On July 13, 1865, New York had one of the most disastrous fires in its history. One of the casualties was America’s first museum, P. T. Barnum American Museum. Located at the corner of Broadway and Ann, it first opened in 1841, was open 15 hours a day and hosted as many as 15,000 patrons a day. Between 1841 and 1865, 38 million people paid $.25 apiece to view animals, artifacts and fraudulent items like the Feejee Mermaid and the Wooly Horse. (Keep in mind the population of the United States in 1860 was 32 million.)

According to Wikipedia, as the fire consumed the museum, “animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers. Many of the animals unable to escape the blaze burned to death in their enclosures, including the two beluga whales who boiled to death in their tanks. It was allegedly during this fire that a fireman by the name of Johnny Denham killed an escaped tiger with his ax before rushing into the burning building and carrying out a 400-pound woman on his shoulders.” See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It is easy to write-off Sonny Bono as a second-rate singer, third-rate actor and fourth-rate political minion. And for good reason. Historically it could be said his greatest achievement in the world of entertainment the discovery of Cher who is still giving a string of Last Concerts. When Sonny died in a skiing accident in 1998, his obituary was, at best, lackluster. But if you are a writer, you should give Sonny Bono credit where, to date, little credit has been given. He was a prime mover in what is now the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Because of that act, your writings are now under copyright for your life PLUS 70 YEARS. And THAT is a lot better than the 14 years it was when I started writing.  So, next time you are in Palm Springs where Bono was Mayor from 1988 to 1992, sidle up to his statue like I am doing and whisper, ‘Thanks!” [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nothing pictures. We all have them. Photographs of, well, nothing in particular. Not worth savings because, you know, well, there was nothing of importance in the photograph. Like this one. It would never appear in a book—for good reason—because, well, there was nothing memorable in the snapshot. Then along came the internet. Suddenly these nothing pictures had value. They were worth something. They could be scanned and passed around. I call it “The Gift of the Split-Second.” In a split-second, the real past is revealed, not in sanitized photographs for textbooks. In early April of 1906, my grandfather sat with an unidentified woman near the Grand Canyon. This was a decade before he met my grandmother. He was on his way to San Francisco where he would survive the Great Earthquake and Fire. It is the only picture of my grandfather as a young man. A decade ago, this photograph would have been thrown out. Today it is a family icon! [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My father was an Italian Jewish Holocaust refugee. He arrived in New York on the eve of World War II. He spoke three living languages and read two dead ones. He learned English in the American army and said it was hardest language to learn because “it has no rules.” In America we park on a driveway but drive on a parkway. Cargo goes by ship but shipments go in cars. There are three meanings for “to” – to, to, two and some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently: lead. Then there are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have two completely different meanings: dissipate – and there are 645 different definitions for the word “run.”

His words came back to haunt me when I wrote an article on reindeer for an Outside magazine. (If you are an Alaskan, “Outside” means the “Lower 48”) The article included a photograph of caribou. Maybe. They could have been a reindeer. This is because a caribou and a reindeer are the same animal. Well, if they are the same animals, why do they have two different names? Because reindeer were imported into Alaska during the Alaska Gold Rush and given to Natives as a source of income. Since the reindeer were IMPORTED AND DOMESTICATED, their meat and hide could be sold. But caribou, the same animal, were NOT IMPORTED, was a game animal and, to this day, no part of a caribou can be sold. But if the reindeer and caribou mix on the range, how do you know which particularly animal is a reindeer, and which is a caribou?  Good question. What do you call the calf of a union of a reindeer and a caribou? Another good question. Can the meat of that animal be sold or is it wild game? An even better question? These are all very interesting questions and harken back to what my father said, English was the hardest language to learn because “it has no rules.” [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bitcoins and money.

Prior to Alaska statehood, there is a dearth of coins.   BIG transactions were on paper but the nickel-and-dime transactions were difficult on stores’ books.  So Alaskan businesses coined their own money.  Called “bingles,” they were widely accepted.  Until Alaska became a state and then these coins were called counterfeit.

[See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the 1870s, America’s foremost – and first – political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, attacked Boss Tweed with pen-and-ink. Tweed and his political cronies were draining New York to an extent that is staggering even today. It seems everyone in the Tweed ring got a piece of the pie. The New York County Courthouse eventually ended up twice what the United States government paid for Alaska. Proof of the corruption? A carpenter was paid $4.9 million for a month’s worth of work and a plasterer received $1,82 million for two days work. Tweed hated Nast because his constituents could not read but they could see “the damned pictures.” Nast, an immigrant, gave us a few lasting pictorial gifts: Santa Claus and the elephant as the symbol for the Republicans. (The donkey for the Democrats was a gift of Andrew Jackson.)  Nast cartoons are timeless as you can see from the posted picture. It is as appropriate today – and particularly with the tax bill in the Congress – as it was a century and a half ago. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If you live in New York, you will instantly recognize this building. If you don’t live in New York, it is the Flatiron Building. It was the first steel skyscraper to be built in New York. In 1903. At that time, no one believed a steel building was possible so, every day, people gathered to see the building collapse. Floor the building went up and it is still here today. Interestingly, once the building went up, it changed the wind currents in the area. Allegedly, men would gather around the building because the winds would blow up women’s skirts. Police were there to ‘urge’ the men to leave and left us with the old saying ’12 Skidoo.” What’s the historical lesson here? Next time you are told something you do not believe to be true, check it out. Thoroughly. Don’t be left on the wrong side of history. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. This is Wojtek.  The bear, that is. He was purchased as a cub by Polish troops in Iran during the Second World War. (Polish troops?  In Iran?).  Since there was no food for civilians (civilians?), the Polish Army enlisted him as a private, so he could be fed with Army rations. (He was later promoted to corporal.) He was transferred with the Polish Second Corps to Italy in 1944 where, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, he helped move crates of ammunition. His figure was then used with an artillery shell as the emblem of the Polish Second Corps. He was mustered out of the Polish Army in 1945 and spend the rest of his life in Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here’s one for the history books! In 2011, photographer David Slater went to Indonesia to shoot photos of black macaques. (Macaques are birds.) Some curious monkeys gathered so Salter allowed the monkeys to take selfies, like this one. The photographs were so ‘different’ that Slater published a book of the photos. Enter PETA. The law gives the copyright of photos to the photographer, not the subject of the photo. So, the monkeys owned the copyright. Did they? Good question! Three years later, in an out-of-court settlement, Slater agreed to give 25% of the royalties of the book to organizations in Indonesia which protect black macaques. The monkeys were left out of the money in the cold, rather, the jungle. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In 1910, Victor Berger, a founding member of the Socialist Party of America, was elected to the United States House of Representatives representing Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Russian Revolution had not occurred so being a Socialist was not a big deal. But being a Socialist and of German stock was a big deal when World War I started. Berger’s opposition to the war – and being a Socialist – landed him in court for violated the Espionage Act. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail in February of 1919 – AFTER the end of World War I. (The judge in that trial was Kenesaw Landis who later became the first Commissioner of Major League Baseball.)  The Supreme Court overturned the conviction in January of 1921.

BUT, while on trial and during his appeal, Berger was re-elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1918. Congress refused to seat him in 1919 citing Section 3 of the 14th Amendment:

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

With Berger removed from office, Congress ordered a special election in 1919.  Berger won the special election. Again, Congress refused to seat him. This time the seat remained vacant until the next election. Berger lost that election. But that was not the end of the story. Berger was re-elected to the same seat in the next election, 1922, and was re-elected two more times, 1924 and 1926. And while in Congress he supposed such controversial issues as old-age pensions, (now called Social Security), unemployment insurance and public housing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment