This was Otto Skorzney, considered to be “the most dangerous man in Europe” during the Second World War. He was also one of the most recognizable, as you can see from his photograph – not to mention the dueling scar which would have made him a standout in any crowd. Further, he was 6’ 4” in an era when a 6’ foot man in Europe was a giant. Yet, according to a somewhat reputable television program on Nickola Tesla, it was claimed that Hitler ordered Skorzney to go to the United States and kill Tesla. At that time – allegedly – Tesla was working on a death ray which could destroy airplanes in midflight. And, according to the program, Skorzney went to New York, failed to get the death ray, and strangled Tesla in his hotel room. In New York. In January of 1943. While we were at war with Germany.

Truth may be stranger the fiction but sometimes the truth you are peddling is fiction.  In 1943 we were in the middle of a war with Germany and it is hard to believe that one of the most recognizable Nazis in the world – who stood 6’ 4” with a visible dueling scar – could slip into New York unrecognized. On top of that, the FBI was keeping a close watch on Tesla.  How do we know this? Because shortly after Tesla’s death the FBI ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize all of Tesla’s belongings – read papers.  Odd because Tesla was an American citizen.

For the record, the official cause of Tesla’s death was coronary thrombosis.

As an aside, Tesla was an odd duck. In his last years he lived alone in a hotel and always had dinner, precisely, at 8:10 p.m. at Delmonic’s. He would telephone his order ahead of time to the headwaiter who was the only one Tesla would let serve the meal.  Tesla would rise at work until 3 a.m. and sleep until 6 a.m. and work the rest of the day. Quoting from Wikipedia, “For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 and 10 miles (13 and 16 km) per day. He curled his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells.”  At the end of his life he subsisted on vegetable juices, bread, honey and milk which emaciated his to a 6’ 2” from to 142 pounds.

American authorities kept Tesla’s papers for nine years before sending them back to Serbia.  No death ray was found in his papers. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/master-of-the-impossible-crime.]

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Next time someone talks about ‘everyone having guns in the Wild West,’ remind them that this was not the case.  Most communities did not want anyone walking around with firearms – least of all in the saloons. They certainly didn’t want drunk cowboys with blazing pistols riding down Main Street and ‘painting the town red.’ Historically, keep in mind that the fabled ‘Shootout at the OK Corral’ began when Tombstone Marshal Virgil Earp, Deputy City Marshal Morgan Earp, temporary assistant Marshal Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday went to disarm the cowboys. When the cowboys did not disarm, as the expression goes, ‘everything went south.’  Gun-slinging was only part of the Wild West in celluloid histories. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/master-of-the-impossible-crime.]

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Here’s a REAL Alaska Gold Rush saloon!  It’s from the Koyukuk, one of the real-life disasters of the Gold Rush. A syndicate chartered five steamboats and packed them with building material. The steamboats plowed up the Yukon River and then the Koyukuk River where they built, from scratch, five small cities. It was a great idea except for one flaw: the stampeders expected to live off the land. It didn’t work. Alaska does not have the wild game population other states have. As I stated in my novel Noah, “By the middle of December, before winter had officially started, the Syndicate knew it was in very deep trouble.  It was simply a matter of adding up how much food they had in all five cities, dividing it by the number of people who had to be fed and the answer was March, at least two months before the river broke.” Then there was a mad stampede, in the dead of an Alaskan winter, to get OUT of Koyukuk and find food before the men starved to death. Fortunately for history buffs, one man had a camera and recorded the life – and death – of Koyukuk.  This is his photograph of a real Alaska Gold Rush saloon – complete with centerfolds, the pornography of the day.    [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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In 1838, Louis Daguerre was experimenting with a new technology called photography in Paris. Compared to today, it was cumbersome. For a photograph to be taken, the subject had to remain still for up to 30 seconds otherwise the image was blurred. In spite of this shortcoming, it was popular and today daguerreotypes are prized antiquities. Daguerre was still perfecting his technique in 1838 when he stuck the nose of his camera out of his attic window and took this photograph. If you look carefully in the bottom right at the curve in the road, you will see a man standing. This is the first known photograph of a human. The reason this unknown man was photographed was because he was getting his shoes shined and had to stand erect and unmoving for the number of seconds it took for that first camera to take this first picture of the first human being on film.   [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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You think this flu season is bad?  Not a chance!  100 years ago, America suffered the 1918 flu pandemic. In America alone about 28% of the population was infected and an estimated 500,000 to 675,000 died. Worldwide the death rate was between 50 to 100 MILLION. It was one of the deadliest pandemic in world history.  History is not the story of the past, it is the study of the future. The lesson here:  GET YOUR FLU SHOT!  [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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This WAS.

Here, in 1932, my father’s family posed for a portrait in their garden. Rich Italian Jews, the future WAS. They had money. They were in the family business. The future WAS secure. What else WAS there? Seven years later they were broke and on the run.

Today is IS.

There is no longer the sedate WAS.

Anywhere in the world.

Just because you are rich today does not mean you will be wealthy in a year. Change is no longer gradational; it is apocalyptic and apoplectic. An election, new technology, changing weather pattern and everything that WAS vanishes.  During WAS there WAS a predictable future; not so with IS. Brick-and-mortar IS gone; you must ride the waves as they appear on the horizon. The world changed – IS changing – as we sleep. Sitting in a garden is no longer a plan. If you are not changing your future, you are history.  [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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Eagle, Alaska was one of those communities that could never have been established anywhere else in the world but Alaska. And at no other time in American history than the early days of the Alaska Gold Rush. The founding of the community began on the woodpile in Dawson. In those days the woodpile was for transgressors of the law whose crime was not serious enough to be sent to prison on McNeil Island but too serious to be given a blue ticket  and driven out of town. On that woodpile were the Hudson brothers who decided to form a new town just over the border in Alaska.  The founders of this speculative enterprise included an ethically challenged Professor Howard, a gambler named Barney Gibbony, another professional gambler by the name of George Graves and his partner “One Thumb Jack,” a Negro laundress by the name of “Black” Becky White, lunch counter entrepreneur Jenny Moore, a medical practitioner of questionable education by the name of “Doc” Pernault and a drifter known as “The Kid,” “The Pest” and “Hey You.”

The best known citizen of Eagle was Erwin A. “Nimrod” Robertson. He settled in the area in 1898 after an unsuccessful stint as a jeweler in Maine.  A natural tinkerer, it was said he could “make anything but a living.” Some of his inventions included knives of wood which could shave metal and gold puzzle rings.

His reason for coming north to gold fields had been odd. He believed he could invent an airplane, a “bird machine,” and become the first man to fly. All he needed was a $1,000 and he was hopeful that he’d be able to pick that up in the Klondike. He never got the chance to be the first man to fly because the Wright Brothers beat him to it in 1903. This did not stop Robertson from continuing to try to fly. It just took him a bit longer than the Wright brothers. His experience was also somewhat less successful. Two decades after the Wright brothers, Robertson was able to finally build his flying machine; a primitive plane covered with bird feathers. Unlike modern airplanes, however, this one had mobile wings.  That is, he invented a machine that would allow the wings to flap like a bird’s.  The world will never know if that concept has any validity as the plane burned before it left the ground.  The airplane motor Robertson invented, in his words, “to lift, or rise, and propel itself through the air by up and down strokes of its wings as a bird,” can be seen in the Eagle Museum. Also in the Eagle Museum is Robertson’s relief map of the Eagle area.  Constructed from newspapers, magazines, hematite and moose blood it measures 60”x 80”.

Robertson entered Alaska lore when, in 1905, he shot a bear that was trying to tear down his food cache. The bear’s body was too heavy to drag away. If he left the cadaver in place it would attract wolves. No one bought bear meat and he had no teeth left because of scurvy.  So, to dispose of the bear’s carcass, he made a set of dentures from the bear’s teeth and “ate the bear with its own teeth.” Over the years he perfected the choppers which eventually included teeth from sheep, caribou and bear set in metal from an aluminum pot lid. (The dentures are in the UAF Museum today.)  Robertson used them for years and found them serviceable except when he had to drink hot tea. Today the term “eating a bear with its own teeth” means to use a problem to solve itself.

In 1940, at 81 years of age, Robertson was caught ill-prepared for a violent storm. Knowing that he had no chance of surviving and not wanting his body to be devoured by wolves, he chose to lie beneath a trickle of water from a nearby stream. Thus he froze himself solid to an ice floe. After his corpse was found, it took rescue workers almost a week to extract his body from the river ice. [See my books at https://authormasterminds.com/steve-levi.]

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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.]

 

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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.]

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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.]

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