The Donora Death Fog of 1948

Donora smogIn 1948, a little-remembered environmental disaster shocked the world.  No, this isn’t a Steven King story, but the real thing.

It began innocently enough. On Tuesday, October 26th, the people of Donora, Pennsylvania woke to a blanket of smoke and fog filling their streets. Fog was common in town when cold mountain air hit the warm river.  Plus the town’s steel mill and zinc works ran three shifts. They belched out endless pillars of smoke, 24 hours a day.

But the smog of Oct. 26th was different. As the day wore on, the fog didn’t lift, as it usually did.  Streetlights were still blazing at Noon.  Plus the smog became slowly thicker as the day progressed, until townsfolk began to taste the pollution in their mouths.

‘The smog burned your throat, eyes and nose, but we thought it was just another day in Donora.’

Donora‘s a small US town, about 27 miles south of Pittsburgh. It sits on a tight, horseshoe bend in the Monongahela River, in a deep valley surrounded by steep hillsides. It was also the home of a US Steel Zinc Works and American Steel & Wire Mill, with a combined 30 smoke stacks lining the river. The 2 factories employed most of the men in town.

Folks in steel towns were used to smog. This was 3 years after WWII and the GIs were home. But memories of the Great Depression still lingered and smog meant prosperity. Smog meant men were working, bills were being paid, and families were fed. Sure it was a nuisance. It stunted the growth of valley trees, mothers washed curtains as frequently as towels, and it caused hacking coughs amongst the workers … but that was the price you paid for the American dream.

The Donora Smog continued to worsen, getting thicker and thicker for 5 straight days, darkening the valley like an eclipse. That didn’t stop the Halloween parade Friday, when kids in costumes walked the streets like real specters, coughing in the gloom. Or the high school football game Saturday, when no passes were thrown because receivers couldn’t see the ball.

The smog was so thick you could barely see the football players on the field!

What the town didn’t know was that a layer of cold autumn air had trapped the 2 mills’ toxic soup of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and zinc/lead dust in their valley. It was a rare atmospheric inversion that stopped the air from circulating out of the town. The combination of toxic smoke and weather would yield deadly effects. The thickening, poisonous air began causing hacking coughs and  asthma-like symptoms.

The town’s 8 doctors rushed from case to case. They ordered those having trouble breathing to abandon the town.  This became harder and harder as driving visibility was reduced to a few feet. Firefighters carried O2 tanks through the dark streets to help children and elderly citizens. They were deluged with desperate requests for oxygen.

The ambulances could only creep through the smog, with one paramedic walking in front to check the road was clear. Driving soon became out of the question. Firefighters were forced to abandon attempts to help their suffering citizens when they were unable to navigate their own town IN MIDDAY!

‘The smog was so bad, I couldn’t see my feet!’

Town leaders begged the mills’ owners to shut down … but they refused. The first deaths began to occur Friday. The small Donora Hotel had become an emergency clinic because the local hospitals couldn’t handle all the sick, coughing and gasping for breath.

By Saturday, the 3 funeral homes quickly had more corpses than they could handle. The Community Center basement became a morgue when the undertakers were overwhelmed. Towns people listening to the radio were shocked to learn the toxic smog had turned lethal!  20 of their fellow Donorans had died!  And half the town was getting sick.

On Sunday morning Oct 30th, the mills’ owners finally ceased operation, arguably because most of their workers were sick. The next day on Halloween, wind and rain came and the smog finally began to dissipate, but not before leaving many with permanent lung damage.

Twenty-six townspeople would die in all.

The dead had all been 50 or over, some with heart or lung problems. 7,000 people had become violently ill, half the town’s population. While expressing sympathy for the victims, the owners disclaimed responsibility.

Over the next months, state and federal investigators descended on Donora. They set up air monitoring sites and medical clinics. US Steel and American Wire insisted the weather was to blame, certainly not the mills that had been operating for decades. The 2 powerful companies made sure the official report exonerated the plants. Most residents were outraged and investigators blamed the mills. Lawsuits were filed and later settled, but without naming blame.

‘It was murder! The owners of US Steel should have gone to jail.’

Humans were not the only victims – all of the crops in the valley perished as well as many family pets and backyard gardens.  It became the worst air pollution disaster in US history and let the public know that pollution was more than just a nuisance, it could kill!

The 2 mills reopened the next week. But the “Donora Death Fog,” made air pollution a national concern. The next year, President Harry Truman called for the 1st national air pollution conference, citing Donora. The zinc works closed in 1957, the steel mill a few years later.

Richard Nixon created the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, leading to The Clean Air Act.  Nonetheless, air pollution in Pennsylvania remained a problem for decades.  It precipitated down upon the state as Acid Rain, killing lake and river fish populations.

The population of Donora has dwindled to less than 6,000, over one-third retirees. Some residents blame the government regulators for destroying jobs in their town, though arguably saving their family’s lives. The Donora Death Fog is arguably the pivotal moment leading to the adoption of air quality regulations in the US.   If you have never heard of Donora, you owe it a debt of gratitude.  The Donora dead gave their lives so others would later live.

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In World War I, both Germany AND the Allies used Poison Gas against each other

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The horrors that man is capable of unleashing upon his enemy during warfare reached its pinnacle during World War I, when BOTH slides liberally used poison gas against each other.

WWI was the first conflict to devolve into trench warfare, when equally matched armies had literally dug into the French countryside with an obliterated “No Man’s Land” between them. After numerous bloody battles that did nothing to move the front, both sides looked for any way to win campaigns.

New poison gas technology appeared to be the answer to their prayers!

Chlorine gas was first deployed by the German military at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915. French, British and Canadian troops lined a 10 mile long front against the German army.  At 17.00 hours, when the day’s shelling ceased, and with the winds favorably blowing to the west, German troops opened pressurized tanks of chlorine gas hidden at the front line trenches.

French sentries noticed a strange, greenish-yellow cloud moving towards them. Thinking it was a smoke screen to cover a German advance, all troops were ordered to the ladders of their trenches. The gas’s impact was immediate and horrifying, destroying a man’s ability to breath in a matter of seconds. The surviving French troops fled in terror. Even the Germans were so shocked by the deadly effect of their gas, they never followed through with a full assault.

Germany’s use of poison gas provoked immediate and widespread condemnation around the globe. Nevertheless, the gas cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and its use escalated for the remainder of the Great War by Both Sides.

The first Allies to respond was Britain in 25 September 1915. Newly formed Special Gas Divisions attacked German lines at Loos around 5 am with their new “Accessory.” They were forbidden, you see, to use the word ‘poison gas.’ Unfortunately, along parts of the British front lines, the wind changed direction unexpectedly! The chlorine gas was blown back onto the British troops, causing over 2,000 casualties, more than the Germans.

A better means of delivery was needed, so both sides began firing poison gas in artillery shells instead.

After chlorine came phosgene, a gas that induced less coughing so more would be inhaled by the unfortunate victims, increasing the kill rate. But what was the average soldier to do? At first, they were instructed to hold a urine soaked kerchief over their face to protect against the effects! Needless to say, this failed miserably. Gas mask production lagged behind and it took several ineffective versions before the troops were finally provided with a reliable model. Uncomfortable masks with round goggles and a single filter cartridge were effective if applied fast enough.

German chemists were a step ahead of the Allies and switched to mustard gas in 1917.

Made of sulphur dichloride, the oily, brown liquid gave off what survivors described as a garlicy, horseradish or mustard stench. Mustard gas was nearly invisible, and rather that immediately choking the victim, it caused large, severe and painful blisters both in the mouth and on the skin. Mustard gas also remained potent in soil for weeks, making infected trenches impossible to live in.

To the thousands of souls fighting in Flanders, it was hard to imagine how the hell of trench warfare could get any worse. On 12 July 1917, German gunners fired more than 50,000 artillery shells of mustard gas into the British and Canadian lines. Hospital tents up and down the front were soon bursting with more than 2,000 victims, suffering from excruciating blisters across their bodies. Most were blinded, others slowly suffocating, leaving the rest disfigured and writhing in agony.

Despite the outrage that followed Germany’s usage, the Allies immediately engineered their own stockpiles of gas.

By autumn, mustard gas was in use up and down the Western Front once again by both sides. By year’s end, the British were dropping mustard gas onto German trenches as well.  America’s Dow Chemical manufactured the poison for the US troops.

It so terrified soldiers because unlike chlorine, victims were unaware they were being gassed. Gas masks only protected the lungs; everything else burned, even skin beneath clothing. Since it was heavier than air, clouds would settle into bomb craters and trenches and remain there for hours.

Germany continued to develop a deadly array of delivery methods including artillery shells, mortar rounds, free falling bombs and even land mines. The British army alone suffered 20,000 mustard gas casualties in just the last year of the war.

The use of mustard gas would continue right up until the Paris Armistice on 11 November 1918.

Although the use of poison gas was banned by the 1925 Geneva Convention, armies around the world continued to use it up through the 1930s when the Japanese gassed both Chinese armies and civilians in its invasion of Manchuria.

During World War II, the Allies stockpiled millions of tons of mustard gas behind frontlines just in case the Nazis decided to use it. Mustard gas was used most recently in the 1980s by Saddam Hussein against the Iranian army and Iraq’s own Kurdish population, where more than 5,000 civilians died.

While today we have more modern nerve agent gases and of course nuclear weapons, they remain largely unused, stockpiles kept as a deterrent only … or, until the enemy decides to use them first. Then the deadly cycle seen during WWI might just begin again.

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America’s Top 10 Mass Shootings all Occurred since Ronald Reagan’s Assassination Attempt

candles and flowersThis is a sad, sad list indeed. In Remembrance, never forget the victims and their families of America’s top mass shootings – ironically, all since the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 by John Hinckley.

#1 – October 1, 2017, Las Vegas, NV

59 KILLED, 500 INJURED at a country music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino

Killer: Stephen Paddock, 64, retiree and gambler of Mesquite, NV using multiple semi-automatic assault rifles with high capacity magazines and bump stocks

#2 – June 12, 2016, Orlando, FL

49 KILLED, 58 INJURED at the Orlando Pulse Nightclub

Killer: Omar Mateen, 29, security guard from Port St. Lucie, using a semi-automatic assault rifle with high capacity magazines and a 9mm pistol

#3 – April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, VA

32 KILLED, 17 INJURED during classes at Virginia Tech University

Killer: Seung Hui Cho, 23, South Korean VT senior, using a semi-automatic handgun and 9mm pistol

#4 – Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn.

27 KILLED (including 20 Children), 1 INJURED at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Killer: Adam Lanza, 20, World of Warcraft enthusiast, using semi-automatic assault rifle and 9mm pistol

#5 – October, 16, 1991, Killeen, Texas

22 KILLED, 20 INJURED at Luby’s Cafeteria during the lunch hour

Killer: George Jo Hennard, 35, unemployed merchant marine, using semi-­auto­mat­ic pistols

#6 – July 18, 1984 San Ysidro, Calif.

21 KILLED, 19 INJURED at a local McDonald’s restaurant

Killer: James Oliver Huberty, 41-year-old unemployed security guard using Uzi submachine, shotgun, and pistol

#7 – Aug. 20, 1986, Edmond, Okla.

14 KILLED, 6 INJURED at a local US Post Office branch

Killer: Patrick Sherrill, 44, a local mail carrier armed with 3 semi-automatic handguns

#8 – April 20, 1999, Columbine, Colo.

13 KILLED (12 students), 24 INJURED at Columbine High School

Killers: Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, both students, armed with carbine assault rifles, pump action sawed off shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols

#9 – Nov. 5, 2009, Killean, Texas

13 KILLED, 32 INJURED at Fort Hood Army Base

Killer: Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, using 2 semi-automatic pistols

#10 July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colo.

12 KILLED, 58 INJURED at Century 16 Movie Theater during screening of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

James Holmes, 24, former UC grad student, using a semi-automatic assault rifle, pump action shotgun and 9mm pistol

#11 – June 18, 2015, Charleston, SC

9 KILLED, 3 INJURED at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church prayer meeting

Killer: Dylann Roof, 21, self-proclaimed white supremacist using two 9mm pistols

#12 – Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ

6 KILLED, 11 INJURED at a Safeway Supermarket, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Killer: Jared Lee Loughner, 22, unemployed former college student with semi-automatic pistols

For your consideration and contemplation, two final pieces of information:

The full text of the 1789 Second Amendment to the Constitution:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

The Bible’s New Testament passage on bearing arms:

Then Jesus said to his apostle, “Put your sword back into its place. For all those who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword.” Matthew 26: 52-53

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Statue of Liberty’s Powerful Poem Rings True Today

liberty trioWe are a nation of immigrants, and children of immigrants.  Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem, immortalized on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty, rings true today more than ever.  My own grandparents travelled to the US from eastern Europe as mere teenagers before World War I, dreaming of and finding a better life in America. We all have heard the ‘Give us your tire, your poor …” line.  But read the entire poem slowly and carefully.  Ponder the meaning of each line, and then pray for our nation.

THE NEW COLOSSUS

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch!
whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,
and her name, Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

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Does HAARP Study the Atmosphere or Control the Weather?

HAARP

The HAARP military research program in Alaska has been a darling of conspiracy theorists for over a decade, claiming it does everything from control the weather to controlling minds. Former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez even claimed the US military used HAARP to cause the 2010 Haiti earthquake!

HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.

It was designed to study the Earth’s ionosphere, the upper-most portion of our atmosphere that stretches from about 53 miles (85 km) above the earth to around 370 miles (600 km). It’s a high-energy layer at the very edge of outer space, filled with charged particles. These particles respond to radio waves, so HAARP beams high-power radio frequencies straight up into the Alaska sky.

HAARP was built in 1993 at a cost of more than $290 million, earmarked by the late Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican senator from Alaska. The program has been run over the years by the US Air Force Research Lab, Office of Naval Research, and the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The program’ public mission is to study the ionosphere’s physics, which is bombarded by our sun on a daily basis. Solar flares send charged particles racing toward Earth, disrupting communication and often our electric grid. By studying the ionosphere, scientists might be able to mitigate these problems in the future.

Science aside, HAARP certainly looks futuristic, peppered with 180 weird-looking, cross-shaped antennas poking into the sky. And like the infamous Area 51 in Nevada, it’s located in a remote military compound in the south Alaskan wilderness.

For those of you might want to check it out, HAARP is located near Gakona, Alaska at GPS coordinates 62.39 N, 145.15 W off the Tok Cutoff Highway.  Its crown jewel is the massive high-power, high-frequency array known as the Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI). The IRI went on line in 2007 and can actually agitate a chunk of our ionosphere.

HAARP is so powerful, it can create an artificial aurora borealis in the Alaskan night sky.

The IRI consists of 180 dipole antennas in a 15 x 12 grid covering multiple acres. Together they can transmit 3600 kW of radio waves at frequencies up to 10 mHz. This energy is absorbed by the ionosphere and produces atmospheric fluctuations that can be detected by HAARPs instruments below.

The U.S. military is interested because our ionosphere plays a key role in transmitting radio signals, so can be used to improve satellite communications. And, yes, the DOD has used it to study things they still will not fully disclose. For example, HAARP can turn the ionosphere into a giant antenna used to transmit signals strong enough to reach nuclear submarines underwater.

Not surprisingly, HAARP’s remote location and ability to manipulate the upper atmosphere has made it a favorite of conspiracy theorists. The fringe nature of HAARP’s research doesn’t help.   When scientists do talk about the experiments, nobody but a physicist can fully understand the complexity.

Conspiracy theorists think HAARP’s purpose is far more sinister than what the military stated.

Former Minnesota Governor and ex-pro wrestler Jess Venture believes the government uses the IRI site to both manipulate the weather and control minds. Others have blamed it for everything from global warming to the mysterious humming associated with alien encounters. They say HAARP was to blame for the downing of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Japan’s 2011 tsunami. The Russian military believed it has the power to jam global communications and even reverse the polarity of the earth’s poles!

HAARP, it’s many conspiracies, and its military research, almost came to an end. In 2013, the site shut down and temporarily locked its gates.  The Air Force said it no longer wanted to pay the millions of dollars needed to keep HAARP alive and was prepared to dismantle it.

But fear not, HAARP lives on! Operation of the research facility was transferred from the US Air Force to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2015, allowing HAARP to continue its exploration of ionospheric phenomenon via a cooperative R&D agreement.

This August, HAARP actually held an open house, free to the general public. The facility offered bus rides from Fairbanks, was open for tours, and had research displays. Just to show how far it’s come, souvenir HAARP T-shirts and shot glasses were on sale, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs to help fund continued research.

But I’m quite sure conspiracy theorists, somewhere in their darkened basements, think this is nothing but ruse, and HAARP’s more nefarious purposes continue in the remote Alaskan wilderness.

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Kent State Killings Still Shock to this Day

Kent State

As believable or unbelievable as it may seem, on May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State Univ. students, killing four and wounding nine. They’d been protesting the US invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Most anti-war protests had been peaceful, with students burning draft cards at protest rallies and marches.  The long Vietnam War had divided US public opinion much like the Iraq War did decades later.  Anti-war protesters were no longer just hippies, drug users, or free love promoter. They now included educated, middle-class college students.

On Friday May 1, Kent State students held their own peaceful anti-war protest on their grassy central Commons. Later that evening though, bonfires were lit in the streets downtown.  Beer bottles were thrown at the police. Common thugs began to break windows and loot stores. The police resorted to tear gas to clear the streets.

On Saturday May 2, a nervous Kent mayor closed the bars and declared a state of emergency. He called Governor James Rhodes and requested he send the Ohio National Guard ASAP to help maintain order. Guardsman were stationed nearby and began to arrive that evening.

As they came on campus, the soldiers were greeted with the Kent State ROTC building in flames.

It’s unknown if student or non-student protesters started the fire. Kent State had already abandoned the old ROTC building and was planning to raze it. 100 student protesters circled the building shouting and celebrating the blaze. They sliced the fire fighters’ hoses brought to extinguish the flames. National Guard members had to resort to tear gas to disperse the crowd. The ROTC building burnt to the ground by morning.

By Sunday May 3, 1,000 National Guard troops were patrolling the campus and tensions on both sides were extremely high. Governor Rhodes arrived and at a national press conference accused the student protesters of being unpatriotic:

“They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Every force of law will be used to deal with them.”

Many Kent State students assisted local businesses in cleaning up the previous night’s damage, but others continued to hold protests. That evening, the National Guard continued to break up demonstrations, threatening crowds with tear gas and bayonets.

Finally on Monday May 4, classes resumed and protesters scheduled another rally at noon on the Commons. University officials attempted to ban the gathering but failed. Student demonstrators began shouting at the Guardsman to get off their campus.  The Commons now contained about 3000 people, half of which were spectators. At the burned-out ROTC building stood 100 guardsmen carrying military rifles with bayonets.

Shortly before noon, a National Guard General ordered the demonstrators to disperse via bullhorn. When that was ignored, he ordered his men to load their weapons. Tear gas canisters were fired into the crowds, but due to stiff winds that day, they were ineffective. Some students threw the canisters and rocks, back at the soldiers. The Guard was then ordered to march across the Commons to disperse the protestors.

Yelling and rock throwing reached its peak as the Guardsmen marched in for about ten minutes. The soldiers quickly became surrounded and, realizing their situation, began to retreat. At the top of Blanket Hill, 29 of the 77 Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their rifles either at the air, the ground, or directly into the crowd.

The gun shots lasted just 13 seconds but the guardsmen managed to fire off 67 shots. When the bullets stopped firing, first there was silence, then the screams began, 4 students were dead and 9 others lay wounded on the grass.

Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer.

Wounded Kent State student John Cleary is attended to by other s

The shootings shocked the nation and escalated protests across the country. Kent State immediately closed. Many colleges and universities cancelled classes for the remainder of the academic year.  Neil Young’s even wrote a song, “Ohio,” commemorated the shootings.

Why did members of the Guard shoot into a crowd of unarmed students?

The Guardsmen later testified they fired because they were in fear of their lives. They felt the demonstrators were advancing on them and fired in self-defense. The multiple federal criminal and civil trials that followed agreed with the position of the Guardsmen.

Many experts however found the Guard responsible and agreed with the conclusion of the 1970 Scranton Commission Report. “The indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of unarmed students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”

Anti-war protests finally drew to an end when President Nixon, withdrew U.S. soldiers from Vietnam in 1973.  Seven years later an out-of-court settlement provided $675,000 to the wounded students and the parents of the dead, paid for by the State of Ohio. The statement signed by members of the Ohio National Guard was a declaration of sincere regret, not an apology, or an admission of wrongdoing.

Almost 50 years later, our nation remains of the razors edge of peaceful demonstrations and senseless violence.

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The Mysterious Madame Blavatsky – Psychic or Charlatan?

HpbMadame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB to her followers) was a controversial 19th century medium, psychic, author and co-founder of the Theosophical Society.  She claimed to be in contact with the ‘The Masters’, astral beings of great psychic powers who bestowed upon her the ancient secret science of Theosophy.  The society grew from a modest start in 1875 to become a multi-national organization with thousands of members and branches that still exist today.

So who was this mysterious woman, chased by scandal her entire life?  Blavatsky  was born Helena von Hahn in Ukraine 1831.  At 17, her family married her off to Governor Blavatsky, an imperious man over 20 years her senior. After 3 months, she took one of his horses and left him;  keeping his name, however, for the rest of her life.

At age 20 in London, she claims to have met a ‘Master,’ a tall, handsome Indian prince named Morya. She says he recruited her on a ‘Great Mission’ to help all of humanity. She began to study Eastern mysticism and slowly gained a reputation in England as a spirit medium, claiming both telepathy and telekinesis as well.

 In 1868, Blavatsky travelled to Tibet where she claimed her Master Morya took her to the mythical city of Shamballah in the Himalayas.

There she met many other ‘Masters,’ astral beings with great psychic powers, including the immortal Count of Saint-Germain.  Blavatsky said the Masters bestowed upon her the ‘Sacred Secret Sciences.’

As one would expect, suspicion and scandal followed such a person. In Egypt, she formed the Societe Spirite.  But after repeated accusations of swindling and bogus phenomena, officials forced them to disband and leave Cairo, else face arrest.  Unperturbed, Blavatsky simply moved elsewhere.

At age 42, she said Master Morya sent her to America in 1873. Blavatsky’s reputation as a medium grew rapidly in New York City as she began writing in various spiritualist periodicals. She married again, to Michael Betanelly to gain U.S. citizenship. Similar to her first marriage, they separated after 4 months.  She claimed neither marriage was ever consummated and she remained caste her entire life.

A year later, she met Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer investigating the occult, not as a skeptic, but as a believer. Blavatsky so impressed Olcott with her psychic abilities and mystical knowledge they became business partners.  Together they co-founded the Theosophical Society.  Theosophy, or Divine Wisdom, is a mystic philosophy believing in ‘ancient secrets’ including cosmic evolution, spiritual planes, and universal religion.

She wrote her first book, Isis Unveiled claiming it was copied (not written) with ‘her hand in the astral light.’

It was reviewed by most newspapers of the day as’ transcendental nonsense.’ Nevertheless, the first printing sold out and it help spread Theosophy beyond US borders. Blavatsky and Olcott moved the Society headquarters to Madras in 1878.

In India, they were less than welcomed, but managed to publish a monthly magazine, The Theosophist.  At their new headquarters, the Ascended Masters supposedly visited Blavatsky in their ‘higher astral non-corporeal state’ at a shrine built on the roof, where she could contact the Masters daily via her astral writings.

hpbtm-c1Blavatsky was now 51 and her health began to deteriorate in the intense Indian heat.  In London, the Royal Academy formed the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to scientifically investigate paranormal phenomena. Two TS employees declared Blavatsky a fraud who used slight of hand and trap doors to fool its members. They said the Masters were her complete invention with which she duped a gullible Olcott.

The Theosophical Society thus became a target of the SPR.  Olcott welcomed an investigation in order to defend Theosophy.  Saying the Indian climate was causing her health to fail, Blavatsky left India for the last time.

 In 1885, the Society for Psychical Research issued a stinging report.

For our part we regard her neither as a mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor a vulgar adventuress.  We think she is one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history.’  The SPR considered the Masters a Blavatsky fabrication aided and abetted by confederates. All her psychic phenomena were various forms of deception, helped by the credulity of dupes like Olcott.

Never one to be slowed by scandal, Blavatsky carried on, returning to London and with the help of the British society, started a second magazine, Lucifer (Lightbearer).  A rift began to form between between Olcott, still in India, and the British branch of the TS.

In London, Blavatsky finished her second and third books, The Secret Doctrine and The Key to Theosophy. She also launched an attack against Christian churches. ‘Only Theosophy,’ she decreed, ‘offered the secret doctrine that lay hidden beneath all earthly religions.’ Needless to say, both clergy and scientists rose up against her.

In the U.S., the New York Sun resurrected the old accusations from Egypt and reported the results of the SPR.  This included a brand new charge of plagiarism. The article stated Blavatsky stole much of the material in her three books from existing Buddhist and Hindu texts.  The TS promptly sued the newspaper which reported:

The ingredients of a successful charlatan are having no conscience, some brains, much courage, corrosive selfishness, vainglorious ambition, and monumental audacity. Blavatsky has all these.’

 In 1891, Blavatsky came down with severe influenza.

Already suffering from a weak heart, rheumatism and Bright’s disease, she passed away on May 8th at only 60.  Her detractors consider her one of the most successful charlatans of the 19th century. Her Theosophy supporters believe her one of their founding saints.

Regardless of your personal beliefs, Madame Blavatsky managed to lead an international organization in an age when very few women wielded such power. Say what you will about Blavatsky and her followers, but if chicanery was their only sin, it pales in comparison to today’s modern New Age Cults.

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The Secret Term of America’s First Woman President

Edith Wilson

On the morning of October 2, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson stood from his bed and suffered a massive stroke. He collapsed to the floor and First Lady Edith Wilson dragged him back to bed, where he lost consciousness. Mrs. Wilson frantically phoned the White House usher, “Please get Dr. Grayson immediately! The president is very ill!

An hour later, the doctor emerged from the bedroom in shock … the President of the United States was paralyzed.

For months to come, the entire affair, including Wilson’s extended illness and disability, was shrouded from the nation in secrecy. The President’s stroke left him severely paralyzed on his left side and partially blind in his right eye, not to mention the psychological trauma that accompanies such a life-altering event. The press was told the president was merely suffering from “a severe case of exhaustion.”

Highly protective of her husband’s authority and standing, the First Lady shielded Woodrow from guests and began a “bedside government” that excluded much of Wilson’s Cabinet and Congress. Anyone who wished to see the President of the United States now had to go through Edith Wilson. She made the decision as to what was brought to the President’s attention and when.  She secretly signed her husband’s name to all manner of correspondence and legislation.  How ironic that while the Women Suffrage movement marched at the White House fence, there was in fact a secret woman president inside.

How had this dilemma come about?

For the prior 6 months, President Wilson had been in Europe negotiating World War I’s Treaty of Versailles AND planning the new League of Nations (precursor to our United Nations). As the summer progressed, he realized a defeat in was brewing in the wary Senate. So an already exhausted president returned to the US and embarked on a 4 week, 8000 mile speaking tour by train to make his case for the League of Nations directly to the public.

Wilson had a dangerous habit of working incessantly, without exercise, entertainment, or relaxation. Combining his professorial skills in history, political science, and oration, he threw himself into defending the League of Nations. But with each whistle stop, the man became paler, thinner, and ever more frail. He lost his appetite and he began complaining of severe daily headaches.

On an evening in September 1919, after speaking in Colorado, Edith discovered Woodrow in their private coach with his facial muscles twitching, along with blurred vision, and crippling nausea. In modern medical terms, the President had suffered a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) due to a brief loss of blood flow to the brain.

The speaking tour was abruptly canceled and the couple quickly returned to the White House. Upon their arrival in DC, the president appeared ill, but was able to walk to their car. He tipped his top hat to the crowd, shook a few hands, and was whisked to the White House.  Barely a week later, the President suffered his far more massive stroke.

So who was this bold woman who stepped in and essentially ran the presidency?

Edith Bolling was born in the small hamlet of Wytheville, VA, daughter of a local judge of modest means. She desperately wanted out of her meager existence, sharing small quarters with a large family. She eventually married an older Washington DC silver & jewelry store owner named Norman Galt. They had one child, who died in infancy. Her husband passed shortly thereafter. Though the store was deeply in debt, she took over management and brought it back to solvency.

In 1915, during a tea at the White House, she was spotted by the recently widowed President Wilson. The president’s first wife Ellen had died of kidney disease the year earlier. The lonely President was, as they say, smitten by the 43-year-old black haired beauty, who was 15 years his junior! Edith was certainly no wallflower and was in fact quite progressive in many ways. As a widow, she had purchased an automobile and became the first woman to be issued a DC driver’s license.

Though he’s often portrayed as an aloof academic, Woodrow wrote long love letters to his first wife and was playful romantic with Edith. After a brief 8 month courtship, they were married in the White House. With World War I consuming Europe, any scandal over the quick marriage was ignored. Wilson was easily re-elected to a 2nd term.

By February 1920, news of the President’s stroke finally began to leak in the press.

Nevertheless, the full details of Wilson’s disability, and his wife’s management of presidential affairs, were never realized by the American public. How could the average American not know of this? You must remember at the time there was no internet, TV or even radio.  During a meeting the bedridden president held with two demanding Senators, Edith cleverly hid the extent of his paralysis by keeping his left side covered with a blanket.

In those days, constitutional guidelines didn’t yet exist for transferring presidential power during a severe illness.  Wilson had all his mental faculties, and stubbornly refused to resign. The unambitious VP Thomas Marshall wouldn’t assume the presidency unless Congress passed a resolution, and Dr. Grayson certified the president’s “inability to discharge the powers and duties of said office” as per the constitution.  Due in large part to Edith’s actions, neither of these happened.

Slowly, Wilson partially recovered and (with Edith) managed to complete his second term. He died three years later … with his last word being, of course – ‘Edith.’ Cognizant of her husband’s legacy, for the rest of her life Edith Wilson always insisted Woodrow had performed ALL of his presidential duties after his stroke. She stated in her memoir:

I studied every paper sent from the different Secretaries or Senators, digested and presented the items that, despite my stewardship, warranted the attention of the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and when to present matters to my husband.

Today, historians agree that First Lady Edith Wilson was much, much more than a mere “steward” of the President. She was in fact, essentially the nation’s First Female President until Wilson’s 2nd term ended in 1921. Edith Wilson is buried next to her husband in the crypt of Washington’s National Cathedral.

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How One Teenager Started a World War!

On 28 June 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife, Sophie were visiting the picturesque city of Sarajevo. As Inspector General of the Army, he was attending military exercises in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Franz Ferdinand was also the nephew of the Emperor, and due to the suicide of the crown prince, was heir to the throne as well!  The Austro-Hungarian Empire had recently annexed the Balkan provinces, infuriating neighboring Serbia, which also coveted the two territories.

The Young Bosnians, a revolutionary student group of Serbian nationalists, learned of the Archduke’s visit, and secretly plotted his assassination.

Franz and Sophie boarded an elegant open-topped car for a pleasant motorcade ride to the town hall, waving to the populace as they drove by.  As the cars passed, one Serb assassin hurled a bomb at their vehicle, watched it bounce off the folded roof top, and roll underneath the wrong automobile! The explosion wounded two army officers and some unlucky bystanders, but not Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.

“I AM FINE!” the Archduke bellowed.  And rather than flee Sarajevo, they continued on to town hall. Only upon finishing his royal duties did they drive away, at a higher speed this time to dissuade other potential bombers. Unfortunately, their chauffeur was unfamiliar with Sarajevo and turned off the Appel Quay onto a side street by mistake.  At a corner where Serbian Gavrilo Princip was waiting.

As the cars attempted to back up, Princip whipped out his pistol, charged forward and fired two shots at point-blank range!

Bullets pierced the Archduke’s neck and Sophie’s abdomen as she lunged forward to protect her husband. “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die!” he managed to cry out. “Live for our children.”

gavrilo-princip_vafYDGavrilo (Gabriel) was a skinny 19-year-old peasant Serb, barely able to grow a mustache.  He and his co-conspirators had been radicalized by the infamous Black Hand society after the army rejected them.  Princip was attacked by an angry mob as he attempted to commit suicide. He shouted proudly to the crowd, “I am a hero of Serbia!” The motorcade rushed to a hospital but within the hour, both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had expired. Sadly, it was their wedding anniversary as well.   They left behind three young children in Vienna.

Tensions were already running high between Europe’s great allied powers. There had not been a continental war for almost 60 years.  Austria-Hungary considered the Serbs thieves, pigs and dogs in no particular order. The Archduke’s assassination set off a rapid chain reaction of events, culminating in our planet’s first ever WORLD WAR:

  • Exactly a month later, on 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
  • Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, began to mobilize its vast army in Serbia’s defense
  • Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary, saw this as an act of war, and declared war on Russia August 1st
  • France, bound by treaty to Russia, mobilized its army as well, so Germany declared war on France on August 3rd.
  • Germany then invaded neutral Belgium the next day to reach Paris.  Britain, allied with Belgium & France, declared war against Germany on August 4th, and by extension Austria-Hungary
  • With the British Empire came it many colonies – Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa
  • Japan, bound by treaty with Britain, declared war on Germany August 23rd.  Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan August 24th.  It’s tragic how quick and easy it all was.
  • Italy managed to stay out of it for a year, but joined on the side of the Allies in 1915
  • US President Woodrow Wilson stated neutrality at first, but finally declared war against Germany and entered the war in 1917

 Overall, more than 9 MILLION soldiers on both sides would die in the bloody trenches and battlefields of “THE GREAT WAR TO END ALL WARS.”

A war that introduced such new implements of death like tanks, machine guns, bi-wing airplanes and poison mustard gas for the very first time. Only after millions already perished, and the introduction of American forces tipped the scales. Germany and Austria-Hungary were finally forced to surrender at the Paris armistice, signed in railroad car on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – 11 November 1918.

But it wasn’t over for many as the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 (see related blog post)would bring further death to the world as the surviving troops returned home with the deadly virus. Gavrilo Princip was  too young to be hanged, just 20 days shy of his 20th birthday.  He was instead given a 20-year sentence, but died in prison of tuberculosis at only 23.

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Operation Gunnerside: The Most Important WWII Mission You Never Heard Off

heavy water wars

Operation Gunnerside was arguably the most important covert mission of World War II. It’s goal was daunting – to prevent Adolf Hitler from creating the atomic bomb first. Gunnerside would do so by denying the Nazi’s enough heavy water (deuterium oxide) to build a nuclear weapon.

The Vemork hydroelectric plant, located in a remote valley in Norway, produced both electricity and fertilizer. A precious byproduct was heavy water. When the Nazis invaded Norway, they took control of the Vemork plant. Major Lief Tronstad, a former chemist at Vemork, now with SOE (Special Operations Execution) was assigned the task of denying the Nazi’s heavy water.

In late 1942, the Allies launched Operation Freshman to destroy the plant with a full assault. Norwegian and British commandos were to parachuted into Norway.

The mission was a complete disaster!

One airplane and two gliders crashed near the plant in bad weather. Those who survived were captured, interrogated and ultimately executed by the Gestapo, 41 in all. Plus now, the Nazi’s knew of the British interest in destroying Vemork.

The Allies still had to disable the plant, so they attempted a second mission. This time a small covert raid called Operation Gunnerside, the brainstorm of Major Tronstad. Lt Joachim Ronnenberg lead the new mission with 5 hand-picked Norwegian commandos, none over the age of 31. Training for the raid included memorizing a scale model of the Vemork plant meticulously built by Tronstad.

In February 1943, Operation Gunnerside got off to a bad start. A freak snowstorm forced the team to be air dropped 18 miles from the plant! It took the men a week to trek cross country on snow shoes and skies to meet up with 4 Norwegian commandos who had managed to survive Operation Freshman.

The original 4 had carried out extensive reconnaissance on Vermork.

Following the failed assault, the Germans had laid land mines along the steep mountainside above the plant. Plus they doubled the guards on a narrow suspension bridge, the main entry to the facility. The weak point in the defenses was the steep, 660-ft deep ravine the bridge spanned, which the Germans judged too treacherous and impassable. But 1 Norwegian had discovered a way to descend the ravine, cross the frozen river, ascend the other side and reach the plant unseen at night!

So just before midnight, the saboteurs crossed the icy ravine in darkness and below zero temperatures. During a changing of the guards, they managed to creep into the facility undetected. The 10 men split into two teams; five would destroy the equipment while the other five would act as lookouts. Lt Ronnenberg and another man began laying the charges. Their target was a battery of 18 electrolysis ‘cells’ which held the last stage of heavy water production.

They encountered a Norwegian foreman inside the electrolysis chamber, reading the instruments and filling out logbooks. The man seemed more concerned about having his reading glasses before they lit the charges. They ordered the man to run upstairs, lie down and keep his mouth open so as not to burst his eardrums. There were four main charges with short two-minute fuses. Ronnenberg did not trust the foreman and decided to cut the fuses to just 30 seconds!

He ordered his men from the room, lit the fuses and ran for his life.

The blast was deafening inside the chamber, but the guards outside barely noticed. As the lookout team held their machine guns ready, only one guard emerged with a flashlight, and after brief inspection, returned to his station! The guards assumed the sound came from the plant’s machinery which occasionally made loud noises.

Ronnenberg’s team met the lookout party just outside the gates. What astonished them all was that the Germans did not yet realize that their facility had been sabotaged. The guards’ attention was probably more focused on staying warm in the below zero winter night than on any loud noise. The foreman would soon report the explosion however.

They hurried back across the ravine’s river and began climbing a zigzag trail leading to the top of the mountain. That was when the plant’s sirens finally began to sound. It took them three long hours to climb 700 meters to the ridge summit. Only then could they could put on their skis and escape down the other side of the mountain.

Unlike its predecessor, Operation Gunnerside was a complete success.

Though the plant itself was only slightly damaged, more than 1,000 pounds of heavy water had been destroyed, along with the electrolysis equipment needed to create it. The Nazis responded with a heavily armed search party of 3,000 German soldiers that scoured the mountainside. They would be too late. All 10 commandoes escaped to the coast alive.

The raid halted production of heavy water for nearly a year, but the Allies knew the Nazis would soon be making it again. Another raid was out of the question due to heightened security, so a bombing raid was launched in November 1943 that severely damaged the facility. This was followed in 1944 by the SOE sinking the ferry SF Hydro near Telemark, carrying a shipment of heavy water to Germany.

The mission was arguable the most productive act of sabotage of the entire war. Every member of the team received war honors, with Ronnenberg receiving the Distinguished Service Order. Their exploits were even turned into 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

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