Saturday, June 17, 2017

10 Little Known Wars

For every major war that fills our history books and newspapers—the Revolutionary War of the American colonists vs. England, American Civil War with the North vs. the South, World War I, World War II, what were termed police actions such as Korea and Viet Nam (war by any other name), and the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991, a United Nations action) leading up to the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—there are dozens of small wars that don't receive any attention in history class.  Some of them were ludicrous and others were very serious.

Here's a list of 10 wars (in no particular order) that you probably never heard about.

1)  The Pig War
This little known conflict dates back to 1859 and had the potential to change the course of American history.  And it all started over a pig.  Both America and Britain claimed possession of and resided on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state.  The two countries maintained an uneasy truce…until an American farmer shot a British pig he discovered tearing up his potato patch.  This action resulted in the British trying to arrest the farmer who called in the American troops in support of his position.  The two countries squared off on the tiny island.  The British Navy sent 3 warships and over 2,000 men.  No shots were fired (beyond the original shot that killed the pig).  San Juan Island was eventually ceded to the Americans as part of the San Juan Islands group.

2)  The Stray Dog War
And speaking of animals being the source of an international conflict, that's also the case with the long-running rivalry between Bulgaria and Greece.  In 1925 a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard.  That action set off an immediate retaliation with the Greek army invading the border region of Petrich and routing the Bulgarian army.  The League of Nations ordered Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.

3)  The War Of Jenkins' Ear
There are lots of reasons why wars start, but there's only one known to have started because of a severed ear.  British sea captain Robert Jenkins' boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean.  The Spanish accused him of piracy and cut off his left ear.  In 1738, Jenkins brought the ear to Parliament and it was enough for Great Britain to declare war on Spain.  After 7 years of conflict, both countries backed off with no major territory changes on either side.

4)  The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War
The breakup of the Soviet Union left several countries looking for something to do and in some cases that something ended up being war.  Moldova had a partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and another wanting to align with Russia.  Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities ceased.  The unusual part of the war was the relationship between the soldiers of the opposing sides.  After battling each other during the day, they would socialize in the bars in the disputed zone at night, often apologizing to each other for the events of the day.

5)  The Honey War
In the early days of the United States when the federal government wasn't as strong as it is now, the individual states often became involved in ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated into violence.  In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw his state's border with Iowa because…well, apparently because he felt like it that morning.  And then he sent in his tax collectors to pick up some extra cash from its new citizens.  Needless to say, this didn't go over very well.  The only thing the tax collectors were able to collect consisted of 3 beehives full of honey.  The Missouri militia got into an armed conflict with Iowa citizens who captured a sheriff.  Congress finally drew a permanent border line and told both states to chill out.

6)  Anglo-Zanzibar War
This conflict lasted an awesome 38 minutes making it the world record holder for the shortest war in history.  Khalid vin Bargash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar, came into power in 1896.  He didn't like having his protectorate as a British puppet so he declared war and barricaded himself in the palace.  Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.

7)  The Football War
This four day war between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than a soccer game.  Hundreds of thousands Salvadorans had been moving to Honduras to find work.  By the late 1970s, tensions between the two countries had reached the breaking point.  The spark that set off the war was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries.  After each had won one game, the Salvadoran Air Force (passenger planes with bombs strapped to them) attacked Honduran targets.  Neither nation could support an extended war, so a cease-fire was negotiated.  They remained bitter enemies for more than a decade.

8)  The Watermelon War
Yet another war that started over a trivial matter and quickly escalated out of control.  The United States occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation's white-collar workforce, leaving a great many natives unemployed.  A boat carrying 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City making the matter even worse.  One of those passengers, an American named Jack Oliver, took a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it.  The vendor pulled a knife.  Oliver pulled a gun.  And both sides were battling it out with each sustaining casualties.  Eventually a railroad car of riflemen arrived on the scene and brokered a peace.  The brief war, however, laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.

9)  The Emu War
Unlike earlier mentioned wars started because of animals, this one was a war against animals.  In 1932 Australia found itself overrun by emus, a large flightless bird that looks like an ostrich.  More than 20,000 emus were destroying crops so the government declared all out war on the birds.  They sent soldiers armed with machine guns and orders to shoot emus on sight.  The birds proved to be tougher than estimated and after a week the commanding officer gave up.  They had killed barely 10 percent of their target.

10)  The Chaco War
This was a South American conflict that started over a postage stamp.  The Chaco region is on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay with both countries believing the region was rich in oil (which it wasn't).  Bolivia issued a postage stamp in 1932 featuring a map of their country including the Chaco region.  Not to be outdone, Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their map including the Chaco region.  Hostilities erupted in the region with both sides buying arms from the U.S. and from Europe.  When it was over, Paraguay was the winner and new owner of a completely useless piece of land.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

6 INFAMOUS GHOST SHIPS

From the day man first figured out how to travel on the water, it's been an accepted fact that some ships would leave port and never return.  On occasion these lost ships are seen again and again, often minus their crew, seemingly traveling the seas randomly.  These wandering vessels are often referred to as ghost ships.

MARY CELESTE
One of the most famous of the ghost ships, the Mary Celeste (pictured above) was a brigantine with a history of minor accidents, crew illnesses, and embarrassing mishaps.  Suspicious sailors considered it an unlucky ship.  Those sailors were proven right when the ship was found on December 4, 1872, drifting unmanned in the middle of the Atlantic approximately 600 miles from the nearest port.

A popular enhancement to the story, but not true, says the boarding party found still warm and untouched meals when they entered the galley.  In reality, they found nothing amiss except some slight damage to the sails and pumps and the loss or destruction of much of the ship's navigational equipment and documentation.  And the ship's only lifeboat was gone.  The captain's intact log book gave no hint of what happened.  When the vessel was finally steered into Gibraltar, its entire cargo was intact except for 9 mysteriously empty barrels that had contained alcohol.

Modern explanations have fixed on those 9 barrels.  It's theorized that the porous wood allowed the alcohol to evaporate, filling the hold with noxious and explosive vapors.  Fearing an explosion and fire, everyone evacuated the ship in panic.

SS BAYCHIMO
There isn't any mystery concerning the initial loss of the Baychimo, but its continual reappearance is a mystery of its own.  In 1931, the Baychimo became irretrievably mired in pack ice off the coast of Alaska where the crew was able to walk to safety after determining the ship was a write off.  But that didn't stop it from being seen again and again over the next 38 years.  Every attempt by salvage crews to board her were thwarted by freak storms and encroaching ice floes.  The last confirmed sighting was from the air in 1969 showing the wandering ship again mired in heavy pack ice.  To this day the location of the Baychimo is unknown.

SCHOONER JENNY
The Antarctic Circle is known as a dangerous place to sail, spawning many tales of death and tragedy.  One of the most disturbing is the story of the schooner Jenny.  On September 22, 1860, the crew of the whaler Hope sighted a battered ship sailing out from a gap between 2 icebergs with 7 men appearing to be standing at attention on the main deck.  As the Hope drew closer, its crew saw that the men were actually frozen solid.  When they boarded the schooner, the Hope's captain found the Jenny's captain apparently in the middle of writing a log entry.  He, too, was frozen solid.  The last entry in the log book was dated May 4, 1823—almost 40 years earlier.

BOUVET ISLAND ROWBOAT
Bouvet Island is one of the most isolated places on the face of the planet.  The closest land of any kind is the uninhabited coast of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica, 1100 miles away.  It's not on any shipping routes, has no interesting or precious resources, and its sole purpose today is the location of a weather station on one of the few stretches of ground where boats can land.  In 1964 the British and South African government went to Bouvet Island to establish a weather station.  They found a 20 foot boat of a lifeboat or whaler type, a single set of oars, a 40 gallon drum, and a "copper flotation or buoyancy tank" that had been cut open for some unknown reason.  No human remains or traces of habitation were found.  The life threatening weather and aggressive wildlife allowed them only 45 minutes to determine if the area was suitable for the weather station.  The worsening weather forced the crew to return to Cape Town.  Two years later, a follow up expedition found no trace of the rowboat or the damaged equipment.

LADY LOVIBOND
On February 13, 1748, Simon Reed took his new bride, Annette, aboard his ship, Lady Lovibond.  They were going on a cruise to Portugal.  At the time, it was considered bad luck to bring a woman on a ship.  Unfortunately for all on board, the first mate was in love with the captain's wife.  In a fit of jealous rage, he took control of the wheel and steered the Lovibond towards the notorious Goodwin Sands resulting in the death of everyone onboard.  Fifty years later to the day, in 1798, 2 separate ships saw a phantom ship sailing the Goodwin Sands. Then on February 13, 1848, another 50 years later, local fisherman saw a vessel wreck in the area and lifeboats were sent to investigate, but no sign could be found of a ship on the sands.  In 1948, another 50 year increment, the Lovibond was seen again and was described as having an eerie green glow.

And finally, probably the most famous ghost ship of all…

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
What most people probably don't know (and I'm in that group) is that The Flying Dutchman refers to the captain of the vessel and not to the ship itself.  Several ghost ships have been referred to as The Flying Dutchman, but there was one original candidate.

As the story goes:  Captain Hendrick Van Der Decken was sailing around the Cape of Good Hope headed for Amsterdam.  Even though a terrible storm raged around them, the captain refused to turn back despite the pleadings of the frightened crew.  As monstrous waves attacked the ship, the captain passed the time by singing obscene songs, drinking beer, and smoking his pipe.  Finally, out of desperation, some of the crew mutinied.  The captain, in a drunken stupor, shot the leader and threw his body overboard.  At that time, the clouds overhead parted and a booming voice came down from the heavens. "You're a very stubborn man."

The captain replied, "I never asked for a peaceful voyage.  I never asked for anything, so clear off before I shoot you, too."  Van Der Decken aimed his pistol toward the sky but before he could fire, the pistol exploded in his hand.

"You are condemned to sail the oceans for eternity, with a ghostly crew of dead men, bringing death to all who sight your spectral ship and to never make port or know a moment's peace.  Furthermore, gall shall be your drink, and red hot iron your meat."

Since that time there have been numerous sightings of The Flying Dutchman, quite often by reputable and experienced seamen including Prince George of Wales and his brother, Prince Albert Victor of Wales.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES -- the real story

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is Arthur Conan Doyle's most popular Sherlock Holmes story. Strictly fiction or does it have some basis in fact?

A couple of years ago, I was watching Castle Secrets And Legends on the Travel Channel.  One of the segments was about Cromer Hall in England (pictured above), located just outside Cromer, about 140 miles or so northeast of London.  The Cabell family have been owner and residents of Cromer Hall for the last 150 years.

A local legend told to a visiting Arthur Conan Doyle, along with the physical description of the actual Cromer Hall built in 1829, are said to have been Doyle's inspiration for The Hound Of The Baskervilles published in 1902. Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I was pleased when they aired that episode again.  I augmented the information the show provided with a little research of my own—starting by locating Cromer on a map.

According to a legend told to Doyle, on August 5, 1577, a large black Hound of Hell materialized in a local church and brutally mauled two people to death.  The hound glared at the other people in the church with red blazing eyes, then disappeared leaving only a scorched claw mark on the stone wall to confirm its presence—a mark that remains to this day.  The beast was called Black Shuk and blamed for all unexplained gruesome happenings that took place after that.

Another legend tells of Richard Cabell, a 17th century country squire. After seriously mistreating a village girl, he was chased by wild hounds until he died of a heart attack.  Considered to have been an evil man and feared by the local villagers, they entombed his body in a small building by the church and placed a heavy stone slab on top of his grave so he couldn't escape.

The Cabell family has their own version of this legend.  Richard Cabell believed his wife had been unfaithful.  He chased her out into the night and viciously stabbed her to death.  Her loyal dog retaliated by tearing him to pieces.

Doyle took the basics of the the three legends along with a detailed description of Cromer Hall, and transported it all to Dartmoor.  And the name he gave to the family cursed with the presence of a Hound From Hell due to an ancestor's misdeeds?  The coachman who drove Arthur Conan Doyle to Cromer Hall that fateful day for his visit was a man named…Henry Baskerville.
The huge popularity of the story continues today.  Devotees of The Hound Of The Baskervilles often dress in period clothes, including the infamous deerstalker cap, and search Dartmoor for the origins of the story.

They do need to keep in mind that it's a fictional story, not a documentary.