Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for August, 2014

Montparnasse derailment, Paris; ca. 1895


“This incredible photo of the wreck at Gare Montparnasse in Paris shows a very dramatic scene of a train that has crashed through the wall and partially tumbled to the street. The cause? Both mechanical failure and human error. The train was late, so the driver had it pull into the station at a high speed. It had two different types of braking systems: handbrakes and an air brake known as a Westinghouse brake. The conductor realised that the train was going too fast and applied the Westinghouse brake, however it didn’t work. He then waited too long to use the handbrakes, which weren’t sufficient due to the weight and speed of the train. The locomotive crashed through a wall and the first few cars fell towards the street below. Amazingly, only a few passengers and train employees were injured, though one pedestrian on the road below was killed.”

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Recording an episode of “Gang Busters”, true crime radio show, New York; ca.1930’s.

Back in the day when 85% of men had mustaches.

Back in the day when 85% of men had mustaches.

If you listen carefully to a clear transcription, you can (very rarely) hear the script paper fall to the ground, which is what most radio actors did as the show progressed instead of move the paper to the back–the fact that papers aren’t on the ground suggests that either this was the beginning of the show, or it was a staged shot for promotional purposes. Often, you’d have more than one microphone for actors to use. The Shadow used 3 microphones for its show. I have a book on producing radio shows which has a diagram of the Shadow studio. I’ll have to pull the book out of storage to take a photo of that page sometime.

Each script page had about 1 minute of audio typed on it. Usually a show would be about 25 minutes long, giving 5 minutes of time for station breaks and commercials, unless the show was “sustained,” meaning that it was bankrolled by the network instead of an advertiser. As television gained in popularity, many shows were sustained.

The end of the golden age of old-time radio was 1962, when Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar broadcast their last shows. However, 12 years later, Himan Brown would convince CBS to broadcast an anthology series called the CBS Mystery Theater, which broadcast weeknights from 1974 until 1982.

 (More: Gangbusters– Archived Episodes.)

A policeman rips the American flag away from 5-year-old Anthony Quinn, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Jackson, Mississippi; ca. 1965


The guy in the background looks justifiably shocked. And yet is doing nothing.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”

A German makeshift grave for a fallen British paratrooper, Operation Market Garden, Arnhem; April 15th, 1944.

The photo was taken after the liberation of Arnhem in April 1945, although the soldier died in September 1944.

The photo was taken after the liberation of Arnhem in April 1945, although the soldier died in September 1944.

The grave of an unknown British airborne soldier at Arnhem, photographed after its liberation 15 April 1945.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45 The grave of a British airborne soldier killed during the battle of Arnhem in September 1944, photographed by liberating forces on 15 April 1945. On the cross is written in German “unknown British soldier”.


*Market Garden has some of the most logic-defying choices and decisions made. One thing that really stands out to me was the utmost respect the Germans had for the heroic and honest defense the beleaguered English troops put up.

“A Bridge Too Far” by Cornelius Ryan is one of those rare books that can give insight into the craziness, the heroism and the tragedy that comes with the turning points in history. Really worth the read for anyone.

“One of the 1.7 million Germans killed during the Great War”; ca.1917


The way they searched for dead bodies following the First World War was seriously revolting. A Company of Soldiers would be deployed in Line abreast, armed with 6 foot long metal spikes. They would then observe the ground to their front, anywhere the vegetation looked particularly green and lively, they would stab the spike into the ground as deep as possible, then rip it out and sniff the end. If it smelled of decomposing flesh, they dug.

And sometimes they didn’t even do THAT. I remember reading an officer’s account of experiencing a heavy barrage. He mentions entering a dugout at the beginning of the barrage and noticing the heavily decomposed body of a French soldier, in the old-style uniform (red pantaloons), sticking out of the side of the trench. After a couple of hours, he emerged to find the decomposed body of a German soldier in the same place. The shells had churned up the ground, re-burying the French soldier and bringing up the German.