Saturday, April 28, 2012


As I mentioned this Saturday, I'm off to Boy Scout Camp-o-ree, so no Person-of-Mystery today.  I'll be back next week.  Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Photographic Memories

I'm apologize for the lack of posts.  I've been rather busy getting ready for a Boy Scout Camporee, and I'm afraid I'll already tell you, there will be no Person-of-Mystery game tomorrow, but I thought I'd share something with you that made me smile.  A friend recently asked me to locate a photo I took several years ago, which had me thumbing through the digital photo albums on my computer.  I found myself looking at old photos of my boys and here's one I particularly enjoyed.

This was our youngest son, Jonathan, when he was just a little nugget.  He's now ten and I'm sure he'd be embarrassed if he knew I was posting this photo.  We had taken all the kids to a berry farm where you pick your own and weigh them afterwards.  Heading down the rows for a bit, we turned around to find that Jonathan was picking the berries off the plants, placing them in his basket and immediately taking them out of the basket and popping them in his mouth.  What a cutie!  I miss those days.

Have a swell weekend and I'll see you on Monday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Humoresque Rag

One of my students entered class today whistling a tune.  I recognized it, so I asked if they liked Dvorak.  They seemed confused.  I told them they were whistling one of Dvorak's Humoresques and I asked where they had heard the tune.  They replied, "I dunno, probably TV."

Antonin Dvorak

As we had time, I did a quick search and pulled up the number on YouTube.

After they heard it, they remarked that it was nice, but that it sounded both happy and sad.  I agree, for such a playful tune, there is a little melancholy in the middle.  When I was searching for Dvorak's music, I noticed a version that also said, "ragtime piano version."  I was intrigued, so I saved the clip for after work and was delightfully surprised by Mark Chang's interpretation, so I thought I'd share it with you too.

What a happy way to end the day!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Charles Boles (aka Black Bart), the Gentleman Bandit

Congratulations to Brian, who once again, proved his Person-of-Mystery prowess by successfully identifying Charles Boles, better known as the notorious stagecoach robber "Black Bart."

"Black Bart" Charley Boles

I'm not the kind of guy to typically root for the outlaw.  I know there are not too many real-life Robin Hood types, only stealing from the richest of the rich and fewer still who can pull it off with style and good humor, but I suppose Charles Boles may come closest.

Boles, born in England and brought to America at two years of age, was raised on a farm in Upstate New York.  In 1849, Charley and two brothers came to California to work the gold fields, but returned after a somewhat unsuccessful year.  In 1854, he married a Mary Johnson, had several children, and farmed near Decatur, Illinois.  During the Civil War, Boles enlisted with the 116th Illinois Infantry, was promoted to First Sergeant and even breveted a First Lieutenant.

The quiet life held little appeal to Boles and after the war, he was back in the mining camps of Idaho and Montana and writing home to his wife.  In an 1871 letter, he mentioned how upset he was with some employees of the Wells Fargo Company.  Then the letters stopped and his wife assumed he had died.

Charles Boles

On July 26, 1875, Boles pulled off his first of 28 stagecoach robberies in Calaveras County, California.  Boles was dressed in a long coat and armed with a shotgun.  A flour sack with cut eye holes covered his head and he wore his bowler hat over the flower sack.  What made him different was his courteous manners during each of his robberies.  He would issue his demands with pleasantries and without profanity.  "Please throw down the box," he would request.  Boles was scared of horses, so he was always on foot and in several of the robberies he would pretend as though there were accomplices hiding in the surrounding brush to support him.

He gained his name during the fifth robbery, when Boles left the following note in the empty strong box:

I've labored long and hard for bred
For honor and for riches
But on my corns too long yove tred
You fine-haired sons of b*****s.

Black Bart, 1877

The next robbery included another note:

Here I lay me down to Sleep
To wait the coming morrow
Perhaps Success perhaps defeat
And everlasting Sorrow

Let come what will I'll try it on
My condition can't be worse
And if there's money in the Box
'Tis munny in my purse.

Black Bart, the P o 8

Boles only left those two notes, in which each line was written in a different handwriting style and the first poem containing the only known profanity (perhaps to throw detectives off) but it was enough to cement Boles reputation as "Black Bart."

Black Bart Wanted Poster

During his life of crime, Boles never fired a shot, and he was always mannerly with both stage drivers and passengers.  At one robbery, without being asked, a terrified woman tossed her purse at "Black Bart."  He immediately returned it, tipped his derby, and said, "Thank you, madam, I do not wish your money.  In that respect I honor only the good office of Wells Fargo."

Charles Boles, living well off of Wells Fargo

After making off with thousands of dollars, Boles luck finally came to an end on November 3, 1883.  Boles stopped the stage as usual, but found the strong box bolted to the floor of the passenger compartment, taking him longer to remove the box.  Also unknown to the bandit, one of the passengers left a the stage a short while before to shoot some game and upon returning and finding the stage being plundered, fired several shots at Boles, and hitting him once in the hand.  The slightly wounded Boles fled the scene, but in his haste he left some personal affects including field glasses, a razor and belt, three shirt cuffs, and a handkerchief with the laundry mark, "F.X.O.7."

A Wells Fargo Detective, James B. Hume, who ironically looked much like Boles, was placed on the case and one of his agents, Harry Morse, traced the laundry mark to Biggs California Laundry on Stevenson Street in San Francisco where Morse was informed that it belonged to a Charles Bolton, renting Room 40 at the Webb House, 37 Second Street.  Hume confirmed that Bolton had been away on business at the time of each of the robberies and had him arrested.  A search of Bolton's room revealed an identical handkerchief to the one recovered at the robbery and a Bible bearing his real name in the flyleaf, "Charles E. Boles."  Hume's report described Bolton as "A person of great endurance.  Exhibited genuine wit under the most trying circumstances.  Extremely proper and polite in behavior, eschews profanity."

Detective James B. Hume

At first, Boles denied he was the individual, but after intensive questioning, the 5' 8" 54 year old with blue eyes confessed to the single robbery in which he was wounded.  He waived his right to a jury trial and was given six years at San Quentin State Penitentiary.  With good behavior, Boles was out in a little more than four years.  Reporters at his release, asked him if he was going to go back to robbery.  "No, gentlemen, I'm through with crime," was Boles' reply.  Another reporter asked him if he would write more poetry.  Boles laughed and said, "Now didn't you hear me say that I'm through with crime?"

Boles never returned home to his wife who was now living in Hannibal, Missouri, but wrote to her and complained of being constantly followed by Wells Fargo Agents.  The last time he was seen was at the Palace Hotel in Visalia, California, on February 28, 1888.  He checked in, but then disappeared forever.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

Additional clues may be found in the cipher below:


So, who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter his name into Wikipedia and this photo in its original form will be the first image.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Does the Moustache Make the Man?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the tragic life of Eleanore Dumont.  Old West beauty, turned gambler and Madame.  I received an e-mail reply from one reader who seemed to think that her facial hair was the greatest tragedy of her life.  The letter got me thinking.  How sad that facial hair for a woman can be considered such a tragedy, while in many cases facial hair is the defining characteristic for a man.  Today I am forced to think about Adolf Hitler.  You see, as a school teacher this is one of my least favorite days of the year.  For the last several years, the number four-twenty has been increasingly used by potheads as a badge of honor and today is April 20 (4/20).  Another sad coincidence is that it is also anniversary of Hitler's birth (a fact that my students somehow also know is associated with 4/20).  While searching for photos of Eleanore Dumont, I came across this curious photo of Hitler, photoshopped to remove his moustache:

The evil dictator without his characteristic moustache by Lyonlamb

When I tried to find the original photo, I noticed that there were plenty of other online images where famously hairy people (e.g., Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, etc.) had their whiskers removed to provide a different perspective.  Some of them even looked a little like other people.  For example, Groucho Marx looked a little more like Bob Saget.

Graucho Marx without his moustache

As a younger man, I would watch Tom Selleck in the TV show, Magnum, P.I.  Plenty of people I knew even started growing moustaches to imitate his manly appearance.

Selleck as Magnum, P.I.

When he shaved his moustache, I think it took fans a long time to adjust to his new look.

Facial hair can be co iconic that when you see a photo of a famously whiskered man without his moustache it seems strange.  A case in point would be this photo of clean shaven Clark Gable below:

Not exactly the dashing (and mustachioed) Rhett Butler we all associate him with.

Maybe I'm off though and it's all one big trick of the mind.  The German hat manufacturer ran the following ad claiming that head attire trumped the moustache:

Hut Weber Advertisement

Chaplin duly considered, I'm afraid that Hitler killed the toothbrush moustache for all time.  I know in more recent years, Robert Mugabe tried to bring it back in vogue, but as Mugabe is another pathetic dictator, I'm afraid he's just going to reinforce the stereotype.

Robert Mugabe, not the facial hair trend setter he might imagine

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hot Problems

My hometown is known for so many great things.  Just last year, the Oprah Show even named our town as the "Happiest City in America."  And it is a really swell place, but I'm afraid that our recent claim to fame may soon be eclipsed by two local girls.  I've been informed that two high school seniors from our town created an atrocious music video that has now gone viral.  They're "singing" a song about the problems of being good looking while riding in the back of a limousine.  It is probably the worst thing to hit the Internet in recent memory.  Like watching a train wreck though, it's hard not to look.  It's only been up on YouTube for three days, but already has over a million views.  Looks like we may have just stolen the "most annoying music video" crown from Rebecca Black.  My favorite comment so far is, "I didn't know tone deafness was a hot girl problem."

Watch it if you dare:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Madame Moustache, Eleanore Dumont

Congratulations to Rob, who successfully identified Eleanore Dumont in this weekend's Person-of-Mystery Contest.

Eleanore Dumont was one of the more colorful women of the Old West.  Because of her accent, it was rumored that she came from France, but others think New Orleans may have been her place of birth.  In either case, she turned up in in San Francisco in 1849 where she soon found herself working as a card dealer at the Bella Union Hotel.

The Bella Union Hotel in 1851

In 1854, Eleanore arrived in Nevada City, California, dressed to the nines.  To the curiosity of many, she opened up a high brow gambling parlor, the Vingt-et-Un.  She served champaign instead of whiskey, permitted only behaved, clean men, into her establishment, and prohibited cursing in her presence.  It soon became a quite the happening place!  Eleanore was witty and charming, appealingly foreign, and knew how to deal cards like a pro.  No women were allowed in her establishment, save herself, and women dealers were virtually unheard of.

Dumont's favored game, vignt-et-un (French for 21), was a novelty at the time.  It was much like modern blackjack with the following differences in Dumont's day:
  • Aces were only counted as 11 and didn't have the option of also being a 1
  • Two aces are also a vignt-et-un (even though they add up to 22)
  • Wagering didn't take place until after the cards had been dealt
  • The dealer was the only player allowed to double
  • Slightly different payouts for card combinations
One of the different payouts was a 10-to-1 for an ace of spades and either of the black jacks.  This high payout eventually led to the game commonly being called blackjack later even when the payout was removed.

Her place became so popular, that Dumont took on a partner and opened an even larger place called Dumon't Palace.  They also added the much more popular games of Faro and Chuck-a-luck and her second venture became equally successful.

Faro being played much later in 1890s Arizona

Faro was the most popular game at this time, but required a minimum of two employees to run the game, a dealer and a casekeeper (who would count the cards for the players).  Because cheating was so common and the odds were better than most games, a third employee, a "look-out" was often hired to watch the players during the game.  [Faro was notorious for being a dishonest game with cheating dealers, it's increasingly bad reputation coupled with the relatively good odds for the player at honest tables has resulted in its disappearance since World War II.  However an online version may be played HERE if you'd like to get a virtual taste for the game].

Back to Dumont, two years after her arrival in Nevada City, she started to develop a pronounced moustache, later earning her the unfortunate nickname "Madame Moustache."  The gold eventually ran out in Nevada, but she would follow the new strikes and she headed to Columbia, California, where in 1857 she set up a table in a hotel.

Carson City, Nevada, in the 1860s

Dumont had now achieved a small fortune and she wanted to leave her profession.  Though she knew little about animals, she purchased a ranch in Carson City, Nevada.  She soon became taken with a handsome cattleman named Jack McKnight in whom she placed her trust and she signed her property over to him for his management.  Sadly, McKnight was actually a conman and in less than a month he had disappeared, selling her ranch and leaving her with all the debts.  Dumont tracked him down and killed him with two blasts from a shotgun.  Although she would much later admit to the crime, at the time of the shooting, there was not enough evidence to charge her.

Lacking any money, she retuned to gambling again and in 1861, set up her table in Pioche, Nevada.  Unfortunately, her youth had begun to fade and she started to put on some weight.  In her youth, she would use her fine manners and flirtatious chastity to lure men to gamble with a woman, but as time wore on, women in camps became less of a novelty and the coarseness began to become more a part of her life as she began to openly smoke, take hard drink, and become more tolerant of crude miners.

Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876

At a certain point, she eventually added prostitution to her repertoire and acted as a real "Madame."  At first offering herself and later hiring girls to work in her houses.  She followed the money and drifted through Montana mining towns like Bannack, Fort Benton, and Helena.  She was found in Silver City and Salmon, Idaho, and Corinne, Utah.  Silver strikes brought her back to Nevada where she found herself in Virginia City.  Eventually, she would be found in Deadwood, South Dakota, and then Tombstone, Arizona.  In Tombstone, she was known to drum up business by dressing her girls in finery and driving a fancy carriage up and down the streets, smoking a cigar, to the cheers of onlookers.

As the same miners worked the same camps she frequented, her reputation began to precede her as an attractive, but aging mustachioed good-natured French lady, fair, strong, and savvy with the cards.  Stories such as her foiling multiple robbers at once, turning back plagued steamboats by gunpoint, offering hospitality to those down on their luck, or her friendship with Calamity Jane as mentor, abounded wherever she lived.

Dumont's friend, Calamity Jane

Her final stop was the notorious Bodie, California, in 1878.  Her luck had run out, and about a year and a half after arrival, she borrowed $300 from a friend to open a table.  After a few hours, she had lost it all.  Without a word, she left the table and walked a mile out of town and committed suicide by drinking a bottle of red wine laced morphine.  Her body was discovered the next day, September 8, 1879, her head resting on a rock and with a note explaining that she was "tired of life."

Miners lamented her passing and one such penned the following epitaph:  “Poor Madame Moustache!  Her life was as square a game as was ever dealt. The world played against her with all sorts of combinations, but she generally beat it. The turn was called on her at last for a few paltry hundred; she missed the turn, none of the old boys were there to cover the bet for her, and she passed in her checks, game to the last.  Poor Madame Moustache."  Local residents raised enough for her funeral, said to be the largest the town ever held, but the exact spot of her grave is now lost to time.

Bodie Cemetery overlooking the remains of the town

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided here for you to identify.

Additional clues may be found in the cipher below:


So, who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter the right name into Google Images and the this photo will be found on the first page of image results.

Friday, April 13, 2012

President Taft Miscellanea

Today I want to revisit a little trivia about President Taft.  He was of course the Person-of-Mystery last March 31.

Taft is one of our lesser known presidents, but if people remember him for anything, it's his weight.  It is said that he was about 332 pounds when he was in office.

President Taft in 1908

Taft in profile on the links after leaving the executive office

Even his bathing was the source of jokes as it was rumored that he had become stuck in a bath and needed the help of several assistants to be removed.  This was not helped by the fact that he had an oversized (about 7 ft by 3 1/2 ft) custom built tub installed at the White House.  One newspaper at the time described it as having "pond-like dimensions."

Workers relaxing in Taft's custom tub before leaving the factory

I don't believe that Taft would have won even a single term in the modern age.  His weight would have become the fodder of comedians who would have had a field day with his campaign slogan, "Get on the Raft with Taft."

A musical rendition of his campaign slogan

I'm also certain the press would have produced this Dukakis-like photo of Taft on a water buffalo during his time as Governor of the Philippines.

Taft it is said to have disliked the presidency.  While being groomed for the office, then President Teddy Roosevelt was privately joking late one evening with Secretary and Mrs. Taft.  Speaking like a fortune-teller, Roosevelt said, "I see a man standing before me weighing about 350 pounds.  There is something hanging over his head. I cannot make out what it is. At one time it looks like the presidency—then again it looks like the chief justiceship."  Mrs. Taft blurted out, "Make it the presidency!"  Secretary Taft somewhat less enthusiastically replied, "Make it the chief justice-ship."  Taft would later win the presidency, but after a single term, he also ignominiously became the only sitting president to finish third in a presidential election behind the other major party and the more successful third-party candidate in the election of 1912.

He is remembered for being the first president to throw out the opening pitch at a baseball game and many believe he was responsible for starting the seventh inning stretch.  After he left office he lost 150 pounds and was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court and later became Chief Justice, a position he found much more to his liking (thus making him the only person ever to be President and Chief Justice) .  All-in-all he seems a like a pretty decent fellow to me, he enjoyed his food, and had a grand sense of humor.

Of his laugh, Taft biographer Henry Pringle wrote, "It was by all odds the most infectious chuckle in the history of politics. It started with a silent trembling of Taft's ample stomach. The next sign was a pause in the reading of his speech, and the spread of a slow grin across his face. Then came a kind of gulp which seemed to escape without his being aware that the climax was near. Laughter followed hard on the chuckle itself, and the audience invariable joined in."

A much leaner Chief Justice Taft

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spanish-American War Memorial, Capitol Park, Sacramento

On our way to Lake Tahoe, our family stopped off at the State Capitol in Sacramento.  I've usually approached the building from the West but we came in from the East side this time and parked on 15th Street.  I was delighted to find Capitol Park, a large park about five blocks long by two blocks wide to the rear of the building.  It's a pretty park, a little unkempt (like most city parks in large metropolitan areas), but with requisite obligatory memorials found in every capital city.  My favorite, by a wide margin, was the Spanish-American War Memorial.  It is on a large rock in a center of a pond, surrounded by overgrown foliage, almost hidden from view even on the central path close to the capitol building.

The statue, a just slightly larger than life American soldier, is affectionately called "The Hiker."  The memorial was completed in 1949, when Cuba was still our friend and after the Philippines had been granted its independence and it contains plants transplanted from the battlefields of that conflict.  I enjoyed the tasteful grace and reflection of the memorial.  It reminded me of another memorial I enjoyed when I was in Washington, DC – the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial.

Like this one in California, it's tucked away on a tiny island in the Potomac River.  It's just an island full of trees and hiking paths and in the center is a slightly larger than life Teddy Roosevelt statute giving a speech to the trees.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Caine's Arcade

It seems like keeping things fresh is becoming ever more difficult with the Internet.  I recall telling my students something in class one time and one of the kids said, "Oh, yeah, I saw that like two days ago!"  He made it sound as though it was already ancient history.

So, it's with a little trepidation that I'm going to post a link to a short film called Caine's Arcade.  If you haven't seen it, I don't want to tell you a whole story and spoil the film.

Check it out.  I think you'll like it:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

J.M. "Wheelbarrow Johnny" Studebaker

Congratulations to Brian who chalked up another impressive win in this past weekend's Person-of-Mystery Contest.  He correctly identified John Studebaker as the unidentified person in the photo.

John Mohler "Wheelbarrow Johnny" Studebaker

Last week, our family was vacationing in the Lake Tahoe area.  It was a wonderful time of getting away, turning off the phones and e-mail, and just hanging out as a family.  My wife is from Wisconsin, so each year she likes to take the family somewhere to see the snow.  Christmas was rather snow free for us here in California, so we had to wait until Spring Break.  We don't usually go all the way up to Tahoe (it's about a 7 hour drive for us), so when I get to go up there, I also like to take in the history sites (if my family will indulge me).  I love Northern California as it combines two great loves of mine – the outdoors and history.

Jonathan giving the thumbs-up to a mine tour

Jonathan, our youngest son, became rather interested in the mining history of Northern California, so we went on a couple of abandoned mine tours.  On the way home, we stopped off at Placerville, California.  Placerville was one of the early gold-rush towns and had a number of colorful names in the those days.  It has alternatively been known as "Blood and Guts," "Dry Diggins," and for a number of years as "Hangtown."

Old Hangtown

Many an adventurous forty-niner came to California looking to strike it rich, more often than not, returning home just as poor and worse for wear.  John Studebaker was one of those who went West to find his fortune.  At age 19, his blacksmithing brothers had made him a wagon, and John left with $65 sewed into a belt, three changes of clothes and a Bible.  John arrived with a wagon train in the Fall of 1853.  Immediately upon arrival in Hangtown, the new comers were approached by the townsfolk asking for word from the outside world.  In the commotion a local blacksmith, Joe Hinds, asked if there were any among the newly arrived who was a wagon maker.  Studebaker responded that he was and Hinds offered him a job on the spot making wheelbarrows.  Studebaker politely declined saying he was there to look for gold, but a stranger from the town came up and offered John some advice, "Young man, take that job and take it quick!"  He added that there'd be plenty of time to look for gold later, but jobs were scarce.  John ran after Mr. Hinds and told him he'd changed his mind.

Hind's Blacksmith Shop in Hangtown (later Placerville).
Johnny made wheelbarrows towards the rear of this building.

For the next several years, John (now known as Wheelbarrow Johnny) made wheelbarrows for the miners working in Hangtown and was paid $10 per unit by Mr. Hinds.  He worked hard and saved his money.  At one point he heard rumor that Adams Express Company, where he had deposited his money was in financial trouble, so he watched their building until he noticed men entering from the back side.  The company officials were loading the gold into a wheelbarrow and were about to leave when John held them at gunpoint and demanded his $3,000 he had on deposit with them.  The company failed, but John kept his fortune and by 1858 he had saved $8,000.  His brothers back in Indiana kept in written contact and told him that their wagon business was starting to take off, but needed capital.  John returned to South Bend, Indiana and with the increased production, the Studebaker Company lowered cost and increased demand.

Studebaker Carriage Company, South Bend, Indiana, mid 1870s

The Union Army purchased a large number of ammunition wagons from the Studebakers during the Civil War and the company continued to grow, becoming the best known wagon maker during the 1800s.  Evenually, Studebaker would start producing automobiles and would continue producing cars until the mid-1960s.

Studebaker Brothers, John bottom left

John acted as president of the Studebaker Company and outlived his brothers, remaining as honorary president until his death in 1917.  However in 1912, a five years before his death, Wheelbarrow Johnny returned to Placerville (Old Hangtown) to a warm welcome from its citizens.  They decorated the town with flowers and hung signs that read, "We're glad you're back."  John stayed up late reminiscing with his friends and had a grand time.

Studebaker Marker at 543 Main Street in Placerville, California, the former site where John made wheelbarrows.  Today it's a Starbucks Coffee Shop.

Since 1939, the El Dorado County Fair in Placerville has held the John M. Studebaker International Wheelbarrow races in his honor.

One of John's original wheelbarrows now in a museum