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It seems strange to me to create a piece of legislation that protects the government and the war effort from…basically hate speech, but on May 16, 1918, the United States Congress did pass just such an act. What seems even more strange is to have a need for such a piece of legislation during a time of war. Called the Sedition Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect America’s participation in World War I. Along with the Espionage Act of the previous year, the Sedition Act was orchestrated largely by A. Mitchell Palmer, the United States attorney general under President Woodrow Wilson. I think most of us understand espionage, and why such an act was important to the war effort. The Espionage Act, passed shortly after the US entrance into the war in early April 1917, made it a crime for any person to convey information intended to interfere with the U.S. armed forces’ prosecution of the war effort or to promote the success of the country’s enemies.

The Sedition Act was aimed at socialists, pacifists and other anti-war activists. The Act imposed harsh penalties on anyone who was found guilty of making false statements that interfered with the prosecution of the war; insulting or abusing the United States government, the flag, the Constitution or the military; agitating against the production of necessary war materials; or advocating, teaching or defending any of these acts. Hmmm…I think we have need of this act in today’s America. Those who were found guilty of such actions, would according to the Sedition Act be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both. The penalty was the same as the one for acts of espionage in the earlier legislation.

Though Wilson and Congress considered the Sedition Act as crucial in order to stifle the spread of dissent within the country in that time of war, modern legal scholars felt the act was contrary to the letter and spirit of the US Constitution, specifically to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. One of the most famous prosecutions under the Sedition Act during World War I was that of Eugene V. Debs, a pacifist labor organizer and founder of the International Workers of the World (IWW Debs had run for president in 1900 as a Social Democrat and in 1904, 1908 and 1912 on the Socialist Party of America ticket. He delivered an anti-war speech in June 1918 in Canton, Ohio and was promptly arrested. After being found guilty, he was sentenced to ten years in prison under the Sedition Act. Debs appealed the decision and upon stating that Debs had acted with the intention of obstructing the war effort the US Supreme Court upheld his conviction.

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to the earlier landmark case of Schenck v. United States (1919) as the basis for his decision. Charles Schenck, also a Socialist, had been found guilty under the Espionage Act after distributing a flyer urging recently drafted men to oppose the United States conscription policy. Holmes stated that freedom of speech and press could be constrained in certain instances. He said that the question in every case is “whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Debs’ sentence was commuted in 1921 when the Sedition Act was repealed by Congress. Major portions of the Espionage Act remain part of United States law to the present day, although the crime of sedition was largely eliminated by the famous libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), which determined that “the press’s criticism of public officials—unless a plaintiff could prove that the statements were made maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth—was protected speech under the First Amendment.”

So often the past is lost because it was not preserved somehow, whether by writings, word of mouth, or in rare times it is preserved because someone put things in a time capsule to be opened at a later date. Most of us think of time capsules as a fairly modern concept, but they really aren’t. A few years ago, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and other dignitaries were on hand to witness the opening of one of the nation’s oldest time capsules, located in the Art of the Americas wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The date was January 6, 2015. The museum’s conservator, Pam Hatchfield removed the screws from the corners of the brass box and carefully extracted its contents using tools including a porcupine quill and a dental pick that belonged to her grandfather.

In December, Hatchfield had spent nearly seven hours extracting the time capsule from the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House. The event brought with it an electrical feeling of excitement. The brass box, now green with age, measured 5.5 by 7.5 by 1.5 inches, which is a little smaller than a cigar box. It weighed 10 pounds. The contents of the time capsule were not a complete surprise, because the original time capsule had been removed in 1855, during some repairs to the building. At that time, its contents were cleaned and documented before it was placed back in the cornerstone.

More recently, workers fixing a leak unearthed the time capsule that had been placed in the building’s cornerstone more than two centuries earlier. But even after X-raying and examining the box, Hatchfield and her colleagues had no way of knowing what kind of condition the ancient contents would be in, nor did they have any idea of what was inside. The first items removed from the time capsule were folded newspapers. They were in “amazingly good condition” according to Hatchfield. There were five newspapers all, including copies of the Boston Bee and Boston Traveler. Next they removed 23 coins, in denominations of half-cent (something modern people haven’t heard of), penny, quarter, dime and half-dime (Isn’t that a nickel? I guess it hadn’t been named yet). Some of the coins dated back to the mid-19th century, but some were from 1795. There was also a so-called “Pine Tree Shilling” dated to 1652. Just the coins alone are an amazing find, but they wouldn’t be proof of who had placed them in the box. The box also contained a copper medal with George Washington’s image and the words “General of the American Army,” a seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records. There was no clear indication of who it had belonged to. Finally, Hatchfield removed a silver plate with fingerprints still on it, bearing an inscription dedicating the State House cornerstone on the 20th anniversary of American independence in July 1795. While the silver plate is amazing, to me, the fingerprints are a stellar find.

“This cornerstone of a building intended for the use of the legislative and executive branches of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was laid by his Excellency Samuel Adams, Esquire, governor of the said Commonwealth,” Michael Comeau, executive director of the Massachusetts Archives, read from the plate’s inscription to the assembled crowd, adding “How cool is that.” It is believed that the plate was the work of Paul Revere, the master metalsmith and engraver turned Revolutionary hero who placed the time capsule alongside Adams and William Scollay, a colonel in the Revolutionary War. It took nearly an hour to remove all the items from the time capsule. I’m sure they wanted to be both careful, and also have a really good look at them. The museum’s conservators then began the work on preserving the contents so they could be put on display. According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State, William Galvin, the time capsule will eventually be returned to the cornerstone, but it’s not certain whether state officials will add any new objects to it before burying it again.

Most of us think of Isaac Newton for things like Newtonian mechanics, Universal gravitation, Calculus, Newton’s laws of motion, Optics, Binomial series, Principa, and Newton’s method…ok, maybe not, I doubt if most of us know what most of that means, but we knew that he was a great mathematician. Newton was an English mathematician, but he was also a physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author who is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time, and a key figure in the scientific revolution.

Politically and personally, Newton was tied to the Whig party, an early version of the Republican Party. He served two brief terms as Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge, in 1689-1690 and 1701-1702. He was noted by Cambridge diarist Abraham de la Pryme to have rebuked students who were frightening locals by claiming that a house was haunted. Newton moved to London to take up the post of warden of the Royal Mint in 1696, a position that he had obtained through the patronage of Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. He took charge of England’s great recoining, trodden on the toes of Lord Lucas, Governor of the Tower, and secured the job of deputy comptroller of the temporary Chester branch for Edmond Halley. Newton became perhaps the best-known Master of the Mint upon the death of Thomas Neale in 1699. It was a position Newton held for the last 30 years of his life, and one of which he was very proud. These appointments were intended as type of figurehead position, but Newton took his job seriously. He retired from his Cambridge duties in 1701, and exercised his authority to reform the currency and punish clippers and counterfeiters. As Warden, and afterwards as Master, of the Royal Mint, Newton estimated that 20% of the coins taken in during the Great Recoinage of 1696 were counterfeit. Counterfeiting was high treason, which was punishable by the felon being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Despite that, it would be very difficult to convict even the most flagrant criminals. Nevertheless, Isaac Newton proved to be equal to the task.

Disguised as a frequent patron of bars and taverns, he gathered much of that evidence himself. For all the barriers placed to prosecution, and separating the branches of government, English law still had ancient and formidable customs of authority. Newton had been made a justice of the peace in all the home counties. A draft letter regarding the matter is included in Newton’s personal first edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which he must have been amending at the time. Then he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects between June 1698 and Christmas 1699. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 coiners. In April 1705, Queen Anne knighted Newton during a royal visit to Trinity College, Cambridge. The knighthood is likely to have been motivated by political considerations connected with the Parliamentary election in May 1705, rather than any recognition of Newton’s scientific work or services as Master of the Mint. Newton was the second scientist to be knighted, after Sir Francis Bacon. Newton died in his sleep in London on 20 March 1727. His body was buried in Westminster Abbey. A bachelor all his life, Newton had distributed much of his estate to relatives during his last years, and in the end, he died intestate. That seems, to me, a sad ending to an extraordinary life.

Everyone has heard the term, Uncle Sam used when referring to the United States government, but while the government and the people of the United States have “adopted” that term to mean the United States government, it was really never intended to be so. If you ask most people, the average older American would most likely point to the early 20th century and Sam’s frequent appearance on army recruitment posters. Nevertheless, the figure of Uncle Sam actually dates back much further than that. The actual figure of Uncle Sam, dates from the War of 1812. At that point, most American icons had been geographically specific, centering most often on the New England area. However, the War of 1812 sparked a renewed interest in national identity which had faded since the American Revolution.

The term Uncle Sam was actually the nickname of a man named Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from Troy, New York. Sam supplied rations for the soldiers during the War of 1812. He had served in the American Revolution at the age of 15, and while he was born in Massachusetts, he relocated to the town of Troy, New York after the war. In Troy, Samuel and his brother, Ebenezer began the firm of E and S Wilson, a meat packing facility. Samuel was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty, who was devoted to his country. All of the local residents really liked Samuel, and they began calling him Uncle Sam.

During the War of 1812, the demand for meat supply for the troops was badly needed. Because he had been a soldier, Samuel had a soft spot in his heart for the soldiers. Secretary of War, William Eustis, made a contract with Elbert Anderson Jr of New York City to supply and issue all rations necessary for the United States forces in New York and New Jersey for one year. Anderson ran an advertisement on October 6, 1813 looking to fill the contract. The Wilson brothers bid for the contract and won. The contract was to fill 2,000 barrels of pork and 3,000 barrels of beef for one year. Their location on the Hudson River, made it ideal to receive the animals and to ship the product. As a security measure, the contractors were required to stamp their name and where the rations came from onto the food they were sending. Wilson’s packages bore the label “E.A. – US,” which stood for Elbert Anderson, the contractor, and the United States. When an individual in the meat packing facility asked what it stood for, a coworker joked and said it referred to Sam Wilson, Uncle Sam. A number of the soldiers were originally from Troy, and familiar with Samuel. When they saw the designation on the barrels, they, being acquainted with Sam Wilson and his nickname Uncle Sam, as well as the knowledge that Wilson was feeding the army, led them to the same conclusion. The local newspaper soon picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government.

This is, of course, an endearing local story, and therefore, leaves some doubt as to whether it is the actual source of the term. Uncle Sam is mentioned previous to the War of 1812 in the popular song “Yankee Doodle,” which appeared in 1775. Nevertheless, the song doesn’t make it clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States, or to an actual person named Sam. Another early reference to the term appeared in 1819, predating Wilson’s contract with the government. The connection between this local saying and the national legend is not easily traced. As early as 1830, there were inquiries into the origin of the term Uncle Sam. The connection between the popular cartoon figure and Samuel Wilson was reported in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1830. Whatever the source, Uncle Sam immediately became popular as a symbol of an ever-changing nation. His “likeness” appeared in drawings in various forms including resemblances to Brother Jonathan, a national personification and emblem of New England, and Abraham Lincoln, and others. In the late 1860s and 1870s, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam…building on the warm fuzzy feel of a beloved uncle. Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today.

However, it was a military recruiting poster, created in about 1917, that set the image of Uncle Sam was firmly set into American consciousness. The famous “I Want You” recruiting poster was created by James Montgomery Flagg and four million posters were printed between 1917 and 1918. The image was a really powerful one: Uncle Sam’s striking features, expressive eyebrows, pointed finger, and direct address to the viewer made this drawing into an American icon. Throughout the years, Uncle Sam has appeared in advertising and on products ranging from cereal to coffee to car insurance. His likeness also continued to appear on military recruiting posters and in numerous political cartoons in newspapers. Finally, in September of 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Samuel Wilson died at age 88 in 1854, and was buried next to his wife Betsey Mann in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York. The town proudly calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

I think that anyone who has studied the Civil War, knows that it got started when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861…officially anyway. Of course, the Civil War was all about slavery, and the North and South could not agree on the issue. As with all wars, there was some posturing before the war actually got started. Each side tries to scare the other into compliance, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out. The strange thing about the Civil War was that the “posturing stage” of the war ended up being a comedy of errors, when an inexperienced gunner accidently discharged his cannon into the fort on March 12, 1861. After the error, in which no one was hurt or killed, thankfully, the Confederates had to row over and apologize for the mistake. That strikes me as really funny, because everyone knew the war was coming, but just not when it would start.

All that “practice” apparently didn’t help either, because when the war actually started, they fired over 3,000 shells at the fort without injuring a single Union soldier. Nevertheless, the men at the fort were apparently intimidated, because they surrendered and a Confederate officer named Roger Pryor rowed out to negotiate the terms. As the discussion progressed, Pryor casually got up, poured himself a glass of whiskey. Probably not the best idea. He downed it in one gulp, before finding out that it was actually a bottle of medical iodine that happened to be nearby. Pryor’s “Three Stooges” moment ended with army doctors frantically pumping his stomach while nervous Union officers wondered how they were going to explain poisoning the negotiator. I can see it all now. The Union doctors were scrambling to save Pryor’s life, all the while thinking that the Confederate soldiers were going to accuse them of trying to murder him. Fortunately, Pryor survived, but the comedy of errors did not end there. In what would become one last screw-up, and to mark the surrender, the Union commander ordered his gunners to fire a salute. Once again, the “training” given was lacking or the soldiers were just careless. The gunners piled cartridges next to their cannons…in a high wind. The resulting explosion killed two of their own men, the only casualties of the siege.

The war had at least one other comedy of errors, this time in Congress. In 1858, tensions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions were so heated that a huge brawl broke out between at least 30 Congressmen on the House floor. This was not just an argument, it was a brawl, and it only came to an end when Mississippi’s William Barksdale had his wig knocked off. Since Barksdale never admitted to wearing a wig, he quickly snatched it back up and put it on inside out, causing everyone to stop fighting and start laughing instead. Barksdale didn’t think it funny, but I do.

On January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany. It wasn’t because of any election, but rather by a constitutionally questionable deal dreamed up by a small group of conservative German politicians who had given up on parliamentary rule. Little did they know that they were party to appointing one of the worst dictators in history. Their attempt to return Germany to conservative authoritarian rule, backfired miserably when, within two years, Hitler and the Nazis outmaneuvered Germany’s conservative politicians to consolidate a radical Nazi dictatorship that was completely subordinate to Hitler’s personal will. I wonder if President Hindenburg wished he had never met Hitler, much less appointed him to be chancellor.

Within days of taking power, the Nazis called for Germany to boycott all Jewish businesses. This unexpected anti-Jewish propaganda was the first of many. Hitler hated the Jewish people. He had no reason for his hatred. The Jewish people had done nothing to warrant Hitler’s hatred and rage. One theory is that Hitler had decided that the Jewish people were an inferior race. That is not such a new thought. It had happened before, to the African slaves in history, who had often been referred to as mud people. The Jews, as with the slaves, were treated horribly.

Another reason Hitler hated the Jewish people, was because following Germany’s loss of World War I, Hitler blamed the Jews and the communists living in Germany. He felt that they were part of a huge conspiracy against the German military. He believed that had it not been for their interference, Britain and the allies would have lost the war. Another possible reason for Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was probably jealousy. After World War I, he saw that a lot of Germans were without jobs and struggling. Instead of looking at the war as the root cause of the economic problem, he blamed the Jews for the sorry state of affairs. Because Adolf Hitler was truly insane, I’m sure that his reason to hate the Jewish people made sense to him, but the reality is that his insane mind was the only place that it made sense.

I’m not sure how he managed to get so many people to agree with is ideas, but somehow he did, and when he decided that all Jewish shops were to be boycotted, and stationed his SA Storm Troopers near the shops to
ensure that his plans were carried out, they did as they were told. It wasn’t long after the boycotting of the shops that Hitler took things to the next level, and began hauling the Jewish people to the death camps. As long as he was alive, there was no end to his hatred, and that is definitely not what President Hindenburg or the conservative German politicians had in mind, and I’m sure they wished they had never done it.

It was 1914, and World War I was in the 5th month of a 51 month offensive. The war effort was in a bit of a transition period, following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. As leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies, hostilities entered a bit of a lull. The men were hoping for a break in the action for Christmas that year, but they had to wait for their orders. When the orders came down, it was not to be a Christmas truce, but rather a Christmas strike. As the first men to go forth prepared to make the first advances, some men were killed, and some returned. It was the way of war. The leadership wanted to take advantage of the possibility that the enemy might not expect a Christmas attack. One of the younger men…17 years old to be exact, couldn’t help himself. He began to sing Silent Night.His superiors ordered it to be quiet. They feared that the enemy was waiting in the darkness.

Then, a miracle occurred. In the week leading up to the 25th of December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings…and to talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into what was called no man’s land, because to go there was to risk death. Nevertheless, on that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, things seemed different. The soldiers took a chance and stepped forward, hoping to convince their enemies that they only wanted to bury their dead, and hoping that it would be agreeable to stop the fighting for one hour to bury the dead. As they buried their dead, with heavy hearts, someone suggested that they take Christmas Day off. This was totally against their orders, and they knew that at some point they were going to have to go back and follow their orders. They were going to have to become enemies again. Still, for now…for this day, they mingled and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behavior was not ubiquitous, however, and fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies. Several meetings ended in carol-singing. Someone commented, “How many times in a life do you actually meet your enemy face to face.” It was almost strange to them, because these “enemies” were not the monsters they expected them to be. These were simply men, just like they were. I’m sure the men were in shock. it’s hard to have your total view of your enemy change so drastically and then have to follow your orders, pickup your weapons, and shoot at the same men again. The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.

The Christmas Truces of 1914, while wonderful for the men, were not to be a Christmas tradition in World War I. The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914. This was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting truces. It was evident that while the mini-mutiny of 1914 was tolerated and the men were not punished, that this would not be tolerated in the future. It really didn’t matter, because the Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas. While a Christmas truce would be nice in theory, bitter and angry feelings on both sides of a war make it an impractical idea. Still, in 1914, the miracle of the Christmas Truce was a wonderful treat for the men on all sides of a bitter war.

Anyone who has spent much time in the Black Hills has most likely seen Deadwood, and knows it to be a historic gambling town where many famous Wild West characters hung out and died. Legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane each left their mark. Hickok, a legendary man even in his own lifetime, was shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall, while playing poker at the No. 10 Saloon on August 2, 1876. Calamity Jane was renowned for her excellent marksmanship, as well as her preference for men’s clothing, and brash behavior.

Deadwood also had, in addition to its tough individuals, others such as Reverend Henry W. Smith. Preacher Smith was the first Methodist minister to come to the Black Hills. Smith was mysteriously murdered on Sunday, August 20, 1876, while walking to Crook City to deliver a sermon. These individuals are just a few of the many notables buried in Mount Moriah Cemetary, which was established in 1877 or 1878.

That’s all well known to many people, but some may not know that the settlement of Deadwood began illegally in the 1870s on land which had been granted to the Native Americans. In 1874, Colonel George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold on French Creek near what is now Custer, South Dakota. That announcement ushered in the Black Hills Gold Rush and gave rise to the new and lawless town of Deadwood. In 1875, a miner named John Pearson found gold in a narrow canyon in the Northern Black Hills. This canyon became known as “Deadwood Gulch,” because of the many dead trees that lined the canyon walls at that time. The name stuck. Try as they might, the government couldn’t keep the situation under wraps, in order to honor the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which forever ceded the Black Hills to the Lakota-Sioux. The government dispatched several military units to forts in the surrounding area to keep people from entering the Hills. However, people illegally entered the area anyway, searching for gold or adventure. Despite the efforts of the military and federal government. They were driven by dreams and greed.

Once Deadwood was established, the mining camp was quickly swarming with thousands of prospectors searching for an easy way to get rich. Fred and Moses Manuel, claimed the Homestake Mine, which proved to be the most profitable in the area. Although the Manuels had been lucky, others were not so fortunate. Most of the early population was in Deadwood to mine for gold, but the lawless town naturally attracted a crowd of rough and shady characters too. These particular individuals made the early days of Deadwood rough and wild. A mostly male population eagerly patronized the many saloons, gambling establishments, dance halls, and brothels. These establishments were considered legitimate businesses and were well known throughout the area.

In 1890, the railroad connected the town to the outside world. Illegal beginnings aside, Deadwood was a town that was now here to stay. The treaty with the Lakota-Sioux was broken and the Black Hills would never again belong to them. As unfair as it was to break the treaty, I don’t think that it could have lasted forever anyway, because the United Stated was going to be populated from coast to coast one way or the other.

It’s no secret that various governments have had secret projects over the years to create bigger and better weapons of war to be used against enemy governments in the event of a war. I think that there are those who believe that only rogue countries do this sort of thing, but that isn’t so. In the United States, where Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist and the creator of the world’s first nuclear reactor, and Leó Szilárd a Hungarian-German physicist and inventor; had both emigrated to America, the discovery of the nuclear chain reaction led to the creation of the first man-made reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, which achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. This work became part of the Manhattan Project, a massive secret U.S. government military project to make enriched uranium and by building large production reactors to produce enriched plutonium for use in the first nuclear weapons. The United States would test an atom bomb in July 1945 with the Trinity test, and eventually two such weapons were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, weapons of warfare are not the only use for nuclear power, but they are what most of us think about when we think about going nuclear.

In reality, much more has come from nuclear energy. In August 1945, the pocketbook The Atomic Age, became the first widely distributed account of nuclear energy. It discussed the peaceful future uses of nuclear energy and painted a picture of a future where fossil fuels would go unused. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg, who later chaired the Atomic Energy Commission, is quoted as saying “there will be nuclear powered earth-to-moon shuttles, nuclear powered artificial hearts, plutonium heated swimming pools for SCUBA divers, and much more.” Then, on December 20, 1951, came the first light bulbs ever lit by electricity generated by nuclear power at EBR-1 at Argonne National Laboratory West.

Nuclear power is still producing electricity today. The United States has more than 100 reactors, although it creates most of its electricity from fossil fuels and hydroelectric energy. Nations such as Lithuania, France, and Slovakia create almost all of their electricity from nuclear power plants. Uranium is the fuel most widely used to produce nuclear energy. I think most people have heard of the disasters at Chernobyl, April 26, 1986, Kyshtym, September 29, 1957, Three Mile Island, March 28, 1979, and Windscale, October 10, 1957. Some were worse than others, but all were scary situations. I don’t know how I feel about the use of nuclear power as opposed to fossil fuels, hydroelectric energy, or wind energy, because I think that quite possibly each has their place, and that it would be difficult to rely on just one type of fuel.

The United Kingdom, Canada, and the USSR continued to research and develop nuclear industries over the course of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Electricity was first generated by a nuclear reactor on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which initially produced about 100 kW. In the United States work was also strongly researched on nuclear marine propulsion, with a test reactor being developed by 1953…eventually, the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, would launch in 1955. Then, in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations. In it he emphasized the need to develop “peaceful” uses of nuclear power quickly. The concern was over any further us in war situations. This was followed by the 1954 Amendments to the Atomic Energy Act which allowed rapid declassification of United States reactor technology and encouraged development by the private sector.

Recently, I became interested is unusual military bases, after coming across on called RAF Rudloe Manor…an English military base that looked, and in fact was an old English manor. Another military base, this one in the United States, in Virginia, near Dulles International Airport, has now come to my attention, but for multiple reasons. Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center is a civilian command facility in the US Commonwealth of Virginia, used as the center of operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Also known as the High Point Special Facility (HPSF), its preferred designation since 1991 is “SF”.

Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center gained some “fame” for a completely different reason in 1974. December 1, 1974 was a windy, stormy day in the Washington DC area. Trans World Airlines Flight 514 was en route from Indianapolis, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio, to Washington Dulles International Airport, but was originally supposed to land at Washington National Airport. The Boeing 727-231, registration N54328, was diverted to Dulles when high crosswinds, east at 32 mph and gusting to 56 mph, prevented safe operations on the main north-south runway at Washington National. The flight was being vectored for a non-precision instrument approach to runway 12 at Dulles. Air traffic controllers cleared the flight down to 7,000 feet before clearing them for the approach while not on a published segment. At this point, there was some confusion in the cockpit over whether they were still under a radar-controlled approach segment which would allow them to descend safely, or not. The jetliner began a descent to 1,800 feet, shown on the first checkpoint for the published approach. After reaching 1,800 feet there were some 100 to 200 foot altitude deviations which the flight crew discussed as encountering heavy downdrafts and reduced visibility in snow. Nevertheless, their tower controlled approach had ended.

In the stormy conditions, late on that Sunday morning, the aircraft was in controlled flight, when it impacted a low mountain about thirty miles northwest of its revised destination. That mountain was Mount Weather, Virginia, where the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center was located. The plane impacted the west slope of Mount Weather at 1,670 feet above sea level at approximately 265 mph. The wreckage was contained within an area about 900 by 200 feet. The evidence of first impact were trees sheared off about 70 feet above the ground…the elevation at the base of the trees was 1,650 feet. All 92 aboard, 85 passengers and seven crew members, were killed. “The wreckage path was oriented along a line 118 degrees magnetic. Calculations indicated that the left wing went down about six degrees as the aircraft passed through the trees and the aircraft was descending at an angle of about one degree. After about five hundred feet of travel through the trees, it struck a rock outcropping at an elevation of about 1,675 feet. Numerous heavy components of the aircraft were thrown forward of the outcropping, and numerous intense post-impact fires broke out which were later extinguished. The mountain’s summit is at 1,754 feet above sea level.”

“The accident investigation board was split in its decision as to whether the flight crew or Air Traffic Control were responsible. The majority absolved the controllers as the plane was not on a published approach segment; the dissenting opinion was that the flight had been radar vectored. Terminology between pilots and controllers differed without either group being aware of the discrepancy. It was common practice at the time for controllers to release a flight to its own navigation with “Cleared for the approach,” and flight crews commonly believed that was also authorization to descend to the altitude at which the final segment of the approach began. No clear indication had been given by controllers to Flight 514 that they were no longer on a radar vector segment and therefore responsible for their own navigation. Procedures were clarified after this accident. Controllers now state, “Maintain (specified altitude) until established on a portion of the approach,” and pilots now understand that previously assigned altitudes prevail until an altitude change is authorized on the published approach segment the aircraft is currently flying. Ground proximity detection equipment was also mandated for the airlines.”

During the NTSB investigation, it was discovered that a United Airlines flight had very narrowly escaped the same fate during the same approach and at the same location only six weeks prior. Apparently, the problem was bigger than it was first thought to be. The crash is also noteworthy, because of the accident location. The undesired attention to the Mount Weather facility, became the unfortunate side effect, because the site was the linchpin of plans implemented by the federal government to ensure continuity in the event of a nuclear war. The crash did not damage the facility, since most of its features were underground. Only its underground main phone line was severed, with service to the complex being restored by C&P Telephone within 2½ hours after the crash. Nevertheless, the crash brought to light the possibility of damage to an important facility by a plane crash, which was a distinct possibility due to the flight path of planes landing at Dulles International Airport.

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