Sunday, June 28, 2020

Secret Societies


Skull and Bones
Secret Societies…Conspiracy Theories…these mysterious entities have been with us ever since mankind formed civilizations.

Secret Societies abound across the face of the planet, touching every race, religion, creed and color of humanity. Some are associated with religion and some with politics. In fact, you can find secret societies embedded in every facet of society. Although there have been many books written and movies produced about conspiracy theories and secret societies, the publication of Dan Brown's book THE DA VINCI CODE and release of the hit movie focused a world wide spotlight on a specific set of conspiracy theories and secret societies galloping across the pages of history.

One such Secret Society is the Freemasons, an organization constantly in a swirl of public attention from books and even an onslaught of television documentaries. They are, perhaps, the most recognized of secret societies with the greatest number of conspiracy theories attached to them due in great part to their longevity, an organization dating back to biblical times formed by stone masons who built things such as the massive temples of the time. The older the organization, the more conspiracy theories that become attached it.

However, other secret societies remain far more elusive from public scrutiny. I recently came across a list of four secret societies (among what is probably hundreds, maybe even thousands) that have not routinely been thrust into public awareness.

The Bohemian Club:
Founded in San Francisco in 1872, the Bohemian Club holds an annual retreat in the redwood forest of northern California at Bohemian Grove.  At this location, they conduct a secret ceremony in front of a giant owl statue.  Only the most powerful men are invited to attend.  Women are prohibited from being members, a situation upheld by the California courts.  Famous members include Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Ordo Templi Orientis:
Founded in the early 20th century by an Austrian chemist.  One of its known members is famed British occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). He revamped the masonic group to focus on a religion he created called Thelema. They believe that mankind's existence is a product of the relationship between the space-time continuum and the principle of life and wisdom. Prospective members must go through a series of secret rituals and initiations before being granted membership.

The Rosicrucians:
Rosicrucianism is a spiritual and cultural movement which arose in Europe in the early 17th century. They have one central belief, that all their members share the same secret wisdom. Their beliefs combine occultism with aspects of popular religion. They're named for their symbol of a rose on a cross.

Skull & Bones:
Founded at Yale university in 1832, it's probably the most famous of the secret societies due in part to such high profile members as three generations of the Bush family, including two presidents—George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.  Skull & Bones have allegedly been a part of many monumental historical events despite the fact that only fifteen Yale students are chosen each year to become members. It's rumored that they took part in the creation of the nuclear bomb. There's also a persistent belief that in 1918, nine years after Geronimo's death, a group of Skull & Bones members dug up his grave and stole his skull, a few miscellaneous bones, and some relics that were also buried with him. The grave raiding party allegedly included Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to the two Bush presidents. Twenty descendants of Geronimo filed a lawsuit against Skull & Bones, Yale University, and the U.S. Government to have the remains returned to them.

There are certainly many more secret organizations functioning and flourishing world-wide in today's society other than these four.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

One Weird Fact About Your State—Part 5 of 5, South Dakota through Wyoming with an added bonus

This is the fifth and final of my five-part blog series of weird state facts.

Everyone's home state has special…and weird…claims to fame, maybe even weirder than you realize.  For every proud historical landmark, event and hero your state has produced, there are countless bizarre ones it can claim.  I hope you enjoy these random pieces of trivia about the states.

South Dakota—The world's fastest recorded change in temperature.
On January 22, 1943, the temperature in Spearfish changed from 4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit to 45 degrees above zero in two minutes, a difference of 49 degrees, making it the world record holder for fastest temperature change. Later in the day, after the town heated up a bit more, the temperature dropped back to 4 degrees below zero, causing windows to crack.

Tennessee—The band PARAMORE broke a decades long Nashville Curse...but were then accused of being a fake band.
The Nashville Curse began in the early 1980s and plagued rock bands from Music City for more than two decades. The legend claims that a band called JASON & THE NASHVILLE SCORCHERS agreed to take the word Nashville out of their name to secure a record deal. This supposedly cast a curse that prevented them from reaching mainstream success.  The curse followed around other rock bands who never surpassed local fame. It was finally declared broken by the band PARAMORE in 2008, but in 2010 two of the original co-founders claimed they were a fake band created by their record label. Lead singer Haley Williams has denied this. The Nashville band KINGS OF LEON has gone platinum since.

Texas—The state legislature once honored the Boston Strangler.
On April 1, 1971, Texas state Rep. Tom Moore proposed a bill to honor Albert DeSalvo, the self-confessed Boston Strangler who allegedly murdered 13 women. Moore's point was to show that his colleagues didn't read the bills they were voting on, a point that was proven correct when the state House approved the bill. Moore retracted the bill after its passage.

Utah—NASA measures space sickness using the name of a U.S. senator from the state.
NASA's unofficial scale for measuring motion sickness in space is called the Garn Scale. Jake Garn was formerly a U.S. senator from Utah and was an astronaut on the Discovery mission, where his job was to purposefully get sick for research. Garn claims he never actually threw up.

Vermont—A giant dome was almost built over a city just north of Burlington.
The town of Winooski was almost covered in a giant dome when city planners decided it might be a good way to address the town's winter energy conservation problem. This idea apparently came about after a few glasses of wine, but ended up going far enough to attract political support and worldwide media attention. In the end, the town couldn't secure the funds, meaning that Winooski remains domeless.

Virginia—The residents of a small fishing island still talk in a dialect closely resembling Restoration English.
Tangier Island has retained a dialect that's been determined to closely resemble the language used during Restoration England, a period just slightly after Shakespeare's time. Even though the recent proliferation of television programs and other mass communication devices has deteriorated the accent, for generations the inhabitants spoke like early English settlers and are featured in the documentary, AMERICAN TONGUES.

Washington—There's a mystery soda machine here that is somehow always filled, but no one knows by whom.
According to legend, nobody knows who stocks or owns the Mystery Coke Machine in Seattle, but it never runs out of soda. The machine appears to be from the 1970s and features a Mystery Button that, when chosen, spits out a random soda that isn't one of the other choices. The machine has a Facebook fan page that claims the machine is always open for business.

West Virginia—According to legend, this state is home to Mothman, a tall satanic figure with wings.
In the late 1960s, a couple in the town of Point Pleasant claimed they had seen a man-bird hybrid with glowing red eyes—and so the legend of Mothman was born. Mothman has apparently shown up more and more over the years, so the town immortalized the beast with a statue, festivals and a museum. Mothman was also featured in the 2002 film, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES.

Wisconsin—There's an upside down replica of the White House that makes absolutely no sense.
Top Secret in Wisconsin Dells is an upside down White House that also has upside down furniture and a fun house attraction inside. However, that's not the truly weird part. It has received a poor 1.5 rating on both TripAdvisor and Yelp, where people have said that despite the high ticket price tour guides are often nowhere to be found, the heat isn't turned on in the winter, all that's inside is a "shot of air from an air compressor" and the place is just really dusty in general. One reviewer seemed to perfectly sum it up as, "we weren't even sure what the whole point was." That said, although it doesn't seem to be all that fun inside, the reviewers do agree the outside is still pretty cool. There's actually a chain of upside down White Houses called Wonderworks in 4 other states, but they don't nearly compare to the bizarreness of Dells' Top Secret and seem to be respected establishments.

Wyoming—A whole town was built on top of an abandoned airport, with the old runways serving as main roads.
The town of Bar Nunn was established in 1982 atop the old Wardwell Field airport. The original runways were used as the town's first streets. Over 2,000 people now live in the community.

BONUS: Washington D.C.—There's a Darth Vader gargoyle on the National Cathedral.
To raise money for construction on the National Cathedral's west towers during the 1980s, a contest was held for children to submit gargoyle designs to add to the construction plans. Christopher Rader won third place with his Darth Vader design, and the Sith Lord was added to the building.

And there you have it…one weird fact about each of the fifty states plus Washington, D.C.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

One Weird Fact About Your State—Part 4 of 5, New Mexico to South Carolina

This is the fourth of my five part blog, each week dealing with ten states listed alphabetically.

Everyone's home state has special…and weird…claims to fame, maybe even weirder than you realize.  For every proud historical landmark, event and hero your state has produced, there are countless bizarre ones it can claim.  I hope you enjoy these random pieces of trivia about the states.

New Mexico—Psychologists and psychiatrists were nearly legally required to dress up as wizards when testifying in court.
In 1995, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill to require psychologists and psychiatrists to wear the appropriate costume and wave a wand when testifying in court because the senators were annoyed with how often their expert testimony was relied upon. The bailiff would also be required to dim the lights and ring a gong. Needless to say, the bill didn't pass the state House. [and if it had passed, I'm sure the state Supreme Court would have struck it down as unconstitutional]

New York—Referring to the city as Gotham was originally supposed to be an insult.
Washington Irving, the author of RIP VAN WINKLE and THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HALLOW, was the first to call New York City Gotham. The intended reference was to a medieval English story of a town named Gotham which meant Goat’s Town and was populated by "simple-minded fools." Irving was also the first to associate the term knickerbocker with New Yorkers.

North Carolina—Two nuclear bombs were accidentally dropped on the state.
One of them almost detonated. In 1961, two nuclear bombs 260 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina. One of the bombs even activated, but was defused by an emergency kill switch that was known to be regularly faulty.

North Dakota—"Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego?"
This is the only state-themed game in the WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO series. North Dakota was the only state to complete a state-specific version of the classic "Carmen Sandiego" games, even though 20 different states were also given the same opportunity. The game was played in North Dakota school classrooms in the 1990s, but surviving copies are difficult to find.

Ohio—The state wasn't officially admitted into the Union until 1953 because of a technicality.
The United States Congress failed to go through all the proper procedures of recognizing Ohio as an official state when it was first designated as such in 1803. Congress corrected the error in 1953 after it was discovered, but decided to retroactively make the official founding date reflect the original year.

Oklahoma—A resident of this state is the only known person to be hit by space junk.
In 1997, a woman was hit by debris from a U.S. Delta II rocket, launched the year before. The woman wasn't injured by the piece of rocket, but did become the only person ever to be hit by falling space junk, according to the Aerospace Corporation.

Oregon—The town of Boring, Oregon, has become official partners with the Scotland town of Dull.
The two sleep-inducing towns joined forces in 2013 in an attempt to increase tourism. Oregonians declared a new state holiday called Boring and Dull Day to celebrate the occasion, while Scotland invited a bagpipe player to provide some tunes.

Pennsylvania—A Norwegian musician once tried to build a New Norway in this state.
For a short time in 1852, Norwegian musician Ole Bull attempted to establish a New Norway colony in Pennsylvania, which is now commonly referred to as the Ole Bull Colony. The project failed when there wasn't enough land to till, and Bull ended up going back to performing concerts.

Rhode Island—The White Horse Tavern is the oldest operating tavern remaining in its original building.
The White Horse Tavern in Newport has been in operation since 1673 and still resides in the original building, built in 1652 as a residence. The structure's survival over three and a half centuries makes it the oldest surviving tavern building in the U.S.

South Carolina—There's an island full of wild monkeys off the coast.
Morgan Island is one of many sea islands in Beaufort County and is home to a population of rhesus monkeys. The monkeys were originally moved to the island in 1979 for research purposes and are owned by the National Institute of Health.

Next week is the last blog of my 5 part series covering South Dakota through Wyoming with a bonus fact about Washington, D.C. thrown in.  Be sure to stop by for the finale.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

One Weird Fact About Your State—Part 3 of 5, Massachusetts to New Jersey


This the third of my five part blog, each week dealing with ten states listed alphabetically.

Everyone's home state has special…and weird…claims to fame, maybe even weirder than you realize.  For every proud historical landmark, event and hero your state has produced, there are countless bizarre ones it can claim.  I hope you enjoy these random pieces of trivia about the states.

Massachusetts—Lobster was once so abundant in this state that it was given to slaves and prisoners.
The state used to have so many lobsters that they'd regularly feed the lobsters to prisoners, slaves and other groups who usually ended up on the short end when it came to food. Some professional servants even inserted a clause in their contracts that they would only be given lobster twice a week, not wanting to eat lobster all day, every day.

Michigan—a university in the state offers a license to hunt unicorns.
Even though the Unicorn Hunters of Lake Superior State University haven't officially existed since 1987, the unicorn hunting license can still be obtained from the website. Created partially as a PR stunt in 1971, the Unicorn Hunters engaged in other whimsical activities such as burning a snowman on the first day of Spring and holding an annual International Stone Skipping Tournament.

Minnesota—a Minnesota father would only speak to his son in the Star Trek language of Klingon for the first three years of the child's life.
For the first years of his son's life, d'Armond Spears only spoke Klingon to the young child as a sort of linguistic experiment. In the beginning, his son would talk back in Klingon occasionally, but because Spears' wife and others would still speak English, the language didn't stick. As the boy grew up he didn't want to speak Klingon, so he claimed he hadn't retained the language.

Mississippi—a Phantom Barber once broke into people's homes and cut their hair while they were sleeping.
During WWII, the town of Pascagoula was plagued by a series of mysterious nighttime haircuts. A panic erupted when girls, particularly blondes, would wake up to find part of their hair had been cut and in some cases their whole heads had been shaved. The Phantom Barber was never caught, so not too much is known beyond a few scattered clues, including a man's footprint found in a victim's room.

Missouri—The town of Tightwad is home to the Tightwad Bank, which draws customers from across the country.
Tightwad Bank is a legitimate bank in the town of Tightwad, and the owners are aware of the humor behind the name, as many customers around the country choose the bank just for the joke. Various merchandising items such as shirts can be bought from the bank's website.

Montana—Montana has a replica of the shire from LORD OF THE RINGS.
The Hobbit House is a replica of J.R.R. Tolkien's shire and has been located in the Cabinet Mountains since 2008. It's a no children and no pets house with full kitchen, one king-size bedroom and a second small bedroom with single bed. The current rate is $345/night for 2 people with a minimum 2 night stay and a 3rd person for an additional $50/night.

Nebraska—The landlocked state has a navy, and anyone can receive the state's highest honor of "Nebraska Admiral."
Despite not having access to large bodies of water, the state's highest honor is to become a Nebraska Admiral. Anyone can receive a nomination, which is then sent to the governor to decide whether a Cornhusker is worthy. The honorary certificate reads:  "And I [the Governor of Nebraska] do strictly charge and require all officers, seamen, tadpoles and goldfish under your command to be obedient to your orders as Admiral—and you are to observe and follow, from time to time, such directions you shall receive, according to the rules and discipline of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska."

Nevada—There's an Area 51-themed brothel here.
The Alien Cathouse, an Area 51-themed brothel 85 miles from Las Vegas, is meant for those with sci-fi fantasies. It was built by brothel mogul Dennis Hof [owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch 6 miles outside Carson City, Nevada] and has been running since 2012.

New Hampshire—A group of Robin Hooders once paid expired parking meters before tickets could be handed out.
A six-person group going by the name of Robin Hood and his Merry Men were sued in 2013 by the city of Keene for putting money in random people's expired parking meters and filming ticketing officers. In December, a judge dropped all chargers against the Robin Hooders.

New Jersey—Napoleon's penis allegedly resides in this state.
Professor John Lattimer kept what is allegedly Napoleon's penis in his Englewood bedroom until his death in 2013. Reporters were allowed to film the penis after Lattimer's death and found that Napoleon's complex might not have been caused by his height.

Next week is part 4 of 5 covering New Mexico through South Carolina.  Stop by and see what these states have to offer.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

One Weird Fact About Your State—Part 2 of 5, Hawaii through Maryland

This is the second week of my five part blog, each week dealing with ten states listed alphabetically.

Everyone's home state has special…and weird…claims to fame, maybe even weirder than you realize.  For every proud historical landmark, event and hero your state has produced, there are countless bizarre ones it can claim.  I hope you enjoy these random pieces of trivia about the states.

Hawaii—There is one U.S. post office where you can send coconuts with colorful messages through the mail without any sort of packaging.
On the island of Molokai you'll find a small outlet of the U.S. Post Office that's home to the Post-A-Nut service. Free coconuts are available at the office for visitors to decorate and then mail anywhere in the world without packaging, as long as postage is attached. The service has been around for approximately two decades and over 50,000 coconuts have been mailed.

Idaho—There's a small part of Yellowstone National Park in which you might not be able to be convicted of a crime.
When the federal government first set aside the land that is Yellowstone National Park, the land that is now Wyoming and Idaho and Montana were not yet states.  Once those states were established, the majority of Yellowstone National Park fell within the borders of Wyoming, but the edges overlapped into Idaho and Montana.  Due to a potential legal loophole, it may be impossible to convict people of any crime that happens within a 50-square mile area around the Idaho parts of Yellowstone Park. This is due to how Idaho trial laws are written in that an accused culprit has the right to be tried by a jury from the district and state in which they're arrested. Since the population is zero in this small area of Idaho that's in the legal jurisdiction of a district in Wyoming, the trial may have to be forfeited. [A caveat to this is that it is not a lawless area. National parks are federal land and subject to federal law.  We think of park rangers as people entrusted with protecting nature but they are also federal law enforcement officers and there's also the FBI which can be called in should it be a major crime and the perpetrators would be tried in federal court.]

Illinois—The state was home to a completely different Burger King before there was the Burger King chain.
The Burger King in the town of Mattoon actually opened and registered a statewide trademark in 1959, prior to the national chain. They sued to be able to operate as the only Burger King in Illinois, but were foiled in court—though the Burger King chain is still not allowed to operate within 20 miles of the original restaurant.

Indiana—You can visit a partial replica of the Pyramid at Giza and the Great Wall of China.
Bedford is considered the Limestone Capital of the World, and as such tried to use its resources to build replicas of both the Great Pyramid at Giza and the Great Wall of China. The plan was abruptly killed after controversy over the federal government's granting of hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete the project. The ruins of the partially started pyramid still exist, although the wall is just a line of limestone blocks on the ground.

Iowa—The state hosts an annual National Hobo Convention.
Since 1900, the National Hobo Convention has taken place in Britt, Iowa. Kings and queens are voted on by a special counsel, and the winners get their portraits immortalized in a painting.

Kansas—The terrain of the entire state is actually scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake.
It's not just a popular idiom. The state was proven to be flatter when scientists bought a pancake from an IHOP and tested the topography of the pancake against the flatness of the state. They measured perfect flatness on a scale of 1 with the IHOP pancake testing as 0.957 and Kansas scoring a 0.997—therefore, flatter than a pancake.

Kentucky—There are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people.
According to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, there are 4.7 million barrels of bourbon aging within the state, compared to 4.3 million people aging within the state. Kentucky also claims that it is the world's leading producer of bourbon, producing 95 percent of the world's supply.

Louisiana—The Louisiana State Penitentiary has a public golf course.
For those who enjoy golfing and gawking at prisoners at the same time, the Prisonview Golf Course in Angola offers such an opportunity. Located on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the website describes it in an entirely serious manner, "Number 1 tee box is elevated approximately 75 yards into the Tunica Hills, offering a spectacular view of Louisiana’s only maximum security prison."

Maine—There's a private island off the coast of Maine currently on the market for only $40,000.
For just $40,000, Chandler Island in Wohoa Bay can be privately owned. The island is about one acre of land and has a small wooden seating area already built on it.

Maryland—Beatlemania was ignited in the U.S. by a teenage Marylander.
Before The Beatles were selling records in the U.S., Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old girl from Maryland, called a radio station in Washington D.C.  Having just seen a news segment about the British band, she asked, “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?” The DJ tracked down a copy of the single I Want To Hold Your Hand.  After the station began playing the song, demand skyrocketed in the U.S. as other stations finally followed suit. A DJ named Dick Biondi had earlier tried to play The Beatles (which was misspelled as B-E-A-T-T-L-E-S) both on Chicago and Los Angeles based radio stations the previous year, but both attempts flopped.

Stop by next week for part 3 of 5, Massachusetts through New Jersey.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

One Weird Fact About Your State—Part 1 of 5, Alabama through Georgia

Everyone's home state has special…and weird…claims to fame, maybe even weirder than you realize. For every proud historical landmark, event and hero your state has produced, there are countless bizarre ones it can claim.

This is a 5 part blog, each week dealing with 10 states listed alphabetically.  I hope you enjoy these random pieces of trivia.

Alabama—There's a store that sells unclaimed baggage from airports.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro buys luggage that has never been claimed from airports and then sells the found items to the public. Anything from vintage Leica cameras to autographed jerseys is up for grabs.

Alaska—A jokester once burned tires inside a dormant volcano to make it seem active.
On April 1, 1974, Oliver Bickar climbed into Mt. Edgecumbe, a volcano that had been dormant for around 9,000 years, and made it look like it was coming back to life. After four years of planning, Bickar doused 100 tires in cooking oil and lit them on fire inside Mt. Edgecumbe. He also spray painted "April Fool" in 50 foot letters around the rim.

Arizona—The U.S. Postal Service still uses mules to reach two areas.
Residents of Supai and Phantom Town receive mail by mule trains, as the terrain is too tricky for motorized vehicles. The trek requires hours of travel through the Grand Canyon valley.

Arkansas—A school for the deaf has a leopard for a mascot.
The Arkansas School for the Deaf's choice of a leopard for their mascot has actually been around since 1941, so it wasn't named after the British rock band Def Leppard. Still, an amazing coincidence.

California—Hollywood was initially founded to escape Thomas Edison.
Thomas Edison's film business held so many patents that competing film studios could barely make a profit, so a bunch of them moved west hoping patent laws wouldn't bother to reach them. This led studios to center themselves in Hollywood, Calif., instead of the original film capital, Fort Lee, N.J. Both Paramount and Universal were created in this westward move. Another take on this western migration says the studio owners were looking for a location where they could film outside all year without having to deal with cold snowy weather. Their goal was Arizona, but on the day they arrived it was raining so they continued on to sunny Southern California.

Colorado—Every year a town celebrates a frozen dead guy.
The town of Nederland celebrates the cryogenically frozen body of Bredo Morstoel, who had been kept in a local barn for decades by his family. The body was almost forced out of the barn, as keeping a dead body in a family home was considered illegal, but the town rallied to let his descendants keep up the tradition.

Connecticut—A cat was once sentenced to house arrest for terrorizing a neighborhood.
In 2006, a tomcat named Lewis was put on house arrest after attacking an Avon representative selling products in the Connecticut town of Fairfield. Lewis' owner, Ruth Cisero, claimed that her cat only attacked because he was under a lot of stress from being tormented by egg and water throwing neighbors. A judge ruled in 2008 that Lewis was safe and free to once again roam the streets of Fairfield.

Delaware—The state may be the real home to the city of Metropolis, of Superman fame.
According to works done by former DC comics editor Paul Kupperberg, Metropolis is actually located in Delaware, rather than New York City, as often shown in films, or in Metropolis, Ill., a real city which claims to be Superman's hometown. In the 2006 film "Superman Returns," the Metropolis license plates bear the slogan "The First State" which is also on Delaware license plates. The exact location may remain a mystery, but Delawareans have a pretty good case for claiming it as their own.

Florida—Remains of a human civilization as old as the ancient Egyptians were found buried in a bog.
In 1982, human bones were found in the black peat bog of Windover. They ended up being approximately 7,000 years old, according to carbon dating. The black peat was so good at preserving these ancient bodies that human brain tissue was found in a woman's skull with her DNA still intact.

Georgia—A tree once became the legal owner of itself.
Located on the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Ga., Jackson Tree legally owns itself and the surrounding eight feet around its base, thanks to its previous owner, Colonel William H. Jackson. According to the legend, upon Jackson's death he deeded the tree:  "That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides." Unfortunately, the tree was struck by lightning and killed in 1942, but a new tree born from an acorn from the original is alive and thriving.

Stop by next week for part 2 of 5 covering Hawaii through Maryland.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

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. [I saw a documentary about Tallmadge and the Culper Spy Ring—very interesting stuff. Also 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.