Sunday, June 18, 2017

8 WORST AMERICAN TRAITORS

Benedict Arnold
Betraying the United States government is usually a bad idea, especially if you're an American Citizen. Sometimes we've been too hard on people who were forced at gunpoint to assist the enemy such as the case of Tokyo Rose, a Japanese American woman visiting a relative in Japan and trapped there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was later shown that she had been forced to broadcast propaganda for Japan. But on the other hand, sometimes we've been too soft on willing collaborators. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for providing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union yet others who did the same thing at the same time didn't even do prison time even though their activities were uncovered.

Here are eight Americans who let our side down, ranging from the Revolutionary War to present times.

8) BENEDICT ARNOLD
When your name becomes synonymous with the word "traitor" you can usually expect to have it pop up on a fair number of lists of famous traitors. You can also usually expect to have been executed by angry patriots long before you get to read any of these lists, but in Benedict Arnold's case, he was able to die peacefully in Canada at a safe distance from everyone who wanted to kill him. Arnold was actually on track to become an American hero of the Revolutionary War, scoring important victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga and often leading his men from the front lines. Unfortunately for him, his short temper and lack of understanding about the ins and outs of politics made him some powerful enemies and few friends in the political structure of the Continental Army. He was also deep in debt after paying for much of his soldiers' equipment out of his own pocket, so when he found himself relegated to military command of Philadelphia he developed contacts among Loyalist colonists and eventually started selling crucial bits of intelligence to the British spy service. When his handler was captured, Benedict Arnold officially joined the British Army as a brigadier general, leading several attacks on targets in New York before settling down in Canada, where he played a minor role in British military intrigues and shipping but was mostly remembered for being an incredibly bitter and unpleasant man. A foot note to his downfall has more recently come to light with the theory that it was his young and ambitious wife who actually led him into the world of espionage and ultimate downfall.

7) ALDRICH AMES
The most damaging mole in CIA history and believed to be the most damaging spy in American history in general (until the discovery of the FBI's Robert Hanssen several years later), Aldrich Ames first started working for the Russians in 1985. Nine years later, the CIA noticed that one of their analysts was a $60,000 per year desk worker who owned a $50,000 Jaguar and a $540,000 house, both of which he had paid for in cash, and credit card debt with a minimum monthly payment of more than his monthly salary. They belatedly realized that these just might be signs of a man with more than one source of income. After making sure that Ames hadn't recently inherited a fortune from some previously unknown relative, the CIA arrested him. He casually admitted that he had sold the Soviets information that had resulted in the exposure of over a hundred Western agents behind the Iron Curtain, several of whom had been executed based on his information. Ames pleaded guilty to dodge the death penalty and the American intelligence apparatus breathed a sigh of relief knowing that their worst leak had successfully been patched up…but that feeling of relief wouldn't last long.

6) ROBERT HANSSEN
A computer and wiretapping expert, Robert Hanssen rose to the top levels of the FBI hierarchy even though he was actively spying for the Soviet and Russian Federation governments for all but the first three years of his career. His work compromised hundreds of American counter-espionage investigations and earned him over $1.4 million from grateful KGB and GRU agents. Using a system of code names and dead drops to exchange information and cash, Hanssen maintained a much lower profile than Ames and would have never been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn't spotted a gigantic stack of money on Hanssen's nightstand during a visit. When arrested in 2001 after twenty-two years as a double agent, Hanssen is reported to have said, "What took you so long?"

5) EZRA POUND
American expatriate Ezra Pound was a revolutionary poet and literary critic, a personal friend to nearly all the American and British writers of the time, and a proud and committed fascist. Pound blamed the international banking system for World War I, which disillusioned and embittered him, and he felt that the experimental system of "social credit" that was needed to replace the banks could only be implemented by a fascist government. After moving to Italy and meeting Mussolini, Pound began working less on his poetry and more on his economic and social lectures and pamphlets, where he increasingly replaced the term "international banking" with "international Jewry" and his articles or letters would end with the salutation, "Heil Hitler." During the invasion of Italy in World War II, Pound convinced the government of Rome to allow him to make propaganda broadcasts to American troops, which were of dubious value as his voice was described as "like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar" and there were few poetry aficionados in the army at the time to know who he was. Arrested in 1945 by partisan troops, Pound endured harsh conditions in an American prison camp outside Pisa, an experience that allegedly drove him insane (or more so, according to some) and left him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental asylum in 1958, Pound returned to Italy to live out the rest of his days in bitterness and failing health.

4) FRITZ JULIUS KUHN
Born in Germany but living and working in America since 1928, Fritz Kuhn was the man in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group, the German-American Bund. An enthusiastic supporter of Hitler's ideas on racial purity and the fascist system, Kuhn was also a fan of Hitler's political style. Bund gatherings were known for dramatic outbursts of violence in a way America had never seen before. Ironically, Hitler wasn't much of a fan of Kuhn and his makeshift Nazi party—the dictator wanted Nazi influence in America to be powerful, but not so powerful that it might backfire and draw America into the war. The Bund's front-page antics weren't falling in line with that goal. Eventually, Kuhn was taken down by a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from his own organization. When he emerged from that jail sentence, he was immediately arrested for being an enemy agent. Kuhn was released at the war's end and returned to Germany a bitter, broken man.

3) AMERICAN WAFFEN-SS VOLUNTEERS
One of the stranger details about Germany's Nazi-run Schutzstaffel (more commonly known as the SS) was that it formed a number of volunteer and propaganda divisions of decidedly non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. For years there were rumors of a so-called "George Washington Brigade" made up entirely of renegade Americans. The GWB turned out to be a myth, but it was a myth reinforced by the occasional discovery of SS troops with American accents or names, who often turned out to be not just naturalized citizens but born on American soil. It's impossible to know for sure how many Americans fought for the Nazis as records are unavailable after May of 1940.

2) MARTIN JAMES MONTI
One particularly noteworthy American SS was Army Air Force pilot Martin James Monti, who in October of 1944 hitchhiked and transferred his way to an Italian airbase, stole a fast reconnaissance plane and promptly flew it north into Axis hands to defect. Searching around for something to do, Monti made a few propaganda broadcasts under the name Martine Wiehaupt, but his radio voice was lacking and he eventually became an SS sergeant in the closing weeks of the war. Nobody is quite sure of Monti's motivation or why he chose to defect to a country that was clearly losing the war. He served a brief jail sentence before being released back into the Army, where he kept a low profile and managed to make sergeant by 1948 before the FBI caught up with him. He served the next twenty-five years in prison.

1) AARON BURR
Burr was vice president to Thomas Jefferson, back when the president and the vice president tended to be from opposing political parties. They spent a lot of time yelling at each other. He who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel. What most school history lessons don't really cover is that Burr became so unpopular after essentially murdering his political opponent that he decided his career was over unless he did something really dramatic. He formulated a plan to take control of the Texas and Louisiana Territories with groups of armed farmers and the help of sympathetic army officers and possibly even invade either Mexico or Washington, D.C. if he could talk Spain into the deal. Unfortunately for Burr, Jefferson had been keeping an eye on his former vice president, and various state district attorneys were busy collecting evidence of the so-called Burr Conspiracy.

The hammer finally dropped after Burr's co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, sent Congress the deciphered text of a letter Burr had written of a planned attack on several important Mississippi River towns. Upon seeing his treasonous letter published in full in a New Orleans newspaper including a reward for his capture, Burr abandoned his tiny army and attempted to hide in the vast marshes of the Louisiana Territory. Aaron Burr was eventually captured by troops from Fort Stoddard and delivered to Richmond, Virginia for his trial at the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson's desire to have Burr executed, a stubborn Chief Justice John Marshall eventually threw the case out based on technicalities. The case became one of the earliest tests of Constitutional law and the limiting of the executive branch. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe, but returned later under an assumed name to try and start anew. True to form, he was pestering various governments with plans to conquer Mexico and installing himself as governor, even under his new identity. He died hounded by creditors from both his old life and the new one.

And this brings us to a recent headline story…Edward Snowden—American traitor or patriotic whistle-blower?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

11 FAMOUS FEMALE SPIES FROM HISTORY

Mata Hari
My blog from May 21 was about ten spies you probably never heard of, both men and women, ranging from the American Revolutionary War through World War II.

That was the first of a 4-part blog series interrupted by the release of MISSION INSECURE, the first book of my new erotic fantasy series, Fallen Angel Chronicles (blog weeks of May 28 and June 4). This week I'm continuing with my spy themed blogs with a list of female spies (in addition to the women who were on my May 21 blog list) from the Civil War, World War I and World War II.  And four of them were genuine celebrities, three of them at the time and one became famous later. All four were popular and well known for something other than being spies.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here's this week's list of eleven female spies.

11)  Violette Szabo—World War II
Ever heard of the video game Velvet Assassin?  The game was inspired by her story as a Special Operations agent.  Born in France, she and her family moved to London where she married a French soldier. When he was killed in battle two years later, she joined the service.  As a secret agent, she parachuted into France and planned the sabotage of a railroad, disrupted enemy communication, and passed along strategic information.  She was captured by the Nazis, tortured, and sent to a concentration camp where she was executed at the age of only twenty-three.  Her story became a book and movie titled Carve Her Name With Pride.

10)  Stephanie von Hohenlohe—World War II
She managed to insert herself into high society wherever she went.  An affair with a member of the Austrian royal family resulted in her pregnancy.  She was quickly married off to a minor German nobleman.  After the marriage ended, she became a fixture in the London social scene and later was a go-between for the Nazi regime and high-placed sympathizers in England.  She was often called upon to offer advice and services to Hitler in spite of the fact that she was Jewish, a fact Hitler knew.  She followed a lover to the U.S. where she was considered so dangerous that she was detained until the end of World War II.

9)  Noor Inayat Khan—World War II
Known by the code name Madeleine, Russian-born of Indian and American descent, she served as a radio operator in the French resistance.  When the Nazis raided her communication headquarters, she avoided detection but was later betrayed and interrogated.  She was transferred to Dachau where she was killed at age thirty.  A book about her life, Spy Princess, is being developed into a movie.

8)  Belle Boyd—U.S. Civil War
Known as Cleopatra of the Secession, she ran a hotel in Virginia.  As a girl she began working to defend the South, charming secrets out of Union soldiers stationed near the hotel then delivering them to Confederate officials.  Arrested, then freed, she eventually ended up traveling around the country telling her stories of espionage.

7)  Virginia Hall—World War II
Educated at Harvard and Columbia with a goal of joining the Foreign Service…until a shooting accident on a hunting trip resulted in a partial amputation on her leg and a limp when wearing her prosthesis.  She signed up for the British Special Ops and later for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA).  She discovered and passed along important military information and trained resistance fighters.  On one mission she was forced to escape to Spain in winter through the mountains on foot.  A book about her was released in 2008, The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy.

6)  Krystyna Skarbek—World War II
After the Nazi's invaded her native Poland, she volunteered for British Special Operations.  Under the name of Christine Granville, using her expertise as a skier, she transported information between Poland and Hungary through the mountains.  And she could be considered the original Bond girl—Ian Fleming is said to have based several of his femme fatales on her.  After retiring from Special Ops, she worked on a cruise ship and was killed in 1952 by a coworker whose advances she had rejected.

5)  Marlene Dietrich (movie star)—World War II
German born, she became a U.S. citizen in 1939.  She volunteered for the OSS and, in addition to entertaining troops on the front lines as did many celebrities, she also broadcast nostalgic songs as propaganda to German troops who were battle weary.  She was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

4)  Josephine Baker (nightclub singer/dancer)—World War II
From St. Louis, Missouri, she moved to France to escape the racial prejudice she had been subjected to in the U.S.  She became a French citizen.  As a popular and much loved entertainer in France, she used her celebrity working for the French resistance.  The Nazis were so dazzled by her that they allowed her freedom of movement without thinking to check her sheet music where French resistance secrets were written in invisible ink.  She helped to break down countless barriers for African-American women in her adopted country and also in the U.S. [she was an important figure in the U.S. civil rights movement].

3)  Julia McWilliams Child (TV's The French Chef)—World War II
She wanted to join the WACs or the WAVES but was turned down because of her 6'2" height.  So, she went to work for the OSS in research and development at their Washington, DC, headquarters.  She helped develop a workable shark repellent used by downed flight crews and later for the U.S. space missions with water landings.  She also supervised an OSS facility in China.  She handled countless top secret documents prior to becoming famous as television's gourmet cook.

2)  Hedy Lamarr (movie star)—World War II
Born in Vienna, Austria, she made her film debut in 1933's Ecstasy.  She fled the approaching storm clouds of war in Europe, landing a contract with MGM studios.  But she was more than just a pretty face and an actress.  She was also a brilliant mathematician with a unique ability in problem solving. In addition to using her celebrity to raise millions of dollars in war bonds, she was an inventor.  She teamed with Hollywood composer George Antheil and invented a frequency hopping method for steering a torpedo. Today, her invention is the basis for frequency hopping used for wireless phones in our homes, GPS, and most military communication systems.

And probably the most famous (or infamous) female spy of all time:
1)  Mata Hari—World War I
A spy legend so evocative that the mere mention of the name says it all.  James Bond certainly falls into that category, but he's a fictional character.  Mata Hari was real.  Born in the Netherlands as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle.  She responded to a newspaper ad seeking a wife, married an older man, and moved to Indonesia.  An unhappy marriage and a fascination with the local culture turned her into a performer named Mata Hari.  After her return to Europe, she became a sensation in Paris with her exotic dancing, skimpy costumes and sexy demeanor…wildly popular with some and scandalous with others.  During World War I she traveled freely throughout Europe and was ultimately accused of being a German spy.  She was arrested and executed by a French firing squad in 1917.  She claimed she was spying for the French, not the Germans.  Neither accusation (French spy or German spy) was ever conclusively proven but current theory says she was working for the French who decided she had become a liability.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A CONVERSATION WITH DAMIAN FONTAINE -- Mission Insecure/Fallen Angel Chronicles

Fallen Angel Chronicles is my erotic fantasy series. Immortal Damian Fontaine was permanently banished to earth eight hundred years ago as a Fallen Angel. His transgression? A hedonistic existence. His self-proclaimed mission? To help repressed mortals find the sexually fulfilling life that has eluded them.

MISSION INSECURE, book #1 of the Fallen Angel Chronicles series is available now (released June 2, 2017). Caitlin Montieth—a woman cruelly betrayed by a man she loved. Can Fallen Angel Damian Fontaine rescue her from a self-imposed isolated existence, restore her self-confidence, and return her to the passionate woman who at one time enjoyed a fulfilling life?


This week I'm welcoming Damian Fontaine to my blog. Good morning, Damian.

And good morning to you, Samantha. [extends his hand]

[accepts handshake] This is something different for me. I've interviewed an immortal before, Devon Bainbridge who is a witch and a high priest as presented in HIS MAGICK TOUCH, but never a fallen angel. Or do you prefer to be called an immortal?

Just Damian will do. I have a very close friend, Rhiannon, who is a witch of the ancient bloodline. We've been very close for about four hundred years. I must admit being interviewed is different for me, too. Public attention and recognition is not something I seek. Even though I've been immortal for over a thousand years and banished to earth eight hundred years ago, I try to always project an image of today in order to blend in regardless of the decade or century. I do not make my true identity known. My day-to-day interactions with mortals do not require me to divulge that I'm immortal.

You are not what I was expecting. I'm surprised—you seem totally flesh-and-blood human. About 6'2", dark hair, green eyes, a solid handshake, skin warm to the touch, you're not transparent, you don't glow—

[spontaneous laugh] Were you expecting something akin to one of your Halloween ghosts?

[joins his laughter] When I said you weren't what I was expecting, I guess I meant I didn't know what to expect.

As I understand it, you want to talk to me about my self-proclaimed missions. And today, specifically about Caitlin Montieth—the subject of MISSION INSECURE.

Yes, but let's start by clarifying your status as a fallen angel. It's my understanding that the charges against you consisted of continued illicit activities with both mortals and immortals, associating with unholy entities such as witches and vampires, wild excesses of the flesh, decadence without remorse. That the pronouncement in your case was no hope of redemption. Is that an accurate assessment?

In one word…yes. Since banishment is seldom reversed, I set about creating my missions as a way of coping with eternity on earth and attempting to make the human existence better for those I can help.

Let's talk about your missions, specifically Mission Insecure. Who is Caitlin Montieth and why did you select her for one of your missions?

All human vibration and thought travels through the universe. I tune into those waves of energy, refining and sorting until I've zeroed in on the person I feel is most in need of my special type of help at that time.

What type of help are we talking about?

I help people who need my assistance in achieving the hidden sexual desires and fantasies that fear, inhibitions, intimidations, cultural restrictions, or simple embarrassment has kept secreted away.

And Caitlin?

She was a bit different from my normal missions. A woman of forty, wealthy and beautiful, who at one time led a full life including a passionate sex life. A woman who, for the last ten years, had been withdrawn and isolated—by choice. She was engaged to a man who turned out to be in love with her money rather than her. The betrayal and emotional upheaval robbed her of her self-confidence and sent her into a hermit-like existence—constantly protecting her fragile emotions and ever fearful of someone taking advantage of her again.

How do you go about initiating your missions if you don't announce your status as a fallen angel and your purpose for being there?

I study my subject for a period of time, maybe just a few days and occasionally as long as a month—every place they go, everything they do, what they think and feel—then arrange a situation to initiate that first contact.

How did you orchestrate your initial meeting with Caitlin and what happened then?

[grins mischievously]  I can only say that it was a rainy day in Seattle that started with Caitlin hitting me with her car. I'm not at liberty to say anything beyond that. But, if you read the book, you'll know.

Fair enough. Thank you for being with us, Damian. I hope you'll be able to return in a month when your next story, MISSION INNOCENCE, is available.

It will be my pleasure, Samantha.
BLURB:
Fallen Angel, Damian Fontaine was banished from heaven for too often indulging in sex with humans. He has made the best of his eight hundred years on earth by creating missions to help repressed mortals find the sexually fulfilling life that eludes them.

Wealthy Caitlin Montieth doesn’t fit that definition. But having once enjoyed an uninhibited sex life, she experienced a cruel betrayal of her love and trust. She has withdrawn to the security of a solitary life. She doesn’t trust anyone. She avoids meeting new people and social situations. And each day she sinks further into her self-imposed loneliness and isolation.

Can Damian restore her self-confidence and return her to the passionate woman who formerly enjoyed life to the fullest?

Available at The Wilder Roses (Scarlet Rose erotic line from The Wild Rose Press):
Also available at other online vendors.

Stop by my website for excerpts from Mission Insecure as well as information about my other books.   www.samanthagentry.com

Sunday, May 28, 2017

MISSION INSECURE—book #1 of the Fallen Angel Chronicles

Fallen Angel Chronicles is my new erotic fantasy series from The Wilder Roses www.thewilderroses.com (the Scarlet Rose erotic line from The Wild Rose Press). The first three books are being released approximately one month apart.
Book #1—MISSION INSECURE release date 6/2/2017
Book #2—MISSION INNOCENCE release date 6/30/2017
Book #3—MISSION INEVITABLE release date 8/4/2017

Fallen Angel Chronicles details Damian Fontains's various missions involving mortals. Damian was banished to earth eight hundred years ago as a Fallen Angel. His transgression? A hedonistic existence. His self-proclaimed mission? To help repressed mortals find the sexually fulfilling life that has eluded them.

MISSION INSECURE—book #1 of the Fallen Angel Chronicles series, available June 2, 2017.

BLURB:
Fallen Angel Damian Fontaine was banished from heaven for too often indulging in sex with humans. He has made the best of his eight hundred years on earth by creating missions to help repressed mortals find the sexually fulfilling life that eludes them.

Wealthy Caitlin Montieth doesn’t fit that definition. Having once enjoyed an uninhibited sex life, she experienced a cruel betrayal of her love and trust. She has withdrawn to the security of a solitary life. She doesn’t trust anyone. She avoids meeting new people and social situations. And each day she sinks further into her self-imposed loneliness and isolation.

Can Damian restore her self-confidence and return her to the passionate woman who formerly enjoyed life to the fullest?

R-EXCERPT #3: (first kiss):
Almost as if he somehow knew her secret desire, his mouth came down on hers before she could say anything. A kiss that gave all…and more. It promised the world without making demands on her. A kiss that spoke loudly of what he wanted but made it clear the decision was hers.

He pulled her into his embrace, holding her body tightly against his. A body that was everything she knew it would be—hard chest with solid abs, strong arms and shoulders. A growing erection—inviting, impressive, and very exciting.

Her arms wound around his neck, an impulsive action she couldn’t have stopped even if she wanted to. He thrust his tongue between her lips, and she opened her mouth to welcome the invasion. The texture of his tongue meshed with hers, sending surges of delight coursing through her body.

His hand slipped down her back and cupped her ass cheek. At that moment, all thoughts flew out of her head. All but one.

With great difficulty, she broke off the kiss. “I can’t…this isn’t…” Her words came out in a breathless rush. “I must go. I’m sorry…I didn’t mean for this to happen. I don’t even know you.”

“It seemed to me we were doing a good job of getting acquainted.”

She pushed back from him. “Don’t patronize me. I resent having someone make fun of me."


Next week, my blog features an interview with Damian Fontaine. I've never met a fallen angel let alone interviewed one, so I'm not sure what to expect. Stop by to see what happens and what Damian has to say about the series of books sharing his missions.

MISSION INSECURE—Book #1 of Fallen Angel Chronicles, my erotic fantasy series from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose erotic line at The Wild Rose Press)

Check out my website for additional excerpts from MISSION INSECURE as well as information about my other books.  www.samanthagentry.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

10 SPIES YOU'VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF

We've all heard of the famous (or infamous) Mata Hari, executed by the French in 1917 as a German spy. And Nathan Hale, the American Revolutionary War spy who said, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," right before the British hanged him in 1776 at age twenty-one.

But history is filled with spies whose names are virtually unknown.  In most instances anonymity is vital to success—an unknown name and an appearance that blends in with everyone else rather than the flamboyance of the fictional James Bond.

I read a brief mention about a female spy from World War II who died in August 2011 at the age of ninety-eight, someone I had never heard of, and that led me to a list of ten spies who are not household names.

1)  Nancy Wake:  Flirted her way through checkpoints and karate chopped a Nazi guard to death.
This is the female spy mentioned above who survived her World War II spy assignments and lived to be ninety-eight years old. In the 1930s, a young Australian journalist went to Germany to report on the rise of fascism and interview Hitler. The atrocities she witnessed changed her life forever. She settled in France and with the Nazi invasion in 1940 she joined the resistance movement, helping thousands of Jewish refugees and Allied servicemen escape to Spain. In 1943, with the Nazis closing in on her, she escaped to Spain and later to Britain where she convinced agents to train her as a spy and guerilla operative. In 1944 she parachuted into France leading a band of seven thousand resistance fighters where she coordinated guerilla activities prior to D-Day. She rose to the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list. She killed a German guard with one karate chop to his neck, executed a female German spy, shot her way through roadblocks, and biked seventy hours through enemy held territory to deliver radio codes for the Allies.

2)  Boris Yuzhin:  Used a camera concealed in a cigarette lighter to leak KGB secrets to the FBI.
In July 1975, the KGB sent Boris to San Francisco where he posed as a visiting scholar and later as a news reporter. His indoctrination said America was the enemy, but to his surprise he felt right at home and eventually grew to question his own country's policies. By 1978 he had become a double agent, supplying information about KGB operations in California to the FBI. His career as a double agent ended in 1986 when Aldrich Ames, the infamous CIA officer who had been spying for the Soviets, identified Boris which landed him in a Siberian prison for six years at a time when Soviet traitors were almost always executed.  Boris is still alive and living in Santa Rosa, California, north of San Francisco.

3)  Marthe Cnockaert:  Healed Germans to help the British during World War I.
In 1914, German troops destroyed the small Belgian village where twenty-two year old Marthe lived. Although sympathetic to the Allies, she was desperate for work to support her family. She found a job in a makeshift hospital for wounded German soldiers and earned the German Iron Cross for her medical services. A neighbor approached her about spying for the British, a role she soon embraced. For two years she coaxed secrets from German officers, arranged the murder of a German who tried to recruit her as a German spy, blew up a German ammunitions depot, directed airplane strikes and helped POWs escape. She was eventually discovered and imprisoned for two years. She was later honored by Winston Churchill and wrote a book about her wartime experiences.

4)  Eugene Bullard:  Spied on Nazi officers who visited his Paris nightclub.
Eugene Jacques Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894.  As a teenager, he stowed away to Europe and supported himself as a prize fighter and interpreter. With the start of World War I, he joined the French army and became the world's first black fighter pilot. He later married the daughter of a French countess, opened a nightclub in Paris, and socialized with Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, and Ernest Hemingway. He served his adoptive country again in World War II when he joined the French resistance movement. He used his fluency in German to spy on Nazis who frequented his nightclub. The Germans spoke freely in front of him, believing that nonwhites were incapable of understanding their language. He helped defend the city of Orleans, sustained serious injuries, and was medically evacuated to the U.S. along with his two daughters. While a hero in France, in the U.S. he finally found work as an elevator operator. He died in 1961 at the age of sixty-seven, just two years after France named him a Knight of the Legion of Honor.

5)  Anna Smith Strong:  Used laundry to arrange clandestine meetings during the American Revolution.
In 1778, George Washington instructed a young cavalry officer named Benjamin Tallmadge to establish a spy network to operate behind enemy lines on New York's Long Island. His spy group, the Culper Spy Ring, became the war's most effective spy operation. Anna Smith Strong became a vital link between agents on Long Island and Washington's headquarters in Connecticut. She would hang specific pieces of laundry on her clothes line at certain times to send messages and arrange meetings according to a coded system. [Interesting that a man whose reputation was one of honesty—I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the cherry tree—was responsible for the formation of our first spy operation.]

6)  Juan Pujol Garcia:  Helped ensure the Allies success on D-Day.
Juan Garcia, a Spanish businessman, earned the trust of high ranking Nazi officials who knew him by the code name Arabel. They were paying him to run an elaborate spy network which included a Dutch airline steward, a British censor for the Ministry of Information and a U.S. soldier in England, all of whom were gathering information that Garcia would transmit to Berlin. In reality, Garcia was a British double agent named Garbo who supplied the Germans with secrets designed to distract them from genuine military plans. June 9, 1944, was Garcia's most important moment of distraction. He sent his German contacts an urgent message saying the D-Day landings were only a diversion, that the real invasion would be at Pas de Calais. As a result, Hitler kept his best units stationed in the Calais area instead of sending them to Normandy as backup where the Allies were turning the tide of the war. [I saw a documentary about this man that was absolutely fascinating. He had the Nazi brass so totally believing his spy efforts that when he reported one of his fictitious spy ring members had died, the Nazis actually sent money for the fictitious spy's fictitious widow.]

7)  Elizabeth Van Lew:  Led a spy ring for the Union during the U.S. Civil War.
Even though Elizabeth was raised in a wealthy slave-holding family in Richmond, Virginia, she developed strong anti-slavery sympathies after attending a Quaker school in Philadelphia.  With the advent of the Civil War, she went on her own to visit captured Union solders, helping some escape and gathering information from prisoners and guards about Confederate strategy. In 1863, Union General Benjamin Butler recruited her as a spy and she soon became head of an entire spy network based in Richmond. She sent coded messages using invisible ink and hiding them in hollowed-out eggs or vegetables. In 1865 when Richmond fell to the Union forces, she flew the Stars and Stripes above her home.

8)  John Scobell:  Posed as a slave to gather information behind Confederate lines during the U.S. Civil War.
A former slave from Mississippi, John worked for Allan Pinkerton as an undercover officer. Pinkerton headed the Union intelligence services [prior to starting the famous Pinkerton detective agency].  John completed many top-secret missions, often playing the part of a cook, field hand, or butler. He also persuaded members of a clandestine slave organization to act as couriers and report on local conditions. Pinkerton specifically mentioned John in his memoirs, describing an incident when John was pretending to be the servant of a female Union operative. When Confederate agents opened fire on them, he single-handedly fought off the Confederates, killing several and saving the female operative's life and his own.

9)  Yehudit Nessyahu:  Helped bring Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann to justice.
Yehudit was born in Holland in 1925 and moved to Israel as a young girl. In the 1950s she participated in a covert operation to smuggle Jews out of Morocco using the persona of a wealthy and eccentric Dutch transplant. In the 1960s she was the only woman on the legendary Mossad team responsible for capturing Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann who was living in Argentina under a false name. She died in 2003.

10)  James Rivington:  Printed a loyalist newspaper but secretly spied for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
An English bookseller and publisher who relocated to New York's Wall Street after his London business failed. Was he a staunch backer of the British Crown or the American Revolution's most unlikely supporter? With the escalation of tensions between the colonists and the British monarchy, he denounced the rebels in his newspaper, Rivington's Gazette. In 1775, his articles incited a mob of revolutionaries to burn his house and destroy his press. Two years later he returned from a stay in England. According to recent scholarly discoveries, he had switched sides and worked as a spy for the revolutionaries. A coffeehouse located next to his rebuilt shop was a meeting place for high-ranking British officers. Documents from the period suggest the recent convert printer shared their secrets directly with George Washington.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Quirky Questions Tourists Ask

Part 2 of my 2-part blog about travel trivia shares some quirky questions asked by tourists.

At one time or another when we were in school, we've probably all heard a teacher say that there are no stupid questions in an attempt to get us to express our curiosity about something without being embarrassed because we don't already know the answer.

However, as an adult that old adage doesn't apply to all situations.  The travel industry is filled with weird, quirky, and in some cases just plain stupid questions asked by tourists.  Here's a sampling of some from various sources.

Actual Questions Asked On Cruise Ships:
Does the crew sleep on board?
Is the island surrounded by water?
What happens to the ice sculptures after they melt?
What time is the 2 o'clock tour?
Can you see the equator from the deck?
I know that ships often serve smoked salmon, but I am a non-smoker.
Can the iced tea be served hot?
Will I get wet if I go snorkeling?
Does the outside cabin mean it's outside the ship?
Where is the good shopping in Antarctica?

And cruise ships aren't the only place that tourists seem to have absurd questions.  Here are some actual questions received by Australians from foreigners, along with some well-deserved replies given to the questioner.

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (question from the UK)
A:  We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q:  Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (question from USA)
A:  Depends on how much you've been drinking.

Q:  I want to walk from Perth to Sydney—can I follow the railroad tracks? (question from Sweden)
A:  Sure, it's only 3000 miles, take lots of water.

Q:  Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (question from the UK)
A:  What did your last slave die of?

Q:  Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe.  Aus-tra-lia is the big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not…oh forget it.  Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night at Kings Cross.  Come naked.

Q:  Which direction is north in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  Face south and then turn 180 degrees.  Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q:  Can I wear high heels in Australia? (question from the UK)
A:  You're a British politician, right?

Q:  Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (question from Germany)
A:  No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers.  Milk is illegal.

Q:  Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (question from Italy)
A:  Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q:  Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (question from France)
A:  Only at Christmas.

The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom put together an international list "of the most inexplicably simple queries fielded by tourism officials."
Are there any lakes in the Lake District?
Why on earth did they build Windsor Castle on the flight path for Heathrow?
Is Wales closed during the winter?
Why did they build so many ruined castles and abbeys in England?
Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?

And here are some tourist questions asked at Niagara Falls:
What time do the falls shut off?
How far into Canada do I have to go before we have to drive on the other side of the road?
How much does it cost to get into Canada and are children a different price?

And here are some goodies from Minnesota:
I'm coming in July and I want snowmobile rental information.
We want to tour the Edmund Fitzgerald. (the ship sank in a storm in Lake Superior in 1975)
One traveler asked to see the bridge in Minnesota with the arches.  She was shown various photos, none of which were the bridge she was looking for.  She finally identified a picture of the St. Louis Gateway Arch as the bridge she wanted to see.  She was given directions to Missouri.

And finally…these tidbits.
One tourist to Scotland asked what time they fed the Loch Ness Monster.  Another visitor to New York City thought they would end up in Holland if they drove through the Holland Tunnel.  A traveler in Miami asked a tourism official which beach was closest to the ocean.

So…I guess the bottom line is to maybe think about that question a second time before you actually ask it.   :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Travel Trivia: 10 Miscellaneous Facts From Around The World

With summer approaching, I'd like to offer you a 2-part vacation travel blog filled with miscellaneous travel tidbits and trivia.  I came across an article recently that listed bits of trivia about various travel destinations.  Little snippets of miscellaneous information usually not included in travel guides.  Things I found interesting.  I hope you find them interesting, too.

1)  Mt. Everest
It's a commonly known fact that Mt. Everest (pictured above), on the Nepal–Tibet border, is the highest point on earth.  You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?  Well, apparently it isn't.  The precise height of Mt. Everest is somewhat disputed.  It's generally thought to be 29,029ft (8848m) above sea level.  And that interesting little fact?  It's still growing!  Mt. Everest is pushing upward at a rate estimated to be 4mm a year thanks to the clash between two tectonic plates.

2)  Mexico City
While Mt. Everest is growing, the interesting little fact about Mexico City is that it's sinking at an average rate of 10cm a year which is 10 times faster than the sinking rate of Venice, Italy.  And the reason for this?  Mexico City was built on a soft lake bed and subterranean water reserves have subsequently been pumped out from beneath the city.  The result?  The city is sinking.

3)  Vatican City
The world's smallest independent state, 44 hectares (110 acres) is totally encircled by Rome.  The Vatican's Swiss Guard still wears the uniform inspired by Renaissance painter Raphael.  Its population is 800 with only 450 of those being citizens.  It even has its own coins which are legal tender throughout Italy and the EU.

4)  El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles
What is all that?  In English it's Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.  It's the shortened version that's better known today—the city of Los Angeles in the U.S. state of California.  The town came into being in 1781 and today, in an area of downtown Los Angeles referred to as Olvera Street, there is a cluster of museums, ancient plazas and lively markets providing a taste of life in 1800s Los Angeles.

5)  Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Aire
What is all that?  In English it's Our Lady St. Mary of the Good Air, better known today as the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina.  It's the best spot to savor the tango.  Don't take the tango lightly in Buenos Aires.  It's serious business.

6)  London Underground
London's Metropolitan Railway was the world's first subway, opened in 1863.  The first section ran between Paddington and Farringdon and was a hit in spite of the steam engines filling stations and tunnels with dense smoke.  Today, if you ride the Circle Line between Paddington and Covent Garden, you'll travel part of that original route.

7)  Venice, Italy
As mentioned earlier, Venice is sinking.  But in the interim…one of the things immediately associated with Venice are the gondolas on the canals, especially the Grand Canal.  Each gondola is made from 280 pieces of 8 different types of wood.  The left side is larger than the right side by 24cm.  The parts of a gondola represent bits of the city—the front echoes its 6 districts, the back is Giudecca Island, and the lunette is the Rialto Bridge.

8)  Great Wall of China
Most everyone knows this is the largest military construction on earth.  However the part about it being the only man-made structure able to be seen from space is an urban myth.  The sections were built by independent kingdoms between the 7th and 4th centuries BC, then unified under China's first Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC.  A not well known fact is that the sections near Beijing which are most visited by tourists are reconstructions done in the 14th to 17th centuries AD.

9)  Table Mountain, South Africa
This large plateau of sandstone looms over Cape Town.  But this huge table has its own table cloth.  The plateau's cloud cover gathers across the flat top and spills over the sides when the wind whips up from the southeast.  You can reach the top by hiking trails or cable car.

10)  Uluru, Australia
This is probably the world's largest monolith, rising from the Australian desert.  More commonly known for years as Ayers Rock, it is now referred to by the Aboriginal name of Uluru.  The rock glows a fiery orange-red color, especially at sunset.  Where does its red color come from?  It's made from arkosic sandstone which contains iron.  When exposed to oxidation, the iron rusts thus providing the red color.

Stop by next week for part 2, a collection of stupid questions asked by tourists.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

LEONARDO DA VINCI'S 10 BEST IDEAS

Without a doubt, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is the embodiment of the term Renaissance man.  His genius crossed into so many different areas—artist, architect, inventor, and master of all things scientific.  All this from a man who had no formal education beyond basic reading, writing, and math.

Until the 2003 publication of Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE, he was best known as the artist who painted two of the world's most famous paintings—Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.  But there was so much more to him than his artistic creations.

His genius knew no bounds.  With a combination of intellect and imagination, he created (at least on paper) such inventions as the bicycle, helicopter, and an airplane that he based on the physiology and flying capability of a bat.

So, without further ado, here in no particular order is a list of Leonardo da Vinci's ten best ideas.

THE VITRUVIAN MAN
Thanks to Da Vinci, this drawing (above) is considered one of the most recognizable figures on earth.  He modeled his perfect human form after the proportions set forth by ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.

GEOLOGIC TIME
While the scientists of his time explained inland and mountain top mollusk fossils as something leftover from the Bible's Great Flood, Leonardo disagreed.  He believed the mountains were once coastline before many years of gradually shifting upwards.

THE SELF-PROPELLED CAR
His designs for a self-propelled vehicle were revolutionary for his time.  His wooden vehicle moved by the interaction of springs and geared wheels.  In 2004, scientists at a museum in Florence, Italy, built a replica.  It worked just as Da Vinci had intended.

THE IDEAL CITY
Living in plague-ravaged Milan, he envisioned a more efficient city.  His architectural drawings were very detailed and even included horse stables and fresh air vents.  To the disappointment of many of Milan's modern day residents, there wasn't any provision for a soccer stadium.

THE AERIAL SCREW
Even though most modern scientists agree it would never have gotten off the ground, Da Vinci's helicopter design is still one of his most famous.  It was meant to be operated by a four-man crew and probably inspired by the windmill toy popular in his time.

THE TRIPLE-BARRELED CANNON
Da Vinci's distaste for conflict didn't stop him from coming up with designs for more efficient cannons.  His triple-barrel design would have been a deadly weapon of war.

THE WINGED GLIDER
His imagination soared with ideas for various types of flying machines, including gliders with flappable wings.  His open-shelled glider model had seats and gears for the pilot.

THE REVOLVING BRIDGE
As a fan of the quick getaway, he thought his revolving bridge would be best used in warfare.  His design was made of light weight yet sturdy materials affixed to a rolling rope-and-pulley system and allowed an army to change locations on a moment's notice.

SCUBA GEAR
Da Vinci had a true fascination with the oceans and had many designs for aquatic exploration.  His diving suit was made from leather and connected to a snorkel made of cane and a bell that floated on the surface.

MIRROR WRITING
For whatever reason, he liked mirror writing with most of his journals written in reverse.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jack The Ripper Finally Identified!

After all these years of speculation about his true identity, it seems that Jack The Ripper finally has a name.

It's been almost 129 years since the world's most famous, perhaps infamous is a more appropriate word, serial killer murdered and mutilated his fifth and final victim.  Mary Kelly was only 25 years old when her body was discovered on November 9, 1888, in London's East End Whitechapel neighborhood.

For over a century theories about his identity ran rampant, including such candidates as a member of the royal family, a prominent surgeon, a famous artist, an American doctor, a Polish immigrant living in the neighborhood, and one case was even made for Jack The Ripper being a woman.  After seeing a documentary about the search for Jack The Ripper's true identity, I was leaning toward the American doctor as the culprit—Francis Tumblety was an Irish-born American medical quack who earned a small fortune posing as an Indian Herb doctor throughout the United States and Canada. He was in England at the time of the murders and when he returned to the U.S., the London murders stopped.

I find it interesting that most images of Jack The Ripper, whether drawings from that time or modern depictions, show him dressed in formal gentleman's attire including a cape and top hat.  A man dressed like that on the streets of Whitechapel at night in 1888 would definitely have been very noticeable to anyone living in the area.

Thanks to modern forensic science, a DNA match shows that Jack The Ripper is Aaron Kozminski, a Polish Jew who fled to London in the 1880s.  He died in Leavesden Asylum from gangrene at the age of 53.  Kozminski was one of the names on the list of strong suspects from the time of the murders but the police never had enough evidence to arrest him.

Russell Edwards, author of Naming Jack The Ripper (released in 2014), bought a shawl in 2007 at an auction.  Even though the shawl came without provenance, he was told that it belonged to Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper's fourth victim, and had been found near her body.  After the auction he obtained a letter from the previous owner claiming his ancestor had been a police officer who was present at the murder scene and had taken the shawl.

Edwards handed the shawl over to Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a world-renowned expert in analyzing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes.  He tracked down a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a British descendant of Kozminski's sister, both of whom agreed to provide DNA.  With a DNA match from the samples, the doctor stated that Aaron Kozminski was Jack The Ripper.

The evidence has not yet been independently verified.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

10 STRANGE CITIES HIDDEN UNDER OTHER CITIES

Cities being built on top of ruins of ancient cities. Subterranean caverns running beneath today's cities. Underground fortresses and secret facilities being built. Many cities world wide have entire cities located beneath them, some centuries old and others relatively new.

Here are just a few of those places.

1) Edinburgh Vaults
Located in the nineteen arches of Edinburgh's iconic South Bridge, the Edinburgh Vaults [pictured above] were used to house tradesmen as well as the city's less desirable residents. When it was constructed in 1785, the bridge was intended to expand the city, and also serve as a custom-built shopping district. Along those ends, buildings located on the bridge's arches were given underground storage areas. Unfortunately, the storage vaults began to flood and were evacuated by their rightful owners. Shortly afterward, Edinburgh's downtrodden moved into them. The damp, dark rooms were a hotbed for crime, with serial killers Burk and Hare frequenting them for victims. [They were notorious body snatchers who became serial killers when there weren't enough 'legally' executed criminals to supply their need for bodies to sell to medical schools] Tons of rubble was dumped into the Vaults in the mid-1800s to close them down for good, but an access tunnel was discovered in the 1980s, leading to some fascinating discoveries. The underground city now has conducted tours.

2) Napoli Sotteranea
If you were to pick a European city that would be least likely to host an underground secret, Naples might be on your list. The flooded canals of Campania's capitol actually lay atop a bed of volcanic rock known as tuff, which is easy to mine and work. Over the centuries, a massive system of tunnels and caverns have been carved out of this material. The ancient Greeks used them as reservoirs, but there are also many fascinating ruins down below, including theaters and early Christian worship sites. During World War II, the tunnels were used for air raid shelters.

3) La Ville Souterraine
Most of the subterranean cities here have fallen into disuse and disrepair, but the massive complex beneath the streets of Montreal is one of the city's main commercial hubs. La Ville Souterraine was constructed after the Metro subway system opened in 1966, and covers over 20 miles of space under the city. Entry points are constructed around residential or commercial businesses at the surface, and the network contains underground stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and a library. During the bitterly cold winter, the majority of the city's commerce happens below the streets.

4) Burlington Bunker
The English country town of Cortsham, Wilshire, doesn't seem like it would be hiding any dark secrets, but guess again. Buried 100 feet below the quaint cobblestone streets lies a massive, sprawling subterranean city built in case a nuclear attack targeted London. The Burlington Bunker consists of 35 acres of construction and over 60 miles of roads. It was designed to support a maximum population of 4,000 people and boasted a number of amenities, including a television studio, cafeterias, and even a pub. Many of the walls are decorated with colorful murals. The existence of Burlington Bunker was classified until 2004, when it was decommissioned. It was never used, not even for test exercises.

5) Old Sacramento
In 1862, massive flooding swept through California's capitol, submerging both homes and businesses. The Legislature was relocated to San Francisco and the people who were left behind tried to figure out how to prevent a disaster like that from happening again. The solution was to raise all of the city's streets by ten feet, building new construction vaulted above the remains of the old. The abandoned spaces were used for storage and other purposes, and there is still a good amount of old Sacramento architecture left untouched beneath the surface, illuminated by squares of rose quartz set into the sidewalk as makeshift skylights.

6) Beijing Underground
The Cold War saw the threat of global nuclear annihilation loom heavy over our heads, so it's not surprising that many world leaders saw fit to head underground for safety. Perhaps the most ambitious project was Mao Zedong's underground city, which covers a staggering 33 miles of catacombs beneath the capital. China began construction in the 1970s when tensions with the Soviet Union were high, and the sprawling complex eventually came to contain medical clinics, schools, theaters, and even a roller rink. Food would come from a subterranean mushroom farm. It was opened to tourists in 2000, but closed in 2008. Some parts of the complex are now being used as illegal apartments.

7) Subtropolis
Having an office with a window is a nice perk, but for the workers of Subtropolis, that is not an option. This massive cave system carved out of the bluffs above the Mississippi River hosts 50 companies and thousands of employees working in a giant limestone mine. Subtropolis makes up a complex larger than downtown St. Louis's business district, and hosts the U.S. Postal Service's collectible stamp stockpile, a number of data centers, and an artisanal cheese aging facility. Even 5K and 10K races are held in this underground complex.

8) Paris Catacombs
Over 200 miles of tunnels, caves and catacombs stretch beneath the streets of Paris, France, and are used for a variety of fascinating purposes. Originally hollowed out for limestone when the city was being built, the Paris catacombs have been used for corpse disposal, mushroom farming, and hideouts for the French resistance during World War II. They were closed to the public in 1955, but a whole subculture has arisen around the underground city. Explorers have renovated tunnels, built living areas and even hosted art exhibitions in the Paris catacombs. The structural integrity of the remaining quarry walls are monitored by a team of French officials as they have been known to cave in and take whole neighborhoods on the surface with them.

9) Las Vegas Tunnels
The glittering streets of Las Vegas are a playground for people from all over the world with its tempting gambling, nightlife, and food. But beneath the streets, a subterranean city houses the unlucky people chewed up and spit out by Sin City. In the 1990s, with the tourism boom putting lots of tax money into the city, Vegas built a system of drainage tunnels to protect the city from flash floods. The 200 miles of tunnels have now become home to about a thousand people, who create living spaces in the cramped, scorpion-filled spaces and hope that the rain doesn't wash away everything they own.

10) Underground Seattle
One of the most famous underground cities in America was created as a result of a major disaster. In 1889, a cabinetmaker working in Seattle's Pioneer Square area tipped over a glue pot, which caught fire and started a massive blaze that destroyed 31 blocks of the city. Instead of just rebuilding, the City Council decided to raise all of the streets one to two stories higher than the old height. This created a cavernous area of walled-in sidewalks, with glass skylights in the street's above, that people used to get from business to business, as well as the remnants of buildings damaged by the fire. Seattle condemned the Underground in 1907 following a bubonic plague scare, but it was opened for tours in 1965. I've taken this tour [actually, took it on two different occasions]. Fascinating place.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

5 Lost Cities—Found

Last week it was 6 lands that were believed to be real at the time, but later proven to be myths.  This week, it's 5 cities that were believed to be myths, but later proven to be real.

1. Lagunita
An archeologist from Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts rediscovered the lost Mayan city of Lagunita. He identified a Mayan doorway, the remains of massive buildings, plazas, ball courts, a pyramid and three altars that date back to 711 AD.

The above picture was taken on Oct. 28, 2013 and released by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).  The ruins belonging to the ancient Maya city called Lagunita stand out in the jungle on a remote location in the southern state of Campeche, Mexico. Archaeologists in Mexico first stumbled upon this site in the 1970s and it was rediscovered in 2013.

2. Helike
In the year 373 BC, a giant earthquake hit off the coast of Greece, which created a giant tsunami that swallowed the ancient city of Helike. Then, in 2001 a team finally rediscovered Helike, digging up coins, pottery and ruins. The reason it took them so long to find it? They were looking under water, but it was actually under dirt. The water had long ago dried up.

3. Troy
The famous city of Troy was once believed to be a mythical place, a location, one that never existed in real life. The place that gave us Helen of Troy (the face that launched a thousand ships) and the Trojan Horse. But in 1870, Heinrich Schliemann followed clues laid out in Homer's ILIAD and found the ruins of the fabled city in Turkey, thus moving Troy from myth to reality.

I read a book about Schliemann's discovery of Troy and then by coincidence a few months later the university's art museum hosted an exhibition of photographs taken at his archeological dig.

4. Pavlopetri
Many believe this city, underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, Greece, is the real life Atlantis. This 5,000-year-old lost city was found in 1967 and is thought to have been submerged about 3,000 years, giving it an impressive lifetime of 2,000 years. Archeologists found roads, buildings, courtyards and pottery.

5. Machu Picchu
Maybe the greatest of the lost cities sits on top of a mountain in Peru. It wasn't rediscovered until 1911, mostly because of its location. People are always digging for lost cities, looking under the oceans, or trekking through the jungle. No one thinks to look up to the high mountain tops.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

6 Important Lands that Never Existed

Island of Thule (Tile)

Even though I'm posting this blog on April 2nd, I'm considering it to be in honor of April 1st…April Fool's Day. And why would it relate to April Fool's Day? This week's blog is about 6 lands believed to be real at the time but since have proven to be no more than myths.

Ancient travelers (and by ancient I mean many centuries ago) told stories of mysterious places located in the unexplored reaches of the world—fabled cities, phantom islands and exotic civilizations.  Even though these lands were usually dismissed as myths and legends, a few of them found their way onto world maps and helped inspire some of history’s most important journeys of discovery.  From a fabled Christian empire in Asia to a supposed lost kingdom in Canada, find out more about six of the most influential lands that never were.

1) Thule
A subject of fascination for ancient explorers, romantic poets and Nazi occultists.  Thule was an elusive territory believed to be located in the frozen north Atlantic near Scandinavia. Its legend dates back to the 4th century B.C., when the Greek journeyman Pytheas claimed to have travelled to an icy island beyond Scotland where the sun rarely set and land, sea and air combined into a bewildering, jelly-like mass.

Many of Pytheas’ contemporaries doubted his claims, but that didn't stop distant Thule from lingering in the European imagination.  It eventually became synonymous with the northernmost place in the known world.  Explorers and researchers variously identified it as Norway, Iceland and the Shetland Islands, and it served a recurring theme in poetry and myth.  The island is perhaps most famous for its connection to the Thule Society, a post-World War I occult organization in Germany that considered Thule the ancestral home of the Aryan race. The Munich-based group counted many future Nazis among its members, including Rudolf Hess, who later served as Deputy Führer of Germany under Adolf Hitler.

2) The Kingdom of Prester John
For more than 500 years, Europeans believed a Christian king ruled over a vast empire somewhere in the wilds of either Africa, India or the Far East.  Talk of this mythical land first surfaced in 1165 after the Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors received a letter—most likely a European forgery—from a monarch calling himself Prester John.  The mysterious king claimed to serve as supreme ruler of the three Indies and all its 72 kingdoms.  He described his realm as a utopia rich in gold, populated by exotic races of giants and horned men.  Perhaps most important of all, Prester John and his subjects were Christians—even the name Prester meant Priest.

Despite the fact that a Papal mission to find Prester John’s court disappeared without a trace, the myth of his kingdom took hold among Europeans.  Crusading Christians rejoiced in the idea that a devout ruler might come to their aid in the struggle against Islam during the Crusades, and when Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes conquered parts of Persia in the early 1200s, many mistakenly credited Prester John’s forces with the attack.  The kingdom later became a subject of fascination for travelers and explorers.  Marco Polo provided a questionable account of encountering its remnants in Northern China.  Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese mariners searched for it in Africa and India.  While explorers eventually discovered a Christian civilization in Ethiopia, it lacked the grandeur and the gold Europeans had come to associate with Prester John’s realm. By the 17th century, the legend had faded, and the famed empire was dropped from most maps.

3) Hy-Brasil
Long before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World, explorers searched for the island of Hy-Brasil, an ethereal land said to exist off the west coast of Ireland.  The story of Hy-Brasil most likely comes from Celtic legend—its name means Isle of the Blest in Gaelic—but its precise origins are unclear.  Hy-Brasil first appeared on maps in the 14th century, usually in the form of a small, circular island with a narrow strait splitting it in two.  Many mariners accepted it as a real place until as recently as the 1800s, and it became popular as the basis for myths and folktales.  Some legends described the island as a lost paradise.  Others claimed that it was perpetually obscured by a dense curtain of mist and fog, only becoming visible to the naked eye every seven years.  [which sounds as if it might have been the genesis of the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON about a village in Scotland that appeared out of the mist every one hundred years]

Despite its somewhat whimsical reputation, Hy-Brasil was widely sought after by Britain-based explorers in the 15th century. The navigator John Cabot launched several expeditions in an attempt to find it.  It's suggested that he had hoped to locate it during his famous journey to the coast of Newfoundland in 1497.  Documents from Cabot’s time claim that previous explorers had already reached Hy-Brasil, leading some researchers to argue that these unnamed mariners may have inadvertently traveled all the way to the Americas prior to Christopher Columbus.

4) El Dorado
Beginning in the 16th century, European explorers and conquistadors were intrigued by tales of a mythical city of gold located in the unexplored reaches of South America.  The city had its origin in accounts of El Dorado (The Gilded One), a native king who powdered his body with gold dust and tossed jewels and gold into a sacred lake as part of a coronation rite.  Stories of the gilded king eventually led to rumors of a golden city of untold wealth and splendor.  Adventurers spent many years—and countless lives—in a futile search for its riches.

One of the most famous El Dorado expeditions came in 1617, when the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh traveled up the Orinoco River on a quest to find it in what is now Venezuela.  They didn't find any trace of the gilded city, and King James I later executed Raleigh after he disobeyed an order to avoid fighting with the Spanish.  El Dorado continued to drive exploration and colonial violence until the early 1800s, when scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland branded the city a myth after undertaking a research expedition to Latin America.

El Dorado wasn’t the only gilded city supposedly tucked away in the New World.  European explorers also hunted for the Seven Cities of Cibola, a mythical group of gold-rich settlements said to be located somewhere in what are now Mexico and the American Southwest.  The most famous search for the Seven Cities came in the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado scoured the Great Plains of the U.S. in search of a city of riches called Quivira.

5) St. Brendan’s Island
St. Brendan’s Island was a mysterious manifestation of Paradise once thought to be hidden somewhere in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  The myth of the phantom island dates back to the Navigatio Brendani, or Voyage of Brendan, a 1,200-year-old Irish legend about the seafaring monk St. Brendan the Navigator.  As the story goes, Brendan led a crew of pious sailors on a 6th century voyage in search of the famed Promised Land of the Saints.  The journey on the open sea describes attacks by fireball-wielding giants and run-ins with talking birds.  According to the tale, Brendan and his men landed on a mist-covered island filled with delicious fruit and sparkling gems. The grateful crew are said to have spent 40 days exploring the island before returning to Ireland.

Although there is no historical proof of St. Brendan’s voyage, the legend became so popular during medieval times that St. Brendan’s Island found its way onto many maps of the Atlantic. Early cartographers placed it near Ireland, but in later years it migrated to the coasts of North Africa, the Canary Islands and finally the Azores. Sailors often claimed to have caught fleeting glimpses of the mystical isle during the Age of Discovery, and it’s likely that even Christopher Columbus believed in its existence.  Its legend eventually faded after multiple search expeditions failed to track it down. By the 18th century, the famed Promised Land of the Saints had been removed from most navigational charts.

6) The Kingdom of Saguenay
The story of the mirage-like Kingdom of Saguenay dates to the 1530s, when French explorer Jacques Cartier made his second journey to Canada in search of gold and a northwest passage to Asia.  While traveling along the St. Lawrence River at what is modern day Quebec, Cartier’s Iroquois guides began to whisper tales of Saguenay, a vast kingdom that lay to the north. According to a chief named Donnacona, the mysterious realm was rich in spices, furs and precious metals and populated by blond, bearded men with pale skin.  The stories eventually transitioned into the realm of the absurd when the natives claimed the region was also home to races of one-legged people and whole tribes possessing no anus.  Cartier became intrigued by the prospect of plundering the riches of Saguenay.  He brought Donnacona back to France, where the Iroquois chief continued to spread tales of a lost kingdom.

Legends about Saguenay haunted French explorers in North America for years, but treasure hunters never found any trace of the mythical land.  Most historians now dismiss it as a myth, but some argue the natives may have been referring to copper deposits in the Canadian northwest.  Others have suggested that the Indian tales could have been inspired by a centuries old Norse outpost left over from Viking voyages to North America.

Fortunately, today we have Google Earth to confirm or deny such rumors of mythical places.  :)