Posts by Geri Walton

Edwin Landseer: British Painter of Animals

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, known as Edwin Landseer, was a British artist well known for his animal portraits of horses, dogs, and stags. He was born in London to John Landseer (an engraver) and Jane Potts on 7 March 1802. It was reported that the young Landseer could draw animals from childhood and that he…

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Soapy Smith and His Frontier Scams

Con artist Jefferson Randolph Smith II, aka Soapy Smith, gained notoriety with his “prize soap racket.” Under a gasoline flare he would sell bars of soap at night. However, to increase sales, he hid $5.00, $10.00, and $50.00 bills in some of the soap packages as prospective customers watched. Like other con men, the soap…

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Justice John Byles: Some of His Interesting Court Cases

Justice John Byles studied law in Britain in the 1820s and 30s and became a member of the Inner Temple, a professional body that provides legal training, selection, and regulation of its members. The Inner Temple was also one of the four inns of the court and to be called to practice as a barrister…

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Jailhouse Romance of August Spies and Nina Van Zandt

A jailhouse romance between the convicted August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, an attractive, well-educated 24-year-old, made front page news in the 1880s. Spies was one of the anarchists found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder after a bombing attack happened on 4 May 1886 at Chicago’s Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois. The event became…

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Ether: Early Anesthesia and Its First Uses

By the late 1830s, public gatherings referred to as “ether frolics” were being held by wandering lecturers. These gatherings involved audience members inhaling diethyl ether, who then entertained audience members by demonstrating the mind-altering properties of these agents. The idea of “ether frolics” originated with Humphry Davy, who had experimented with an ether like substance…

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Canada Bill: William Jones Confidence Artist

Chances are you even if you’ve heard of Wild Bill Hickok or Buffalo Bill, you haven’t heard of Canada Bill. He wasn’t famous like either of those Bills rather he was infamous because he was considered king of the confidence artists in the 1800s. Canada Bill operated in Canada and the U.S. and was described…

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Catherine Wilson: British Poisoner and Serial Killer

Catherine Wilson was a nineteenth-century nurse who poisoned her victims after encouraging them to change their wills in her favor. Although she was only convicted of one murder, it was generally thought at the time that she killed at least six other victims. Moreover, the sentencing judge, Justice John Barnard Byles, alleged that her counsel…

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The Largest Slave Auction in U.S. History

The story of America’s largest slave auction involves Pierce Mease who was born to Sarah Butler. Her father was Pierce Butler, an Irish-American, South Carolina rice planter, slaveholder, politician, an officer in the American Revolutionary War. He also served as a state legislator, member of Congress of the confederation, 1787 Constitutional delegate, and member of…

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Lightfoot Brothers: The 1840 Murder of Nevell Norway

The Lightfoot brothers (23-year-old James and 36-year-old William) were both born in the Parish of St. Breock to John Lightfoot and Elizabeth Penaligon. As adults, James and William worked long hours. James maintained that he and William were working in Pencarrow Wood when a man suggested they could “enrich” themselves in a much easier way…

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Tarring and Feathering Attacks in America

Although the phrase tarring and feathering appears to have originated just prior to the American Revolution, the practice was much older having first happened in Europe. One of the earliest reports of it occurring was in 1189 during the time of the English King Richard the Lion-Hearted. Laws and regulations had been drawn up in…

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