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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Branded Pastime

by Cliff Gillock

Vintage 1880s baseball.
Ask any one who invented baseball and if they have any answer at all, chances are they will mention Abner Doubleday and maybe Cooperstown, New York. After all, isn’t that the location of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum? Yes.

And no. 

For many years, Abner Doubleday was credited with having invented The Game out of whole cloth, right there at Cooperstown in 1839. The rest is history.

Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all.

Abner Doubleday was a U. S. Army officer who later distinguished himself at Gettysburg in the Civil War. In 1839, however, he was still a cadet at West Point. There is no evidence of his ever visiting Cooperstown in any capacity. He certainly had no time or inclination to “invent” a game or even witness such an event. It is not known if he ever saw a baseball game; it was popularized and spread by the soldiers playing during the war, so it’s possible.

So how did this enduring myth become the popular notion about the origin of the game? And what’s up with Cooperstown?

Until around 1905, little thought was given to baseball’s origin. By then a former player, manager, club owner and astute businessman had become a giant in the sporting goods business. Albert G. Spalding imagined, in a typically American way, that given the now popularity of baseball, it might be good for business if baseball could be shown to be a uniquely American game.

Spalding had for some time had a running conversation with an associate about the subject. The friend believed, correctly, that the game was not “invented” per se, but evolved from a number of stick-and-ball games such as Cricket and Rounders, and other games popular among boys in England.

Abner Doubleday
Spalding decided to settle the controversy once and for all. He organized a commission to investigate baseball’s origin. His opinion was somewhat skewed by some vague information he had received in a letter form an old, old man, a native of Cooperstown, who reminisced about memories of a schoolmate –Doubleday– who, the man claimed, had written and drawn up the game one afternoon right there in Cooperstown.

This scenario fit perfectly into Spalding’s plan, and with his encouragement (not to mention coercion) to the commission, it was determined that “according to the best evidence obtainable to date, baseball was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown.” Said and done.

Beginning well before the Civil War, baseball had been played in towns and cities, vacant lots, school yards, and streets all over America by boys, men, even girls according to their own local rules, which varied greatly.

Some time around 1842, baseball began to get organized. A group of young men in Manhattan began to gather regularly to form loose knit teams to play each other in one form of the game or another. Finally, in 1845, a young entrepreneur named Alexander Cartwright organized twenty-eight of these men to become the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club. The players came from many walks of life; their primary requirement was “to be at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon”.

Cartwright and some of his associates had endeavored to codify the rules of baseball to bring consistency to the way the game was to be played. Those rules became the basis of baseball as we know it and is played today.

Image of a game in the 1880s - notice no glove!
Now the game began to take hold. Scheduled games were now drawing sizable crowds. Even so, for many years in New York, baseball remained rigidly a gentleman’s game and strictly amateur.

But as the game spread it became decidedly less gentile and amateurism ultimately began to recede. In 1869, the first openly professional ball club took the field: the Cincinnati Red Stockings. With the realization that patrons would actually pay to see such a team the floodgates opened. American enterprise took charge. Baseball became our game…and our business.

Move ahead to 1936. The “100th Anniversary “ of baseball would be observed in three years.

In Cooperstown, a local resident thought an exhibition of a collection of baseball artifacts night generate some interest. After all Cooperstown had been “officially” declared the home of the “invention” of baseball by Abner Doubleday in 1839.

The idea took hold. With significant backing from wealthy local resources, it was decided to establish a National Baseball Museum “for the purpose of collecting and preserving pictures and relics reflecting the development of the National Game from the time of its inception, through the ingenuity of Major General Abner Doubleday in 1839 to the present.”

The first nine - first team ever.
Ford Frick, the president of the National League, expanded the idea: “create a permanent National Hall of Fame to be built and dedicated on the now recognized centennial of America’s Game.” A commission selected the first five members: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson.

Now The National Pastime–the brand, if you will–was secured. Through depression, wartime, good times and bad, baseball became inextricably woven into the fabric of American life. Even today, 177 years after Abner, it remains so.

Perhaps, at least on the professional level, baseball has been eclipsed by football and television and the spectacle of the Super Bowl. Even so, millions of children, from age six on, play baseball. Spectator attendance in sparkling state-of the-art stadiums is at an all-time high. Revenues are in the billions of dollars. It’s organized, polished and maybe overly supervised. But baseball is still a vital part of our lives. Part myth. Part legend.

And All-American.

References: Ken Burns Baseball-An Illustrated History
Baseball As America: Seeing ourselves through our National Game

Cliff Gillock is a prominent figure in the marcom world, having advised epic brands, including Exxon, Shell and Gulf Oil. He twice served as chair of the AAF-Houston President’s Council, won a national ADDY and received an AAF-Houston Silver Medal in 2007. Gillock was also a curator for the AAF-Houston legacy exhibit. Learn more about Cliff and other contributors on the Knights of the Round Table page.

Originally posted in 2015 as The American Game: How a myth became a legend, and then became a brand. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Brand that Sucks

The black cape; a thick, eastern European accent; one inch, needle sharp fangs, and a mad, hypnotic glare—unmistakably, these are elements of the look and feel of a horrifying medieval terror, the thief of souls, the Prince of Darkness ... Count Dracula.

Little about this character remains unwritten, unstudied, untold. Bram Stoker was not the first to write about vampires, nor will he be the last, but he was the first to tell the tale of Count Dracula, as well as develop specifics to the modern vampire brand. According to Stoker, Dracula is at the core of what the vampire brand is all about. And what he began with was not fantasy, but a very real character from history. His name was Prince Vlad III. Popular history knows him as Vlad the Impaler. He was a 15th-century Romanian general and, believe it or not, a once celebrated defender of the Christian faith against the invading forces of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The question is: how did a defender of the faith turn into a terrifying brand of the dark side?

Vlad was born in 1431, the son of Vlad II, a nobleman. Suffice it to say that Vlad's family lines were loaded with quality, homegrown blood from the Transylvania region, which is in today's Romania. Because his father was called, "Dracul," Vlad was called "Dracula," meaning "son of Dracul." According to David Johnson, who wrote an educational piece for titled, The Terrifying Truth About Dracula, both men were a part of the Order of the Dragon, a militaristic society of nobles with the expressed purpose of defeating anti-Christians, but mostly the Ottoman Turks.  Johnson writes, 
"Dracula" is Romanian for "son of Dracul." Therefore young Vlad was "son of the dragon" or "son of the devil." Scholars believe this was the beginning of the legend that Dracula was a vampire.
Johnson also writes that Dracula's life as a noble was not all bonbons and caviar. Indeed, his homeland lay between the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian-Hungarian Hapsburgs, meaning that political strain was always a thing, along with an irritatingly persistent threat of war, if not a state of war. Not so different than Caesar, Dracula found himself imprisoned more than once. The Turks humiliated him by hauling Dracula off in chains. And then again by the Hungarians, who murdered his father and blinded his brother before burying him alive.

Having your family slaughtered in gruesome fashion is not so much a justification, but at least some reasoning behind Vlad's transformation into a bloodthirsty ghoul on the battlefield. 

Dracula's preferred method of torture was to impale victims made up of political opponents or those captured on the battlefield, and leave them to slowly slide down a wooden spike in agony and without mercy, until they bled out—hence the nickname, "Vlad the impaler." Death often took days. The near dead and corpses were left on the spikes as birds pecked and tore at their rotting flesh. It was a ghastly site intended to have impact. And it did. Once a Turkish advance was thwarted because the foul stench was too much for the sultan.

Dracula's earthly rein over Transylvania lasted from 1448 until his death in 1476. Twice his rule was challenged and twice he reclaimed his throne. While the Vatican disapproved of his methods, it did praise Dracula for defending Christianity. And his methods were intense.

Now, things really start to take creepy shape with one report stating that Dracula ate a meal amidst hundreds of impaled victims, having actually dipped his bread in human blood. But the demonic brand transformation doesn't stop there. When the Turks defeated Dracula and his forces in 1476, they severed his head and displayed in Constantinople. His body was buried in a monastery near Bucharest. It was in 1931 that archaeologists rediscovered the site and found a casket, presumably Dracula's. Among the adornments of the skeleton, was a faded silk brocade, similar to a shirt depicted in an old painting of Dracula. But the kicker is this, those remains have since disappeared without a trace, leaving the whereabouts of Dracula unknown.

Much of this, except for Dracula's vanishing skeleton, weave into Stokers lore of the vampire. Count Dracula was very passionate about his warrior heritage, emotionally proclaiming his pride. And he was primal and predatory in his views, as you might expect the real Dracula to be, given the conditions in which he lived. It is interesting that Stoker writes Dracula as pitying of us ordinary humans for our revulsion of our darker impulses. Vlad certainly embraced dark methodology in his efforts.

There are some interesting ironies to the Dracula brand. One is that he can only be killed by decapitation preceded by impalement through the heart with a wooden stake. Dracula was decapitated, and perhaps it is symbolic that it is a wooden stake, an ode to Vlad's many impaled victims, that is needed to kill the demon. And then there is blood. All that Dracula needs to survive is fresh blood, which rejuvenates him, but isn't required frequently. 

Watch any Dracula or vampire horror flick and the vampire brand will quickly reveal itself. Indeed, I leave it to Abraham Van Helsing for detailing the attributes of Count Dracula, along with Buffy Summers and teams of others to wage their nocturnal wars against the Prince of Darkness and his horde.

Originally posted October 2015.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A cursed brand...

Boris Karloff as the mummified Imhotep in The Mummy (1932)
Tattered, moldy bandages, a partially decomposed body, hollow eye sockets, and a lipless, toothy face—along with a mindless stomp towards an almost primal goal—these are the hallmarks of the mummy. It is one of the original undead creatures that scare the bejeezus out of us. Actually, they’re very, very dead as all the vital organs of a mummy have been removed and its body drained of vital fluids. Even the brain has been drawn out through nasal passages. But Egyptian curses somehow enable the mummy to reanimate. And it is this nemesis of the Egyptian-dessert adventurer that has become a horrifying subject in novels and pulp fiction since the early decades of the 19th Century. Its brand enjoyed further reincarnation in the form of black and white horror films throughout the first half of the 20th Century. Then, as if called by chants from the Book of the Dead, the mummy brand reawakened due to the popularity of films like the Brendan Frasier Mummy series. The mummy brand is now called to rise with the 2017 The Mummy remake with Tom Cruise.

Imhotep reanimates in the 1999 version of The Mummy
The mummy’s initial service in the horror genre began with The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. This science fiction novel made mummies weird right from the start. Written in 1827, Jane C. Loudon added an odd twist, dropping an ancient mummy into the 22nd Century. It’s like a demented Buck Rogers. Of course, Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) did his part to stoke the horror perceptions of the gift-wrapped demons. Together with other storytellers, Loudon and Stoker built the foundations for mummy awareness. But what spurred fascination with these mindless, stomping corpses of the past?

Carter examining Tutankhamun's remains (1922)
Archaeologist Howard Carter and Pharaoh Tutankhamun partnered up in 1922 in a way that brought mummies to the forefront. Carter and his team discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. But the earned academic notoriety of the find was unraveled by the weird stuff that began to happen to Carter and his team. One of the first things was that Carter dispatched a messenger on an errand to his house. En route, the messenger believed he heard a faint human cry. Once inside Carter’s house, the messenger saw a birdcage with a cobra inside. Cobras symbolize Egyptian royalty, and the fact that it ate Carter’s canary just fanned the flames of local rumors about a curse. Creepy, yes, and it gets better.

Some members of Carter’s team suffered what were considered untimely or mysterious deaths. Lord Carnarvon was the first, having died from an infected mosquito bite. Just before this happened, a letter was published in a magazine that quoted an obscure book, stating that "dire punishment" follows any breach of a sealed tomb. The letter was largely ignored until Carnarvon’s death, and then the media went nuts, exaggerating the story with reports that a curse had been found in the Tutankhamun’s tomb. While untrue, more weird stuff happened, such as the home of Carter’s friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, twice burning down. The theory was that the fires were the result of Ingham having had a paperweight made of a mummified hand recovered from the tomb. An unfortunate personal tragedy, yes, but the reality is that only eight of the 58-team members died unusual deaths after opening Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Boris Karloff as Imhotep (1932)
Despite the lack of any real correlation to opening the pharaoh’s tomb, the story gave a budding Hollywood all kinds of inspiration, really sealing the brand awareness and attributes for mummies. And much of that is owed to an early 20th Century actor named Boris Karloff. He starred as Imhotep in the 1932 film The Mummy, which inspired the Frasier remake in 1999. Vintage movie fans talk about how Karloff really created the image and set the expectation for reanimated mummies well into today. The camera holds on Karloff, lying still in his crypt, then, an eye slowly opens. His hands begin to move with the resistance of a 3700-year slumber. It's barely a glimpse of the creature before the camera follows bandages dragged on the floor, as if they are trailing behind the lumbering zombie. In 1932, that could scare the hell out of an audience. This single portrayal led the way for a series of films featuring the immortal corpses. Audiences dug it, and still do—hence Tom Cruise willing to get behind a remake.

The reality of mummification was that it was designed to prepare the mortal body for the afterlife—not reanimation in this world. Additionally, it was an understandable extension of natural mummification that ancient Egyptians observed from the dessert conditions of their environment. They just built on it, adding tradition, custom and ceremony around it. In some cases there were curses, which were used to scare off grave robbers and tomb raiders seeking riches. Although, those curse really don’t distinguish thieves from archaeology. Still, curses didn’t involve mummies reanimating and stalking those who violated their resting place.

The realities of Egyptian culture aside, the use of mummies in the horror genre have wrapped the brand in a supernatural veneer, and preserved its ghoulish equity. Mummies are part of the pre-zombie, pre-slasher horror triad. Triggered by full moons, they rule the night with vampires and werewolves, challenging our courage and resolve when alone, sitting in front of a flickering screen, hearing the floorboards creak, and catching a faint, moldy scent in the room.

Originally published 2016

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Howling Brand

A rumbling growl, a musty odor of wet fur, piercing eyes that glow in the dark, and a thirst for blood that rivals even Dracula—these are the classic signs of ... the werewolf! By definition, a werewolf is simply a human that transforms into a wolf or wolf-like creature. Depending on the story told, the transformation can either be intentional or the result of a curse. Another name for this beast is lycan (short for lycanthrope), made popular in the modern horror genre. But werewolves are ancient—more ancient than vampires and at least as old as mummies. Indeed, ancient texts reveal very real beliefs in werewolves.

In Histories, written by the ancient historian Herodotus, are references to a Scythian tribe that morphed into werewolves once each year, changing back after a few days. The Greek geographer Pausanias mentioned the tale of Lycaon, a man transformed into a wolf because he had ritually murdered a child. The Roman poet, Ovid, also wrote of Lycaon in his epic, Metamorphoses. The wolf transformation was punishment for his crime. Ovid recounts other tales of men who roamed the woods of Greece in wolf form.

Lycaon transformed.
These and other works probably helped fuel the werewolf in European folklore, which ultimately crept over to the colonies. Now here's a an interesting nibble—belief in werewolves developed in parallel to the belief in witches sometime in the Middle Ages. Like the witchcraft trials, there were trials of supposed werewolves during 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Accusations of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf) were mixed with accusations of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. "Wolf-charming" sounds like something from the 2011 film, Red Riding Hood, in which Amanda Seyfried did a fair job smoothing the beast's fur. The film, however, well illustrates the paranoia of Medieval times.

One of the leading attributes of the werewolf is it's drive to transform during a full moon. For the most part, that is a 20th Century development, and likely one associated with the idea that wolves (or hounds in general) howl at the moon. The first movie to feature the transformative effect of the full moon was the The Wolf Man in 1941. The werewolf character was played by famed horror actor, Lon Chaney, Jr. This was the movie launching the werewolf into public awareness. Chaney's character is bitten by a beast. It is later revealed that the animal was actually a werewolf, causing Chaney to ultimately transform into a wolf at the first full moon. Indeed, throughout the movie, villagers recite the following poem:  
Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man (1941)
 Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his  prayers by night; May become a wolf when the  wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is  bright.
One of the common weaknesses of the werewolf, as everyone knows, is silver—particularly silver bullets. This actually appeared sometime during the 19th Century in German folklore. The idea was picked up by Bram Stoker in his Dracula and related works.

Werewolves were once tortured souls, unable to control their beastly tendencies or endured their condition due to being punished for some horrid offense. This theme was central to the 2004 film, Van Helsing. But in most contemporary werewolf renditions, however, they are malevolent, such as those in the novel The Howling and its subsequent sequels and film adaptations, along with the Underworld film series. Furthermore, werewolves go from being beastly-looking men to actually becoming four-legged monsters with uber-aggressiveness, super-human speed and strength, as well as accelerated healing.

What's the takeaway? Pack silver in your clip, along with raw steak and plenty of Milk-Bones.

Originally published Oct 2016.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The French Connection

Bastille Day (July 14, 1790) commemorates the flashpoint igniting the French Revolution. Located in Paris, France, the Bastille was a medieval fortress that served as both armory and prison for political dissidents. It represented royal authority and symbolized abuses by the monarchy. When the public thought Louis XVI had fired a representative of the people, Frenchmen revolted and stormed the Bastille, touching off a powder keg.

French politics of the era were complex—which is an understatement. France's future would have to navigate a tumult of foreign monarchial interests, Papal meddling, and noble family protectionism, all amidst a boil of conflicting anti-royal factions—some pro-Republican, others consisting of various sub-factions of moderates, constitutionalists, and labor interests. There were even fascist-like groups. Revolts dusted up even before the storming of the Bastille. But it was that moment historians mark as the beginning of the French Revolution, the outcome of which defines the country we know today.     

Dating back to ancient times, this region has contributed so much to history. Each of the entries below is either directly connected to France, or at the very least, a link with a detour. They explore the Celts, contributions to Christianity, global communications, and, of course, Napoleon.

Par conséquent, soumis pour votre approbation...

Horde of expectations − Celts and other unnamed hordes were beyond scary to ancient civilizations, they were petrifying. Even armies perceived them as wild-eyed, animal-like masses, seemingly unruly and hellbent on mauling victims. Yeah, these were the barbarians.

Brand everlasting − At the end of the Dark Ages we get Charlemagne. He played a significant role in Christianity and with it, united much of Europe. He did so by integrating a lot of "tribes" into his empire, while simultaneously integrating select pagan traditions into Christianity.

Forged by fire − Joan of Arc is perhaps the toughest woman in history. And if there is one heroine that burns in the psyche of western civilization, it would be her divine brand.

The Napoleon complex − Napoléon is a name imbued with no small amount of brand attributes. Both celebrated and criticized, he rose to power amidst the French Revolution, and so successful were his military campaigns that he became emperor in 1804—and held it until 1814. These entries below walk you through the evolution of the Napoléon brand.

     § A brand apart

     § Rise of the little corporal

     § The return of Caesar

     § Emperor of the republic

     § A complex Napoleon

A wing and a prayer  Something big started in 1851 when Paul Julius Reuter moved to Paris.

Baseball and the Rosetta Stone − What in Babe Ruth’s name does baseball have in common with France and an ancient stone bearing Egyptian and Greek text? Read and find out.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Lost Brand?

Earhart in the cockpit of her Electra
Note: this is an updated version of a previous entry from 2012. 

Efforts have long been underway to find the remnants of Amelia Earhart's plane, along with remains, or at least, evidence that she survived the crash on a small atoll in the south Pacific. Recent evidence has trickled up from the bowels of classified US archives. The History Channel will air a special at 9/8c on 9 July 2017. It will review the evidence shedding a shocking revelation that Earhart's fate may not have been what we thought.

But just who was Amelia Earhart? Why was her disappearance such a blow to the American public? Perhaps it was because she embodied the damsel in distress, despite being the bold, nonchalant tomboy that she was. Her whole brand was wrapped up and packaged in a fearless, freckle faced pioneer. Her story is haunting because her final fate, while widely speculated, is still fully unknown—and despite the narrowing of modern searches and tedious review of evidence. Her brand is one of tragedy rather than epic disaster like the Titanic.

Amelia Earhart is a mystery. And for that she remains in our memory—nagging us to leave a light on in the window with a candle of hope burning in our collective psyche.

Earhart caught the flying bug when she 10-years old. It was during a stunt-flying exhibition sometime around 1907, a moment when she stood fast as a pilot plunged his plane right at her. "I did not understand [the feeling] at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by." Her first flight wouldn't happen for over a decade. Pilot Frank Hawks took her up in 1920. Once two or three hundred feet off the ground, Earhart knew she had to fly, but it would take yet more time and effort, mixed with some luck, before she would take the stick. Convention of the day wasn't big on women pilots.

However, Earhart didn't hold with convention. She was a tree climbing, belly-slamming sledder and rat hunter, completely used to shocking the knickers off her contemporaries. Most certainly she had her sights set on plowing new ground for women because she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in male-oriented fields. Even more endearing is that Earhart never shirked her civic or humanitarian duties. During WWI, she left college in her sophomore year (c 1917) to work as a nurse's aide. And she later became a social worker in Boston.

But about a year after that first rush from that flight with Hawks, Earhart took a flying lesson. Six months after that, she had saved enough money to buy her first plane—a second-hand Kinner Airster biplane that was painted bright yellow. Naming it "Canary," Earhart used it to set her first women's record by reaching an altitude of 14,000 feet. And in 1923 she became only the 16th woman to earn a pilot license.

Earhart's early flying efforts did not blanket her with glamour. In fact they were quite the reverse. Conditions for a woman in the early days of flying were less than luxurious or convenient, and the training was hard work. Still, this is where Earhart began her branding transformation. Very aware that male aviators would judge her, she began to cultivate her look with a simple act of sleeping in a brand new leather jacket to give it some wear. She also short-cropped her hair like other female flyers.  

Amelia Earhart
Things got tough for Earhart's career in 1923. Her family fortune had been lost, so she worked in jobs outside her preferred career to earn a living and save money. She managed to stay involved in aviation, but nothing significant. Then, on a spring afternoon in 1928, Earhart got a call from George P. Putnam. His simple question was if she'd like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Earhart's answer was equally simple and succinct. "Yes!"

Putnam hooked her up with pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. And the team flew a Fokker F7 from Newfoundland to Wales in June of 1928. It was a 21-hour flight. And as a publisher and publicist, Putnam was in a position to generate press for Earhart, making her a star. The landmark flight to Wales made headlines worldwide. Three women had died on previous attempts to be that first woman. So on their return to the United States, the team was received with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

The trip might seem like no big deal now. Dozens of flights depart each day around the world for destinations 21 hours away. But remember that when Earhart and the team made this flight, the Wright Brothers had only first pushed the Kitty Hawk aloft just 25 years earlier.

All the fanfare launched Earhart into the limelight and she became an instant celebrity. Endorsement deals rolled in and earned more than enough money to fund her flying. It also opened the door to her teaming up with the likes of Charles Lindbergh to promote commercial air travel, a ground floor opportunity for investment in a developing TWA, and to serving as VP of what would become Northeast Airlines

The stars aligned for Earhart and her career took off. She became the first woman, and only the second person, to solo across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was the first. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and broke major ground for women in her field. From there, she cruised into the history books by breaking records all along the way. But it was where she was headed next that sealed her immortal fate in the public heart.

Earhart with her Lockheed Electra.
Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Period. She had tried once before and tore up her signature plane, the twin engine Lockheed Electra. Earhart said of this effort, "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it." On June 1st, in her rebuilt Electra, she and navigator Fred Noonan left Miami on the first leg of a 29,000-mile air trek. Within a month they had 22,000 behind them, and the world was watching. Most people never knew that bad maps dogged the navigation effort for Noonan. That made the next leg even trickier. It was Howland Island—a sliver of dry land on the Pacific Ocean about a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide.

After eight hours in the air, the Earhart team was frantically looking for their target. One of her final transmissions to a US Coast Guard ship tracking her was, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." After 8:45 pm on 2 July 1937, nothing more.


The world loved her for her audacity to attempt what few, if any women or even men had dared. She courted danger with a quiet resolve and a forced smile. She wasn't into the publicity, but it came with her achievements, and her ties to Putnam. Suddenly Amelia was gone—but where? What happened and why? Even after an exhaustive $4 million dollar and 250,000 square mile search, there was no trace, nothing but a sudden emptiness that drives our continued longing for Amelia Earhart.

Side Bar: Amelia was the most famous, but there other women who pierced the fog of early women's flying successes. Follow the links below to get introduced to them.

Bessie Coleman
Matilde E. Moisant
Harriet Quimby
So many more...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads in History

Father's Day commemorates fathers and the roles they play in our lives. Let's take that one step further and look at some dads from history. Some played substantial roles impacting the course of history. And at least one son carved out a place in history because of a blood oath to his father.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

Hannibal kicked butt! - Honoring a blood oath to his father, Hannibal terrorized Rome and its armies for more than 20 years. He surprised the hell out of them by crossing the Alps with a full army. And while he lost half of it, Hannibal took the rest and vexed Roman consuls for generations. Read about this very clever son and how he would have made Dad proud.

Caesar - Julius Caesar was the father of Rome's imperial expansion. He is the progenitor of the expression, Caesar. He was a dad, too. Just ask Cleopatra, although junior never reached adulthood—the successor to Julius saw to that. Find out what made Caesar such a incisive figure in his day.

Genghis Khan - Now he was an interesting father. He came, he saw, he kicked real butt across Asia and left so much of his DNA, it still weaves itself through 1 in 200 men to this day. That's prolific. Learn what made Khan such an imposing force.

George Washington - Washington is the father of our nation. He commanded the ragtag forces that won freedom and independence for America, and he was courageous enough to accept being the first elected leader of the Great Experiment.

Napoleon - He is the French Connection—the one who gave France a legacy that even today is prolific. He is responsible for the Napoleonic Code, the dominance of French culture throughout Europe in his day, as well as the one who helped draw the North American map with the Louisiana Purchase. He is also the root of French/English vexations for the past two centuries. Well, not the root but certainly a significant stump. He also dominates several posts from this year.

Sam Houston - General Sam Houston is the father of the Republic of Texas, and later the State of Texas. He was a dad, too. And both his family and historic legacies remains to this day. Find out why he is such a unique man.

Abraham Lincoln - He kept the proverbial "family" together through very dark times. Some of that darkness included the death of his own son. But this resilient and steadfast man never backed away from a challenge and, indeed, used a stern hand in dealing with the Civil War, but also had the compassion for defeated South to "let 'em up easy."

Teddy Roosevelt - He may well have been the father of 20th Century politics and the man who rang in the American Century. His politics were straightforward, just as his personality. And he was a beloved father. This is the first in a series worth reading abut this formidable figure.

A new deal - FDR was a father figure to a nation, and perhaps the world, in the years following the Great Depression, as well as the during America's early years in World War II. This entry is the first in a series on this impactive leader.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Complex Napoleon

Editor’s note: This entry is the fifth and final in a series on Napoleon I. BIH recommends first reading the previous entries, A brand apart, Rise of the little corporal, The return of Caesar and Emperor of the Republic. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

Despite his victories as well as his popularity with the masses and much of Europe, things never really settled down for Napoleon. Royalist and competing republican factions persisted with assassination plots. The one sparking a massive coalition against Napoleon involved the Bourbons, a well-entrenched royal family from the 13th century. It had strong ties throughout Europe. The problem for Napoleon was that he tried and executed a Bourbon duke that had nothing to do with the plot, and royal courts all over Europe consequently went ballistic, resolving to stop the French dictator.
Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David in 1804.
Napoleon used these uncovered plots to bolster his power. Ultimately he was made Emperor of France by constitutional referendum, and his coronation took place in 1804. At that very moment he fully and finally sealed his abandonment of the anti-monarch morality he had when the revolution started. This undermined all his efforts because he himself became a monarch, which, ironically, he'd fought against for almost 15 years.

The Napoleon story we know
Now it was on. By 1805, Napoleon had vexed just about everyone around him, and as far off as Russia. A root coalition began forming led by Britain and Russia. They would be at the core of no less than six coalitions formed for the next 9 years with the singular purpose of defeating Napoleon and the advancement of his French empire. The beginning of the end came in the summer of 1812 with the invasion of Russia. Most know the story from there—that Russia drew the Napoleon in deeper and deeper into its territory, until the Russian winter overcame Napoleons strategic abilities. It didn't hurt that the Russians' scorched-earth strategy severely hindered the French ability to resupply.

Battle of Waterloo by Clément-Auguste Andrieux (1852).
The Grand Army was no longer so grand, so the Allies began to press against French forces. By April of 1814, Emperor Napoleon abdicated. Next came his first exile to the island of Elba. Although he around ten months later and led an uprising, the British suppressed it at Battle of Waterloo. They held Napoleon on the south Atlantic island of Saint Helena until his death six years later. 

Ego and brand overshadow a legacy

Napoleon's influence on the western world is more extensive than may realize. His reforms included the Napoleonic Code, which remains a significant legal basis for as many as 70 nations. It set out the structures for meritocracy, secular education, sound state finances, and even religious toleration. This code essentially ended rural and feudal banditry, as well as encouraged science and art. It gave the French state, and by extension through conquest, much of Europe the foundation for running a modern state.

Among his other "good deeds," Napoleon welcomed Jews and non-Catholics in the French state. Indeed, he expanded their rights to property and careers. He ignored anti-Semitic reaction from foreign governments and within France, believing religious reform benefited France. Napoleon believed religion was a force for social stability. Although he instituted secular education, he left some primary education in the hands of religious orders. All students were taught the sciences along with modern and classical languages. Unlike the system during the old regimes, religious topics did not dominate the curriculum, although they were present with the teachers from the clergy. 

Napoleon helped shape much of Europe, helping consolidate many fractious territories into nations, such as the 300 regions of Germany merging into fewer than 50, helping set up German Unification in the late 19th century. His sale of the Louisiana territory to the United States during Thomas Jefferson's presidency nearly doubled the size of the young democracy.

So how do you sum up Napoleon? Reformer. Revolutionary. Strategist. Visionary. But you also have to acknowledge that he was quite an ego and, well, ultimately overambitious. Each of the things he was and the legacies he left can only be titrated into a single phrase—Napoleon, a brand apart. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Honor is to Serve

"The honor is to serve..." That's a Klingon saying. And while from a fictitious character, it nicely sums up the spirit of the men and women who serve in our armed forces—and very much those who have sacrificed in the defense of our nation. BIH highlights those who've honored a nation by their service. These entries highlight just a few instances that we should recall on Memorial Day.

George Washington - No lie—George Washington was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did he serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought.

Flying Tigers - These were the tough guys, the streetfighers of World War II. They came, they saw, they kicked butt and chewed bubblegum.

Living in Infamy - Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for the United States of America. Reminiscent of Hannibal's defeat of Rome at Cannae, Japan made the same errors and let loose a sleeping giant.

Just a little bigger - Abraham Lincoln was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through a divisive war. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Red Tails - To squadrons of bomber crews gritting it out in the skies over Europe, the Red Tails were angels on their shoulders. This is "Pure-D" American, and it showed that absolutely no color mattered except one—Red.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Branded Devotion

Faith is a belief, a trust, and a confidence in something not necessarily empirically provable. In this particular case faith is about God, however one may see their creator, assuming one believes in a creative intelligence that is behind the existence of the universe. Some will cringe at this statement, but faith is the ultimate in brand loyalty. Most faithful worship “in the faith of their fathers.” Some break away to join other religions or communities because of disillusionment with their inherited religion, or because of stronger attributes of another. Regardless of the faith, however, devotion to such can a powerful force. It has been known to give profound inspiration and courage to do great deeds. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, Abraham had whole and complete faith in his Lord—shaken sometimes, yes. But his faith helped him overcome fear and doubt. The biblical heroes, Noah, Moses and David owe their successes and deeds to their faith in God. Later, Constantine, Joan of Arch, and Charlemagne would depend on their faith to help them overcome great struggles—militarily, politically and personally. More recent deeds of astounding compassion are recorded about those who work for the unfortunate—Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and other missionaries across the globe.

Spiritual inspiration and extraordinary deeds akin to King David are not exclusive to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Alexander believed he was the son of Zeus. Genghis Khan believed his very name was of divine authority—translated it means God’s punisher. There are the hero epics in the Hindu faith, and also the great epics of King Gesar in Buddhism. And, of course, Islam would lead off with Muhammad.

Acts of compassion, defending the faith from hordes of non-believers, building a great community for God—all of these things in our history, good and bad, come from faith. Humans, it seems, take great strength from the powers of Heaven. So for this installment, we assemble a number of posts that would not exist, were it not for a powerful inspiration from above.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

A goliath brand - David is an epic figure in the Judeo-Christian tradition. He is the ultimate representation of the victorious little guy, underdog, runt of the litter. And he was a huge headache to the Philistines. So influential was Davis, that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have a claim on him. 

Brand everlasting - At the core of the Christian brand is Christ himself, Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God. Christians profess their faith that Jesus was born of a virgin, died for the forgiveness of human sin, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven to later return for judgment day. Those are strong attributes—meaningful to the faithful then and now. And while being born of a virgin is not unique in the history of religious faiths, unlike many other children of the gods, however, this Son of God brought quite a different message—reinforced with an unusual sacrifice.

Forged by fire - No where in history is the power of faith more demonstrable than in Joan of Arc. She was hip deep in a man's world—and and her faith and inspiration from God added to her inherent intelligence and strength of character, allowing her to be a child woman that commanded armies to victory. Joan of Arc is a heroine that burns in the psyche of western civilization as a divine brand brand if there ever was one.

The lady with the lamp - Florence Nightingale lit the way for the entire modern discipline of nursing by creating the world's first secular nursing school in 1860. In doing so, Nightingale embedded herself in western culture as the conjured image of a gentle, concerned and dedicated caregiver. And it was Nightingale's deep belief in God that led her to nursing. And what nurse she was.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Emperor of the republic

Editor’s note: This entry is the fourth in a series on Napoleon. BIH recommends reading the previous entries, A brand apartRise of the little corporal, and The return of Caesar prior to this one. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

Napoléon as first consul, J. A. Ingres 1804.
Napoleon was anything but stupid. He knew that being dictator, while not in name but in position due to the Constitution of Year VIII, was completely dependent on the support of the masses. After all, the whole reason he was leading France was because of an uprising against the monarchy eight years earlier. Indeed, Napoleon started out as a republican supporter. Just because he was "First Consul" didn't mean that, in effect, one monarchy hadn't replaced another. Caution was a watchword for Napoleon. What he needed was French unity, and either real or imagined would do.

One political strategy Napoleon resorted to was holding regular elections with the French people. If there was a big question or issue, he essentially polled the French electorate. That's how he ratified the new constitution, although there were shenanigans with vote tallies. It's pretty well known that Napoleon's brother, Lucien, adjusted the returns doubling the actual vote to 3 million people having cast ballots when half that was more likely.

Keep in mind that while France was trying to heal herself from eight years of revolution, not to mention substantial interference from outside monarchies, the rest of Europe remained at war throughout 1800. What's more, by invading and occupying Italy, Austria reneged on the treaty it negotiated with Napoleon a few years earlier. As a result, Napoleon led his troops across the Alps into Italy.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1912
Marching an army over the Alps is not easy. The mountain range is very rugged, cold, and altogether inhospitable to an army on foot. Hannibal Barca knew this from his crossing a few thousand years ago, losing nearly half his men in the effort. But he had Celts ambushing him, adding to losses from the cold. Napoleon had no such problem. So while difficult, Napoleon and his troops managed to enter the plains of northern Italy—surprisingly unopposed by Austrian elements. The Austrian expedition into Italy, it seemed, hit snag even before Napoleon arrived.

There was a French army element stationed in Genoa, a city on the western coast of where Italy meets the European mainland. The French contingent in Genoa occupied the attention of Austrian forces, giving Napoleon time to get into Italy. It didn't take long for the two sides to find and engage each other. Actually, Austrian forces surprised the French, and while effective at first, the tide turned to Napoleon's favor. It's no wonder. He made sure his lines never broke, even during tactical retreats. Napoleon would ride among his troops, inspiring them to stand and fight. And then there was Napoleon's expert use of artillery, which had its intended impact. By the end of the action, Austria was down 14,000 casualties and had agreed to once again leave Italy.

The fly in the peace ointment was that the whole confrontation in Italy did little to settle the territorial dispute with Austria. Apparently Britain was the fly, conspiring with Austrians against the French. As a result, Napoleon decided hit Austria hard, plowing through Bavaria and securing a firm victory by December 1800. Two months later, he forced Austria to sign a treaty that, in effect, left Britain standing alone in a war with France. And within a year of that, Britain agreed to a treaty. By the spring of 1802, Europe was finally at peace.

Big victories have a habit of making leaders very popular, and Napoleon's win against Austria (again) made him even more so. Add to that the treaty between France and Britain, and Napoleon earned unprecedented popularity, not just among his own people, but also Europeans in general. The fighting was over. In 1802, the French people overwhelmingly voted to approve another constitution that made the Consulate permanent, and essentially making Napoleon dictator for life. But things wouldn't stay calm for long.

Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David in 1804.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Return of Caesar

Editor’s note: This entry is the third in a series on Napoleon. BIH recommends reading the previous entries, A brand apart and Rise of the little corporal prior to this one. They review the origin story of the young Napoleon, and then explore his development as a leader and strategist.

In ancient times, conquerors like Julius Caesar made it a point to extract funds and treasure from conquered lands, sending them back home. Napoleon was no different, making sure to top off France's coffers with millions in funds (adjusted for modern USD), and seized art treasures for her cultural enrichment. This swelled his popularity, particularly in Paris. Add to that the coup he orchestrated in 1797, and Napoleon was the "it" guy in French republican politics. Interestingly, he still wasn't the head guy. But he was the hero of France.

Napoleon helped vanquish all but one of France's immediate adversaries—Great Britain—the one he knew France still wasn't quite ready to take on. That was because the British Royal Navy was formidable, not just in terms of fleet size, but also experience and leadership. He needed time cogitate on Britain. So, again emulating Caesar, Napoleon took a couple of months off to invade Egypt, although there was a hidden, British-related agenda.

Seizing Egypt would severely inhibit Britain's access to near-east trade interests. It would also give France a foothold in the Middle East, enabling France to cozy up to one of Britain's enemies. A Muslim sultan in India did not like the British crown, which he demonstrated by firing rockets at British forces. It's not hard to imagine that Napoleon was delighted with the idea of Englishmen on the run. Based on the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, he concocted the plan to conquer Egypt. Once he did so, he would establish relations with Indian leaders in order to team up against Britain.

Battle of the Pyramids on 21 July 1798 by
Louis-François, Baron Lejeune, 1808

Britain was not ignorant of Napoleon's intentions. Consequently, ships of the Royal Navy were deployed to find Napoleon and stop him. Fortune favored Napoleon as he managed to elude the British and he arrived at Alexandria on the 1st of July, 1798. Immediately the French clashed with the Egyptians. At the start of hostilities, French and Egyptian forces were close in terms of strength—about 25,000 each. But losses would separate the two. The Egyptians lost around 2000 compared to a hair over two dozen for the French. This made the French a bit cocky, although not for long.

Right when things looked up for Napoleon and his Army, Lord Nelson commanded the fleet that obliterated all but two of Napoleon's ships. This suspended efforts to reinforce French strength in the Mediterranean. Yes, there was the French foothold in Egypt, but it wasn't firm. The Egyptians weren't particularly welcoming to occupation. Still, Napoleon had the bright idea of spreading the love. He led a 13,000-man element along the coasts of what are now Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Nearly half the army was lost to combat or disease. This whole endeavor was less than successful, so he retreated to Egypt. To speed things up, he ordered plague-stricken men poisoned with opium—a number estimated as high as 580.

Napoleon wasn't alone in failure. Throughout 1799, France suffered a series of defeats from a revived coalition of European monarchs. And it hastened his return. Although Napoleon hadn't received orders to come home, luckily, the Directory had sent them. They just never reached him. When Napoleon reached Paris in the fall of 1799, France's situation improved from a few late victories. Unfortunately the Republic was broke. Further, the Directory became pretty ineffective and lost the support of the French. There was only one place turn.

Napoleon surrounded by members of the Council of
Five Hundred during the Coup, by François Bouchot.
Despite his failures in Egypt, Napoleon returned a hero. It enabled him to cobble together an alliance that included leaders from the Directory and Napoleon's brother, Lucien, who was then speaker of the one house of the legislature, and others. They formed a cadre that overthrew the Directory and dissolved the legislature. As a result of the coup, Napoleon became one of three consuls, and he was designated "first consul" for ten years. This arrangement was very, very similar to the First Triumvirate, formed by the partnership of the three most powerful men in Rome—Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Only in the case of the consuls, Napoleon held all the power. The other two consuls, whom he appointed, had only advisory roles. It was then that the "Constitution of the Year VIII" (VIII indicating the year of the Revolution), was edited by Napoleon and ratified by popular vote. Any resemblance to a republic given by the constitution was an illusion. Napoleon's revisions established his dictatorship.


In 1798, Napoleon was granted membership into the French Academy of Sciences. During his excursion to Egypt in May of the same year, he was joined by a large group of 167 mathematicians, naturalists, chemists, and others. The most noted of their discoveries was the Rosetta Stone. It is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The two upper groups of text contain ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and using and Demotic script (a written evolution of hieroglyphs to script), and the lower version is ancient Greek. Since the decree is the same in each version, the stone is the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Celebrating a Really Big Brand!

Texas! The very sound of that word evokes an expectation. And packed within those five letters and two syllables is, well, a Texas-sized brand that calls to mind cowboys, longhorn cattle, oil, and football; a history of epic struggles among tribes of Indians, between many of those tribes and ranchers, oppressors versus visionaries, and whole communities against the worst nature could throw at them. All of it across a landscape so vast it slowly morphs from subtropical jungle to the tail end of the Rocky Mountains, from high plains to coastal prairie. Only one word can rustle up all that into one succinct package—Texas!

Every realtor on the planet will tell you success begins with one simple principle—location, location, and location. And, brother, Texas has all three, driving its very history almost to a point of predestination. Within its almost 270,000 square miles roams bountiful game, lies fertile land, flows crystal clear water, much-needed and valuable minerals, as well as other resources that have attracted people since deep into the pre-Colombian eras.
Essentially, Texas has almost everything anyone could want or need—but it's not for weenies. Texas can be so hot you boil in your own sweat, or bone chillingly cold. And then there are storms so wild as to shake the pillars of Heaven. 

Geographic location is only part of the story. If you're born in Texas you get it. And if you live there long enough, you'll get it. Texas becomes an attitude, the root of which comes from her tumultuous modern evolution. Unlike any other state in the Union, she is unique in stories of her very own independence. There were Dictator Santa Anna's signature slaughters of rebels at places like Gonzales, Goliad and, most notorious, the Alamo. But finally there was Sam Houston's resolve and swift victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. That moment 177 years ago today would forever carve out a legend known the world over, and that legend was the Republic of Texas. She began as a nation that stood alone and proud for almost a decade before joining the United States. That's how Texas became known as the Lone Star State. 

Houston, Bowie, Travis, Fannin, Seguin, Esparza, and Menchaca—these men inspire notions of toughness and grit. Texans hold very, very dear such examples of independent spirit, bootstrap determination and self-reliance. It is this spirit that infects anyone who lives in Texas long enough.

Some might say those were embellished tales of heroism. No one would say that about survivors of the 1900 storm. It wiped Galveston off the face the map and obliterated more than 6000 souls from the Earth in a single night. No FEMA, no insurance, no one but other
Texans to come to their aid. Even so, these people endured an aftermath of death and destruction that made Katrina in New Orleans look like an overflowing bayou. Galvestonians stayed to rebuild their battered town, raising it 15 feet with dirt, wood scaffolding, and sweat. 

In World War II, cities dismantled their trolley tracks and lopped off street light spires to collect metal for the war machine. An entire home front rallied and sacrificed so soldiers would have all the resources with which to fight. And of the Texans who once more marched off to fight for freedom, distinguishing their state were men like Doris Miller, Audie Murphy, David Lee "Tex" Hill, and Chester Nimitz.

During the early 80s, Texas suffered profound economic hits from the price collapse of petroleum. The city of Houston was labeled as a shining example of the state's overbearing self-perceptions. That’s because the state’s population bulged during the 70s as Midwesterners flooded into to Texas, and Houston in particular, looking for blue collar jobs to replace the ones lost in the auto industry retool. They split within months of the oil bust, leaving overbuilt cities. It was left to real Texans to rebuild an economy. Even in the current economic doldrums, Texas has persevered and held tightly to a pretty decent economy. 

While Texas is tough, it's also known as the "Friendly State." And nothing proves it more than Katrina. Hordes of refugees from New Orleans and place all across southern Louisiana were welcomed to Houston, Dallas and other cities throughout the state. The world watched as the Lone Star State opened its arms, its homes, its hearts, and its wallets to help those fleeing a superstorm. 

Since her birth, many people have called Texas home—native tribes, Tejanos, Germans, Vietnamese, Chinese, and everything in between. Yep, even Italians—as a matter of fact there was a helluva Mafia back in the day. It's still around, but a faded shadow compared to when the Texas Rangers stormed Maceo Brothers' Balinese Room in Galveston. 
What brings people to Texas is not just opportunity. It's also the anything is possible mentality. 

All these things make up a wild and woolly brand we call Texas. There is no other place like it. Love it or hate it, when someone says the word Texas, it sends a jolt between your ears generating a vision of something no other brand can.

Happy Birthday to the great and sovereign state of Texas!