This Day in History Feb. 6: The Munich Air Disaster (1958)

The Munich Air Disaster (1958)

The Munich air disaster occurred on 6 February 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane was the Manchester United footballteam, nicknamed the “Busby Babes”, along with supporters and journalists.[1] Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft died at the scene. The injured, some unconscious, were taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more died, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors.

The team was returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having eliminated Red Star Belgrade to advance to the semi-finals of the competition. The flight stopped to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester was beyond the “Elizabethan”-class Airspeed Ambassador’s range. After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Raymenttwice abandoned take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then, snow was falling, causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. After the aircraft hit the slush, it ploughed through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing was torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain began evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helped pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blamed Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It was later established that the crash was caused by the slush on the runway, which slowed the plane too much to take off. Thain was cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

Manchester United were trying to become the third club to win three successive English league titles; they were six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also held the Charity Shield and had just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-finals. The team had not been beaten for 11 matches. The crash not only derailed their title ambitions that year but also virtually destroyed the nucleus of what promised to be one of the greatest generations of players in English football history. It took 10 years for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1968 with a new generation of “Babes”.


In April 1955, UEFA established the European Cup, a football competition for the champion clubs of UEFA-affiliated nations, to begin in the 1955–56 season;[2] however, the English league winners, Chelsea, were denied entry by the Football League’s secretary, Alan Hardaker, who believed not participating was best for English football.[3] The following season, the English league was won by Manchester United, managed by Matt Busby. The Football League again denied their champions entry, but Busby and his chairman, Harold Hardman, with the help of the Football Association’s chairman Stanley Rous, defied the league and United became the first English team to play in Europe.[4]

The team – known as the “Busby Babes” for their youth – reached the semi-finals, beaten there by the eventual winners, Real Madrid. Winning the First Division title again that season meant qualification for the 1957–58 tournament, and their cup run in 1956–57 meant they were one of the favourites to win. Domestic league matches were on Saturdays and European matches midweek, so, although air travel was risky, it was the only choice if United were to fulfil their league fixtures,[5] which they would have to do if they were to avoid proving Alan Hardaker right.[4]

After overcoming Shamrock Rovers and Dukla Prague in the preliminary and first round respectively, United were drawn with Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia for the quarter-finals. After beating them 2–1 at Old Trafford on 14 January 1958, the club was to travel to Yugoslavia for the return leg on 5 February. On the way back from Prague in the previous round, fog over England prevented the team from flying back to Manchester, so they flew to Amsterdam before taking the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwichand then the train to Manchester. The trip took its toll on the players and they drew 3–3 with Birmingham City at St Andrew’s three days later.[6]

Eager not to miss Football League fixtures, and not to have a difficult trip again, the club chartered a British European Airways plane from Manchester to Belgrade for the away leg against Red Star.[7] The match was drawn 3–3 but it was enough to send United to the semi-finals.[8] The takeoff from Belgrade was delayed for an hour after outside rightJohnny Berry lost his passport,[9] and the plane landed in Munich for refuelling at 13:15 GMT.[10][11]

Aircraft and crew

The aircraft was a six-year-old Airspeed Ambassador 2, built in 1952 and delivered to BEA the same year.[12]

The pilot, Captain James Thain, was a former RAF flight lieutenant. Originally a sergeant (later a warrant officer), he was given an emergency commission in the RAF as an acting pilot officer on probation in April 1944,[13] and promoted to pilot officer on probation in September that year.[14] He was promoted to flight lieutenant in May 1948,[15] and received a permanent commission in the same rank in 1952.[16] He retired from the RAF to join BEA.

The co-pilot, Captain Kenneth Rayment, was also a former RAF flight lieutenant and a Second World War flying ace. After joining the RAF in 1940, he was promoted to sergeant in September 1941.[17] He was commissioned as a war substantive pilot officer a year later,[18] and promoted to war substantive flying officer in May 1943.[19] He shot down five German fighters, one Italian plane and a V-1 flying bomb. He was awarded the DFC in July 1943,[20] and promoted to flight lieutenant in September 1943.[21] After leaving the RAF in 1945, he joined BOAC in Cairo, before joining BEA in 1947. He had had experience with Vikings, Dakotas and the Ambassador “Elizabethan” class.[22]


Thain had flown the “Elizabethan”-class Airspeed Ambassador (registration G-ALZU) to Belgrade but handed the controls to Rayment for the return.[23] At 14:19 GMT, the control tower at Munich was told the plane was ready to take off and gave clearance for take-off, expiring at 14:31.[24] Rayment abandoned the take-off after Thain noticed the port boost pressure gauge fluctuating as the plane reached full power and the engine sounded odd while accelerating.[25] A second attempt was made three minutes later, but called off 40 seconds into the attempt[26] because the engines were running on an over-rich mixture, causing them to over-accelerate, a common problem for the “Elizabethan”.[25] After the second failure, passengers retreated to the airport lounge.[27] By then, it had started to snow heavily, and it looked unlikely that the plane would be making the return journey that day. Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards sent a telegram to his landlady in Manchester. It read: “All flights cancelled, flying tomorrow. Duncan.”[28]

Thain told the station engineer, Bill Black, about the problem with the boost surging in the port engine, and Black suggested that since opening the throttle more slowly had not worked, the only option was to hold the plane overnight for retuning. Thain was anxious to stay on schedule and suggested opening the throttle even more slowly would suffice. This would mean that the plane would not achieve take-off velocity until further down the runway, but with the runway almost 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) long, he believed this would not be a problem. The passengers were called back to the plane 15 minutes after leaving it.[29]

A few of the players were not confident fliers, particularly Liam Whelan, who said, “This may be death, but I’m ready”. Others, including Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman and Frank Swift, moved to the back of the plane, believing it safer.[11] Once everyone was on board, Thain and Rayment got the plane moving again at 14:56.[30] At 14:59, they reached the runway holding point, where they received clearance to line up ready for take-off.[31] On the runway, they made final cockpit checks and at 15:02, they were told their take-off clearance would expire at 15:04.[32] The pilots agreed to attempt take-off, but that they would watch the instruments for surging in the engines. At 15:03, they told the control tower of their decision.[32]

Rayment moved the throttle forward slowly and released the brakes; the plane began to accelerate, and radio officer Bill Rodgers radioed the control tower with the message “Zulu Uniform rolling”.[33] The plane threw up slush as it gathered speed, and Thain called out the plane’s velocity in 10-knot increments.[33] At 85 knots, the port engine began to surge again, and he pulled back marginally on the port throttle before pushing it forward again.[33] Once the plane reached 117 knots (217 km/h), he announced “V1”, at which it was no longer safe to abort take-off, and Rayment listened for the call of “V2” (119 knots (220 km/h)), the minimum required to get off the ground.[34] Thain expected the speed to rise, but it fluctuated around 117 knots before suddenly dropping to 112 knots (207 km/h), and then 105 knots (194 km/h).[35] Rayment shouted “Christ, we won’t make it!”,[35] as Thain looked up to see what lay ahead.[36]

The plane skidded off the end of the runway, crashed into the fence surrounding the airport and across a road before its port wing was torn off as it caught a house, home to a family of six.[37] The father and eldest daughter were away and the mother and the other three children escaped as the house caught fire.[38] Part of the plane’s tail was torn off before the left side of the cockpit hit a tree.[38] The right side of the fuselage hit a wooden hut, inside which was a truck filled with tyres and fuel, which exploded.[39] Twenty passengers died on board, and three died later in hospital.

On seeing flames around the cockpit, Thain feared that the aircraft would explode and told his crew to evacuate the area. The stewardesses, Rosemary Cheverton and Margaret Bellis, were the first to leave through a blown-out emergency window in the galley, followed by radio officer Bill Rodgers.[40] Rayment was trapped in his seat by the crumpled fuselage and told Thain to go without him. Thain clambered out of the galley window.[40] On reaching the ground, he saw flames growing under the starboard wing, which held 500 imperial gallons (2,300 L) of fuel. He shouted to his crew to get away and climbed back into the aircraft to retrieve two handheld fire extinguishers, stopping to tell Rayment he would be back when the fires had been dealt with.[40]

Meanwhile, in the cabin, goalkeeper Harry Gregg was regaining consciousness, thinking that he was dead.[41] He felt blood on his face and “didn’t dare put [his] hand up. [He] thought the top of [his] head had been taken off, like a hard boiled egg.”[42] Just above him, light shone into the cabin, so Gregg kicked the hole wide enough for him to escape. He also managed to save some passengers.

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This Day in History, Feb. 4 – Chávez Leads Coup d’État against Venezuelan President Pérez (1992)

Chávez Leads Coup d’État against Venezuelan President Pérez (1992)

The Venezuelan coup attempts of 1992 were attempts to seize control of the government of Venezuela by the Hugo Chávez-led Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200. The first coup attempt took place on February 4, 1992, and was led by Chávez.[1] A second coup attempt on November 27, 1992, took place while Chávez was in prison but was directed by a group of young military officers who were loyal to the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200.[1] The coups were directed against President Carlos Andrés Pérez and occurred in a period marked by neo-liberal economic reforms, which were attempted in order to decrease the country’s level of indebtedness and had caused major protests and labour unrest. Despite their failure to depose the government of Carlos Andrés, the February coup attempts brought Chávez into the national spotlight.[3] Fighting during the coups resulted in the deaths of at least 143 people and perhaps as many as several hundred.[1]

While officially unconfirmed, Cuban involvement in and facilitation of the coup attempts was alleged by multiple sources. CIA analyst Brian Latell suggested that the Cuban intelligence agency, the Dirección General de Inteligencia(DGI), may have utilized Chávez to fulfill Cuban strategic dominance of Venezuela and its oil reserves. In Latell’s view, the DGI may have either hired Chávez as an agent or provided critical aid to his coup plots.[4] Latell claims Cuba had previously engaged in efforts to destabilize Venezuela by aiding guerrillas in the 1960s.[5] According to General Carlos Julio Peñaloza in his book El Delfín de Fidel, both Fidel Castro and the succeeding President of Venezuela, Rafael Caldera, knew of Chávez’s coup plot.[6] Castro allegedly provided agents to convince President Pérez that there was no threat of a coup.[6] After the coup, Caldera, manipulated by Castro and Chávez, was then supposed to take power after Pérez was removed from the presidency.[6]


Mirage fighter jets in rebel hands bombed an army barracks west of Caracas; however, the attack had little effect on slowing down the government counterattack. Around the same time, an F-16 pilot loyal to the government managed to engage and shoot down an AT-27.[29]

An attempt to free Chávez and his associates from jail failed, and government forces retook most military bases. At about 3:00 pm, the remaining rebels took off for Peru in two C-130s, although they made it only as far as Iquitos. In total, the November death toll reached 172, much higher than the February attempt.[30]


Many of the participants in the coups had been members of the Partido de la Revolución Venezolana (PRV) in the 1970s. The PRV was created by ex-Communist and guerrilla fighter Douglas Bravo, who after failing in an armed insurrection, sought to infiltrate the Venezuelan armed forces to reach power.[11] Thus, preparation for the coup began more than ten years before Pérez was re-elected in 1988.

The coup organizers rejected the dominant political consensus of Venezuela, known as puntofijismo, which had been established in 1958. Under puntofijismo, political power was held by two political parties, Democratic Action and COPEI, which they saw as the two arms of a corrupt, clientelist establishment.

The Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR-200) was founded in 1982 by lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez Frías, who was later joined by Francisco Arias Cárdenas. They used the Venezuelan revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar as their group’s symbol. Their main complaint was the corruption of Carlos Andrés Pérez as well as Venezuela’s ongoing economic difficulties and social turmoil. In the view of these two men, the entire political system had to be changed in order for social change to occur.

In February 1989 shortly before the Caracazo, Cuban president Fidel Castro placed sleeper agents in Venezuela to create unrest, with Cuba recently entering its Special Period and experiencing economic difficulties as a result of the Soviet Union’s Perestroika, Castro allegedly sought to establish an ally in Venezuela so Cuba could also enjoy funds from oil profits.[12] As the Revolutions of 1989 occurred in Soviet states, Castro had allegedly began to organize a coup in late-1989 that would indirectly use sleeper agents who participated in the Caracazo.[13] Castro, who was allegedly one of the main organizers according to Venezuelan Major Orlando Madriz Benítez, would instead use Chávez as the face of a civil-military action in order to avoid retaliatory actions from the United States.[14]

Coup attempts

February 1992 coup attempt

After an extended period of popular dissatisfaction and economic decline under the neoliberal administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez,[9] Chávez made extensive preparations for a military-civilian coup d’état.[15] Initially planned for December 1991, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of February 4, 1992. Chávez at the time held the loyalty of some 10% of Venezuela’s military forces.[16] On that date, five army units under Chávez’s command moved into urban Caracas to seize key military and communications installations throughout the city, including the presidential residence (Miraflores Palace), the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport, and the Military Museum. Chávez’s ultimate goal was to intercept Pérez, take custody of him and allegedly execute him before he returned to Miraflores from an overseas trip, planning to capture the president at Maiquetía airport.[7][6]

The coup attempt was originally supposed to be performed by Admiral Hernan Gruber Odreman, the highest-ranking officer among conspirators who was supposed to capture President Pérez when he returned to Venezuela from Davos, Switzerland.[6]However, he refused after discovering that Rafael Caldera was to become head of the governing board following the coup.[6] A second attempt to capture Pérez was then committed hours later by then Army captain, Miguel Rodríguez Torres.[6] Since Pérez had knowledge of the coup, the president was then driven without the car lights on and his vehicle sped onto the highway.[7][6]Torres, surprised, then ordered those under his command to fire at President Pérez’s fleeing vehicle.[6]

The final attempt in the coup attempt occurred 30 minutes later at Miraflores Palacewhere insurgents attempted to siege the palace and kill President Pérez.[6] Those attempting to attack Miraflores were told that the doors would be opened by the palace guards that were supposedly part of the coup.[6] However, when the attackers approached Miraflores in an armored vehicle, they were attacked by the palace guards who knew about the coup.[6] The firefight then ended Chávez’s attack and left 3 of Pérez’s bodyguards dead while Pérez hid under an overcoat eluding capture.[7][17] The president was then able to escape from the palace and then called General Ochoa saying, “No negotiations. Give them bullets. I want to be back in soon”.[7][17]Pérez then used a local TV station to rally the rest of the military against his aggressors.[7] Chávez’s allies were also unable to broadcast Chávez’s pre-recorded call for a planned mass civilian uprising against Pérez.

The betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances left Chávez and only a small group of rebels completely cut off in the Military Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their collaborators.[18] Nevertheless, rebel forces in other parts of Venezuela made swift advances and took control of such large cities as Valencia, Maracaibo, and Maracay with the help of spontaneous civilian aid. Chávez’s forces, however, had failed to take Caracas since he remained inside the Military Museum.[19] Chávez soon gave himself up to the government. He was then allowed to appear on national television to call for all remaining rebel detachments in Venezuela to cease hostilities. When he did so, Chávez famously quipped on national television that he had only failed “por ahora” (“for now”):[20]

Comrades: Unfortunately, for the moment, the objectives that we had set for ourselves have not been achieved in the capital. That’s to say that those of us here in Caracas have not been able to seize power. Where you are, you have performed well, but now is the time for a rethink; new possibilities will arise again, and the country will be able to move definitively toward a better future.[20]

In the ensuing violence, 18 soldiers were killed while 51 soldiers were injured, while the majority of those killed during the coup were civilians, with 49 killed and about 80 injured in the crossfire.[17][21]

Despite Chávez’s military failure, he was immediately catapulted into the national spotlight due to his action, with many poor Venezuelans seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy.[7][20][22] Afterward, Chávez imprisoned at the San Carlos military stockade.[23][24]

November 1992 coup attempt

A still image from the video Chávez released during the November 1992 coup attempt.

On November 27, 1992, a second coup attempt was launched. It was led by officers from the air force and navy, including pilot Luis Reyes Reyes [es]. The group had contacts with Chávez in prison and had learned some lessons from the February coup’s errors, including launching at 4:30 am instead of midnight, and obtaining communications equipment to ensure they would not be stranded without it.

In a bloody battle, they took over Venezolana de Televisión, a state-run TV station, and broadcast a video made in prison by Chávez, calling for a popular uprising.[25] But the rebels failed to take over other broadcast outlets such as Televen, allowing Pérez to address the nation and declare that the rebellion had failed.[26]

Mirage fighter jets in rebel hands bombed an army barracks west of Caracas; however, the attack had little effect on slowing down the government counterattack. Around the same time, an F-16 pilot loyal to the government managed to engage and shoot down an AT-27.[29]The rebels also seized control of major air bases and largely gained control of the skies. After a minor pilot defection enabled government forces to shoot down a rebel plane, the rebels bombed some targets. They bombed the Heliocoide Caracas headquarters of DISIP, Miraflores Palace, the Sucre Police headquarters and Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base. However, by 9:00 am, it was clear that there was little other success for the rebels. [27][28]

An attempt to free Chávez and his associates from jail failed, and government forces retook most military bases. At about 3:00 pm, the remaining rebels took off for Peru in two C-130s, although they made it only as far as Iquitos. In total, the November death toll reached 172, much higher than the February attempt.[30]

Government response

In the process of resisting the coup attempts, government agents were reported to have killed 40 people, both civilians and surrendered rebels, either as extrajudicial

executions or with disproportionate force.[31] Arbitrary detentions numbered in the hundreds, continued for some time after the events, and included student leaders and other civic leaders not connected with the coup attempts. In addition, freedom of expression was suspended for two months in the February case and three weeks in the November case, with censorship of the media. A series of demonstrations in March/April calling for the resignation of President Pérez and the restoration of constitutional guarantees were met with state violence, including indiscriminate police firing into crowds, with a total of thirteen deaths.[31] A number of members of the press covering the protests were severely injured by police.[31]

Participants in the February coup attempt were tried under the regular military justice system. But in response to the November coup attempt, the government created ad hoc courts based on the 1938 legal code of Eleazar López Contreras, drawn up twenty years before the transition to democracy. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the courts unconstitutional but not on the due process grounds for which they were criticised. The Court instead found that the President had neglected to suspend the relevant constitutional rights (right to a defense, right to be tried by one’s natural judge).[32]

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This Day In History for Jan. 29th: Bear River Massacre (1863)

Bear River Massacre (1863)

The Bear River Massacre, or the Battle of Bear River or Massacre at Boa Ogoi, took place in present-day Idaho on January 29, 1863.

After years of skirmishes and food raids on farms and ranches, the United States Army attacked a Shoshoneencampment, gathered at the confluence of the Bear River and Beaver Creek in what was then southeastern Washington Territory. The site is located near the present-day city of Preston in Franklin County, Idaho. Colonel Patrick Edward Connorled a detachment of California Volunteers as part of the Bear River Expedition against Shoshone Chief Bear Hunter.

Hundreds of Shoshone men, women and children were killed near their lodges, while only two dozen soldiers died.[1]The number of Shoshone victims reported by local settlers was higher than that reported by soldiers.

Early history and causes

A Shoshone encampment in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, photographed by W.H. Jackson, 1870

Cache Valley, originally called Seuhubeogoi (Shoshone for “Willow Valley”), was the traditional hunting ground for the Northwestern Shoshone. They gathered grain and grass seeds there, as well as fished for trout and hunted small game such as ground squirrel and woodchuck; and large game including buffalo, deer, and elk.[2] This mountain valley had attracted fur trapperssuch as Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith, who visited the region. Cache Valley was named for the trappers’ practice of leaving stores of furs and goods (i.e., a cache) in the valley as a base for hunting in the surrounding mountain ranges.[3]

So impressed were the trappers by the region that they recommended to Brigham Young that he consider the valley as a location for his settlement of Mormon pioneers. Instead, Young chose Salt Lake Valley. In the long term, Mormon settlers eventually moved to Cache Valley as well.[4] As early as July 31, 1847, a 20-man delegation of Shoshone met with the Mormons to discuss their land claims in northern Utah.[5]

Immigrant pressures causing Shoshone starvation[edit]

The establishment of the California and Oregon trails, as well as the establishment of Salt Lake City in 1847, brought the Shoshone people into regular contact with white colonists moving westward. By 1856, European Americans had established their first permanent settlements and farms in Cache Valley, starting at Wellsville, Utah and gradually moving northward.[6]

Brigham Young made the policy that Mormon settlers should establish friendly relations with the surrounding American Indian tribes. He encouraged their helping to “feed them rather than fight them”.[7] Despite the policy, the settlers were consuming significant food resources and taking over areas that pushed the Shoshone increasingly into areas of marginal food production. David H. Burr, Surveyor General of the Territory of Utah, reported in 1856 that the local Shoshone Indians complained that the Mormons used so much of the Cache Valley that the once abundant game no longer appeared.[8] The foraging and hunting by settlers traveling on the western migration trails also took additional resources away from the Shoshone. As early as 1859 Jacob Forney, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Utah, recognized the impact of migrants, writing, “The Indians…have become impoverished by the introduction of a white population”. He recommended that an Indian Reservation be established in Cache Valley to protect essential resources for the Shoshone. His superiors at the United States Department of the Interior did not act on his proposal.[9] Desperate and starving, the Shoshone attacked farms and cattle ranches for food, as a matter not just of revenge but survival.[10]

In the early spring of 1862, Utah Territorial Superintendent of Indian Affairs, James Duane Doty, spent four days in Cache Valley and reported: “The Indians have been in great numbers, in a starving and destitute condition. No provisions having been made for them, either as to clothing or provisions by my predecessors…The Indians condition was such-with the prospect that they would rob mail stations to sustain life.”[11] Doty purchased supplies of food and slowly doled it out. He suggested furnishing the Shoshone with livestock to enable them to become herdsmen instead of beggars.

On July 28, 1862, John White discovered gold on Grasshopper Creek in the mountains of southwestern Montana.[12] Soon miners created a migration and supply trail right through the middle of Cache Valley, between this mining camp and Salt Lake City. The latter was the nearest significant trading source of goods and food in the area.[13]

Outbreak of the Civil War[edit]

When the American Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was concerned that California, which had just recently become a state, would be cut off from the rest of the Union. He ordered several regiments to be raised from the population of California to help protect mail routes and the communications lines of the West.[14] Neither Lincoln nor the U.S. War Department quite trusted the Mormons of the Utah Territory to remain loyal to the Union, in spite of their leader Young’s telegrams and assurances.[15]The Utah War and Mountain Meadows massacre were still fresh in the minds of military planners. They worried that the Mormons’ substantial militia might answer only to Young and not the federal government.[16]

Col. Patrick Edward Connor[17] was put in command of the 3rd California Volunteer Infantry Regiment and ordered to move his men to Utah, to protect the Overland Mail Route and keep peace in the region.[18] Upon arriving in Utah, he established Camp Douglas (adjacent to the current location of the University of Utah) as the primary base of operations for his unit. It was within a few miles of the Mormon Temple construction site and downtown Great Salt Lake City.[19]

Warnings and conflicts with Cache Valley settlers

Several incidents in the summer and fall of 1862 led to the battle between Bear Hunter and Col. Connor. These were related to broad struggles between indigenous peoples and European-American settlers over almost the entire United States west of the Mississippi River. The attention of most of the nation’s population was focused on the Civil War in the eastern states. Some historians have overlooked these incidents because they occurred near the ill-defined boundary of two different territories: those of Washington and Utah. While the incidents took place in proximity, the administrative centers dealing with them were more than 1,000 miles apart (1,600 km), so it was difficult to integrate reports. As an example, for years residents and officials believed Franklin and the area of conflict were part of the Utah Territory. Residents of Franklin sent elected representatives to the Utah Territorial Legislature and were part of the politics of Cache County, Utah until 1872, when a surveying team determined the community was in Idaho territory.[20]


When a resident of Summit Creek (now Smithfield) found his horse missing, he accused a young Shoshone fishing in nearby Summit Creek of having stolen the animal. Robert Thornley, an English immigrant and first resident of Summit Creek, defended the young Indian and testified for him. Nonetheless, a jury of locals convicted him and hanged him for stealing the horse. Local history recorded the Shoshone’s name as Pugweenee. Later information reveals that Pugweenee is the Shoshone word for “fish” and so the man may have been saying, “Look at my fish,” or “I was just fishing.”[citation needed]

The young Indian man was the son of the local Shoshone chief. Within a few days, the Shoshone retaliated by killing a couple of young men of the Merrill family who were gathering wood in the nearby canyon.[21]

Massacre near Fort Hall

During the summer of 1859, a settler company of about 19 people from Michigan were traveling on the Oregon Trail near Fort Hall when they were attacked at night, by people they assumed were local Shoshone. Several members of the company were killed by gunfire. The survivors took refuge along the Portneuf River, where they hid among the bullrushes and willow trees. Three days later, Lieutenant Livingston of Fort Walla Walla, leading a company of dragoons, met the survivors. He investigated the incident, and documented what he called the brutality of the attack.[22] According to the Deseret News of 21 September 1859, a detachment of Lieutenant Livingston’s dragoons found five bodies at the scene of the massacre who were horribly mangled. A girl of only five years old had her ears cut off, her eyes gouged out, both legs amputated at the knees and by all appearances was made to walk on her stumps. [23]

Reuben Van Ornum and the Battle of Providence

On September 9, 1860, Elijah Utter was leading migrants on the Oregon trail when they were attacked by a group of presumably Bannock and Boise Shoshone. In spite of settlers’ attempts to placate the Native Americans, the Indians killed nearly the entire migrant party and drove off their livestock. Alexis Van Ornum, his family, and about ten others hid in some nearby brush, only to be discovered and killed. Their bodies were discovered by a company of U.S. soldiers led by Captain Frederick T. Dent. Lieutenant Marcus A. Reno came across the mutilated bodies of six of the Van Ornums. Reports from survivors were that four Van Ornum children were taken captive by the attacking warriors.[24][25]

As a direct result of this attack, the Army established a military fort near the present location of Boise, Idaho, along the migrant trail. Colonel George Wright requested $150,000 to establish a military post able to sustain five companies of troops.[26]

Zachias Van Ornum, Alexis’ brother, heard from a relative on the Oregon Trail that a small white boy of his missing nephew Reuben’s age was being held by a group of Northwestern Shoshone, likely to be in Cache Valley.[27] Van Ornum gathered a small group of friends and traveled to Salt Lake City to get some help from the territorial government.[28] There he visited Col. Connor at Fort Douglas and asked for help to regain his nephew. Col. Connor agreed and sent a detachment of cavalry under the command of Major Edward McGarry to Cache Valley to rendezvous with Van Ornum near the town of Providence, Utah.[29]

Van Ornum located a small group of Shoshone warriors being led by Chief Bear Hunter. He and McGarry’s men followed the Shoshone as they retreated to nearby Providence Canyon.[30] After the Indians opened fire, McGarry gave the order “to commence firing and to kill every Indian they could see.”[31] A skirmish between the Shoshone and the U.S. Army lasted for about two hours after the Shoshone established a defensible position in the canyon.[32] Finally Chief Bear Hunter signaled surrender by climbing a foothill and waving a flag of truce.[28]

Together with about 20 of his people, Chief Bear Hunter was taken prisoner and transported to the soldiers’ camp near Providence. When asked about the young white boy, Bear Hunter said that the boy had been sent away a few days earlier.[33] McGarry instructed Bear Hunter to send his people to bring back the white boy. He held Bear Hunter and four warriors hostage. By noon of the next day, the Shoshone returned with a small boy who fit the description of Reuben Van Ornum.[30] Zachias Van Ornum claimed the boy was his nephew and took custody, departing to return to Oregon.[34]

The Shoshone protested, claiming that the boy was the son of a French fur trapper and the sister of Shoshone chief Washakie. The federal troops left with Van Ornum and the young boy, McGarry reported to Col. Connor of their rescue of the boy “without the lost or scratch of man or horse.”[35] Bear Hunter complained to the settlers in Cache Valley, arguing they should have helped him against the soldiers. After a confrontation between Bear Hunter, some warriors from his band, and nearly 70 members of the Cache Valley militia, the settlers donated two cows and some flour as the “best and cheapest policy” as a kind of compensation.[35]

Bear River crossing

On December 4, 1862, Connor sent McGarry on another expedition to Cache Valley, this time to recover some stolen livestock from Shoshone. The Shoshone broke camp and fled in advance of the Army troops and cut the ropes of a ferry at the crossing. McGarry got his men across the river, but had to leave their horses behind.[13] Four Shoshone warriors were captured and held for ransom, although they did not appear related to the theft. McGarry ordered that if the stock was not delivered by noon the next day, these men were to be shot. The Shoshone chiefs moved their people further north into Cache Valley. The captives were executed by a firing squad, and their bodies were dumped into the Bear River.[36] In an editorial, the Deseret News expressed concern that the execution would aggravate relations with the Shoshone.[37]

Incident on the Montana Trail

A.H. Conover, operator of a Montana Trail freight-hauling service between mining camps of Montana and Salt Lake City, was attacked by Shoshone warriors. They killed two men who accompanied him, George Clayton and Henry Bean. Arriving in Salt Lake City, Conover told a reporter the Shoshone were “determined to avenge the blood of their comrades” killed by Major McGarry and his soldiers. He said the Shoshone intended to “kill every white man they should meet on the north side of the Bear River, till they should be fully avenged.”[38]

Attack on the Montana Trail

The final catalyst for Connor’s expedition was a Shoshone attack on a group of eight miners on the Montana Trail. They had come within 2 miles (3 km) of the main Shoshone winter encampment north of Franklin. The miners missed a turn and ended up mired and lost on the western side of the Bear River, unable to cross the deep river. Three men swam across to Richmond, where they tried to get provisions and a guide from the settlers.[39] Before they returned, the other five men were attacked by Shoshone. They killed John Henry Smith of Walla Walla, and some horses. When the Richmond people returned with the advance party, they recovered the body of John Smith. They buried him at the Richmond city cemetery.[38]

The surviving miners reached Salt Lake City. William Bevins testified before Chief Justice John F. Kinney and swore an affidavit describing Smith’s murder. He also reported that ten miners en route to the city had been murdered three days before Smith.[40] Kinney issued a warrant for the arrest of chiefs Bear Hunter, Sanpitch, and Sagwitch. He ordered the territorial marshal to seek assistance from Col. Connor for a military force to “effect the arrest of the guilty Indians.”[38]

Due to such reports, Connor was ready to mount an expedition against the Shoshone. He reported to the U.S. War Department prior to the engagement:

I have the honor to report to you that from information received from various sources of the encampment of a large body of Indians on the Bear River, 140 mi (230 km) north of this point, who had murdered several miners, during the winter, passing to and from the settlements in this valley to the Bear River mines east of the Rocky Mountains. And being satisfied that they were part of the same band who had been murdering emigrants on the Overland Mail Route for the last 15 years, and the principal actors and leaders in the horrid massacre of the past summer. I determined, although the season was unfavorable to military expedition in consequence of cold weather and deep snow, to chastise them if possible.[41]

Military action in Cache Valley

In many ways, the soldiers stationed at Fort Douglas were spoiling for a fight. In addition to discipline problems among the soldiers, there was a minor “mutiny” among the soldiers where a joint petition by most of the California Volunteers made a request to withhold over $30,000 from their paychecks for the sole purpose of instead paying for naval passage to the eastern states, and to “serve their country in shooting traitors instead of eating rations and freezing to death around sage brush fires…” Furthermore, they stated that they would gladly pay this money “for the privilege (original emphasis) of going to the Potomac and getting shot.” This request was declined by the War Department.[42]

Throughout most of January 1863, soldiers at Fort Douglas were preparing for a lengthy expedition traveling north to the Shoshone. Connor also wanted to keep word of his expedition secret, in order to make a surprise attack upon the Shoshone when he arrived. To do this, he separated his command into two different detachments, that were to periodically come together on their journey to Cache Valley. His main concern was to avoid the problems that McGarry had faced in the earlier action, where the Shoshone had moved and scattered even before his troops could arrive.

Reaction to this military campaign was mixed. George A. Smith, in the official Journal History of the LDS Church, wrote:

It is said that Col. Connor is determined to exterminate the Indians who have been killing the Emigrants on the route to the Gold Mines in Washington Territory. Small detachments have been leaving for the North for several days. If the present expedition copies the doings of the other that preceded it, it will result in catching some friendly Indians, murdering them, and letting the guilty scamps remain undisturbed in their mountain haunts.[43]

On the other hand, the Deseret News in an editorial expressed:

…with ordinary good luck, the volunteers will “wipe them out.” We wish this community rid of all such parties, and if Col. Connor be successful in reaching that bastard class of humans who play with the lives of the peaceable and law-abiding citizens in this way, we shall be pleased to acknowledge our obligations.[44]

The first group to leave from Fort Douglas was forty men of Company K, 3rd Regiment California Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Captain Samuel W. Hoyt, accompanied by 15 baggage wagons and two “mountain howitzers” totalling 80 soldiers[45] They left on January 22, 1863.[46]

The second group was 220 cavalry, led personally by Connor himself with his aides and fifty men each from Companies A, H, K and M of the 2nd Regiment of Cavalry, California Volunteers which left on January 25.[45] As orders specific for this campaign, Connor ordered each soldier to carry “40 rounds of rifle ammunition and 30 rounds of pistol ammunition”. This was a total of nearly 16,000 rounds for the campaign. In addition, nearly 200 rounds of artillery shot were brought with the howitzers.[47] As a part of the deception, the cavalry were to travel at night while the infantry moved during the day.[44] Accompanying Connor was the former U.S. Marshal and Mormon scout, Orrin Porter Rockwell.[48]

On the evening of January 28, Captain Hoyt’s infantry finally arrived near the town of Franklin, where they spotted three Shoshone who were attempting to get food supplies from the settlers in the town. The Shoshone received nine bushels of wheat in three sacks. William Hull, the settler who was assisting the Shoshone, noted later:

we had two of the three horses loaded, having put three bushels on each horse…when I looked up and saw the Soldiers approaching from the south. I said to the Indian boys, “Here comes the Toquashes (Shoshone for U.S. Soldiers) maybe, you will all be killed. They answered ‘maybe the Toquashes will be killed too,” but not waiting for the third horse to be loaded, they quickly jumped upon their horses and led the three horses away, disappearing in the distance.[49]

The sacks of grain carried by these Shoshone were later found by the 3rd California Volunteers during their advance the next day, apparently dropped by the Shoshone in their attempt to get back to their camp.

Col. Connor met up with Hoyt that evening as well, with orders to begin moving at about 1:00 am the next morning for a surprise attack, but an attempt to get a local settler to act as a scout for the immediate area led the actual advance to wait until 3:00 am[50]

It should be noted that this military action took place during perhaps the coldest time of the year in Cache Valley. Local settlers commented that it was unseasonably cold even for northern Utah, and it may have been as cold as −20 °F (−30 °C) on the morning of the 29th when the attack began. Several soldiers had come down with frostbite and other cold-weather problems, so that the 3rd volunteers were only at about 2/3 of their strength compared to when they left Fort Douglas.[51] Among the rations issued to the soldiers during the campaign was a ration of whiskey held in a canteen, where several soldiers noted that this whiskey froze solid on the night before the attack.[52]

Shoshone battle preparations[edit]

It is apparent that the Shoshone chiefs were far from ignorant of the potential for conflict with Col. Connor’s soldiers, and some minor preparations were made at the same time. Most of this involved mainly gathering foodstuffs from surrounding Mormon settlements, in a fashion very similar to the incident listed above with the residents of Richmond, Utah.[citation needed]

Most of the firearms that the Shoshone had at the time of the attack had been captured in various small skirmishes, traded from fur trappers, white settlers, and other Native American tribal groups, or simply antiques that had been handed down from one generation to another over the years.[53] Clearly they were not as standardized or as well built as the guns issued by the Union Army to the soldiers of the California Volunteers.

Bear Hunter and the other Shoshone chiefs did, however, make some defensive arrangements around their encampment, in addition to simply selecting a generally defensible position in the first place. Willow branches had been woven into makeshift screens, hiding the position and numbers of Shoshone. They also dug a series of “rifle pits” along the eastern bank of Beaver Creek as well as along the Bear River.[54]

Perhaps most ironic was that at the same time the arrest warrant was being issued by Justice Kinney, Chief Sanpitch (named in the warrant) was in Salt Lake City trying to negotiate peace on behalf of the Northwestern Shoshone. A correspondent for the Sacramento Union reported “The Prophet (Brigham Young) had told Sanpitch the Mormon people had suffered enough from the Shoshoni of Cache Valley and that if more blood were spilled the Mormons might just “pitch in” and help the troops.”[55]

While it appears as though the deception by Connor to hide the numbers of his soldiers involved in the confrontation was successful, the Shoshone were not even then anticipating a direct military engagement with these soldiers. Instead, they were preparing for a negotiated settlement where the chiefs would be able to talk with officers of the U.S. Army and try to come to an understanding.[54]

Battle of Bear River

Major McGarry and the first cavalry units of the 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry arrived at the battle scene at 6:00 am, just as dawn was breaking over the mountains. Due to the weather conditions and deep snow, it took time for Connor to organize his soldiers into a battle line. The artillery pieces never arrived as they got caught in a snow drift six miles (9.7 km) from the Shoshone encampment.[50]

Chief Sagwitch noted the approach of the American soldiers, saying,

Look like there is something up on the ridge up there. Look like a cloud. Maybe it is a steam come from a horse. Maybe that’s them soldiers they were talking about.”[56]

Soon afterward, the first shots of this incident occurred.

Initially Connor tried a direct frontal offensive against the Shoshone positions, but was soon overwhelmed with return gunfire from the Shoshone. The California Volunteers suffered most of their direct combat-related casualties during this first assault.[57]

After temporarily retreating and regrouping, Connor sent McGarry and several other smaller groups into flanking maneuvers to attack the village from the sides and from behind. He directed a line of infantry to block any attempt by the Shoshone to flee from the battle.[58] After about two hours, the Shoshone had run out of ammunition. According to some later reports, some Shoshone were seen trying to cast lead ammunition during the middle of the battle, and died with the molds in their hands.[58]


This Day In History -Japanese WWII Soldier Found Hiding in Guam Jungle (1972)

Japanese WWII Soldier Found Hiding in Guam Jungle (1972)

Shoichi Yokoi

Shōichi Yokoi (横井 庄一 Yokoi Shōichi, March 31, 1915 – September 22, 1997) was a Japanese sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the Second World War. He was among the last three Japanese holdouts to be found after the end of hostilities in 1945, discovered in the jungles of Guam in January 1972, almost 28 years after US forces had regained control of the island in 1944.

Early life
Yokoi was born in Saori, Aichi Prefecture. He was an apprentice tailor when he was conscripted in 1941.[1]

War years and post-war survival
Initially, Yokoi served with the 29th Infantry Division in Manchukuo. In 1943, he was transferred to the 38th Regiment in the Mariana Islands. He arrived on Guam in February 1943. When American forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi went into hiding with ten other Japanese soldiers.[1] Seven of the original ten eventually moved away and only three remained in the region. These separated, but they visited each other until about 1964, when the other two died in flooding.[2] The last eight years he lived alone.

Yokoi survived by hunting, primarily at night. He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave.[1]

On the evening of January 24, 1972, Yokoi was discovered in the jungle[3] by Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia, two local men checking their shrimp traps along a small river on Talofofo. They had assumed Yokoi was a villager from Talofofo, but he thought his life was in danger and attacked them.[2] They managed to subdue him and carried him out of the jungle with minor bruising.[1]

“It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned”, he said upon his return to Japan. The remark would become a popular saying in Japanese.[4]

For twenty-eight years, he had hidden in an underground jungle cave, fearing to come out of hiding even after finding leaflets declaring World War II had ended, believing them to be false Allied propaganda.[1]

Yokoi was the third-to-last Japanese soldier to surrender after the war, preceding second lieutenant Hiroo Onoda (relieved from duty by his former commanding officer March 9, 1974) and Private Teruo Nakamura (arrested December 18, 1974).

Later life
After a whirlwind media tour of Japan, he married and settled down in rural Aichi Prefecture. Yokoi became a popular television personality and an advocate of austere living. He was featured in a 1977 documentary called Yokoi and His Twenty-Eight Years of Secret Life on Guam. He eventually received the equivalent of US$300 in back pay, and a small pension.
Although he never met Emperor Hirohito, while visiting the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Yokoi said, “Your Majesties, I have returned home…I deeply regret that I could not serve you well. The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve you will never change.”[5]

Yokoi died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 82,[5] and was buried at a Nagoya cemetery, under a gravestone that had originally been commissioned by his mother in 1955, after Yokoi had been officially declared dead.

See also
Hiroo Onoda discovered March 1974, Lubang Island, Philippines
Teruo Nakamura discovered December 1974, Morotai Island, Indonesia
^ a b c d e “Shoichi Yokoi”, Ultimate Guam.
^ a b Lanchin, Mike (24 January 2012). “Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese soldier who held out in Guam”. BBC.
^ Mendoza, Patrick M. (1999). Extraordinary People in Extraordinary Times: Heroes, Heroes, and Villains, p. 71.
^ Lewis, John. “Japan’s WWII ‘no surrender’ soldier dies”, CNN. September 23, 1997.
^ a b Kristof, Nicholas D. “Shoichi Yokoi, 82, Is Dead ; Japan Soldier Hid 27 Years”, New York Times . September 26, 1997.
Hatashin, Omi and Shoichi Yokoi. (2009). Private Yokoi’s War and Life on Guam, 1944-72: The Story of the Japanese Imperial Army’s Longest WWII Survivor in the Field and Later Life. London: Global Oriental. 10-ISBN 1-905246-69-2; 13-ISBN 978-1-905246-69-4; OCLC 316801727.
Mendoza, Patrick M. (1999). Extraordinary People in Extraordinary Times: Heroes, Sheroes, and Villains. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 1-56308-611-5; ISBN 978-1-56308-611-3.

This Day In History: Death of Last Native Speaker Leads to Extinction of Eyak Language (2008)

Death of Last Native Speaker Leads to Extinction of Eyak Language (2008)

Eyak is an extinct Na-Dené language historically spoken by the Eyak people, indigenous to south-central Alaska, near the mouth of the Copper River.

The closest relatives of Eyak are the Athabaskan languages. The Eyak–Athabaskan group forms a basic division of the Na-Dené language phylum, the other one being Tlingit

Numerous Tlingit place names along the Gulf Coast are derived from names in Eyak; they have obscure or even nonsensical meanings in Tlingit, but oral tradition has maintained many Eyak etymologies. The existence of Eyak-derived Tlingit names along most of the coast towards southeast Alaska is strong evidence that the prehistoric range of Eyak was once far greater than it was at the time of European contact. This confirms both Tlingit and Eyak oral histories of migration throughout the region.

Marie Smith Jones (May 14, 1918 – January 21, 2008)[1][2][3] of Cordova was the language’s last native speaker, and the last full-blooded Eyak. Because of the dying off of its native speakers, Eyak became a symbol in the fight against language extinction.[4]

The spread of English and suppression of aboriginal languages are not the only reasons for the decline of the Eyak language. The northward migration of the Tlingit people around Yakutat in precontact times encouraged the use of Tlingit rather than Eyak along much of the Pacific Coast of Alaska. Eyak was also under pressure from its neighbors to the west, the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound, as well as some pressure from the people of the Copper River valley. Eyak and Tlingit culture began to merge along the Gulf Coast, and a number of Eyak-speaking groups were absorbed by the Gulf Coast Tlingit populations. This resulted in the replacement of Eyak by Tlingit among most of the mixed groups after a few generations, as reported in Tlingit oral histories of the area.

In June 2010, the Anchorage Daily News published an article about Guillaume Leduey, a French college student with an unexpected connection to the Eyak language. Beginning at age 12, he had taught himself Eyak, utilizing print and audio instructional materials he obtained from the Alaska Native Language Center. During that time, he never traveled to Alaska or conversed with Marie Smith Jones, the last native speaker.[5]

That same month that the article was published, he traveled to Alaska and met with Dr. Michael Krauss, a noted linguist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Krauss assisted Leduey with proper Eyak phonological pronunciation and assigned further instruction in grammar and morphology—including morphemic analyses of traditional Eyak stories.

In June 2011, Leduey returned to Alaska to facilitate Eyak language workshops in Anchorage and Cordova. He is now regarded as a fluent speaker, translator, and instructor of Eyak.[6] Despite his fluency, Eyak remains classified as “Extinct” as there is no native speaker left. Currently, Leduey provides instruction and curriculum assistance to the Eyak Language Project from France.

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This Day in History, Jan. 18: Dr. William Price Introduces Cremation to the UK (1884)

Dr. William Price Introduces Cremation to the UK (1884)

William Price (4 March 1800 – 23 January 1893)[1] was a Welsh doctor known for his support of Welsh nationalism, Chartismand his involvement with the Neo-Druidic religious movement. He has been recognised as one of the most significant figures of 19th-century Wales, and one of the most unusual in Victorian Britain.[2][3]

Born to a lower-class household in Monmouthshire, Wales, Price trained as a doctor in London, England before returning to Wales, becoming interested in the Chartists’ ideas regarding equal democratic rights for all men. Following their failed 1839 uprising, he escaped government persecution by fleeing to France, where he became convinced that an ancient prophecy predicted that he would liberate his country from English rule.

Returning to Wales, Price tried reviving what he believed to be the religion of the ancient druids, the Celtic Iron Age ritual specialists of western Europe. In doing so, he became one of the most prominent proponents of the Neo-Druidic movement, something that had been developing since the Welsh nationalist Iolo Morganwg’s activities in the late 18th century. After cremating his dead son in 1884, Price was arrested and put on trial by those who believed cremation was illegal in Britain; however, he successfully argued that there was no legislation that specifically outlawed it, which paved the way for the Cremation Act 1902. Upon his death, he was cremated in a ceremony watched by 20,000 onlookers.

Known for adhering to such principles as equal democratic rights for all men, vegetarianism, cremation and the abolition of marriage, all of which were highly controversial at the time, he has been widely labelled as an “eccentric” and a “radical”.[4] Since his death he has been remembered as “one of the great Welshmen of all time” with a permanent exhibition and statue dedicated to him being opened in the town of Llantrisant, where he had lived for much of his later life.[5]


Early Life: 1800–1821

William Price was born in a cottage at Ty’n-y-coedcae Farm (“The House in the Wooded Field”) near Rudry near Caerphilly in Glamorganshire on 4 March 1800.[6] His father, also named William Price (1761–), was an ordained priest of the Church of England who had studied at Jesus College, Oxford.[7] His mother, Mary Edmunds (1767–1844), was an uneducated Welshwoman who had been a maidservant prior to her marriage. Their marital union was controversial because Mary was of a lower social standing than William, something which was socially taboo in late 18th century British society.[7] The couple had three surviving children, Elisabeth (1793–1872), Mary (1797–1869) and Ann (1804–1878), prior to William’s birth.[8]

The elder Price suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, acting erratically and experiencing fits of violent rage. He bathed either fully clothed or naked in local ponds, and collected snakes in his pockets for days at a time. Carrying a saw around, he removed bark from trees, then burning it while muttering certain words, also spitting onto stones, believing that it improved their value. His actions led to him becoming a threat to the local community, in one instance firing a gun at a woman whom he claimed was taking sticks from his hedgerow, and in another hurling a sharp implement at another man.[9]

At home, Welsh was William’s primary language, but he learned to speak English at school,[10] which was located two miles from his home, in Machen. Although only staying at school for three years, between the ages of 10 and 13, he passed most exams and proved himself a successful student. After spending six months living at home, he decided to become a doctor despite his father’s insistence that he become a solicitor.[11] Moving to Caerphilly, in 1814 he became apprenticed to successful surgeon Evan Edwards, and paid for his tuition with money supplied by various family members. One of these benefactors, his uncle the Reverend Thomas Price of Merriott, Somerset, advised him to give up this education, arguing that it was putting too great a financial strain upon Price’s family, but William was insistent that he should continue.[12]

In 1820, Price’s apprenticeship with Edwards came to an end, and despite his lack of funds, he moved to London in order to continue his studies. Taking up lodgings near to St Paul’s Cathedral, he entered The London Hospital in Whitechapel for a year of instruction under Sir William Blizard. He also registered at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he was under the instruction of surgeon John Abernethy.[13] Gaining employment caring for wealthy clients to help financially support his studies, Price eventually became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, being awarded with a certificate signed by Blizard, Abernathy and others. Contemplating travelling to India following the culmination of his studies in London, he instead decided to return to Wales, where he would work as a general practitioner.[14]

Welsh Nationalism and Chartism: 1821–1839

Becoming a trained doctor, Price returned to Wales, setting up in his medical practice at Craig yr Helfa in Glyntaff, remaining there for seven years.[15][10] He rented Porth y Glo Farm in Upper Boat, filling the farm with goats and cattle, but was forcibly evicted.[16] He subsequently moved to the newly industrialised Taff Valley near to Pontypridd. It was here in 1823 that the workforce elected him to the position of chief surgeon at the Brown Lenox Chainworks in Pontypridd; he stayed in this job till 1871.[17][10] In June 1823 he was also appointed medical advisor to the wealthy Crawshay family who owned the ironworks at Merthyr and Treforest.[17] Spending time in Treforest, “a revolutionary town”, he came under the increasing influence of left-wing political ideas.[18] Being a proud Welsh nationalist, Price found likeminded friends in another wealthy family, the Guests, and gave a speech on Welsh history and literature at their Royal Eisteddfod in 1834, which Lady Charlotte Guest felt to be “one of the most beautiful and eloquent speeches that was ever heard”. On the basis of it, he was invited to take up the job of judging the eisteddfod’s bardic competition, with the prize being awarded to Taliesin, the son of the famous Welsh nationalist and Druid, Iolo Morganwg.[19]

Price became increasingly interested in Welsh cultural activities, which included those that had been influenced by the Neo-Druidic movement. He joined the Society of the Rocking Stone, a Neo-Druidic group that met at the Y Maen Chwyf stone circle in Pontypridd, and by 1837 had become one of its leading members. To encourage the revival of Welsh culture, he gave lessons every Sunday in the Welsh language, which he feared was dying out with the spread of English.[20] In 1838 he also called for the Society to raise funds to build a Druidical Museum in the town, the receipts from which would be used to run a free school for the poor. He was supported in this venture by Francis Crawshay, a member of the Crawshay family, but did not gain enough sponsors to allow the project to go ahead. In anger, he issued a statement in a local newspaper, telling the people that they were ignoring “your immortal progenitors, to whom you owe your very existence as a civilised people.”[20][21]

Meanwhile, Price’s social conscience had led him to become a significant figure in the local Chartist movement, which was then spreading about the country, supporting the idea that all men should have the right to vote, irrespective of their wealth or social standing. Many of the Chartists in the industrial areas of southern Wales took up arms in order to ready themselves for revolution against the government, and Price himself aided them in gaining such weaponry. According to government reports, by 1839 he had acquired seven pieces of field artillery. That same year, the Newport Rising took place, when many of the Chartists and their working class supporters rose up against the authorities, only to be quashed by soldiers, who killed a number of the revolutionaries. Price himself had recognised that this would happen, and he and his supporters had not joined in with the rebellion on that day. Nonetheless, he also realised that the government would begin a crackdown of those involved in the Chartist movement in retaliation for the uprising, and so he fled to France, disguised as a woman.[22]

Life as an Archdruid: 1840–1882

It was while in temporary exile as a political dissident in Paris, France that Price visited the Louvre museum, where he experienced what has been described as “a turning-point in his religious life.” He became highly interested in a stone with a Greek inscription that he erroneously felt depicted an ancient Celtic bard addressing the moon. He subsequently interpreted the inscription as a prophecy given by an ancient Welsh prince named Alun, declaring that a man would come in the future to reveal the true secrets of the Welsh language and to liberate the Welsh people: as historian Ronald Hutton later remarked however, “nobody else had heard of this person, or made (anything like) the same interpretation of the inscription”. Nonetheless, Price felt that this prophecy applied to him, and that he must return to Wales to free his people from the English-dominated authorities.[23]

Soon returning to Wales, Price set himself up as a Druid, founding a religious Druidic group that attracted a number of followers. Little is known of the specific doctrines which he preached, but his followers walked around carrying staffs engraved with figures and letters. Declaring that marriage was wrong as it enslaved women, he began having a relationship with a woman named Ann Morgan, whom he moved in with, and in 1842 she bore him a daughter. He baptised this child himself at the Rocking Stone in Pontypridd, naming her Gwenhiolan Iarlles Morganwg (meaning ‘Gwenhiolan, Countess of Glamorgan’).[24] He began developing an appearance that was unconventional at the time, for instance wearing a fox fur hat and emerald green clothing, as well as growing his beard long and not cutting his hair. He also began attempting to hold Druidic events, organising an eisteddfod at Pontypridd in 1844, but nobody turned up, and so, solitarily, he initiated his daughter as a bard at the event. In 1855 he then led a parade of the Ivorites, a friendly society that held to a philosophy of Welsh nationalism, through the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, accompanied by a half-naked man calling himself Myrddin (the Welsh name for Merlin) and a goat.[25]

Returning to his long-held idea of building a museum and school at Pontypridd, a local landowner, Sir Benjamin Hall, who wanted to encourage the revival of Welsh culture, allowed him to use his own land, although Price and the Halls subsequently fell out and the project was scrapped. Left with debts from the aborted project, Price once more escaped to France in 1861. Around this time, he began writing to the national press, making exaggerated statements about himself and Welsh history, for instance claiming that he was Lord of the Southern Welsh and that “All the Greek Books are the Works of the Primitive Bards, in our own Language!!!!!!!… Homer was born in the hamlet of Y Van near Caerphili. He built Caerphili Castle… the oldest Books of the Chinese confess the fact!!”[26]

In 1866 Price returned to Wales, finding that his daughter had grown up to live her own life following her mother, Ann Morgan’s, death. He settled to live in the town of Llantrisant, where he opened up a new medical practice, which proved to be a success, and he took a young farmer’s daughter, Gwenllian Llewelyn, (1859–1948)[27] who at the time was only twenty-one years old, to be his new partner, despite the fact that he was an old man by this time.[28] Despite his earlier pronouncements against marriage, he organised a Druidic wedding ceremony through which he married Gwenllian on 4 March 1881, on Price’s 81st birthday. Taking place at the Rocking Stone in Pontypridd, it involved Price addressing the sun at noon, and women dressed as the Three Graces were involved. The ceremony attracted a large audience, who according to reports found the whole proceeding amusing.[29] Meanwhile, in 1871, he had published a book, written in his own invented form of Welsh that he believed was the true language of the ancient Welsh. In the work, which had a title that translated as The Will of My Father, Price conceptualised the universe being created out of a snake’s egg by a supreme Father God. However, this work was largely ignored at the time and soon fell into obscurity.[30]

Later life and advocacy of cremation: 1883–1893

Gwenllian and Price’s first child was born on 8 August 1883,[27] a son whom Price named Iesu Grist (the Welsh for Jesus Christ), in an act of provocation against the traditional religion of the time, and also because he expected great things from his child. However, the infant died only five months later, on 10 January 1884.[27] Believing that it was wrong to bury a corpse, thereby polluting the earth, Price decided to cremate his son’s body, an act which at the time was taboo, although across the country there were already several proponents of it as a form of corpse disposal. He performed the funeral in the early evening of Sunday 13 January 1884, upon the summit of a hill to one side of Llantrisant. A number of local people noticed the fire, and upon discovering that Price was attempting to burn his infant son, surged on him. He was rescued from an angry mob by the police, who arrested him for what they believed was the illegal disposal of a corpse, and the body of his son, which had not yet been engulfed by the flames, was removed from the pyre.[31]

A post-mortem was performed on Iesu’s body by a local doctor, who concluded that the child had died of natural causes and had not been murdered. Price was therefore not charged with infanticide, but was instead tried in a Cardiff courtroom for performing cremation rather than burial, which the police believed to be illegal. Price argued that while the law did not state that cremation was legal, it also did not state that it was illegal either. The judge, Mr Justice Stephen (1829–1894), agreed. Price was freed, and returned to Llantrisant to find a crowd of supporters cheering for his victory. On 14 March, he was finally able to give his son a cremation involving his own personal Druidic prayers.[31] The case set a precedent which, together with the activities of the newly founded Cremation Society of Great Britain, led to the Cremation Act 1902.[32] In 1885 the first official cremation of the remains of Jeanette Pickersgill (1814–1885) took place at Woking Crematorium, and ten cremations are recorded as being performed in the following year. In 1892 a crematorium opened in Manchester, followed by one in Glasgow in 1895, Liverpool in 1896 and Birmingham Crematorium in 1903.[33]

The media interest in the court case had made Price famous, and he soon began to capitalise on this fame, selling three hundred medals, each depicting the cosmic egg and the snake that laid it, commemorating his victory, which sold at threepence each. He began to be invited to give lectures and attend public functions, but these did not prove to be particular successes, with much of his audiences not understanding either his philosophies, or his attire, which was made out of red cloth and embroidered with green letters.[34]

In late 1884, his wife gave birth to their second child, whom Price also named Iesu Grist, and on 27 May 1886 she then bore him a daughter, whom they named Penelopen.[35] He believed that his son had an important future ahead of him, being the prophesied second coming of Jesus Christ, his namesake, and predicted that he would come to reign over the earth. Meanwhile, in 1892 he erected a pole which was over sixty feet high, with a crescent moon symbol at its peak, on top of the hill where his first son had been cremated, and noted that he wanted his funeral to take place there as well.[36]

Price died at his home in Llantrisant on the night of 23 January 1893.[37] His final words, when he knew that he was near death, were “Bring me a glass of Champagne”. He drank the champagne and died shortly after.[38] On 31 January 1893, William Price was cremated on a pyre of two tons of coal, in accordance with his will, on the same hillside overlooking Llantrisant. It was watched by 20,000 people, and overseen by his family, who were dressed in a mix of traditional Welsh and his own Druidic clothing.[36] His wife would go on to remarry, this time to a road inspector employed by the local council, and she gave up her Druidic beliefs to join a conventional Christian denomination, having her two children baptised into it, and Iesu Grist was renamed Nicholas, never fulfilling the ambitious predictions that his father had made about him.[36]

Personal beliefs

Oil painting of Price by A.C. Hemming, 1918. On display at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Price held several strongly held beliefs that ran counter to the Victorian social norms of the time, and chose to promote them in a “most exhibitory fashion”.[39] Biographer Dean Powell considered him “a maverick and a rebel”, but was unsure as to whether Price’s eccentricity was a result of mental illness or not.[40]

A nudist, Price refused to wear socks, considering them to be unhygienic,[41] and washed coins, fearing that they were a source of cross-contamination.[41] He opposed vaccination, in part due to his brother’s childhood death following an inoculation,[40] and refused to treat patients who were tobacco smokers.[40] He was an advocate of vegetarianism, believing that eating meat “brought out the beast in man”, and denounced vivisection.[40] Price opposed marriage, which he saw as the enslavement of women, instead advocating free love.[41] Price also argued many fellow practitioners were nothing but ‘poison peddlers’, making their money selling drugs and profiting off the sick rather than tackling the cause of the illness.[27]

Price was also responsible for the building of the famous “Round houses” in Pontypridd. He convinced a local builder that he owned the land and these round houses were to be the gateway to his mansion. He neither owned the land nor a mansion.[citation needed]

Price believed that religion was often used to enslave people, and despised “sanctimonious preachers”.[42] His religious beliefs have provided an influence on the modern druidic movement. Michell referred to him as “a natural shaman”.[43]


Soon after Price’s death, ballads commemorating him were composed and circulated throughout the local area for a number of years afterward. In 1896, an exhibition that commemorated his life was held in Cardiff, while a pamphlet biography of him was published to accompany it.[36] In 1940, a more significant biography about Price was published, entitled A Welsh Heretic, which was written by Islwyn Nicholas. In 1947, the Cremation Society put up a plaque commemorating him in the town of Llantrisant, while a statue of him was unveiled in the town in 1982, depicting the doctor in his characteristic fox-skin headdress, arms outstretched.[44] This was followed in 1992 when a memorial garden was named after him, and an exhibition about him opened in the town’s visitor centre.[5]

In a 1966 book examining the history of Llantrisant, author Dillwyn Lewis described Price as being “one of the most controversial figures of modern times.”[45] The historian Ronald Hutton would later describe him as “both one of the most colourful characters in Welsh history, and one of the most remarkable in Victorian Britain”[3] while his biographer Dean Powell considered him “the most notable individual in 19th century Wales”.[2]



  1. ^ “Price, William, Dr, (Llantrisant), papers”. Archives Network Wales. May 2003. Retrieved 2006-09-27.
  2. Jump up to:a b Powell 2005. p. 3.
  3. Jump up to:a b Hutton 2009. p. 253.
  4. ^ BBC Welsh hall of fame Archived 2006-06-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Jump up to:a b Hutton 2009. p. 286.
  6. ^ Powell 2005, p. 6.
  7. Jump up to:a b Powell 2005, pp. 9–10.
  8. ^ Powell 2005, p. 9.
  9. ^ Powell 2005, pp. 10–11.
  10. Jump up to:a b c Hutton 2009, p. 253.
  11. ^ Powell 2005, p. 12.
  12. ^ Powell 2005, p. 13.
  13. ^ Powell 2005, pp. 15–17.
  14. ^ Powell 2005, p. 26.
  15. ^ Powell 2005, p. 27.
  16. ^ Powell 2005, pp. 27–29.
  17. Jump up to:a b Powell 2005, p. 29.
  18. ^ Powell 2005, p. 31.
  19. ^ Hutton 2009, pp. 253–254.
  20. Jump up to:a b Hutton 2009, p. 254.
  21. ^ Powell 2005, pp. 37–41.
  22. ^ Hutton 2009, pp. 254–255.
  23. ^ Hutton 2009, p. 255.
  24. ^ Hutton 2009. p. 255.
  25. ^ Hutton 2009, p. 256.
  26. ^ Hutton 2009. pp. 280–281.
  27. Jump up to:a b c d “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2016-06-27. Retrieved 2016-06-10.
  28. ^ Hutton 2009. p. 281.
  29. ^ Hutton 2009. p. 282.
  30. ^ Hutton 2009. pp. 281–282.
  31. Jump up to:a b Hutton 2009. p. 283.
  32. ^ “Doctor William Price”. Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  33. ^ “”
  34. ^ Hutton 2009. pp. 283–284.
  35. ^ Powell 2005. p. 95.
  36. Jump up to:a b c d Hutton 2009. p. 285.
  37. ^ “PRICE , WILLIAM ( 1800–1893 )”. National Library of Wales. 1959. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  38. ^ Angus Deayton (22 January 2012). It’s Your Round – S02E05(radio)It’s Your Round (radio). S02E05. BBC Radio 4. Event occurs at 21:30.
  39. ^ Powell 2005, p. 3.
  40. Jump up to:a b c d Powell 2005, p. 41.
  41. Jump up to:a b c Powell 2005, p. 42.
  42. ^ Powell 2005, p. 33.
  43. ^ Michell 1997. p. 6.
  44. ^ Llantrisant timeline Archived 2008-09-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  45. ^ Lewis 1966. p. 57.


Bracegirdle, Cyril (1997). Dr. William Price: Saint or Sinner?. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 978-0-86381-434-1.
Hutton, Ronald (2009). Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-14485-7.
Lewis, Dillwyn (1966). The History of Llantrisant. Beddau Centenary Committee.
Michell, John (1984). Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-7474-0353-1.
Powell, Dean (2005). Eccentric: The Life of Dr. William Price. Llantrisant, Wales: Dean Powell. ISBN 978-0-9550854-0-6.

This Day In History: Captain James Cook Crosses Antarctic Circle (1773)

Captain James Cook Crosses Antarctic Circle (1773)

James Cook

Profession: Explorer

Nationality: British

Why Famous: Cook explored thousands of miles across largely uncharted areas of the globe, surveying, recording and naming features for the first time. He had a unique combination of seamanship, surveying and cartographic skills, physical courage and leadership.

Born: October 271728
Birthplace: Marton, Yorkshire, England
Star Sign: Scorpio

Died: February 141779 (aged 50)
Cause of Death: Killed in a fight with Hawaiians

Married Life

  • 1762-12-21 British Explorer Captain James Cook marries Elizabeth Batts

Historical Events in the Life of James Cook

    • 1768-08-25 Captain James Cook departs from Plymouth, England, on his first voyage on board the Endeavour, bound for the Pacific Ocean
    • 1769-10-08 Captain James Cook lands in New Zealand (Poverty Bay)
    • 1770-04-19 British explorer Captain James Cook first sights Australia
    • 1770-04-20 Captain James Cook arrives in New South Wales
    • 1770-04-28 British Captain James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, lands at Botany Bay in Australia
    • 1770-06-11 Captain James Cook discovers Great Barrier Reef off Australia
    • 1770-08-22 James Cook’s expedition lands on the east coast of Australia
    • 1771-07-12 James Cook sails Endeavour back to Downs, England
    • 1772-07-13 Captain James Cook begins 2nd voyage aboard the Resolution to the South Seas to search for Terra Australis (Southern continent)
    • 1772-10-30 Captain James Cook arrives with ship Resolution in Capetown
    • 1773-01-17 Captain James Cook becomes 1st to cross Antarctic Circle (66° 33′ S)
    • 1774-01-30 Captain James Cook reaches 71°10′ south, 1820km from south pole (record)
    • 1774-07-17 Captain James Cook arrives in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)
    • 1775-07-30 Captain James Cook with Resolution returns to England
    • 1776-07-11 Captain James Cook begins his third voyage
    • 1776-11-30 Captain James Cook begins 3rd and last trip to the Pacific
    • 1777-12-08 Captain James Cook leaves Society Islands
    • 1777-12-24 Kiritimati, also called Christmas Island, is discovered by James Cook
    • 1778-01-18 Captain James Cook stumbles over Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands)
    • 1778-03-07 Captain James Cook 1st sights Oregon coast, at Yaquina Bay
    • 1778-03-15 Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island discovered by Captain James Cook
    • 1778-03-22 Captain James Cook sights Cape Flattery, now in Washington state
    • 1778-08-09 Captain James Cook reaches Cape Prince of Wales, Bering Straits
    • 1778-10-03 Captain James Cook anchors at Alaska
    • 1778-11-26 British explorer Captain James Cook is the first European to visit Maui in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii)
    • 1779-01-17 Captain James Cook’s last notation in Discovery’s ship’s log



Conquest of Canada (1758-63)

During the Seven Years’ War, he served in North America as master ofPembroke.[13] In 1758, he took part in the major amphibious assault thatcaptured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French, after which heparticipated in the siege of Quebec City and then the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He showed a talent for surveying and cartography,and was responsible for mapping much of the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River during the siege, thus allowing General Wolfe to make hisfamous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.[6]

Cook’s aptitude for surveying was put to good use mapping the jagged coast of Newfoundland in the 1760s, aboard HMSGrenville. He surveyed the northwest stretch in 1763 and 1764, the south coast between the Burin Peninsula and Cape Rayin 1765 and 1766, and the west coast in 1767. At this time Cook employed local pilots to point out the “rocks and hiddendangers” along the south and west coasts. During the 1765 season, four pilots were engaged at 4 shillings a day each: JohnBeck for the coast west of “Great St. Lawrence”, Morgan Snook for Fortune Bay, John Dawson for Connaigre and HermitageBay, and John Peck for the “Bay of Despair.” [14]

His five seasons in Newfoundland produced the first large-scale and accurate maps of the island’s coasts and were the firstscientific, large scale, hydrographic surveys to use precise triangulation to establish land outlines.[15] They also gave Cook hismastery of practical surveying, achieved under often adverse conditions, and brought him to the attention of the Admiraltyand Royal Society at a crucial moment both in his career and in the direction of British overseas discovery. Cook’s map wouldbe used into the 20th century—copies of it being referenced by those sailing Newfoundland’s waters for 200 years.[16]

Following on from his exertions in Newfoundland, it was at this time that Cook wrote that he intended to go not only “fartherthan any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go.”[11]

Voyages of exploration

First voyage (1768–71)

In 1766, the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean toobserve and record the transit of Venus across the Sun. Cook, at the age of39, was promoted to lieutenant and named as commander of the expedition.[17][18] The expedition sailed from England on 26 August 1768,[19] roundedCape Horn and continued westward across the Pacific to arrive at Tahiti on 13April 1769, where the observations of the Venus Transit were made. However,the result of the observations was not as conclusive or accurate as had beenhoped. Once the observations were completed, Cook opened the sealedorders which were additional instructions from the Admiralty for the secondpart of his voyage: to search the south Pacific for signs of the postulated richsouthern continent of Terra Australis.[20] Cook then sailed to New Zealandand mapped the complete coastline, making only some minor errors. He thenvoyaged west, reaching the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770,and in doing so his expedition became the first recorded Europeans to haveencountered its eastern coastline.[NB 2]

On 23 April he made his first recorded direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point,noting in his journal: “…and were so near the Shore as to distinguish several people upon the Sea beach they appear’d to beof a very dark or black Colour but whether this was the real colour of their skins or the C[l]othes they might have on I knownot.”[21] On 29 April Cook and crew made their first landfall on the mainland of the continent at a place now known as theKurnell Peninsula. Cook originally christened the area as “Stingray Bay”, but he later crossed it out and named it Botany Bay[22] after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. It is here that JamesCook made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal.[23]

After his departure from Botany Bay he continued northwards, and a mishap occurred, on 11 June, when the Endeavour ranaground on a shoal of the Great Barrier Reef, and then “nursed into a river mouth on 18 June 1770″.[24] The ship was badlydamaged and his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach (near the docks ofmodern Cooktown, Queensland, at the mouth of the Endeavour River).[3] Once repairs were complete the voyagecontinued, sailing through Torres Strait and on 22 August he landed on Possession Island, where he claimed the entirecoastline he had just explored as British territory. He returned to England via Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia, wheremany in his crew succumbed to malaria), the Cape of Good Hope and the island of Saint Helena, arriving on 12 July 1771.


Cook’s journals were published upon his return, and he became something of a hero among the scientific community. Amongthe general public, however, the aristocratic botanist Joseph Banks was a bigger hero.[3] Banks even attempted to takecommand of Cook’s second voyage, but removed himself from the voyage before it began, and Johann Reinhold Forsterand his son Georg Forster were taken on as scientists for the voyage. Cook’s son George was born five days before he leftfor his second voyage.[25]

The routes of Captain James Cook’s voyages. The first voyage is shown in redsecond voyage in greenand thirdvoyage in blueThe route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Second voyage (1772–75)

Shortly after his return from the first voyage, Cook was promotedin August 1771, to the rank of commander.[26][27] Then, in 1772,he was commissioned by the Royal Society to search for thehypothetical Terra Australis. On his first voyage, Cook haddemonstrated by circumnavigating New Zealand that it was notattached to a larger landmass to the south. Although he chartedalmost the entire eastern coastline of Australia, showing it to becontinental in size, the Terra Australis was believed to lie furthersouth. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Alexander Dalrymple and others of the Royal Society still believed that thismassive southern continent should exist.[28]

Cook commanded HMS Resolution on this voyage, while Tobias Furneaux commanded its companion ship, HMS Adventure.Cook’s expedition circumnavigated the globe at a very highsouthern latitude, becoming one of the first to cross theAntarctic Circle on 17 January 1773. In the Antarctic fog,Resolution and Adventure became separated. Furneaux madehis way to New Zealand, where he lost some of his men duringan encounter with Māori, and eventually sailed back to Britain,while Cook continued to explore the Antarctic, reaching 71°10’Son 31 January 1774.[11]

Cook almost encountered the mainland of Antarctica, but turned backnorth towards Tahiti to resupply his ship. He then resumed hissouthward course in a second fruitless attempt to find the supposedcontinent. On this leg of the voyage he brought with him a youngTahitian named Omai, who proved to be somewhat less knowledgeableabout the Pacific than Tupaia had been on the first voyage. On hisreturn voyage to New Zealand in 1774, he landed at the Friendly Islands, Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

Before returning to England, he took a final sweep across the SouthAtlantic from Cape Horn and surveyed, mapped and took possessionfor Britain of South Georgia, explored by Anthony de la Roché in1675, discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands (“Sandwich Land”). He then turned north to South Africa, andfrom there continued back to England. His reports upon his return homeput to rest the popular myth of Terra Australis.[29]

Another accomplishment of the second voyage was the successful employment of the Larcum Kendall’s K1 copy of John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer, which enabled Cook to calculate his longitudinal position with much greater accuracy.Cook’s log was full of praise for this time-piece which he used to make charts of the southern Pacific Ocean that were soremarkably accurate that copies of them were still in use in the mid-20th century.[30]

Upon his return, Cook was promoted to the rank of post-captain and given an honorary retirement from the Royal Navy, as anofficer in the Greenwich Hospital. His acceptance was reluctant, insisting that he be allowed to quit the post if the opportunityfor active duty presented itself.[31] His fame now extended beyond the Admiralty and he was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Copley Gold Medal, painted by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, dined with James Boswell anddescribed in the House of Lords as “the first navigator in Europe”.[11] But he could not be kept away from the sea. A thirdvoyage was planned and Cook volunteered to find the Northwest Passage. Cook travelled to the Pacific and hoped to traveleast to the Atlantic, while a simultaneous voyage travelled the opposite way.[32]

Third voyage (1776–79)

On his last voyage, Cook once again commanded HMS Resolutionwhile CaptainCharles Clerke commanded HMS DiscoveryOstensibly, the voyage was planned toreturn Omai to Tahiti; this is what the general public believed, as he had become afavourite curiosity in London. Principally the purpose of the voyage was an attempt todiscover the famed Northwest Passage.[33] After returning Omai, Cook travelled northand in 1778 became the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. In passing andafter initial landfall in January 1778 at Waimea harbour, Kauai, Cook named thearchipelago the “Sandwich Islands” after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the actingFirst Lord of the Admiralty.[34]

From the South Pacific, he went northeast to explore the west coast of North Americanorth of the Spanish settlements in Alta California. He made landfall at approximately44°30′ north latitude, near Cape Foulweather on the Oregon coast, which he named.Bad weather forced his ships south to about 43° north before they could begin theirexploration of the coast northward.[35] He unknowingly sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and soon after entered Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He anchorednear the First Nations village of Yuquot. Cook’s two ships spent about a month inNootka Sound, from 29 March to 26 April 1778, in what Cook called Ship Cove, nowResolution Cove,[36] at the south end of Bligh Island, about 5 miles (8 km) east acrossNootka Sound from Yuquot, a Nuu-chah-nulth village (whose chief Cook did not identifybut may have been Maquinna). Relations between Cook’s crew and the people ofYuquot were cordial if sometimes strained. In trading, the people of Yuquot demandedmuch more valuable items than the usual trinkets that had worked for Cook’s crew inHawaii. Metal objects were much desired, but the lead, pewter, and tin traded at firstsoon fell into disrepute. The most valuable items the British received in trade were seaotter pelts. Over the month-long stay the Yuquot “hosts” essentially controlled the tradewith the British vessels, instead of vice versa. Generally the natives visited the Britishvessels at Resolution Cove instead of the British visiting the village of Yuquot atFriendly Cove.[37]

After leaving Nootka Sound, Cook explored and mapped the coast all the way to the Bering Strait, on the way identifyingwhat came to be known as Cook Inlet in Alaska. It has been said that, in a single visit, Cook charted the majority of the NorthAmerican northwest coastline on world maps for the first time, determined the extent of Alaska and closed the gaps in Russian(from the West) and Spanish (from the South) exploratory probes of the Northern limits of the Pacific.[11]

The Bering Strait proved to be impassable, although he made several attempts to sail through it. He became increasinglyfrustrated on this voyage, and perhaps began to suffer from a stomach ailment; it has been speculated that this led to irrationalbehaviour towards his crew, such as forcing them to eat walrus meat, which they found inedible.[38]

Cook returned to Hawaii in 1779. After sailing around the archipelago for some eight weeks, he made landfall at Kealakekua Bay, on ‘Hawaii Island’, largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Cook’s arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiianharvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook’s ship, HMS Resolution, or moreparticularly the mast formation, sails and rigging, resembled certain significant artefacts that formed part of the season ofworship.[3][38] Similarly, Cook’s clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processionsthat took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively byMarshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook’s (and to a limited extent, his crew’s) initial deificationby some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono.[39] Though this view was first suggested by members ofCook’s expedition, the idea that any Hawaiians understood Cook to be Lono, and the evidence presented in support of it waschallenged in 1992.[38][40]


After a month’s stay, Cook got under sail again to resume his exploration of the Northern Pacific. Shortly after leaving HawaiiIsland, the foremast of the Resolution broke and the ships returned to Kealakekua Bay for repairs. It has been hypothesisedthat the return to the islands by Cook’s expedition was not just unexpected by the Hawaiians, but unwelcome, because theseason of Lono had recently ended (presuming that they associated Cook with Lono and Makahiki). Tensions rose, and anumber of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians. On 14 February 1779, at Kealakekua Bay, someHawaiians took one of Cook’s small boats. As thefts were quite common in Tahiti and the other islands, Cook would havetaken hostages until the stolen articles were returned.[3] He attempted to take hostage the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. TheHawaiians prevented this, and Cook’s men had to retreat to the beach. As Cook turned his back to help launch the boats, hewas struck on the head by the villagers and then stabbed to death as he fell on his face in the surf.[41] Hawaiian tradition saysthat he was killed by a chief named Kalanimanokahoowaha or Kanaina.[42] The Hawaiians dragged his body away. Four of theMarines with Cook were also killed and two wounded in the confrontation.

The esteem in which he was nevertheless held by the Hawaiians resultedin his body being retained by their chiefs and elders. Following thepractice of the time, Cook’s body underwent funerary rituals similar tothose reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of the society. The bodywas disembowelled, baked to facilitate removal of the flesh, and thebones were carefully cleaned for preservation as religious icons in afashion somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of European saints in theMiddle Ages. Some of Cook’s remains, disclosing some corroboratingevidence to this effect, were eventually returned to the British for a formalburial at sea following an appeal by the crew.[44]

Clerke took over the expedition and made a final attempt to pass throughthe Bering Strait.[45] Following the death of Clerke, Resolution andDiscovery returned home in October 1780 commanded by John Gore, aveteran of Cook’s first voyage, and Captain James King.[46] Cook’saccount of his third and final voyage was completed upon their return byKing.

David Samwell, who sailed with Cook on the Resolutionwrote of him: “He was a modest man, and rather bashful; of anagreeable lively conversation, sensible and intelligent. In temper he was somewhat hasty, but of a disposition the most friendly,benevolent and humane. His person was above six feet high: and, though a good looking man, he was plain both in dress andappearance. His face was full of expression: his nose extremely well shaped: his eyes which were small and of a brown cast,were quick and piercing; his eyebrows prominent, which gave his countenance altogether an air of austerity.”[47]


This Day in History for January 15 – Body of Elizabeth Short—the “Black Dahlia”—Found (1947)

Body of Elizabeth Short—the “Black Dahlia”—Found (1947)


Elizabeth Short (July 29, 1924 – January 14 or 15, 1947), known posthumously as the “Black Dahlia”, was an American woman who was found murdered in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Her case became highly publicized due to the graphic nature of the crime, which included her corpse having been mutilated and bisected at the waist.

A native of Boston, Short spent her early life in Massachusetts and Florida before relocating to California, where her father lived. It is commonly held that Short was an aspiring actress, though she had no known acting credits or jobs during her time in Los Angeles. She would acquire the nickname of the Black Dahlia posthumously (after the owner of a drugstore in Long Beach, California told reporters that male customers had that name for her), as newspapers of the period often nicknamed particularly lurid crimes; the term may have originated from a film noir murder mystery, The Blue Dahlia, released in April 1946. After the discovery of her body on January 15, 1947, the Los Angeles Police Department began an extensive investigation that produced over 150 suspects, but yielded no arrests.

Short’s unsolved murder and the details surrounding it have had a lasting cultural intrigue, generating various theories and public speculation. Her life and death have been the basis of numerous books and films, and her murder is frequently cited as one of the most famous unsolved murders in American history, as well as one of the oldest unsolved cases in Los Angeles County.[2] It has likewise been credited by historians as one of the first major crimes in post-World War II America to capture national attention.[a]



Elizabeth Short[b] was born in the Hyde Park section of Boston, Massachusetts, the third of five daughters of Cleo and Phoebe May Short (née Sawyer).[8][9] Around 1927, the Short family relocated to Portland, Maine,[10] but eventually settled in Medford, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, where Short was raised.[11] Short’s father Cleo built miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash, when he lost most of his savings and the family became broke.[9] In 1930, Cleo’s car was found abandoned on the Charlestown Bridge,[12] and it was assumed that he had committed suicide by jumping into the Charles River.[12] Believing her husband to be deceased, Phoebe moved with her five daughters into a small apartment in Medford and worked as a bookkeeper to support them.[12]

Troubled by bronchitis and severe asthma attacks, Short underwent lung surgery at age 15, after which doctors suggested she relocate to a milder climate during the winter months to prevent further respiratory problems.[13] Short’s mother then sent her to spend winters in Miami, Florida with family friends.[14] During the next three years, Short lived in Florida during the winter months and spent the rest of the year in Medford with her mother and sisters. In her sophomore year, Short dropped out of Medford High School.[15]

Relocation to California

Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr.
In late 1942, Phoebe received a letter of apology from her presumed-deceased husband, which revealed that he was in fact alive and had started a new life in California.[15] In December, at age 18, Elizabeth relocated to Vallejo to live with her father, whom she had not seen since she was six years old.[16] At the time, he was working at the nearby Mare Island Naval Shipyard on San Francisco Bay. Arguments between Short and her father led to her moving out in January 1943.[17] Shortly after, she took a job at the Base Exchange at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base), near Lompoc, living with several friends, and briefly with an Army Air Force sergeant who reportedly abused her.[17] Short left Lompoc in mid-1943 and moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested on September 23, 1943 for underage drinking at a local bar.[18] The juvenile authorities sent her back to Medford,[c] but she returned instead to Florida, making only occasional visits to Massachusetts.[21]

While in Florida, Short met Major Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr., a decorated Army Air Force officer at the 2nd Air Commando Group. He was training for deployment to the China Burma India Theater of Operations of World War II. Short told friends that Gordon had written to propose marriage while he was recovering from injuries from a plane crash in India.[22] She accepted his offer, but Gordon died in a second crash on August 10, 1945, less than a week before the Surrender of Japan ended the war.[23]

She relocated to Los Angeles in July 1946 to visit Army Air Force Lieutenant Joseph Gordon Fickling, whom she had known from Florida.[24] Fickling was stationed at the Naval Reserve Air Base in Long Beach.[25] Short spent the last six months of her life in Southern California, mostly in the Los Angeles area; shortly before her death, she had been working as a waitress, and rented a room behind the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard.[26] Short has been variously described and depicted as an aspiring or “would-be” actress.[27] According to some sources, she did in fact have aspirations to be a film star,[28] though she had no known acting jobs or credits.[d]


Prior to murder

On January 9, 1947, Short returned to her home in Los Angeles after a brief trip to San Diego with Robert “Red” Manley, a 25-year-old married salesman she had been dating.[26] Manley stated that he dropped Short off at the Biltmore Hotel located at 506 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, and that Short was to meet her sister, who was visiting from Boston, that afternoon.[26] By some accounts, staff of the Biltmore recalled having seen Short using the lobby telephone.[e] Shortly after, she was allegedly seen by patrons of the Crown Grill Cocktail Lounge at 754 South Olive Street, approximately 1⁄2 mile (0.80 km) away from the Biltmore Hotel.[26]


On the morning of January 15, 1947, Short’s naked body was found severed in two pieces on a vacant lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue, midway between Coliseum Street and West 39th Street (at 34.0164°N 118.333°W) in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. At the time, the neighborhood was largely undeveloped.[31] Local resident Betty Bersinger discovered the body at approximately 10:00 a.m. while she was walking with her three-year-old daughter.[32] Bersinger initially thought she had found a discarded store mannequin.[33] When she realized it was a corpse, she rushed to a nearby house and telephoned the police.[34]

Short’s severely mutilated body was completely severed at the waist and drained entirely of blood, leaving its skin a pallid white.[35][36] Medical examiners determined that she had been dead for around ten hours prior to the discovery, leaving her time of death either sometime during the evening of January 14, or the early morning hours of January 15.[33] The body had obviously been washed by the killer.[37] Short’s face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears, creating an effect known as the “Glasgow smile”.[31] She had several cuts on her thigh and breasts, where entire portions of flesh had been sliced away.[38] The lower half of her body was positioned a foot away from the upper, and her intestines had been tucked neatly beneath her buttocks.[37] The corpse had been “posed”, with her hands over her head, her elbows bent at right angles, and her legs spread apart.[33][35]

Upon the discovery, a crowd of both passersby and reporters began to gather; Los Angeles Herald-Express reporter Aggie Underwood was among the first to arrive at the scene, and took several photos of the corpse and crime scene.[39] Near the body, detectives located a heel print on the ground amid the tire tracks,[40] and a cement sack containing watery blood was also found nearby.[41][42]

Autopsy and identification

An autopsy of Short’s body was performed on January 16, 1947, by Dr. Frederick Newbarr, the Los Angeles County coroner.[43] Newbarr’s autopsy report stated that Short was 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, weighed 115 pounds (52 kg), and had light blue eyes, brown hair, and badly decayed teeth.[44][f] There were ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck, and an “irregular laceration with superficial tissue loss” on her right breast.[45] Newbarr also noted superficial lacerations on the right forearm, left upper arm, and the lower left side of the chest.[45]

The body had been cut completely in half by a technique taught in the 1930’s called a hemicorporectomy. The lower half of her body had been removed by transecting the lumbar spine between the second and third lumbar vertebrae, thus severing the intestine at the duodenum. Newbarr’s report noted “very little” ecchymosis (bruising) along the incision line, suggesting it had been performed after death.[46] Another “gaping laceration” measuring 4.25 inches (108 mm) in length ran longitudinally from the umbilicus to the suprapubic region.[46] The lacerations on each side of the face, which extended from the corners of the lips, were measured at 3 inches (76 mm) on the right side of the face, and 2.5 inches (64 mm) on the left.[45] The skull was not fractured, but there was noted bruising on the front and right side of her scalp, with a small amount of bleeding in the subarachnoid space on the right side, consistent with blows to the head.[45] The cause of death was determined to be hemorrhaging from the lacerations to her face and the shock from blows on the head and face.[47] Newbarr noted that Short’s anal canal was dilated at 1.75 inches (44 mm), suggesting that she may have been raped.[46] Samples were taken from her body testing for the presence of sperm, but the results came back negative.[48]

Prior to the autopsy, police had quickly been able to identify the victim as Short after sending copies of her fingerprints to Washington, D.C. via Soundphoto, a primitive fax machine of the era; the prints matched those given by Short during her 1943 arrest.[49] Immediately following Short’s identification, reporters from William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner contacted her mother, Phoebe Short, in Boston, and told her that her daughter had won a beauty contest.[50][31] It was only after prying as much personal information as they could from Phoebe that the reporters revealed that her daughter had in fact been murdered.[31] The newspaper offered to pay her airfare and accommodations if she would travel to Los Angeles to help with the police investigation. That was yet another ploy since the newspaper kept her away from police and other reporters to protect its scoop.[51] The Examiner and another Hearst newspaper, the Los Angeles Herald-Express, later sensationalized the case, with one article from the Examiner describing the black tailored suit Short was last seen wearing as “a tight skirt and a sheer blouse”.[52] The media nicknamed her as the “Black Dahlia”[53] and described her as an “adventuress” who “prowled Hollywood Boulevard”. Additional newspaper reports, such as one published in the Los Angeles Times on January 17, deemed the murder a “sex fiend slaying”.[54]


Initial investigation

On January 21, 1947,[55] a person claiming to be Short’s killer placed a phone call to the office of James Richardson, the editor of the Examiner, congratulating Richardson on the newspaper’s coverage of the case, and stated he planned on eventually turning himself in, but not before allowing police to pursue him further.[26] Additionally, the caller told Richardson to “expect some souvenirs of Beth Short in the mail”.[26]

On January 24, a suspicious manila envelope was discovered by a U.S. Postal Service worker: The envelope had been addressed to “The Los Angeles Examiner and other Los Angeles papers” with individual words that had been cut-and-pasted from newspaper clippings; additionally, a large message on the face of the envelope read: “Here is Dahlia’s belongings [,] letter to follow”.[26] The envelope contained Short’s birth certificate, business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper, and an address book with the name Mark Hansen embossed on the cover.[56] The packet had been carefully cleaned with gasoline, similarly to Short’s body, which led police to suspect the packet had been sent directly by her killer.[57] Despite the efforts to clean the packet, several partial fingerprints were lifted from the envelope and sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for testing; however, the prints were compromised in transit and thus could not be properly analyzed.[58] The same day the packet was received by the Examiner, a handbag and a black suede shoe were reported to have been seen on top of a garbage can in an alley a short distance from Norton Avenue, 2 miles (3.2 km) from where Short’s body had been discovered. The items were recovered by police, but they had also been wiped clean with gasoline, destroying any fingerprints.[11]

Police quickly deemed Mark Hansen, the owner of the address book found in the packet, a suspect.[59] Hansen was a wealthy local nightclub and theater owner[60] and an acquaintance at whose home Short had stayed with friends,[61] and according to some sources,[g] he also confirmed that the purse and shoe discovered in the alley were in fact Short’s.[26] Ann Toth, Short’s friend and roommate, told investigators that Short had recently rejected sexual advances from Hansen, and suggested it as potential cause for him to kill her;[11] however, he was cleared of suspicion in the case.[62] In addition to Hansen, the Los Angeles Police Department interviewed over 150 men in the ensuing weeks whom they believed to be potential suspects.[63] Manley, who had been one of the last people to see Short alive, was also investigated, but was cleared of suspicion after passing numerous polygraph examinations.[11] Police also interviewed several persons found listed in Hansen’s address book, including Martin Lewis, who had been an acquaintance of Short’s.[64] Lewis was able to provide an alibi for the date of Short’s murder, as he was in Portland, Oregon visiting his father-in-law, who was dying of kidney failure.[65]

A total of 750 investigators from the LAPD and other departments worked on the case during its initial stages, including 400 sheriff’s deputies and 250 California State Patrol officers.[58][66] Various locations were searched for potential evidence, including storm drains throughout Los Angeles, abandoned structures, and various sites along the Los Angeles River, but the searches yielded no further evidence.[66] City Councilman Lloyd G. Davis posted a $10,000 (equivalent to $112,206 in 2018) reward for information leading police to Short’s killer.[67] After the announcement of the reward, various persons came forward with confessions, most of which police dismissed as false. Several of the false confessors were charged with obstruction of justice.[68]

On January 26, another letter was received by the Examiner, this time handwritten, which read: “Here it is. Turning in Wed., Jan. 29, 10 am. Had my fun at police. Black Dahlia Avenger”.[62] The letter also named a location at which the supposed killer would turn himself in. Police waited at the location on the morning of January 29, but the alleged killer did not appear.[62] Instead, at 1:00pm, the Examiner offices received another cut-and-pasted letter, which read: “Have changed my mind. You would not give me a square deal. Dahlia killing was justified.”[69]

The graphic nature of the crime and the subsequent letters received by the Examiner had resulted in a media frenzy surrounding Short’s murder.[70] Both local and national publications covered the story heavily, many of which reprinted sensationalistic reports suggesting that Short had been tortured for hours prior to her death; the information, however, was false, yet police allowed the reports to circulate so as to conceal Short’s true cause of death—cerebral hemorrhage—from the public.[58] Further reports about Short’s personal life were publicized, including details about her alleged declining of Hansen’s romantic advances; additionally, a stripper who was an acquaintance of Short’s told police that she “liked to get guys worked up over her, but she’d leave them hanging dry.”[71] This led some reporters (namely the Herald-Express’s Bevo Means) and detectives to look into the possibility that Short was a lesbian, and begin questioning employees and patrons of gay bars in Los Angeles; this claim, however, remained unsubstantiated.[58][68] The Herald-Express also received several letters from the purported killer, again made with cut-and-pasted clippings, one of which read: “I will give up on Dahlia killing if I get 10 years. Don’t try to find me.”[72]

On February 1, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the case had “run into a Stone Wall”, with no new leads for investigators to pursue.[58] The Examiner continued to run stories on the murder and the investigation, which was front-page news for 35 days following the discovery of the body.[33] When interviewed, lead investigator Captain Jack Donahue told the press that he believed Short’s murder had taken place in a remote building or shack on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and her body transported into the city where it was disposed of.[73] Based on the precise cuts and dissection of Short’s corpse, the LAPD looked into the possibility that the murderer may have been a surgeon, doctor, or someone with medical knowledge. In mid-February 1947, the LAPD served a warrant to the University of Southern California Medical School, which was located near the site where Short’s body had been discovered, requesting a complete list of the program’s students.[62] The university agreed so long as the students’ identities remained private, and background checks were conducted, but they yielded no results.[62]

Grand jury and aftermath

No lead had any conclusions. Once we’d find something, it seemed to disappear in front of our eyes.
—Sgt. Finis Brown, on the various dead ends in the case.[74]

By the spring of 1947, Short’s murder had become a cold case with few new leads.[73] Sergeant Finis Brown, one of the lead detectives on the case, blamed the press for compromising the investigation through reporters’ probing of details and unverified reporting.[74] In September 1949, a grand jury convened to discuss inadequacies in the LAPD’s homicide unit based on their failure to solve numerous murders—especially those of women and children—in the past several years, Short’s being one of them.[75][76] In the aftermath of the grand jury, further investigation was done on Short’s past, with detectives tracing her movements between Massachusetts, California, and Florida, and also interviewed people who knew her in Texas and New Orleans. However, the interviews yielded no useful information in the murder.[74]

Suspects and confessions

The notoriety of Short’s murder has spurred a large number of confessions over the years, many of which have been deemed false. During the initial investigation into her murder, police received a total of 60 confessions, most made by men.[77] Since that time, over 500 people have confessed to the crime, some of whom had not even been born at the time of her death.[78] Sergeant John P. St. John, a detective who worked the case until his retirement, stated, “It is amazing how many people offer up a relative as the killer.”[79]

In 2003, Ralph Asdel, one of the original detectives on the case, told the Times that he believed he had interviewed Short’s killer, a man who had been seen with his sedan parked near the vacant lot where her body was discovered in the early morning hours of January 15, 1947. A neighbor driving by that day stopped to dispose of a bag of lawn clippings in the vacant lot when he saw a parked sedan, allegedly with its right rear door open; the driver of the sedan was standing in the lot. His arrival apparently startled the owner of the sedan, who approached his car and peered in the window before returning to the sedan and driving away.[80] The owner of the sedan was followed to a local restaurant where he worked, but was ultimately cleared of suspicion.[80]

Suspects remaining under discussion by various authors and experts include a doctor named Walter Bayley, proposed by the former Times copyeditor Larry Harnisch;[69] Times publisher Norman Chandler, whom biographer Donald Wolfe claims impregnated Short;[81] Leslie Dillon,[82] Joseph A. Dumais,[83] Artie Lane (a.k.a. Jeff Connors),[60] Mark Hansen,[59] Dr. Francis E. Sweeney,[84] George Hill Hodel,[85] Hodel’s friend Fred Sexton,[86] George Knowlton,[87] Robert M. “Red” Manley,[11] Patrick S. O’Reilly,[88] and Jack Anderson Wilson.[69][89]

Theories and potentially related crimes

Police search for remains in the Cleveland Torso Murders, 1936; some journalists and law enforcement have speculated a connection between the Cleveland crimes and Short’s murder[h]
Several crime authors, as well as Cleveland detective Peter Merylo, have suspected a link between the Short murder and the Cleveland Torso Murders, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio between 1934 and 1938.[91][92] As part of their investigation into other murders that took place before and after the Short killing, the original LAPD investigators studied the Torso Murders in 1947 but later discounted any relationship between the two cases. In 1980, new evidence implicating a former Torso Murder suspect, Jack Anderson Wilson (a.k.a. Arnold Smith), was investigated by Detective St. John in relation to Short’s murder. He claimed he was close to arresting Wilson for Short’s murder, but that Wilson died in a fire on February 4, 1982.[93] The possible connection between Short’s murder and the Torso Murders received renewed media attention when it was profiled on the NBC series Unsolved Mysteries in 1992, in which Eliot Ness biographer Oscar Fraley suggested Ness knew the identity of the killer responsible for both cases.[90]

The February 10, 1947 murder of Jeanne French in Los Angeles was also considered by the media and detectives as possibly being connected to Short’s killing.[94] French’s body was discovered in west Los Angeles on Grand View Boulevard, nude and badly beaten.[94] Written on her stomach in lipstick was what appeared to say “Fuck You B.D.”, and the letters “TEX” below.[94] The Herald-Express covered the story heavily, and drew comparisons to the Short murder less than a month prior, surmising the initials “B.D.” to stand for “Black Dahlia”.[95] According to historian Jon Lewis, however, the scrawling actually read “P.D.”, ostensibly standing for “police department”.[96]

Crime authors such as Steve Hodel (son of George Hill Hodel) and William Rasmussen have suggested a link between the Short murder and the 1946 murder and dismemberment of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan in Chicago, Illinois.[97] Captain Donahoe of the LAPD stated publicly that he believed the Black Dahlia and the Chicago Lipstick Murders were “likely connected”.[98] Among the evidence cited is the fact that Short’s body was found on Norton Avenue, three blocks west of Degnan Boulevard, Degnan being the last name of the girl from Chicago. There were also striking similarities between the handwriting on the Degnan ransom note and that of the “Black Dahlia Avenger”. Both texts used a combination of capitals and small letters (the Degnan note read in part “BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY” [sic]), and both notes contain a similar misshapen letter P and have one word that matches exactly.[99] Convicted serial killer William Heirens served life in prison for Degnan’s murder. Initially arrested at 17 for breaking into a residence close to that of Degnan, Heirens claimed he was tortured by police, forced to confess, and made a scapegoat for the murder.[100] After being taken from the medical infirmary at the Dixon Correctional Center on February 26, 2012 for health problems, Heirens died at the University of Illinois Medical Center on March 5, 2012, at 83.

Additionally, Steve Hodel has implicated his father, George Hodel, as Short’s killer, citing his father’s training as a surgeon as circumstantial evidence.[101] In 2003, it was revealed in notes from the 1949 grand jury report that investigators had wiretapped Hodel’s home, and obtained recorded conversation of him with an unidentified visitor, saying: “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead.”[85]

In 1991, Janice Knowlton, a woman who was ten years old at the time of Short’s murder, claimed that she witnessed her father, George Knowlton, beat Short to death with a clawhammer in the detached garage of her family’s home in Westminster.[102] She also published a book titled Daddy was the Black Dahlia Killer in 1995, in which she made additional claims that her father sexually molested her.[87] The book was condemned as “trash” by Knowlton’s stepsister Jolane Emerson in 2004, who stated: “She believed it, but it wasn’t reality. I know, because I lived with her father for sixteen years.”[103] Additionally, Detective St. John told the Times that Knowlton’s claims were “not consistent with the facts of the case”.[103]

John Gilmore’s 1994 book Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder, suggests a possible connection between Short’s murder and that of Georgette Bauerdorf, a socialite who was strangled to death in her West Hollywood home in 1944.[104] Gilmore suggests that Short’s employment at the Hollywood Canteen, where Bauerdorf also worked as a hostess, could be a potential connection between the two women.[104] However, the claim that Short ever worked at the Hollywood Canteen has been disputed by others, such as the retired Times copyeditor Larry Harnisch (see Rumors and factual disputes).

The 2017 book Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell focuses on Leslie Dillon, a bellhop who was a former mortician’s assistant; his associates Mark Hansen and Jeff Connors; and Sergeant Finis Brown, a lead detective who had links to Hansen and was allegedly corrupt.[60] Eatwell posits that Short was murdered because she knew too much about the men’s involvement in a scheme for robbing hotels. She further suggests that Short was killed at the Aster Motel in Los Angeles, where the owners reported finding one of their rooms “covered in blood and fecal matter” on the morning Short’s body was found.[60] The Examiner stated in 1949 that LA Police Chief WIlliam A. Worton denied that the Flower Street [Aster] Motel had anything to do with the case, although its rival newspaper, the Los Angeles Herald, claimed that the murder took place there.[105] Eatwell is working on a television documentary, and a revised edition of her book is due to be released in the autumn of 2018.

In 2000, Buz Williams, a retired detective with the Long Beach Police Department, wrote an article for the LBPD newsletter The Rap Sheet on Short’s murder. Williams’ father, Richard F. Williams, and his friend, Con Keller, were both members of LA’s Gangster Squad investigating the case. Williams Sr believed that Dillon was the killer, and that when Dillon returned to his home state of Oklahoma, he was able to avoid extradition to California because his ex-wife Georgia Stevenson was second cousins with Governor Adlai Stevenson II of Illinois, who contacted the governor of Oklahoma on Dillon’s behalf. Keller believed Hansen was the killer, as he had studied at a surgical school in Sweden and had thrown elaborate parties attended by prominent LAPD officials. Williams’ article says that Dillon sued the LAPD for $3 million, but that the suit was dropped.[106] Harnisch disputes this, claiming that Dillon was cleared by police after an exhaustive investigation, and that the District Attorney’s files positively placed him in San Francisco when Short was killed.[107] Harnisch claims that there was no LAPD coverup, and that Dillon did in fact receive a financial settlement from the City of Los Angeles, but has not produced concrete evidence to prove this.[108]

Rumors and factual disputes

Numerous details regarding Short’s personal life and death have been points of public dispute.[i] The eager involvement of both the public and press in solving her murder have been credited as factors that complicated the investigation significantly, resulting in a complex, sometimes inconsistent narrative of events.[111] According to Anne Marie DiStefano of the Portland Tribune, many “unsubstantiated stories” have circulated about Short over the years: “She was a prostitute, she was frigid, she was pregnant, she was a lesbian. And somehow, instead of fading away over time, the legend of the Black Dahlia just keeps getting more convoluted.”[112] Harnisch has refuted several supposed rumors and popular conceptions about Short and her murder and also disputed the validity of Gilmore’s book Severed, claiming the book is “25% mistakes, and 50% fiction”.[6] Harnisch also had examined the district attorney’s files (he claimed that Steve Hodel has examined some of them pertaining to his father, along with Times columnist Steve Lopez) and contrary to Eatwell’s claims, the files showed that Dillon was thoroughly investigated and was determined to have been in San Francisco when Short was killed. Harnisch speculated that Eatwell either did not find these files or she chose to ignore them.[108]

Murder and state of the body
A number of people, none of whom knew Short, contacted police and the newspapers and claimed to have seen her during her so-called “missing week”, between her January 9 disappearance and the discovery of her body, on January 15. Police and DA investigators ruled out each alleged sighting; in some cases, those interviewed were identifying other women whom they had mistaken for Short.[113] Short’s whereabouts in the days leading up to her murder and the discovery of her body are unknown.[110]

After the discovery of Short’s body, numerous Los Angeles newspapers printed headlines claiming she had been tortured leading up to her death.[52] This was denied by law enforcement at the time, but they allowed the claims to circulate so as to keep Short’s actual cause of death a secret from the public.[58] Some sources, such as Oliver Cyriax’s Crime: An Encyclopedia (1993), state that Short’s body was covered in cigarette burns inflicted on her while she was still alive,[114] though there is no indication of this in her official autopsy report.[38]

In Severed, Gilmore states that the coroner who performed Short’s autopsy suggested in conversation that she had been forced to consume feces based on his findings when examining the contents of her stomach.[115] This claim has been denied by Harnisch[6] and is also not indicated in Short’s official autopsy,[38] though it has been reprinted in several print[116] and online media.[117]

“The Black Dahlia” name

Some sources attribute the Black Dahlia name to the 1946 film noir The Blue Dahlia, starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd (pictured)[118]
According to newspaper reports shortly after the murder, Short received the nickname “Black Dahlia” from staff and patrons at a Long Beach drugstore in mid-1946 as wordplay on the film The Blue Dahlia (1946).[118][119] Other popularly-circulated rumors claim that the media crafted the name due to Short’s adorning her hair with dahlias.[110] According to the FBI official website, she received the first part of the nickname from the press “for her rumored penchant for sheer black clothes”.[120]

However, reports by DA investigators state that the nickname was invented by newspaper reporters covering her murder; Herald-Express reporter Bevo Means, who interviewed Short’s acquaintances at the drugstore, has been credited with first using the “Black Dahlia” name,[121] though reporters Underwood and Jack Smith have been alternately named as its creators.[110] While some sources claim that Short was referred to or went by the name during her life, others dispute this.[j] Both Gilmore[122] and Harnisch agree that the name originated during Short’s lifetime and was not a creation of the press: Harnisch states that it was in fact a nickname she earned from the staff of the Long Beach drugstore she frequented;[6] in Severed, Gilmore names an A.L. Landers as the proprietor of the drugstore, though he does not provide the store’s name.[123] Prior to the circulation of the “Black Dahlia” name, Short’s killing had been dubbed the “Werewolf Murder” by the Herald-Express due to the brutal nature of the crime.[66][110]

Alleged prostitution and sexual history
Many true crime books claim that Short lived in or visited Los Angeles at various times in the mid-1940s, including Gilmore’s Severed, which claims she worked at the Hollywood Canteen. This is disputed by Harnisch, who states that Short did not, in fact, live in Los Angeles until after the canteen’s closing in 1945.[6] Although some of her acquaintances and several authors and journalists described Short as a prostitute or call girl during her time in Los Angeles,[k] according to Harnisch, the contemporaneous grand jury proved that there was no existing evidence that she was ever a prostitute.[6] Harnisch claims that the rumor regarding Short’s history as a prostitute originates from John Gregory Dunne’s 1977 novel True Confessions, which is based in part on the crime.[6]

Another widely circulated rumor (sometimes used to counter claims that Short was a prostitute)[125] holds that Short was unable to have sexual intercourse because of a congenital defect that resulted in gonadal dysgenesis, also known as “infantile genitalia”.[l] Los Angeles County district attorney’s files state that the investigators had questioned three men with whom Short had engaged in sex,[126] including a Chicago police officer who was a suspect in the case; FBI files on the case also contain a statement from one of Short’s alleged lovers.[127] Short’s autopsy itself, which was reprinted in full[38] in Michael Newton’s 2009 book The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes, notes that her uterus was “small”; however, no other information in the autopsy is provided that would suggest her reproductive organs were anything other than anatomically normal.[44][46] The autopsy also states that Short was not and had never been pregnant, contrary to what had been claimed prior to and following her death.[126]

Another rumor—that Short was a lesbian—has often circulated; according to Gilmore, this rumor began after Bevo Means of the Herald-Express was told by the deputy coroner that Short “wasn’t having sex with men” due to her purportedly “small” genitalia.[128] Means took this to mean that Short had sex with women, and both he and reporter Sid Hughes began fruitlessly investigating gay bars in Los Angeles for further information.[68]


Short is interred at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.[124] After her younger sisters had grown up and married, their mother, Phoebe, moved to Oakland to be near her daughter’s grave. She finally returned to the East Coast in the 1970s, where she lived into her nineties.[30] On February 2, 1947, just two weeks after Short’s murder, Republican state assemblyman C. Don Field was prompted by the case to introduce a bill calling for the formation of a sex offender registry; the state of California would become the first U.S. state to make the registration of sex offenders mandatory.[62]

Short’s murder has been described as one of the most brutal and culturally enduring crimes in American history,[101] and Time magazine listed it as one of the most infamous unsolved cases in the world.[129]

Short’s life and death have been the basis of numerous books and films, both fictionalized and non-fiction. Among the most famous fictional accounts of Short’s death is James Ellroy’s 1987 novel The Black Dahlia, which, in addition to the murder, explored “the larger fields of politics, crime, corruption, and paranoia in post-war Los Angeles”, according to cultural critic David M. Fine.[130] Ellroy’s novel was adapted into a 2006 film of the same name by director Brian De Palma.[118] Both Ellroy’s novel and its film adaptation bear little relation to the facts of the case.[131] Short was also portrayed in heavily fictionalized accounts by Lucie Arnaz in the 1975 television film Who Is the Black Dahlia?,[132] and again by Mena Suvari in the series American Horror Story, in 2011 featuring Short in the plot line of the episode “Spooky Little Girl”,[133] and again in 2018 with “Return to Murder House”.[134]


  1. ^ Crime historian Dirk Gibson cited Short’s murder as one of the first majorly-publicized murders to “grip” the nation’s attention after World War II,[3] while in her work American MurderGini Graham Scott likens the case to the majorly-publicized O.J. Simpson murder trial in the mid-1990s.[4]
  2. ^ Various sources list Short’s official birth name simply as “Elizabeth Short”, including copies of her registered birth certificate, showing that no middle name was given at birth.[5][6][7]
  3. ^ In the mid-twentieth century in the United States, juvenile courts considered individuals minors until the age of twenty-one.[19][20]
  4. ^ Short is often referred to or characterized as an aspiring actress,[29][13] though she had no known acting jobs or credits to her name.
  5. ^ Gini Graham Scott states in American Crime that Short was sighted at the Biltmore on January 9,[26]though a Los Angeles Times article published in 1997 calls into question the validity of this, noting that mention of the Biltmore sighting “cannot be found in heated news accounts of the day, which reported on every conceivable contact anyone had with Short in the so-called ‘missing week’ before her death”.[30]
  6. ^ Short’s autopsy notes her bottom teeth were in a significant state of decay. In Severed, John Gilmore writes that Short allegedly plugged her cavities with wax, and this supposed fact was reprinted (albeit with pointed skepticism) in a 1997 Los Angeles Timesarticle.[30]
  7. ^ Janice Knowlton claims that it was Robert Manley who identified the items as belonging to Short,[22] while Cathy Scott states that it was Hansen.[26]
  8. ^ The Cleveland Torso Murders, which occurred between 1934 and 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio, were investigated by Eliot Ness. Some biographers, such as Oscar Fraley, claim Ness knew the identity of the Cleveland killer, who was also responsible for Short’s killing in Los Angeles.[90]
  9. ^ Varying claims about Short’s life leading up to her death—including such claims that she was a prostitute, among other things—have been alleged and refuted by different sources.[109][101] A 2016 article in the New York Daily News highlights the “Black Dahlia” name and Short’s whereabouts from January 9–15, 1947 as key points of contention and intrigue.[30][110]
  10. ^ Harnisch claims that Short went by the “Black Dahlia” name in life, while other sources, such as a 2016 New York Daily News article, dispute this claim.[110] Some sources, however, still claim that Short went by the name in her life.[43]
  11. ^ In his 2001 book Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer, Steve Nickel describes Short as a “common street prostitute, hooked on alcohol and drugs”, posing nude for photos and living with a lesbian lover.[109] Though these claims have persisted in crime biographies on Short, some journalists, such as the Los Angeles Times Larry Harnisch, dispute their validity, as does Alexis Fitts in a 2016 article published in The Guardian,[101] and Bob Calhoun of SF Weekly.[124]
  12. ^ John Gilmore notes in Severed that Short’s genitalia was apparently too undeveloped to allow for intercourse, as noted by the deputy coroner who performed her autopsy.[67] This claim is disputed by Hélèna Katz in Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America,[44]and by Michael Newton in The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes.[46]


  1. ^ Gilmore 2006, pp. 137–8.
  2. ^ Scott 2017, p. 9.
  3. ^ Gibson 2004, p. 191.
  4. ^ Scott 2007, p. 106.
  5. ^ “Investigation: Birth Certificate”. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2010Copy of Short’s registered birth certificate showing that no middle name was included
  6. Jump up to:a b c d e f g Harnisch, Larry. “Common Myths About the Black Dahlia and Their Origins”. Archived from the original on December 30, 2016. Retrieved September 9,2017.
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  8. ^ Gilmore 2006, pp. 1–4.
  9. Jump up to:a b Haugen 2010, p. 15.
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  12. Jump up to:a b c Haugen 2010, p. 18.
  13. Jump up to:a b Haugen 2010, p. 19.
  14. ^ Haugen 2010, pp. 19–20.
  15. Jump up to:a b Haugen 2010, p. 20.
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  19. ^ Greenblatt, Alan (September 30, 2009). “What is the Age of Responsibility?”Governing. Retrieved September 12, 2017Arbitrary as such reasoning may sound to modern Americans, 21 stuck as a threshold age through the 19th century and into the 20th.
  20. ^ Haugen 2010, p. 29.
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  26. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j Scott 2017, p. 221.
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  38. Jump up to:a b c d Newton 2009, pp. 44–6.
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  41. ^ Nelson & Bayliss 2006, pp. 14, 27.
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  43. Jump up to:a b Newton 2009, p. 44.
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  51. ^ Haugen 2010, pp. 9–12.
  52. Jump up to:a b “Girl Torture Slaying Victim Identified by Examiner, FBI”. Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. January 17, 1947. p. 1.
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  54. ^ “Sex Fiend Slaying Victim Identified by Fingerprint Records of F.B.I.”. Los Angeles Times. January 17, 1947. p. 2. Scans available at The Black Dahlia historical archive from the University of North Carolina.
  55. ^ Katz 2010, p. 189.
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  65. ^ Gilmore 2006, p. 150.
  66. Jump up to:a b c Gilmore 2006, p. 139.
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  69. Jump up to:a b c Newton 2009, p. 47.
  70. ^ Gilmore 2006, p. 134.
  71. ^ Gilmore 2006, p. 154.
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  76. ^ “LA Grand Jury Sifts Unsolved ‘Black Dahlia’ Type Murders”Madera Daily News-Tribune (55). September 7, 1949. p. 2 – via California Digital Newspaper Collection. open access publication – free to read
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Works cited

This Day in History, Jan. 14: San Francisco’s Human Be-In Launches “Summer of Love” (1967)

San Francisco’s Human Be-In Launches “Summer of Love” (1967)

Fifty years ago today, thousands gathered at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In–a happening that launched California counterculture on its path towards the Summer of Love. Organized by San Francisco Oracle co-founders Allen Cohen and Michael Bowen, the event was intended to gather diverse “tribes” from within the San Francisco Bay Area’s counterculture community, but it also caught the attention of curious (straight) locals, who brought their kids to see the fuss, and far-flung travelers. Beat messiahs and an LSD prophet shared the stage with future rock and roll royalty, but why did it happen and what did it all mean? So much more than the organizers could have ever dreamed…

The idea for the Human Be-In emerged from a smaller but similar happening that took place in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park on October 6, 1966. Called the Love Pageant Rally, it was organized by Allen Cohen and Michael Bowen to peacefully mark the day California made LSD illegal with a “celebration of innocence, [the] beauty of the universe…[the] beauty of being.” Between 1,000 and 3,000 people swarmed the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and into the nearby Panhandle where they saw The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring a new young singer named Janis Joplin), and Ken Kesey with his Merry Pranksters on the Further Bus.

At the end of the event, Bowen stood with Cohen on a Panhandle path near Oak and Clayton Streets, and they reveled in their success. Seeing Richard Alpert (later known as spiritual leader Ram Dass) walk by, Bowen yelled “Isn’t this far out? People are sure hungry for some communicating. They love it. It’s a joyous moment. What do you think, Alpert?” He agreed, and Cohen told Bowen he should do it again. “Yeah,” Bowen replied. “But next time, I’ll bet we could get ten times the people.” Cohen then asked Alpert what they should call their next rally, and Alpert said: “It’s a hell of a gathering. It’s just being. Humans being. Being together.”

“Well,” said Bowen, “we’ll just have another rally. Only bigger. And next time we bring all the tribes together;” thus the Human Be-In began to take form. The happening was subtitled “A Gathering of the Tribes” because the organizers planned to bring thousands of people from different movements together, although Bowen later noted his regret for appropriating Native American symbolism in the event’s promotion. Specifically, Cohen was concerned about a philosophical split between the anti-war/free speech movement and psychedelic hippies, and wanted to stage an event to bring the two sides together. In addition to unifying the tribes, Cohen and Bowen wanted to raise awareness for issues gaining momentum within 1960s counterculture–personal empowerment, ecological awareness, and higher consciousness, among others.

As with most large events, there were some early logistical issues for the Human Be-In organizers.  Cohen applied for a permit to hold a peace rally in the Polo Fields, but City Hall wasn’t too keen on another big hippie gathering in the park.  Luckily, Bowen was able to call on his good friend, renowned attorney Melvin Belli, for help; Belli sent his secretary to City Hall, and easily obtained a permit to hold his birthday party in the Polo Fields. Expecting a celebration for one of the City’s upstanding citizens, San Francisco was totally unaware that hordes of people would soon descend upon Golden Gate Park for a counterculture event unprecedented in scope and size.

As artistic director of The San Francisco Oracle, Bowen created posters for the event–as did rock poster icon and frequent Oracle contributor, Stanley Mouse.  The posters promised performances by “all San Francisco’s Rock Bands;” pivotal Beat Generation writers and poets, such as Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure; LSD advocate Timothy Leary; and social activists like Dick Gregory and Jerry Rubin.  Cohen and Bowen publicized the event with a special edition of The Oracle, and attendees were asked to bring flowers, incense, feathers, flags, animals, and musical instruments. Underground press and radio stations around the country also promoted the Be-In, which Bowen conceived as epic performance art to be remembered and imitated in the future.

Planning culminated on January 14, 1967 when throngs of people descended upon the Haight-Ashbury District and Golden Gate Park’s Polo Fields for the Human Be-In.  It was a beautiful, warm winter day with cloudless skies. Noted rock photographer Herb Greene and his wife walked to the happening, and found the Polo Fields filled with people.  Friends with some of the organizers and bands, Greene stayed close to the stage, but he was fascinated with the attendees and spent much of the day taking pictures of people in the crowd.

For one of the largest happenings to ever be held in Golden Gate Park at the time, infrastructure was surprisingly minimal. There was no set program for the Human Be-In; poets recited, activists incited, and musicians excited from a flatbed truck with a gas-generated amplifier that functioned as the makeshift “stage.” Beat poet Gary Snyder got the crowd’s attention with a horn and then he sat cross-legged on stage with Allen Ginsberg, both leading the crowd in Hindu chanting. Ginsberg then played small cymbals while singing a song about peace in America, Vietnam, San Francisco, and other locations around the world.  Michael McClure joined them and played an autoharp he had received as a gift from Bob Dylan the year before. Publisher and City Lights bookstore owner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, also recited his poetry.  Timothy Leary sported flowers in his hair, beads around his neck, and notably encouraged the crowd to “turn on, tune in, drop out”–a call for radical change he had begun espousing the year before.

Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people assembled in the park 50 years ago today. It was a multi-generational crowd, dominated by young people but also filled with parents and children, anti-war activists, hippies, and elder beatniks–many holding banners or artwork. According to Greene, everybody was smoking weed or dropping acid. The Grateful Dead’s sound engineer and underground chemist, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, produced and distributed large quantities of “White Lightning” LSD. This was done in relative safety since, thinking the event a bucolic birthday celebration, no police were present at the happening. The Hells Angels provided “security,”, handed out refreshments from a station wagon, and, ironically helped return lost children to their parents. In her book about the event, author Helen Perry noted that the Hells Angels were “well-equipped for the task of serving as a clearinghouse for lost and strayed children, since they had walkie-talkies and were well organized.”

And, of course, there was music. Although festivals featuring jazz or blues artists sometimes occurred, there was no precedent for so many rock bands appearing together in the U.S at the time of the Human Be-In. As promised on promotional posters, many notable San Francisco rock bands did perform: Jefferson Airplane covered the Martha & the Vandellas’ hit “Dancing in the Street” with Allen Ginsberg dancing wildly on-stage;  Country Joe McDonald joined the psychedelic folk band, The New Age; and Quicksilver Messenger Service played a set.  The Grateful Dead performed three cover songs in their usual free-wheeling, jamming style, and were joined onstage by legendary jazz musician Charles Lloyd, who played flute during a rendition of “Morning Dew.” All the bands played for free, and dancers filled the stage while other musicians like Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Doors (who were friends of Michael McClure) and Dizzy Gillespie–in town for their own, separate shows–likely watched from the audience.

In the middle of the day, a parachutist appeared as if from the heavens and touched down in the Polo Fields where he was treated by the crowd like a “latter-day miracle.” Greene believes that Owsley set up the stunt, but never found out if that was true. At the end of the day, the masses were asked to turn toward the setting sun and encouraged to “open their minds” so that all places would turn into a thing of beauty.  A speaker told “members of the establishment” that they were happy and proud to have them there in this “brave new world,”  and then Ginsberg and Snyder led the crowd in some final chanting. Local resident Dennis O’Rorke remembers a lot of conscientious people who were sensitive to the “leave the park clean” attitude, and, as per the organizers’ request, the attendees did; police later reported that no group of such size had ever before left an area so clean.

The media went wild over the Human Be-In, and the event was covered throughout the country. Greene, who was immersed in San Francisco’s counterculture at the time, believes this event is the moment the movement first realized its strength. The Be-In organizers used the success of the happening to their advantage, but also realized that the huge influx of people descending upon the Haight-Ashbury stressed communal resources and could complicate future events. A group that included The San Francisco Oracle, the Diggers, the Straight Theater, the Family Dog, and other counterculture heavy-hitters formed the Council for the Summer of Love to deal with these issues. The Summer of 1967 was designated the Summer of Love by the Council, which coordinated with various groups and churches to ensure that there would be housing and food for the impending youthful invasion of participants. These efforts assisted groups like the newly opened Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which provided medical care for the masses. It was a magical time period, as Greene remembered, and San Francisco became the undisputed focal point of the 1960s revolution.

Long-time San Francisco Chronicle music columnist and future Rolling Stone co-founder, Ralph Gleason, wrote that the Human Be-In was “an affirmation, not a protest … a promise of good, not evil.  This is truly something new.” Emulative events were soon staged across the country, with Be-Ins in Los Angeles and La Jolla in March 1967, Boston in April 1967, Denver in September 1967, and Atlantic City in December 1967.  Even some non-traditional hippie areas like Moscow, Idaho, and Fayetteville, Arkansas (both college towns) had small Human Be-Ins. They caught on abroad as well; in April 1967, London held a Free Speech Human Be-In as a benefit to save a favored underground newspaper, International Times.  Some began calling any gathering of hippies a Be-In, much like every political scandal was referred to with a “gate” suffix following Watergate.  There was a “Yip-In” in New York, a “Love-In” in Malibu, and a “Bed-In” in Amsterdam.  A year after later, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which frequently featured politically conscious humor and satire, debuted on television.  In was in.

The Human Be-In’s musical precedent was also quickly emulated. In June 1967, Mount Tamalpais in Marin County played host to the KFRC Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain Music Festival featuring The Doors, Canned Heat, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Steve Miller Band, Country Joe and the Fish, and many other rock bands.  A week later, the first and only Monterey Pop Festival took place, which notably showcased Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, the Mamas and the Papas, and, once again, Jefferson Airplane.  These shows, considered the first true rock festivals in the United States, could not have happened without Golden Gate Park’s Human Be-In. Aside from these happenings, the Be-In influenced James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who were then developing “Hair,” a pioneer rock musical that opened off-Broadway in October 1967.

The Human Be-In was the start of a beautiful year in San Francisco, one that changed the trajectory of our nation, and today we mark its 50th anniversary at the dawn of a new era.

The launch of this website by the California Historical Society, in partnership with San Francisco Travel, also begins a coordinated commemoration of the transformative Summer of 1967; this will feature major exhibitions at the region’s top museums, special events, and concerts looking back at the Summer of Love and what that period meant, then and now. We at the Western Neighborhoods Project will highlight local perspectives on how the summer that changed everything changed San Francisco as well, offering walking tours, interpretive displays at San Francisco History Days, and more.

As we enter a politically unsure time, the 1960s have never been more relevant and we have never had more to learn. California represented the conscience of America in 1967 and continues to do so today, promoting peace, love, equality, and dialogue. As Allen Cohen remembered: “Our dream of peace, love and community never died. We, as human beings, yearn for the dream of the Sixties, and despite many disappointments and failures, our dream…will live forever.” Here’s to building the dream together in 2017.

HERB GREENE – Rock Photographer

Herb Greene was at the forefront of rock photography in the 1960s.  As part of San Francisco’s counterculture movement, Greene became friends with many of San Francisco’s nascent rock bands and began chronicling them with his camera.  His work features photographs, among others, of Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin,  Rod Stewart, the Pointer Sisters, Sly Stone, and, most notably, the Grateful Dead.  Greene is considered to be the official photographer of the Grateful Dead and he has released two books of Dead photos, The Book of the Deadand Dead Days: A Grateful Dead Illustrated History.  His photos are on the cover of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album and two Grateful Dead albums, In The Dark and Dylan & the Dead.  Some of Greene’s photographs can be seen on his website:


The Western Neighborhoods Project is a nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve and interpret the history and culture of San Francisco’s west side.

Sources not hyperlinked in text:


Originally published on “Summer of Love”

This Day in History, Jan. 12: Maiden Voyage of World’s Largest Ocean Liner, RMS Queen Mary 2 (2004)

Maiden Voyage of World’s Largest Ocean Liner, RMS Queen Mary 2 (2004)


RMS Queen Mary 2 (also referred to as the QM2) is a transatlantic ocean liner. She is the largest passenger ship built for the Cunard Line since Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969, the vessel she succeeded as flagship of the line.[9] As of 2019, Queen Mary 2 is the only passenger ship operating as an ocean liner.[10]

The new ship was named Queen Mary 2 by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 after the first RMS Queen Mary of 1936. Queen Mary was in turn named after Mary of Teck, consort of King George V. With the retirement of Queen Elizabeth 2 in 2008, Queen Mary 2 is the only transatlantic ocean liner in line service between Southampton, England, and New York City, United States, operating for a part of each year. The ship is also used for cruising, including an annual world cruise.[11]

She was designed by a team of British naval architects led by Stephen Payne, and was constructed in France by Chantiers de l’Atlantique. At the time of her construction, Queen Mary 2 held the distinctions of being the longest, at 1,131.99 ft (345.03 m), and largest, with a gross tonnage of 148,528 GT, passenger ship ever built. She no longer holds this distinction after the construction of Royal Caribbean International’s 154,407 GT Freedom of the Seas in April 2006, but remains the largest ocean liner ever built.

Queen Mary 2 was intended for routine crossings of the Atlantic Ocean, and was therefore designed differently from many other passenger ships. The liner’s final cost was approximately $300,000 US per berth. Expenses were increased by the high quality of materials, and having been designed as an ocean liner, she required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship.[12] Queen Mary 2 has a maximum speed of just over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots(48 km/h; 30 mph), much faster than a contemporary cruise ship. Instead of the diesel-electric configuration found on many ships, Queen Mary 2 uses integrated electric propulsion to achieve her top speed. Diesel engines, augmented by gas turbines, are used to generate electricity for electric motors for propulsion and for on-board use.

Some of Queen Mary 2‘s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea.


Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of Cunard Line. The ship was constructed for eventual replacement of the aging Queen Elizabeth 2, the Cunard flagship from 1969 to 2004 and the last major ocean liner built before the construction of Queen Mary 2Queen Mary 2 had the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) title conferred on her by Royal Mail when the ship entered service in 2004 on the Southampton to New York route, as a gesture to Cunard’s history.[13]

Queen Mary 2 is not a steamship like many of her predecessors, but is powered primarily by four diesel engines, with two additional gas turbines used when extra power is required; this integrated electric propulsion configuration is used to produce the power to drive her four electric propulsion pods as well as powering the ship’s hotel services.[14] The spaces for these prime movers are also split, and controls are also backed up, with the intention of preventing a single failure from disabling the ship.[15]

Like her predecessor Queen Elizabeth 2 she is built for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and also is regularly used for cruising. In the winter season she cruises from New York to the Caribbean on twelve- or thirteen-day tours. Queen Mary 2‘s 30-knot (56 km/h; 35 mph) open ocean speed sets the ship apart from cruise ships, such as MS Oasis of the Seas, which has a service speed of 22.6 knots (41.9 km/h; 26.0 mph); Queen Mary 2‘s normal service speed is 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph).[14] While the hull of a cruise ship will typically have a block coefficient of 0.73 (1.0 would represent a rectangular block) Queen Mary 2 is more fine-lined, with a block coefficient of 0.61.[15]

Design and construction

Cunard completed a design for a new class of 84,000 GT, 2,000 passenger liners on 8 June 1998, but revised them upon comparing those specifications with Carnival Cruise Line’s 100,000 GT Destiny-class cruise ships and Royal Caribbean International’s 137,276 GT Voyager class.[16]

In December 1998, Cunard released details of Project Queen Mary, the project to develop a liner that would complement Queen Elizabeth 2. Harland and Wolff of Northern Ireland, Aker Kværner of Norway, Fincantieri of Italy, Meyer Werft of Germany, and Chantiers de l’Atlantique of France were invited to bid on the project. The contract was finally signed with Chantiers de l’Atlantique, a subsidiary of Alstom, on 6 November 2000. This was the same yard that built Cunard’s former rivals, the SS Normandie and SS Franceof the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique.[16]

Her keel was laid down on 4 July 2002, in the construction dock at Saint-Nazaire, France, with the hull number G32. Approximately 3,000 craftsmen spent around eight million working hours on the ship, and around 20,000 people were directly or indirectly involved in her design, construction, and fitting out. In total, 300,000 pieces of steel were assembled into 94 “blocks” off the dry dock, which were then stacked and welded together to complete the hull and superstructure.[17] After floating out on 21 March 2003, the Queen Mary 2 was fitted out in the large fitting out basin (“Bassin C”), the first ship to use this huge dry dock since the shipyard built large tankers in the 1970s, such as the MV Gastor. Her sea trials were conducted during 25–29 September and 7–11 November 2003,[18] between Saint-Nazaire and the offshore islands of Île d’Yeu and Belle-Île.[citation needed]The final stages of construction were marred by a fatal accident on 15 November 2003, when a gangway collapsed under a group of shipyard workers and their relatives who had been invited to visit the vessel. In total, 32 people were injured and 16 were killed, after a 15-metre (49 ft) fall into the drydock.[19]

Construction was completed on schedule.[citation needed] On 22 December 2003, Queen Mary 2 left Saint-Nazaire and arrived in Southampton, England, on 26 December 2003.[20] On 8 January 2004, the liner was officially named by Queen Elizabeth II.[21][22]


Queen Mary 2‘s principal naval architect was Carnival’s in-house designer, Stephen Payne.[23] Payne intended many aspects of the ship’s design to resemble notable aspects of former ocean liners, such as Queen Elizabeth 2 and the ship’s predecessor Queen Mary. These features include the three thick black lines that wrap around either edge of the ship’s bridge screen, and at the stern end of the superstructure, which are to recall the appearance of the crossovers of the forward decks on the first Queen Mary.[24]

Queen Mary 2 has 14,164 square metres (152,460 sq ft) of exterior deck space, with wind screens to shield passengers as the ship travels at high speeds. Three of the ship’s four swimming pools are outdoors. One of the pools on Deck 12 is covered with a retractable magrodome. The indoor pool is on Deck 7, in the Canyon Ranch Spa Club.

In common with liners such as RMS Queen Mary, there is a continuous wrap-around promenade deck on Deck 7. The promenade passes behind the bridge screen and allows passengers to completely circumnavigate the deck while protected from the winds. One circuit of the promenade is a distance of 620 m (2,030 ft). The flanking promenades are created by the need to step the superstructurein, to allow for space for lifeboats. By SOLAS standards, the lifeboats should have been lower on the ship’s hull (15 m (49 ft) above the waterline), but for the sake of Queen Mary 2‘s appearance as well as to avoid the danger of large North Atlantic waves damaging the boats in a storm, Payne convinced SOLAS officials to exempt Queen Mary 2 from this requirement, and the boats are 25 m (82 ft) above the waterline.[25]

Payne’s initial intent was to make the ship’s stern profile with a spoon shape, similar to that on most previous ocean liners, but the mounting of the propeller pods required a flat transom. The compromise was a Constanzi stern – a combination of the two; the Constanzi stern provides the transom required for azimuthal pod propulsors and has better seaholding characteristics in a following swell than a standard transom stern.[26] In common with many modern ships, both passenger and cargo, Queen Mary 2 has a bulbous bow to reduce drag and thereby increase speed, range, and fuel efficiency.[27]

While of a design similar to that of Queen Elizabeth 2Queen Mary 2‘s funnel has a slightly different shape, because a taller funnel would have made it impossible for the ship to pass under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City at high tide. The final design permits a minimum of 13 feet (4.0 m) of clearance under the bridge.[28]

As Queen Mary 2 is too large to dock in many ports, passengers are ferried to and from the ship in tenders, which can be used as lifeboats in an emergency. These are stored while at sea in davits alongside the lifeboats. To transport passengers to shore the tenders pull up to one of four loading stations, each of which has a large hull door that hydraulically opens outwards to form a boarding platform, complete with railings and decking.[14]

Queen Mary 2 is a post-Panamax ship. As a result, Queen Mary 2 must circumnavigate South America to cross directly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The decision not to constrain her height to transit the Panama Canal was taken as Queen Elizabeth 2 only transited once a year, during the world cruise. Cunard decided to pass up the convenience of the occasional passage in favour of a greater passenger capacity.[29]


As is the case with many modern passenger ships, many of the major public rooms on board Queen Mary 2 are on the lowest public decks of the ship, with the passenger cabins stacked above.[30] This is the opposite of the traditional practice on ocean liners, but the design allowed for larger rooms to be contained within the stronger hull, as well as for more passenger cabins to have private balconies higher up on the ship, where they are less affected by large waves.[citation needed] Payne attempted to create a central axis to the two main public room decks (similar in fashion to the Normandie), but a full vista is broken by various public rooms that span the full beam of the ship.[citation needed] The dining rooms were placed further aft, though not directly at the stern, where the fore-and-aft pitching of the ship is most noticeable, and might cause discomfort to dining passengers.[citation needed]

Deck 2, the lowest passenger deck, contains the Illuminations theatre, cinema and planetarium (the first at sea);[31] Royal Court Theatre; Grand Lobby; “Empire Casino”; “Golden Lion Pub”; and the lower level of the “Britannia Restaurant”. Deck 3 holds the upper levels of “Illuminations”, the “Royal Court theatre” and the “Britannia Restaurant”, as well as a small shopping arcade, “Veuve Cliquot champagne bar”, the “Chart Room”, “Sir Samuel’s” wine bar, the “Queen’s Room”, and the “G32” Nightclub. The other main public deck is Deck 7, on which are the “Canyon Ranch Spa”, “Carinthia Lounge”, “King’s Court”, the “Queen’s Grill Lounge”, and the “Queen’s Grill” and “Princess Grill” restaurants for higher-fare passengers. The public rooms on Deck 8 include the à la carte “Verandah Restaurant” an 8,000-volume library[32] (the largest of any cruise ship[33]), a book shop and the upper part of the Canyon Ranch Spa. Also on Deck 8 is a large outdoor pool and terrace at the stern.[30] The kennels, located aft on starboard side of Deck 12, are available only for transatlantic crossings. They can accommodate up to twelve dogs and cats in six small and six large cages.[34]

The King’s Court area on the ship is open twenty four hours a day, serving as a buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch. The overall space is divided into quarters, with each section decorated according to the theme of the four separate alternate dining venues that are “created” each evening through lighting, tableware, and menus: Lotus, which specialises in Asian cuisine; the Carvery, a British style grille; La Piazza, with Italian food; and the Chef’s Galley, which offers an interactive experience to food preparation.[35][36]

The passengers’ dining arrangements on board are dictated by the type of accommodation in which they choose to travel. Around 85% of passengers are in Britannia class, and, therefore, dine in the main restaurant. However, passengers can choose to upgrade to either a “junior suite”, and dine in the “Princess Grill”‘, or a suite, and dine in the “Queens’ Grill”.[37][38] Those in the two latter categories are grouped together by Cunard as “Grill Passengers”, and they are permitted to use the “Queens’ Grill Lounge” and a private outdoor area on deck 11 with its own whirlpool.[30][39] This feature is also present on both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. However, all other public areas can be used by all passengers.[40]

As the Britannia Restaurant takes up the full width of the ship on two decks, a ‘tween deck, called Deck 3L, was devised to allow passengers to walk from the Grand Lobby to the Queen’s Room without traversing the dining room mid-meal. The deck consists of two corridors that run beneath the upper balcony of the restaurant on Deck 3, and above the main dining area on Deck 2. This is why the balcony of the Britannia has tiers that step up towards the hull. This arrangement is illustrated on the hull where there is a stack of three rows of windows in the area where the main restaurant sits, the two upper and lower most rows illuminate the dining room, while the centre row serves Deck 3L. There is a similar arrangement through the Royal Court Theatre. As well, the passages that run on either side of Illuminations on Deck 3 ramp upwards to compensate for the change in deck elevation between the entrance to Illuminations and an elevator bank forward of the room.[30]

More than 5000 commissioned works of art are visible in Queen Mary 2‘s public rooms, corridors, staterooms and lobbies, having been created by 128 artists from sixteen different countries.[41] Two of the most notable pieces are Barbara Broekman’s tapestry, an abstract depiction of an ocean liner, bridge, and New York skyline which spans the full height of the Britannia Restaurant, and the British sculptor John McKenna’s sheet bronze relief mural in the Grand Lobby, a 7 m square portrait of the ship fabricated in bronze inspired by the Art Deco mural in the main dining room of the original Queen Mary.[42]


Power plant and propulsion system

Queen Mary 2‘s power plant comprises four sixteen-cylinder Wärtsilä 16V46CR EnviroEngine marine diesel engines, generating a combined 67,200 kW (90,100 hp) at 514 rpm, and two General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines, which together provide a further 50,000 kW (67,000 hp), all of which is converted into electricity used to power electric motors that drive the propellers. Such an arrangement, known as integrated electric propulsion (IEP), provides for economical cruising at low speed combined with an ability to sustain much higher speeds when required, and has been common in naval vesselsfor some time.[14] While Queen Mary 2 is the first passenger ship to feature IEP propulsion, the first major passenger vessel to be powered by gas turbines was the Finnish ferry GTS Finnjet in 1977.[43]

Thrust is provided by four Rolls-Royce Mermaid azimuth thruster type podded propulsion units,[44][45] each featuring one forward-facing low-vibration propeller with separately bolted blades. The forward pair of thrusters is fixed, but the aft pair can swivel through 360°, removing the need for a rudder.[14] The Queen Mary 2 is the first quadruple-propeller passenger ship completed since the SS France in 1961.[46] Queen Mary 2 carries eight spare blades on the foredeck, immediately forward of the bridge screen.[citation needed]

Because Queen Mary 2‘s propulsion machinery is electrically decoupled from her propellers, her propulsion arrangement may arguably be more accurately described as “CODLAG electric” (by analogy with turbo-electric and diesel-electric);[citation needed] however “integrated electric propulsion” is the term of art. The diesel engines and gas turbines drive electric generators, which provide the power to drive four 21,500 kW (28,800 hp) Alstom electrical motors located inside the podded propulsors (and thus entirely outside the vessel’s hull).[14] Unusually, Queen Mary 2‘s gas turbines are not housed along with her diesels in the engine room deep in her hull, but instead are in a soundproofed enclosure directly beneath the funnel. This arrangement allowed the vessel’s designers to supply the oxygen-hungry turbines with air intakes without having to run air ducts the height of the ship, which would have wasted valuable interior space.[14]

In addition to the primary thrusters, the ship is also fitted with three bow thrusters, with a power output of 3.2 MW each. These allow the ship to turn in its own length while in port, to conduct more complex docking manoeuvres.[14]