Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Doris Payne: International Jewel Thief

Diamond ring
Doris Payne is a sucker for a diamond.
Doris Payne is a woman whose life would make a great movie. Seemingly sweet, charming and rich, Doris Payne is a woman that no one would suspect of wrongdoing. This fact has kept her in the international jewel thief business for roughly half a century.

Doris Payne was raised in West Virginia. She was the youngest of six children born to a poor coal miner and a housewife. Growing up, she learned that being black and a girl meant she did not draw the type of attention that a well-to-do white woman did. In other words, clerks did not pay enough attention to her to notice if she was stealing from them or not. She did not use this knowledge until she realized something else. Clerks paid her the right kind of attention if she dressed like a rich black woman. Money talked and, if she pretended she had it, she could get clerks at jewelry stores to make every effort to impress her. If she played her cards right, she could wow them with her charm and well-to-do looks and then walk right out of the store with expensive jewelry–typically diamond rings.

After Doris Payne graduated high school, she was pregnant, working at a nursing home and trying to help her mother following her parents' divorce. She already knew her con; she just had to put it into action. Once she did, she became a prolific thief, stealing rings that were worth tens of thousands of dollars and selling them for a fraction of the retail value. She never went back to having an honest vocation again.

Interpol has reportedly been on to Doris Payne since the 1970s. She has allegedly had as many as 20 identities, at least five with their own social security numbers. She has worked in several of the United States and countries abroad. She has also been arrested countless times and has been jailed at least six times. She is currently 80-years-old and serving a five-year prison sentence.

On January 1, 2010, Doris Payne stole a diamond ring worth 9,000 dollars from a department store. As usual, she dressed like a rich woman and conned the clerk into showing her numerous pieces. She then simply walked out of the store with the ring. She was caught and in February of 2011, she was sentenced to five years in prison for the theft. She will be 85 when she gets out. Authorities believe that she will not stop stealing until she is dead. It looks like they are right.

Update: Payne was arrested again in 2015 for stealing a pair of earrings. She is also wanted for stealing a ring. 

As much of a career criminal as Doris Payne is, she is not a violent woman. All of her cons have simply been cons and thefts. She has never used violence to steal. That is probably what has kept her from serving longer jail sentences. Her crimes appear to be compulsory. It may be that she is simply addicted to the game. In that case, she is not a very bad person. She is just a person who makes very bad choices.


ABC News, International Jewel Thief, 80, Sentenced to 5 Years, retrieved 5/21/11,

MSNBC, 75-Year-Old Jewel Thief Looks Back, retrieved 5/21/11,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Constantin Brancusi: Turn of the Century Sculptor

Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi circa 1905
Constantin Brancusi was one of the first artists to ever really delve into the abstract style of sculpture. His sculptures are simplistic and artfully geometrical yet unique and inspiring. A lot of his work is reminiscent of art in some of the ancient cultures of Asia and Africa, though less religious in meaning. Today Constantin Brancusi is thought of as the leading pioneer of abstract sculpture.

Constantin Brancusi was born in Hobitza, Gorj, Romania on February 19, 1876. He showed a desire to sculpt materials that he had access to from a very young age. It is said that he would take small pieces of wood and carve them into animals when he was a boy.

This love for art prompted Brancusi to obtain a large amount of education concerning all kinds of art, including architecture. He began his study of art in 1894 at the Scoala de Meseru in Craiova. He went on to study at the Scoala Nationala de Arte Frumoase in Bucharest in 1891. Following his education there he moved to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, beginning in 1905.

After school, Constantin Brancusi decided to remain in Paris. It was there that he sculpted his now famous works, The Kiss and The Muse. Constantin Brancusi’s first exhibit was held in Paris in 1906. He opened a shop there, where he lived and worked from 1925 to 1957. He became immersed in the art scene there and even created sculptures for the graves of some artists in Montparnassee Cemetery who had committed suicide.

The works of Constantin Brancusi were not only popular in Europe, but many of his pieces were showcased in exhibits in New York City as well. Some of his work was first showcased in New York City in 1913, from that time on he exhibited his work both in Europe and the United States. He became very popular in both scenes and remained so until his death in March of 1957. He died in Paris, the city that he had come to call home and is buried there at Montparnassee Cemetery.

Selected works by Constantin Brancusi

The Kiss (arguably his most famous piece) (limestone) (1908) Currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

Mademoiselle Pogany (white marble) (1912) Currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

Bird in Space (carved out of marble and finished with polished bronze) (1924) Currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

A Muse (bronze) (1918) Currently housed in the Portland Art Museum in Oregon


Constantin Brancusi, retrieved 8/9/09,

Constantin Brancusi Biography, retrieved 8/9/09,

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Citizen Kurchatov: Soviet Nuclear Physicist

Kurchatov Monument
Courtesy of Andrey Zakharov
Citizen Kurchatov was a nuclear physicist who was enlisted by Josef Stalin to make the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb. He worked on the project during arguably the most dangerous time to be a scientist in the Soviet Union and somehow managed to keep himself and his team alive under Stalin's demanding regime. In fact, his work for Stalin lasted longer than Stalin's rule.

Citizen (Igor) Kurchatov was born in the southern Ural Mountains in January of 1903. At the time Igor was born, Russia was still Russia and it was still ruled by the Royal Family, namely the Romanovs. Kurchatov was 11 years old when Tsar Nicholas decided to fight Germany in World War I. This decision, among others, changed the history of Russia. Rebellion was already brewing and those who did not believe in the war thought it was time to overthrow the Romanovs.

Roughly three years later (1917), Nicholas was deposed. Shortly after, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks took control of Russia and transformed it into the Soviet Union. They also removed Russia from the war. Igor took no part in this revolution or the war. In fact, he was still a school age boy when this was occurring. Nonetheless, this coup would shape the rest of Igor Kurchatov's young life, along with his decision to study physics. He began attending Crimea State University in 1920. It took him only three years to earn his degree in physics. He went on to study shipbuilding and do research at the Pavlovsk Observatory while he attended the Polytechnic Institute in Petrograd.

While Igor was stepping into his role as a research physicist, Josef Stalin was dumping the country's funds into technological and scientific projects that did little to help his starving people. Not that starving people were ever a concern of Josef Stalin. His main concern was seeing to it that all of the scientists and workers who were under him were making progress. Working under the tyrannical rule of Josef Stalin was a choice between success, labor camps (gulags) or death. Kurchatov's next career choice ensured that he would be one of the scientists struggling to make things happen for Stalin. Igor Kurchatov decided to focus on nuclear physics and he quickly made a name for himself in the field. 

In 1938, the race for the world's first atomic bomb began with the splitting of a uranium nucleus. Oddly, Stalin did not focus his thirst for technological advantage on creating this bomb. He did not really believe it was happening. The United States, England and Japan started atomic bomb projects as soon as possible while Stalin pondered the idea. He was not bothered by their arms race because he had a (seemingly tenuous) treaty with Germany.

In 1941, the German Army launched Operation Barbarossa - a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin was now in the thick of World War II. Initially, he continued to ignore the race for the atomic bomb. The brilliant young Citizen Kurchatov worked on naval defense and armor projects, while Stalin considered the possibility of starting a nuclear weapon's project. Eventually, he decided to start on a small scale, just in case. After some deliberation, Kurchatov was put in charge of the project. He assembled a team and began testing research that the Soviets had stolen from England.

Citizen Kurchatov had roughly 100 researchers on his project in its infancy. The United States had hundreds of thousands of researchers working on nuclear weapons research. Kurchatov needed more funding, so he wrote to the Soviet chief of security, a formidable man by the name of Lavrenti Beria. In doing so, Citizen Kurchatov went past his superior to the top, but he knew he needed Beria's help. He could not make the weapons without more funding and he knew the pressure would come down from Stalin fast when another country beat them to the bomb. He was right.

While Kurchatov was trying to get more funding, the Allies defeated Hitler's army. The Soviet Union basked in the glory of victory and Kurchatov's project remained underfunded until the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. As a result, Kurchatov got a meeting with Josef Stalin himself, who told him that he needed to produce an atomic bomb in three years - an astoundingly short amount of time - and that he would have everything he needed to do it. Kurchatov took the extra funding and ran with it. Soon, he had a massive project underway that included mines, reactors and an entire city of laboratories and scientist living quarters.

Kurchatov and his army of new researchers worked under the watchful eye of Beria, who was very threatening. Stalin had to tell him, "Leave the physicists alone. We can always shoot them later." Luckily, Kurchatov was a productive man. On August 29, 1949, he tested the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb. Kurchatov and three of his teammates were given the Stalin Prize for their achievement. Now, the race was on for the first hydrogen bomb.

The U.S. detonated the world's first hydrogen bomb on October 31, 1952. Stalin died a few months later and Khrushchev began to take control. Beria was sentenced to death for supposed crimes and Kurchatov simply continued his work. He tested a hydrogen bomb on August 12, 1953 and it worked. His next test was in November of 1955. This test resulted in the deaths of three people when a building collapsed from the force of the bomb. Kurchatov refused to supervise a test again. From the on, he turned the bulk of his efforts to less dangerous uses of nuclear energy.

A few months after the bomb incident, Khrushchev took his pet scientist to England to speak with scientists there and see research centers in England. Upon their return, Kurchatov had a stroke, which was followed by another one in 1957. He died roughly three years later of an aneurism. He was buried in the Wall of Kremlin.


Citizen Kurchatov, retrieved 11/5/10,

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Doctor Paul Gachet: Van Gogh's Physician

Doctor Paul Gachet, as painted by
Vincent Van Gogh
Doctor Paul Gachet was the last personal doctor employed by the great post-impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh. He was a mysterious man, in a way. Vincent did a gloomy etching of the physician, not long before he died. That etching and his treatment of Vincent landed Dr. Paul Gachet in the pages of history, but very little is known about the man himself.

In May of 1890, Vincent van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he could be closer to his brother. He had just gotten out of an asylum for the mentally ill (he admitted himself) and he was in need of some recuperation. However, he was still in need of medical supervision, as his mental condition was hardly getting any better. Doctor Paul Gachet was recommended to him and began working for him that month.

Paul Gachet was an avid lover of the arts and an aspiring artist himself. He spent time among such men as Victor Hugo and Gustave Courbet. Vincent’s brother Theo, who was very close to the artist, thought that Gachet was a good choice, considering his love of art. Some people believe that Theo was wrong, given the events that followed.

Vincent became agitated during his time in Auvers-sur-Oise, but was also very productive. He created the etching, his first and only etching, of Doctor Paul Gachet while he was there, as well as other paintings. During this time he said this of his physician “sicker than I am, I think, or shall I say as much . . . ”

What did Vincent mean when he said this about his doctor? Some people believe that Doctor Gachet was not fit to treat Vincent and that Vincent knew that. Could these words have revealed a truth about the doctor, of which no one else was aware? Could Paul Gachet have been mentally or physically ill while he was treating Vincent van Gogh? There is also the possibility that these words were the blathering of a man who was a brilliant artist, but also very strange and suicidal. Unfortunately, no one was ever able to find out what the artist meant by his words.

On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a field to paint and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He managed to make it back to his room and Dr. Gachet was summoned. The wound was inoperable and so Vincent died two days later with his beloved brother by his side. Some of his last words to Theo were “The sadness will last forever.” Theo himself died six months later.

Whether or not Doctor Paul Gachet should have been able to prevent the 37-year-old artist from killing himself, seems to be a matter of speculation. Some people believe that there is some mystery surrounding the doctor’s inability to do just that. However, Vincent van Gogh was suicidal for many years before he met Dr. Gachet and the doctor had only treated him for a few weeks before his death.

We know now that a few weeks is not sufficient to treat such a deep seated mental illness, which may have been coupled with epilepsy. It would seem that Doctor Paul Gachet was just a melancholy-looking fellow who was treating the wrong patient at the wrong time. For that, he is sometimes scrutinized. However, this may simply be due to the lack of information about the relationship between the patient and doctor and a lack of clarity regarding some of the patient’s words.

None of Vincent’s family held Doctor Paul Gachet responsible for the painter’s death. In fact, Theo’s wife even had her husband and brother in law’s graves decorated with ivy from the doctor’s garden. That very same ivy is there to this day.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Doc Holliday: Wild West Legend

Doc Holliday
Doc Holliday
John Henry Holliday, or more commonly Doc Holliday, was a famous western gunslinger and friend of Wyatt Earp. He was a bit of an outcast among the men of the wild west. He was a dentist, fluent in Latin and French, he could play the piano really well and dressed well too. However, he was also quick on the draw, a great gambler and notoriously brave, although the bravery may have stemmed from the fact that he was dying of tuberculosis. No matter the cause of his bravado, he will always be remembered for it and his odd personality.

John Henry Holliday was born in late 1851 or early 1852, in Griffin, Georgia; sources conflict as to the exact date of his birth. He was the son of Major Henry Burroughs Holliday and Alice Jane McKey. When John Henry was around five years old, the Holliday’s moved to Valdosta, Georgia. He attended grade school in Valdosta, where he learned some Greek, Latin and French. His mother taught him to play the piano when he was a young boy. She died of tuberculosis when John Henry was only 12 years old. Some historians believe that Doc contracted his tuberculosis from Alice.

John Henry Holliday attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery and graduated in 1872. This is how he earned his nickname. He supposedly loved being a dentist, but had hard time finding work with his cough. That is one of the suspected reasons that he moved out west as well, which he did soon after graduation.

In 1875, Doc Holliday had his first run in with the law in the west. He was involved in a shootout with a local barkeep in Dallas, Texas. Neither of the men were hurt, but they were both arrested. It was around this time that Doc began developing a bit of a reputation for himself. He was involved in many gunfights in his lifetime and it was also remarked that he acted like he didn’t care if he lived or died. He also developed a reputation as a capable gambler. In 1877 Holliday went to Dodge City, Kansas, where he met up with his friend, Wyatt Earp.

Doc Holliday left Dodge City with Earp in 1879. They moved to Tombstone, Arizona where Earp became a deputy sheriff. During his time in Tombstone Doc was involved in the legendary shootout at the OK Corral. The shootout occurred on October 26, 1881. Soon after, Doc moved to Colorado.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday spent the last years of his life in Colorado. By 1887, his health had declined so much that he had to check himself into a tuberculosis hospital there. On November 8 of that year, Doc died of the disease at the age of 34 or 35. Some believe that he may have died because he drank so much, but it is unlikely that he drank enough to kill him by that age. It is more likely that his drinking combined with the tuberculosis did him in. It is rumored that the moment before he died, he looked down and his bare feet and said “this is funny.” He had always thought that he would die in a gunfight with his boots on.


John Henry Holliday Family History,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Paul Smith: Medal of Honor Recipient

Sergeant First Class Paul Smith of the United States Army was a husband, father and dedicated soldier. He served his country in the Persian Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith was killed in Baghdad, Iraq when he decided to man a .50 caliber rifle from the exposed turret of an armored personnel carrier and fire on the enemy to allow his men time to regroup and evacuate the wounded. His actions saved many soldiers that day, and was the deciding factor in their victory. As a veteran and an experienced soldier, he knew exactly what the consequences of his actions would be, but he did not hesitate.

Paul Smith was born on September 24, 1969 in El Paso, Texas. His parents, Donald and Janice Smith moved the family to Tampa Bay, Florida when Paul was nine years old. He had three siblings--Lisa, Cristina and Anthony. Long before he was a combat engineer, Paul Smith was interested in building things. He attended Tampa Bay Vocational Technical High School and graduated in 1988. He enlisted in the Army in October of 1989 and had a long and honorable career. By the time he and his men deployed to Iraq in 2003, Paul Smith was Sergeant First Class Paul Smith.

On April 4, 2003, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith and his men were charged with building a temporary P.O.W. holding area near the Baghdad International Airport. They soon came under attack by an enemy force of an estimated 100 men. Sgt. 1st Class Smith effectively delivered orders to his men while fighting off the enemy with his rifle, grenades and an AT4. During the attack, one of the U.S. Forces armored personnel carriers was damaged by enemy fire and the three men in it were wounded.

Seeing that these men needed to be evacuated and that the armored personnel carrier’s .50 caliber rifle was the largest weapon between his men and the enemy, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith did what no commanding officer would have ever rightly ordered him to do. He climbed into the exposed turret hatch of the vehicle and manned the weapon with the entire upper half of his body exposed to the enemy. He managed to shoot and kill between 20 and 50 enemy soldiers before being shot and killed himself. Because of his gallantry, his men went on to defeat the enemy that day.

On April 4, 2005, exactly two years after his death in Baghdad, Sgt. First Class Paul Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport.” His eleven-year-old son, David was at the White House to receive his father’s medal.

Sergeant First Class Paul Smith is survived by his wife Birgit, his son, David and his daughter, Jessica. He was cremated and his ashes were spread out in Tampa, save a small amount that his wife keeps in a locket.


Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, retrieved 8/31/09,

Medal of Honor Recipients, Iraq, retrieved 8/31/09,

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Antonio Canova: Sculptor

Antonio Canova Self Portrait
Antonio Canova was a neoclassical artist that lived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He produced timeless and unforgettable sculptures such as his Venus Victrix and Cupid and Psyche. He was also commissioned to design and sculpt the tombs of Pope Clement XIII and Pope Clement XIV. During his lifetime he became a much sought after artist in many parts of Europe.

Antonio Canova was born on November 1, 1757 in Possagno, Italy. When he was only three years old, his father passed away and his mother remarried. He was raised by his paternal grandparents who afforded him all of the opportunities he needed to become a brilliant artist. His grandfather was a stonecutter and an able artist himself. From the time Antonio was a young boy, he was taught to draw by his grandfather. At around the age of nine, the two started to work together and the boy soon began showing talent as a sculptor.

The young man’s talent eventually piqued the interest of a man named Giuseppe Faliero. Faliero enabled young Antonio Canova to study under a great sculptor by the name of Torretto when he was thirteen years old. Antonio studied with the artist for about two years and was then taken to Venice to study under Torretto’s nephew. After another year of study, Antonio Canova became an independent artist at the age of sixteen.

He was able to work on his own in a monastery where some monks had given him free space. Antonio worked there for four years while honing his skills and discovering his style. By the time he was 24, he had already developed a reputation in Venice and decided to branch out. He went to Rome in 1780 and began studying the Roman treasures of antique art. Soon after, he was working on the tombs of two popes.

Antonio Canova spent nearly 17 years in Rome off and on before returning to Possagno. He stayed in his hometown and painted for about a year before deciding to travel again. This time he went to Germany and then back to Rome. Later he took sojourns in Florence, Paris and London. During one of his trips to Paris, Canova did some statues and busts of Emperor Napoleon. He also did paintings and statues of his family, the most famous being a painting of his sister, Paulina Bonaparte Borghese.

During his life, Antonio Canova met with great success. He became the premier sculptor in many parts of Europe and had a steady flow of commissions nearly all of his long career. He made a great deal of money and it is said that he spent much of his hard earned wealth in assisting aspiring artists. He died in Venice at the age of 64 on October 13, 1822.

Selected Works by Antonio Canova

Daedalus and Icharus (marble) (1777-79) Museo Correr, Venice

Orpheus and Eurydice (stone) (1775-76) Museo Correr, Venice

Theseus Vanquishing Minotaur (marble) (1781-83) Victioria and Albert Museum, London

Parting of Venus and Adonis (marble) (1804-06) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Cupid and Psyche (marble) (1786-93) Musee du Louvre, Paris

Venus Victrix (marble) (1804-08) Galleria Borghese, Rome


Antonio Canova, retrieved 8/9/09

Friday, November 27, 2015

Aleister Crowley: Self-Proclaimed Occultist

Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley may very well be the most famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) occultist of all time. He was a self-proclaimed magician and one time prophet; he supposedly engaged in ritual sex with members of both sexes, tried to communicate with the devil, battled in 'magical' duels and tortured and killed animals. He may have done or been all, some or none of these, but he was certainly a strangely mysterious man. At one point, he was known as the "Wickedest Man in the World." He apparently relished his reputation.

Aleister Crowley was born on October 12, 1875 in Leamington, Warwickshire, England. His given name was Edward Alexander Crowley. His father was a wealthy brewer. Both of his parents were staunch Puritans. They viewed sex as a one of the worst sins. How they had children with this view is anyone's guess.

Aleister rebelled against his parents' beliefs for most of his life. His behavior led to his mother referring to him as 'the Beast.' It appears that she truly believed that her son was the antichrist. It is quite possible that his mother's religious beliefs coupled with her name-calling attributed to Aleister's grandiose and boastful nature. Aleister obviously believed himself to be a powerful dark force as an adult. Furthermore, his rebellion against his parents' views regarding sex led him to be an overtly sexual person, some might say to a fault.

Aleister's father died when he was 11 years old. That same year, Aleister supposedly tortured and killed his own cat. There have been rumors of other, more horrible things regarding Aleister's actions as a child. However, hardly anything can be substantiated, including acts mentioned by Crowley himself in his autobiography. We do know that Edward changed his name to Aleister, so as not to have the same first name as is father. We also know that he lost his virginity at a very young age. Rumor has it that he was 14-years old and that it was with a servant girl.

As a boy, Aleister was forced to attend religious schools. In 1892, Aleister Crowley went away to study in Malvern. He reportedly engaged in some sort of shocking homosexual act at that time. He then went on to Tonbridge, were he supposedly contracted gonorrhea from a prostitute. He went to college at Cambridge. There, instead of a sexually transmitted disease, he picked up a love for mountain climbing and the occult. At the age of 21, he inherited his father's money and was able to start traveling, which he continued to do for most of his life.

In 1898, Aleister Crowley joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This order was dedicated to 'white magic.' Aleister was thrown out of the order in 1900. He later claimed that he got into a magical battle with some of the other members, during which his coat caught on fire. Other famous authors of the time were supposedly members of the order. However, only one or two of these names has been confirmed as members, one being William Butler Yeats.

After Crowley's altercation with the Golden Dawn, he spent some time abroad. In 1903, he married a woman named Rose Kelly. Together the couple had two children, one of whiom died at the age of two. In 1904, the couple was vacationing in Egypt. While there, Rose claimed to have a vision of sorts, immediately after which Aleister claimed to have a vision of his own. Aleister's lasted for days while he wrote what would become "The Book of Law" (just one of numerous books penned by Crowley). The following year, he went on a mountaineering expedition in the Himalayas, which ended in death for some of his companions. From there, he went to Canada and the United States. His first daughter died of typhus while he was away.

In 1907, Aleister Crowley founded a magical order known as the Argentium Astrum. Two years later, he divorced his first wife. He reportedly began a relationship with Victor Neuberg around the same time. Three years after that, he joined the Order of the Eastern Templars. It was around this time that he supposedly began experimenting with ritual sex magic. He was known to have casual sex frequently. Women and men alike were drawn to him, despite his failing looks. He spent some time in the U.S. between 1915 and 1919 where he spread anti-British propaganda. He later claimed that he was a British supporter during the war.

Aleister Crowley met Leah Hirsig the same year he left the United States. The pair seemed to be smitten with each other and all kinds of nasty rumors (and later, claims made by Aleister) circulated about their sex life. They had one child together, but they split in 1924. Crowley then spent some time traveling and being kicked out of both Sicily and France. In 1929, he married Maria Ferrari de Miramar. This union would result in no children. Aleister died less than 20 years later. He was seventy-two years old.

Aleister spent the last years of his life chained by the drugs he had used for many years. He was a heroin addict and he was nearly broke. There are several stories regarding his death, one is that he died alone. Another story is that his last words were a curse on his doctor for not giving him any heroin. The story goes on to say that the doctor died on December 2, 1947, one day after Crowley. Yet another story says that his last words were "I am perplexed." All that is certain is that he was cremated and his ashes given to his still loyal followers.

Looking back on Aleister Crowley's life, it is important to note some of the more bizarre claims that have been made by him and others regarding it. So, in closing, here is a list of such claims. You may choose to believe them or not. Either way, it is undeniable that he made quite an impression.

  • Aleister Crowley mentioned in his autobiography that he was born with three 'marks of Buddha.' One of these marks was four hairs growing out of the center of his heart in the shape of a swastika.
  • Many people believe that Aleister Crowley was a spy for the British government. This is an interesting claim given the amount of travel Aleister put in and the propaganda he spread.
  • Another claim made by Aleister was that he was the reincarnation of several famous occultists. One of these men was Eliphas Levi, who died the year that Aleister was born.
  • Rumor has it that Aleister convinced his girlfriend Leah to copulate with a goat. Some versions of this story state that the goat was meant to be sacrificed at the moment of climax, but that it didn't cooperate. Its throat was slit anyway.


Deese, Patrick, Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast, retrieved 4/28/10,

Monday, September 14, 2015

Idi Amin: The Self-Proclaimed "Last King of Scotland"

Idi Amin Caricature
Caricature of Idi Amin
by Edmund S. Valtman
Idi Amin Dada Oumee, or simply Idi Amin, was one of the most monstrous rulers to come out of Africa in the 20th century. He is known for having been absurdly self-indulgent, cruel and unwise. He was a liar, a thief (in that he grew richer while his people grew poorer) and a murderer. Uganda was the place of his birth and the country he ruled for nearly a decade. He claimed to place it on a pedestal above all else, but he was really driving it into the ground. He was killing Uganda's people and their means of earning a living. Along the way, he killed his chances of becoming all of the things he declared himself to be.

Idi Amin was born sometime around 1925 in Kokoba, Uganda. He was raised in Lugazi, Uganda, without his father. Idi led a simple life, raising goats and getting minimal education. It is said that he only attended school until the fourth grade and was functionally illiterate.

What Idi Amin lacked in intelligence, he made up for with his skill and strength in sports. Later in life, he was overweight and unhealthy, but as a young man and during his time with the military he was fit. Amin enlisted in the British colonial army in 1946. He played rugby, boxed and swam in the military and he excelled in these areas. In fact, he held the title of heavyweight boxing champion in Uganda for nearly ten years.

Idi Amin climbed the ranks steadily. Within fifteen years of becoming a soldier, he became one of the first lieutenants in Uganda. His propensity for cruelty and violence became evident during this time, but it was largely ignored until 1962, when the British authorities asked the Prime Minister of Uganda to arrest Idi and make him stand trial for his crimes. That year, Uganda became independent of Great Britain. Instead of making Idi Amin stand trial, Prime Minister Apolo Milton Obote promoted Amin to captain. By 1967, Idi Amin was a major general. Obote would soon regret his leniency.

In 1972, Idi Amin staged a successful, but arguably cowardly, coup and took control of Uganda. He waited until Obote was out of the country and then positioned his military followers so that Obote could not return. Oblivious of what was to come, the people of Uganda embraced Idi Amin. He gave the appearance of a man who understood the people and wished to give them control of the country. He spoke as if he was but a humble soldier who hoped to keep the country safe until a new, better government could be established. He could not have lied more if he had said he was purple. He was skilled at deception, but only for a short time. His true self became evident rather quickly.

During his time as President of Uganda, Idi Amin was responsible for an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people. He banished all Asians from Uganda, roughly 50,000 individuals, thus crippling the economy. He attacked Israelis and the British because they would not sell him weapons. He reportedly killed two of his wives or had them killed. It is rumored that he propped his dead wives up at the dinner table and made his children dine with the dead body present. This may not be true. It would have been difficult to do this with Kay Amin, whose body was found horribly mutilated.

Among all the examples of Idi Amin's hubris, the following are the most telling. There was a movie made about Idi Amin called "The Last King of Scotland." It was named thus because Idi said he would become King of Scotland if they asked him. He even took to calling himself the King of Scotland. (He was no such thing.) The title he gave himself was "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland Lord of All Beasts on Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in particular." As if that weren't bad enough, he forced the paper to refer to him as "His Excellency, Al Hadji, Dr. Idi Amin Dada, Life President of Uganda, conqueror of the British Empire, distinguished service order of the Military Cross, Victoria Cross and Professor of Geography."

Like many men who went mad with power before him, Idi Amin was paranoid, suspicious and superstitious. He behaved erratically and made decisions that were extremely ill advised. His lunacy was such that he did not realize he was his own worst enemy. Thinking it would embarrass Great Britain, he had four British men carry him around in a sedan chair at a rally in 1975. In 1978, he finally made the decision that would ruin his career in politics. He invaded Tanzania. Tanzanian troops and Ugandan rebels drove him out of Uganda shortly thereafter.

Idi Amin left Uganda with some of the wealth he had accumulated during his reign of terror. First, he went to Libya, then on to Saudi Arabia. He lived a comfortable life in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003. He was never tried for his crimes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Deborah Sampson: Undercover Female Soldier of the Revolutionary War

Engraving of Deborah Sampson
Deborah Sampson is one of the rare women who literally fought the British during the Revolutionary War. While other women were doing their part by caring for their families, standing behind their husbands and tactfully lending their opinion on political issues, Deborah Sampson was donning men’s clothing and carrying a rifle. She wasn’t a feminist and she wasn’t railing against injustice; she was simply doing what she could for her country. Aside from her bravery and skill as a soldier, there was nothing particularly unique about her. Perhaps that is what made her such an admirable individual.

Deborah Sampson was born on December 17, 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts. She was the oldest of six children born into an impoverished family. She had two sisters and three brothers. Her parents were Jonathan and Deborah Sampson (originally spelt Samson). Before Deborah was five-years-old, her father left his family to seek his fortune at sea. It was later learned that he likely died there. Dead or not, he never returned to his wife and children. Deborah’s mother had no means to care for her children and so she sent them all to stay with friends, relatives and neighbors. Her namesake was sent to stay with a female relative, who unfortunately died three years later.

After the death of Deborah’s foster mother, she went to live with another family for a couple of years. When her time there was up, a deacon named Jeremiah Thomas took her on as an indentured servant. It would seem that Jeremiah was good to Deborah, but she certainly worked very hard in both the fields and in the home, becoming a skilled laborer during her time there. She was also allowed to attend school when work around the farm was scarce. This enabled her to become a teacher at the age of 18 when her servitude was over. She stayed with the deacon for a little while longer, but then Deborah Sampson began leading a very different life.

Soon after Deborah Sampson left her longtime home, she began dressing as a man and enjoying freedoms she couldn’t have in women’s clothing. She also attempted to enlist with the Continental Army, but was soon found out. Undeterred, she tried again and on May 20, 1782, Deborah Sampson enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army as Robert Shirtliff. After she had left Massachusetts with her regiment, her church excommunicated her for her previous behavior. None of them knew that she had succeeded in enlisting.

Deborah Sampson’s time in the military was eventful. During a skirmish in New York, she was wounded in both the head and leg. She hid the leg wound so that her gender would not be discovered. Her comrades did not suspect that Robert was a woman; they just assumed that “he” was very boyish. Nonetheless, her gender was eventually discovered in Philadelphia. She had come down with malignant fever and was hospitalized. A kind doctor treated her in the hospital and then allowed her to stay in his home. He did eventually reveal her secret, but he did so while extolling her admirable qualities. General Henry Knox gave her an honorable discharge on October 25, 1783.

Deborah returned to Massachusetts and found work on a farm. She married a farmer named Benjamin Gannett in April of 1784. The couple had three children together. Their names were Earl, Mary and Patience. Deborah was granted a single soldier’s pension payment of 34 pounds around 1792. Years later, her friend Paul Revere penned a letter to Congress requesting a fair soldier’s pension for the veteran, Deborah Sampson. The request was granted and in 1804, she began receiving a monthly pension of four dollars a month.

In 1802, Deborah Sampson gave lectures about her service, during which she donned her Army uniform and conducted drills with her rifle. She must have been quite the sight to people of colonial Massachusetts. This would be the first time she was able to reveal both of her identities in public without fear. She died twenty-three years later, at the age of sixty-six. Her body was interred at the Rockridge Cemetery in Sharon, Massachusetts.


Boris, Danuta, Deborah Sampson, retrieved 2/27/10,

Barney, Lora, Deborah Sampson, retrieved 2/27/10,