to toss their Defender bundles in the countryside instead of placing them inside city limit train stops.

The Defender would not be kept out of the South and Robert Abbott would ensure it!

By the late 1910s, circulation exceeded 50,000 and during World War I, The Chicago Defender sowed the seeds for the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the North by imploring them to better their lives. Abbott urged them to take advantage of what seemed like unlimited opportunities. In the North, blacks could vote and send their children to better schools while working for higher wages. Abbott emphasized these benefits as early as 1916 by placing headlines like “Farewell, Dixie Land” and “Millions to Leave South” atop The Defender’s front page. One-way train schedules, do’s and don’ts for migrants, and want-ads appeared in each weekly issue.

The Defender let blacks know they didn’t have to be satisfied living in the South. There was a place they could move to and live their lives to the fullest,” wrote historian Christopher Reed.

By 1940, over 1.5 million blacks had moved North. The Defender’s circulation broke 250,000, but its true readership was estimated to be at least five times that. “With the exception of the Bible, no publication was more influential among the black population,” biographer Roi Ottley said of The Defender. “Abbott did everything to aid and abet the migration. He argued, pleaded, shamed and exhorted Negroes to abandon the South.”

Note: The Defender did not use the words “negro” or “black.” African-Americans were referred to as “The Race.” And Robert S. Abbott was adamant that for America to be successful, “American race prejudice must be destroyed.”

Amen.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Roosevelt’s Courage, Determination Made Him a Remarkable Man

A President Theodore Roosevelt “Equality” pin, produced after Booker T. Washington visited the White House in 1901, sold for $8,962 at a November 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born on Oct. 27, 1858. His mother, Martha Bulloch “Mittie” Roosevelt, was a Southern Belle socialite and family members were wealthy Southern planters and part of the Georgia elite. In 1850, they had over 30 slaves, most of whom worked in the cotton fields. Many believe that the character Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was at least partially based on Mittie.

The Roosevelt family moved north to New York, however Mittie remained fiercely loyal to the South and when the Civil War finally started, it caused a schism in the family. Mittie and her sister Anna, unbeknownst to Theodore Sr. or the neighbors, spent many afternoons putting together relief packets for relatives and friends in the South. They were shipped to the Bahamas and then by blockade-runner to Georgia.

Exactly 22 years later in 1880, Teddy Roosevelt celebrated his birthday by marrying 19-year-old Alice Hathaway Lee, a cousin of a Harvard classmate. After spending a few weeks at the Roosevelt home in Oyster Bay, they moved to New York City along with Theodore’s (now) widowed mother Mittie. When Alice discovered in July 1883 that she was pregnant, T.R. was predictably thrilled, as he fully endorsed the traditional American ideal of large families. His life seemed ideal since his political career was going so well as a member of the state legislature in Albany.

However, he soon became concerned when Alice fell sick as her due date grew near. The nature of her illness was hard to pinpoint, but the family doctor didn’t seem too concerned. Alice was well enough to worry more about Theodore’s mother than herself. Mittie had contracted something virulent and was not improving. Her high fever raised the possibility of typhoid, which, although not contagious, was also not treatable.

At 8:30 on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 12, Alice gave birth to a healthy 8-pound girl. The good news was telegraphed to T.R. in Albany, who passed out cigars and proceeded to clean up some details before heading home. Then a second telegraph arrived; Alice had taken a turn for the worse. T.R. dropped everything and rushed back to Manhattan on the next train. Arriving home, he was dismayed to find Mittie burning up with typhoid fever and Alice battling what was vaguely described as Bright’s disease (a potentially fatal kidney condition). A beleaguered Roosevelt spent the next 16 hours at one bedside and then the other.

Mittie went first in the darkest predawn hours of Thursday, Feb. 14, and Alice breathed her last 11 hours later in the early afternoon on the same day. Stunned and disoriented, Roosevelt managed to inscribe a thick black X in his diary for Feb. 14, followed by a single sentence: “The light has gone out of my life.”

It is a testament to his courage and fierce determination that he was able to regroup after such tragedy, losing his wife and mother on the same day and in the same house. He was somehow able to resume his life, with his most important contributions yet to come.

Simply a truly remarkable man.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Webster Considered the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’

A first edition of Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, with a four-page manuscript in Webster’s hand concerning word origins, sold for $34,655 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 when he was 70 years old. It was printed in two quarto volumes with 70,000 word entries. (A quarto was typically 9 x 12 inches or roughly the size of modern magazines.) About 12,000 of the words had never appeared in a published dictionary and Webster tried to harmonize the spelling of a word with its common pronunciation.

Another unique feature was the inclusion of words used in America that were not in British dictionaries. Perhaps that is why George Bernard Shaw – the Irish playwright who won the Nobel Prize in 1925 – is said to have coined the phrase “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” (There are several variations of this, including one by Winston Churchill.)

Noah Webster

Webster (1758-1843) also collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and other prominent Federalists, which made him a rich target for Jeffersonian-Republicans who peppered him with insults: a prostitute wretch, incurable lunatic, spiteful viper, pusillanimous traitor, to list just a few. He founded the first daily newspaper in New York, The American Minerva, and a semi-weekly publication later known as the New York Spectator. He was a prolific writer and earned the imposing sobriquet as the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”

I have gradually abandoned the use of printed dictionaries, but a copy of the old reliable Merriam-Webster still occupies a handy spot in the bookcase. One who didn’t was Emily Dickinson, who used Webster as a reference “obsessively.” Scholars studying her immense body of work routinely turn to Webster for clarification. She was such an eccentric recluse that only a dozen of her 1,800 poems were published while she was alive. The hodgepodge of short lines, unconventional punctuation and slant rhymes make her work difficult to appreciate. But the lady could write and may be the finest American poet of the 19th century.

Webster’s name is still synonymous with “dictionary” despite becoming generic and hyphenated long ago. He died in 1843 after playing a critical role in the Copyright Act of 1831.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

British General Had Unfortunate Assignment of Quelling a Revolution

A letter signed by Thomas Gage, a year before the opening shots of the Revolutionary War, sold for $5,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Gage was the general in charge of Great Britain’s forces in North America from 1763 to 1775. As commander-in-chief, he held the most powerful office in British America, although he spent a disproportionate amount of time in New York City, enjoying the lively social scene.

It was during Gage’s tenure that colonial tensions escalated over political acts in London, starting with the highly unpopular Stamp Act of 1765.

Thomas Gage

Although Gage and his family were in Great Britain in late 1773 and missed the Boston Tea Party (Dec. 16, 1773), it provoked the British Parliament to enact a series of punitive measures that became known as the Intolerable Acts (or the Coercive Acts). Since Gage had experience in North America that extended all the way back to the French and Indian War in 1755, he was selected to be the military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774. It was his job to implement the Acts and quell the nascent rebellion.

In April, John Hancock and Samuel Adams had decided to hide out in Lexington, Mass., in Hancock’s childhood home to avoid contact with the British as they made their way to the Second Continental Congress. It was a wise decision since Gage had received instructions from London to arrest them as ringleaders of the insurgency. He also planned to seize gunpowder that was stored in nearby Concord.

However, the patriots received a tip about the raid and Paul Revere was dispatched to warn Hancock and Adams. When British troops descended on Lexington on April 19, they were confronted by a small band of volunteers. Now-historic shots were fired, killing eight Americans and wounding 10, while the British lost a single horse before they moved on to Concord.

It was a much different story when the British proudly marched back to Boston in their crisp red uniforms. Suddenly, they were engulfed on all sides by armed men, many of them local farmers, who were protected by buildings, trees, rocks and fences. They were known as the Minutemen, since they were highly mobile, self-trained in weaponry, deadly accurate with firearms, and able to respond quickly to military threats.

The British, frantic to seek safety, scrambled back to Boston after 273 soldiers were either killed or wounded. The colonists lost 95 men and were now prepared to challenge the once-invincible British, despite the enormous difference in resources. A larger and longer conflict was finally ignited.

John Adams got it exactly right when he said, “The battle of Lexington on the 19th of April changed the instruments of warfare from the pen to the sword.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Tidbits: Bluebonnets, Sherlock Holmes, Bums and Booze

Julian Onderdonk’s Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets sold for $437,000 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The bluebonnets in Texas are beginning to fade, but two names always come to mind when talking about the flowers: Claudia Alta Taylor (better known as “Lady Bird” Johnson ) and “Cactus Jack” Garner, who lobbied to make the prickly pear cactus the state flower (and lost).

Garner became the 32nd vice president of the United States in 1932 and concurrently was elected back to the House. So for one day, on March 4, 1933, he was both Psident of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

Earlier on Feb. 15, 1933, as VP-elect, he came close to being president when FDR just missed being assassinated in Miami.

Garner served two full terms as VP and died 15 days before his 99th birthday – making him the longest-living VP.

“A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle was the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual – with only 11 copies known to exist today.

Joe Louis by Irving Penn

The last heavyweight championship bout scheduled for 20 rounds was held in Detroit in 1941. Joe Louis TKO’d Abe Simon in 13 rounds. Simon was a member of Louis’ “Bum of the Month Club” – 13 opponents Louis defeated between 1939 and 1941.

After leaving boxing, Simon went to Hollywood, where he won roles in On the Waterfront, Never Love a Stranger and Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Our 35th vice president, Kentucky lawyer Alben W. Barkley, was elected with Harry S. Truman in 1948 and is still the only one with the middle name of William (he was actually born Willie Alben Barkley).

One of his career highlights was his keynote address at the 1932 Democratic Convention, where he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and denounced Prohibition (Kentucky bourbon?). It worked … FDR won and prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Although the oldest VP elected at age 71 (Joe Biden was 65 in 2008), Barkley is the only one to marry while in office … a woman half his age. Later, he denounced the 80th Congress as “Do Nothing,” but Truman often gets credit for the phrase.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Transcontinental Railroad a Significant Achievement that United Nation

A cane celebrating the completion in 1869 of the Transcontinental Railroad, made of wood from the same tree as the last tie and the same gold used to case the “Golden Spike,” sold in June 2012 for $113,525.

“May God continue the unity of our country, as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” – One of four engravings on the Golden Spike

By Jim O’Neal

The date was May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory and the occasion was a celebration for the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

Ex-California Governor Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) drove in the Golden Spike using a special silver hammer. This “Last Spike” was hooked up to telegraph wires so that news of the completion could reach both coasts as the spike was “tapped” into a hole. Supposedly, Stanford whiffed on the first try, but telegraph operators sent clicks to both coasts – “DONE” – which touched off wild celebrations as the United States was finally connected.

For perspective, the first American common carrier railroad began as a mere 13 miles of track, and formally was known as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (the B&O Line). It was begun in 1828 by a group of Baltimore businessmen and opened in 1830.

At the time, rivers, turnpikes and canals were the primary avenues for both travel and transport. So this was a major transition into the future.

When the Civil War started 30 years later, railroads had become a major American industry with many different companies and 30,000 miles of track. However, plans for broader geographic expansion were plagued with a plethora of issues. Major questions included route selection, right-of-way disputes, subsidies, capital financing sources (public or private), and even the gauge (width) of rails.

Abraham Lincoln was a major supporter of a transcontinental railroad, despite the distraction of the Civil War and other presidential commitments. He even got into the minutia, and he and his Cabinet voted to make the gauge 5 feet in an effort to help (it was later revised by Congress to 4 feet, 8½ inches). Lincoln even decided the eastern terminus should be Omaha, Neb. (a clear conflict of interest, since he owned several properties in nearby Council Bluffs).

On the West Coast, four familiar names – Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Collis Potter Huntington – formed the Central Pacific Railroad, which was to head east from Sacramento. They immediately ran into a major labor shortage since nearby mines were paying such high wages. In a creative but controversial decision, they brought in 12,000 Chinese laborers, primarily from Canton Province.

Next was the issue of how to get over the 7,000-foot Sierra Nevada mountain range (they simply blasted tunnel after tunnel despite cave-ins, nitro explosions and dead workers). This is a story unto itself!

But finally, the two great lines did come together (whew!).

The Golden Spike that Stanford pounded is housed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto (no surprise there).

But in a major surprise, a second Golden Spike was discovered in 2005 – exactly like the one from the ceremony. It had been cast at the same time, and held secretly by the family of San Francisco contractor David Hewes for all the intervening years!

It is now in the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].