Monday, May 7, 2012

George Barnes, Better known as Machine Gun Kelly

George Celino Barnes (July 18, 1895 – July 18, 1954), better known as "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster during the prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun. His most famous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles Urschel in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, earned $200,000 ransom. The FBI investigation eventually led to Kelly's arrest in Memphis, Tennessee on September 26, 1933. His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s Kelly worked as a bootlegger for himself as well as a colleague. After a short time, and several run-ins with the local Memphis police, he decided to leave town and head west with a new girlfriend. To protect his family and escape law enforcement officers, he changed his name to George R. Kelly. He continued to commit smaller crimes and bootlegging. He was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for smuggling liquor onto an Indian Reservation in 1928 and sentenced for three years to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, beginning February 11, 1928. He was reportedly a model inmate and was released early. Shortly thereafter, Kelly married Kathryn Thorne, who purchased Kelly’s first machine gun and went to great lengths to familiarize his name in the underground crime circles. She was known to hand out the expended .45cal cartridge casings from his Tommy Gun as souvenirs. Some historians claim that Kathryn even went so far as to plot some small bank robberies.
George "Machine Gun" Kelly is led from Shelby County Jail enroute to the Memphis airport and Oklahoma City for his trial for the kidnapping of Charles F. Urschel, October 2, 1933

Nonetheless, Kelly’s last criminal activity proved disastrous when he kidnapped a wealthy Oklahoma City resident, Charles F. Urschel and his friend Walter R. Jarrett. Urschel, having been blindfolded, made sure to foil his kidnappers by noting all possible evidence of his experience such as background sounds, counting footsteps and leaving fingerprints on every surface in reach. This in turn proved invaluable for the FBI in their investigation, as they learned that Urschel had been held in Paradise, Texas.

An investigation conducted at Memphis disclosed that after 56 days on the run, the Kellys were staying at the residence of J.C. Tichenor. Special Agents from Birmingham, Alabama, were immediately dispatched to Memphis, where, in the early morning hours of September 26, 1933 a raid was conducted. George and Kathryn Kelly were taken into custody by FBI Agents and Memphis police officers Sergeant William Raney and officer Thomas Waterson. Caught without a weapon, George Kelly supposedly cried, "Don’t shoot, G-Men! Don’t shoot, G-Men!" as he surrendered to FBI Agents. The term (which had applied to all federal investigators, meaning simply 'Government Men') became synonymous with FBI Agents. Reports of the raid, however, indicate that George Kelly came to the door, dropped his pistol and said, "Okay, boys, I’ve been waiting for you all night." Recent research revealed a 1933 newspaper interview with one of the federal agents at the arrest. He commented that, upon their arrest, Kathryn Kelly put her arms around George and said, "These G-men will never leave us alone." The FBI press machine generated the G-Man story to build its own reputation.

In October 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial was held at the Post Office, Courthouse and Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City. Kathryn Kelly and her mother had all charges dropped and were released in 1958 from prison in Cincinnati.

The kidnapping of Urschel and the two trials that resulted were historic in several ways: 1) they were the only federal criminal trials in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film; 2) the first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime; 3) the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover’s evolving and powerful FBI. For that, Kelly got sent into Alcatraz; 4) the first crime in which defendants were transported by airplane. At the time, it was the largest ransom ever paid in the United States.

Machine Gun Kelly spent his remaining 21 years in prison. During his time at Alcatraz he got the nickname "Pop Gun Kelly." This was in reference, according to a former prisoner, to the fact that Kelly was a model prisoner and was nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be. He spent 17 years on Alcatraz, working in the prison industries, and was quietly transferred back to Leavenworth in 1951. He died of a heart attack at Leavenworth Federal Prison, Kansas on July 18, 1954, his 59th birthday. He is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery with a small headstone marked "George B. Kelley 1954"

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; the oldest victim was 48, the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls.

Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 23-29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

The Triangle Waist Company factory occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the 10-story Asch Building on the northwest corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, just east of Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. Under the ownership of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory produced women's blouses, known as "shirtwaists." The factory normally employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who worked nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays, earning between $7 and $12 a week.

As the workday was ending on the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire flared up at approximately 4:40 PM in a scrap bin under one of the cutter's tables at the northeast corner of the eighth floor. The first fire alarm was sent at 4:45 PM by a passerby on Washington Place who saw smoke coming from the eighth floor. Both owners of the factory were in attendance and had invited their children to the factory on that afternoon. The Fire Marshal concluded that the likely cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in the scrap bin, which held two months' worth of accumulated cuttings by the time of the fire. Although smoking was banned in the factory, cutters were known to sneak cigarettes, exhaling the smoke through their lapels to avoid detection. A New York Times article suggested that the fire may have been started by the engines running the sewing machines, while The Insurance Monitor, a leading industry journal, suggested that the epidemic of fires among shirtwaist manufacturers was "fairly saturated with moral hazard." No one suggested arson.
The building's south side, with windows marked X from which fifty women jumped
The building's east side, with 40 bodies on the sidewalk. Two of the victims were found alive an hour after the photo was taken.

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits, including two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place, flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft by the workers; the locked doors allowed managers to check the women's purses. The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions. Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below. Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped into the empty shaft, trying to slide down the cables or to land on top of the car. The weight and impacts of these bodies warped the elevator car and made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.

A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing sixty-two people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building. Louis Waldman, later a New York Socialist state assemblyman, described the scene years later:

One Saturday afternoon in March of that year — March 25, to be precise — I was sitting at one of the reading tables in the old Astor Library... It was a raw, unpleasant day and the comfortable reading room seemed a delightful place to spend the remaining few hours until the library closed. I was deeply engrossed in my book when I became aware of fire engines racing past the building. By this time I was sufficiently Americanized to be fascinated by the sound of fire engines. Along with several others in the library, I ran out to see what was happening, and followed crowds of people to the scene of the fire.

A few blocks away, the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street was ablaze. When we arrived at the scene, the police had thrown up a cordon around the area and the firemen were helplessly fighting the blaze. The eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the building were now an enormous roaring cornice of flames.

Word had spread through the East Side, by some magic of terror, that the plant of the Triangle Waist Company was on fire and that several hundred workers were trapped. Horrified and helpless, the crowds — I among them — looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.
The emotions of the crowd were indescribable. Women were hysterical, scores fainted; men wept as, in paroxysms of frenzy, they hurled themselves against the police lines.

The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame them. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor. The fallen bodies and falling victims also made it difficult for the fire department to approach the building.

Although early references of the death toll ranged from 141 to 148, almost all modern references agree that 146 people died as a result of the fire; 129 women and 17 men. Six victims remained unidentified until 2011. Most victims died of burns, asphyxiation, blunt impact injuries, or a combination of the three.

The first person to jump was a man, and another man was seen kissing a young woman at the window before they both jumped to their deaths.

Twenty-two victims of the fire were buried by the Hebrew Free Burial Association in a special section at Mount Richmond Cemetery. In some instances, their tombstones refer to the fire. The six victims who remained unidentified were buried together in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. Originally interred elsewhere on the grounds, their remains now lie beneath a monument to the tragedy, a large marble slab featuring a kneeling woman. The six unknown victims were finally identified in February 2011 and a grave marker placed in their memory.

The company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building's roof when the fire began, were indicted on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in mid-April; the pair's trial began on December 4, 1911. Max Steuer, counsel for the defendants, managed to destroy the credibility of one of the survivors, Kate Alterman, by asking her to repeat her testimony a number of times, which she did without altering key phrases. Steuer argued to the jury that Alterman and possibly other witnesses had memorized their statements, and might even have been told what to say by the prosecutors. The defense also stressed that the prosecution had failed to prove that the owners knew the exit doors were locked at the time in question. The jury acquitted the two men, but they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.

In New York City, a Committee on Public Safety was formed, headed by Frances Perkins, a noted social worker, to identify specific problems and lobby for new legislation. The committee's representatives in Albany obtained the backing of Tammany Hall's Al Smith, the Majority Leader of the Assembly, and Robert F. Wagner, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and this collaboration of machine politicians and reformers – also known as "do-gooders" or "goo-goos" – got results, especially since Tammany's chief, Charles F. Murphy, realized the advantage to be had from being on the side of the angels.

The New York State Legislature then created the Factory Investigating Commission to "investigate factory conditions in this and other cities and to report remedial measures of legislation to prevent hazard or loss of life among employees through fire, unsanitary conditions, and occupational diseases." The Commission, which became Al Smith's priority, held public hearings in the major cities of the state, distributed questionnaires to a wide variety of people, and hired field agents to do on-site inspections of factories. New York City's Fire Chief John Kenlon told the investigators that his department had identified more than 200 factories where conditions made a fire like that at the Triangle Factory possible. The State Commissions's reports helped modernize the state's labor laws, making New York State "one of the most progressive states in terms of labor reform." New laws mandated better building access and egress, fireproofing requirements, the availability of fire extinguishers, the installation of alarm systems and automatic sprinklers, better eating and toilet facilities for workers, and limited the number of hours that women and children could work. In the years from 1911 to 1913, sixty of the sixty-four new laws recommended by the Commission were legislated with the support of Governor William Sulzer.

As a result of the fire, the American Society of Safety Engineers was founded in New York City on October 14, 1911.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Alaska Purchase or Seward's Folly

The Alaska Purchase was the acquisition of the Alaska territory by the United States from Russia in the year 1867 by a treaty ratified by the Senate. The purchase, made at the initiative of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, gained 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new United States territory. Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was successively the District of Alaska and the Alaska Territory before becoming the modern state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union as a state in 1959.

Russia was in a difficult financial position and feared losing Russian America without compensation in some future conflict, especially to the British, whom they had fought in the Crimean War (1853–1856). While Alaska attracted little interest at the time, the population of nearby British Columbia started to increase rapidly a few years after hostilities ended, with a large gold rush there prompting the creation of a crown colony on the mainland. The Russians therefore started to believe that in any future conflict with Britain, their hard-to-defend region might become a prime target, and would be easily captured. Therefore the Tsar Alexander II decided to sell the territory. Perhaps in hopes of starting a bidding war, both the British and the Americans were approached, however the British expressed little interest in buying Alaska. The Russians in 1859 offered to sell the territory to the United States, hoping that its presence in the region would offset the plans of Russia’s greatest regional rival, Great Britain. However, no deal was brokered due to the American Civil War.

Following the Union victory in the Civil War, the Tsar then instructed the Russian minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with Seward in the beginning of March 1867. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 4 a.m. on March 30, 1867, with the purchase price set at $7.2 million, or about 2 cents per acre ($4.74/km2).

American public opinion was generally positive, as most editors argued that the U.S. would probably derive great economic benefits from the purchase; friendship of Russia was important; and it would facilitate the acquisition of British Columbia.

When it became clear that the Senate would not debate the treaty before its adjournment on March 30, Seward persuaded President Andrew Johnson to call the Senate back into special session the next day. Many Republicans scoffed at “Seward’s folly,” although their criticism appears to have been based less on the merits of the purchase than on their hostility to Johnson and to Seward as Johnson’s political ally. Seward mounted a vigorous campaign, however, and with support from Charles Sumner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, won approval of the treaty on April 9 by a vote of 37–2.

For more than a year, as congressional relations with Johnson worsened, the House refused to appropriate the necessary funds. But in June 1868, after Johnson’s impeachment trial was over, Stoeckl and Seward revived the campaign for the Alaska purchase. The House finally approved the appropriation in July 1868, by a vote of 113–48.

On August 1, 1868 Riggs Bank (currently operating as PNC Bank) cashed the Treasury check for the Russian diplomats, closing on the American purchase.

With the purchase of Alaska, the United States acquired an area twice as large as Texas, but it was not until the great Klondike gold strike in 1896 that Alaska came to be seen generally as a valuable addition to American territory.

Senator Sumner had told the nation that the Russians estimated that Alaska contained about 2,500 Russians and those of mixed race, and 8,000 Indigenous people, in all about 10,000 people under the direct government of the Russian fur company, and possibly 50,000 Inuits and Alaska Natives living outside its jurisdiction. The Russians were settled at 23 trading posts, placed at accessible islands and coastal points. At smaller stations only four or five Russians were stationed to collect furs from the natives for storage and shipment when the company’s boats arrived to take it away. There were two larger towns. New Archangel, now named Sitka, had been established in 1804 to handle the valuable trade in the skins of the sea otter and in 1867 contained 116 small log cabins with 968 residents. St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands had 100 homes and 283 people and was the center of the fur seal industry.

An Aleut name, “Alaska,” was chosen by the Americans. This name had earlier, in the Russian era, denoted Alaska Peninsula, which the Russians had called Alyaska (also Alyaksa is attested, especially in older sources).

The transfer ceremony took place in Sitka on October 18, 1867. Russian and American soldiers paraded in front of the governor’s house; the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag raised amid peals of artillery.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend (also known as Tohopeka, Cholocco Litabixbee or The Horseshoe), was fought during the War of 1812 in central Alabama. On March 27, 1814, United States forces and Indian allies under Colonel Andrew Jackson defeated the Red Sticks, a part of the Creek Indian tribe who opposed American expansion, effectively ending the Creek War.

The battle is considered part of the War of 1812. The Creek Indians of Georgia and Alabama had become divided into two factions: the Upper Creeks (or Red Sticks), a majority who opposed the American expansion and sided with the British and Spanish during the War of 1812, and the Lower Creek, who were more assimilated, had a stronger relationship with the US Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins, and sought to remain on good terms with the Americans.

The Shawnee leader Tecumseh went to Creek and other Southeast Indian towns in 1811–12 to recruit warriors to join his war against American encroachment. The Red Sticks, young men who wanted to revive traditional religious and cultural practices, were already forming, resisting assimilation. They began to raid American frontier settlements. When the Lower Creek helped United States forces capture and punish leading raiders, they were punished by the Red Sticks.

In 1813, militia troops intercepted a Red Stick party returning from obtaining arms in Pensacola. While they were looting the material, the Red Sticks returned and defeated them, at what became known as the Battle of Burnt Corn. Red Sticks raiding of enemy settlements continued, and in August 1813 they attacked Fort Mims in retaliation for the Burnt Corn attack. After that massacre, frontier settlers appealed to the government for help.

As Federal forces were devoted to the War of 1812, Tenneessee, Georgia and Alabama organized militias that were commanded by Colonel Andrew Jackson, together with Lower Creek and Cherokee allies, to go against the Red Sticks. Jackson and his forces won the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814.

Horseshoe Bend was the major battle of the Creek War, in which Andrew Jackson sought to "clear" Alabama for American settlement. Colonel Jackson commanded an army of West Tennessee militia, which he had turned into a well-trained fighting force. Added to the militia units was the 39th United States Infantry and about 600 Cherokee, Choctaw and Lower Creek fighting against the Red Stick Creek.

After leaving Fort Williams in the spring of 1814, Jackson's army cut its way through the forest to within 6 miles (10 km) of Chief Menawa's Red Stick camp of Tohopeka, near a bend in the Tallapoosa River, called "Horseshoe Bend," in central Alabama, 12 miles (19 km) east of what is now Alexander City. Jackson sent General John Coffee with the mounted infantry and the Indian allies south across the river to surround the Red Sticks' camp, while Jackson stayed with the rest of the 2,000 infantry north of the camp.

On March 27 at 10:30 a.m., Jackson began an artillery barrage which consisted of two cannons firing for about two hours. Little damage was caused to the Red Sticks or their fortifications. Coffee's Cherokee and cavalry began crossing the river and fought the Red Sticks on their rear.

Jackson ordered a bayonet charge. The 39th U.S. Infantry, led by Colonel John Williams, charged the breastworks defending the camp and caught the Red Sticks in a cross fire. Sam Houston (the future statesman and politician) served as a third lieutenant in Jackson's army. Houston was one of the first to make it over the log barricade alive and received a wound from a Creek arrow that troubled him the rest of his life.

The battle raged for about five hours. Roughly 550 Red Sticks were killed on the field, while many of the rest were killed trying to cross the river.

Chief Menawa was severely wounded but survived; he led about 200 of the original 1,000 warriors across the river and into safety among the Seminole tribe in Spanish Florida.

Two currently active battalions of the Regular Army (2-7 Inf and 3-7 Inf) perpetuate the lineage of the old 39th Infantry Regiment, which fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

On August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson forced the Creek to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The Creek Nation was forced to cede 23 million acres (93,000 km2)—half of central Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government; this included territory of the Lower Creek, who had been allies of the United States. Jackson had determined the areas from his sense of security needs. Of the 23 million acres (93,000 km2) Jackson forced the Creek to cede 1.9 million acres (7,700 km2), which was claimed by the Cherokee Nation, which had also allied with the United States. Jackson was promoted to Major General after getting agreement to the treaty.

This victory, along with that of the Battle of New Orleans greatly contributed to Jackson's national reputation and his popularity. He was well known when he ran successfully for President of the United States in 1828.

The battlefield is preserved in the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.