HOW NAZI GERMANY DESTROYED THE FREE PRESS

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda
Heinrich Hoffmann (1885-1957)
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia

Totalitarian regimes are known for many things but one of the first things they will do is control or limit access to information. The Soviet Union did this by taking total control of the media in Russia. All newspapers and publications had to conform to state guidelines and could only report what they were authorized to print. When the Nazi Party got control of Germany in 1933, they quickly instituted sweeping changes. Eliminating political opposition was a top priority as was controlling the information German citizens received on a daily or weekly basis.

The Reich Ministry of Propaganda began using print, radio, and newsreels to convince people about a Communist uprising. They had won seats in the last general election in 1932 (and the Nazi’s lost seats). It was this fear that Hitler used to create the votes needed for a majority to bring the Nazi’s to power in 1933. Thus, it would justify what would happen next. Having both legislative and executive powers thanks to the Enabling Act, Hitler could quickly create and implement new laws and regulations. Also having both the SA (Brown Shirts) and the SS on their side meant they had a ready-made method of dealing with opponents and dissidents.

Opponents such as Communists, trade unionists and others found their stores, offices, and homes targeted. With the police having been nullified due to mass firings and replaced by Nazi Party members, the former street thugs were now the law in Germany. Opposition press were specifically targeted with their printing presses destroyed. Independent newspapers found they were also targeted. The faced competition from the Nazi publishing house Franz Eher or a front for them that undercut with their own newspapers driving the independent into bankruptcy.

Franz Eher then would buy them up for almost nothing. Jewish owned media would be targeted as well. Its owners would be forced out and replaced by non-Jews. Ultimately, they would sell out at a very low price. The Mosse family, whose company was a world-wide advertising company that owned many liberal newspapers, fled Germany when Hitler came to power as did many of its journalists.

The only independent newspapers that would survive were ones owned by conservatives and non-political weeklies. They simply self-censored and complied with directives issued by the Propaganda Ministry. Nazi Germany tightened the screws with Editors Law of 4 Oct 1933. The Reich Association of German Press was put under the Reich Press Chamber, a part of the Propaganda Ministry. Members which were both journalists and editors, not only had to be racially pure but also abide by all mandates issued by the ministry.

They were required by law to not report anything that would weaken the Reich at home or abroad. Detailed guidelines were issued and failure to follow them meant, at the very least, you would be fired. If they believed you were acting contrary to Germany, you would be arrested and may end up in a concentration camp. Even listening to a foreign radio broadcasting classical music would get a visit from the Gestapo.

Under these conditions, there was no way for independent journalism to exist under Nazi rule.

Foreign Press in Nazi Party

The Nazi regime tolerated the foreign press but had conditions. If you wanted access to events and government officials, you had to be careful not to write news critical of Hitler and Third Reich. Otherwise you would be denied access, or expelled. So many journalists learned to live with this and allowed others back home to write pieces criticizing the regime. Generally, though they did not impose a lot of restrictions before war started in 1939 The Associated Press has been accused of going much further and collaborated with the regime by allowing them to select what pictures were to be used, and they used photographers acceptable to the Propaganda Ministry.

William Shirer was one the best-known correspondents from Germany during the 1930’s. He started in print and then later CBS radio. He witnessed and reported on many of the key events during this period. Once war began though, restrictions were placed on reporters on what they could report on (such as the British bombing of German cities). They were guidelines issued as what words to avoid when describing Germany, and you had to avoid news critical of the regime. To be fair, nearly all countries imposed media censorship during this time so Germany was not alone.

Shirer and other reporters usually submitted their written or recorded pieces to the Propaganda Ministry for approval. They would edit out anything that did not conform with policy before it could be sent out or broadcast from Germany. Which is what made what happened at the French surrender at Compiègne in 1940 so remarkable. William Shirer called up CBS in New York hoping the broadcast would go through. Now in Berlin the German engineers heard the call and assumed he had permission from the Propaganda Ministry and put it on shortwave. It was a coup for both Shirer and CBS. For six hours he was the sole reporter on the scene reporting to the world about the French surrender. Normally it would be recorded and then checked for errors by the Propaganda Ministry, where they could edit out anything they did not want to go out. Then it would be broadcast via shortwave to the world.

Germany during wartime wanted foreign journalists to often report official accounts they knew were incomplete or false. Shirer got wind he was under investigation for espionage and left Germany in December 1940. Most news organizations would leave as well except for the Associated Press which stayed until all foreign news organizations were expelled in 1941. That left the Propaganda Ministry in total control of reporting to the world news from Germany and countries they occupied.

Nazi Germany showed how a free press could be destroyed and turned into a vehicle for government policies. In many ways, they mimicked what the Soviet Union did. The free press was shut down and could only report what the government permitted. Both Communists and Fascists followed the same path towards controlling information when they are in charge. Neither believes in freedom, a free press, or individual liberties. They crush opponents ruthlessly, destroy all personal liberties, and attempt to control all aspects of their lives. We see that today with certain countries that restrict access to the Internet. And sadly, some Internet companies, in order to do business, agree to controls over the information access. We have yet to learn that aiding regimes in this manner only helps and emboldens them.

Sources
The Press in the Third Reich (Holocaust Encyclopedia-United States Holocaust Museum)
Third Reich (Britannica)
Censorship in Nazi Germany (Wikipedia)

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REMEMBERING HISTORY: BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR

Battle Of Trafalgar by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931)
Public Domain (US)
Wikimedia

The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) saw many battles on land but the most pivotal naval one was on 21 Oct 1805. It was the naval battle that established British naval supremacy for 100 years. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain putting it between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. 18 French and 15 Spanish ships would fight a British fleet of 27 ships. Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve commanded the combined French/Spanish fleet while Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet.

Villeneuve had hoped to avoid battle with the British when he slipped the fleet out of Cadiz on 19-20 October heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, Nelson caught him off of Cape Trafalgar on 21 October. Villeneuve ordered his ships to form a single line heading north. Nelson order his fleet into two squadrons and to attack from the west at right angles. He signaled his famous message at 11:50 am from his ship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Nelson’s squadron attacked the van and center in Villeneuve’s line.*  Nelson’s squadron broke through ignoring six leading French and Spanish ships in the first attack. Those six ships under Admiral Pierre Dumanoir did turn around to help but were driven off. The rear of Villeneuve’s fleet was destroyed, and Villeneuve was himself captured.

The battle ended around 5:00 pm with 19 or 20 French & Spanish ships surrendering with crews and prisoners of war around 14,000 men. Admiral Nelson died during the battle but knew before he died of British victory. The British lost no ships but 1,500 crewmen were either killed or injured. The Battle of Trafalgar ended forever any dreams Napoleon had to invade England.

Aftermath
Napoleon did not learn of the defeat for many weeks due to being involved in military battles on land. He censored news of the defeat in Paris for a month. And then in a brazen propaganda move had the French newspapers portray it as a great victory over the British. Villeneuve would return to France in 1806 but was found dead in an inn room with six stab wounds from a knife. It was ruled a suicide, but some suspect he was killed. The battle made it clear Britain was master of the seas, but it did not slow Napoleon down on his strategy to conquer and defeat the Third Coalition and Austria. Napoleon buttoned up the continent to deprive British trade. French and Spanish armies would occupy Portugal in 1807.

In 1808, Napoleon uneasy with his Spanish allies, invaded and took control of Spain. French troops and their supporters were disliked by many Spanish who took up arms. The British, after liberating Portugal, would drive out the French and used the Spanish guerrillas to harass the French. British forces under General Wellington would drive the Spanish out after the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The French forces in Madrid would surrender ending the Peninsular War but starting the final campaign to drive Napoleon from power.

*During the age of sail, fleets were divided into van, center, or rear squadrons and named after each squadrons place in the line of battle. You can read about how this was developed here.

Sources:
Brittanica Online
Military.wikia.org
Wikipedia

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TITANIC SALVAGE UPDATE: GOVERNMENT ARGUES HUMAN REMAINS MAY BE FOUND

Titanic Wreck Bow
Image: Public Domain (NOAA-http://www.gc.noaa.gov/images/gcil/ATT00561.jpg)

In the continuing legal challenge to prevent salvage of the Marconi radio from Titanic, government lawyers are arguing that remains may be disturbed and were not considered in the dive plan. RMS Titanic Inc. has responded that human remains inside the wreck have not been in any of the dives thus far.  U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith approved the salvage in May. The government has appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Source: Titanic: Concerns About Human Remains Could Block Company From Retrieving Iconic Radio (Boston.com,18 Oct 2020)

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HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

HauntingofHillHousebookcoverOne of the finest ghost stories ever written was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was made into a 1963 movie The Haunting regarded as one of the best supernatural movies in cinema history. The movie was modestly received when it first came out and scared many viewers. Using cleverly designed sets and distorted angles, the film stands out as a first rate psychological horror movie that is unmatched. A remake in 1999 starring Liam Neeson, Lilli Taylor and Catherine Zeta Jones did not capture the original film’s essence and failed at the box office. Although the 1973 movie The Legend of Hell House incorporates themes of the Hill book, it was based on Richard Matheson’s book and he wrote the screenplay.

There is no gore in the book or original movie but instead relies on the terror the people experience as the entity makes itself known. This theme inspired Stephen King for his book The Shining and later for a made-for-television story Rose Red. As the story unfolds (in the book and movie) it comes clear that Eleanor becomes the target of the entity and one point even possessed by it. The unsettling end where Eleanor dies leaves one to speculate whether it was caused by the entity or her own emotionally disturbed state. There is no doubt the house is haunted by a malevolent entity but now it has claimed a new victim whether by its hand or not. And these haunting words, a voice over by Julie Harris who played Eleanor at the end, sums it all up:

Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here… walk alone.

Important note to parents: Neither the book or movie is for young kids and has themes that might trouble parents.

REMEMBERING HISTORY: AL CAPONE Goes to jail

Al Capone Mug Shot 1939
Al Capone mug shot, May 16 1929, Chicago, Illinois
Source: FBI

On 17 October 1931, Alphonse Gabriel Capone (commonly known as Al Capone or Scarface), an American gangster who had achieved notoriety as the boss of the Chicago Outfit, was convicted of tax evasion. It ended the reign of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.

The son of Italian immigrants and originally from Brooklyn, New York he went to Chicago in 1920 where he was helping crime boss Johnny Torrio run his illegal enterprises. The 18th Amendment, commonly called Prohibition, had come into effect in January 1920. Under this law (called the Volstead Act), the manufacture, transportation, and transportation of alcohol was banned. Passed as means to end the terrible effects of alcohol intoxication and addiction, it instead allowed the rise of criminal enterprises that dominated the 1920’s. From illegal production or importation of alcohol to operating places to drink (speakeasies), it poured millions into criminal enterprises.

While other criminal activity still went on (smuggling, gambling and prostitution), alcohol was the biggest income producer for gangs such as Torrio ran. When Torrio retired in 1925, Capone took over control. Capone had to deal also with rival gangs such as Bugs Moran. Violence between gangs was often in public and bloody culminating in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Bugs Moran would have been there but saw a police car and left thinking it was a raid. In fact, it is believed that the men, dressed as policemen and associated with the Capone gang, shot the seven men associated with the Moran gang. It officially remains unsolved, but most believe Capone responsible for the murders.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre became national news and with Capone’s alleged association to it, his notoriety increased. Capone had relied on bribing city officials, intimidation and various hideouts to avoid arrest. He did spend 10 months in Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia for carrying a concealed handgun but ran his operation from jail. The effect though of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was to bring the federal government into the situation. From corrupt city officials, police, and magistrates, the case was made the city was under the control of gangsters like Capone. President Hoover directed federal agencies concentrate on Capone and his allies.

Using a multi-agency approach, the Treasury and Justice Departments came up with plans on that attacked from two sides. First was to attack the gangsters for income tax evasion and then second to use small elite squads of Prohibition Bureau agents (this included the famous Eliot Ness) to be used against the bootleggers. William A. Strong, publisher of the Chicago Daily News (and who had urged Hoover to act), used his newspapers resources to gather intelligence to aid the investigations. The famous Untouchables in Chicago led by Eliot Ness were responsible for trying to inflict economic damage on his organization. Unlike what was shown in the movie The Untouchables, it was a large unit and the income tax angle was done elsewhere.

As the treasury bore down on him, Capone tried get his tax records into shape to prevent going to jail. He offered to pay for certain years in hopes of a reduced sentence and fine. A letter from his lawyer conceding large taxable income was a great gift to the prosecution. With a ledger and his accountant, the government position was to imply his control. Capone’s spending was presented to paint a vivid picture of someone who lived quite large having access to large sums of money to spend. It worked. He was convicted of evading $215,000 in taxes with an income of $1,038,654 during a five-year period.  Judge Wilkerson gave him the maximum penalty for the five counts: 11 years. He was also fined $50,000, $7,692 in court costs, and interest on the $215,000 that had not been paid.

His career as head of the Chicago Outfit would be at an end. He was sent to the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1932. However, Judge Wilkerson became concerned when he got reports of special treatment. Capone was suffering from both syphilis and gonorrhea. He had taken cocaine and suffered withdrawal symptoms as well. He was transferred to Alcatraz in August 1934. Due to neurosyphilis that eroded his mental faculties, he would spend most of his time in the hospital section. After completing his term in January 1939, he was sent to another facility to serve out his contempt of court sentence. He would be paroled in November 1939 and received treatment at Union Memorial Hospital.

After treatments, he would go to Palm Island Florida where he remained for the rest of his life. He got treatments with the newest mass-produced drug called penicillin. It could not reverse his disease but helped him lived longer. He would die from heart failure on 25 January 1947. He was originally buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. His remains were later removed (along with his family’s) to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillsdale, Illinois.

Aftermath

With the repeal of the 18th Amendment with the adoption of the 21st Amendment in December 1933, Prohibition had come to an end. Only a few states choose to remain dry (that would change much later) ending the income for illicit alcohol that had given rise to gangs like the Chicago Outfit. Organizations like Chicago Outfit would take a quieter approach and avoid public violence to avoid either local or federal police investigations. These organizations focused on prostitution, union racketeering, and gambling after the Capone years. In later years, much to the chagrin of J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, it would be found these criminal organizations had become very powerful and worked together.

Sources

Al Capone

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

 

 

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REVISITING THE AMITYVILLE HORROR:THE HAUNTING THAT NEVER WAS

It is that time of year when supernatural tales abound. Most are fiction but sometimes stories come along that purport to be true. A very long time ago while in a bookstore I came across a book called The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson. Being into things supernatural back then, I bought and read it eagerly of the tale of people living in a house being tormented by demons. It scared me and the original movie had its scary moments as well. At the time the book came out, there were some who said the story was not true but they were barely heard at the time. The book claimed many things occurred and even witnesses to them. Yet when patient investigators began following up on the sensational claims, things just did not add up. And later it would be learned that a defense attorney worked to create the story so that his client, who killed his family in that home, be judged insane.

The story begins on 13 Nov 1974 when Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed his parents, brothers, and sisters by shooting them in the beds they slept in. It was a horrific crime and DeFeo was arrested, tried, and convicted of the murders. The defense claimed insanity stating he had heard voices telling him to kill his family. A prosecution witness countered that he suffered an antisocial personality disorder making him sane at the time the murders were committed. The jury found him guilty of six counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 1975. That normally would end the story, except for the usual appeals by defense counsel.

In 1977 the book The Amityville Horror was released (to become a 1979 movie of the same name). It told the tale of the Lutz family that lived in the DeFeo house for 28 days between December 1975 and January 1976. The family consisted of George and Kathy Lutz with their three children. The book related tales of poltergeist and demonic activity that would drive the Lutz family out of the house. Doors opened and closed on their own, mysterious voices and hooded figures, green slime appearing on walls, mysterious stenches and insect infestation, supernatural attacks on George and Kathy Lutz, and even demonic possession, and a priest driven from the house. And there were even demon footprints in the snow.

The problem was that many things they either saw, heard, felt or smelled had no independent witnesses. And the physical damage (doors, hinges, windows etc)claimed were not found when the building was inspected. Many other details when more closely looked into proved to be dubious, questionable or false. Joe Nickell notes that at no time while the Lutze’s lived in the house they never called the police (both the book and original film said this happened but official records have no record of any calls from the Lutze’s). The so-called snow demon footprints could not have happened as there was no snowfall during the time in question.

So then the next question is why they would make up such a story. To make money from a sensational story? That is certainly plausible but there appears another motive as well. William Weber, who was the defense lawyer for Ronald DeFeo Jr., said in People magazine (17 September 1979) that “We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” It would be a win-win for both. The Lutze’s would have a sensational story they could market (which they did) and Weber would be able to use it on DeFeo’s appeal and get a new trial.

What they did not count on, it seems, were people who began to look seriously at the claims and start exposing the fabrication. The Lutze’s never fully retracted their claims though had to pull back on some of them. Lawsuits began to fly as well between the Lutze’s, Weber and other parties in 1977 claiming invasion of privacy, defamation, and sought damages of $4.5 million. Weber countersued claiming breach of contract. The underlying issue was whether the book was true or not. The Lutze’s argued that it was. U.S. Federal District Jack B. Weinstein heard the case. He dismissed the corporate defendants for lack of proof. In September 1977 he would dismiss their claims entirely concluding that “Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber.” He also questioned the ethics of defense attorney Weber and recommended an investigation by the New York State Bar Association.

A 2005 remake of the 1979 movie brought a lawsuit from George Lutz against the film company, producers and directors in 2005 alleging defamation and breach of contract. However the judge dismissed his claim saying that the film was a work of fiction protected by the First Amendment and that Lutz had signed a release agreement many years ago giving them the right to use the story and agreeing not to sue for defamation. His other claims of being denied profits from the original movie went forward but was apparently settled before he died in May 2006.

The Story Today

While the Lutze’s story has been largely debunked, some in the paranormal community (psychics, clairvoyants, and others)continue to say the house has an evil presence. This despite the fact no one else who has lived in the house since then has reported anything unusual. In fact, to protect the homeowners its address was changed and was extensively remodeled so it looks nothing like it did in 1975 when the Lutze’s moved in.

Father Ralph Pecararo was the Catholic priest involved in the story. He initially stated that his only involvement as what was going on was a telephone call. Nor was his relationship close to them either. He would curiously alter his testimony when he testified (by phone) and said he did go to the house and heard the word’s “Get Out!” but ascribed no meaning to them (meaning no supernatural element). He would later give an account in 1979 to the television show In Search Of which seemed to back up the original book account of what happened. However the discrepancy between his original statement and later statements cannot be resolved. The contradiction has caused many to believe he became part of the hoax. The official position of the local diocese however is(as detailed in 2002 letter to Ric Osuna):

The Diocese maintains that the story was a false report. In November of 1977, Diocesan attorneys prepared a substantial list, to be submitted to the publisher [of The Amityville Horror], of numerous inaccuracies, factually incorrect references and untrue statements regarding events, persons and occurrences that never happened.

Since Father Pecararo has passed away, we will likely never know why his testimony changed. His superiors in the church, who asked him to detail what happened, have not altered their position since 1977 on the matter. And they were in the best position to ask the obvious questions that arose later when he changed his statements that more closely followed the book sequence of events.

Finally Ronald DeFeo Jr. did try various appeals; none of them worked and at last check was still serving out six life sentences.

The real evil was not supernatural but Ronald DeFeo Jr who killed his family while they slept in their beds.

Sources
1. Books
Kaplan, Stephen and Roxanne Kaplan. The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. Laceyville, PA: Toad Hall Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-963-74980-3.
Nickell, Joe. Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1995. ISBN 0-879-75961-5.

2. Articles
Moran, Rick and Peter Jordan. “The Amityville Horror Hoax.” (Fate magazine,May 1978)
Moran, Rick. “Amityville Revisited.”(Fortean Times, January 2005)
Nickell, Joe. “Amityville: The Horror of It All.”(Skeptical Inquirer,January 2003.)

3. Websites
Ronald DeFeo,Jr. (Biography)
Ronald DeFeo,Jr.(Wikipedia)
The Amityville Horror (Snopes.com)
The Amityville Horror: A Scam Debunked(Decodedpast.com)
The Amityville Murders (Ric Osuna’s site)
The Amityville Horror (Wikipedia)

DRACULA

Ist Edition Cover
Public Domain

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not the first vampire story but certainly the most memorable. It starts out as Jonathan Harker records his trip to visit Count Dracula about property he has purchased in London. We are given fascinating details of the journey but foreboding as well. Although welcomed warmly by Dracula, he begins to suspect things are not right. And that leads him to discover Dracula is not at all what he seems but a monster that will spread evil into the heart of Europe.

Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will! He made no motion of stepping to meet me, but stood like a statue, as though his gesture of welcome had fixed him to stone. The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed as cold as ice–more like the hand of the dead than a living man. 

Readers then and now are surprised at how Stoker did not hold back in what Dracula does. Perhaps the most horrific–and rarely seen in film or miniseries adaptations–is when the three vampire women at his castle are given a baby by Dracula as a meal. It shows what truly a monster he is and those that serve him as well. Stoker builds on that horror as Dracula arrives in England to begin spreading his evil. The strange illness of Lucy Westenra brings us the character of Van Helsing who suspects a vampire is at work. And Jonathan’s return helps the group that forms that they are dealing with an evil creature that must be destroyed.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Photo:Public Domain

But they also fail to see he is already working against them by feeding on Mina, Jonathan’s wife. They get the upper hand though by tracking down all his hiding places to sanctify making them unusable to him. He taunts them at one point and then flees across the ocean back home. The chase to get there before he does is perhaps the most thrilling part of the book. In a dramatic ending, they catch him as the sun is starting to set and he is about to have full command of his powers. The end is quick with a dagger in the throat and the heart. And then he is no more. Unlike some depictions, he goes to dust with just a momentary sight that his soul was at peace now.  The evil is vanquished never to rise again.

Dracula spawned other books and movies both inspired or based in some way on the book. The famous 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi cemented a certain image of Dracula that stood out for a long time. Yet except perhaps for the Coppola movie, few show what Harker saw:

Within stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.

Most depictions have no moustache and Dracula neither appears old or young (somewhere in between). They also rarely show the trip to the castle (quite long as Dracula was looking for blue flames to find hidden treasure and his command of wolves). Dracula in the book can get about by day. The myth that sprung up was that vampires had to walk at night. Not so in the book at all. Dracula could get around in daylight but it constricted his abilities. At night be could use his full range of abilities but daylight limited him to whatever form he had at that time (he also had to be careful about running water).

Dracula was not conflicted nor concerned about what he became, like vampires in some modern novels are sometimes depicted as. Dracula was a creature of evil that served evil. He had no qualms about killing anyone who got in his way but despite all that, as Van Helsing observed, he was not without weakness.  He could live centuries but he could be killed by staking through the heart or kept at bay with a crucifix. And when confronted with a determined group out to destroy him, he fled back home to live to fight another day.

Dracula stands out as masterful horror fiction because it reveals a story slowly, deliberately, and then like a hammer hitting anvil hits you with full fury. Reading it today is still gripping despite all the movies inspired from it. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot follows a similar pattern of building the story up slowly until it reveals what the horror is. And it appears Stoker did his research well for he based it on a real historical figure (Vlad the Impaler) who for a time brought fear to Turks who tried to dominate central Europe. He was so ruthless that he made sure that lands were burned, wells were poisoned, and many of their soldiers were found impaled on stakes as they approached his lands.

It is debatable how much Stoker really knew about Vlad the Impaler but learned enough from the information he had to craft his vampire story.  And a great one it is that stands the test of time while other vampire stories remain forgotten on library shelves.

This is Dracula’s death scene from Horror of Dracula (1958).

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TODAY IS COLUMBUS DAY (U.S. OBSERVED)

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
Public Domain

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders.

Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope,  Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places.

However it was a not yet a federal holiday. The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday.

Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was. Thus they thought East Asia was closer than it actually was.

After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships–Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain. On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court.

Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South and Central American mainlands. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished. The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open up new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result.

Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:
Britannica Online
History.com