John Paul Jones-When America invaded Great Britain

John Paul Jones-When America invaded Great Britain

This is the story of John Paul Jones and the only attack by the United States on the country of Great Britain.  That in itself would be an odd enough thing to write a story about but there are so many little other interesting little twists to the story.

To understand this narrative you need to understand three things 

  • John Paul Jones – The captain who led the attack
  • Uss Ranger – His Ship
  • Whitehaven – The town attacked!
John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones – The Captain

Born John Paul, the son of a gardener, who later added the name Jones to be able to escape law enforcement, was born on the west coast of Scotland on July 6th, 1747.

 He began his sailing career at the age of 13 on the ship Friendship under a Captain Benson.

Paul worked his way up through the ranks until on one voyage the captain and the first mate both died of yellow fever. Paul was able to take over the ship, steered to safety and saved the cargo. The Grateful owners made him the new master of the ship.

Rough life at sea

John Paul was known for harsh discipline on his ships.  On one voyage he was blamed for the death of a crewman after Paul had had him flogged. Later the crewman’s death was attributed to yellow fever but it left a negative black mark on Paul’s reputation.

Not long after this incident, Paul got into an argument with a crewman named Blackmon who was complaining about wages.  The argument got very heated and Paul killed him by running him through with his sword.

Although Paul had claimed this to be self-defense he didn’t want to face a board of inquiry because the first man that he had been accused of killing had a very influential family in the Navy.  The ended Paul’s British Naval career and at some point, he left Great Britain for America and now went by the name of John Paul Jones.

Life In America

When the revolution came about Jones volunteered his services and was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant of the newly converted 24-gun frigate Alfred in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775.

Jones had great success has the American Navy but his disagreements with those in higher authority than himself caused him trouble.  On December 16th, 1776 he began feuding with a Commodore named Hopkins. Jones believed that Hopkins was holding back his advancement by talking him down to others.  

 In a sort of backhanded punishment, he was assigned the command of a much smaller ship. A newly constructed vessel named the USS Ranger on June 14th, 1777 coincidentally the same day that the new stars and stripes flag was adopted by the Congress.

USS Ranger – The Ship

Although the ranger was a small ship and a step-down in command for Jones it was more maneuverable and faster than the larger ships he commanded.  Jones decided it would make a great raiding vessel.

Patriot Pirate

On the 1st of November 1777, Ranger set sail for France carrying military dispatches to the commissioners of Paris.  On the voyage to Paris on two separate occasions, Jones was able to capture two British ships. Captured ships are also known as prizes in naval jargon.

On the 2nd of December, they arrived in France and sold the prizes and John Paul Jones met with Benjamin Franklin.

After his business in France was concluded Jones took towards the Irish sea where he continued to capture more prizes. 

 It was at this time that Jones decided to attack the city of Whitehaven.

Whitehaven – The Town

Whitehaven is a port town on the west coast of Cumbria, Mostly known for its Merchant shipping and Mining.

This is of course also where John Paul Jones started his Naval career. He knew the town well and knew of its defenses and weaknesses.

The Attack

The first attempt

On April 17th, 1778 Jones persuaded his crew to mount an assault on Whitehaven. Unfortunately for Jones strong winds forced them to abandon the attempt and instead push the Ranger towards Ireland.

HMS Drake

On April 20th, 1778 John Paul Jones learn from captured British Sailors that the HMS Drake was anchored off the coast of Ireland. 

According to the diary of the surgeon assigned to the Rangers crew Jones’ first plan was to attack the vessel in broad daylight. However, his crew was unwilling to undertake it.  This was not included in Jones’s official report.

The decision was made to attack the Drake just after midnight. However, the sailor responsible for dropping the anchor to halt the Ranger just beside the Drake misjudged the timing. Some say because of the darkness or by some accounts drunkenness. The anchor line had to be cut.

The wind changed direction again and blew the Ranger back toward Whitehaven. The raid was back on!

Burning the ships!

Jones himself led the assault on the town. They took two boats containing 15 men in total. The men set out just after midnight on the 23rd of April 1778. The plan was to set fire or to sink all of the ships at Whitehaven’s harbor. At the time there were around 300 wooden ships in port.  Most of these were part of the merchant fleet and many ships were transporting coal. They further planned to scare the townspeople by lighting further fires in the town.

 Again the wind started to shift so the journey to the shore was slowed considerably. 

Spiking the cannons!

 Finally reaching the shore they spiked the town’s big defensive guns to prevent them from being fired. 

Spiking was a practice of driving a huge Spike into the hole where the fire was applied to the cannon’s gunpowder to be able to fire the ball.  The spikes could be removed but only with great difficulty. It certainly took all the battle-readiness out of the weapon for the short-term.

John Paul Jones Statue
John Paul Jones Statue-Whitehaven (credit below)

Does anybody have a light?

The fire to burn the ships was to come from the lanterns on the boats. However, they had gone out on the journey to shore. It is unknown if this was because of the sea or the wind.

Matches were not to be invented for another 60 years. Flint and steel was the common way of starting fires at the time, but it would have been difficult and time-consuming to do so under the circumstances. Both the wind and the need for secrecy prevented this.

So Jones sent two men to raid his old hometown’s public house (a pub!) to secure a lantern or some other means of setting the ships on fire.

Instead of raiding the pub and alerting the town to their presence the two men instead bought drinks, got drunk and did not return until the dawn of the next morning.

A hasty retreat

Jones decided to concentrate the efforts on the coal ship Thompson.  The hope was that the flames of the coal ship would spread to the nearby vessels which it all been grounded due to low tide.  In the Twilight, one of the crew (possibly one of the men who had gotten drunk the night before and made friends in town) slipped away and alerted the residents of Whitehaven. 

 The citizens of Whitehaven raised a fire alert and a large number of people came running down to the harbor forcing the Americans to retreat. The residents began to put out the Flames with help with the town’s to fire engines.  Yes, no matches but they did have fire engines.

 The townspeople tried to sink Jones’s boats but they found the cannons spiked, so Jones and his crew got away.

John Paul Jones with Lady Selkirk

The Earl of Selkirk

Jones next decided to sail from Whitehaven to Scotland.  Now his plan was to kidnap and hold for ransom the Earl of Selkirk who lived on Saint Mary’s Isle.  The idea was that the Earl could be swapped for American Sailors who had been kidnapped and pushed into service into the Royal Navy. 

 When he got to the island, the Earl was not at home so his wife entertained Jones and his officers and conducted negotiations.  Historians have given credit to the governess for protecting the young heir and to the butler for hiding the family silver in sack half-filled with coal in order to protect it from being stolen from the Americans.

 Jones crew was getting restless because they had taken no treasure from the raid on Whitehaven and now they were again turning up empty-handed. Fearing a mutiny, Jones reluctantly allowed the crew to seize a silver plate with the family’s crest on it, to satisfy their lust for treasure.  Years later Jones bought the plate himself when it was sold in France and then returned it to the Earl of Selkirk after the war.

The capture of HMS Drake

Jones let the Ranger back across the Irish sea hoping to again make an attempt at the Drake.  This time on April 24th, 1778 late in the afternoon the ship’s engaged in combat. Earlier in the day, the Americans have captured the crew of a scouting vessel and from the captured sailors learned that the Drake had taken on dozens of soldiers with the intention of capturing the Ranger. 

 After an hour-long battle which killed the British captain,  the Americans took possession of the Drake. 

1781 portrait of John Paul Jones
1781 portrait of John Paul Jones

The effect of the raids

Until the raids on Whitehaven and the capture of the British ships, the people of Great Britain felt safe from the American War.  It was something that was going on very far from where they lived. After the raids, British support for the war weakened. Jones’ Service to America helped to ensure a permanent navy.

Death, Burial, and Exhumation

Many years later after the war in 1792, Jones was serving as U.S. console in Paris.  He was found dead lying face-down in his bed on the third floor of his Paris apartment he was 45 years old.  He was buried at the St. Louis Cemetery which at the time belong to the French Coral family. 

 4 years later the Revolutionary government which had taken over during the French Revolution sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten.

In the early 1900s historians went looking for Jone’s grave in the hope the American hero could be returned home.  After an exhaustive 5 year search, the body of John Paul Jones was found. 

The body was exhumed and a post-mortem was performed on the 200-year-old corpse and was photographed.

exhumed photograph of JPJ

 In 1906 the remains of John Paul Jones were brought by ship to America. The final sea voyage for John Paul Jones. The body was placed in the crypt beneath the Annapolis Maryland Naval Academy.  The ceremony was presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The 1999 Pardon of Jones

In 1999, more than 230 years after the attack on the port of Whitehaven, Jones received an honorary pardon from the town.  Lieutenant Steve Lyons representing the US naval attachment to the UK was present. The US Navy was awarded the freedom of the port of Whitehaven the only time the honor has been granted in the town’s 400-year-old history. 

Statues to John Paul Jones have been erected at the old fort where he spiked the guns.

John Paul Jones in Whitehaven
Statue of John Paul Jones in Whitehaven

If you like Naval history you may also be interested in The story of an American ship in North Korea

Cannon Photo by By Humphrey Bolton, CC BY-SA 2.0,

All other images are believed to be in the public domain.

Was Laura Ingalls A Nazi Agent?

Was Laura Ingalls A Nazi Agent?

How could it be that Laura Ingalls was a Nazi agent?  The tales of the Prairie are as about as American as you can get! How could it be this is true?  Also, it’s the wrong time. Isn’t it? 

Little House on the Prarie

Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the Prairie at the same time as Native Americans roamed the plains. This was about 20 years after the Civil War.  She and her husband Almanzo lived into the 1950s, So she did live through World War II.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and husband Almanzo. Not the Nazi Agent!

However, fans of the books and the 1970s TV show can rest easy.  This Laura Ingalls is her cousin by the same name and she was friends with Laura and Almanzo’s daughter Rose Wilder.

This is a branch of the family you don’t hear much about!

Related: Facts about Little House On The Prarie You never knew!

Laura Ingalls – Her Early life

Born far from the Prairie Life of her cousin Laura grew up in Brooklyn On December 14th, 1893. 2 years later her brother Francis was born.

Francis Abbott Ingalls II

When her brother Francis Ingalls was a young man he registered for the draft while he was still in military school. He served as an officer in both World War I and World War II.  He later married the granddaughter of J.P. Morgan. Francis lived until the year 1978. This means he would have seen his famous cousin depicted in the 1970s TV show Little House on the Prairie. 

Being a Pilot

Laura became a pilot and not just any pilot.  She earned A Harmon trophy, a very distinguished award in flying.  She flew a Lockheed air express from Mexico to Chile over the Andes Mountains to Rio De Janeiro to Cuba and then to Floyd Bennett Field in New York.  This was the first flight over the Andes by an American woman. It was also the first solo flight around South America 

Laura Ingalls - Pilot
Laura Ingles – Aviator
  • Longest solo flight by a woman
  • First solo flight by a woman from North to South America
  • First solo flight around South America by man or woman
  • First complete flight by a landplane around South America by a man or woman
  • First American woman to fly the Andes solo
Laura Ingalls and Amelia Earhart
Laura Ingalls (center) with Amelia Earhart(front) at Burbank Union Airport. The gentleman is barnstormer Roscoe

Flight over the White House

Laura first started out as an anti-interventionist which means she opposed the United States getting involved in World War II.  She distributed a lot of literature on the subject. In late September of 1939, she was dropping anti-intervention pamphlets from her airplane over Washington DC and the White House.  She was arrested for violating White House airspace. she was released a few hours after this.

Start as a Nazi Agent

After the defeat of France in 1940, she approached the second Secretary of the German Embassy, Baron Ulrich von Gienanth, However, this was von Gienant’s cover title only! His real job was the head of the Gestapo in the United States!  Laura suggested that she make a solo flight to Europe and continue her work to promote the Nazi cause. He told her to stay in America to work with the America First Committee.

Arrest and Trial

Laura gave speeches for the committee in which she complained about America’s lousy democracy and she gave Nazi salutes.  Von Gienanth praised her speaking skills. she made a careful study of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on which he based many of her speeches.  she also studied Hitler’s pamphlets on my new order in Germany and the Jewish question. she fully expected Hitler to win the war.  in April 1941 she wrote to a German official “Someday I will shout my triumph to a great leader and a great people… Heil Hitler!” 

Germany declares war

After Germany declared war on the United States she went straight to Washington DC to receive a list of contacts from von Gienath. She was arrested a week later.

Arrest by FBI

The FBI had had her under surveillance for several months already. At one point U.S. agents had watched her take money from Geinanth while hiding the bushes outside von Gienanth’s Maryland home.

Laura was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in prison.  She was released on October 5th, 1943 after serving 20 months.

Prison did not alter Laura’s views in any way. After being released she commented on the Normandy Landings saying: 

This whole invasion is a power lust, blood drunk orgy in a war which is unholy and for which the U.S. will be called to terrible accounting… They [the Nazis] fight the common enemy. They fight for the independence of Europe—independence from the Jews. Bravo!

Laura Ingalls - Nazi Agent
Laura Ingles – Nazi Agent

Release and the run for the border

After her probation ended in July 1944 Laura was arrested at the Mexican border. She was carrying notes she had made of Japanese and German short-wave radio broadcasts.

The Mexican authorities prevented her from entering Mexico but she was not prosecuted. 

Laura Ingalls – Her Later life

In 1958  Laura applied for presidential pardon her application was rejected by two different pardon attorneys.  On the last occasion, the reply stated that Laura had been of a “special value of the Nazi propaganda machine”.

She died on January 10, 1967, in Burbank, California, aged 73.

WW2’s Last Fighting Soldiers

WW2’s Last Fighting Soldiers

Hiroo Onoda – circa 1940

Fighting WW2 for 34 Years

For most of the world, World War 2 ended in 1945. But for Hirō Onoda it didn’t end until 1974.

Onoda was born on March 19, 1922, in Kamekawa Village, Kaisō District, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. When he was 18, he was enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry.

His Misson

Onoda trained as an intelligence officer in the commando class “Futamata”. On December 26, 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. He was ordered to do all he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor.

Lubang Island

His Orders

Onoda’s orders also stated that under no matter what, he was not to surrender or take his own life.
When he landed on the island, Onoda joined forces with a group of Japanese soldiers who had been sent there before him. The officers in the group outranked Onoda and prevented him from carrying out his assignment, which made it easier for Allied forces to take the island when they landed on February 28, 1945. Within a short time of the landing, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had been killed or surrendered. Onoda, who had been promoted to lieutenant, ordered the men to take to the hills.

In Hiding

Onoda continued his mission as a Japanese soldier, living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers (Private Yūichi Akatsu, Corporal Shōichi Shimada and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka). During his stay, Onoda and his companions carried out guerrilla activities and engaged in several shootouts with the police.


The first time they saw a leaflet announcing that Japan had surrendered was in October 1945; another group of soldiers also hiding in the hills, had killed a cow and found a leaflet left behind by islanders which read: “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!” However, they mistrusted the leaflet. They concluded that the leaflet was Allied propaganda, and also believed that they would not have been fired on if the war had indeed been over. Toward the end of 1945, leaflets were dropped by air with a surrender order printed on them from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army. They had been in hiding for over a year, and this leaflet was the only evidence they had the war was over. Onoda’s group looked very closely at the leaflet to try and decide whether it was real and decided it was not.


One of the four, Yuichi Akatsu surrendered to Filipino forces in 1950.  In 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped from aircraft urging them to surrender, but the three soldiers concluded that this was a trick.  Shimada was shot in the leg during a shoot-out with local fishermen in June 1953, after which Onoda nursed him back to health. On May 7, 1954, Shimada was killed by a shot fired by a search party looking for the men.  Kozuka was killed by two shots fired by local police on October 19, 1972, when he and Onoda, as part of their continuing mission from orders given 30 years before were burning rice that had been collected by farmers. Onoda was now alone.


Norio Suzuki with Hiroo Onoda

Norio Suzuki

On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a Japanese man, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling around the world, looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Suzuki found Onoda after four days of searching.

Onoda described this moment in a 2010 interview: “This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out …” Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller.


Taniguchi flew to Lubang where on March 9, 1974, he finally met with Onoda and fulfilled the promise made in 1944, “Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you,” by issuing him the following orders:

  • In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
  • In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
  • Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
Hiroo Surrenders
Onoda was thus properly relieved of duty, and he surrendered. He turned over his sword, his functioning Arisaka Type 99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades, as well as the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to kill himself with if he was captured.
Though he had killed people and engaged in shootouts with the police, the circumstances (namely, that he believed that the war was still ongoing) were taken into consideration, and Onoda received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos.
What were his thoughts on learning the war had been over for 29 years?
In his own words

“We really lost the war! How could they have been so sloppy?

Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious on the way here. Worse than that, what had I been doing for all these years?

Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: my thirty years as a guerrilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the end.

I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets. . . .

I eased off the pack that I always carried with me and laid the gun on top of it. Would I really have no more use for this rifle that I had polished and cared for like a baby all these years? Or Kozuka’s rifle, which I had hidden in a crevice in the rocks? Had the war really ended thirty years ago? If it had, what had Shimada and Kozuka died for? If what was happening was true, wouldn’t it have been better if I had died with them?” he had reportedly said at that time.

Hiroo returned to Japan, and spent some years in Brazil. He lived until 2014.

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Surrender – 1974

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Hiroo Onoda – Circa 2010

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Not the last!

Onoda was not the very last soldier.  Private Teruo Nakamura, arrested on 18 December 1974 in Indonesia, held out for 6 months longer.
Born in 1919, he was enlisted into a Takasago Volunteer Unit of the Imperial Japanese army in November 1943. He was stationed on Morotai Island in Indonesia shortly before the island was overrun by the Allies in September 1944 in the Battle of Morotai. He was declared dead in March 1945.
After the capture of the island, it Nakamura lived with other stragglers on the island until well into the 1950s, while going off for long periods of time on his own. In 1956, he chose to set off to construct a small camp of his own, consisting of a small hut in a 20 x 30-metre fenced field.
Teuro Nakamura’s Hut
Nakamura’s hut was accidentally discovered by a pilot in mid-1974. In November 1974, the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta requested the assistance of the Indonesian government in organizing a search mission, which was conducted by the Indonesian Air Force on Morotai and led to his arrest by Indonesian soldiers on December 18, 1974. He was flown to Jakarta and hospitalized there. News of his discovery reached Japan on December 27, 1974. Nakamura decided to be sent straight back to Taiwan, bypassing Japan, and died there of lung cancer five years later in 1979.
Lubang Island Photo Credit.  y Elmer B. Domingo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
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The living grandchildren of our 10th President

The living grandchildren of our 10th President

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler may not be household names but together they make up the most amazing fact  about our 10th president:

Who are Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler?

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841 after William Henry Harrison died, our shortest reigning president. And he has two living grandchildren. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler.

Who was Tyler?

John Tyler, who served as the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845, does not rate highly in the history books. Typically ranking near the bottom of surveys that classify U.S. presidents according to their effectiveness in office.
You may remember him from the phrase “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” the famous slogan from the 1840 presidential campaign that paired Tyler as a vice-presidential candidate with William Henry Harrison on the Whig ticket.

Ok, but how does someone born in 1790 have 2 grandkids in 2019?

The Grandfather

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. (John Tyler was 63)

The Father

He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924(Lyon Tyler was 71), and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928(Lyon Tyler was 75).
His remarkable short line of ascendancy is due to a couple of factors that are not common in modern American society but once were quite common.
Men (especially widowers) took brides that were much younger, late in life and fathering large numbers of children.

The Grandfather’s Children

John Tyler fathered fifteen children, more than any other U.S. president:
  • 8 with his first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler (who was his own age)
  • 7 more with Julia Gardiner Tyler (a woman thirty years younger)
 Five of those children lived into the 20th century (the youngest, Pearl Tyler, was still alive after the end of World War II and finally passed away in 1947),

The Father’s Children:

John Tyler’s thirteenth child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935) had the following children:
  • 3 children with his first wife, Anne Baker Tucker Tyler,
  • 3 with his second wife, Sue Ruffin Tyler (a woman thirty-five years his junior), when he was nearly 70.
One of those latter three children died in infancy, but the other two, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (both born in the 1920s), are still with us today(2019), living grandsons of the 10th President of the United States.
Those unusual circumstances allow three generations of the Tyler family to span over 223 years!
A Bulldozer in the White House

A Bulldozer in the White House

The White House after the burning during the war of 1812

Building the White House

Construction of the White House began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792. Over the next century-and-a-half, it would face wartime destruction in the form of the British burning it during the war of 1812 and constant re-building.
The Lincoln White House

The wear and tear of it all!

There were hurried renovations and additions of new services and technologies. In 1927 a third floor was added. Elevators, electricity and central heat were added. Earlier systems that became obsolete, such as old water pipes, gas pipes for lights, and forced air heating ducts, were abandoned in place, adding significant weight to the building. All on inadequate foundations that caused the Executive Residence of the White House Complex to almost collapse.

Enter the Truman Family

When the Trumans moved into the executive mansion in 1945, they found it badly in need of repair.  Twelve years of neglect during the war, and the Depression depression before it had taken its toll.
The mansion’s creaking floors had been known to White House staff and First Families for many years. Government agencies had expressed concern about the condition of the building.
In a 1941 report from the Army Corps of Engineers warned of failing wood structure, crumbling masonry, and major fire hazards. The report was dismissed by then  President Roosevelt.
By 1947  Floors no longer merely creaked, they swayed.

Bureaucracy Delays

The Public Buildings Administration was asked to investigate the condition of the White House, but no action was taken until January 1948.
The commissioner of the Public Buildings Administration, which had responsibility for the White House, was attending a crowded reception at the White House’s Blue Room. He noticed the chandelier swaying over the crowd below. The next day he and the White House Architect conducted their own on-site investigation. They discovered split and gouged-out beams supporting the ceiling and second floor above.
He reported:  “that the beams are staying up there from force of habit only.” The number of occupants on the second floor was restricted, temporary fixes were made to some of the beams, and scaffolding-type supports were erected throughout the First Family’s second floor living quarters.
The president of the American Institute of Architects and the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers were asked to make a study of the situation. Their one-day investigation concluded with a report issued that same day which said the second-floor structure was a fire hazard and was in danger of collapse. They recommended that the second floor should be reconstructed as soon as possible, electricity use be cut to a minimum and that further investigations be undertaken.
Congress provided $50,000 for a more thorough investigation and additional engineers and other professionals were engaged from the private sector. Walls, ceilings, and floors were opened up to provide access to the investigators. It was estimated the cost or repair might be around $1 million dollars.
In June 1948 a leg of Margaret Truman’s piano crashed through the floor in her second floor sitting room and through the ceiling of the Family Dining Room below. This should have cause concern for immediate action, but that year was an election year and the president feared that news of the collapsing White House would provide an undesirable metaphor for his administration.
Blair House. The White House’s Guest House

Truman is Re-elected

Upon returning to the White House the day after winning the election, the president was informed that the Federal Works Agency was about to do what his political opponents could not: remove him from the White House.
The Truman family departed town. It took two weeks to empty the White House of all of the furnishings.  Furniture, staff and the First Family moved into the White House guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue.
By late 1948 three main options were considered for replacement of the White House:
– Demolish and rebuild the interior, keeping the exterior walls intact.
– Demolish the building entirely and construct a new executive mansion.
– Demolish the building entirely, salvage the exterior walls and rebuild them and a new interior.
They chose the first option.
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On December 13, 1949, construction work began on site.
The scope of the project involved the complete removal of the interior of the White House, except for the Third Floor, and included salvage and storage of critical interior elements, excavation of new basement levels, and construction of new foundations, steel and concrete structure, masonry interior walls with plaster finish and wood paneling, custom plaster moldings, refurbished and replacement windows, and new heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, and communications systems.

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Central Hall

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underground tunnels or sub-basement work

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The rooms of the State Floor were reconstructed with few significant changes. The Second Floor rooms were adjusted to provide built-in closets and additional bathrooms but otherwise were rebuilt largely as they had been. The Third Floor was expanded and the rooftop solarium replaced. Two new basement levels were added under the Ground Floor.

Project 9

The biggest change during construction was announced on August 1, 1950, when the president authorized a separate and highly secret project. Project 9 was officially described as “certain protective measures” to be added to the new basement: an underground shelter to resist attack from an atomic bomb.  Inside the mansion, a heavily reinforced concrete tunnel to connect the West and East Wings was added through the middle of the new basement, which complicated and delayed the main construction.
Suspected building of Project 9. Unconfirmed.

Moving Back

The First Family returned to the White House on the evening of March 27, 1952. It was ready for its residents, but the work was not complete. Deficiencies included the main kitchen not being operable in time for a state visit; some rooms without electrical outlets; drafty fireplaces rendering rooms unfit to sleep in; and kitchen sinks were found to be too small for the dinner service. Neither the Commission nor the president was content with the work of the general contractor.  The President wrote in his dairy “With all the trouble and worry it is worth it – but not 5 12 million dollars! if I could have had charge of the construction it would have been done for half the money and in half the time!
Hitler’s Sister

Hitler’s Sister

Paula Hitler

Paula Hitler

Not much mentioned in history, Paula Hitler was born in 1896 in Fischlham Austria and was 7 years younger than Adolf. By 11 years old, she had lost both parents.
In the early 1920s she was working as a housekeeper at a dormitory for Jewish university students and was visited by her brother there in 1921.
By 1930 her brother was become well know, and, by Paula’s own account, she lost her job with a Viennese insurance company when her employers found out who she was. Paula received financial support from her brother for the rest of his life.
During the war, she lived under the fictions surname Wolff, at Hitler’s insistence, for security purposes.
Paula Hitler (seated in car, front)

Relationship with Adolf

She was quoted as saying “The first time that my brother suggested my changing my name was at the Olympic Games in Garmisch. He wanted me to live under the name of Wolff, and maintain the strictest incognito. That was sufficient for me. From then on I kept this name. I added the Mrs. as I thought that less conspicuous.”
“From 1929 on I saw him once a year until 1941. We met once in Munich, once in Berlin, and once in Vienna. I met him in Vienna after 1938. His rapid rise in the world worried me. I must honestly confess that I would have preferred it if he had followed his original ambition and become an architect. It would have saved the world a lot of worries”
She spent most of the war as a secretary in a military hospital for much of World War II.
While there is some evidence to suggest that Paula believed in a nationalist Germany, she never joined the Nazi Party.
On Hitler’s death:
“The personal fate of my brother affected me very much. He was still my brother, no matter what happened. His end brought unspeakable sorrow to me, as his sister”


She was arrested by US intelligence officers in May 1945 and debriefed later that year.  A transcript shows one of the agents remarking she bore a physical resemblance to her brother. She told them that the Soviets had confiscated her house in Austria, that the Americans had confiscated her Vienna apartment, and that she was taking English lessons.
Eagle’s nest. Hitler’s mountain retreat

After the War

After Paula was released from American custody she returned to Vienna, where she worked in an arts and crafts shop.
On December 1, 1952, she moved to a two-room flat near Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountaintop retreat on the German-Austrian border, where she lived in seclusion and was looked after by former SS Officers and members of her brother’s inner circle. She lived under the last name of Wolf until her death on June 1, 1960.


Paula Hitler, never married or had children, and is buried in the Bergfriedhof in Berchtesgaden. She is the only member of the immediate family to carry the name Hitler on her tombstone.


Paula gave one interview during her lifetime. Here is part of it.


What happened to Theodosia of Hamilton fame?

What happened to Theodosia of Hamilton fame?

Theodosia Burr Alston

Theodosia Burr Alston immortalized in the musical Hamilton in a song which bears her name, was the daughter of Arron Burr, the former vice president. Her father had just gone through a trial for treason when the War of 1812 had broken out in June between the United States and Great Britain.

Theodosia was traveling north by ship. Her husband was sworn in as Governor of South Carolina on December 10. As Governor he was also head of the state militia and he could not accompany her. Her father sent a family friend Timothy Green, to travel with her instead.

A Schooner during the war of 1812

The Schooner Patriot

On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed from Georgetown, South Carolina aboard a schooner ship named Patriot. The Patriot was a famously fast sailer, It had originally been built as a pilot boat, and had served as a privateer during the War of 1812 when it was commissioned by the United States government to prey on English shipping. It had been refitted in December in Georgetown, its guns dismounted and hidden below decks. Its name was painted over and any hint of recent activity was completely erased. The schooner’s captain, William Overstocks, desired to make a rapid run to New York with his cargo; it is likely that the ship was laden with the proceeds from its privateering raids.

The Patriot and all those on board were never heard from again.

Then over the years, rumors started to come in about Theodosia.

The Bankers

One story which was considered somewhat credible was that the Patriot had fallen prey to the wreckers known as the Carolina “bankers.” The bankers populated the sandbank islands near Nags Head, North Carolina, pirating wrecks and murdering both passengers and crews. When the sea did not serve up wrecks for their plunder, they lured ships onto the shoals. On stormy nights the bankers would hobble a horse, tie a lantern around the animal’s neck, and walk it up and down the beach. Sailors at sea could not tell the difference the bobbing light they saw from that of a ship. Often they steered toward shore to find shelter and instead, became wrecked on the banks, after which their crews and passengers were murdered.


Writing in the newspaper Charleston News and Courier, Foster Haley claimed that documents he had discovered in the State archives in Mobile, Alabama, said that the Patriot had been captured by a pirate vessel captained by a John Howard Payne and that every person on board had been murdered by the pirates including “a woman who was obviously a noblewoman or a lady of high birth”. However, Haley never identified or cited the documents he had supposedly found.

Different Pirates

Another myth about her fate traces its origin to Charles Gayarré’s 1872 novel Fernando de Lemos: Truth and Fiction. Gayarré devoted one chapter to a supposed confession by the pirate Dominique Youx.
In Gayarre’s story, Youx admitted to having captured the Patriot after discovering it dismasted off Cape Hatteras following a storm. Youx and his men murdered the crew, while Theodosia was made to walk the plank: “She stepped on it and descended into the sea with graceful composure, as if she had been alighting from a carriage,” Gayarré wrote in Youx’s voice. “She sank, and rising again, she, with an indescribable smile of angelic sweetness, waved her hand to me as if she meant to say: ‘Farewell, and thanks again’; and then sank forever.”
Because Gayarré billed his novel as a mixture of “truth and fiction” there was popular speculation about whether his account of Youx’s confession might be real, and the story entered American folklore
Karankawa tribe

Shipwrecked in Texas

Perhaps the most interesting legend concerning Alston’s fate involves piracy and an Indian chief of the Karankawa tribe, which occupied an area in East Texas near present-day Galveston.
The earliest American settlers to the Gulf Coast testified of a Karankawa warrior wearing a gold locket inscribed “Theodosia.” He had claimed that after a terrible storm, he found a ship-wreck at the mouth of the San Bernard River. Hearing a faint cry, he boarded the hulk and found a white woman, naked except for the gold locket, chained to a bulkhead by her ankle.
The woman fainted on seeing the Karankawa warrior, and he managed to pull her free and carry her to the shore. When she revived she told him that she was the daughter of a great chief of the white men, who was misunderstood by his people and had to leave his country. She gave him the locket and told him that if he ever met white men he was to show them the locket and tell them the story  and then died in his arms.
The Nag’s head painting often identified as Theodosia

The Painting

In 1869, Dr. William G. Pool treated a Polly Manncaring, an elderly woman in Nag’s Head, North Carolina, and noticed an unusually expensive-appearing oil painting on her wall. Polly gave it to him as payment and claimed that when she was young, her first husband had discovered it on a wrecked ship during the War of 1812.

The doctor became convinced the portrait was of Theodosia and contacted members of her family, but there was little consensus because they had not actually met her, more than 50 years having passed.   Mary Alston Pringle, who had been Theodosia sister-in-law, was the only person contacted by Pool who had actually known her, and Mary could not recognize the painting as a portrait of her.

The unidentified “Nag’s Head Portrait” is now at the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut.

It is quite possible Theodosia simply was lost at sea, or it maybe that one of these stories is true, or something even stranger occured. We may never know.

When Booth Saved Lincoln

When Booth Saved Lincoln

John, Edwin, and Junius (Jr) in Julius Caesar

It is a well know fact that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. What is less know is that John had two brothers  Edwin and Junius. Edwin was a highly acclaimed actor, although his career suffered for a time after his brother’s crime.  This is a story about Edwin Booth and the president’s son Robert. The precise date of the incident is unsure, but it is believed to have taken place in late 1864 or early 1865 and took place on a train station platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Here is the story in Robert’s own words in a letter he wrote in  1909  to the editor of The Century Magazine, a Mr. Richard Watson Gilder.

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.

Edwin didn’t know until a few months later who it was that he saved. The fact that he had saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son was said to have been of some comfort to Edwin Booth following his brother’s assassination of the president.

Robert later went on to have a long government career including Ambassador to the UK, and Secretary of War.

Robert Todd Lincoln


Laura Ingalls Wilder The Real Little House on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder The Real Little House on the Prairie


Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was the author of many books about her childhood. Most Americans are familiar with her because of the very popular television show in the 1970s.

Changes to the Books and the Tv show

Whether you are a fan of the books or of the Tv, you should know that there were changes to both. Of course, Laura only had creative control over the books, but she did take a few liberties with the stories. Mostly she changed her age in some of the early books because her publisher didn’t believe a child of 4 would have such vivid memories of her childhood. She also omitted some time periods in her childhood, so that by the time the last books were published her book age caught up to her real age.

The changes to the Tv show were much more.

The family only lived in Walnut Grove a very short time

Walnut Grove - Laura Ingalls Wilder only lived here 3 years
Although the family lived in Walnut Grove through the entire television series, the real family spent less than 3 non-consecutive years there. Here is a list of all the places Laura Lived.
1867-Born in Wisconsin
1869-Moved to Missouri and to what would later become Kansas
1871-Back to Wisconsin
1874-Walnut Grove Minnesota
1874-Lake City, Minnesota
1874-South Troy Minnesota
1876-Burr Oak, Iowa
1877-Walnut Grove Minnesota
1879-Dakota Territory
1880-De Smet, South Dakota
1889-Married to Almonzo
1890-Spring Valley, Minnesota
1890-Westville, Florida
1892-De Smet, South Dakota
1894-1957 Mansfield Missouri
I found a fasicnating interactive timeline for Laura’s Wilders life here.


Laura Ingalls Wilder outlived all her Sisters

Laura was the second oldest child. She is pictured here in the middle with Mary on the right and Carrie on the left. Although all the sisters lived fairly long lives, she outlived Carrie by 11 years and her youngest sister Grace by 14 years.

The sisters were very close. Laura relied on her sisters’ memories for helping her to write stories of their youth.

Unlike her television counterpart, Mary never married. After their mother’s passing Grace and Carrie lived with Mary to care for her.

Why was Laura called Bess?

Just as on the tv show and books, She was called Bess by her husband Almanzo, whom she called Manly. The reason that he called her Bess, which was never revealed on the television show was that he had a sister named Laura, so her called her Bess, short for her middle name Elizabeth, to avoid confusion.

She didn’t enjoy teaching

A prairie schoolroom liked where Laura Ingalls Wilder would have taught

She admitted in later life that she did not particularly enjoy teaching but felt the responsibility from a young age to help her family financially, and wage-earning opportunities for women were limited. After she was married Almanzo, she stopped teaching.

She knew about cars, radio, and television!

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder lived a long time

Just the name Laura Ingalls stirs up of images of covered wagons and walking to school, and overnights trip to the town of Sleepyeye, which today by car is a 45-minute journey.
Her husband Almanzo was born a few years before the Civil War, and Laura just a few years after, but they both lived until their 90s. They both lived through World War 1, the Great Depression, and World War 2, and with all of the technologies of the day. Almanzo died in 1949 and Laura in 1957. So she even lived to see Rock and Roll! She just missed the launch of sputnik by a few months!
5 Things you never knew about the oval office

5 Things you never knew about the oval office

5 things you didn’t know about the oval office

The Oval Office has for generations been first in the mind when thinking about the presidency. Not only for its fancy trimming and allure of power, but for all the exciting times in movies and tv. Whether it is president Bartlett in the west wing or fighting off aliens in Independence day, the Oval Office grabs our attention. Here are some fast facts that you might not know about the world’s most famous office.

1.It wasn’t the first oval office

President William Howard Taft had the first Oval Office made. Completed in 1909, the office was centered on the south side of the of the building, in a different location from the present Oval Office. The walls were covered with vibrant green colored burlap. On Christmas Eve, 1929, during President Herbert Hoover’s administration, a fire severely damaged the West Wing, including the Oval Office. It was demolished in 1933.

2.It isn’t even really the 2nd Oval Office!

The Yellow Oval Room is an oval room located on the south side of the second floor in the White House, in the residence section of the White House. It has been used as a library, family parlor, and a reception room before a state dinner. However, Grover Cleveland, FDR, and Truman used it as a private office. John Adams held the first presidential reception ever in the White House in this room in 1801, while still under construction.

3. It all goes back to George Washington

In 1790, Washington built a large, two-story, semicircular addition to his office in President’s house, the forerunner of the White House. This created a half oval in which Washington would stand in the center. James Hoban, the architect of the White House, visited the room a month before winning the contract to design the White House.

4. Not the last!

Between movie sets, presidential libraries, and history enthusiasts the Oval Office is often copied. One of the most used movie sets was built for the 1993 movie DAVE. It was reused in 25 other movies and tv shows. It was so often unavailable that a second set had to be built.  Above is the replica at the Bill Clinton Presidential Library.

5.Not the only office the president uses.

Just down a short hall from the Oval Office is the president’s study. While the Oval Office is used for most official business, sometimes a president needs a private purely functional office that doesn’t have to receive visitors or serve a ceremonial function.