In 1907 French waiters went on strike, and won the right to wear facial hair.
The Iran-Contra affair was a failure. It didn’t topple the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, nor did it improve U.S. relations with Iran. And yet, the subsequent cover-up and damage-control by the Reagan administration was a success. Almost no one talks about the scandal now. Despite damning evidence against the administration being out in the open, the scandal did not impact Reagan’s legacy in the way Watergate did Nixon’s, or Clinton’s scandals did his. It was also, oddly enough, probably the best thing to ever happen to Oliver North’s career.
Hacking predated personal computers. From the 1960s until the 1990s early hackers known as “phreaks” learned how to hack into phone lines, make long-distance calls for free, set up secret conference calls, and explore the global telephone network.
Escaping North Korea is difficult, but it can be done. Notable escapees include Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok, a South Korean actress and director who Kim Jong Il captured and forced to make movies, like the Godzilla knockoff Pulgasari, pictured below. Kenji Fujimoto is the pseudonym for Kim’s personal chef who escaped to Japan in 2001. But, the vast majority of North Koreans escape the country because of famine and desperation, and the trip is a long and arduous one through China and Southeast Asia.
Even as its citizens starved, Kim Jong Il was able to assure that North Korea was able to obtain nuclear weapons. He did this by raising revenue with criminal activity, prioritizing the military above all else, bribing a Pakistani nuclear scientist, and reverse-engineering Scud missiles.
Michael P. Daley is the author of Bobby Bluejacket, a book about a man who, in 1948, was the subject of one of the most covered trials in Tulsa history. We talked about Bluejacket’s life in the Tulsa underground, his time in prison, and why figures like him are worth studying.
Sarah Fraser is the author of The Last Highlander, which details the life of Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat. Fraser’s life was one of political intrigue, feuds, international deal making, and rebellion. He was eventually beheaded in 1747, the last British peer to face such a fate.
In 1950s Portland, police and racketeers worked hand-in-hand to provide the city with gambling, protitution, and other in-demand vices such as pinball. The man in charge of all of this was Jim Elkins who, for a brief period, was Portland’s king of illegal fun things. However, Elkins had a major falling out in the late 1950s with Portland city officials, and his city’s vice network eventually came to the attention of the federal government.
In 1897 the US Supreme Court carved out an exception the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery and involuntary servitude. Robertson v. Baldwin held that merchant marine sailors could be arrested by law enforcement, imprisoned, and then returned to their ships. Essentially, forced labor in the United States was legal, as long as it was on boats. It was not until 1915 that Congress banned the practice.
This episode was part of Stumptown Stories, a Pacific Northwest history collective in Portland, Oregon.
Pictured below is a still from the 1915 Charlie Chaplin film Shanghaied, which came out the same year that Congress passed legislation guaranteeing certain rights for sailors.
Theme music: Cowboy Surfer by the Vivisectors
Last week Asano, Lord of Ako was ordered to commit seppuku, and his newly unemployed samurai were plotting revenge on Kira, the noble whom they blamed for their lord’s death. This week, the 47 ronin extract their revenge on Kira, and the incident becomes one of the most retold narratives in Japanese history.
The image below illustrates a scene from Kanadehon Chushingura, the most famous fictionalized version of the 47 ronin story. The characters in Kanadehon Chushingura have different names than the actual historical figures whom they purport to represent, audiences in 1748 and onward would have recognized the fiction as being roughly analogous to actual events. Anymore, Chushingura refers to the entire body of media either directly about or touching on the 47 ronin incident.
The Irish crown jewels were stolen in 1907. To this day, no one knows who absconded with the regalia. While known as the “Irish crown jewels” today, they were not referred to as such until after their theft. In fact, they were the regalia of the Order of St. Patrick, a British Knightly Order associated with Ireland (England and Scotland had the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle, respectively) and were worn by either the British monarch or their stand-in during investiture ceremonies or other state events.
When they were stolen in 1907 from a safe in Dublin Castle, there was no sign of a break in, no forced locks, an no other damage of any kind. Since 1907 theories about the theft of the crown jewels have ranged from an operation carried out either by Irish Unionists or British Republicans to humiliate the monarchy, blackmail and bacchanals at Dublin Castle, jewel stealing femme fatales, and simple drunken incompetence. To this day, the fate of the jewels remains an enduring mystery.
It’s October. For the next three weeks, we’ll be focusing on bloody, violent, and generally horrifying historical episodes. This week: The Bloody Benders, America’s first ever documented serial killers.
The Benders operated an on the Osage Trail (later called the Santa Fe Trail) where they allowed travelers to stay the night, resupplied pioneers with food and dry goods, and one of them, Kate Bender, promoted herself as a spiritual healer and fortune teller. They also killed several travelers, and buried their bodies in a garden (pictured below) that became known as “Hell’s Half Acre.” Probably the most famous person associated with the Benders is Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie novels. Wilder was very young when her father joined a posse to hunt for the killer family, and did not include them in any of her books. While she had no compunctions about including violent and unflattering portraits of Native Americans in her novels (including several references to massacres supposedly perpetrated by the Osage Indians), Wilder, it seems, demurred at the idea of including killer white people in her work.
In 1820 a Scotsman named Gregor MacGregor pulled off one of the most audacious cons of all time. MacGregor claimed to be descendant of Rob Roy and ancient kings of Scotland, and also claimed to have been granted a certain amount of land in what is now modern day Honduras. Calling his new (and entirely fictional) country “Poyais,” MacGregor began to solicit investments for his new, up-and-coming Central American country.
The image below is a landscape of the supposed country of Poyais, taken from Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, a book that MacGregor penned under the pseudonym Thomas Strangeways. MacGregor promised that his land in the New World was filled with libraries, cathedrals, and a native population who were eager to welcome Europeans. There was nothing of the sort, and when colonists showed up in what is now modern day Honduras, they found nothing.
For more on Scotland’s failure to have Central American colonies, check out Episode 20, The Lost Empire of Scotland.
“Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!” Those are the words of Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher who is now known as one of the founders of utilitarianism. The architecture that he refers to is a proposed prison known as the panopticon, a circular prison that would allow a single guard to see all of the inmates, and the inmates would not know if they were being observed or not. Bentham hoped that, because prisoners would not know whether they were being watched or now, that they would always act as if they were being monitored, and that the panopticon would lead to a gradual change in behavior for those confined within it.
No true panopticons were ever built but several prisons (such as Cuba’s Presidio Modelo, pictured below) were based on the design. The panopticon’s true legacy is as a metaphor, most notably one used by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in his book about power and the history of prisons Discipline and Punish. In a panopticon, the discipline of the prison is not something that comes from chains, whips, or gross application of power. Rather, power and discipline is inscribed upon the mind of those imprisoned.
Jeremy Bentham’s wishes were that his corpse be preserved in a cabinet called an “auto-icon” and viewable by… anyone who wanted to view it. The auto-icon now sits at University College London and you can find more info here and an interactive auto-icon here.
The Mona Lisa wasn’t always an icon. Before 1911 Leonardo’s painting was certainly known and respected, but it wasn’t yet the most famous, most adored, most duplicated, and most parodied piece of art in the world. It was not yet the symbol and pop culture juggernaut that it is today. What made the Mona Lisa famous its theft at the hands of Vincenzo Peruggia who, along with two accomplices, lifted the painting off of the wall of the Louvre and simply walked out with it. He kept the portrait in a box in his apartment for over two years before attempting to ransom it, and, upon its return, the Mona Lisa went from merely a respected piece of Renaissance art to the single most famous painting in the world.
The image below shows the blank spot left by Peruggia, and the four wall hooks that had previously held the Mona Lisa before its 1911 abduction.