blog58Like your job? Like your doctor? Have you thanked your grandmother lately?  (Or your great-grandmother if you are a millennial.) You should say a little prayer of thanks to those women because they made that job and that doctor possible. 97 years ago, women like your grandmother and great grandmother took to the streets of America and demanded the right to vote, to inherit property, to receive their own paycheck for their own work and all the rights that men had.  Unfortunately, these women have largely been forgotten.  Young women today have no idea how much they gained by the 19th Amendment and how many women streamed into the streets by the thousands in large and small towns across America to demand the same rights as men. I helped celebrate the 97th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment in Anchorage with this flyer and concept. So, tonight, say a little thank you to your grandmother – or great grandmother –for what they did for you. And keep fighting for your own rights.  We still have a long way to go. [See my books at]

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blog57-1I’ll bet you didn’t know that Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” was based on a real bird.  It was a raven (no surprise there) – flesh and blood – owned by Charles Dickens named Grip. The bird could parrot sentences like “Keep up your spirit,” “Never say die,” and “Polly put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.” Grip died in 1841 after eating lead paint off a wall.  Just before Grip died, according to Dickens, the raven said “Halloa, old girl!” Dickens included Grip in his book Barnaby Ridge. When Grip made his literary appearance, someone asked “What was that tapping at the door?” The response was “’Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe reviewed Barnaby Ridge for Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia and ‘stole’ the raven for “The Raven.” Grip was stuffed after his death – Poe did better; his writings will live forever – and ended up in a diorama in the Rare Book Department of the Philadelphia Library where you can still see Grip today. [See my books at]

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blog56Contrary to popular belief, history is not the story of the past.  It is the study of the future. Also, contrary to general belief, the present does not exist.  The present is simply the razor’s edge of where the past meets the future. Humans are the same today as we were in the cave.  Every glitch and blessing of our personalities and world view is the same. All that was will return because it never went away. The key to our survival is understanding there are dead-end streets into which we should not blunder. If you want to predict the future, study the past. Quoting Winston Churchill, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

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blog55If you live in New York you will have no problem recognizing the Flat Iron Building. Modest by today’s standards, it was the first modern high rise constructed with a steel frame.  As it was being constructed people would stand around and wait for it to collapse.  After all, everyone knew that you could not construct a building with steel.  There was just too much weight and, for sure, the structure would collapse when it reached the third floor. It didn’t. The building has been up and operational since 1903.

The Flat Iron Building is an excellent example of “off the wall thinking.” Someone comes up with a wild idea which conventional thinkers believe to be crazy. But that someone persists and whole new age is born. That’s why we have the steam engine, computer, penicillin and the light bulb. Every idea is crazy until it succeeds.  Next time someone suggests an “off the wall” solution to a problem, give the idea a fair shake.

By the way, legend has it during the construction of the Flat Iron Building, the structure created a new wind pattern in the surrounding blocks.  Supposedly the wind was strong enough to blow women’s skirts up.  Police around the building told the gathered men to “23 Skiddo!” or, in modern terms, “Move along.  Nothing to see here.”

[You can find my book on creative thinking on]

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This is one of those historic photographs that would never make a book – much less an article – but is an on-the-ground important glimpse into the past.  What you see here is an Alaska Gold Rush shot of a man digging in the frozen ground.  When the hole is deep enough, he is going to put the wood in the background into the hole and set it ablaze. The fire will thaw the ground, melt the ice and loosen the soil.  Then he will quickly pan the water and the soil for enough gold to buy food for a week or so.  Then he will get back into the hole to do it all again. This man was clearly broke but he was doing the best he could to survive. Did he?  With the kind of enthusiasm he is displaying here, I think so.  It’s people like this man who made America what it is today.  [See my books at]

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Just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, a booming metropolis of 26,255 in 2010, is the Mexican city of Piedras Engrams, a town of 163,000.  (Piedras Negras translates as “black stones” for the coal in the area.)  In 1943, a collection of wives of military personnel stationed at Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negara’s and went into a restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was closed but the maître d’hôtel agreed to serve the ladies anyway.  He put together what he had for a snack: tortillas cut into triangles and fried then topped with grated cheddar cheese.  He heated the snack and then tossed on pickled jalapeño peppers. The women loved the meal and asked what they were.  The maître d’hôtel, whose name was Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, said they were his specialty, “Nacho’s especiales.”

It did not take long for “Nacho’s especiales” to become simply “nachos.” They were a big hit across the border and were soon being sold during games at the Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  Then they were called “ballpark nachos.” Nachos went national big time on September 4, 1978, during the Monday Night Football clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts.  Howard Cosell had some during the game and used the name of the munchie in his broadcast.  That night and for weeks. The rest, as they say, is history. [See my books at]

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Jean Lussier was the ultimate entrepreneur. In 1928, he went over Niagara Falls in rubber ball six feet in diameter, seen here, lined with inner tubes.  He survived the falls – or, rather, Falls – and proceeded to sell pieces of the inner tubes for $.50 each.  When he ran out of inner tubes from inside the rubber ball, he sold pieces of inner tubes from those he bought from a local hardware store.

To date, fewer than a dozen people have attempt to go over Niagara Falls. The first one was an unemployed school teacher, Annie Edison Taylor, in 1901. She went over in a wine barrel with cushions. After she recovered from her trip, she was quoted as saying “No one ought ever do that again.” (Really?) Ten years later, Bobby Leach, a stuntman for a travelling circus, gave it a go. He went over in a steel barrel and survived – only to die from gangrene generated by – are you ready for this? – slipping on an orange peel in New Zealand.

Anyone can go over Niagara Falls.  It just takes six inches of bone instead of brains. But that is not the point. There will always be people willing to take the plunge. It is easy to become locked into your daily life. What is not easy is taking a chance.  This does not mean you should go whole hog.  You start small. In your garage. On your word processor. On a canvas you bought at the Salvation Army store.  In life, there is only direction of travel: forward.  The moment you stop moving forward you are retired whether you are still drawing a paycheck or not. As to success, think of it this way.  There are about 6,000 companies on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ and every one of those companies started in someone’s kitchen or garage.

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Mary Dyer was the first woman in American history to be hanged. In 1685, she defied a law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony which made it illegal to be a Quaker.  She was arrested and banished from the colony with the threat of a death sentence if she returned.

But she came back.

Like a bad penny.

Three times.

The third time she came back it was with two Quaker men – and they were hanged for being Quakers. Dyer was banished again and when she returned a fourth time, her death sentence was carried out. At the last moment, she was given a chance to save her own life. But she had to abandon her Quaker beliefs.  When she absolutely, positively, refused she was hanged on Boston Commons on June 1, 1660.  More than a century later, the founding fathers made sure that nothing like the hanging of Dyer would happen again. [See my books at]

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blog49This was Mary Katherine Goddard, one of the first women publishers in America.  She ran a newspaper, bookstore and the Baltimore Post Office and, as printer, actually printed the Declaration of Independence. She, her mother and brother printed the first newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island, the Providence Gazette.   When her brother left to print a paper in Philadelphia, Mary continued the publication of the Gazette. Until 1784. When her brother returned to Providence and claimed control of the press. She then became the postmaster of Baltimore – in addition to running a bookstore and printing press. On January 18, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress desired to spread the words of the Declaration of Independence throughout the colonies, Mary offered the use of her press even as she knew the Declaration was a treasonous publication. Her copy of the Declaration was the first one to contain the typeset names of the signatories.

[You can see my books at]

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blog48These were the remains of “Big Nose George” Parrot in 1950, half a century after he was hanged.

Sort of.

In fact, he was skinned – after death – and his hide turned into a pair of shoes which are still on display in Rawlings, Wyoming.


blog48-1Even a century and a half after the saga of “Big Nose George” Parrott, Rawlins is still a fly speck of civilization. It had been established in the 1870s as a way station for the Union Pacific Railroad as it stretched across the Great Plains toward California. Since it was a waystation, it saw a century of celebrities pass through the train depot until planes stole the traffic away. Another of those oddities of Wyoming, the town was named for General John A. Rawlins, Chief of Staff of the United States Army. In 1867, while on patrol and thirsty, he and a detachment of scouts discovered the springs around which the community was founded. “If anything is ever named after me,” Rawlins reportedly stated as he was drinking the elixir, “I hope it will be a spring of water.” He didn’t say this was the spring he wanted named after him or, for that matter, if he would have preferred another liquid refreshment. Whichever is lost to the sands of time. But the spring was named Rawlins Spring and when a community grew up around the water source, its name was shortened to Rawlins.

Rawlins claim to fame in the annals of law enforcement came in 1878 when a band of violent men came up with a bone-chilling crime. In order to rob the Union Pacific Railroad, they loosened the track so the train would derail. Then they would sift through the wreckage for loot. They were able to manipulate the rail loose from the crossties but luck was not with them. As they stood in the bushes waiting for the carnage, the loosened rail was discovered by a section crew on a handrail car. While some of the crew was repairing the track, the handrail cart was sent down the track to stop the oncoming train. After the train was stopped, a small posse was sent out to chase down the criminals. Unfortunately for the posse, the criminals were run to earth at Rattlesnake Canyon in Elk Mountain where the outlaws slaughtered every member of the posse.

This act of murder on top of the attempt to derail a train and kill dozens of innocent travelers, set off a wave of anger in the newly-formed Territory of Wyoming. A walloping reward of $10,000 was offered for the capture of criminals. One of the gang was killed the next month robbing the Black Hills Stage Line and a second, Dutch Charlie, was captured alive. But he did not stay that way long. On his way back to Rawlins the train was stopped in Carbon, about 50 miles from Rawlins, and Dutch Charlie was unceremoniously lynched from a telegraph pole.

“Big Nose George” Parrot almost suffered the same fate. He took to drinking and boasting – in that order – in Miles City, Montana, and a telegram was sent to the Carbon County sheriff who came north and arrested Parrot. Miles City, interestingly, was named because the local commander, General Nelson Miles, declared that “whiskey caused him more trouble than the Indians” so, in the spring of 1877, he evicted the liquor sellers. The liquor dealers left the small community of Tongue River Cantonment and established their own town where liquor could be sold – two miles away. Over the years, Tongue River Cantonment disappeared and, predictably, Miles City remained, a testament to the ability of whiskey to survive in the even the harshest environment of the American West.

Parrot made it as far as Carbon where, as was expected, he was greeted by a contingent of vigilantes who wished to make him two-of-two. Parrot was clearly a better negotiator than Dutch Charlie because he escaped the noose by promising to tell all if he were to make it to Rawlins alive. Parrot made it back to Rawlins where he told a wild tale of the gang having been led by Jesse and Frank James. This was hard to believe as Wyoming was far from the haunts of the James brothers in Missouri. Telling all did not help Parrot. He was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881.

All seemed to be going well in the law-abiding town of Rawlins until March 22nd, when Parrot attacked his jailer and tried to escape. He was only stopped when the jailer’s wife pulled a gun on Parrot and forced him back into his cell. As far as the vigilantes were concerned, one escape attempt was one too many and “Big Nose George” was dragged from his cell and strung up on a convenient telegraph pole. Twice the hanging was botched but finally Parrott was killed.

In an attempt to discover what had made him a criminal, two local doctors claimed the body to extract the brain for scientific study. A portion of Parrot’s skull was removed and the brain examined. Medical history does not record any aberration in Parrot’s brain which would have led to his criminality. One of the doctors made a death mask of Parrot and sent skin from the outlaw’s thigh and chest to a tannery in Denver with instruction to make a make a pair of shoes and medicine bag. Legend has it that he was displeased with the shoes because the nipples of “Big Nose George” were not visible. The doctor, John Eugene Osborne, later became the third Governor of Wyoming, 1893 to 1895, and wore the shoes made of “Big Nose George” at his inaugural

But the tale of “Big Nose George” did not stop there. Dr. Osborne kept the corpse of Parrot for more than a year while he dissected more and more of it. He kept the cadaver in a whiskey barrel filled with salt water and finally buried it behind the home of the doctor who had removed Parrot’s brain. There the mutilated carcass remained until the 1950’s when it was uncovered during construction by a crew digging a basement for a new building. Any doubts as to the identity of the bones were erased when the piece of cranium from the skull of “Big Nose George” which had been removed by the two doctors was found. For the previous seven decades it had been in the possession of Lillian Heath who had been a 15-year old medical apprentice at the time of Parrot’s demise. She had subsequently gone on to be the first female doctor in Wyoming. In the intervening 70 years, she had used Parrot’s skull cap as both a pen holder and doorstop while her husband had used it as an ash tray.


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