Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March 26: Torture Chamber Found in Basement

On this date in History .... March 26, 1987:  

Photo courtesy of
Philadelphia police respond to a 9-1-1 call and find a torture chamber in the basement of a former mental patient where three naked women were chained to pipes.  The true story would become the basis for horrific scenes in the movie, "The Silence of the Lambs".

Gary Heidnik was a mental patient and sex offender who had become a wealthy investor, driving a Rolls Royce and avoiding paying any taxes by becoming a self-appointed bishop of his own church. A sign hung outside the torture chamber home identifying it as a church.  

He was quite good at managing his "church" finances, turning $1500 into over half a million in about ten years.  Despite his wealth, he chose to live in the "seedier" parts of the city.

He killed one woman by putting her in a pit of water with a live electrical wire; another by starving her to death while remained chained to the wall; another by dismembering her, cooking and feeding body parts to the other captives. Attempts at escape were punished with screwdrivers in the ears or being suspended by the wrists for hours at a time.

Heidnik believed a man needed a lot of children and do achieve that, he needed to build a harem.  After his mother's death in 1970, he tried to kill himself at least a dozen times.

He received the death sentence and was the last person executed in Pennsylvania in 1999.

March 25: Viola Liuzzo shot by KKK

On this date in History .... March 25, 1965:

Viola Liuzzo, age 39, was killed by four Ku Klux Klan members. 

Liuzzo had left her home in Michigan to go to Selma Alabama to help with the carpooling effort to transport volunteers and marchers.  She had been watching news reports of the marches and, in tears, told her husband she had to go down south and help.

After dropping off some of the (black) volunteers, Viola’s car was approached by a car with 4 KKK members, who shot her in the head and shot up her car.  She died immediately. 

One of the men in the car was an FBI information and years later, under the Freedom of Information Act, Viola’s family discovered J. Edgar Hoover himself had begun a smear campaign against Viola’s character so as to distance the FBI from any blame for her death. After a mistrial, 3 of the 4 KKK members were found guilty in a federal court.  The informant went into Witness Protection due to threats from the KKK.

March 24: Exxon Valdez

On this date in History .... March 24, 1989:

The Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling between 11 and 34 MILLION gallons of crude oil, ranking as the largest oil spill in U.S. history. More marine mammals and seabirds were killed directly by the oil than in any man-made disaster ever. 

The incident prompted the 1990 Oil Pollution Act which called for tankers to be double-hulled, so that if the outer hull was damaged the inner hull would prevent oil from spilling out.  Major spills dropped by 2/3’s since this law was passed. 

The photo shows a portion of the oil-covered rock shoreline.

March 23: White Out Inventor is Born

On this date in History ..... March 23, 1924:

Bette Nesmith Graham is born. 

While her son would grow up with fame in his own right (the well known Michael Nesmith of “The Monkees) Bette’s fame came when she became the inventor of Liquid Paper correction fluid which became an office staple. 

As an Executive Secretary, Graham enjoyed the ease of the new electric typewriters, but like many others, felt frustrated by the inability to easily erase and correct typing mistakes.  Graham observed painters applying a thin layer of paint to cover some painting mistakes and used that idea to create Liquid Paper.  A blessing in disguise came when her boss at the bank fired her when her business began taking a lot of her attention. 

In 1979, she sold her company for almost $50M.

March 22: The ERA Amendment

On this date in History .... March 22, 1979:

The 7-year deadline to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) expired with only 35 of the required 38 states ratifying the amendment. (Indiana was the last state to ratify with a single tie-breaking vote.) Congress extended the deadline to June 30, 1982. 

The extension was controversial and President Carter signed it while expressing doubt about proper procedure. The issue of the extension being unconstitutional went to the Supreme Court who, in October 1982, declared it a moot point since no other states ratified the ERA in the extension period anyway.

March 21: Collyer Brothers ... the original "hoarders"

On this date in History .... March 21, 1947:

Photo courtesy of
The phrase “The Collyer Brothers” becomes synonymous with “hoarding” when New York police break into the brothers’ home on the tip of a dead body being in there.  Unable to break the door down, they unhinged the door and removed it, only to find a solid wall of packed boxes and rubbish.  They eventually had to climb in through a second story window where they found Homer Collyer’s dead body. 

About 120 to 140 tons of garbage and trash was removed from the house, including over 25,000 books, pickled human organs in jars, 14 pianos, and a Model T chassis.  

Homer and Langley Collyer were smart and talented.  Both attended college.  Homer practiced law and Langley was an accomplished concert pianist and had even played at Carnegie Hall.  After their parents’ death, the brothers began to shut themselves up in their brownstone. Langley used his engineering degree knowledge to rig up booby traps because of some attempted break-ins.

Homer developed cataracts but the brothers decided with their doctor-father’s 15,000 medical books in the house, they could take care of Homer themselves.  They became more and more introverted.  Utilities were completely disconnected by 1928. Langley would fetch water for them at a pump in a nearby park.  They tried to heat the large home with a kerosene heater.

When police found Homer’s body, they suspected Langley had called in the anonymous tip and then fled.  But when Langley failed to show up at his brother’s funeral a few days later, police suspected he may also be dead. Homer was found just 10 hours after he died, which seemed to be too short of a time span for the smell of decomposition to filter through the hoarded home and generate a phone call to the police.

Eight days later, while clearing the house, Langley’s body was found, just ten feet from where Homer had died. The new theory was that Langley was crawling through one of the tunnels in the home and had tripped one of his own booby traps, causing debris to come crashing down on him and killing him on around March 9.  Because Langley was now dead, Homer, blind and helpless, starved to death about two weeks later.

The brothers are buried in unmarked graves. The home was torn down within the year.

March 20: Uncle Tom's Cabin

On this date in History ... March 20, 1852:

The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is published.  It was originally released in segments via the weekly newspaper “The National Era”.  The book was a runaway best seller, with 10,000 copies the first week and 300,000 copies within 3 months, and had a major influence on the way the American public viewed slavery. The book established author Harriet Beecher Stowe's reputation as a “woman of letters”. 

Levi Coffin Home, Fountain City Indiana
Photo courtesy of
It is said that the character “Eliza” was based on a slave that came thru the Levi Coffin Home, located in (my hometown of) Fountain City, Indiana.  In my research, many stations on the Underground Railroad also claim this same celebrity. 

In 1863, when Lincoln announced the end of slavery, Stowe danced in the streets.  

March 19: Nevada Legalizes Gambling

On this date in History .... March 19, 1931:  

Nevada legalizes gambling. 

During the Civil War, Nevada’s population exploded as people flocked to the area to mine the gold & silver found in The Comstock Lode. When the lode ran dry during the depression, population flight began.  Worried about the loss of residents, Nevada took “the drastic measure” of legalizing gambling and, later, divorce. Las Vegas had become the gambling capital of the world and today, gambling pays the lion’s share of tax revenues in Nevada.

March 18: Stamp Act is Passed

On this date in History ..... March 18, 1766:  

Parliament repeals the Stamp Act because colonists’ boycotts were hurting British trade, BUT …. passes the Declaratory Act which says Britain had full and complete legislative power over the colonies, and was copied word for word from the Irish Declaratory Act, which had placed Ireland in British bondage to the crown. Colonists feared the same fate & this British Act became another brick in the wall that was building toward an American Revolution.

March 17: John Pelham

On this date in History .... March 17, 1863:  

John Pelham, age 24, dies at the battle of Kelleysville while standing in his horse stirrups, crying out “Press forward, press forward to glory & victory!” Pelham was considered one of the greatest officers of the Confederate Army, his artillery precision unsurpassed. He left West Point just short of graduating to join the Confederate military.

Gen. Stonewall Jackson said, “With a Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world.” Many southern towns are named after him & Gen. J.E.B. Stuart named his daughter after Pelham. 

Pelham's greatest battle was at Fredericksburg where he confused a federal army of 120,000 men with his brilliant one-gun barrage from their flank. His contribution to the Confederate victory that day was a major one and General Robert E. Lee cited the part played by "the gallant Pelham" in his official report    (source:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16: First Black Owned Newspaper

On this date in History .... March 16, 1827

Freedom’s Journal became the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States, established the same year that slavery was abolished in New York state.  The paper’s primary purpose was to counter the other pro-slavery and racist papers already in publication. The editors began their first publication with the words, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick (sic) been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly."  

It not only provided local and national news but also published weddings, birth and death announcements, job postings for African Americans and profiled successful African-Americans such as Phyllis Wheatley (first published black poet). Its two-year existence helped over forty black-owned newspapers become established by the Civil War.  

All issues of the paper can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society (this link):

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14: FBI Most Wanted List

On this date in History ... March 14, 1950:  

Photo courtesy of
The FBI’s "Most Wanted List" debuts.  

A 1949 news story about the “toughest guys” the FBI wanted to capture prompted the list because of the public’s attention to the article. 

"The criteria for selection is simple, the criminal must have a lengthy record and current pending charges that make him or her particularly dangerous.  And the FBI must believe that the publicity attendant to placement on the list will assist in the apprehension of the fugitive.

Since the list’s creation in 1950, more than 30% of them have been captured due to tips from the public. In general, the only way to get off of the list is to die or be captured. By the end of the year, only 3 of the original 10 were still on the list. Only 8 women have appeared on the list, the first in 1968. (See Dec 28, 2012 post for info on the first women on the list.)

March 13: First Impeachment Trial

On this date in History .... March 13, 1868:

The first impeachment trial of a United States president begins against President Andrew Johnson, accused of violation of the controversial Agent of Tenure Act.  

The Act was passed by Congress in spite of Johnson’s veto against it.  

Johnson had tried to remove people from office who opposed Johnson’s Reconstruction plans (which Congress considered too lenient) without Senate approval. The Tenure Act forbid this from happening. Johnson chose to ignore the Act and removed Secretary of War Edward Stanton from office. 

Johnson was found not guilty and remained in office, although he chose not to run for re-election.

Photo courtesy:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12: "Classical Gas"

On this date in History ..... March 12, 1969:

Mason Williams with "The Smothers Brothers"
Mason Williams’ instrumental “Classical Gas” receives three Grammy Awards:  Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary-Pop Performance, Instrumental, and Best Instrumental Arrangement.  Williams was the head writer of the TV variety show “The Smothers Brothers” at the time he wrote the piece and performed it on the show. 

When the song reached the Top Ten, Williams asked a filmmaker to create a video of classic art in time to the music entitled “3000 Years of Art”.

Click HERE to see the music video of "Classical Gas".

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 10: James Earl Ray pleads guilty

On this date in History ... March 10, 1969:  

James Earl Ray pleads guilty to the April 4th, 1968 killing of Martin Luther King and is sentenced to 99 years. He was arrested in a London airport by Scotland Yard in June 1968. 

He pled guilty in March 1969 but three days later, he tried to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he had only pled guilty to avoid the electric chair but he was really innocent and just a patsy or fall-guy for a larger conspiracy.  His request for a trial was denied for the next 29 years. 

He and five others escaped in June 1977 but were captured three days later.  Another year was added to his sentence for a total of 100 years.

He died in 1998 at the age of 70. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 9: Indiana passes sterilization laws

On this date in History ... March 9, 1907:  

Indiana becomes the first state to pass sterilization legislation for the purpose of eugenics (the practice of “improving the genetic population”). The law targeted “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists”. 

When this law was struck down in 1921 by the Indiana State Supreme Court, a second law was passed in 1927 which limited the procedure to “Insane, feeble minded or epileptic”, indicating a move from sterilizing the mentally ill and criminals to only the mentally ill. 

The laws were designed to target those in state institutions, not the general public. They were repealed in 1974. Between 1907 and 1974, about 2500 of these procedures were carried out.

(See also May 2, 2013 and May 9, 2013 postings for additional eugenics history in Indiana.)

March 8: Ali/Frazier Fight

On this date in History .... March 8, 1971:  

Photo courtesy
Muhammed Ali fought Joe Frazier in what was dubbed “The Fight of the Century”.  Ali lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career.  A rematch in 1974 was held at Madison Square Garden which Ali won by decision after 12 rounds. 

Later that year, Ali defeated George Forman, reclaiming his heavyweight champion title. 

After losing the title to Leon Spinks in 1975, Ali again took the title back just seven months later. 

When he left the ring for good in 1981 with a 56-5 record, he was the only fighter to take the heavyweight title three times.

March 7: First Woman Director Honored

On this date in History ... March 7, 2010:  

Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman director to win a Best Director Academy Award. Among those also nominated that year was her ex-husband, James Cameron, for his film "Avatar". 

In her acceptance speech she said,  "I hope I'm the first of many [women], and of course, I'd love to just think of myself as a filmmaker. And I long for the day when that modifier can be a moot point.”


March 6: Oreos are sold for the first time!

On this date in History .... March 6, 1912:  

The first Oreo was sold in Hoboken NJ, packed in a tin and sold by the pound in bulk for 30 cents a pound.  

The first Oreo was a plain cookie with the word “Oreo” in the middle and a thin wreath embossed around the outer edge.  It is now found in over 100 countries, the biggest market being the U.S.  (China comes in second.)  

Oreos have created their own little corner of the current culture ….. “recipes galore” can be found in which Oreos are a key ingredient!  No one is sure how the cookies came to be named “Oreo.”

Photo courtesy of

March 5: Stairway to Heaven

On this date in History .... March 5, 1971:  

Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played for the first time in Belgium. The 8 min, 2 sec song is the most requested song on U.S. radio, despite the fact that it never actual hit any of the charts …the song was never released as a single due to its length and the band would not authorize a cut (shorter) version. It is the biggest selling single piece of sheet music sold in rock history.

Photo courtesy of 

March 4: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

On this date in History ... March 4, 1921: 

The 66th Congress passed Public Resolution #67 to construct a tomb at Arlington Cemetery for an unknown soldier killed in France. This soldier represented all of the unknown soldiers killed in WWI. 

The Tomb has been under 24 hr guard since July 2, 1937 under the sole responsibility of the 3rd US Infantry. 

The shoes worn by the Sentinals are built up so the heel and sole are equal in height, allowing the sentinel to stand with a perfectly straight back and to walk in a fluid movement, meaning the bayonet does not “bob” up and down in each step. 

The walk is 21 steps, then a 21 second pause facing the tomb, then changing the bayonet to the other shoulder, followed by another 21 second pause, which alludes to the 21 Gun Salute, the highest honor given to any military or dignitary.  

March 3: Women and the Supreme Court

On this date in History .... March 3, 1879:

Belva Lockwood became the first woman sworn in as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, and was the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. 

In 1884, Lockwood became the second woman (after Victoria Woodhull) to run for President of the United States. She was the first to appear on the election ballot and to engage in a full-fledged campaign as the candidate for the National Equal Rights Party. 

In 1914, when she was 84 yrs old and asked whether a woman would one day be president she replied, “If a woman demonstrates that she is fitted to be president she will someday occupy the White House. It will be entirely on her own merits, however. No movement can place her there simply because she is a woman. It will come if she proves herself mentally fit for the position.”