Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde), colonial governor of New York from 1702 to 1708

Hyde, a cousin of Queen Anne, was appointed governor of New York in 1702.  When colonists went to welcome him, they found him rocking on his porch, knitting a doily and wearing one of his wife’s dresses.

things got weirder when he threw his first dress ball.  Not only was he decked out in a formal gown, he also charged an admission fee and insisted that his guests all feel his wife’s ears. . .which he had described in a long poem as “conch shells.”

For many years, he was the talk of New York, especially when it turned out he had taken the governorship to escape creditors in England.  Then, in 1708, he was caught embezzling public funds.

Cornbury was confined to debtor’s prison until his father died, when he inherited a title and returned to England.  No monuments to his rule were built, but he did leave his family name on land along the Hudson:  Hyde Park.

Lucy Page Gaston, 1860-1924, American anti-tobacco reformer

After legendary prohibitionist Carrie Nation, she was the most famous American female reformer of her time.  In 1899 she founded the Chicago Anti-Cigarette League, which became the National Anti-Cigarette League two years later.  For a while the movement she inspired was a real threat to the tobacco industry, as cigarette sales dipped by 25 percent.

By 1920 she was so well-known that she became a candidate in the republican presidential race, vowing to “emancipate” the country from smoking.  But she won few votes, and Warren Harding, a smoker, was nominated.

By June 1924, Gaston was hit by a trolley while crossing the street.   She was taken to a hospital, but did not respond well to treatment.  That’s when doctors discovered she was terminally ill.  She died two months later – of throat cancer.

Louis Rainer, a film star of the ‘30s

She was the first person ever to win two consecutive Academy Awards – for Best Actress in 1936, for the Great Ziegfield; and in 1937, for The Good Earth.

In 1936, nominations were still carefully controlled by movie studios.  Rainer’s first nomination was engineered by MGM to help develop her career.  It was only her second film, and it was a relatively small part.  No one thought she would actually win the Oscar.  That’s why everyone voted for her.

The following year, voting was opened up for the first time to thousands of actors, writers, etc.  Rainer, who was well-liked for not acting like a “star,” beat out Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck.

For some reason, MGM forced Rainer into a quick series of throwaway roles; two years and five insignificant pictures later, she was a has-been.  Her downfall led gossip columnist Louella Parsons to coin the term “Oscar jinx.”

Smedley Butler, America’s most famous soldier, a U.S. Marine and two-time Medal of Honor winner, nicknamed “Old Gimlet Eye”

Once called “the finest fighting man in the armed forces” by Teddy Roosevelt, Butler ws renowned for personal bravery, tactical brilliance, and the ability to inspire his fellow soldiers.  He joined a Marine force in China during the Boxer rebellion and helped carry a wounded comrade 17 miles through enemy fire back to their camp.  He was promoted to Captain, at age 18.  He later served in Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, and Haiti.

Butler served in France during World War I, not at the front, but as a commander of a troop depot, Camp Pontanezen.  Ironically, his greatest fame came from this post.  The camp was practically buried in mud; and the troops were short of food and blankets.  But somehow, Butler scrounged a huge supply of slats used for trench floors and created walkways and tent floors to keep the troops out of the mud.

The grateful soldiers never forgot him.  As one said, “I’d cross hell on a slat if Butler gave the word.”  After the war, Butler was regarded as presidential material (he didn’t run).  He was also a popular figure on the lecture series.

In the early ‘30s, he was approached by men claiming to be associated with the American Legion.  They wanted him to organize a fighting force to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt, and said there was 4300 million available to fund the insurrection.  Butler played along and eventually learned he was being courted buy the American Fascist Movement.  He divulged the plot before the Un-American Activities Committee in 1934, but nothing much came of it; the story was hushed up because several prominent figures were involved.

Butler retired from the Corps in 1931, but continued to speak out on military and foreign-policy issues.  He died in 1940.

William Walker, American journalist, physician, lawyer, and soldier of fortune

Walker is the only native-born American ever to become president of a foreign nation.  From July 1856 to May 1857, he was self-appointed dictator of Nicaragua, a nation he took over with a hand-picked force of mercenaries who called themselves “The Immortals.”

Walker’s success made him a hero throughout the U.S., where the notion of “manifest destiny” was gaining wide acceptance.  Crowds cheered his exploits, newspapers hailed his triumphs.  But a coalition of Central American nations, financed in part by Cornelius Vanderbilt, overthrew Walker.  On May 1, 1857, he and his troops fled back to the United States.

Walker made three more attempts to win control in Central America.  Finally, in the fall of 1859, he and his men attacked Honduras and were captured by British and Honduran troops.

Walker surrendered to the British, expecting he would again be returned to the States.  But he was turned over to the Hondurans instead, and was executed by a firing squad on September 12, 1860.  He was so hated by Nicaraguans that he became a symbol of “Yankee Imperialism.”  He is still remembered there.

Advertisements