The Terrible Cherry Hill Mine Disaster

Due to an electrical outage, the nearly 500 workers in the coal mine in Cherry, Illinois on November 13, 1909 had to light kerosene lanterns and torches. One caught fire to a cart full of hay for the mules, which quickly spread when workers used a large fan to try to blow it out. Two shafts were closed off to stop the fire, which also suffocated many of the surviving miners. When they were finally able to reach the shaft, rescuers found “a group of some ten bodies, one in the center in the attitude of prayer. From there on the sights were horrifying. . . and the stench as such as to tax the strength of the rescuers.”




Deep in the shaft, twenty-one men built a wall to protect themselves from the fire and poisonous gasses. Certain of death, they wrote farewell notes to their loved ones. George Eddy wrote his wife and children, ‘I write these few lines to you and I think it will be for the last time. I have tried to get out twice, but was driven back. . . Lizzie, if I am found dead take me to bury me in Streator and move back. Keep Esther and Jenny and Clarence together as much as you can. I hope they will not forget their father, so I will bid you all good-by, and. God bless you all.”  They managed to survive eight days drinking from water than leaked from a coal seam until they were miraculously rescued. In total, 259 men and boys as young as 10 died, making is the third most deadly mining disaster in history.



Posted in disasters, fire

The Criminal Cop

Charles Becker’s life changed in July 1911. Before then, the New York City policeman had worked a few cases that brought him some renown. But then he was assigned to head up one of three Special Squads, which a newspaper described as groups of tough cops whose job it was to “travel about the City and hand out generous doses of strong-arm medicine to any and all who show unmistakable signs of being in need of it.”

The squad’s exploits, and Becker’s in particular, became a favorite topic of newspapers like the New York Times, which described Becker as “standing over six feet in his socks, tipping the scale at over 200 pounds, broad-shouldered, with the eyes, jaw, and fists of a fighter.” He reveled in the limelight, hiring a press agent to help get his story told.


Charles Becker, center

Becker also found that his position enabled him to make piles of money offering “protection” to illegal businesses in the shady section of the City known as Satan’s Circus. Although Becker only earned a salary of only $2,000 a year, it’s estimated he pocketed close to $10,000 a month in bribes. In his dirty dealings, he ended up in business with gambler Herman Rosenthal. When Rosenthal’s illegal casino was raided after he had paid protection, he went to the newspapers with tales of Becker and his associates criminal activity. Two days later, on July 16, 1912, Rosenthal was gunned down in the street.


Baldy Jack Rose, who testified against Becker

While Becker was nowhere near the site of the murder, the men charged with the shooting claimed that Becker had arranged to have Rosenthal killed. Becker was arrested and tried by District Attorney Charles Whitman. One of the criminals who testified against Becker, Jack Rose,  was granted immunity and his testimony helped convict Becker. After two trials and countless appeals, Becker was found guilty, sentenced to die, and sent to Sing Sing prison. Becker, who admitted to being corrupt, told a reporter for the Sun, “They have convicted an innocent man. . . There is not the slightest question that those men who testified against me were all liars, the worst of perjurers.”


Trial spectators outside the Tombs prison, hoping for a sight of Becker


On July 30, 1915, Becker became the first police officer in America executed for a crime. Due to a malfunction in the electric chair, it took him almost 9 terrible minutes to die.



Posted in executions, gangsters, murder, New York

The World’s Greatest Con Man

By the time Victor Lustig settled in America, he had already pulled off one of the greatest cons in history. Posing as a government official, Lustig had sold the Eiffel Tower for 7, 000 tons of scrap to a metal dealer. The Eiffel Tower.

The suave, dapper Lustig had also somehow become a Count, learned five languages fluently, acquired more than 47 aliases, a trunk of disguises, and dozens of passports. His cons included every card game imaginable, as well as something he called the Romanian money box, a device which supposedly printed hundred dollar bills. He was so good that he sold one to a Texas sheriff for $123,000.


What brought him to the attention of the Secret Service was the counterfeiting of $100 bills, which were so well done that they passed scrutiny by bank tellers. In 1935, he was caught with a key to a locker that contained $51,000 in fake bills and the plates from which they were printed.

This con finally sent to prison in Federal Detention Center in New York, from which he promptly escaped. He used a rope made out of sheets to lower himself out of the widow and down the side of the prison, in full view of dozens of witnesses. He pretended to wash the windows. He was caught in Pittsburg a few weeks later. The counterfeiting and escape caused him to sent to the inescapable Alcatraz, where, after more than 1,000 medical complaints, he died of pneumonia in 1947.

Posted in Uncategorized

Queen of Swindlers

“Mrs. Cassie Chadwick, whose amazing financial transactions culminated in the wrecking of an Oberlin bank, died in the women’s ward at the Ohio Penitentiary tonight at 10:15. . . “ So ended the mind-boggling story of one of the greatest swindlers in American history.


Cassie Chadwick

Born Elizabeth Bidgley in Canada, Chadwick was only 13 years old when first arrested for forgery. Some accounts wrote that she was let go for reasons of insanity, but she lied so frequently and moved so often than newspaper stories varied. Chadwick moved in with her sister in Cleveland, Ohio, where she quickly secured a loan based on her sister’s possessions.

There, Chadwick also met Wallace Springsteen, who she married in 1883. Less than two weeks later creditors came knocking to replay the loan. He found out about her shady past, paid her debts, and immediately annulled the marriage.

Moving among towns in Ohio, she worked as a clairvoyant under the names of Mme. Marie Rosa and Lydia Devere. She married a few of her clients, inheriting $50,000 when one man died. But it was not enough. Another client she convinced to cash a number of fake checks. She must not have been psychic because she was arrested again for forgery, this time spending a number of years in prison. Upon her release, Cassie then met and charmed Dr. Leroy Chadwick, a prominent widower. They promptly married and she became part of Cleveland society, living on “Millionaire’s Row” in town. Then she began to lavishly spend money, including one Christmas where she gave a half dozen pianos as gifts. One banker later testified, “I have seen three chests full jewels owned by Mrs. Chadwick. There were diamonds worth a king’s random. Apparently she took great delight in displaying them.”


Cassie’s mansion on Euclid Avenue

Around 1902, some newspaper accounts wrote that she went to steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie’s mansion in New York City, where she left with promissory notes for more than half million dollars from her “father.” She put them a safe deposit box at a Cleveland bank and, using the receipt, Cassie then approached other banks and capitalists to borrow money. They had all heard that she was the illegitimate daughter of Carnegie, so they gave her the loans. No one wanted to embarrass Carnegie by asking him about his child out of wedlock, so no one checked. Cassie lived a lavish life while continuing to borrow money at an alarming rate. In 1904, Collier’s wrote, “This extraordinary performance was accomplished by a woman fifty years old, with neither physical beauty or personal charm; by one whose taste in dress is totally lacking in discernment, who is rather deaf and harsh-voiced, and who, when at all excited, speaks without regard to grammar.”


Andrew Carnegie, who said he hadn’t signed a promissory note in decades

When one creditor called in a loan in 1904, the gig was up. Soon many others wanted to be paid back but Cassie didn’t have enough to pay them back. In December she was arrested at Hotel Breslin in New York City, along with officers of the National Bank in Oberlin, OH, which lent her such huge sums in had to close its doors. The arresting officer described her as having the “kindliest, gentlest face one would ever want to see.” Her husband was arrested as well but let go.

Cassie was returned to Cleveland to stand trial, where she was met by angry crowds of up to 10,000 people. Her home and valuables, including an $8,000 organ and $3,000 silk rugs, were appraised and put up for auction to try and settle the debts. But it was not nearly enough to cover the huge sums she has borrowed, which are thought to be more than $10 million,although the precise figure will never be known. She was sent to prison, where, at age 50, she died of a nervous breakdown in 1907.

Posted in American History Kids, swindlers

Hitler Inspired by Henry Ford

Henry Ford was a genius at innovation, creating the first mass-produced automobile, which made him rich. However, he also had a stubborn conviction in his own beliefs, no matter how far-fetched.

In 1919 Ford bought The Dearborn Independent, billing it as the Chronicler of Neglected Truth. He wrote opinionated articles, including a 91-week series entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” which stated that there was a “Jewish conspiracy to control the world.” He told The New York Times in 1922 about how he met two Jews on a ship and they convinced him “about the power of the Jewish race, how they controlled the world through their control of gold and that the Jew, and no one but the Jew, could stop the war.” Ford blamed Jewish financiers for everything from starting WWI to attempting to undermine Ford Company sales. He said in another NYT interview that the Jew “is the cause of all the abnormality in our daily life because he is the money maniac. Once cannot blame him as long as he is able to play his game.”

The Dearborn Independent was distributed throughout the country’s Ford dealerships, reaching a circulation of 900,000 by 1925. Also, because Ford was one of the richest and most influential men in America, everything he said was news. So the word spread about this beliefs and strong anti-Semitism.



In 1922, rumors began surfacing that Ford helped finance Adolph Hiter’s rise to power in Germany. There was a huge influx of cash to Hitler’s campaign, and Ford’s portrait and bound copies of “The International Jew” series were seen in Hitler’s first Nazi Party Office. In his 1925 book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, Hitler wrote, “”It is Jews who govern the Stock Exchange forces of the American union. Every year makes them more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions; only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.” In February 1924, Ford met with Hitler’s representative, Kurt Kudecke, in his home. Hitler was supposed to have said, “You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his. . . I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany . . . . I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration.”

Facing a $1 million libel suit in 1927, Ford retracted the attacks against Jews he made, writing that he wants to “make amends for the wrong done to the Jews as fellowmen and brothers, by asking their forgiveness for the harm I have unintentionally committed.” He stopped his crusade in The Dearborn Independent. But that didn’t mean his beliefs had changed, he was just not as vocal.

On July 30, 1938, Henry Ford was presented with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle on his 75th birthday. He is the first American recipient of the highest honor Nazi Germany could give to any foreigner. In response, American Jews boycotted Ford vehicles. To win them back, Ford made another retraction stating in a letter that “I do not subscribe to or support, directly of indirectly, any agitation which would promote antagonism against my Jewish fellow citizens.”Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials. 1938

Some historians have claimed that when Ford saw newsreels of the Nazi concentration camps, it caused one of the strokes that eventually killed him age 83 in 1947.

Posted in American History Kids, automobile