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Ken Zurski, author of The Wreck of the Columbia and Peoria Stories, provides a fascinating collection of once famous people and events that are now all but forgotten by time. Using a backdrop of schemes and discoveries, adventures and tragedies, Zurski weaves these figures and the events that shaped them into a narrative that reveals history’s many coincidences, connections, and correlations.
We tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, soar on the first transcontinental machine-powered flight, and founder aboard a burning steamboat. From an adventurous young woman circumnavigating the globe to a self-absorbed eccentric running for President of the United States, Unremembered brings back these lost stories and souls for a new generation to discover.
Isambard K. Brunel
Annie Edson Taylor
Father Louis Hennepin
William B. Ogden
George Francis Train
Arthur Whitten Brown
By Ken Zurski
On September 29 1789, President George Washington commissioned James Wilson as an associate judge to the first United States Supreme Court. The Scottish born Wilson, who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1766, joined five other estimable men also appointed by Washington. Like the others, Wilson was an inspired choice with a formidable record: a founding father, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and a representative of Pennsylvania in the first Continental Congress.
After Washington’s nomination, Wilson was confirmed by the Senate in just two days.
“When I deliver my sentiments from this chair,” Wilson said in a lecture. “They shall be my honest sentiments: when I deliver them from the bench, they shall be nothing more.”
Because the constitution pretty much set the early ground rules of laws, there wasn’t much for the first U.S. Supreme Court to do. In fact during Wilson’s appointment in 1789 and through most of the next decade, only nine cases were heard. Wilson kept busy in the private sector teaching and lecturing at the College of Philadelphia, as that institution’s first professor.
He also spent a couple of stints in prison.
His downfall was bad debts. Thanks to the Panic of 1796-1797, Wilson accrued heavy losses due to bad land deals and was briefly jailed in debtor’s prison, first in Burlington, New Jersey, and then again in North Carolina, where he moved to avoid more creditors. He son ended up paying off his father’s debts.
While serving time, albeit in short stretches, Wilson continued his duties as a Supreme Court justice without contention or debate. This is likely to inaction more than anything else. In fact, the only established way Wilson could leave his post is by quitting, through retirement, sickness or worse, by death.
Less than a year after his short imprisonments, however, Wilson was indeed dead.
Following a bout of malaria, Wilson suffered a stroke and never recovered. He was 55.
Of the six original Supreme Court justices, Wilson ended up being the second to serve the longest (Justice William Cushing remained on the Court until 1810) and had become the first to end his term by death.
By Ken Zurski
Herbert Buckingham Khaury didn’t come from a musical family.
His parents, both immigrants, worked in textile factories. But even at an early age Herbert knew he could sing, especially a high falsetto. “It just seemed more natural to me,” he later explained in an interview.
In 1962, Khaury adopted a stage name, Tiny Tim. The moniker stuck after others like Justin Foxglove did not. Tim’s first big break came on the popular TV variety show Laugh-In. Tim sang “On The Goodship Lollipop” while strumming a ukulele. The audience was stunned. It wasn’t just his singing, which was unique enough, but his appearance – long shaggy hair, a beak nose and shocking plaid suit.
The performance drew a mixed, mostly negative, response.
It got better.
Tim gained a following as a regular on the Tonight Show. In 1968, his only hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” a remake of a song from the 1920’s, reached #17 on the pop charts.
His popularity waned In the 70’s, but Tim continued to perform right up to his death in 1996 at the age of 64. After suffering a heart attack earlier that year, Tim refused to follow doctor’s advice to slow down. Several weeks later, while finishing a performance of “Tulips,” he collapsed on stage and never recovered
“The last thing he heard was applause.” his third wife and widow explained. “He went out happy.”
By Ken Zurski
In 1902, a Standardbred racer named Prince Alert became the first “hobbled” horse to pace a mile in under two-minutes, a benchmark that harness horses break today in nearly every race. But times have changed, and horses run faster today thanks to advancements in breeding and training. However, in Prince Alert’s time, breaking a two-minute mile was a big deal indeed.
Also being “hobbled” didn’t mean that Prince Alert was limp or disabled. It meant he wore hobbles or leather straps on its legs to help maintain a smooth gait.
Prince Alert was considered the ‘Undisputed King of Hobbled Pacers,” but wearing the straps also carried a tag in the horse’s record. Other horses were winning big races without “hobbles,” including one of the greatest Dan Patch, who is considered even to this day as the most popular race horse of all time.
That’s because at the turn of the 20th century, harness racing was the country’s most popular sport and Dan Patch was its undisputed star. Patch captured a nation with his rags to riches story and his uncanny ability to win, a lot, wherever he went and on any number of off-surface, in the middle of nowhere, tracks. Where Dan Patch went, large crowds followed. Soon, his likeness appeared on everything from cereal to cigar boxes to washing machines. He was, as one writer noted, “the first celebrity endorser.” By default horses that ran against Patch also became news, like Prince Alert, who wore the hobbles, while Patch did not.
But Prince Alert’s legacy is different than Patch’s in this regard:
Prince Alert was a “hop horse.”
In today’s lexicon a “hop horse” or a horse who is “hopped up” means they were deliberately doped to win. Back then, this affirmation didn’t come with the same stigma as it does in today’s era of synthetic performance enhancers. In the early 20th century, “hopping” a horse meant something else entirely. Mainly the use of stimulants like alcohol or caffeine to boost a horse’s confidence or endurance.
In Prince Alert’s case, it wasn’t even a secret. Alert’s trainer Matt Demarest openly acknowledged giving his horse “extra strong coffee and whiskey” to beat the great Dan Patch. “If I thought the horse would be improved by champagne,” he told the Chicago Tribune,” I would see he got it.”
In the end, however, it was Dan Patch who got the last laugh. Not only did he soundly defeat horses like Prince Alert, but the irony in victory was farcical.
Even if the horses were “hopped up” on whiskey, as many apparently were, it was Dan Patch, the horse and the brand, that was featured on the bottle’s label.
By Ken Zurski
As rock n roll trivia goes this one is divine…
It begins when a rock singer named Ian Gillan joined an emerging progressive music group called Deep Purple. Gillan, who to this point was a journeyman vocalist for other bands, had no idea where his rock swagger might take him.
To the very top it would seem.
It was the summer of 1969 and Deep Purple had a hit with the trippy “Hush.” While the single’s success was welcoming, the band members were looking to add a harder edge to their sound and in turn find a more permanent lead singer. Gillan’s vocal range fit right in. The English-born Gillan had fronted a few groups, wrote some songs, but none failed to ignite. The Deep Purple gig was a godsend…literally. That’s because also paying attention to the band’s progress were a gaggle of theater producers who were looking to put on a musical based on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They were searching for a singer with a strong vocal range who could handle the demands of the rock tinged, almost heavy metal like passages, in the score. If all went as planned, an album would likely be followed by a theatrical version, and possibly a movie.
The musical’s composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously attended a Deep Purple concert (without Gillan) and was unimpressed. Once Gillan was on board, however, Webber gave the band’s manager another call. “The moment I heard Ian’s primal scream was the moment I found my Jesus,” Webber would later remark in his 2018 memoir, Unmasked.
Gillan recorded the album under the watchful ear of Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. His version of “Gethsemane” was a highlight for Webber who called it “extraordinary.”
As a concept album and rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a big hit. Gillan was slated for an arena tour and ultimately considered to reprise his studio role on Broadway, but rock n roll intervened. His commitment to Deep Purple came first and in 1973 in casting for the movie version, Gillan who was top on the director’s list, refused the role due to salary demands and conflicts with the band’s touring schedule. Jeff Fenholt eventually took on the role of Jesus for the arena tour and Ted Neeley in the movie. Unlike some of the other singers on the original album, including stage and movie star Yvonne Elliman as “Mary Magdalene,” Gillan would never reprise the role of “Jesus.”
Gillan likely had no regrets. After a successful stint with the band including several radio singles like “Smoke on the Water” and “Woman from Tokyo,” Gillan left Deep Purple in 1973, later fronted Black Sabbath for spell and eventually returned to Deep Purple in the 90’s.
By Ken Zurski
As America’s first diplomat in France, Benjamin Franklin thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of taking a bath, a European luxury, although his desires may have been influenced more by the pretty French maids who administered it.
“I have never remembered to have seen my grandfather in better health,” William Temple Franklin wrote to a relative. “The warm bath three times a week have made quite a young man out of him [Franklin was in his 70’s at the time]. His pleasing gaiety makes everybody love him, especially the ladies, who permit him always to kiss him.” Regardless of his reasons for actually taking a bath, Franklin couldn’t help but get clean.
Franklin was certainly onto something and bathroom tubs were soon introduced in America. But it was a task just to own one. Before indoor plumbing, a large tub may have been made of sheet lead and anchored in a box the size of a coffin. Later when tubs became more portable, they were made of canvas and folded; still others were hidden away and pulled down like a Murphy Bed. They were called “bath saucers.”
However, throughout most of the 19th century, popular tub models were heavy and costly and used as much for decoration as for its other intended purpose.
It wasn’t that most people didn’t understand the merits of taking a bath, but it was a chore. Water had to be warmed and transported and would chill quickly; then when finished, it had to be dumped too. Oftentimes families would use the same bath water in a pecking order that surely forced the last in line to take a much quicker dip than the first.
In the later half of the 19th century, as running water became more common, bathtubs became less mobile. Most were still bulky, steel cased and rimmed in cherry or oak. Fancy bronzed iron legs held the tub above the floor.
Ads from the time encouraged consumers to think of the tub as ornamental. “Why shouldn’t the bathtub be part of the architecture of the house?” the ads asked. After all, if there is going to be such a large object in the home, it might as well be aesthetically pleasing.
Getting people to actually use the tub to clean themselves?
Now that was another matter.
In fact, in Franklin’s case, when a large tub of warm water wasn’t present, he liked to take what he called “air baths” instead. Franklin thought being inside and cooped up in a germ infested, walled, and shuttered space, was the reason he got colds. So to keep from getting sick, Franklin would open the windows and stand completely naked in front of it.
Ventilation was the key to prevention, he explained.
Others likely weren’t so emboldened.
By Ken Zurski
In William Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I & II, King Henry is troubled by his son Hal’s disreputable behavior. That’s because the youthful Prince Hal, the future King Henry V, is a rabble-rouser in his father’s eyes. For example, throughout the play, Hal forsakes his roots by frequenting taverns and conversing with peasants and lowlifes. This royal debauchery gives Shakespeare a chance to introduce the character of Falstaff, Prince Hal’s friend and foil.
Described as “fat, drunk, and corrupt,” Falstaff is satirically based on Sir John Oldcastle, a historical figure who was much more sagacious than the buffoonish character portrayed in the play. Still, Shakespeare originally wanted to name Falstaff, Oldcastle, but descendants of the family objected. Regardless, Falstaff is one for the ages: An entertaining braggart, liar and cheat, who both interjects and deflects colorful and deviously intended barbs.
This Clearly amuses Prince Hal, who berates Falstaff with his own words or those of others, lest he be the one judged.
His descriptions, however, are some of the greatest put-downs of the 16th century. “Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours?’ he explains, then unleashes a folly of insults mostly in relation to Falstaff’s girth: “The bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly.”
The prince’s jabs are meant to solidify the future King’s own disregard for those who criticize the “merry and old,” as Falstaff relates. But Falstaff doesn’t mind. When Prince Hal calls Falstaff, “the old white bearded devil,” Falstaff gleefully responds:
“My lord, I know the man.”