THE BLAZE IN SEPTEMBER 1666 RAGED FOR DAYS AND DESTROYED FOUR-FIFTHS OF THE CAPITAL, LEAVING BRITAIN’S TRADE, GOVERNMENT AND PROSPERITY IN RUINS
When, early on 2 September 1666, the famous diarist Samuel Pepys heard of a fire in the City of London that had already destroyed 300 houses, he hired a boat to view the scene from the Thames. To his horror he noted: “Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs … to another.”
The dramatic conflagration wasn’t the first – nor last – to strike the capital, but the Great Fire of London was one of the most devastating events in the city’s history. Raging from 1am on Sunday 2 September to dawn on Thursday 6 September, it resulted in four-fifths of the City being destroyed, including 13,200 houses and 87 churches. Miraculously, there were only six officially recorded deaths, but the very hub of Britain’s trade, government and prosperity stood in ruins.
Pudding Lane bakery
Seventeenth-century London was a turbulent place: the Great Plague had decimated a third of its population in 1665, while frictions between Protestants and Catholics, as well as England’s recent wars with France and the Netherlands, made its citizens nervous. In the event it was a spark in Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane that kindled the disaster. It’s thought his oven was not fully extinguished overnight and in the early hours wood beside it caught fire. While the baker and his family escaped, their unfortunate maid perished.
The fire could hardly have started in a more dangerous place, close to the river’s warehouses and shops packed with combustibles such as coal, timber, oil and alcohol. It had been a long, dry summer and, with a strong easterly wind fanning the flames, the City’s mainly timber-framed buildings were easily lit, their overhanging jetties and the crowded nature of the narrow streets inviting fire to spread. Yet the Lord Mayor Thomas Bludworth, called to the scene at 4am, dismissed the threat posed by the fire and returned to bed, saying: “A woman might piss it out.”
When Pepys conveyed the order to Bludworth in Cannon Street at noon, the Lord Mayor had changed his earlier tune. “To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.’”
With no organised fire brigade in London in 1666, people were reliant on buckets and ladders, fire hooks to pull down buildings, and hand-pumped machines to squirt water. The fire rampaged down Fish Street Hill, onto London Bridge, along the Thames and north of Thames Street, destroying warehouses, St Magnus the Martyr Church and Fishmongers’ Hall, the first of dozens of livery company halls to be ruined. Terrified by such large-scale calamity, people began to fear a French or Dutch attack, and armed mobs hunted for foreign or Catholic arsonists. Militia were called in to control the crowds.
Over five days the conflagration spread across 436 acres, ripping through Lombard Street, Cornhill and the Royal Exchange, also Threadneedle Street, Baynard’s Castle, Cheapside, the Sessions House in the Old Bailey, Ludgate and Newgate Gaol (from which prisoners escaped), Temple and Fleet Street. When the fire reached within 300 yards of the Tower of London, all available resources rushed to the scene.
St Paul’s Cathedral, in wooden scaffolding awaiting restoration, was not so lucky; its roof collapsed and thousands of books stored in the crypt fuelled the inferno.
There are tales of heroism: a seaman and a soldier climbed onto the roof of Middle Temple Hall to beat out flames. And tragedy: an 80-year-old watchmaker refused to leave his home in Shoe Lane and it fell on him. But mainly people fled to the fields outside the City; the court packed its bags; even Pepys, hearing the fire was approaching Barking Church near his home, buried his wine and Parmesan cheese in the garden for safekeeping and temporarily absented himself.
During the fire, King Charles rode around the City distributing money to encourage fire-fighting efforts and he ordered supplies to be brought for the homeless thousands camped in the fields. His brother, James Duke of York, took command of operations from the second day and set up posts manned by civilians and soldiers to tackle the fires. From the third day, gunpowder was used to demolish houses more quickly than pulling them down and by that evening the wind had also dropped. The fire fighters gradually gained control.
Diarist John Evelyn records wandering through the eerie aftermath of the disaster, burning the soles of his shoes on smouldering ground and losing his way in the “dismal desert”. The next month an official day of fasting was held and £12,794 collected from across the country to provide aid to London’s newly destitute; many would move away.
Much post-fire architecture has since vanished, but gems can still be found like the home (now museum) of the dictionary-compiler Dr Johnson in Gough Square. Visit, too, the Monument (junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill) constructed by Wren and Robert Hooke. Completed in 1677, the column is 61 metres tall – the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire started – and 311 steps lead to a viewing platform offering superb vistas.
The most famous legacies of the rebuilding are Wren’s churches and his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. Twenty-nine of the 51 churches he designed still stand, remarkable for their striking array of steeples and spires: from the baroque of St Vedast to the Gothic of
St Dunstan-in-the-East, the slender spire of St Martin-within-Ludgate and the ‘wedding cake’ tiers of St Bride.
The ‘tabula rasa’ left by the Great Fire of London may not have been filled by a model renaissance city as proposed by visionaries like Wren, but it inspired some genuine treasures and made the capital an altogether safer city for generations to come.
The Untold Story of the Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London started accidentally in a bakery, right? That wasn’t the view at the time – many believed it was a terrorist attack and violent reprisals against possible suspects soon followed.
The date 1666 is one burned on to the collective memory of a nation.
Everyone learns at school that the fire raging for four days in that hot, dry summer began in a bakery in Pudding Lane.
But a new Channel 4 documentary focuses on the lesser known story of the fire – it sparked a violent backlash against London’s immigrant population, prompted by the widely-held belief at the time that it was an act of arson committed by a foreign power.
In the days and weeks following the fire, ordinary Londoners – many of whom were displaced and homeless – gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry swiftly launched to find out what happened.
GREAT FIRE IN NUMBERS…
Destroyed 373 acres of the City
13,200 houses, 84 churches and 44 company halls burned down
Raged from Sunday 2 Sept to Thursday 6 Sept
Fewer than 10 people thought to have died, although some perished in refugee camps
Rebuilding killed more than fire
All those witness statements can be found in the inquiry’s report, a 50-page document held in the capital’s Guildhall.
It suggests the city on the eve of the fire was one fraught with anxiety and paranoia, says Sue Horth, the documentary’s executive producer, and the finger of blame was pointed at two countries with which England was at war, Netherlands and France.
“We teach people about Pudding Lane and the hot summer but we don’t say that weeks before the Great Fire, the British Navy sailed into the city of West Terschelling in the Netherlands and set fire to it in an act of diplomatic piracy.
… AND IN QUOTES
‘Among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down’
Samuel Pepys, 2 Sept 1666
‘God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it’
John Evelyn, 2 Sept 1666
“London was expecting an act of reprisal against the city. It was expecting something bad to happen, not because it was superstitious or frightened, but because the government had done something bad. So when the fire happened, it was a natural and quite sensible suspicion for the people of London to have.”
As the fire raged, and rumours spread that the French had invaded, angry mobs hunted anyone who appeared to be foreign, says Ms Horth. A Swedish diplomat was lynched. A French woman trying to escape to a refugee camp in Spitalfields had her breast cut off because people thought the baby chicks she carried in her apron were fireballs.
“London was a city turned to constant night, with the ash cloud and smoke, and the sun couldn’t penetrate, so it was a frightening place to be. Thousands of buildings were razed. People either tried to escape or they fought the fire or they tried to find those responsible.”
This violence is the untold story of the fire, says Adrian Tinniswood, author of By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London.
Most people thought it was an attack by the Dutch, because of the recent atrocity by the Royal Navy under Admiral Robert Holmes.
“There was cheering in the streets of London when that happened, so when the fire started, people thought it was the Dutch getting their own back.
“In fact, the fire was caused by a gale blowing across London for four days. It hit London in the early hours of Sunday morning, just as [Thomas] Farriner’s bakery goes up in flames. The gale blew embers and bits of straw across the city and fires broke out all over the place, so people said: ‘This isn’t a fire spreading, it has to be arson’.”
On the fourth day, when the fire was finally quelled, King Charles II, the newly restored monarch after years of civil war, tried to calm matters by going to a new camp of 100,000 homeless, and declaring the fire was an act of God.
The king took a very enlightened view and always believed it was an accident, says Mr Tinniswood. His brother, James, Duke of York, went even further. He rode into the city with his bodyguards and rescued people from the mob, some of whom were in the very act of being hanged on street corners.
The hunt for a foreign scapegoat continued, until one volunteered for the role. At the end of September, the parliamentary committee was appointed to investigate the fire, and a French Protestant watchmaker, Robert Hubert, confessed to having deliberately started the fire at the bakery with 23 conspirators.
Although his confession seemed to change and flounder under scrutiny, he was tried and hanged. Afterwards, colleagues told the inquiry Hubert had been at sea with them at the time, and the inquiry concluded the fire had indeed been an accident. No-one knows why he confessed.
Until the 19th Century, the plaque at London’s Monument stated that followers of the Pope were to blame, says Ms Horth, and named Hubert as the fire-starter. It was only after Catholic emancipation in the 19th Century that the government decided the plaque was inflammatory and had those inscriptions removed.
“This story [about it being an accident] is not necessarily the most helpful for us all to believe,” Ms Horth says. “The truth is that we will never know how it began. We now believe it was an accident but 350 years ago certain people thought differently. There are many perspectives to events and it’s up to us to understand them all.”
It’s natural the version of events told to youngsters should airbrush the gruesome details, says Meriel Jeater, curator at the Museum of London.
“The traditional view taught in schools is that it all happened as a happily-ever-after sort of story. It was a terrible disaster, but not many people died, we rebuilt the city in brick so it was fireproof, and isn’t St Paul’s pretty?
“But the more you investigate, you realise it wasn’t all like that. The dark side was that the fire burst on to the surface religious tension and paranoia about national security.”
It’s a tale with echoes today, says Ms Jeater. “When I was curating the exhibition, it wasn’t long after the 7/7 bombings and when I was reading about the reactions against Catholics and the Dutch, it struck me that there were a lot of similarities with the backlash against Muslim people after the bombing. A lot of suspicion about people living in London.
“It’s different people and different events, but I think human nature is very similar.”
3 Myths About The Great Fire Of London You Probably Believe
The Great Fire of London is a very well-known disaster, and has been researched and written about extensively ever since 1666. However, there are still some enduring myths and misconceptions that the Museum of London’s Fire! Fire! exhibition (May 2016 – April 2017) aimed to tackle.
Myth #1: The Great Fire stopped the Great Plague
This is the myth that I hear people talking about most often. They may have read it in a children’s book or heard it at school. The idea is that there was a silver lining to the tragedy of the fire, as it ended the great plague that swept the city from 1665-66. This was the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in London, and killed 100,000 Londoners- about 20% of the city’s population. The fire is supposed to have wiped out London’s rats and fleas that spread the plague and burned down the insanitary houses which were a breeding ground for the disease. If anyone asks you about this, you can tell them that it’s not true. Here’s why:
▪ The Great Fire only burnt about a quarter of the urban metropolis so it could not have purged the plague from the whole city.
▪ Though the outside walls of houses rebuilt after the fire had to be built from brick, there were no major improvements to hygiene and sanitation afterwards.
▪ Many of the areas that were worst affected by the plague, such as Whitechapel, Clerkenwell and Southwark, were not destroyed by the fire.
▪ The numbers of people dying from plague were already in decline from the winter of 1665 onwards.
▪ People continued to die from plague in London after the Great Fire was over.
This myth seems to have grown up because the two catastrophes were so close together and because the Great Plague of 1665-66 was the last major outbreak of the disease in this country. We are still not sure why the plague did not return to our shores after it faded out in the 1670s but it wasn’t due to London’s 1666 fire.
Myth #2: The Great Fire spread due to the thatched roofs of London’s houses
In fact, thatch had been banned within the City of London by building regulations dating back to 1189. These rules were reinforced after a terrible fire in 1212 when an estimated 3000 people died. Shortly after this fire, the City authorities ruled that all new houses had to be roofed with tiles, shingles or boards. Any existing roofs with thatch had to be plastered. The medieval regulations appear to have been successful in preventing large-scale fires. John Stow, in his 1598 Survey of London said ‘since which time [referring to introduction of the rules], thanks be given to God, there hath not happened the like often consuming fires in this city as afore.’
By 1666, the vast majority of houses in the City would have been tiled. Even if there were a small number of thatched buildings lurking in the densely-packed streets, they were not in significant numbers to be noted as a cause of the Great Fire by 17th-century authors. The London Gazette and Rege Sincera’s Observations both Historical and Moral upon the Burning of London both mention timber buildings as a problem but not thatch. Sincera wrote about ‘ the weakness of the buildings, which were almost all of wood, which by age was grown as dry as a chip’. The London Gazette’s reporting of the disaster says it began ‘in a quarter of Town so close built with wooden pitched houses’.
How many people died during the Great Fire?
We don’t know for sure. Amazingly, fewer than ten deaths were recorded. One of the people killed was 80-year-old watchmaker Paul Lowell. He refused to leave his house on Shoe Lane even though his son & friends begged him to go. His bones & keys were found in the ruins.
Myth #3: London was rebuilt in brick & stone thanks to the Great Fire
While it is true that the February 1667 Rebuilding Act stated that ‘all the outsides of all Buildings in and about the said Citty be henceforth made of Bricke or Stone’ there were many brick buildings in London beforehand. In fact, records show that there were even brick houses on Pudding Lane, that notorious street where the fire began, before 1666.
Royal proclamations dating back over 60 years demanded that new buildings be built from brick. In March 1605 James I said that no one was to build a new house in London unless it was made from brick or stone because he wanted to reserve the country’s timber for the navy’s ships. Uptake was slow, however, and later proclamations repeated this demand several times, such as in October 1607, when King James stated that new brick or stone buildings would ‘both adorne and beautifie his said City, and be lesse subject to danger of fire’.
As these rules only applied to new houses, and appear to have only been sporadically obeyed, the Great Fire became the opportunity to enforce, re-state and refine existing rules. The disaster affected such a large area that thousands of brick houses had to be built to replace those that had been destroyed. This has left us with a false impression that the fire introduced brick to London.
The Great Fire of London Was Blamed on Religious Terrorism
Why scores of Londoners thought the fire of 1666 was all part of a nefarious Catholic conspiracy
The rumors spread faster than the blaze that engulfed London over five days in September 1666: that the fire raging through the city’s dense heart was no accident – it was deliberate arson, an act of terror, the start of a battle. England was at war with both the Dutch and the French, after all. The fire was a “softening” of the city ahead of an invasion, or they were already here, whoever “they” were. Or maybe it was the Catholics, who’d long plotted the downfall of the Protestant nation.
Londoners responded in kind.
Before the flames were out, a Dutch baker was dragged from his bakery while an angry mob tore it apart. A Swedish diplomat was nearly hung, saved only by the Duke of York who happened to see him and demand he be let down. A blacksmith “felled” a Frenchman in the street with a vicious blow with an iron bar; a witness recalled seeing his “innocent blood flowing in a plentiful stream down his ankles”. A French woman’s breasts were cut off by Londoners who thought the chicks she carried in her apron were incendiaries. Another Frenchman was nearly dismembered by a mob that thought that he was carrying a chest of bombs; the bombs were tennis balls.
“The need to blame somebody was very, very strong,” attests Adrian Tinniswood, author of By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire. The Londoners felt that “It can’t have been an accident, it can’t be God visiting this upon us, especially after the plague, this has to be an act of war.”
As far as we know, it wasn’t. The fire started in the early hours of the morning of September 2 on Pudding Lane in the bakery of Thomas Farriner. Pudding Lane was (and still is) located in the centre of the City of London, the medieval city of around one square mile ringed by ancient Roman walls and gates and rivers now covered and forgotten. Greater London built up around these walls in the years after the Romans left in the 4th century, sprawling out in all directions, but the City of London remained (and still remains) its own entity, with its own elected Mayor and home to around 80,000 people in 1666. That number would have been higher, but the Black Plague had killed roughly 15 percent of the entire city’s population the previous year.
Farriner was a maker of hard tack, the dry but durable biscuits that fed the King’s Navy; he’d closed for business on Saturday, September 1, at around 8 or 9 that night, extinguishing the fire in his oven. His daughter, Hanna, then 23, checked the kitchen at around midnight, making sure the oven was cold, then headed to bed. An hour later, the ground floor of the building was filled with smoke. The Farriners’ manservant, Teagh, raised the alarm, climbing to the upper floors where Thomas, Hanna, and their maid slept. Thomas, Hanna, and Teagh squeezed out of a window and scrambled along the gutter to a neighbor’s window. The maid, whose name remains unknown, did not and was the first to die in the fire.
At first, few were overly concerned about the fire. London was a cramped, overcrowded city lighted by candles and fireplaces. Buildings were largely made of wood; fires were common. The last major fire was in 1633, destroying 42 buildings at the northern end of London Bridge and 80 on Thames Street, but there were smaller fires all the time. The City of London’s Lord Mayor at the time, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, will ever be remembered as the man who declared that the 1666 fire was so small, “a woman might piss it out”. But Bloodworth, described by diarist Samuel Pepys as a “silly man”, wasn’t the only one to underestimate the fire: Pepys himself was woken at 3 that morning by his maid, but when he saw that the fire still seemed to be on the next street over, went back to sleep until 7. The London Gazette, the city’s twice-weekly newspaper, ran a small item about the fire in its Monday edition, among gossip about the Prince of Saxe’s unconsummated marriage to the Princess of Denmark and news of a storm in the English Channel.
A second report on the fire that week, however, was not forthcoming. Within hours of printing Monday’s paper, the Gazette’s press burned to the ground. By the time the newspaper had hit the streets, Londoners were very much aware that the fire that the Gazette reported “continues still with great violence” had yet to abate.
Several factors contributed to the fire’s slow but unstoppable spread: Many of the residents of Pudding Lane were asleep when the fire began and slow to react, not that they could have done much beyond throw buckets of whatever liquid – beer, milk, urine, water – was on hand. A hot summer had left London parched, its timber and plaster buildings like well-dried kindling. These buildings were so close together that people on opposite sides of the narrow, filthy streets could reach out their windows and shake hands. And because London was the manufacturing and trade engine of England, these buildings were also packed with flammable goods – rope, pitch, flour, brandy and wool.
But by Monday evening, Londoners began to suspect that this fire was no accident. The fire itself was behaving suspiciously; it would be subdued, only to break out somewhere else, as far as 200 yards away. This led people to believe that the fire was being intentionally set, although the real cause was an unusually strong wind that was picking up embers and depositing them all over the city.
“This wind blowing from the east was forcing the fire across the city much quicker than people were expecting,” explains Meriel Jeater, curator of the Museum of London’s “Fire! Fire! Exhibition,” commemorating the 350th anniversary of the fire. Sparks would fly up and set fire to whatever they landed on. “It seemed that suddenly, another building was on fire and it was, ‘Why did that happen?’ They didn’t necessarily think there was spark involved, or another natural cause… England was at war, so it was perhaps natural to assume that there might have been some element of foreign attack to it.”
Embers and wind didn’t feel like a satisfying or likely answer, so Londoners started to feel around for someone to blame. And they found them.
At the time, London was the third largest city in the Western world, behind Constantinople and Paris, and roughly 30 times larger than any other English town. And it was international, with trade links all over the world, including countries that it was at war with, Holland and France, and those it wasn’t entirely comfortable with, including Spain. London was also a refuge for foreign Protestants fleeing persecution in their majority Catholic homelands, including the Flemish and French Huguenots.
That people believed that the city was under attack, that the fire was the plot of either the Dutch or the French, was logical, not paranoia. The English had just burnt the Dutch port city of West-Terschelling to the ground just two weeks earlier. As soon as the fire broke out, Dutch and French immigrants were immediately under suspicion; as the fire burned, the English authorities stopped and interrogated foreigners at ports. More troubling, however, was that Londoners began to take vengeance into their own hands, says Tinniswood. “You’re not looking at a population that can distinguish between a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, a Swede. If you’re not English, good enough.”
“The rumors reach a kind of crescendo on the Wednesday night when the fire is subsiding and then breaks out just around Fleet Street,” says Tinniswood. Homeless Londoners fleeing the fire were camped in the fields around the City. A rumor went up that the French were invading the city, then the cry: “Arms, arms, arms!”
“They’re traumatized, they’re bruised, and they all, hundreds and thousands of them, they take up sticks and come pouring into the city,” says Tinniswood. “It’s very real… A lot of what the authorities are doing is trying to damp down that sort of panic.”
But extinguishing the rumors proved almost as difficult as putting out the fire itself. Rumors traveled fast, for one thing: “The streets are full of people, moving their goods… They’re having to evacuate two, three, four times,” Tinniswood explains, and with each move, they’re out in the street, passing information. Compounding the problem was that there were few official ways able to contradict the rumors – not only had the newspaper’s printing press burned down, but so too did the post office. Charles II and his courtiers maintained that the fire was an accident, and though they were themselves involved in fighting the fire on the streets, there was only so much they could do to also stop the misinformation spreading. Says Tinniswood, “There’s no TV, no radio, no press, things are spread by word of mouth, and that means there must have been a thousand different rumors. But that’s the point of it: nobody knew.”
Several people judged to be foreigners were hurt during Wednesday’s riot; contemporaries were surprised that no one had been killed. The next day, Charles II issued an order, posted in places around the city not on fire, that people should “attend the business of quenching the fire” and nothing else, noting that there were enough soldiers to protect the city should the French actually attack, and explicitly stating that the fire was an act of God, not a “Papist plot”. Whether or not anyone believed him was another issue: Charles II had only been restored to his throne in 1660, 11 years after his father, Charles I, was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. The City of London had sided with the Parliamentarians; six years later, Londoners still didn’t entirely trust their monarch.
The fire finally stopped on the morning of September 6. Official records put the number of deaths as fewer than 10, although Tinniswood and Jeater both believe that number was higher, probably more like 50. It’s still a surprisingly small number, given the huge amount of property damage: 80 percent of the city within the walls had burned, some 87 churches and 13,200 homes were destroyed, leaving 70,000 to 80,000 people homeless. The total financial loss was in the region of £9.9 million, at a time when the annual income of the city was put at only £12,000.
On September 25, 1666, the government set up a committee to investigate the fire, hearing testimony from dozens of people about what they saw and heard. Many were compelled to come forward with “suspicious” stories. The report was given to Parliament on January 22, 1667, but excerpts from the proceedings transcripts were leaked to the public, published in a pamphlet. By this time, just a few months after the fire, the narrative had changed. Demonstrably, the Dutch and the French hadn’t invaded, so blaming a foreign power was no longer plausible. But the people still wanted someone to blame, so they settled on the Catholics.
“After the fire, there seems be a lot of paranoia that is was a Catholic plot, that Catholics in London would conspire with Catholics abroad and force the Protestant population to convert to Catholicism,” Jeater explains. The struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism in England had been long and bloody, and neither side was above what amounted to terrorism: The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was, after all, an English Catholic plot to assassinate James I.
The official report issued to Parliament rejected much of the testimony as unbelievable – one committee member called the allegations “very frivolous”, and the conclusion declared there was no evidence “to prove it to be a general design of wicked agents, Papists or Frenchmen, to burn the city”. It didn’t matter: The leaked excerpts did much to solidify the story that the fire was the work of shadowy Catholic agents. For example:
William Tisdale informs, That he being about the beginning of July at the Greyhound in St. Martins, with one Fitz Harris an Irish Papist, heard him say, ‘There would be a sad Desolation in September, in November a worse, in December all would be united into one.’ Whereupon he asked him, ‘where this Desolation would be?’ He answered, ‘In London.’
Mr. Light of Ratcliff, having some discourse with Mr. Longhorn of the Middle-Temple, Barrister, [reputed a zealous Papist] about February 15 last, after some discourse in disputation about Religion, he took him by the hand, and said to him, ‘You expect great things in Sixty Six, and think that Rome will be destroyed, but what if it be London?’
“You’ve got hundreds of tales like that: With hindsight, people are saying that guy said something like, ‘London better look out’,” said Tinniswood. “It’s that kind of level, it’s that vague.”
What’s even more confusing is that by the time the testimonies were leaked, someone had already confessed to and been hung for the crime of starting the fire. Robert Hubert. a 26-year-old watchmaker’s son from Rouen, France, had been stopped at Romford, in Essex, trying to make it to the east coast ports. He was brought in for questioning and bizarrely, told authorities that he’d set the fire, that he was part of a gang, that it was all a French plot. He was indicted on felony charges, transported back to London under heavy guard and installed at the White Lion Gaol in Southwark, the City’s gaols having burned down.
In October 1666, he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey. There, Hubert’s story twisted and turned – the number of people in his gang went from 24 to just four; he’d said he’d started it in Westminster, then later, after spending some time in jail, said the bakery at Pudding Lane; other evidence suggested that he hadn’t even been in London when the fire started; Hubert claimed to be a Catholic, but everyone who knew him said he was a Protestant and a Hugeunot. The presiding Lord Chief Justice declared Hubert’s confession so “disjointed” he couldn’t possibly believe him guilty. And yet, Hubert insisted that he’d set the fire. On that evidence, the strength of his own conviction that he had done it, Hubert was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hung at Tyburn on October 29, 1666.
Why Hubert said he did it remains unclear, although there is a significant body of literature on why people confess to things they couldn’t possibly have done. Officials were in the strange position of trying to prove he hadn’t done what he said he did, but Hubert was adamant – and everyone else simply thought he was, to put it in contemporary terms, mad. The Earl of Clarendon, in his memoirs, described Hubert as a “poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it this way” – in other words, suicide by confession.
Having someone to blame was certainly better than the alternative being preached from the city’s remaining pulpits: That the fire was God’s vengeance on a sinful city. They’d even named a particular sin – because the fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane and ended at Pie Corner, opportunistic preachers took the line that Londoners were gluttonous reprobates who needed to repent now. Pie Corner is still marked with a statue of a plump golden boy, formerly known as the Fat Boy, which was intended as a reminder of London’s sinning ways.
The Catholic conspiracy story persisted for years: In 1681, the local ward erected a plaque on the site of the Pudding Lane bakery reading, “Here by the permission of Heaven, Hell broke loose upon this Protestant city from the malicious hearts of barbarous Papists, by the hand of their agent Hubert, who confessed…”. The plaque remained in place until the middle of the 18th century, when it was removed not because people had had a change of heart, but because visitors stopping to read the plaque were causing a traffic hazard. The plaque, which appears to have cracked in half, is on display at the Fire! Fire! exhibition. Also in 1681, a final line was added to the north-face inscription on the public monument to the fire: “But Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched.” The words weren’t removed until 1830, with the Catholic Emancipation Act that lifted restrictions on practicing Catholics.
“Whenever there is a new bout of anti-Catholic sentiment, everybody harks back to the fire,” says Tinniswood. And 1681 was a big year for anti-Catholic rhetoric, prompted in part by the dragonnades in France that forced French Protestants to convert to Catholicism and, closer to home, by the so-called “Popish Plot,” a fictitious Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II entirely invented by a former Church of England curate whose false claims resulted in the executions of as many as 35 innocent people.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire of 1666, London was a smoking ruin, smoldering with suspicion and religious hatred and xenophobia. And yet within three years, the city had rebuilt. Bigotry and xenophobia subsided – immigrants remained and rebuilt, more immigrants joined them later.
But that need to blame, often the person last through the door or the person whose faith is different, never really goes away. “The outsider is to blame, they are to blame, they are attacking us, we’ve got to stop them – that kind of rhetoric is sadly is very obvious… and everywhere at the moment, and it’s the same thing, just as ill-founded,” Tinniswood said, continuing, “There is still a sense that we need to blame. We need to blame them, whoever they are.”
In 1726, Mary Toft gave birth to rabbits. The case became a test of the doctors’ scientific principles.
On a Friday two weeks before Christmas 1726 news reached Exeter of a curious theatrical performance which had taken place in London the previous Saturday night, on 10 December. An Exeter newspaper reported that, at the end of the main play at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre, the audience witnessed an unexpected short entertainment called ‘Harlequin the Sorcerer’:
Harlequin, assisted by a Man Midwife, was delivered of 4 Rabbits, which ran about the Stage, and raised such a Laughter as perhaps has not been heard upon any other Occasion.
Whether these four rabbits were played by actors in costumes, took the form of some kind of model or puppet, or were actual living animals skipping about the London stage was not entirely clear from the report. But the hilarity of the audience was palpable: this performance of a sorcerer giving birth to rabbits provoked perhaps the loudest laughter ever to be heard in a London theatre.
Everyone at that performance understood the joke. London had been captivated by rabbit births since October, when a newspaper reported that three women working in a field in Surrey had chased a rabbit:
One of the Women has since, by the help of a Man Midwife, been delivered of something in the Form of a dissected Rabit.
Newspaper reports quickly became ever more detailed: the ‘poor Woman’ lived in Godalming, near Guildford, and was married with two children; the midwife was the ‘eminent’ John Howard and he was in contact with the Royal Society to discuss this ‘strange but well attested piece of News’. Several rabbit parts continued to appear but, during keen investigation by several doctors and other learned men, doubts emerged. By early December, the British Journal scoffed, ‘A fine Story!’ The hoax was revealed on 5 December, followed fast by Harlequin’s rabbit births on the stage at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. As the Exeter report made clear, the theatrical performance was ‘a Representation ridiculing the aforesaid Imposture’. But it also ridiculed those who had believed in the rabbit births in the first place. The play was part of a wave of print, poems and engravings that relished the evident absurdity of a woman giving birth to rabbits, as well as the credulity of the group of learned men who believed that she had.
The woman at the centre of this affair was Mary Toft. Born in 1703, Mary Denyer was 17 when she married the 18-year-old Joshua Toft. She had already given birth to two children: Ann had died the year she was born but James was aged two and Mary was pregnant with a third child when the rabbit births began in 1726. Like other poor women, Mary made shift with seasonal agricultural work and, according to her testimony, the rabbit birth affair was triggered as she was weeding in a field. In several accounts, Mary explained that she had been pregnant when she saw and chased a rabbit that got away. She continued to think about the rabbit until, a short while later, she started to bleed and pass unidentified and fleshy parts. Toft appears to have experienced a prolonged and painful miscarriage and her account of this is moving and unique. It was only some time after this miscarriage that the rabbit parts began to appear. Her account – that something she had seen, desired but failed to capture had disrupted the normal course of a pregnancy and transformed the form of the unborn child within her – made the entire story both believable and captivating. Toft knew that this account might convince her audience. Later questioned about the affair, she began her first statement: ‘I was delivered of a true monstrous birth.’
An ancient medical theory, found in the works of Aristotle, Galen and Pliny, supposed that what a woman saw or felt when pregnant might make a literal impression on her mind, and that this could be imprinted upon her foetus. In the case of Mary Toft, the process was still going on. Her repeated rabbit births looked like the first live evidence that the pregnant woman’s imagination was so powerful as to transform a human foetus into a monster. As Nathaniel St André, the Swiss émigré doctor and surgeon and anatomist to George I’s Royal Household, put it, he visited Toft in order to be, ‘convinced personally of a Fact of which there was no Instance in Nature’. He meticulously described his findings in his pamphlet account, in which he was sure to separate himself from those ‘flying Reports and Conjectures’ already circulating. Here in Surrey, the classical theory of the maternal imagination appeared to have moved from hypothesis to observable scientific fact.
The chance of a live performance of a monstrous birth generated considerable urgency; a steady stream of highly regarded doctors flowed to see Toft in Guildford. There they each witnessed deliveries of real animal parts. St André was there for the birth of the skinned torso of a rabbit, with the heart and lungs still intact. Cyriacus Ahlers, a German surgeon attached to George I’s German household, delivered the hind part of a skinned rabbit which bore both flesh and bones. Hearing reports of this, the physician and midwife Richard Manningham, who had been knighted in 1722, stayed up until the early hours waiting for his companion to take him to Guildford so he could see for himself. Manningham delivered a piece that he subsequently described as ‘like a piece of Hog’s Bladder’. Instead of immediately declaring the affair a fraud, he placed the piece between the pages of his pocket book and took it to London, where he would later show his fellow doctors. One of these men was James Douglas, a Scottish anatomist, midwife and member of the Royal College of Physicians. Douglas was to receive a note about the case from St André, written at midnight on 29 November:
I have brought the Woman from Guildford to the Bagnio in Leicester fields. She now has a Live Rabbit in her and I Expect shortly a Delivery: you will infinitely oblige me to deliver her your Self.
Douglas responded immediately and would arrive at the bagnio shortly afterwards.
Empirical observation, a hallmark of early modern science, was a principal tool of these doctors. The signs of pregnancy in Mary’s body were carefully scrutinised. A white substance emitting from her breast was checked to see if she was lactating. The animal parts that were taken from her body were tested to assess whether they had gestated within her body or had been placed there by human hand. Her swollen belly was examined and she underwent several vaginal examinations. The efforts undertaken by these men suggest that they took seriously the possibility of a monstrous birth.
It is striking, then, that none of the doctors discussed the theory of the maternal imagination as the cause of what they witnessed. Most were highly cautious and sceptical throughout. In his book, written after the hoax was exposed, Ahlers was careful to proclaim that he was the first doctor whose suspicions were aroused in Guildford. Nonetheless, the book closed with his five-page ‘Anatomical Description of the several Parts of the Sixteenth Rabbet’, which he took to show the king. Manningham retrospectively claimed that he had always suspected fraud, though he, too, took that supposed hog’s bladder back to London for verification.
The considerable efforts of these doctors can be explained partly by professional ambition. If this was a case of a genuine monstrous birth, they each wanted to be involved. This clearly drove St André, who, in claiming to several correspondents – including Sir Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians and secretary of the Royal Society – that he had brought Mary Toft to London, sought out professional esteem and better connections. In turn, each of the doctors entered the newly dynamic 18th-century public sphere through print, making their case, giving their judgement and establishing their public status.
More important than the opportunity for professional advancement was the occupation of scientific enquiry. The strenuous efforts at investigation by these doctors showed not that they believed Toft, but instead that they were so committed to scientific examination of the available evidence that they would only denounce the monstrous births with certain proof. As James Douglas commented of his own motivation in investigating the case, his aim was:
to come at a speedy Discovery of the Imposture, by plain, sensible, and undeniable Facts, of which all the World might be Judges, and not Physicians and Anatomists only, who were capable of determining the Matter upon other Principles.
In Guildford and then in London, a group of trained medical men and respectable gentleman scholars debated the evidence before them. The rooms of the bagnio were put to good use, with Mary kept in a lodging room while the men would gather in the nearby dining room to view some of the animal parts. Historians have often viewed Mary Toft’s monstrous births as an example of the credulity of early-18th-century doctors and their ill-informed theories about conception and reproduction. Yet most of their efforts were not intended to uncover the truth of the monstrous births. Instead, in the context of the Scientific Revolution and the burgeoning medical fields on reproduction and foetal development, they went to considerable lengths to discern the limits of falsehood. Their treatment of Toft was disdainful and often cruel, but their attempts at scrupulous investigation exemplify the development of medical practice.
News of the case had reached the Royal Court by the middle of November. St André was accompanied to Guildford on 15 November by Samuel Molyneux, secretary to the Prince of Wales. Ahlers arrived in Guildford on 20 November at the behest, he wrote, of the king himself. He would return to show him the rabbit parts. St André, who claimed to have written to Richard Manningham on the suggestion of the king, also suggested that he had displayed animal parts to His Majesty. George I examining those that had exited Mary Toft’s body is one of the most remarkable scenes of this whole affair. This royal curiosity was most likely what propelled Mary Toft from Guildford to London. When, late on 29 November, Mary Toft was brought to the Leicester Square bagnio, one newspaper reported that this was ‘by Order of his Majesty’. The king’s stake in the affair was thus publicly declared. As long as Mary Toft went on producing rabbits, this was a legitimate interest in something that was potentially medically groundbreaking. But, if the rabbit births were revealed to be nothing more than a trick, this royal interest risked appearing faintly ridiculous. Just days after the king had supposedly brought Mary Toft to London, the porter at the bagnio reported that her family had asked him to smuggle in dead rabbits through the back door. The case in which George I had made a very public investment promptly crumbled.
The hoax will out
Initial interest in the case was driven by curiosity, professional ambition and medical enquiry among the doctors. When it was revealed that the rabbits were not a genuine monstrous birth, though, different questions were raised. If Mary Toft had not gestated rabbits, then what had happened and why? Efforts to uncover the truth of the hoax redoubled. Press interest intensified and the tone of the reports changed. If Mary Toft had once been described as the ‘poor’ woman, she now became a ‘wicked’ woman. She was taken into custody, aggressively questioned and subject to a criminal prosecution against her and the Guildford doctor, John Howard. Over night the case transformed from a medical to a political affair. Though the evidence does not show who initiated the prosecution, it is clear that those in positions of power – representatives of the state and the monarchy – were the protagonists.
One of the outstanding puzzles of the affair is why Mary Toft was subject to a criminal prosecution. Toft was accused of an ‘Abominable Cheat & Imposture’. In other words, she was prosecuted for pretending to have given birth to rabbits.
Yet no one had been defrauded of any money and no one – save the rabbits – had been harmed. A prosecution in the Westminster Quarter Sessions seems to be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut. The public embarrassment of the king was surely one important factor and there is evidence that the man who prosecuted the case – the MP Thomas Clarges – was directly instructed by the king. But Clarges did not work alone; he was flanked by several men with government posts, royal court positions and active involvement in the criminal justice system. In acting against Mary Toft, these men were shoring up their authority at precisely the moment that it appeared to be under attack.
Mary Toft’s rabbits linked her directly to perceived threats to authority in the early 18th century, among them longstanding protests on the property of wealthy landowners. During the 1720s, direct social conflict had emerged within royal forests, originating in the area around the county borders between Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey. Known to contemporaries as the ‘Blacks’ because they acted in disguise, often by blackening their faces, these groups damaged or stole property, including buildings and animals. Deer were a common target for these poachers, though other animals such as fish were also taken. Rabbits had been a focus for several protests: escaping from their warrens to wreck the land and livelihood of nearby tenants and freeholders, rabbits became a symbol of the exploitative and unchecked power of the landed elite. Rabbits were also a focus for social tensions because, as the prices of wool and grain declined between 1660 and 1750, rabbit farming had replaced dairy and arable farming in the sandy areas suited to warrens. The decline of the clothing trade in some areas went hand in hand with the growth of commercial warrening.
Godalming, Mary Toft’s home town, stood at the heart of this area. It was a particularly poor area of Surrey and had been damaged by the depression in the clothing industry. Though it escaped the protests seen in other places, there is evidence that the wider political unrest reached Godalming. Mary Toft’s husband, Joshua, was an unskilled clothworker. In the summer of 1726, he appeared at the Surrey Quarter Sessions alongside 37 other men charged ‘for a trespass in entering the ground or pond of James Stringer … with an intent to steale fish’. As Joshua Toft was facing prosecution for trespass and an attempt to steal fish, his wife was preparing to give birth to rabbits. Within a few short months, husband and wife had each been brought before the courts for disruptive and provocative behaviour that centred on problematic animals.
Perhaps the most unsettling of the couple was the woman whose force of mind had allowed her to use her own body to mysteriously produce those animals. Suspicions about women’s unbounded desire and unruly bodies underpinned the theory of the maternal imagination. The harsh treatment meted out to Toft by the stream of male doctors and elite observers also sprang partly from an undercurrent of misogyny, as did the vitriolic press coverage. Mary Toft represented not just potential unrest on the part of the poor but a potential threat to the social order: the conscious actions of a thinking woman.
By the time that Harlequin the Sorcerer took to the boards to deliver his rabbits, Mary Toft had been denigrated for her own fraudulent performance. Whether or not she had any choice in playing this role is difficult to judge. We do know that the performance was watched by crowds of people. The evidence describes the original scene in her home town of Godalming as one busy with family and neighbours, particularly women. Moved to nearby Guildford, ‘most of the People’ came to see her installed in the building of the local doctor, John Howard. While in the Leicester Square bagnio in London, not only was she kept under constant surveillance by the doctors and visited by a stream of prominent men investigating the case, it was reported that ‘Every creature in town, both men and women’ came to look. Finally, once incarcerated in the Westminster house of correction and awaiting the outcome of the criminal prosecution against her, one newspaper reported on ‘the infinite Crowds of People that resort to see her’.
Vicious prurience characterised this public fascination. And there is no doubt that this alone could sell newspapers. Yet the evidence suggests something even more sinister. Public opinion was being manipulated by those behind the prosecution. In the end, the public and the prosecutors were thwarted; the criminal case against both Mary Toft and John Howard was dropped because no criminal act could be proven. Marginal and lacking in formal power due to both her social position and gender, Mary Toft was nevertheless a profoundly unsettling figure for those who wished to preserve the early 18th-century status quo.
In Mahayana Buddhism, according to the doctrine of trikaya a Buddha has three bodies, called the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. Very simply, the dharmakaya is the body of the absolute, beyond existence and non-existence. The nirmanakaya is the physical body that lives and dies; the historical Buddha was a nirmanakaya buddha. And the sambhogakaya might be thought of as an interface between the other two bodies.
Sambhogakaya is the body of enjoyment or the body that experiences the fruits of Buddhist practice and the bliss of enlightenment.
Some teachers compare dharmakaya to vapor or atmosphere, sambhogakaya to clouds, and nirmanakaya to rain. Clouds are a manifestation of atmosphere that enables rain.
Buddhas as Objects of Devotion
Buddhas depicted as idealized, transcendent beings in Mahayana art are nearly always sambhogakaya buddhas. The nirmanakaya body is an earthly body that lives and dies, and the dharmakaya body is formless and without distinction — nothing to see. A sambhogakaya buddha is enlightened and purified of defilements, yet he remains distinctive.
Amitabha Buddha is a sambhogakaya buddha, for example. Vairocana is the Buddha who represents the dharmakaya, but when he appears in a distinctive form he is a sambhogakaya buddha.
Many of the Buddhas mentioned in Mahayana Sutras are sambhogakaya buddhas. When the Lotus Sutra cites “the Buddha,” for example, it is referring to the sambhogakaya form of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of the present age. We know this from the description in the first chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
“From the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows, one of his characteristic features, the Buddha emitted a beam of light, illuminating eighteen thousand worlds in the east, so that there was nowhere that it did not reach, down to the lowest purgatory and up to Akanishtha, the highest heaven.”
Samghogakaya buddhas are described in the sutras as appearing in celestial realms or Pure Lands, often accompanied by hosts of bodhisattvas and other enlightened beings. The Kagyu teacher Traleg Rinpoche explained,
“It is said that the Sambhogakaya manifests not in any kind of spatial or physical location but in a place that is not really a place; a place of nowhere called Akanishtha, or wok ngun in Tibetan. Wok mi means “not underneath,” suggesting that Akanishtha, because it is a field of nowhere, is all encompassing. Ultimately wok-ngun refers to emptiness, or sunyata.”
Are these Buddhas “real”? From most Mahayana perspectives, only the dharmakaya body is entirely “real.” The samghogakaya and nirmanakaya bodies are just appearances or emanations of the dharmakaya.
Possibly because they manifest in Pure Lands, sambhogakaya buddhas are described as preaching the dharma to other celestial beings. Their subtle form appears only to those ready to see it.
In Tibetan tantra, sambhogakaya is also the speech of a Buddha or the manifestation of the Buddha in sound.
Poetry challenges known as ‘flyting’ duels were the medieval equivalent of the modern-day rap battle.
Centuries ago, during a plague lockdown in Edinburgh, a bored student poet put pen to paper. The result became a collection of 400 poems featuring the works of numerous Scottish writers.
The anthology contains a poem that historians believe is one of the earliest recorded uses of the F-word in the English language.
According to local news outlet The Scotsman, the written F-bomb appears in a 16th-century manuscript known as the Bannatyne Manuscript. It was compiled by George Bannatyne and features his work alongside that of other writers.
As linguistic expert Joanna Kopaczyk from Glasgow University puts it in a forthcoming BBC documentary about the historic manuscript, the document contains “some very juicy language,” a sentiment echoed by the National Library of Scotland where the document is kept.
“It has long been known that the manuscript contains some strong swearwords that are now common in everyday language, although at the time, they were very much used in good-natured jest,” a spokeswoman for the National Library said of the Medieval manuscript.
Back then, these exchanges of banter were called “flyting” duels and usually occurred between two poets — akin to the knock-downs exchanged during a modern-day rap battle.
In the Bannatyne Manuscript, a word battle titled The Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy, written by the poet William Dunbar of a duel with Walter Kennedy, features the insulting phrase “wan fukkit funling.”
The Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy is said to have been held before the court of King James IV of Scotland sometime around 1500, making “fukkit” one of the first recorded use of the f— word anywhere in the world.
In 1568, George Bannatyne, a merchant who was then a student at St Andrews, compiled the writings when the plague hit Edinburgh, forcing its residents into lockdown to contain its spread.
At the time, Europe was in the grip of the Black Plague which tore through the continent for decades before it finally began to subside in the late 1700s.
Public health measures such as citywide lockdowns and 40-day quarantines on traded goods were put in place to slow the spread. Sadly, by the end of its peak, the Black Plague had decimated 60 percent of Europe’s population, cementing it as one of the worst pandemics in world history.
Many credit Bannatyne’s boredom during his town’s lockdown as the motivation behind his poetry compilation project. Now, centuries later, the Bannatyne Manuscript is a historic piece of Scottish Medieval literature.
The impressive body of writing contains roughly 400 poems from 40 different authors. Among them William Dunbar, Alexander Scott, Sir David Lindsay, and William Stewart.
While many of the poems have been printed in other earlier manuscripts, the Bannatyne Manuscript’s unique anthology as a whole is of historic importance.
The Medieval document is considered “one of the most important surviving sources of Older Scots poetry,” the library’s spokeswoman told IFLScience.
The physical manuscript was kept by the descendants of George Bannatyne until it was donated to the Faculty of Advocates — a predecessor to the National Library — in 1772.
“It might never quite make the tourist trail, but here in the National Library we have the first written ‘f—’ in the world. I think that’s something to be proud of,” Kopaczyk says.
But the Bannatyne Manuscript isn’t quite the oldest written record of the f-bomb.
The curse word was first cited in an English court case in 1310 of a man named Roger Fuckebythenavele whose peculiar name was believed to be a reference to “an inexperienced copulator… someone trying to have sex with the navel, or it’s a rather extravagant explanation for a dimwit, someone so stupid they think that this is the way to have sex.”
The discovery was made accidentally by Paul Booth, a former lecturer in Medieval history and an honorary senior research fellow in history at the UK’s Keele University.
Booth, who initially thought the name was a joke by the court clerk, stumbled upon it while combing through a set of Chester County court documents during his research on the reign of Edward II.
Prior to that, another historic incident with the f— word was the phrase “O d fuckin Abbot” which was scrawled by a monk in the margins of a manuscript by Cicero in 1528 — 40 years before the creation of the Bannatyne Manuscript.
In 1999, both “Blue” magazine (the “Bucking the Condomocracy” article, also reprinted in “Out” Magazine, July 1999, Vol. 7, No.12), and “HQ” magazine (“They Shoot Barebackers Don’t They?”) published articles on barebacking, the one in “HQ” being a reprint of an article from “Poz” magazine. The latter caused a bit of a furore in both “The Sydney Star Observer”, and in the “Sydney Morning Herald”…probably understandably. Read in the context of HIV education and safe sex messages at that time, they read almost as a promotion of barebacking.
I was writing regularly for “Talkabout” magazine at the time, and was on the magazines working group. When I read both articles, I thought they elicited a response, and started to put an article about it together. However, several things were going on at “Talkabout”’ at that time, most notably was a new editor, and I was unsure of how liberal she was going to allow the writing to be, and secondly was an article I had written about the “Options” Employment Agency, which was operating on Oxford St at the time, supposedly to assist HIV/AIDS people to return to work after surviving AIDS, or to re-educate. I had written an expose of them not really doing much to actually assist people, and using said clients to do unpaid “work experience” in their offices. The editor, in all fairness, had sent the article to them… and their response was to threaten to sue the organisation (PLWHA NSW), the magazine, and myself. It was “Bring it on!” from my perspective, but obviously from the organisations…and funding…perspective, it wasn’t something they wanted..As it turned out, my accusations were accurate (I had been quite outspoken about what was going on there for some time,…and had the written testimony of a number of guys who had personally encountered the rort…and had even had the office manager of Options…whose name escapes me now…invite me into his office, and made veiled threats about what I was saying) and the agency had its funding stopped, and closed down shortly after. The article was published, but was so heavily edited that it lost all its clout. I was very disappointed.
However, this made me a bit dubious about publishing another controversial article, and being unsure about the editors response to this piece, and time then passing, I never completed the article. I have been republishing most of my “Talkabout” articles on my blog over the last couple of years…some re-edited, some not…and came across the original draft for this article. I couldn’t actually remember the content of the magazine articles, so did a bit of googling, and thanking the gods of cyberspace that nothing ever disappears completely in the ethos…I found both original articles. I will now include them in my article, to have a permanent record of them. They both make interesting reading.
About 18 months or so further down the line, and with a different editor, I wrote yet another controversial piece on bug chasing…heavily researched, so unbiased…that was totally pulled from publication by the then “Taljabout” working group. It was with great trepidation that Glenn, the then editor, rang to tell me the decision. He knew how much work had gone into it, and I cannot ever recollect an article, written by a HIV+ man, being pulled from publication before in “Talkabout”. The reasoning: it was a great article, but because “Taljabout” was funded by NSW Community Health, there was a perception that said organisation may have seen it as a “promotion of the act of bug chasing” rather than an expose. I was furious. Bug chasing was being talked about within the HIV community, the whole sex dating mentality of “breed me” was a reality…it was happening! To my thinking…it was as if they were burying their heads in the sand, and pretending this just wasn’t happening! The mentality defied me!
Below is my original article with the articles now included. At the end is letters published regarding the “Bucking the Condomocracy” article, and a more recent article on the same subject. My bug chasing article can be found on this blog simply by searching for “barebacking”.
My, hasn’t the HIV community been blessed this month, with both a quarterly and a bi-monthly magazine taking up the HIV cause. I wish I could think that the sort of hype they give HIV/AIDS is harmless, but unfortunately, after reading through both articles – twice – just to make sure I hadn’t miss a subtle point, my conclusion is not so.
The article in HQ magazine (They Shoot Barebackers, Don’t They?), which has also received publicity via both the Sydney Star Observer, and the Sydney Morning Herald, is a reprint of an article from the American POZ magazine in February 1, 1999. When my partner and myself (also HIV+) read the article earlier this year, we were both quite horrified. It described in quite detailed account the so-called phenomena of ‘barebacking’, a current catch-cry for unsafe sex, especially between HIV positive and HIV negative men. This is supposedly by people who are ‘over’ practising safe sex and using condoms, and desire the thrill of ‘skin-to-skin’ sex. It reports on private parties in the USA for people who wish to indulge in this type of sex, and consider the risks of catching HIV minimal, compared to the joy of unprotected sex. Needless to say, the people who run the parties make sure everyone present signs a disclaimer. Wouldn’t want to get sued by people becoming infected, would we! The phenomena has reached as far as the Internet, where there are advertisements placed by HIV negative people to get HIV positive people to supposedly ‘father’ their own HIV infection. The mere implications of this sort of mentality would be enough to frighten anybody. There are also porn sites promoting galleries of photos with guys barebacking. Make it erotic, and you make it right, or so it would seem.
Of cause, the obvious question to ask is why is this happening? Have we stretched the limits of the practice and promotion of safe sex as far as it can go? Have people become so accepting of HIV that it is no longer considered a dangerous disease? Does the fact that we now have an arsenal of drugs to control HIV infection reducing people’s fear of infection? Do younger people consider the entire AIDS issue as a ‘generational’ thing? Is it just a millennium trend? Considering the current arguments going on around compliance and drug holidays, I don’t think it is feasible to even consider that HIV is either ended, or under control. Ask anyone infected and on drug regimes what they think of this! Ask them how much they enjoy taking the handfuls of pills everyday, and how much they enjoy the side effects of same. Ask them about how secure and comfortable they feel in the knowledge of a possible ten to twenty years with such regimes; always hoping the next generation of drugs is going to be easier on us. A vaccine is still a long way off.
Likewise, I also loved the article in ‘Blue” (“Bucking the Condomocracy”) which hit you in the face with the fabulous attention grabbing statement (in bold font) ‘POST-AIDS’. Now this article isn’t quite as bad as I originally thought. In the context in which it is written, it is in many respects correct. However, it does overlook a major point. If we are living with a ‘Post-AIDS’ mentality, then why are so many people in their mid twenties seroconverting? The article tends to cover the promise given by new treatments, but not the fact that playing down HIV is a dangerous road to take. It is full of trendy language, and as someone who has lived with HIV day in and day out for the last seventeen years, I haven’t heard of any of the expressions mooted by the author. Terms such as a ‘Protease Moment’, ‘vaccine optimism’ and ‘vaccine positive’ (in respect to forth coming language in the vaccine age) are all nice terms, and factually the article is right-there is more emphasis being placed on a preventative vaccine than a therapeutic, but that possibly is still a decade away. The article is, I grant you, full of positive images, which perhaps isn’t so bad in a world where doom and gloom are never far from the headlines. But it does seem to have made it look as though HIV is no longer happening. By being so nicey nicey about HIV, I feel it tends to play down the actual dangers inherent in contracting it. Again, ask anybody HIV positive if the would change sero status if possible, and you would get an almost one hundred percent resounding yes!
I felt, when originally reading the barebacking article earlier this year that it demanded a response, but being in an American magazine, and being a phenomena that I had not heard of occurring here (not, of cause, taking into account the many unsafe sex stories one hears from the saunas and backrooms), I decided to let it lie. The fact that HQ magazine has done a sideline on the Australian reaction to barebacking does not change the fact that, having the subject announced on the front cover is irresponsible journalism, to the extreme. The editor can defend it however she likes, but then she is not working in mainstream HIV/AIDS, and obviously knows very little about the subject, or the implications of the article. Trying to make barebacking a mainstream and fashionable pastime is not funny! An article published by Capital Q the same week as the SSO had its piece on HQ, showed the possible incidence of contracting HIV through unsafe sex. Odds of 120 to 1 (for unsafe anal) may sound good to many people, but considering the sex life of your average horny gay male, that makes the risk of infection from unsafe practices highly likely very early in their lives.
I grant that freedom of the press is a much-nurtured principle, but it can go too far, and the press often plays a major role in influencing people in a particular course of action that they may not otherwise take, and are often paramount in establishing new trends (Desirable, and undesirable). Journalists must stop looking at just headline stories to sell magazines, and consider the implications of what they are publishing.
LETTERS PUBLISHED IN “OUT” MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1999, VOL 8, NO. 3 IN RESPONSE TO “BUCKING THE CONDOMOCRACY”.
Barebacking is Dead. Long Live Barebacking!
Leave it to science and rational thinking to ruin a popular sexual taboo.
The “bareback” label for sex without a condom has faded in the age of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and U=U. People not living with HIV who are taking PrEP are protecting themselves from transmission, while people living with HIV who have an undetectable viral load are unable to transmit the virus to their sex partners at all. As the very definition of HIV risk is being rearranged, the problematic term “barebacking” is finally being relegated to the dust bins of history.
We all know the nature of taboo. The naughty, furtive longing for something forbidden. As the AIDS pandemic lurched from the murderous 80s into the 90s, sexual behavior among gay men pivoted, from horror at the very thought of sex without a condom to, well, something we just might like to do. Real bad. “Barebacking” instantly became part of the lexicon, spurred by maverick porn producers who capitalized on our carnal desire to have sex without a barrier.
Sex without a barrier. Unprotected sex. Barebacking. Also known as having sex. Ask a straight person.
Gay men have always barebacked, of course (along with every other human being and their parents), certainly before HIV ever showed up and yes, even immediately after. If we all had stopped fucking without barriers we would have halted the HIV epidemic in its tracks. Instead, we kept behaving like human beings, making mistakes or getting horny or saying yes when we should have said no or getting drunk or falling in love or being young and stupid.
And sometime, even in the darkest and deadliest years of the epidemic, to unload inside our partner was an enormous “fuck you” to AIDS. You might not understand the humanity of that choice, the triumph of it, or the search it represented for some kind of spiritual and physical release in the midst of relentless mortality. I guess you had to be there.
Not long after we emerged from the 1990s, shell shocked but ready to rumble openly again now that we were armed with effective medications, a renegade porn star bottom named Dawson collected orgasms in the double digits on video and his flick was so polarizing that it was banned in gay video stores. Today, his exploits seem positively quaint, and those same video stores and the countless internet sites that followed transformed themselves from featuring a barebacking category to dropping the category and lumping everything together. Sex without condoms in porn is now customary. Condoms are the outlier.
The actual term has lost its wicked luster. These days, you rarely hear your sex partner say, “oh yeah, fuck me bareback, man.” I mean, sure I will, dude. Yawn.
And gone, too, hopefully, is the judgment of those who labeled barebacking a deviant, destructive pathology. This may be the most painful aspect of our prevention legacy; the rush to demonize those who admitted to having sex without condoms before it became agreeable again, not to mention the furor over those of us who have spoken empathetically about sex without a barrier.
Activist and writer Tony Valenzuela became a community pariah when he wrote a piece in 1995 about being a young man living with HIV who had condomless sex with his boyfriend. He thumbed his nose at his detractors when he appeared naked on a horse for an infamous 1999 POZ Magazine cover (“They Shoot Barebackers, Don’t They?”) in which he discussed how the controversy angered and confused him. Valenzuela’s personal character was questioned and his professional life was derailed for years.
The late social anthropologist and author Eric Rofes (Reviving the Tribe) nearly caused a riot at a 1996 Atlanta town hall event for gay men when he discussed the spiritual and emotional value of sharing semen with a partner. And even as recently as 2013, my essay, “Your Mother Liked It Bareback,” produced one apoplectic comment, among many others, that remains the pinnacle of my blog infamy. “You,” it said, “are a vile merchant of death.”
Maybe, with our new biomedical tools of HIV prevention, those same people who once blindly damned sexual behaviors they didn’t understand — whether out of puritanical beliefs or their fear of their own desires – have reconciled their fantasies and their HIV risk. I hope they’re enjoying totally hot sex and the fluids are flying.
It is difficult to ignore the appalling homophobia, internalized and otherwise, that runs through this aspect of HIV prevention history. We held ourselves as gay men to a more grueling standard than the countless non-queers who get an STI (several of them life-threatening) or an unplanned pregnancy every year.
I have no illusions. Sexually transmitted infections continue, even if the very thought of gonorrhea just makes me feel nostalgic. The PrEP train hasn’t reached everyone who might benefit from it and there is misinformation about its efficacy and side effects. Meanwhile, nearly half of those living with HIV in the United States have not reached viral suppression. There is still reason to be cautious about the who and the when and the how of sex. Now, as ever, we are responsible for our own bodies and the risks we take.
Frankly, behavioral change has not served us well in the grand scheme of HIV prevention. There has always been some debate, tension even, between those who believed the answer to HIV infections is behavior modification, and those who welcome the advent of biomedical interventions such as PrEP and “treatment as prevention” (TasP) that don’t rely upon sexual behavioral choices to work.
Throughout the decades, we have all witnessed the dominant, primal pull that sexual desire has exhibited over caution, so I know which prevention strategy my money is on. But hey, to each his own strategy. For that matter, condoms are a golden oldie and a perfectly legitimate choice. You do you.
What has changed are the conversations and information gathering that happen between partners. PrEP, medications, who is undetectable or not, what sexual positioning in what combination will occur, all of these exist in a more informed landscape, at least among gay men in this country.
Barebacking, as an urban phrase and a taboo, is dead. Thank god and good riddance to this divisive bit of sexual branding. Sex, meanwhile, motors happily onward, unbothered by the judgments of man.
In the 1960s, it was almost unheard-of to find an out Queer person on television. Those that held a Queer identity were often forced into a ‘celluloid closet’ and made to keep their identities silent and hidden from public consumption. This was the case of Nancy Kulp, a closeted lesbian who is most remembered for her appearance as Miss Jane Hathaway in almost all of the 274 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, a television series airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Kulp would eventually come out, using her own terms, in a 1989 interview.
Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 28th, 1921 to Marjorie and Robert Kulp; the family would later move to Dade County, Florida. The only daughter of a lawyer and schoolteacher, Nancy was a bookish child from an early age and dreamed of becoming a journalist. Nancy would take the first step toward her goal when she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1943. During her years at FSU, Kulp worked as a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics, working on celebrity profiles.
Though she planned on continuing her education and obtaining her master’s degree, Nancy joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 to aid the US Navy during World War Two. While it was her patriotism and desire to work in an “all-female” atmosphere that led to her enlistment, Nancy determined that it was not her destiny to hold a career in the armed forces and left in 1945 after reaching the rank of junior-grade lieutenant. After leaving WAVES, Kulp took a position in Miami as a publicity director for a local radio station in 1946.
At the age of thirty, Nancy Kulp exchanged vows in an April Fool’s Day wedding celebration to Charles Dacus on April 1, 1951. While the marriage was short-lived, both parties parted on good terms and the relationship had a long-lasting impact on Nancy Kulp’s life. Nancy said that it was Charles Dacus who encouraged Kulp to leave her career as a publicist to achieve a career in acting (though she also later said that this inspiration came from director George Cukor). Following this encouragement, Nancy made her way to Hollywood where she took a position as a film publicist while she waited for her big break.
This break would come only three weeks later when she was discovered by A-list, gay, director George Cukor. Later that year, Nancy Kulp would make her big screen debut in Cukor’s 1951 film, The Model and the Marriage Broker. This role was larger than most others she would hold in movies though it was mostly silent and demeaning as she took on the role of a young woman desperately seeking matrimony from a marriage broker. This role was Kulp’s first foray into the sort of character she would often be type-cast to play- the spinster.
In 1954, Nancy would be cast in another Cukor film, the Judy Garland- led A Star is Born, though the scene in which she appeared would later be cut without the director’s knowledge or consent. Kulp would make several smaller appearances in many successful films such as Sabrina (the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Strange Bedfellows (1965), and The Parent Trap (1961), where Kulp played the butch troop leader.
While Nancy appeared in movies, most of her acting work was done for the small screen. She made several appearances, largely comedic, on various television shows. Her first recurring television role was as a bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). The writer for The Bob Cummings Show, Paul Henning, would go on to write for The Beverly Hillbillies, and created a role specifically for Kulp. Nancy would become known across the country as Miss Jane Hathaway, a smart and confident secretary that worked for a bank. Miss Jane, as most of the characters called her, was also a character that played into Kulp’s type-casted role as a spinster. Kulp received an Emmy Award nomination in 1967 for her performance on the show.
After the final episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Kulp was given a regular role on the Brian Keith Show (1973-1974) and made appearances on Sanford and Son (1972-1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), and Fantasy Island (1978-1984). Kulp also appeared on stage at summer stock and dinner theaters before eventually landing a role in Paul Osborn’s 1982 production of Mornings at Seven.
In 1984, the patriotic Nancy Kulp, who had long been interested in politics, decided to run for Congress in her district in central Pennsylvania, having settled in Port Royal. She ran as a Democrat against the Ninth District’s incumbent Republican representative, Bud Shuster. While she received an endorsement from friend and fellow showbiz personality Ed Asner, her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen recorded a radio advertisement claiming that Kulp was “too liberal for Pennsylvania.” Kulp was enraged by Ebsen, a California resident, getting involved in her campaign, stating that she “was speechless at such a betrayal, and something so needless and cruel.”
Nancy Kulp would go on to be defeated by Shuster and would spend the next year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, teaching film and drama. She would later return to California to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and take an active role in non-profits including the Humane Society of the Desert, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Desert Theater League.
In a 1989 interview with author Boze Hadleigh for the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, Kulp responded to Hadleigh’s “Big Question” (the question of her sexuality which she renamed the “Fatal Question”) Nancy remarked in her own words:
“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she told Hadleigh. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort–I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.”
Never in the course of the interview did she refer to herself as a lesbian.
Nancy Kulp would die of cancer only two years later, on February 3, 1991, at her home in Palm desert, California. While she never actively owned a lesbian label, Nancy Kulp was hailed as being a lesbian ground-breaker in the field of acting for having portrayed her identity (though a secret) in her work.
Former “Beverly Hillbilly” Says She Didn’t Play The Political “Game″
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nancy Kulp of ″The Beverly Hillbillies″ fame doesn’t blame fellow Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen for her election defeat last fall – but says he should have stayed out of the congressional race.
Ebsen, who starred with Ms. Kulp on the long-running television program in the 1960s and early 1970s, recorded a radio commercial for her opponent, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. In the spot, aired several weeks before the election, Ebsen said, ″Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.″
Ms. Kulp still bristles when she thinks about the ad. ″How dare he 3/8 It wasn’t his business,″ she said.
But she said there were other reasons for her defeat, notably her lack of political savvy, a shortage of campaign dollars and the popularity of President Reagan in Shuster’s sprawling rural Pennsylvania district.
“I didn’t play the game, I guess,″ Ms. Kulp, 63, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. She left her restored, three-story farmhouse in Port Royal, Pa., after the election and drove to California to visit friends.
While she raised $73,143 during 1984, Shuster, who was seeking his seventh House term, reported contributions of $269,597, according to campaign finance reports. Ms. Kulp reported gifts of $29,471 from political action committees, Shuster $138,817.
After years of involvement in local party politics and with the Screen Actors Guild, Ms. Kulp said seeking office was satisfying because ″you finally get to put your convictions on the line. It was one of the highlights of my life.″
But the experience left her with a helpless feeling that there was an image barrier between her and the voters that she could not surmount.
“You’re turned off by the distortions,″ she said. ″My feeling is a candidate is elected because they are perceived to be something. Ronald Reagan never talked issues; he waved the flag and the people loved it.
“I was perceived to be an ultra-liberal. If that is their perception – even if they like me – then I can’t win.″
The experience, she said, has left her ″ambivalent″ about the elective process and doubtful that she will seek public office again.
A central Pennsylvania native born in Harrisburg, Ms. Kulp began her acting career in 1952. She appeared in such films as ″Three Faces of Eve″ and ″The Parent Trap,″ and was featured on ″The Bob Cummings Show″ on television before the ″Beverly Hillbillies″ premiered in 1961.
On the ″Beverly Hillbillies,″ she played the secretary of a banker managing the account of a millionaire hillbilly, played by Ebsen. She and Ebsen used to talk politics on the set; they rarely agreed about issues, she said.
Ms. Kulp said she now is thinking about returning to the East Coast, possibly to teach. Juniata, a small liberal arts college 120 miles east of Pittsburgh, has expressed interest in her, perhaps for an ″artist-in-re sidence″ program, said college spokesman Robert Howden.
Who the F Is … Actress and Politician Nancy Kulp?
Who she was:A well-regarded character actress who eventually ran for public office and came out — rather obliquely.
What she accomplished:Nancy Kulp (1921-1991) endeared herself to baby boomers with her role on a silly but successful TV sitcom,The Beverly Hillbillies.From 1962 to 1971, she played the prim, efficient Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to banker Milburn Drysdale. She and Drysdale were managing the millions of the Clampett family, a backwoods clan who had relocated from Tennessee to Beverly Hills after striking oil. The comedy arose from the contrast between the beyond-unsophisticated Clampetts — who made moonshine, kept “critters,” and called their swimming pool “the cement pond” — and the upscale Southern Californians who surrounded them. Hathaway, always called “Miss Jane” by the Clampetts and their kin, was unaccountably attracted to the dim-witted Jethro Bodine, nephew of patriarch Jed Clampett. Critics had no love for the show, but viewers found it hilarious, and it had an extended life in syndication.
Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Kulp studied journalism in college, then served in the WAVES during World War II. After the war she worked as a publicist for radio and TV stations in Florida, then came to Hollywood in the 1950s with an eye to continuing in publicity. Someone encouraged her to try acting — some accounts say it was her then-husband, Charles Dacus, whom she refused to discuss in later years; others say it was esteemed director George Cukor. At any rate, she quickly won a small role in a Cukor film,The Model and the Marriage Broker,starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter. It was one of the great filmmaker’s lesser efforts, but it launched her career. She played supporting parts, often uncredited, in some noteworthy movies —Shane, Sabrina,the Judy Garland version ofA Star Is Born,also directed by Cukor — and some now-forgotten ones. She also worked in TV anthology series and in guest-starring roles. BeforeHillbillies,she was a regular onThe Bob Cummings Show,playing a spinsterly bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone. (Bird-watching was also one of Miss Jane’s hobbies.)
AfterThe Beverly Hillbilliesended, she continued to guest-star on various TV series; she had a recurring role onSanford and Sonfor a time, and like many aging actors she appeared onThe Love BoatandFantasy Island.She also performed on Broadway inMorning’s at Sevenin the early 1980s. But she had a passion for politics, dating back to Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in 1952, and in 1984 she returned to central Pennsylvania to run for Congress. She was an underdog as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district represented by a popular incumbent. She got support from showbiz friend Ed Asner, but herHillbilliescostar Buddy Ebsen, who had played Jed, did a commercial in which he called her “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. It caused a rift between them that lasted for years, although they reportedly eventually made up. She lost the election to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. Later, she taught acting at a Pennsylvania college and made some stage appearances, including one as the Nurse inRomeo and Julietat the 1987 Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta, then retired to the California desert, where she kept busy with volunteer work. Among other things, she served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
In 1989 she addressed her sexual orientation — to a degree — in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, published in his bookHollywood Lesbians.“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort — I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” Miss Jane would have appreciated the imagery. She also expressed admiration for gay congressman Barney Frank, and when Hadleigh asked if she would have come out in Congress, she said, “Not voluntarily. If I were outed, then I would not deny it.” Hadleigh waited to publish the book until 1994, when all his subjects were dead. Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif.
Choice quotes:“If one is past 50 or 60, it’s almost like saying that most of your life you’ve been too embarrassed to admit it or to speak up.” — to Boze Hadleigh, on the possibility of coming out
“I think I’ve been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there’s always someone who screams, ‘Where’s Jethro?’” — toPeoplemagazine, during her congressional campaign
10 times Miss Jane Hathaway let loose and ditched her pressed suit on The Beverly Hillbillies
Take a tour of Nancy Kulp’s silliest costumes.
At its heart, The Beverly Hillbillies was about breaking out of your comfort zone, and it wasn’t just the Clampetts experiencing the growing pains. Fans know that Miss Jane Hathaway, the snooty bank secretary who keeps an eye on the Clampetts, had as much to learn from the hillbillies about having fun as they did from her about fitting in with fine society.
We first meet Jane Hathaway in the bank, dilligently taking notes for Mr. Drysdale, her boss, the insanely wealthy bank manager. She’s wearing her signature pressed suit, a drab number we’d see her sport throughout most of the initial seasons. But it wouldn’t take the writers, costumers and hillbillies long to wrestle Miss Jane out of those stuffy suits and neckerchiefs just to stuff her into funnier outfits that drew extra laughs precisely because she’d been set up as such a straight character. It was one of many ways the show had fun with its audience.
Below, we’ve gone back through our favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies to offer up this tour of Miss Jane Hathaway’s most dazzling and outrageous outfits over nine seasons. Played brilliantly by Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane remains one of the show’s most memorable characters, and here’s a parade of standout moments that show us how her wardrobe helped cement her legacy.
1.Miss Jane Hathaway the Artist
It only took seven episodes before we saw Nancy Kulp slip into something sillier, this artist look that we consider her character’s first masterpiece in transformation.
2.Is that Nancy Kulp or Groucho Marx?
In the later seasons, the volume got turned up on Nancy Kulp’s costumes, and this was perhaps the height of that hilarity.
3.A hillbilly before the first season ends.
By the end of the first season, we got our first look at Nancy Kulp in hillbilly garb, and even doing a dance with the whole Clampett family! Talk about letting loose! This primed us to expect the unexpected from the typically kempt Miss Jane.
4.Remember when Miss Jane posed as Uncle Sam?
The color episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies do not disappoint when it comes to costumes, especially this red-white-and-blue suit arguably louder than any other suit she donned the whole series.
5.Miss Jane, the pageant queen.
There were many plots that involved Elly and Jane in competition for a suitor’s attention, but this beauty contest in the third season was the first time they turned that trope into a swimsuit competition!
6.Don’t think Miss Jane’s beneath a denim suit!
Need proof that Miss Jane Hathaway is a trendsetter? Check out this denim suit she donned at the very start of the ’70s. It was her idea of beach attire, and the bucket hat just perfects the look, don’t you think?
There were plenty of times, as we’ll get into soon, when Nancy Kulp showed up looking stunning on The Beverly Hillbillies, but we get flashes of Carol Burnett and Friends when we saw this particular evening attire and wacky updo!
8.Miss Jane’s very first evening look.
Let’s take a moment to just genuinely appreciate how Nancy Kulp completely owned silk, pearls and simplistic elegance. Bask in the very first time we saw her in a seriously stunning evening look from the first season.
9.That’s not to say she didn’t also know how to overdo it…
Between the wig, costume jewelry and dangly everything, Miss Jane almost looks as out of sorts in this outfit as Elly May did in an evening gown!
10.Proper, even in pajamas.
Last look is all the proof you need that Miss Jane even prefers to sleep in a suit, donning these neat blue pajamas in contrast to Granny’s gowns, but that changes soon when the writers get her character stuck in a sleeping bag that Granny’s trying to free her from here. It’s just one more example of all the physical humor that came just from shaking up Jane Hathaway’s wardrobe!
The television world of Paul Henning stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Hollywood Hills. The sitcom creator struck gold (well, oil) three times with his beloved hits The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. That trio of smash shows delivered dozens of memorable characters, many of which crossed over from series to series.
Henning’s anything-goes brand of homespun comedy included a menagerie of clever animals, like Dog and Arnold, not to mention actors switching roles. Bea Benaderet played both Cousin Pearl Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies and Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction. But no role-hopping was quite so silly as Max Baer Jr. portraying both Jethro Bodine and his twin sister, Jethrine Bodine.
Jethrine, as you will recall, was simply Max Baer Jr. dressed up to look somewhat like Little Bo Peep. He slipped into a curly blonde wig and floral dress and hammed it up. The joke was made complete with Jethrine’s feminine voice, which was clearly not dubbed by Baer.
Henning hired his daughter, Linda Kaye Henning, to give Jethrine her voice. At the time, in 1962, Linda Kaye had just one credit to her name, a bit role in a single episode of Mister Ed which aired earlier that year. She would voice Jethrine in 11 episodes throughout the first season of The Beverly Hillbillies.
In 1963, Linda Kaye’s collaboration with her dad leaped to a new level when she joined the cast of Petticoat Junction as Betty Jo, the redhead in the trio of Bradley daughters. Betty Jo played a significant role in the series. She was the one who discovered Dog at the start of season two. Later, after a major ongoing romance, she would marry cropduster Steve Elliott, played by Mike Minor. Henning would go on to appear in more episodes of the series than any other actress, appearing in all but three. (Not to mention, she would marry Minor in real life.)
Alas, despite all the crossovers, Betty Jo and Jethrine never shared screentime. Jethrine disappeared in ’63, just as Betty Jo first popped her head out of the water tower.
Pierre Loutrel, also known as Pierrot le Fou, was a petty man who used his connections with the Third Reich to continue his hateful activities during WWII in France. Raised in a peasant family, Loutrel turned to trouble at a young age and escalated into one of the most notorious individuals in France’s history. He was the country’s first “Public Enemy No. 1,” and his acts are still considered some of the worst in the country’s modern history.
He joined the Gestapo, but even the Gestapo found him to be too much to handle. Drunk, brutal, and ruthless, Loutrel robbed and slayed people without regard for anyone or anything in his path. After WWII, he didn’t skip a beat and continued on with his crooked life, a crooked life that ended up lasting well after his death.
He Served In The French Military In Africa But Only To Get Out Of Prison
Pierre Loutrel was born in 1916 in Sarthe, France. As a child, he moved to Marseille, where he was jailed as a teenager. He was only released when he joined the Bat’ d’Af in Africa, a penal battalion in Algeria. He served his “tour in hell,” as it was known, and went to Paris upon release.
He Made Connections In Prison That Led To His Career With Hitler’s Regime
Loutrel met Henri Chamberlain, also known as Henri LaFont, in 1940 when he was in prison in the southwestern France. LaFont was a life-long unlawful person and led a prison escape during the chaos of the Third Reich’s invasion. One of the other escapees was a Swedish man named Max Stocklin who went on to introduce LaFont to members of German military intelligence.
LaFont talked his way into working with the Germans, pulling off missions they wouldn’t be able to do. Lafont enlisted the help of Pierre Bonny, a disgraced former French police officer, in 1941. The gang spent most of its time working to acquire goods on the forbidden market for Germany, but in 1943, they shifted focus to hunting down and killing enemies of the Germans.
The LaFont — Bonny’s gang — was also known as La Carlingue and recruited other unlawfuls into working as collaborators. One of them was Loutrel.
He Was A Member Of The French Gestapo Until The German Gestapo Dissociated From Him For Committing So Many Vile Acts
When Loutrel joined the French Gestapo, or La Carlingue, he used the position to his advantage. From 1941 to 1945, Loutrel and his buddies spent much of their time at Parisian red light districts and getting into fights, in addition to drinking and killing for the Third Reich. The La Carlinquen headquarters was located at 93 rue Lauriston, and was where they tortured suspected enemies of Germany: pulling their nails and teeth, waterboarding them, and burning them, too.
The number of murders and summary executions Loutrel and his commrades committed raised eyebrows within the German Gestapo. Even they thought he was out of control. Loutrel was supposedly responsible for slaying 80 Resistance fighters all on his own.
He Joined The Resistance Toward The End Of The War And Slayed A German To Prove To The French He was With Them
Loutrel made the choice to switch sides to the French Resistance in 1944. LaFont and Bonny, for example, were arrested in December 1944 and executed by firing squad for collaboration and war atrocities after a brief trial. Loutrel, on the other hand, was able to demonstrate his devotion to the French cause by claiming he was protecting the Resistance when he shot a German acquaintance name Degatz, who identified him as a member of the Gestapo.
He Once Went Off With French Actress Martine Carol, Then Apologized By Sending Her Roses
French actress Martine Carol found success first on the stage and later on film. Through the 1940s and 1950s, she appeared in numerous films and was considered the first “femme fatal.”
She was once abscanded with by Loutrel, although the whole event was incredibly brief. Loutrel sent roses the next day to apologize to Carol. Carol had a personal life plagued by bad marriages and drug and alcohol abuse, and she died in 1967.
He Was A Member Of Gang Des Tractions Avant, Named For The Type Of Cars They Drove During Their Heists
In his post-WWII thievery, Loutrel ran the Gang Des Tractions Avant, an organized unlawful syndicate that robbed banks and committed other various illegal acts in Paris. Made up of form French Gestapo, the members used the same car the Gestapo preferred to conduct their raids, the Citroën Traction Avant.
The Citroën Traction Avant, developed in the 1930s in France, had front-wheel drive, was quick and easy to drive, and was reliable so it was a smart choice. The car itself, however, was expensive to produce and bankrupted the Citroën company, which was then acquired by Michelin.
He Was France’s First Enemy No. 1
Loutrel was so well known and his actions were so prolific that newspapers took to calling him Pierrot le Fou (“Crazy Pete”) during his mid-1940s spree. With pressure on them to capture Loutrel, French police escalated their efforts to track him down. His antics earned Loutrel the title of “public enemy No. 1,” the first ever in France.
The name Pierrot le Fou was later given to French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 movie about a man, Pierrot, on the run with a girl fleeing hitmen.
He Escaped 350 Policemen On One Occasion In 1946
As the police stepped up efforts to stop Loutrel and his criminal gang, they gathered 350 officers around a cafe where the group was rumored to be meeting. The cops were all there but the unlawfuls were not. A local boy told the police he knew where Loutrel and his gang were, so all 350 police followed to boy to a local inn. The police found some gang members at the inn but not the ones they were looking for. Once again, Loutrel had evaded their efforts.
He Died After Shooting Himself In The Bladder While Robbing A Store
Loutrel managed to alienate the other members of the Gang des Traction Avant after about a year and a half. He didn’t give up thievary, however, and tried to rob a jewelry store in Paris in 1946. He was on his own, failed to get any money or jewels out of the deal, and as he tried to escape, he shot himself in the bladder while storing his gun. He suffered for five days until he finally died of his wound.
He Was Buried By His Friends In 1946 And His Body Wasn’t Found Until 1949
Loutrel was secretly buried by two of his associates, Georges Bouseseiche and Jo Attia, after his death. Both men had been a members of La Carlingue but Attia had a falling out with LaFont in 1943 and was sent to Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria. All three men participated in the Gang des Tractions Avant activities after WWII.
Until The Police Had His Corpse, They Blamed Him For Unsolved Mysteries
Because the police didn’t know Loutrel was dead, they continued to think he was committing unlawful acts and leading the Gang des Tractions Avant. Numerous robberies were credited to Loutrel until his body was discovered in 1949. To identify Loutrel, police circulated photos of Loutrel’s skull placed over pictures of him in life.
.H. Holmes, also known as Henry Howard Holmes, was born Hermann Webster Mudgett in 1861. He changed his name after graduating from high school and embarking on a medical career that provided him with the skills needed to conduct his twisted experiments and gruesome acts.
What H.H. Holmes did to his victims lives on in infamy, as he is credited with being one of the first serial slayers in America. Holmes built his murder castle – named for its specific purpose of providing him with a place to slay his targets – in Chicago, and opened its doors to tourists visiting the nearby World’s Fair in 1893. Some, if not all, of those tourists never made it home from the White City. What did the Devil in the White City do to them?
Holmes was detained by police in 1894 for insurance fraud, although the charges against him quickly expanded to include mass slaying. He received a capital sentence, and was hanged in May 1896. It’s believed that he took hundreds of lives, although he only confessed to ending 27. These H.H. Holmes facts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
He Built a Hotel-Turned-Murder Castle
Holmes used the money that he received from committing insurance fraud to construct his “murder castle” in Chicago. It was technically a three-story hotel, complete with a uniquely constructed second and third floor. There were gas chambers, trap doors, hidden rooms, disorienting maze-like hallways, chutes leading down into the basement (perfect for dumping cadavers), and other horrific features. In some rooms, blowtorches would set people on fire, while another was dubbed “the hanging room.” He also had each floor set up so that if someone moved around on it, an alarm system would sound.
The structure was technically a hotel, but it quickly became used as a machine for ending lives.
He Made His Fiancée Vanish Without A Trace
Holmes met Minnie Williams while out of town on a business trip. Williams was a teacher in Texas, and she fell for him very fast. They entered into a relationship, and she moved to Chicago to be with him. Her sister Annie joined them, too. Holmes proposed to Minnie, and suggested that she give him ownership of her property in Fort Worth, Texas.
After the transfer went through, she disappeared without a trace. Only some of her belongings, including a distinctive gold chain, were ever found.
He Suffocated His Fiancée’s Sister In A Hotel Bank Vault
Annie Williams was the sister of his wealthy fiancée Minnie. Unlike Minnie, who vanished, Annie’s remains were later recovered from Holmes’s creepy hotel. His hotel had been designed with a bank vault, which he used to keep records, store valuables – and commit heinous acts.
He asked Annie to go into the vault and retrieve some files for him, and then he swung the door shut, sealing her inside. She perished of suffocation after slowly using up all of the oxygen in the vault. Investigators found scratches from her fingernails, showing that she had tried to claw her way out.
He Gassed A Friend And Set Him On Fire, Then Took His Children
The demise of Benjamin Pitezel was a tricky one, since he was one of Holmes’s co-conspirators, as well as one of his targets. He and Holmes arranged for Pitezel to fake his own passing so that Holmes could collect his life insurance money. Some of that money would then go to Pitezel himself.
However, the plan went awry when Holmes actually ended Pitezel. Holmes then ran off with several of Pitezel’s children.
He Took The Lives Of Three Of Pitezel’s Children
Holmes ended the Pitezel children’s father, Benjamin, in order to collect on his life insurance policy.
He then ran off with three of Pitezel’s children – Alice, Nellie, and Howard – and took them to Toronto, where he soon took their lives, as well.
He Asphyxiated His Victims With Gas Or Left Them To Perish In A Sealed Room
Holmes’s hotel was filled with all kinds of treacherous spaces. The rooms had well-sealed windows and doors that made it easy for Holmes to turn them into gas chambers. All that he had to do was lock the door and turn on the gas jets that he had built into the space.
There was also a room that had no windows or doors. The only access to it was via a trapdoor in the ceiling. Holmes would drop a person down there, seal up the trapdoor, and let them perish of thirst and starvation.
He Sold His Targets’ Organs And Bones To Medical Schools
After Holmes ended some of his targets, they wound up in his basement laboratory, where they were dissected and then sold to medical schools.
He sold their organs, their bones, and in some cases, their fully articulated skeletons. This made it tough to determine exactly how many lives he took.
He Had A Secret Hanging Chamber
One of the most disturbing rooms in the hotel was the hanging room.
Here, Holmes would end his targets by hanging them from the neck.
He Forced His Mistress To Overdose On Chloroform, Then Ended Her Daughter
Julia Smythe was one of Holmes’s mistresses. Smythe, one of his pharmacy employees, was married when the affair began. Her husband found out and ran off, leaving her and their daughter Pearl in Holmes’s clutches.
Smythe and her daughter eventually disappeared, with Holmes claiming that Smythe perished from a botched abortion attempt.
He Burned Some People Alive With Blowtorches Hidden In The Walls
During the World’s Fair in Chicago, Holmes offered rooms to out-of-town visitors. They paid to stay in his hotel, only to end up never leaving the city again.
Some rooms had blowtorches built into them. All Holmes had to do was pull a switch and the person in that space would burn alive.
He Made The Widow Who Owned His Building Disappear
H.H. Holmes began his life of villainy while still in medical school. He took out life insurance policies on the school cadavers, then mutilated them to look as though they had perished in a tragic accident. He would then collect the policy money.
While this helped him cover his expenses, he had to get a job after graduating and receiving his medical license. He started out working as a pharmacist in Chicago. The owner of the drugstore perished, and Holmes offered to buy the entire store from the owner’s widow. She agreed, and then vanished after the paperwork was signed and Holmes officially took possession of the store. She was never to be heard from again, although Holmes claimed she moved to California. It is believed that she was one of his first targets.
The Floor Plan Was Designed Just To Disorient And Trap Guests
Even the hallways and doors of the Murder Castle were designed to guide H. H. Holmes’s victims to their deaths. Some rooms had multiple doors, while others had none at all. With so many ways to get from one side of the hotel to another, only someone familiar with the design would really know the best way to get around quickly.
The south end of the hotel’s second floor, on the other hand, was a claustrophobic mess of narrow, doorless hallways set at odd angles. Holmes used this carefully planned layout to mislead, confuse, and ambush his guests, who never stood a chance of finding the right way out again.
His Perverse Interests Started With Childhood Bullying
Holmes’s father abused Holmes, who was unusually bright. Holmes was also often picked on by his classmates. One day, a group of schoolmates locked him in a doctor’s office with a human skeleton.
At first, Holmes was scared, but as he stood there, he found himself overcome with morbid fascination. Soon after, he became obsessed with lifeless bodies and began dissecting animals.
He Wanted To Make Sure His Body Would Never Be Dissected
Holmes received capital punishment on May 7, 1896. He reportedly acted extremely calm in the moments leading up to his passing, but he did have one unusual request. He asked that his coffin be encased in cement and buried 10 feet deep. Possibly, Holmes feared becoming the target of grave robbers like himself.
Holmes’s hanging was not a neat affair. The initial fall failed to break his neck, and instead he dangled from the rope until he perished from a slow asphyxiation almost 15 minutes later.
How HH Holmes Went From Troubled Youth To America’s First Serial Killer
By the time H. H. Holmes was hanged for murdering his business partner in 1896, he had already committed numerous atrocities in Chicago, IL, as well as various scams and frauds throughout the United States.
Holmes is thought to have killed at least nine people, although some research estimates his kill count is much higher, potentially in the hundreds as a result of his Murder Castle in Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893.
H.H. Holmes’s origin story has been widely sensationalized by both curious readers and writers (2003’s The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson details Holmes’s murder spree in Chicago and was a National Book Award Finalist) as well as by Holmes himself.
Before his execution, Holmes wrote several lengthy confessions at the payment of Hearst, all of which made contradictory claims about his life and his participation in various murders. In the confessions, Holmes claimed to have killed 27 people, although many of those named were still alive when he wrote it.
No details about Holmes’s childhood (real or fabricated) can make sense of the horror he unleashed on the world as America’s first serial killer through his web of murder and deceit.
Holmes’s Parents (May Have Been) Physically And Mentally Abusive
H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in the small town of Gilmanton, NH, in 1861. Both Holmes’s parents were intensely religious, and used their Methodist beliefs to parent with cold, strict discipline.
According to some sources, this mistreatment included forcing the children into long periods of isolation and making them go without food. There are also claims that Holmes’s father used rags dunked in kerosene to quiet the cries of his children.
However, other researchers believe such claims about Holmes’s parents are false, and by all accounts he had a regular upbringing. Holmes himself wrote:
That I was well trained by loving and religious parents, I know, and any deviations in my after life from the straight and narrow way of rectitude are not attributable to the want of a tender mother’s prayers or a father’s control, emphasized, when necessary, by the liberal use of the rod wielded by no sparing hand.
Known as a serial liar and fraudster, it’s difficult to know what to believe about Holmes’s childhood years.
His Fascination With Dead Bodies Started From Being Bullied
At school, Holmes was bullied for his intelligence and odd nature. The bullying climaxed in a traumatic episode wherein schoolmates ambushed Holmes and forced him into a doctor’s office where they placed the hands of a skeleton on his face. Holmes claimed the incident sparked his interest in anatomy and medicine:
It was a wicked and dangerous thing to do to a child of tender years and health… but it proved an heroic method of treatment, destined ultimately of curing me of my fears, and to inculcate in me, first, a strong feeling of curiosity, and, later a desire to learn, which resulted years afterwards in my adopting medicine as a profession.
Seeking respite from his home life, young Holmes often retreated into the forest around his family’s house where he started to experiment with the dissection of animals.
Holmes began by cutting up the bodies of small reptiles and other small creatures, then moved on to mammals, including rabbits and dogs. This type of behavior is said to have sparked Holmes’s interest in human anatomy. It also made him comfortable with dissection.
He May Have Killed His Childhood Best Friend
When Holmes was 11 years old, his childhood best friend Tom – who was older – fell from the landing of an abandoned home the two boys had been exploring.
Holmes said he saw Tom fall, but in hindsight, many believe that he could’ve been close enough to push Tom off the landing.
Holmes Won Over His First Wife By Threatening Other Suitors
Holmes (although he still went by Herman Webster Mudgett at the time) met his future first wife Clara Lovering when they were both teenagers. After he saw Lovering flirting with someone else at a church gathering, Holmes approached the couple and threatened the boy with violence if he didn’t leave.
Holmes then escorted the seemingly impressed Lovering home, officially beginning their courtship which quickly escalated into a marriage when they were both 17.
He May Have Beaten His First Wife, Clara Lovering
According to some sources, housemates from Clara Lovering’s short time living with Holmes at the University of Michigan remembered regular arguments between the two and seeing Lovering with bruises.
While it’s difficult to say if these events occurred – as no police report was filed – Lovering and the baby did eventually leave Holmes, and the two never reunited. They were, however, still formally married when Holmes died.
When He Was In College, He Began Using Dead Bodies To Commit Insurance Fraud
During his medical studies at the University of Michigan, Holmes began to steal bodies from the school’s laboratory then mangeling or burning the remains. By making the bodies unrecognizable, he collected money on life insurance policies after the bodies were found and deemed accidental deaths.
Holmes also stole bodies from graves and morgues to sell them to medical schools, or to use for his own research and dissection. This scam earned Holmes thousands of dollars.
His Landlord Found A Dead Baby Under His Bed
There are many stories recalling Holmes’s fascination with anatomy and the body during his childhood and subsequent years in medical school. One claim came from his landlady who recalled following a foul stench into Holmes’s room where she found a dead infant underneath his bed.
Allegedly, Holmes claimed the body was part of his homework. While this didn’t result in any legal action, he was told not to bring his work home with him again.
He Regularly Got Engaged To Steal Money From His Fianceés
Holmes married Clara Lovering, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, in 1878 and she gave birth to their son Robert Lovering Mudgett. Holmes then used a combination of Lovering’s money and the funds from various life insurance scams to pay for medical school at the University of Michigan.
This was not the last time Holmes preyed upon the women who loved him for financial gain. On his way to Chicago after medical school (while still legally married to Lovering), Holmes tied the knot with Myrta Belknap. Belknap’s parents were wealthy and provided Holmes with enough money to purchase the vacant lot where his Murder Castle was eventually built when he got to Chicago.
Holmes put the deed under the name of his new wife and her mother in order to keep the creditors from catching on.
He Fled To Chicago To Avoid A Mountain Of Debt
After Holmes graduated from medical school he worked a variety of odd jobs, including teaching school and working as a doctor in Mooers Forks, NY. Holmes wracked up a great deal of debt during this time, often making up excuses to default on rent.
Eventually Holmes left town in the middle of the night to avoid paying. He wound up in Chicago, IL, the city where he later built his Murder Castle and kill at least nine people, although some estimates reach up into the hundreds of victims.
He Changed His Name To H.H. Holmes
Contrary to popular belief, Holmes did not change his name to reflect or comment on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in any way.The Great Detective Holmes didn’t appear in print until 1887, a year after real-life Holmes changed his name.
Instead, Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Harry Howard Holmes when he sat for his pharmaceutical licensure test in May of 1886, just after moving to Chicago to find work in a drug store.In doing so, Holmes kicked off his career as a serial killer that peaked during the 1893 World’s Fair.
He Was Quite The Womanizer
Holmes was notoriously charming and likeable. Apparently it was common practice for him to become engaged to a woman, ask her to sign over her property and wealth to him, then tell any suspicious people his beloved had left town suddenly.
This charm and ease served Holmes well when he employed and hosted young women in his Murder Castle in 1893 Chicago, IL. Preying upon women who were new in town, Holmes gained their trust before murdering them. He also reportedly got in trouble while in school for making a woman believe they were engaged.
He Was Constantly In Trouble With The Law, But Not For Murder
Even before his murder spree, H.H. Holmes was a notorious scammer and conman. He swindled money from various women, insurance companies, and landlords in multiple cities. Holmes also refused to pay bills, even on his Murder Castle. He told the builders he was not responsible or liable for their payment, as he’d put the building under his mother-in-law’s name.
Holmes was also known to buy items on credit and sell them for cash, and he was constantly the target of lawsuits. He even sold scam cures for various health problems at his pharmacy. In Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City, the author claims the Chicago chief of police had even represented Holmes in small “routine commercial lawsuits” before Holmes was brought in on murder charges.
Authorities Never Found The Bodies Of His First Victims
While accounts vary on who Holmes’s first victim was, it’s widely accepted that Julia Connor – Holmes’s lover – and her 8-year-old daughter Pearl were the first casualties of Holmes’s murder spree.
Holmes had been taking out debts in Connor’s name and listing her as a co-founder of multiple businesses. Connor and Pearl vanished on July 4, 1891, and their bodies were never found.
Not long after Connor’s disappearance, Holmes installed a basement furnace, and his secretary Emeline Cigrand also went missing. Around this time, many women in Holmes’s circle went missing.
Holmes Completed And Operated His Murder Castle
In 1887, Holmes purchased a vacant lot on the same street as the pharmacy where he worked and began construction on his Murder Castle, complete with hidden passageways and compartments, trapdoors, and secret staircases.
While estimates vary, some sources suggest Holmes may have killed hundreds of people while the Castle was in operation, mostly young women who were visiting or working in Chicago for the World’s Fair. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, however only nine have been plausibly attributed to him, and many of those he confessed to murdering were still alive.
Ultimately, it was the murder of his business partner Benjamin Pietzel (and allegedly Pietzel’s three children) that finally put Holmes behind bars and eventually on the gallows, effectively ending the first serial killing spree in America.
Columbus Day has become an occasion not just to celebrate the first steps toward founding America, but a time to re-examine what we know about the famed explorer. The accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are myriad and well-known, but much of his life’s story, as well as his subsequent voyages to the Americas, is lost in mythos and misconception.
While he did in fact “sail the ocean blue” in 1492, the biography of Christopher Columbus is filled with obscure facts and historical oddities that never make it into any school nursery rhyme – or even into many textbooks. Many people still believe that Columbus set out from Spain to prove the Earth was round – but we know he didn’t. We also believe he made peaceful contact with the natives of what he thought was India – but he didn’t, and he actually believed he’d reached the mythical land of Japan.
Could he have even made it there? What about his other trips to the New World? Or his revisionist reputation for brutality and cruel treatment of the natives? Here are some facts about Columbus that, despite decades of re-examination, most people don’t know.
“Christopher Columbus” Wasn’t Actually His Name
The famed explorer was born Cristoforo Colombo – or Cristóbal Colón, if you speak Spanish. “Christopher Columbus” is the Anglicized version of his name, but he likely wouldn’t have answered to that. Among other unknowns about Colón/Columbus’s life is what he looked like – as no portrait of him was painted during his lifetime.
He Wasn’t Spanish – Though He Sailed for Spain
Columbus sailed under the Crown of Spain, but definitely wasn’t Spanish by birth. Little is known of his early life, but it’s generally agreed upon that he was born in Genoa, at the time an independent city-state and satellite of Spain. He would be considered Italian today.
Few People Still Believed the World Was Flat
Writers like Washington Irving have implanted in the popular consciousness that Columbus set out to prove Catholic teaching wrong about the Earth being flat. But it was already widely believed that the Earth was round. As early as the sixth century BCE, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras used mathematics to surmise the world was round, and later, Aristotle proved it with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not a flat disc.
Columbus Was Not Searching for the New World
While Columbus found the unexplored land that came to be known as “the New World,” it wasn’t what he was looking for. He was seeking a quicker passage to Asia that wouldn’t involve crossing the Silk Road, which had been sealed off due to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. The aims of his voyage were exploiting the gold and spices believed to be found in abundance in the Orient – and to grab some for himself.
He Never Would Have Reached Asia
Columbus estimated that the distance from the Canary Islands, where his voyage began, to Japan (known then as “Cipangu”), which he was attempting to reach, was about 3,700 kilometers. This was a vast underestimate, as the distance is actually about 12,000 kilometers. Columbus’s small fleet could never have carried enough provisions to last such a voyage, nor would these ships have survived the harsh conditions of the Pacific.
His Motives Were Not Altruistic
His first proposal to sail to the Orient, submitted to King John II of Portugal, involved him walking away with quite a bounty. He requested to be given the title “Great Admiral of the Ocean,” to be appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands – which would have involved a huge amount of gold. Portugal rejected this proposal, and several others, before Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to fund Columbus. But even they rejected him at first, thinking his plan unfeasible.
Columbus Almost Certainly Wasn’t the First European to Find the New World
Historians generally believe that the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 CE, 500 years before Columbus set sail. It’s also been hypothesized, though not proven, that Celtic explorers crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson.
Nobody Knows Exactly Where Columbus Landed
Columbus was looking for Japan, but what he found was the modern day Bahamas. After leaving the Canary Islands on September 6, strong winds pushed his three-ship fleet westward until they sighted land on October 12. Columbus called this island “San Salvador” – and believed he’d found Asia. The exact location of where he first set foot is still unknown, though it’s been narrowed down to three possible islands.
As Soon as He Landed, He Began Doing Horrible Things
Columbus’ actions as a slave trader and by-the-sword evangelist are starting to become more and more widely known in popular culture. And these actions started almost immediately. The first natives he encountered on San Salvador were the Arawak people (also called the Taino), natives to the islands. Columbus found them to be peaceful and loving – and promptly took a group of them prisoner so he could interrogate them as to the location of the Orient’s gold. Subsequent Spanish colonization of the Bahamas was brutal to the Arawaks, and within half a century, they’d almost all be gone.
Not All Three Ships Survived the Voyage
Columbus and his crew, which had dwindled due to disease and mutiny, spent three months sailing up and down the Bahamas, from October 12 through January 15, 1493. But it’s not common knowledge that the Santa Maria didn’t survive the trip, having grounded on Christmas Day. Columbus ordered the ship evacuated and blown up with cannons – to impress the natives with Spanish firepower. Columbus then snapped up about two dozen natives to take back as slaves, left 39 men to establish a colony on what’s now Haiti, then headed back to Spain.
The Second Voyage of Columbus Was All About Conquest
Columbus’s first voyage to the Orient was a trip of exploration. But the second could never be mistaken for anything other than one of colonization and, if necessary, armed conflict. He left Spain on September 23, 1493, with a huge fleet consisting of 17 ships and 1,200 men. Among the passengers were farmers, priests meant to convert natives to Christianity, and armed soldiers to impose Columbus’s will.
Armed Conflict Broke Out on the Second Voyage
Columbus and his fleet made landfall in Dominica, now a small island nation in the Caribbean. He sailed up and down the Lesser Antilles, went back to check on the 39 men he’d left behind at the colony of La Navidad (which had been destroyed with 11 men murdered by the natives for raping local women), and, in an omen of things to come, had an armed skirmish with several tribesmen caught castrating two boys from a different tribe. He established several small colonies, took about 500 Caribbean people as slaves, and headed back to Spain again.
He Still Hoped to Find the Orient on the Third Voyage
Columbus’s third voyage to the New World was delayed almost two years thanks to machinations in the Spanish court. When he finally set sail from Spain in May 1498, he had just seven ships. Several headed for previously established colonies, while Columbus himself and the bulk of his fleet headed south, still hoping to find the mythical passage to the Orient. Instead, he found Trinidad, as well as Venezuela. But the worst was yet to come.
The Third Voyage Ended in Disgrace
Several months of exploring South America left Columbus in poor health and exhausted, so he returned to the colony of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria had grounded on the first voyage. When he arrived, he was greeted by chaos.
The colonists were unhappy, starving, and threatening to mutiny. The natives were treated horribly, and often responded by murdering the colonists. Columbus and his brothers were cruel governors, and the Taino natives had engaged in armed revolt, which was crushed in 1497. Faced with a number of complaints about his governorship and cruelty, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Columbus and his brothers arrested, and taken back to Spain in chains.
The Fourth Voyage Was a Disaster
After spending a few months in prison, Columbus went before Ferdinand and Isabella. They pardoned him and financed a fourth voyage, but stripped him of his governorship. Leaving Cadiz in May 1502 on four decrepit ships, Columbus set forth to find passage to the Indian Ocean.
Instead, he got lost, sailed through a hurricane that annihilated the first Spanish treasure fleet, had two ships sink, and finally had to beach the other two in Jamaica, where he spent a year stranded. While there, he persuaded the natives to supply his desperate men with food and water by predicting a lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. A relief fleet finally arrived in June, and Columbus reached Spain empty handed in November.
Columbus Wanted What Was His
As befitting someone who wanted to explore new lands primarily to cash in, Columbus spent a lot of time and effort making sure he got what was coming to him. In 1502, shortly before the fourth voyage, Columbus wrote Book of Privileges, a long testimony of all of the titles, riches, positions of power, and rewards he was expecting the Spanish Crown to give him and his descendants as part of his ten percent cut of his exploration.
He Had Become an Apocalyptic Crank
Like many luminaries of his day, Columbus balanced a keen instinct for exploration with a fervent belief in Biblical prophecy nonsense. He complied a number of apocalyptic “revelations” in Book of Prophecies, which was published in 1501. Among his “revelations” were that Christianity must be spread throughout the world, the Garden of Eden is out there waiting to be found, and that Spain’s King Ferdinand would be the Last World Emperor.
After His Death, His Remains Traveled the World
Food poisoning on one of his voyages led Columbus to develop a case of reactive arthritis, thought at the time to be gout. Suffering from that, as well as various other ailments he contracted during the four voyages, Columbus died in 1506 in Valliadolid, Spain.
Columbus’s remains were first interred there, then in Seville by his son Diego, who had become governor of Hispaniola. In 1542 the remains were transferred to the present-day Dominican Republic. In 1795, when France took over Hispaniola, Columbus’s remains were again moved, this time to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to Spain. But it’s likely that not all were moved, and Columbus might actually have resting places in both Cuba and Spain.
His Estate Was Tangled in Lawsuits for Centuries
After he died, the children of Columbus waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy had short-changed them on money, titles, and property they were due. Most of the Columbian lawsuits were settled by 1536, with the Colón family walking away with the perpetual title of “Admiral of the Indies,” claims on land in Jamaica, Hispaniola, and several other islands; and a large sum of money to be paid annually.
There were still numerous claims to untangle, and the legal proceedings, called the Pleitos colombinos, dragged on until well into the 18th century.
He Left Behind a Complex Legacy
For centuries, Columbus was venerated as the heroic discoverer of America and he’s still honored with a Federal holiday on October 12. But in recent decades, Columbus’s legacy of brutality toward natives, capturing and movement of slaves, and his pronounced ignorance on many aspects of ocean travel have become more and more well known.
It’s not in dispute that Columbus was a tyrannical governor of Hispaniola, creating a governing system where natives were mutilated for not making their gold-mining quotas, and slaves were regularly shipped back to Spain. But he was also a courageous explorer, making four Atlantic voyages through dangerous waters, rough weather, and totally unexplored territory.
Colonization of the New World also leaves a complex legacy. It wiped out native peoples from San Salvador all the way through the American west – but at the same time, set in motion the events that would lead to the United States and the modern world. Is Columbus a hero or a villain? A conquering monster or a courageous pioneer? In reality, probably all of them
Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery
We do not celebrate Columbus Day here in Australia, so I found this article intriguing, especially in the light of what we now know about Columbus and his governorships and brutality to natives,
Once again, it’s time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus’ reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.
Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?
If you’d like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Here’s the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it’s on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” It’s an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.
Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.
There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat’s off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.
Second, Columbus wasn’t a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. “They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no,” he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.
Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.
If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.
Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an “Indian” worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus’ deadline, soldiers would cut off the man’s hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.
On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.
Columbus’ acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary – even in his own day – that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.
One of Columbus’ men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus’ brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus’ command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus’ men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” De Las Casas wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”
De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.
In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: “… a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.”
Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus’ son became the first African slave trader in 1505.
Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don’t believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)
Columbus’ reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you’re like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I’m sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I’d like to turn in a more positive direction.)
Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we’re looking for heroes we can truly admire, I’d like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.
Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya… and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died… and I’m not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.
There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!
Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!
After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids… what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy… FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids… from 6 years old to 18… saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that… what could I do?
At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly “average” school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don’t we celebrate “Kids Who Are Changing the Planet” Day?
Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!
The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don’t think I’m picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don’t want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we’re looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.
Let’s come clean. Let’s tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let’s boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” I don’t think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus’ brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific… maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let’s teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.
While we’re at it, let’s rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let’s teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There’s a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.
These people were not adventurers who “discovered” an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.
Why don’t we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?