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    That blather about Davy creating a road show is false, and makes me wonder what else the National Gallery of Art is wrong about. The play, "The Lion of the West," featured a character called Nimrod Wildfire, clearly based on Crockett, but Davy had nothing to do with it. It opened in New York in 1931, four years before Crockett left Congress. When it played Washington, Davy was in attendance, and exchanged bows with "Wildfire." 

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    I've been reading this book, and it's mighty damn good. Bill Crider said pretty much the same thing (far more eruditely, and with a lot more words) in the Introduction he wrote last September for this new Stark House edition. So I'm going to shut up and let Bill tell you about it. (The fingers in these pics belong to my wife Irene, and if they're dirty it's because I interrupted her gardening to hold the book.) 

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  • 05/26/18--05:00: DC TRIP: I Meet a Movie Star

  • And this is it. 

    When I was a kid, I saw this cool movie co-starring Charles Bronson, and have been an X-15 fan ever since. Pretty sure I buillt a model of it, too. At the Air and Space Museum I was almost close enough to touch it, and was itching to climb into the cockpit. 

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    Happy Birthday, Dashiell Hammett!

    Last year around this time, I celebrated by posting this 1946 David McKay comic book adaptation one chapter a day, which made for a whole lot of posts. This time, I'm hitting you with the whole thing at once. If you happened to see it last year, be assured it's well worth reading again.

    The stylish artwork is by Rodlow Willard, best known for his work from 1946-1954 on the Scorchy Smith comic strip.

    THE END!

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    In gearing up for this trip, which I knew would include a visit to Mount Vernon, I read Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (author of Alexander Hamilton, the inspiration for the musical), which really made old George come alive. One of the biggest surprises was Chernow's account of how Jefferson conspired with James Madison to smear Washington's reputation. While strutting about like noble statemen and pretending to be his friends, they were secretly funding a newspaper that published outrageous lies about him to further their own political aims. 

    Yeah. I know history is mostly subjective, but if the facts as presented by Chernow are true, Tom and Jim were a couple of World Class assholes. With that in mind, I was not surprised by the mealy-mouthed image above, found in the National Portrait Gallery. 

    Or the supercilious expression in the one above, also in the NPG.  

    I met him again on a tour of the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms, where he's dangling the Declaration of Independence like a bath towel. 

    And finally at his own memorial, where he looks like a way-less-than-jolly green giant. So was he really an asshole? I still have no reason to doubt it. 

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    A few of the many cool things we saw at The International Spy Museum. Sadly, this stuff was NOT available in the gift shop. 

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    OK, I screwed up. So shoot me down in flames. There was so much great stuff to see at this museum that I neglected to record details on the planes. Hopefully someone with more expertise (like maybe Mr. Goble) can identify them for us. 

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    Last week, while reading the new Stark Houseedition of these novels, I posted Bill Crider's fine Introduction (that's HERE). Now that I've read them, the best I can say is, "Bill was right!" 

    I read The Late Mrs. Five first, because I was in the mood for first person, and it really hit the spot. As Bill noted, there were several likeable characters. In fact, just about all of them, including the antogonists, were likeable, which is quite an accomplishment. Wormser swatted his hero with a fistful of trouble, and just when it looked like his predicament could get no worse -- it got a way, way, way worse. 

    The author was clearly having fun with narration, and I was too. There were plenty of witty and creative lines, and they seemed to get more plentiful as the story rolled on. And just when I thought I'd figured out where the story was going, it went somewhere else. And then somewhere else. Great job.

    After taking time out for another of Will Murray's latest Doc Savage adventures, The Valley of Eternity, which was another great read (stay tuned for details), I turned to The Body Looks Familiar. 

    As Bill said, not only are The Late Mrs. Five and The Body Looks Familiar about as different as two mysteries can be, The Body Looks Familiar is about as different as a mystery can get. It features two despicable protagonists doing their best to destroy each other, and a couple of well-meaning minor characters who represent the redeeming qualities of the human race. It's an intricate game of back-stabbling chess, in which the Deputy D.A. commits a murder in hopes of framing his arch rival, the Deputy Chief of Police. Innocent bystanders are advised to stand clear, because these guys are taking no prisoners. 

    Right from the start, I had no idea where this one was going, and it kept me wondering right up to the end. If I enjoyed it a bit less than Mrs. Five, it was due to the unlikeability factor, but it was a unique experience I would not have wanted to miss. 

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    The International Spy Museum's collection of spy toys includes this arsenal. The Marx tin litho Sub-Machine gun at the bottom also resides in my collection, though in slightly less pristine condition. 

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    The Gettysburg diorama, in downtown G'burg, says it features over 20,000 hand-painted soldiers. Could be. I didn't count them. Heck, they're so small I could hardly see them. They might be as big as 1/72 scale, but it was hard to tell.

    The diorama, which is the size of five or six ping pong tables, purports to accurately represent the entire battlefield. That may be true, except for the "entire" part. They'd need two or three more ping pong tables to feature all the important areas of the battle. Still, it does provide a good bird's eye view of the overall lay of the land in a way you can't get on the field itself.

    I took photos of various scenes to show you how they look with the naked eye, then blew up a few details to give you a squint at the figures. I know these pics leave a lot to be desired, but I'm surprised they came out even this good. 

    Little Round Top

    More Little Round Top

    The Devil's Den

    The Railroad Cut

    Cemetary Hill

    Oddly, this scene depicts a cavalry skirmish, when there was no such encounter anywhere on the battlefield proper. The nearest thing, between troopers under J.E.B. Stuart and G.A. Custer, took place several miles away.

    More Cemetary Hill

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    One of the cooler crates we saw at the Air and Space Museum. I'd like to have this baby parked in my back yard. 

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  • 06/06/18--05:00: DC TRIP: More Planes . . .
  • Lockheed XP-80 Lulu-Belle
    Prototype for America's First Practical Jet Airplane

    . . . from the Air and Space Museum. 

    Charles Lindbergh's Lockheed Model 8 Sirius Tingmissartog

    Messerschmitt Me 262
    World's First Operational Jet Fighter

    Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1 Glamourous Glennis
    First plane to break the sound barrier (1947)


    Bell XP-59A Airacomet

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    When I wrote my Senator requesting a White House tour, I was told , "Even with the best preparation, White House tours are extremely rare. Approximately 80,000 visitors apply for 3,000 tour slots per day." That seems a bit of an exaggreration to me. Anyway, we failed to score one, and had to settle for a look inside the White House Visitor Center, a couple of blocks away. 

    The coolest thing about it is this table, where you can get a virtual tour of many of the rooms (more than you see on the real tour, I believe). You can pan around 360 degrees to see the whole room, and even up and down to see the ceiling and floor. And for each room, there are several old photos showing you what it looked like at various times in the past. 

    There's also a small museum, with a few things I found of interest.

    Hiawatha himself

    This gilded copper eagle, says the card, may be the original that perched on the White House flagpole from 1899 to 1993, when it was replaced by duplicate.

     This busty brass and iron andiron flanked the Blue Room fireplace at least far back as 1902.

     An exhibit showing what several Presidents ate spilled these interesting beans.
    I'm sure Davy would approve.

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    In the novel Mr. Strang (discussed HERE), our Beatle-haired hero exterminated the rat running what he called the Parole Evil, a racket in which criminals with particular skills were parolled to commit specific crimes.

    Now, two years later, there's a new rat leading the pack, and Mr. Strang finds his work is not yet done. Mr. Strang, as I mentioned in the earlier review, is the closest Daly came to creating a Hero Pulp character. Unlike Daly's other heroes Race Williams, Satan Hall and Vee Brown, Mr. Strang has a secret identidy. When not stalking the streets in search of evildoers, he is Strang Cummings, a mld-mannered antique dealer.

    Who would ever guess that a mystery man would be dumb enough to use his first name as his crimefighting monicker? Just about nobody, apparently. Pretty clever, eh? To further mask his identity, he changes his appearance by scowling and allowing his eyes to burn like hellfire. Then there's his usual haircut. As Strang Cummings, no one seems to notice it, but in Mr. Strang mode, it produces a lot of comment. Ingenious.

    In spite of all that, Mr. Strang is a pretty cool character, made cooler by a bullet lodged close to his brain, producing borderline insanity. His fighting legion is pretty cool, too. The Legion of the Living Dead is a gang of short-timers with incurable diseases. Knowing they'll soon be dead anyway, they're happy to lay down their lives in Mr. Strang's behalf, knowing he'll see their families taken care of.

    This four-part serial, from the Apr 24, May 1, 8, and 15, 1937 issues of Detective Fiction Weelkly, was collected in a rare paperback (possibly digest?) edition, published in Canada by Popular Publications in 1947. I've never seen a copy, and know it exists because, thirty-odd years ago, someone sent me Xerox copy of the cover. (I've forgotten who, but thanks, whoever you were!)

    As the story begins, Mr. Strang is shot and taken to a hospital, where - along with removing the new bullet - the doctor also removes the old one pressing on his brain. Back on his feet, Mr. Strang is no more, and Strang Cummings is now a sniveling coward. Meanwhile, the parole racket runs wild.

    Well. It's obvious such conditions can not long endure, and sure enough, Cummings soon has another life-altering experience which restores the pressure on his brain. Like magic, Mr. Strang is back, and the underworld starts quaking in its boots.

    Odds of you laying your hands on the original serial or the old Popular Pubs edtion are not good, but chances are very good that Matt Moring at Altus Press will soon be making the compete saga of Mr.. Strang available to us all. Are you listening, Matt? It's time for old Beatle-head to make a comeback!

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    For as long as I can remember (which, according to Google is 1968), I've hearing about Roy Rogers restaurants, and haven't been able to go. They've just never had such critters out here on the West Coast. So when we went to Gettysburg, we rode the Metro up the end of the line at Gaithersburg, MD, and while looking at googlemaps to find a nearby car rental, I spotted a Roy joint, and resolved to have breakfast with the King of the Cowboys.

    So there we went. Being a lifetime member of the Roy Rogers Riders Club, I naturally wanted a Double R Bar Burger. But being that it was still shy of 8am, they refused to cook me one, and I had to settle for a Gold Rush Breakfast Sandwich. A Gold Rush, it developed, is pretty much a Sausage McMuffin with a wafer-thin slice of ham lumchmeat on it. But thanks to Roy's Fixin's Bar, I was able to load it with barbeque sauce and pico de gallo, making it pretty dang tasty.

    The place reminded me of a Carl's Jr. (that's Hardees to you mid-Western and Eastern folk), and I later learned there's a reason for that. Between 1990 and 2002 it was owned by the same outfit, though it has since been indpendent.

    It wasn't until we got home, and I was perusing the brochure listing the nutrional value of Roy's vittles, that I learned they also serve Holster Fries. Had I but knowed, I would have throwed a fit until they either fixed me some or placated me with a free holster.

    There were a half dozen small repros of Roy movie posters scattered about the joint, but the only other tribute to the King was this poster. I picked up a comment card, so I could write the head office and tell them they need to pipe in Roy and Dale's music - and open one of those gol' darn restaurants out here in Oregon. 

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    The building housing the Gettysburg Diorama (shown HERE) also features a bunch of smaller dioramas in glass cases. The figures in some of these are about 54mm, some larger, and in at least one case a lot larger. Most represent isloated events or encounters during the three-day battle, but since I failed to take notes, I can't tell you what they are. As before, I'm posting photos of each, with blow ups of details.

    These first pics obviously depict General Lee, but where I can't say. His headquarters during the battle was a house, which is still there.

     This last diorama focuses on Little Round Top, with the Yankees above and the Rebels below.

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    George's face is all over the DC area, and rightly so. This painting, now in the National Portrait Gallery, was done from life in 1785 by British artist Robert Edge Pine. Thankfully, this was before George's mouth was disfigured by dentures.

    This bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon, from around 1786, is also in the NPG.

    This statue's in the NPG, too. Don't know whodunnit.

    This is a detail from a study by Constantino Bremudi for the huge "Apotheosis of Washington" in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

    This bust of George at a toga party was done by Hiram Powers in the 1850s. It now guards the elevator in the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

    Another in the Diplmoatic Reception Rooms.

    Greeting tourists on the street in National Harbor.

    Here he is in full denture mode.
    Rembrandt Peale painted the original version of this in 1795, and made copies, like this one in the NPG.

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    We knew before going that the original Ford's Theater had burned down in 1893, after being remodelled for use as a government office building. I don't know if other visitors knew that or not, because the theater folk made no effort to say so. The current edition, built on the same site, opened in 1968, and another rennovation was completed in 2009.  It may be more or less like the original, but doesn't feel at all old.

    Anyway, as a tourist site, it's just okay. The Peterson house across the street, where Lincoln spent his last hours, still stands, and would have made the tour more interesting - but it's currently closed for restoration. Boogers.

    There's a museum in the basement, and another across the street, with a few items of interest. As part of our admission, we saw a 20-minute play called "One Destiny," which was pretty well done. It finds the owner of the theater and one of the actors shortly after the shooting, bemoaning the fact that the theater has been closed, and trying to make sense of events. In the process, they briefly assume the roles of various people involved, including one known to have a letter from John Wilkes Booth in pocket.  Booth had given him the letter before the shooting, and asked this guy to deliver it to a newspaper. Which brings us to the title of this post.

    The actor pulls the letter out of his pocket and reads it aloud before crumpling it and throwing it off the stage. Because we were sitting in the front row, it fell at our feet, and we claimed it as a souvenir. As you see, it's in Booth's own handwriting, and bears his signature. We're still quaking in our boots that the theater may be coming after us to retrieve this historical artifact.

    Other Booth artifacts found in the museum:

    The gun Booth shot Lincoln with. 

    Here's how big it isn't.

    After shooting Abe, the other guy in the booth jumped up and Booth stabbed him with this knife.

    When Booth jumped out of Lincoln's booth onto the stage, this spur caught on the flag (or flag bunting) and he crash landed, hurting his leg.

    The revolver Booth was carrying when he was killed.

    JWB's switchblade.

    Booth's pin-ups of actress Mary Brown.

    Booth's keys and compass.

    Booth's boot. Looks like the guy had little feet.

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    Okay, so maybe I have a low threshold for amazement, but I thought this stuff was mighty interesting.

    George Custer's buckskin jacket

    Chief Joseph's rifle

    Capn Bob Napier's Lincoln Logs

    Lady Columbia

    Silver junk presented in 1906 to President Teddy Roosevelt by the Emperess Dowager of China

    Anti-Chinese cap pistol

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    Yeah, I'm incredibly bummed that the U.S. team failed to qualify, and that my blood brothers from Italy won't be there, either, but the World Cup will still command my attention and strain my eyeballs for the next month. Let the games begin.

    It's been a big honking piece of my life since 1986, and it was a great year to start, with Argentina's Diego Maradona running wild and scoring his infamous "Hand of God" goal. That year, and for several Cups afterward, I had to watch most of the games in Spanish, because U.S. networks broadcast only a few. I'm pretty sure it wasn't until 1994, when the USA played host, that I finally got to see them all in English.

     The Hand of God strikes!

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    Well, maybe not exactly, but it's hard to imagine The International Spy Museum existing without Bond's iconic status. Most of the main floor is devoted to the Bond Villians exhibit. Overall, it's pretty interesting, though most of the artifacts are from the later films. This is understandable, because the good stuff from the Sean Connery years has long disappeared into private hands.

    The best thing in the joint is this Aston Martin. It goes through a cool routine, complete with sound effects, demonstrating the built-in machine guns, the bullet-proof shield, the rotating license plate and the Ben Hur-inspired wheel grinders. I want one.

    The book that inspired 007's name, which Fleming called, "the dullest name I ever heard."

    Want to see more? Here's a video taking you inside the exhibit:

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    Andy Jackson is our gen'ral's name,
    His reg'lar soldiers we'll put to shame,
    Them redskin varmints us Voluteers'll tame,
    'Cause we got the guns with the sure-fire aim.
    Davy - Davy Crockett,
    The Champion of us all!

    So sang the choir on the Disney mini-series, linking Andy and Davy forever in my brain. On the show, and in real life during the Creek Indian War, the two had minor differences. Their serious differences came later, when Andy was President and Davy opposed his Indians and settlers in western Tennessee. This resulted in Davy being groomed by the Whigs as a possible Presidential opponent, and Andy using the power of his political machine to take away Davy's congressional seat. At which time Davy headed for Texas - and you know the rest. 

    So I've always had an interest in Andy, especially after reading a bunch of books about the Battle of New Orleans, and paying a visit to the battlefield. 

    The statue above is a small version of the one that stands in front (or back) of the White House (depending which side you're on), and the other in the plaza before the Cabildo in New Orleans. 

    by Thomas Sully, 1984, now in the National Portrait Gallery

    by Ralph E.W. Earl, 1836-37

    General Andy's uniform above, and sword below, in the Museum of American History

    by Hiram Powers, 1935

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  • 06/17/18--05:00: DC TRIP: Spy Toys on Wheels

  • Saw this fleet of spymobiles at The International Spy Museum. A couple of them looked familiar, like maybe I once had my own. Gave me visions of having a machine gun installed on the hood of my PT Cruiser. 

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    Yeah, we made the pilgrimage to the old wickiup George called Mount Vernon. 

    George, Martha and her rugrats by a previous marriage were there to greet us.

    George's ride was pimped up something like this one, from the same Philadelphia carriage maker.

    He also tooled around in a covertible.

    Sadly, the best stuff was inside the house - and inside the museum - where no photos are allowed. Being watched like a hawk by one of the guards, I refrained from taking illicit pictures, but luckily, a few scofflaws managed to snap some and post them online. 

    My favorite room in the mansion is Washington's study. That guillotine-type dingus above the chair is a foot-operated fan. 

    Employing some fancypants science, someone managed to recreate what is supposedly Washington's true face. The first time we saw it on a manequin, it looked pretty cool, but when the same face and same expression turned up on several more Georges, it got a little creepy.