Swan Island radio station


Swan Island is located just off Honduras and until 1972 was disputed between Honduras and the United States. The island got its name–reportedly–because it was used as a base for a pirate named Swan in the 17th century. Swan Island also had a long history of use by the United States government.

Big Swan Island – Little Swan Island can be seen at the bottom of the picture.

One of the most important uses was the collection of guano. The Guano Islands Act of 1856 allowed the United States to designate otherwise unclaimed territory as part of the United States for the purpose of collecting guano which, in addition to being bird excrement, is also important because it contains phosphates used in fertilizer and gunpowder.

However, the most famous occupant of Swan Island was Radio Swan which broadcast on the AM radio band and shortwave. The station was owned by the Gibraltar Steamship Company with an office in Miami, Florida. Oddly, though, the company didn’t actually have any steamships. What it did have was some radio transmitters that had been used by Radio Free Europe and brought to the island by the United States Navy. The Gibraltar Steamship Company was actually a front for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who in May 1960 started Radio Swan to broadcast Spanish-language propaganda into Cuba, which had recently been taken over by Fidel Castro’s revolution. These were created and broadcast by various Cuban dissident groups in Miami.

A QSL card from Radio Swan/Radio Americas showing the station’s location near Cuba.


However, infighting between these groups as well as misleading information lead to Radio Swan announcing in May 1961 that it would no longer carry political broadcasts and switched to reporting news, which was under the direct control of the CIA. This news carried coded messages, presumably aimed for Cuban dissidents who had fled Cuba after Castro took power. In April 1961 the station gave a coded message stating that the Bay of Pigs operation had commenced – an attempt by Cuban dissidents and US special forces to overthrow Castro, and that all Cubans should join in and make the invasion a success.. The message was:

Alert! Alert! Look well at the rainbow. The fish will rise soon. Chico is in the house. Visit him. The sky is blue. The fish will not take much time to rise. The fish is red.

As history showed, the Bay of Pigs operation was a fiasco, with the United States involvement being exposed. Radio Swan changed its name to Radio Americas, and continued broadcasting until mid-1968.

The following webpages were used for the creation of this blog post:

https://www.qsl.net/sidxa/history2.html

https://californiahistoricalradio.com/CHRSPix/BartSwanIslandSlides.pdf

World Champion kidnapping


Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995) is considered one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all-time, winning five World Championship titles (1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957).  As well as driving in Formula 1, Moss also competed in sports car racing, which was not unusual amongst drivers of that era, compared to modern Formula 1 drivers. This interest in sports car racing lead to the most unusual incident of Fangio’s career – his kidnapping prior to the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix.

The Cuban Grand Prix was created by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1957 – the aim of the event was to increase tourism to the island, especially for visitors from the United States. Cuba had no purpose built racing circuits, so a street circuit was constructed in the Malecón district of the capital, Havana. The main straight was the esplanade near the sea, with the return section a block further inland.

Map of the circuit used for the Cuban Grand Prix in 1957 and 1958.

The race was held on the 25th of February 1957. Fangio was contracted to drive a Maserati 250F in the upcoming Formula 1 season, so he naturally drove a Maserati in the Grand Prix. His 300S finished first, ahead of Carroll Shelby driving a Ferrari 410S and Alfonso de Portago in a Ferrari 860 Monza.

Fangio prior to the start of the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix.

Having won the inaugural Grand Prix, Fangio accepted an invitation to return for the 1958 race, to be held on the 28th of February. Sparing no expense, Batista arranged for all of the international drivers to stay in the prestigious Hotel Lincoln in central Havana. On the eve of the grand prix, Fangio walked into the lobby of the hotel on his way to dinner, only to be confronted by a young man in a leather jacket brandishing a pistol. According to reports from the time, the slightly nervous assailant barked: “Fangio, you must come with me. I am a member of the 26th of July revolutionary movement.”

The 26th of July Movement was a revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. The name commemorates an attack on the  Santiago de Cuba army barracks on July 26, 1953. The movement began formally in 1955, and its aim was the overthrow of the Batista regime.

One of Fangio’s companions picked up a paperweight and moved to throw it at the intruder, but the pistol jerked round. “Stay still,” the kidnapper said. “If you move, I shoot.” And with that Fangio accompanied the young man to a waiting car. The 26th of July Movement’s aim was simple – by capturing the biggest name in motorsport the revolutionaries would show up the government and attract worldwide publicity to their cause. Yet despite the news of the kidnapping spreading across the globe, Batista refused to be outdone and ordered the race to continue as usual while a team of police hunted down the kidnappers. Now under arrest and in an unknown location Fangio was taking it all in his stride and was being treated to a meal of steak and potatoes before getting a good nights’ sleep.



The front page of the French newspaper “France-soir”, with the kidnapping of Fangio being the top story.

As per Batista’s orders, the race started as planned, with Maurice Trintignant taking the place of the absent Fangio. A huge crowd attended due to a public holiday, and with no designated spectator stands, they stood on the side of the road, or watched from the balconies of adjacent units and apartments. From the start, Ferrari drivers Stirling Moss and Masten Gregory battled for the lead. After only a few laps, spectators started to notice that all drivers were having trouble controlling their cars on a track that had become very slippery. The cause was soon discovered – Robert Mieres had retired from the race on lap 5 due to a broken oil line in his Porsche, but not before he had laid down a greasy strip of oil all around the circuit.

Disaster then struck – local driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes lost control of his yellow and black Ferrari and went head on into a bunch of spectators lining the circuit. Over 30 people were injured and seven killed as the car took out a makeshift bridge and flew over the crash barriers.  The race was then immediately red-flagged after just 6 laps, with Moss declared the winner, ahead of Gregory and Caroll Shelby in 3rd place. Cifuentes, seriously injured in the crash, was taken to hospital lying on the bonnet of one of the competing cars. He was charged with manslaughter, but was cleared after a government enquiry.

British Pathe newsreel footage of the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix – including Fangio before his kidnapping and the Cifuentes accident.

Fangio was delivered to the Argentinian embassy after the race, which had turned into a disaster for the Batista regime. The 26th of July movement had received worldwide publicity, while the recriminations started regarding the lack of safety protection for spectators.

Fangio would go to compete in the 1958 Formula One World Championship – his final race French Grand Prix, where he finished 4th. Batista would be overthrown by Castro in December 1958. No Cuban Grand Prix was held in 1959, with the final race being held in February 1960, with Stirling Moss winning again.

The following sources were used in the creation of this blog post.

https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/classic-wheels/archive-the-man-who-kidnapped-fangio

https://www.espn.com.au/f1/story/_/id/28999493/when-f1-legend-fangio-was-kidnapped-cuba

Mutiny on the high seas


On the 4th of January 2003, a Taiwanese ship named the High Aim 6 was found adrift off the Western Australian coast near Broome, with the engine running and the propellors turning. Authorities were alerted, and Royal Australian Navy officers from HMAS Stuart boarded the vessel to investigate. They were puzzled – clearly the ship had been abandoned for some reason, as there were no lifeboats or rafts, and no signs of a struggle onboard.

The only indicators that there once had been life aboard were seven toothbrushes and large stores of canned food. A nauseating stench emerged from the hold. It was created by three tonnes of tuna and mackerel, which (as subsequent tests indicated) had been rotting for up to two weeks. Although the boat’s fuel tanks were half-full, the freezer holding the fish had failed when the ship’s engines had stopped.

The High Aim 6 beached at Broome – what happened to the crew?

The vessel was towed to Broome, where Australian Federal Police joined the investigation. Officers, directed by operations coordinator Bill Graham, spent two days conducting tests on the 20 metre long, 150 tonne vessel. They found ‘no plausible reason’ for the absence of the captain, Chen Tai-chen, chief engineer Lee Ah-Duey and the ten Indonesian crew members.  A search of the Indian Ocean near where the ship was found by a PC-3 Orion aircraft failed to find any trace of the missing men.

High Aim 6 had sailed from Taiwan, flying an Indonesian flag, on the 30th of October 2002. She was last heard from on the 13th of December, when Captain Tai-chen called the owners of the vessel from the Marshall Islands, which is located halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii. Several weeks of silence followed, and the owners reported the High Aim 6 missing.

The final journey of the High Aim 6.

Bill Graham said “We can’t say if the boat was hijacked….whether it was steered towards Australia by a second crew, or whether it was on autopilot.” Stefan Frodsham, chief executive of the Port of Broome, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the ship had probably been attacked by pirates, who killed the crew and set the boat’s engines running to cover their tracks. Others believe a mutiny aboard High Aim 6 led to the untimely death of the captain and the chief engineer, with the crew escaping in liferafts. People smuggling was dismissed as a theory, due to the three tonnes of fish in the hold.

One interesting clue was a series of 87 local phone calls made in Bali, Indonesia with a mobile phone belong to Ah-Duey, the chief engineer. Ah-Duey’s daughter told a newspaper in Taipei that she had rung her father’s mobile phone multiple times between the 27th of December and the 15th of January. She was able to distinguish the strains of karaoke singing several times.

Authorities eventually tracked down one of the Indonesian crew members, who claimed that the captain and engineer had been killed in December, with the crew then returning to Indonesia. The crew member gave no details as to how the bodies of Tai-chen and Ah-Duey were disposed of, where the murders took place, and how the crew managed to make it back safely to Indonesia.

The High Aim 6 sat abandoned on the beach at Broome for 18 months. Hopes that the ghost ship would live on as an underwater tourist attraction for divers, or a fish habitat, were scuppered when authorities concluded that they could not guarantee that once sunk, High Aim 6 would stay underwater because of its buoyant hull. The ship was broken up and buried in landfill.

John Pinkney’s books “Great Australian Mysteries” (Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2003) and The Mary Celeste Syndrome (Kindle e-book, 2011) were used as the sources for this blog post.

Bordering on the ridiculous


In mid-December of 1959, the Border team hosted Natal in the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic first-class cricket competition. The previous year Border had the better of a drawn game, so playing Natal at their home ground, the Jan Smuts Ground in East London gave them cause for confidence.

The match commenced on Saturday, the 19th of December, and the pitch had been affected by rain, so it was important to win the toss. Border did so, and had no hesitation in putting Natal into bat on the treacherous pitch. The Natal batsman struggled immediately – the first four in the batting order had represented South Africa in international Test cricket, but could only manage 15 runs between them. Natal were at one stage 50 for eight wickets, but wicketkeeper Malcolm Smith flung his bat for 33, which took the innings total to 90. It could have been worse, as the Border fielders dropped five catches.

However, Natal’s 90 looked like Mt Everest when it was Border’s turn to bat. Only four batsmen scored in the innings. The main destroyer of the innings was all-rounder Trevor Goddard, who returned the incredible bowling analysis of 11 overs, 9 maidens, 3 runs and 6 wickets. Goddard had only two scoring shots of his bowling – a two in the sixth over and a single in the seventh over, and he finished the innings off with a hat-trick – Griffith, Knott and During. During top scored with 9, more than half of the Border total of 16.

Trevor Goddard – Natal all-rounder who recorded incredible bowling figures in the Border 1st innings



Natal went into bat again, and by the close of play had scored 39 for the loss of three wickets. 23 wickets had fallen for 145 runs in four play – Natal had scored 90 in 110 minutes, Border 16 in 80 minutes and Natal 39 for 3 in 55 minutes.

There was no play on Sunday, and when the match resumed on Monday, the pitch had become perfect for batting. Kim Elgie made 162*, and when Goddard declared the innings closed at 294 for 8 wickets, Border were left the daunting task of scoring 369 runs to win, or to bat out the rest of the game to earn a draw.

While the poor wicket played a major part in their abysmal first innings score, there was no excuse for their second innings effort on a pitch that was playing normally. They improved on their first effort, but only just – scoring just 20 runs, losing the match by 350 runs. This time is was fast bowler Geoff Griffin doing the damage, recording an analysis of 13 overs, 6 maidens, 11 runs and 7 wickets.

Natal fast bowler Geogg Griffin ran through the 2nd Border innings.

At one point Border were 11 runs scored for the loss of 7 wickets, and there was a real chance that the lowest ever innings score in a first-class match (12) would be beaten. However Peter Tainton batted sensibly for 57 minutes, and was 7* when the final wicket fell, showing that there was nothing wrong with the pitch. Three Border batsman (Commins, Muzzell and Knott) failed to score a run in either innings, and During’s first innings boundary was the only four that they hit in the entire game. Border’s aggregate score of 34, made in less than three hours, is still the record lowest aggregate by one team in a first-class match. In their next match, against Western Province, Border showed what an aberration this match was by scoring 163 and 116.

The full scorecard of the match can be seen here.

Since 1959-60, there has been only one lower first-class total – 14 by Surrey against Essex at Chelmsford in 1983.

Lowest first-class match aggregates by one team:

34        (16 & 18)         Border v Natal                                     East London    1959-60

42        (27 & 15)         Northamptonshire v Yorkshire           Northampton  1908

47        (12 & 35)         Oxford University v MCC                    Oxford             1877

The following books were used for the creation of this blog post:

Andrew Ward, “Cricket’s Strangest Matches”, Robson Books, London 2000, p. 186-187.

Patrick Murphy, Fifty Incredible Cricket Matches”, Stanley Paul Books, London 1987, p. 212-215.

Bill Frindall, “The Wisden Book of Cricket Records”, Headline Publishing, London, 1998, p. 19.

The last bare-knuckle prizefights


Prizefighting was a sport with its origins in the mists of time. In Britain it developed into a popular spectator sport, with heavy betting on the bouts, by the 18th century. By the Regency period it had achieved a certain level of respectability with patronage from the highest echelons of royalty downwards.

Bare-knuckle fights were beginning to be considered dangerous by the 1870s and were gradually replaced by more formal fights, with padded gloves, under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. By 1889, the year of the last recognized international bare-knuckle contest, the days of rough prizefighting were over.

The Marquis of Queensbury rules, which became the established rules for all boxing matches.

Regulations for conducting bare-knuckle fights, which went on for as long as the contestants could stand up unaided, were stipulated by the so-called London Prize Ring Rules, which had been adopted throughout the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom. A round ended if there was a knockdown, and the decked boxer would have 30 seconds to make it back onto his feet and back to the middle of the line in the centre of the ring known as the “scratch”. If he did this, then the next round would commence. The longest bout lasted for 276 rounds, when Jack Jones beat Patsy Tunney in in 4 hrs 30 minutes in Cheshire in 1825.  When Tom Sayers and John C Heenan took part in the first recognized “World Title” fight in England 1860, the result was a draw after 37 rounds, when the local police stormed the ring to stop the bout. A similar situation occurred in the United States, and sometimes boxers were prosecuted for assault.

An illustrated drawing of the Heenan versus Smith bout.


And so on to 1889. When Jem Smith defeated Frank Slavin at Bruges, Belgium in 1889, the bout was the very last internationally recognized bare-knuckle fight ever staged. The final bare-knuckle fight occurred at Richburg, Mississippi on the 8th of July 1889, and was between local contender John L “Strong Boy” Sullivan and Jake Kilrain, who had fought Smith to a draw in a 106 round fight in 1887.

Smith and Kilrain prior to their 1887 championship bout.

Sullivan had been enticed to fight Kilrain by a $10,000 purse offered by Richard Fox, proprietor of the National Police Gazette magazine. Due to prizefighting being illegal, Richburg was chosen as the location due to its inaccessible nature, and the ring was constructed in an open field. Between 2,000 and 3,000 spectators attended, all arriving by specially chartered trains.

The fight was an exhausting affair, conducted in the middle of summer, with the temperature being over 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). After 10 rounds, it became clear that Sullivan was the stronger boxer, and Kilrain resorted to evasive tactics, in an attempt to tire out Sullvan. However, Sullivan was persistent, and Kilrain’s seconds threw in the towel after 75 rounds, when Kilrain was barely conscious.

Photo of the Sullivan-Kilrain fight, showing the isolated location of the bout and the large crowd in attendance.



The sources for this blog post were “The Guiness Book of Lasts” by Christopher Slee, Guinness Publishing, London, 1994 p. 183-184, and

Paul Beston’s blog post “Boxing’s Longest Day”

The strange life of Lawrence Joseph Bader


Larry Bader appeared to have it all – a good career, a beautiful wife, three children and another child on the way. But appearances were deceptive, with Bader accruing a large debt which his salary could not pay. On May 15, 1957 the 30 year old Akron, Ohio kitchen appliance salesmen and amateur archer went on a short fishing trip. He never returned-leading to one of the more bizarre disappearances of recent memory.

Larry Bader giving a demonstration of his archery skills.

Bader rented a boat at the Rocky River near Cleveland that afternoon, and was warned about an upcoming storm. The deteriorating weather didn’t seem to faze Bader – at 4:30p.m. he shoved off in the rented motor boat.

The storm came up three hours later. The next morning, Bader’s boat was found on the rocks at Perkins Beach. Bader was not in it. The Coast Guard said the lake had been so rough no man could have survived overboard.

Four days later, a fascinating, debonair and well-dressed man entered the Roundtable Bar on the corner of 19th and Harney Streets in Omaha, Nebraska. He gave his name as John “Fritz” Johnson. He became a radio station announcer, sports director of a television station, and one of the best known, best liked and most flamboyant personalities in Omaha. 

Fritz Johnson on the set of KETV-7 in Omaha, Nebraska

He told friends and acquaintances that he took up archery “to strengthen his back muscles after an injury”. With his background of hunting in Ohio, it is no surprise that he won the Nebraska state championship. Bader enthralled his friends with vivid stories of a boyhood in a Boston orphanage and 13 years in the Navy. He kept tropical fish — especially the Siamese fighting variety, the kind that devour each other. He wore an eyepatch after surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his left eye, which added to his large than life character.

In 1961, Bader married pretty Nancy Zimmer, a 20-year-old divorcee and photographer’s model. He adopted Nancy’s daughter by her previous marriage and in 1963 they had a son of their own.

Larry Bader was declared legally dead in an Akron court in 1960. By this time Mary lou Bader had settled down to the business of trying to rear four children alone.

In 1964 a Nebraska archery firm sent Bader to a sports show at Chicago’s McCormick Place to show off its equipment. One of the visitors at the show was from Akron, and he did a double take when he saw the Nebraska archery champion. He had, he was sure, just seen a dead ringer for the missing Larry Bader. The man called Bader’s brothers from Akron. They flew into Chicago, took a look at Fritz and said he was their long lost brother. Johnson’s fingerprints were sent to the FBI, who compared them with the fingerprints Bader gave when he joined the US navy as an 18 year old – they matched. Johnson claimed to have no memory of his life as Lawrence Bader, probably due to the eye surgery.

Now that Johnson’s true identity had been discovered, several quandries now appeared:

* Were the insurance policies worth roughly $40,000, which had been paid out to Mary Lou null and void?

* As Bader/Johnson had not legally divorced Mary Lou before marrying Nancy, was he a bigamist?

Johnson lost his job and his marriage to Nancy, and was reduced to working in a bar in Omaha, with most of his money going to support Mary Lou and Nancy. He and Mary Lou met in Chicago in August 1965, although Johnson insisted he had no recollection of meeting, marrying, or having a family with her.  In 1966, the cancer reappeared, this time in his liver, and Bader/Johnson died on the 16th of September, aged just 39.

So what was the real story behind the disappearance of Lawrence Bader and the appearance of John Johnson? Did Bader decide he was trapped in the life he was leading and saw only one way out – fake his own death and set up a new life somewhere else? Or was Bader suffering from dissociative amnesia, a rare condition where a person has no memory of their life owing to trauma or stress. In a dissociative fugue state, they have an urge to travel and may invent a new personality, settling in a new area with no recollection of how they got there.

The article by Chris Lilles “Man With Two Wives – Amnesia or Hoax? ” in LIFE Magazine 5 March 1965 was used the main source for this blog post.
The article can be read in full here.

Plymouth, Montserrat – the Pompeii of the Caribbean


Everyone is familiar with Pompeii, the Roman city that was entombed after nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. What is less well-known is that a similar experience happened to a modern-day city just over 20 years ago.

Montserrat is one of the Lesser Antilles Islands, an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, north of South America. Many of the islands are volcanic, and their location roughly traces the edge of the Caribbean Plate along its boundary with the tectonic plates (North and South American Plates) beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean Plate is overriding the North American Plate. As the plates collide, the mantle of the overriding Caribbean Plate melts, generating magma that rises to the surface and feeds many volcanoes in the region.

Map of the Caribbean showing the location of Montserrat.

Aside from a seventeenth-century eruption, Soufrière Hills, a volcano on the southern part of the island, had been mostly quiet during historical times.

All this changed in mid-1995. On the 18th of July 1995, an eruption of ash prompted an evacuation of almost 5,000 residents. The volcano grew a new dome on November 1995. By January 1996, the old dome was rapidly buried and between March and September of the same year, the first pyroclastic flows poured down the Tar river valley. This created a new delta and in April the south of the island was evacuated. The capital city of Plymouth was also abandoned, with government officials and many residents relocating to Brades, on the northwestern tip of the island in 1998, to this day, Brades is the “de facto” capital of the island, although a new capital is being built in the Little Bay area. Legislatively, Brades was never officially made the capital, so Plymouth is still the “de jure” capital, and the only capital city in the world that is officially abandoned.

Map of Montserrat, showing the site of the abandoned capital of Plymouth, the “de facto” capital of Brades and the exclusion zone around the southern part of the island.

By 26 December 1997, when the most extreme explosive event occurred, approximately 90% of the resident population of over 10,000 had had to relocate at least once and over two-thirds had left the island. Virtually all the island’s important infrastructure was destroyed or put out of use. The private sector collapsed and the economy became largely dependent, directly or indirectly, on British aid funding public sector and related activities.

An area around the volcano, containing about two-thirds of the island, is vulnerable to volcanic hazard and is a no-go area. Around 40% of the island is unaffected by volcanic activity but these areas may be prone to ash falls and volcanic gases during any volcanic activity and if the wind is blowing from south to north. These sometimes cause cancellation of flights to and from the island.

Sign showing the beginning of the exclusion zone on the southern part of Montserrat.

In addition there are three areas around the coastline which are designated Maritime Exclusion Zones where no shipping should enter. The largest of these extends for 4km on the eastern side of the island and there are two on the western side of the island. The most southerly of the two extends for 2km off shore and the third for a half kilometre off shore.

An island-wide siren system is installed to warn of volcanic activity. The sirens are tested daily at 12:00 midday. Radio Montserrat (ZJB) also provides regular scientific updates and advice to listeners.

Drone footage showing the abandoned city of Plymouth – the devastation caused by the multiple eruptions can clearly be seen.

The following sites were used for the creation of this blog post:

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-1995-eruption-of-the-soufriere-hills-volcano-in-montserrat.html

https://www.caribbeanislands.com/montserrat/

The Lake Peigneur sinkhole


Lake Peigneur is a small freshwater lake in Louisiana with a shallow depth of 3 metres (10 feet), which makes it a popular spot for recreational fishermen. All that changed drastically on the 20th of November, 1980.

Located under the lake was the Jefferson Island salt mine, owned by the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. On the surface a Texaco oil rig drilled down searching for petroleum.

Suddenly all work on the oil rig stopped – the drill had become stuck. When the workers heard several pops and felt the rig tilt, they jumped into the barges attached to the rig, cut the safety lines and headed for the shore approximately 275 metres (300 feet) away. 90 minutes later, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing – the $5 million dollar platform and derrick overturned, and disappeared into a lake that was supposed to be shallow.

It seemed that the drill of the rig punctured the roof of the third level of the mine, creating an opening in the bottom of the lake. The lake then drained into the hole, creating a whirlpool similar to the way that water in a bath swirls down the drain hole after the plug is removed. The water quickly started filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years, with the force of the falling water quickly expanding the size of the vortex.

A cross-section showing the Jefferson Island salt mine, and how the waters of Lake Peigneur flooded into the abyss, creating a temporary sinkhole.

The tremendous sucking power of the whirlpool was causing violent destruction. It swallowed another nearby drilling platform whole, as well as a barge loading dock, 70 acres of soil from Jefferson Island, trucks, trees, structures, and a parking lot. The sucking force was so strong that it reversed the flow of a 19 kilometre (12-mile) canal which led out to the Gulf of Mexico, and dragged 11 barges from that canal into the swirling vortex, where they disappeared into the flooded mines below.

Lake Peigneur used to drain into Vermilion Bay via the Delcambre Canal, but once the lake had emptied into the mine, the canal changed direction and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico flooded into the muddy lake bed. The backwards flow created a temporary 49 metre (164 feet) waterfall, the tallest in the state, and 122 metre (400-feet) geysers burst periodically from the depths as compressed air was forced out of the flooded mine shafts.

Incredibly were no injuries and no human lives lost. No official blame for the miscalculation was ever decided, because all of the evidence was sucked down the drain.  Days after the disaster, once the water pressure equalised, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and refloated on the lake’s surface. What had been a 3 metre deep freshwater lake was now a 60 metre deep seawater lake.

The source for this blog post was https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/11/thirty-years-ago-a-louisiana-lake-turned-into-a-swirling-pit-of-destruction/

Mrs Scott’s Sad Mistake


Elizabeth Scott was the first women to be hanged in Victoria. Like Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Victoria, Scott believed that her gender would save her from the gallows. Like Lee, she was sadly mistaken.

Scott had come to Australia with her parents in 1854, and within a year, aged just 14, she had married 28 year old Robert Scott. Scott was an unprepossessing man, coarse and vulgar and a drunkard. He had however, made some money from the Gold Rush that had enveloped Victoria in the early 1850’s, and Scott’s parents thought he was something of a catch. The couple ran a shanty pub for miners at Devil’s River, north-east of Melbourne, and by the time she was 20, Elizabeth had given birth to five children, of which only two survived.

Robert Scott’s drinking had gotten worse, and after 9 years, Elizabeth began to look for a way out of the marriage and escaping Devil’s River. She found it in a customer at the pub, 19 year old David Gedge, and the two started a passionate affair. Gedge wasn’t the only young man devoted to Elizabeth. Julian Cross, a labourer who worked at the pub, was besotted with Elizabeth as well. On the 13th of April, 1863, Elizabeth put the young men’s devotion to the ultimate test – to be involved in the murder of her husband, Robert Scott.

Gedge and Cross each had conflicting accounts about how Robert Scott died.
Gedge claimed that he was sitting by the kitchen fire in the Scott residence when Cross walked past, carrying a pistol, into Robert Scott’s room. There was a shot, Cross reappeared, pointed the pistol at Gedge and threatened to kill him if he left the residence to report the death.

Cross’s account was different – he said that Gedge had tried to shoot Robert Scott in his bed, but the gun had misfired. Gedge gave Cross the gun, and said it was his turn to shoot Robert Scott. Cross declined, but Elizabeth ordered him to shoot her husband. She poured Cross a large brandy to calm his nerves, and according to Cross, “I took up the gun and went into the bedroom and shot Scott.”

Elizabeth tried to pass the murder off as a suicide, but police quickly realised that it was a murder. Early next morning, they had a confession from Julian Cross implicating both David Genge and Elizabeth Scott. All three were sentenced to death by hanging.

Notification of the hangings of Elizabeth Scott, David Gedge and Julian Cross.

On the 11th of November 1863 at the Melbourne Goal, 17 years before bushranger Ned Kelly would stand on the same spot, all three were hanged simultaneously.

The hanging gallow at Melbourne Gaol.

To the end, Elizabeth Scott believed that she would be reprieved. After all, she had not pulled the trigger, and she was a woman – a beautiful woman.

When she appeared from her cell to be taken to the gallows, the spectators below gasped at her beauty. She was dressed in a long black coat, with her dark hair carefully braided. As she was placed between the two young men who were to die for her love, she carefully adjusted the noose so that it didn’t spoil the folds of her cloak. Then just before the hangman pulled the lever, she asked her lover, “David, will you not clear me?” She never heard his answer.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns – Cannibal Convicts, Macabre Murders, Wanton Women and Living Legends (Five Mile Press, Rowville, 2004, pp. 166-168) was used as the basis for this post.







The 1904 St Louis Olympic Games Marathon


The men’s marathon at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games ranks high on the list for the most bizarre, unusual and controversial events ever held in Olympic Games history.

To begin with, the organisers of the marathon knew almost nothing about staging such an event. The course, which measured 39.99 kilometres (24.8 miles) in length included seven hills and was run on dusty roads, made dustier by the many cars which the judges, doctors and journalists used to follow the runners. The only water available to the runners was from a well located 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the main stadium where the race began and ended.

MarathonMap
Map of the course, from the front page of the St Louis Despatch newspaper.

The event attracted nearly all of the top American marathon runners, including:

Sam Mellor – winner of the 1902 Boston Marathon

John Lordon – winner of the 1903 Boston Marathon

Michael Spring – winner of the 1904 Boston Marathon

Thomas Hicks – 2nd in the 1904 Boston Marathon

Arthur Newton – 5th in the 1900 Paris Olympics marathon.

There were also some lesser-known and unusual entrants. One was 1.5 metre (5 foot) tall Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mail carrier, who had lost all of his money when playing craps in New Orleans after arriving from Havana. After hitchhiking to St Louis, he arrived on the starting line wearing heavy street shoes, long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a beret.

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Felix Carjaval prior to the start of the marathon, after he cut off his pants at the knees.

Also entered were the first two black Africans to participate in the Olympics – Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani, who were Zulu tribesmen. They were not athletes – they had been brought to the United States as part of the Boer War Exhibition in the St Louis World’s Fair, which was held concurrently with the Olympic Games.

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Mashiani (L)  and Taunyane (R) prior to the start of the race.

 

The race was scheduled for the middle of the afternoon on the 30th of August, when temperatures would hit 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). It was not surprising when the hot conditions and tough course had an immediate impact on the competitors.

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The runners just before the start of the race.

 

John Lordon started vomiting after only 16 kilometres (10 miles) and had to withdraw. American runner William Garcia was discovered lying in the middle of the road, after collapsing due to inhaling dust kicked up by the cars following the runners. Sam Mellor, the leader at the halfway mark, retired after 25 kilometres (16 miles). Taunyane lost time when he was chased off the course and through a cornfield by two large dogs. The only runner who didn’t appear to be bothered was the Cuban Carvajal, who stopped a number of times to chat with spectators, discuss the progress of the race and practice his English. He also quenched his thirst by snatching a couple of peaches from an official in one of the cars, and by raiding a farmer’s orchard of some green apples, which gave him stomach cramps.

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Competitors during the race – the rough and dusty nature of the course can clearly be seen.

Back in the main stadium, the spectators were unaware of these incidents, although the more knowledgeable fans might have wondered why three hours had passed without any athletes entering the stadium. Finally, after 3 hours and 13 minutes, New York resident Fred Lorz entered the stadium, did the 5 laps required and crossed the finished line. He was declared the winner, and was about to be presented with the gold medal, when it was discovered that he had stopped running after 14 kilometres (9 miles), hitched a ride in a car for 17 kilometres (11 miles) and then started running again.
American Athletic Union officials were not amused, disqualified Lorz and gave him a lifetime ban from competing. The ban was lifted, and Lorz went on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

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Newspaper report of Lorz’s “victory” in the Marathon.

With Lorz’s disqualification, the real winner was Thomas Hicks. If modern-day rules had been in place, Hicks would have also been disqualified. Second at the halfway mark, Hicks found himself in first place when Sam Mellor retired. 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the finish the heat started to get to Hicks, who begged to be allowed down and rest, but his handlers wouldn’t allow it, even though he had a lead of nearly 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles). To keep Hicks going, his handlers gave him a drink of a concoction made up of styrchnine sulfate mixed with raw egg whites. A few kilometres later he was given more strychnine, as well as some brandy, as well as being bathed in warm water.

Hick was forced to slow down to a walk when faced with a final, steep hill just 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the stadium, but a couple more doses of strychnine and brandy revived him enough to win by six minutes ahead of French competitor Albert Corey, with Albert Newton finishing third. Carvajal recovered from his stomach cramps to finish fourth. Only 14 of the 32 starters managed to complete the course, including Taunyane, who finished ninth, and Mashiani, who finished twelfth. Needless to say, Hicks was in a stupor after the race had finished. He had lost 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) during the event, and announced his retirement straight after the race had finished.

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Hicks resting after the finish of the race – he still appears to be suffering from the effects of the heat, course and what his handlers gave him to drink.

After the race had finished, the athletes who had suffered in competing my have received some satisfaction when they learned that two of the race officials in charge of patrolling the course were badly injured as well, when their car swerved to avoid one of the runners and careened down an embankment.

David Wallechinsky’s book “The Complete Book of the Olympics”, Penguin Books, 1984 p. 44-45 was used as the basis for this blog post.