Henry Wirz Among Most Notorious Confederate Prison Officials

This Civil War-period unmounted albumen print of Andersonville Prison by A.J. Biddle went to auction in June 2012.

By Jim O’Neal

Henry Wirz (1823-65) was born in Zurich, Switzerland, the son of a tailor. He grew up with an abiding passion for medicine, however, his family had limited resources and his father insisted on a more pragmatic mercantile career. After migrating to America, he ultimately claimed to be a physician and successfully started assisting doctors, despite most certainly lacking any formal training or medical degrees.

At the start of the Civil War, he was living in Louisiana. He enlisted as a private in the Fourth Louisiana Infantry and became a sergeant. At the important Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia in 1862, Wirz was wounded above his right wrist, which incapacitated him for life. Seven Pines was strategically important since it led to the appointment of Robert E. Lee as Confederate Commander, which had a profound effect on the duration of the war.

In April 1864, (now) Captain Wirz was ordered to Camp Sumter near Anderson in Georgia, where he was given command of the prison that would become known as the infamous Andersonville Prison. It was already crammed with war prisoners and low on critical supplies that would only worsen as the war dragged on. Wirz made a feeble attempt to reorganize, but he lacked the necessary authority and all attempts to gain a promotion were denied. He had the support of superior officers, who called him “major,” but it is not clear if he attained that rank.

Henry Wirz

As the war continued, conditions at Andersonville deteriorated and many prisoners blamed Wirz, describing him as a brutal tyrant. Observers were critical of his accent, excessive use of profanity and outbreaks of rage. By the end of the war, he was among the most notorious Confederate prison officials.

Perhaps because of naïveté or unaware of the North’s anger over prison conditions, he made a tactical blunder and did not join the other prison officials who fled. Instead, he stayed at Andersonville, where he was arrested, taken to Washington and tried on charges of murder and mistreatment of prisoners. A hostile military commission limited his defense against conflicting testimony, found him guilty, and hanged him on Nov. 10, 1865, in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison (near the site where the U.S. Supreme Court stands today).

It was a messy hanging since his neck did not break and he was strangled to death. The trial is controversial yet today. In 1909, the Georgia Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a memorial to him at Andersonville. It may be a while before monument protestors figure out who he was.

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].

When Britain Needed Help to Fight the Nazis, FDR Came Through

A Franklin D. Roosevelt inscribed photograph signed, circa 1930s, sold for $1,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the idea at a press conference on Dec. 17, 1940, in typical homey, easily comprehended language:

“Suppose my neighbor’s home catches on fire and I have a length of garden hose 400 or 500 feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up to his hydrant, I may be able to help him put out the fire. Now what do I do? I don’t say to him, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15, you have to pay me $15 for it.’ No! What is the transition that goes on? I don’t want $15 – I want my garden hose back after the fire is out.”

The neighbor on fire was England, facing the full ferocity of the Nazi blitz. England was the only major European power still resisting (barely) the German juggernaut. The formal cry for help, a desperate letter from Winston Churchill to FDR, had been received eight days earlier on Dec. 9 when a navy seaplane had touched down next to the USS Tuscaloosa off of Florida’s southern coast. The president was on board the heavy cruiser recuperating from the rigors on his November reelection campaign when the seaplane crew delivered the letter.

The Prime Minister had written, “The moment approaches when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies” … pointing out that the Exchequer was down to its last $2 billion – with $5 billion in orders from American munitions factories outstanding. Roosevelt knew the answer was to find some way around the Neutrality Acts, an isolationist ploy that stipulated that any war belligerents had to pay cash for weapons – and loans were prohibited to any nation that had not repaid debts from WWI.

Harry Hopkins – FDR’s man for all seasons – wrote that his boss mulled it over for two days, then one evening came up with the whole program! The “whole program” quickly became House Resolution 1776, better known as “Lend-Lease.” It granted the president the authority to lend tanks, planes, ships and other aid not only to England but to “any country whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States.” Leaders across the political spectrum rallied to support H.R. 1776.

One was Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate just defeated in the 1940 presidential election and a staunch opponent of the United States entering the war in Europe. When the Senate quizzed him about this obvious contradiction, he smiled broadly and said, “I struggled as hard as I could to beat Franklin Roosevelt and didn’t pull any punches. He was elected president. He is my president now … I say a world enslaved to Hitler is worse than war, and worse than death.”

The opposition was organized and very powerful. Colonel Charles Lindbergh had even assured the Senate that Britain was already doomed. Fortunately, Congress had more faith in FDR and passed H.R. 1776 by large margins on March 11, 1941. The bill provided Roosevelt with $7 billion in appropriations – the first of $50 billion to be used by the end of hostilities in 1945.

Churchill famously called Lend-Lease “the most unsordid act in the history of any nation.”

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].

Brooklyn Bridge a Testament to American Ingenuity, Spirit

Photographer Todd Webb’s signed gelatin silver Brooklyn Bridge, NY, 1946, went to auction in October 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1966, the American Society of Civil Engineers started a new honor category, “Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.” The Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge in Savage, Md., was the first to receive this distinction and it remains the only example of an all-metal bridge design used on a railroad. Eventually, they got around to the Brooklyn Bridge and it was added in 1972 as the 27th project recognized.

There is something appealing about bridges and the Brooklyn Bridge surpasses them all. It was the biggest, most famous in the world and is an enduring testament to American ingenuity and spirit. More than a mile long and connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River, its enormous granite towers loomed higher than anything ever seen. Higher than any building in New York or any structure on the North American continent, it became “The Thing” every visitor to NYC craved to see and a spectacle that awed tens of millions of immigrants.

Its designer, the brilliant John Augustus Roebling, promised – with characteristic immodesty – a stunning example of great engineering combined with unique artistic visual effects. Roebling had perfected the suspension form, with bridges at Niagara, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and the masterpiece over the East River was to be his crowning project. Tragically, he died in 1869 before the design was complete after a freak accident crushed his toes. The amputation that followed exposed him to tetanus; another vivid example of the hazards associated with non-sterile medical practices combined with the absence of anti-bacterial drugs.

Fortunately, his son, Washington Roebling, possibly the only other person qualified to take over, was available. A Civil War veteran, he was admired for his intelligence, decisiveness and courage … qualities essential to surmounting the many obstacles ahead. His fearless dedication exposed him to all the potential dangers involved, but he too fell victim to a physical ailment that curtailed his involvement. He spent the next 14 years in confinement, watching over the work with a telescope from a window in his house.

Again, fortune prevailed as his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, visited the site several times a day to appraise the progress firsthand. She also handled the press and the project trustees, gradually becoming familiar with every detail and a remarkable asset for her husband. But because he was never seen, rumors were rampant that Washington had lost his mind and that this daring, great project was actually being run by a woman! In fact, when the towers were complete and the long span was safe, the first horse and carriage to cross included Emily Roebling carrying a rooster as a symbol of triumph.

The bridge opened on May 24, 1883, and President Chester Arthur rode in one of the 1,800 vehicles that crossed it, along with 130,000 people. The fireworks celebration that night was the most spectacular ever seen. The only major incident came six days later when a woman fell down some wooden stairs, causing a stampede that resulted in at least 12 deaths. P.T. Barnum tried to get permission to restore confidence in the bridge’s safety, but it would take a year until May 17, 1884, before he led his famous Jumbo and 21 other elephants across the bridge in a grand show of stability.

Initially, the bridge was designed to provide more space for Manhattan by boosting access to nearby Brooklyn. No one had thought about growing cities up instead of expanding out. As the amazing NYC skyline reminds us today, that was soon to change.

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].

Coney Island Represents America’s Fascination with Outrageous Entertainment

A collection of about 45 historical photographs of Coney Island, from the American Heritage Publishing Archives, went to auction in January 2016.

By Jim O’Neal

Typical stories about Coney Island usually start with some version of huddled masses arriving on America’s Eastern shore at the turn of the century and, before seeing the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge or the newborn skyscrapers, encountering a welcome beacon of bright wonders spread along the sands of the southern tip of Brooklyn. It is a dramatic way to introduce that star of light called the “City of Fire” and some even take it to the next level by comparing it to the bush Moses encountered on Mount Horeb … which burned, but was not consumed.

That does put Coney Island in a revered historical context, but in reality, it is wrong.

From 1885 to 1896, the Elephantine Colossus, a seven-story building (that included a brothel) shaped like an elephant, was actually the first thing immigrants saw when arriving in New York. Designed by James Lafferty – who died broke in 1898 – the 31-room building served as a hotel, concert hall and amusement bazaar. It was built two years before the Statue of Liberty at an estimated cost of $250,000.

It was the second of three elephant buildings built by Lafferty, and on May 30, 1885, The New York Times reported on its opening: “C.A. Brandenburg, manager, hosted a dinner, followed by a tour to the top where he pointed out ‘the spray from Niagara Falls, the Mississippi River, a clump of trees in Yellowstone Park, Rio Janeiro [sic], the Bay of Biscay and even the steeples of London and Paris – remarkable, and all for 10 cents!”

This was Coney Island, three great amusement parks – Steeplechase, Luna Park and Dreamland – each outlined and adorned with yet another fresh and wondrous sight: the electric light bulb. When the sun went down, what appeared to those prospective new Americans was the whole island, strung with frozen pearls of fire, spinning and plunging and whirling. Coney Island, even in daylight, was a stunning experience.

By 1910, just inside Luna Park’s main gate were two crosses plunged into a red heart in some transported bit of Catholic iconography; pilgrims entered a fairy-tale ramble of minarets and onion domes, turrets and colonnades, lagoons and trellises. It was Frederick Thompson’s architectural jungle: grossly extravagant amusement created for the hell of it. The moody alcoholic designed many of Coney Island’s rides like the Steeplechase Ride – a relatively minor jaunt on mechanical horses, until suddenly challenged by an obstacle course that included a dwarf in a harlequin suit taking a swing at legs with a cattle prod. Crowds of New Yorkers in bleachers got a big laugh out of it.

Still other exhibitions reflected the era’s less politically correct sense of entertainment, like revelers watching actual premature babies struggling for life in a sideshow that featured the country’s first incubator. You could visit a year-round village filled with dwarfs and midgets, and view African tribesmen living in actual grass huts. Even the furies of the latest global disasters were introduced on huge stages – hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and war. All products of a time when Americans liked their entertainment tinged with a taste of danger.

Coney was more than a Sunday outing. It was a place where immigrants were literally assimilated in the roiling holiday mobs, a place where they could watch the pageant of their lives displayed like a movie. A conductor-driven rollercoaster called the “Rough Rider” once went ripping through the retaining wall, killing three passengers. It was up and running again the same day. To its wide-eyed audiences, Coney Island was close to real life. Was it any wonder one of the most popular attractions was a fake tenement building that was set on fire and the fire put out by fake firemen – every day, day after day – for a viewing public that itself lived in fire-trap tenements and lived in constant fear?

Coney Island finally played with fire too long, with Dreamland burning in 1911 and Luna Park closing after a fire in 1946. Steeplechase closed in 1964. But the Coney spirit lived on, imitated by the World’s Fairs in Chicago (1933) and New York (1939-40 and 1964-65), and in names of deteriorating amusement parks on the outskirts of many cities. None, though, can hold a candle to that frozen fire that once burned so brightly along the sands of Long Island.

We are left with car chases, oil spills and hurricanes on CNN.

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].

Churchill’s Successor Left a Lasting Mark on Great Britain

A gelatin silver print of Winston Churchill, 1941, by photographer Yousuf Karsh sold for $11,352 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Clement Attlee was asked if he wanted to comment on the campaign of 1945, his response was a simple “No.” During this election for Prime Minister of Great Britain, he and wife Violet traveled the countryside extensively in their modest (battered) family car, advocating for a totally new, post-war social policy. One of his more effective political slogans was “You Can Trust Mr. Attlee.” It worked surprisingly well as he led the Labour Party to an upset, landslide win over the venerable Winston Churchill.

Attlee became one of the most successful leaders in modern Britain, despite being habitually shy, laconic, self-deprecating and excessively modest. As Churchill once quipped, “Clement Attlee was a modest man who had much to be modest about.”

Churchill respected Attlee for his basic honesty and firm dedication to accountability. They had served together during World War I and Attlee was even part of the British Army during the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, which Churchill had conceived while the First Lord of the Admiralty. The strategic premise was to knock Turkey out of the war by attacking the Dardanelles. The campaign went so badly that Churchill was demoted, resigned from the Conservative Cabinet, and ended up commanding an infantry battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

Clement Attlee

Attlee naively believed that the plan had been sound strategically and had only failed due to poor military execution. In Attlee’s own words, “There was only one brilliant strategic idea in WWI and that was Winston’s ‘the Dardanelles.’” Historians still argue over this yet today, but it was enough to form a bond between the two future prime ministers … one a pure socialist and the other an imperialist of the first order.

During the Second World War (which was just a continuation of the first with a 20-year pause), Attlee served under Churchill in the coalition government of 1940-45 and was the first person to hold the office of Deputy Prime Minister. He somehow held the Labour Party together despite numerous divergent viewpoints and personal ambitions. The colossal egos of Herbert Morrison, Sir Stafford Cripps (reputed to have the finest mind in England), and union strongman Ernest Bevin (dedicated to absolute equality throughout the British Empire) required a rare blend of political leadership – perhaps unique to Attlee.

It is here (in my humble opinion) where we start to witness the real decline of the British Empire. Independence in India, the partition of Pakistan, independence in Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Palestine and Jordan and exiting Greece. This was followed by the inevitable nationalization of the Bank of England, along with the iron, coal and steel industries. Then, importantly, there was the creation of a comprehensive welfare state. To the United States, the phrase “British socialism” signified economic and political bankruptcy; one of the few things Democrats and Republicans could agree on.

In Attlee’s rationale, these Labour Party policies were merely measures to ensure full employment and welfare based on managed capitalism; “accomplishments” that remained in place until his death in 1962 and beyond. Fortunately, a research chemist-turned-barrister was elected to Parliament in 1959, and 20 years later became the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister. She was the longest-serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century. Her name was Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher.

The small island that had once ruled the seas and oceans of the world – along with much of its land – was about to enter an era known now as “Thatcherism.” Many, including me, appreciate strong, enlightened leadership grounded in economic and political freedom. She fit the model perfectly.

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].

Carnegie Had a Simple Philosophy on How to Spend Your Life

A photograph dated May 1918, signed by Andrew Carnegie, his wife and his daughter, sold for $1,075 at a September 2011 Heritage auction.

“I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man.” – Andrew Carnegie (1887)

By Jim O’Neal

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in a one-room house in Dunfermline, Scotland, near the northern shore of the Firth of Forth – which is the estuary (firth) of several Scottish rivers, including the River Forth. One should not be surprised to learn that a major employer in Dunfermline today is Amazon. (How else to provide two-hour deliveries to Prime customers everywhere?).

The Carnegie family made it to Allegheny, Pa., and that’s where the young (uneducated) Andrew began his remarkable career. He started as a telegraph messenger boy for the Ohio Telegraph Company and culminated his career with the formation of the Carnegie Steel Company. By 1889, the production of steel in the United States had surpassed that of the entire United Kingdom … a mild embarrassment since Sir Henry Bessemer had invented the first inexpensive process for the mass production of steel using molten pig iron.

When Carnegie sold his companies to J. Pierpont Morgan in 1901, Morgan proceeded to consolidate the entire steel industry in America to form the United States Steel Corporation. This was the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over $1 billion. Carnegie’s share was $480 million, which temporarily vaulted him into first place for the Richest Man (a situation John D. Rockefeller soon rectified).

But Carnegie was always more concerned about the best way of dealing with the new phenomenon of wealth inequality and wrote about it in 1899 in The Gospel of Wealth, an article that described the responsibility of philanthropy by the new upper-class, self-made rich. He proposed reducing the stratification between rich and poor by having the wealthy redistribute their surplus instead of passing it along to heirs.

Thus, Andrew Carnegie became the rarest of multimillionaires when the enormously wealthy Scottish immigrant gave the nation one of the most remarkable gifts in history … 1,689 public library buildings in 1,421 communities. The value of his gifts – made between 1886 and 1917 – comes close to $1 billion when adjusted for inflation.

Carnegie funded library buildings in many expected cities, including Pittsburg (his adopted hometown) and New York, but also in places like Jennings, La., and Dillon, Mont. Another added twist was that he only donated money for a building, and only if the local taxing authority agreed to provide the site, then furnish and maintain the library with an annual pledge of 10 percent of the gift. This cleverly motivated local citizens to stay involved, something an outright donation might not have accomplished.

Carnegie had a simple philosophy on how a person should spend their life – the first third getting a first-rate education, the next third making money, and the last third on philanthropy. Not a bad plan.  Carnegie focused his charity on promoting education, peace and equality. When he died, the remainder of his estate, some $30 million, was donated to his causes. The Carnegie name is on far too many buildings and foundations to list … you know many of them.

For some reason, it has always irked me to watch the ultra-rich of today shield their money from taxation by stuffing it in non-taxable, charitable foundations (run by their family), take their income in low-tax dividends, and then complain when their secretaries pay a higher income tax rate … then encourage the feds to raise the tax rate on my pension.

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].

Civil War Has Left a Lasting Scar on This Country

Four scarce cartes de visite of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sold for $2,868 at a December 2006 auction.

“General Grant stood by me when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk. Today we stand by each other.” – Paraphrasing General William Tecumseh Sherman

By Jim O’Neal

Among the towering figures of the Civil War, none is more enigmatic than General W.T. Sherman. Widely denounced as fiendishly destructive for his infamous “March to the Sea” across Georgia, Sherman was a brilliant commander and strategist who helped bring the bloody war to a faster and surer end. Yet he left a legacy of “total war” against unarmed civilians and their property that has haunted military leaders and many Americans to the present time.

William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) was born in a simple frame house in Lancaster, Ohio, the sixth of 11 children. His father died suddenly in 1829 and the 9-year-old boy was forced to live with his more affluent neighbors, the Ewings, since his mother was destitute. Thomas Ewing Sr. was a senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and the first Secretary of the Interior for presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.

Ewing used his influence to get Sherman into West Point, where he finished sixth in his 1840 class. He left the Army along with many other officers when it seemed civilian life offered a greater chance for success. After a string of failures in banking, real estate and law, Sherman was in Louisiana just before the war began, running a military academy that would later become the foundation for Louisiana State University.

Though he had great friendships with many who joined the Confederacy and had no moral qualms about slavery, Sherman shared the view of many professional soldiers that secession was treason. He returned to Missouri when Louisiana seceded.

When the Civil War arrived right on schedule, one only has to read his comments to appreciate his insight and candor: “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly. Madness. A crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you are talking about. War is a terrible thing. You mistake, too, the people of the North … you are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on Earth – right at your doors. You are bound to fail!”

And fail they did.

But it was more than a lost war. So great was the sense of gloom that some wondered if we could ever reconcile. Over 620,000 lay dead – 1/12 of the North and a staggering 20 percent of the South. It was more battle deaths than all of our nation’s other wars combined. An astonishing two-thirds of Southern wealth simply disappeared, but the more daunting challenge was the emotional carnage and pure generational hatred. Said one woman rather simply: “Oh, how I hate the Yankees. I could trample on their dead bodies and spit on them forever.”

Psychologists who have studied the impact of natural disasters on society – earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and floods – speak bleakly of a broad and terrible social numbing that occurs, afflicting not simply those directly affected, but whole generations living in a disastrous, merciless waste. It is impossible to measure the full-fledged effect on the Southern psyche … their incoherent grief, their land diseased, their way of life obliterated – all without a cure.

Yet today, we still see the scars and do little to avoid the current generation of schisms that are being fed by forces seemingly determined to divide us … the most blessed people that have ever lived on this tiny planet. Tsk, tsk on us.

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].

Secretary of State Cass Resigned to Protest Inaction Over Looming War

This rare political campaign daguerreotype of Lewis Cass from 1848 realized $17,925 at a February 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By 1857, Lewis Cass was back in national politics as secretary of state for our only bachelor president, James Buchanan. As an old military man, Cass was growing increasingly concerned about activities in the South. He could sense the undercurrent of war that had been brewing for 20-plus years, but this time it was more palpable.

He was convinced that it would be prudent to beef up military garrisons in the South as a show of determination. It would also help prevent the South from appropriating guns and supplies that could be used against the Union if war did break out. He also attempted to persuade President Buchanan to send federal troops to Charleston, S.C., since that was an obvious hot spot.

Although Cass would prove to be absolutely correct, Buchanan refused to take any action, since “It was not in the country’s best interest.” However, privately, he was predicting “he would be the last president of a United States” because he thought the country would divide permanently … soon.

On Dec. 13, 1860, Cass resigned in protest. It was the only viable option he had to demonstrate how strongly he disagreed with the administration.

Lewis Cass died in 1866, a year after the bloody civil war he was so determined to prevent ended. He had a long career that stretched across 13 presidencies starting with Thomas Jefferson (as a U.S. marshal), followed by brigadier general, governor (Michigan), secretary of war, and secretary of state.

The Lewis Cass Legacy Society is still active and his name is still recognized in Michigan.

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].

Life, History Have Not Been Fair to Pat Nixon

As the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president, Pat Nixon, above at her husband’s 1973 inauguration, was trained at the knee of Mamie Eisenhower, the quintessential 1950s political wife.

By Jim O’Neal

As the nation seems transfixed again on the White House and there is a special counsel investigating “everything,” it is nostalgic to see old faces popping up on CNN as the “I” word is faintly heard.

John Dean has returned with his colorful Richard Nixon anecdotes and even Richard Ben-Veniste is back. Ben-Veniste was a special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal and chief counsel for the Democrats in the less-famous, but much longer and tedious Senate Whitewater Committee, which was investigating the Clintons (especially the first lady) over their curious relationships before they left Arkansas.

Rarely does anyone mention earlier first lady Pat Nixon. She grew up on a small truck farm in Artesia, Calif., about 20 miles from my high school (Compton). She lost her mother to cancer when she was 12 and was forced to take over the family household chores, including the laborious task of doing the laundry, which involved building a fire in an outdoor brick fireplace and lifting the clothes with long sticks from cauldrons of boiling water into cold water and then hanging them out to dry.

She also took care of two older brothers and her father for five years until he died from silicosis (miner’s disease). She was an orphan at 17 and determined to get a college degree. She worked her way through the University of Southern California, graduating cum laude in 1937. She met Richard Nixon when they were auditioning for parts in a local production of the mystery drama The Dark Tower. She was teaching shorthand and typing at a high school and he was a young lawyer from Duke University Law School. (He had been accepted into the FBI, but never received the notice.)

They married in June 1940, and then he was off to the Navy for several years. He ran for Congress with Pat as his office manager. She basically devoted the rest of her life supporting his political ambitions. She was crushed when he lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy and never understood why reporters never investigated the speculation that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had stolen Illinois’ 27 electoral votes or why her husband had not demanded a recount.

Nixon promised Pat that he was finished with politics after he lost his 1962 comeback campaign for governor of California, famously blasting the deeply hated press with his parting message, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Pat was relieved and her happiest days were after that defeat, when the family moved to New York and Nixon retreated to private life as a lawyer.

By the time they did get to the White House in January 1969, the Vietnam War was raging and the feminist movement was in full swing. As the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president, Pat was trained at the knee of Mamie Eisenhower, the quintessential 1950s political wife.

Although she never publicly crumbled, Watergate took a terrible toll on Pat Nixon’s health. She lost sleep, lost weight and rumors of her drinking started.

Her loyal aides fought back, saying she enjoyed an occasional highball and a cigarette at the end of a long day. However, Pat told her daughter Julie, “Watergate is the only crisis that got me down. It is just constant and I know I will never live to see the vindication.”

She was right about that. Life and history have not been fair to Pat Nixon … period.

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].

Vice President Agnew Believed They Were Out to Get Him

Spiro Agnew in his memoirs suggested Richard Nixon and Alexander Haig planned to assassinate him.

By Jim O’Neal

Spiro Theodore Agnew was elected vice president twice … in 1968 and 1972. However, he became the second vice president to resign in 1973. Although accused of several crimes along the way, he finally pleaded no contest to a single charge of not reporting $29,500 income in 1967.

Lesser known is that in 1995, his portrait bust was placed in the U.S. Capitol. An 1886 Senate resolution stipulated that all former VPs were entitled to a portrait bust in the building. Agnew proudly attended the formal ceremony.

He later claimed that both President Richard Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, had threatened to assassinate him … “Either resign … or else.” (That would have really been a first!)

Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as president – No. 22 and No. 24.

He was the first Democrat elected after the Civil War, which he conveniently sidestepped by hiring a replacement to take his place in military service.

Some of his firsts include:

• Only president to admit fathering an illegitimate child.

• First and only president to marry in the White House.

• First president to have a child born in the WH.

During the Panic of 1893, he secretly had a cancerous jaw replaced with a rubber mandible. It was done on a yacht at sea to avoid spooking the markets. Perhaps the absence of any “leaks” was because he was a tough man who had (personally) hung two crooks when he was a sheriff in Buffalo.

Thomas Riley Marshall is still a relatively obscure vice president despite serving eight years (1913-21) with Woodrow Wilson, and in 1916 becoming the first VP reelected since John Calhoun (1828).

Many historians argue that he should have assumed the presidency when Wilson suffered his debilitating stroke, but a small group around Wilson (including his wife) were able to keep it a secret. Some Wilson signatures appear to be forged, however Marshall had little interest and confined his duties to calling each day to inquire about the president’s health.

Marshall is famously credited with saying, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar!”

Three of our first five presidents died on July 4, as did Abraham Lincoln’s first VP, Hannibal Hamlin.

Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born on that historic date. After President Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco in 1923, Coolidge assumed the presidency and won re-election in 1924. His father swore him in in 1923 as he was a judge/notary.

“Silent Cal” was a real tax cutter, and by 1927, 98 percent of the population paid zero income tax. Plus, he balanced the budget every year and when he left office in 1929, the federal budget was lower than when he started.

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].