My Ancestor, The Wizard

Eight generations back, the author discovered a forebear hanging on the family tree

WHEN A PUBLICATION wants to illustrate the story of Salem witchcraft, it often runs the painting The Trial of George Jacobs for Witchcraft , which hangs in the Essex Institute, Salem’s historical archive. The central figure, an old man with long, white hair, is kneeling before the court, with arms outstretched, asking mercy. A few feet away a girl of sixteen is pointing an accusing finger at him; she is his grand-daughter, Margaret.Read more »

The Witch & We, The People

Did the fifty-five statesmen meeting in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention know that a witch-hunt was taking place while they deliberated? Did they care?

 

SEVENTEEN EIGHTY-SEVEN was not that long ago. It will be four years before we can celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of what happened in Philadelphia that summer. And it will be something worth celebrating. The United States Constitution was the culminating achievement of the Enlightenment in America, if not in the world.Read more »

Ouija

In 1913 the Ouija board dictated a novel. Twenty years later it commanded a murder. It is most popular in times of national catastrophe, and it’s selling pretty briskly just now.

PARKER BROTHERS , who bought the rights to the Ouija in 1966, denies that it is more than a game. But over the past century millions of Americans have used it to speak with the dead, to answer life’s questions, and to make their decisions. Common sense says it merely reveals the user’s unconscious thoughts and is subject to overt manipulation as well, but some believers in the occult dread it as the devil’s oracle.Read more »

The Warner Mob

With the Depression pushing the studio toward bankruptcy, Warner Brothers had to resort to crime—and crime paid so well that the company was able to recruit the toughest guys that ever shot up a sound stage.

JACK WARNER RAN HIS organization the same way Al Capone ran his: ruthlessly. The problem was that, unlike Capone, he couldn’t simply wipe out the competition. In 1930 Jack and his two older brothers, Sam and Harry, owned one-quarter of all the movie houses in the United States, plus the Warner Brothers studio and fifty-one subsidiary companies. But their theaters were now frighteningly empty. Millions were out of work, and the novelty of talking pictures, which had started with Warner’s Vitaphone process, had lost its drawing power.Read more »

The Plot To Steal Lincoln’s Body

Jack Hughes was an outstanding passer of phony bills. A thoroughly honest-looking man, respectably bearded and always well dressed, he spent his working day going from store to store, making one small purchase at each, and paying for it with crisply persuasive counterfeit money.

If his currency ever was questioned and the police called, no case could be made; he never had more than one bad bill in his possession. Read more »

The Social Evil Ordinance

—More than a century ago, the city of St. Louis enacted a well-thought-out plan to legalize vice. What went wrong? Everything .

A little over a century ago an ambitious woman named Kate Clark, who kept a house of prostitution at 112 South Eighth Street, St. Louis, decided to move her business to larger quarters at Sixth and Elm. In any other American city she would have kept her intentions secret or quietly arranged to pay off the police. But this was St. Louis; and on March 14, 1873, Madam Clark confidently wrote directly to the chief of police for “a permit to keep the house on the northwest corner of 6th and Elm Streets for bawdy house purposes.Read more »

The Ursuline Outrage

In the shadow of Bunker Hill, bigots perpetrated an atrocity that showed a shocked nation that the fires of the Reformation still burned in the New World

On a sweltering Monday afternoon in July, 1834, Edward Cutter of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was startled by the sudden appearance of a woman in his house. Her hair was closely shorn, she was clad only in a flimsy nightdress, and she was muttering incoherently. Cutter probably surmised that she was from the Ursuline convent a few hundred yards up the hill, then known as Mount Benedict. Read more »

A Shooting And A Wedding.

An Unfortunate Affair at Fullerton Which at the End is Amicably Adjusted.

Joe Lyons, the nineteen-year-old son of Isaac Lyons of Orangethorpe, shot and seriously wounded Morris Smith, son of W. J. Smith of the same place, at Fullerton at about half-past 9 o’clock on last Thursday morning. Lyons had driven in from his father’s ranch in a cart and awaited the coming of Smith on the sidewalk on Commonwealth avenue near Smith’s butcher shop. The latter shortly after arrived, coming up on horseback through the alley leading out on to Commonwealth avenue in rear of Stern and Goodman’s store.Read more »

She Had To Die!

One of Ruth Snyder’s Crimes Was Murder

In 1925 a woman named Ruth Snyder too up with a salesman—a corset and brassiere salesman to be exact—and together on March 20, 1927, they murdered her husband in his bed. Months later, they were both electrocuted. To the public Judd Gray was just another murderer, but the crime of Ruth Snyder was as subversive to American domesticity as the anarchism of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti was to the American political and economic order. Like Sacco and Vanzetti, Ruth Snyder died in the electric chair while the whole country watched the clock.Read more »

Incident In Miami

On a warm Florida evening in 1933 a madman with a pistol and a personality profile now all too familiar—“unskilled, unfriendly, unmoneyed, and unwell”—came within inches of altering the course of American history in one of its most critical moments

The sun had gone down on a warm Florida winter day (it was seven in the evening of February 15, 1933) when Vincent Astor’s Nourmahal tied up at a Miami dock after twelve days of cruising through the Bahamas.Read more »